Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Manchester Pride

Manchester Pride – Some After Thoughts

This year I finally got to take part in the Manchester Pride march. It was stunning; I enjoyed it so much and felt a real energy and excitement. I marched with my new Unitarian friends. It felt so good to be seen among a religious group that welcomes and indeed will marry LBGTQ+ people. The march was delayed for half an hour due to an evangelical Christian protest against it. This may well have added to the warmth of the reception we received on the march particularly from young people.
When we see some people as different or ‘other’ to our selves it can be the start of something not good, even toxic. Yes we all have differences around class, age, sex, race, gender, faith, disability and health. But these differences can be the basis of prejudice – conscious or unconscious. ‘Othering’ is one way of thinking about and catching hold of this moment. Think for a moment about the wonderful T shirt that says ‘Never kissed a Tory’. That is ‘othering’. There are some decent good Tory voters out there and even the odd MP. OK the T shirt is a joke but….
So welcoming different people rather than ‘othering’ them changes our faith groups, Bridge classes, workplaces etc. for the better. But it feels even more than that to me; when I stop ‘othering’ you I also stop ‘othering’ parts of myself.

I have a very good old friend of mine who has been in hospital, in intensive care for all of the summer. We used to go to a weekly Bridge class together and then have lunch over which we put the world to rights as well as occasional bike rides. He retired the year before me, also has grandchildren, has an understanding of the therapy world (which is important to me) and shares most of my politics. In his absence from my life, since even though I visit him regularly most of the time he has been unable to speak, I have reflected on what he means to me.

He has meant many seemingly little things to me, mostly unacknowledged until now but when this is all added up I start to see that it is about love. I then reflect on the other men who are important to me (and women too) and acknowledge that I love them as well. So when I get forms that ask me: am I single, married, divorced etc. or straight/ heterosexual, gay, lesbian, trans etc I feel this is missing the real or fuller me. It is no longer whether I have sex with someone that defines who I am its whether I love them or not. This may reflect my age but I am glad to know this and it feels like it is part of my ongoing experience of Glad Pride.

Friday, 15 June 2018

The Boss consults Q his spiritual director once more

The Boss consults his spiritual director Q once again

-                      Hi Q.

-                      His Boss, what’s happening?

-                      Well, a very good friend of mine is very ill in hospital and it raises all sorts of faith issues for me. (Q nods)… If I can have an explanation-

-                      Of suffering?

-                      Yes, of suffering…. If I can have an explanation that makes sense to me that would be a real comfort. I don’t want glib stuff about karma or God’s will – I can’t fight God in any case though I do get angry with her or him….. But I want to know why horrid illnesses exist and why good people suffer them and what we are supposed to do learn – enlightenment in the suffering? It seems like the impact of other people’s suffering is both making me more tender about human life and planet earth but also distancing me from putting my trust in my life continuing. It’s saying ‘Wow! All you have is now. Nothing more is guaranteed. Sooner or later you will die – possibly after (what will seem like) endless pain and suffering.

-                      Oh.

-                      Yes, oh!

-                      I have no answer to that.

-                      Gee thanks!

-                      But…

-                      But?

-                      But life is all about love and loss… Don’t fight it …. Feel it … move on….

-                      That’s all very well.

-                      I know.

-                      Well then… It’s like I am being asked to change how I am in relation to existence and it feels like trauma or the eye of a needle and as sure as hell I am a fat camel* (They both laugh.)

-                      Don’t fight it…breath and accept it.

-                      Oh Christ!.... Sorry Q for the blasphemy.

-                      Didn’t seem like blasphemy to me.

The Boss nods.

-                      Well it now feels like the Serenity prayer -  God grant me the serenity/To accept the things I cannot change/Courage to change the things I can;/And wisdom to know the difference. And sure as hell I can’t do much about suffering; some of it is inevitable. But that wont stop me loving people in my life!

Q smiles – that’s it!

*Jesus said somewhere in the New Testament that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. But apparently the Eye of the Needle was a narrow gateway in Jerusalem that a camel could squeeze through.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Boss meets Q his Spiritual Director once more

The Boss meets Q his Spiritual Director once more

      -          Hi Q.

-          Hi Boss…. How goes?

The Boss sits down in the usual comfortable chair in Q’s study and, as ever, admires the icon on the wall beside him.

-          I wont let myself be distracted by that wonderful icon.

Q nods.

-          The thing is now that I am, kind of retired (sucks air threw his teeth noisily)… need another word for retirement, but….the thing is, I feel that I should be offering some kind of care to others, maybe part of a charity or whatever but I don’t want to! And I feel guilty that I could be doing this good work but I wont. I keep coming back to this question but a small voice inside says ‘No’.
-          Hmm, how long has this been going on?
-          For years but when I was working full-time I could resist this without feeling much guilt. Indeed it was part of my fantasy retirement to do such good works but no. And every time I pose the question to myself the answer still comes back as ‘No’… So I guess I have to trust it.
-          Hmm…. And what then?
-          What then (Q nods) (the Boss sucks air in threw his teeth once more)…. Well, it might sound stupid but…..but I feel something is going on for me spiritually which I don’t truly understand – it may not even be helpful for me to understand it just yet…. So I have to be patience but (the Boss grits his teeth) that is hard for me!
-          Have you been there before?
-          (The Boss nods vigorously) Yes I have had moments of deep change in my life and they have taken years to happen.
-          Ah.
-          Yes, years and then it all makes sense. It feels like that I am in the middle of such a change now and just have to have patience.
-          Where else can you be?.... And what helps?
-          What helps?..... Talking with you, friends and family. Making sure that I am not going crazy…. Having some quiet times…. Long bikes and so on.
-          Sounds like you know what to do.
-          Hmm (grumpily) thought you say something like that.
-          Well…. If it true put it to use…. If it does not seem to be so let’s examine it again. Meanwhile keep talking.
-          Yeah (reluctantly).

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Including mine - poem for my sister

Including mine – poem for my sister
My sister was no heroine
She didn’t change the world
She lived a quiet life
In our small home town
I was surprised
By how many people
Turned up at her funeral
Friends, co-workers from the charity shop
She volunteered in for years
She had made many small differences
In quite a few lives
Including mine.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Everyoen the same (poem for my Dad)

Everyone the same (poem for my Dad)

 You were oiling your sewing machine
I watched totally wrapped up
You let me clear away some of the fluff
And it looked brand new
You smiled at me
I had my usual green fizzy pop
At the café at the top of the street
I loved those meals out
And still do
Your factory has gone
And so has the café
And so has my sister
Who learnt how to sew
From you

 Me    I learnt how
To be awkward
To be independent
To treat everyone the same
With no airs and graces.


The anti-psychiatrist David cooper famously wrote “All labels are lethal” referring to mental health diagnoses. I still remain shaken – years later - by how a colleague of mine at the University of Manchester once referred to one of our students as ‘schizoid’. This same student seemed to open up readily and healthily enough when I was empathic with her.

 We should see such labels not as diagnoses but as symptoms. Then consider the causes of these symptoms and the best healing response. So ‘depressive symptoms’ might be caused by low Vitamin D, Iron levels or thyroid functioning and other physical causes. They could be the side effects of medications including anti depressants! So the best GPs do blood tests early on.

 Depressive symptoms could be a sign of a ‘dark night of the soul’ or some other form of spiritual emergenc/e/y. Or perhaps facing a challenging step up in one’s life e.g. leaving home, or someone close to you dying. In these cases talking therapies can help.

 Or a mixture of physical, mental and spiritual. It is no surprise that NICE recommends medication plus talking therapies but try getting that on the NHS!

 Arnold Mindell, the Process Orientated psychotherapist worked with people in comas. He picked up on the often minimal response clients might make to him and worked with that. So if someone is withdrawn and lies in their bed facing the wall you can still be with them and love them. And God help us when it happens to you or me.

 PS To lighten the note. When my nearest came back from a Transactional Analysis course some years ago she decided I was schizoid.  I thought for a moment and said, “No, I am a mystic!”

Thursday, 8 March 2018


As people who follow me on Facebook will know I have become troubled by homelessness. I used to be involved in a project in Notting Hill in the mid 1970s that provide some temporary accomodation to homeless people for 30p a night if they had it and sometimes some free food from friendly local restaurants.
Since 2010 there has been a huge increase in homelessness as least partially as a result of government policy. I have chatted a bit to homeless people and give the odd pound coin but I am no expert. And yet walking to chapel on Sundays I pass several rough sleepers and I know it aint right.
So I financially support Coffee4Craig which works on the streets of Manchester (and elsewhere); I have invested some of my savings with Green Pastures that houses homeless people; and I have just given money to We are Beam that crowd funds for the training of homeless people individually.
My efforts are a drop in the ocean no doubt and what we need is a change in government policy. The obvious solution (as practised in a few cities in the USA) is to house everyone and then see what their problems are since whatever caused them to rough sleep it can only makes things worse over time. Think shortened life and increased mental health issues.
So I reckon we need to light a candle rather than curse the darkness

Sunday, 25 February 2018

History One

My paternal Victorian grandfather – Albert – was a master saddle maker turned tent maker. My dad left school at 13 to work for his dad in 1926 and despite wanting to be a forester he ended running his dad business when his dad got ill 5 years later and never escaped. And that was it for him apart from his Second World War service in the navy (But that’s another story). So my mum worked part-time for my dad and my sister worked full time for him after leaving school at 15. I worked for my dad every summer holiday from aged 3 – I have the photos to prove it until I left Uni. My godmother worked part-time as a secretary for my dad in the evenings and on Sunday afternoons. So he worked 7 days a week! I had a few honorary uncles and aunts who worked for my dad and members of their families babysat me and my sister.

 But this wasn’t the life for me especially after passing my 11+ and going to the local grammar school where I wasn’t able to do wood or metal working and my dad would never share his practical skills with me. I felt trapped and desperately wanted to escape and find people to share ideas with.

To escape I choose the hip new world of computer programming – this was in 1968 – and hoped to make a career there. I loved history but did not want to teach it and maths so computers seemed a good choice. I enjoyed figuring out flow charts and algorithms but really hated coding. When I got an NHS job as a computer programmer in London in 1971 I spend 15 months writing coding like: 101.72,78,4. And if the typist misread my figures the programme would not work and a day would be wasted! This was long before personal computers!
So I quit moved to Notting Hill Gate and eventually got heavily into therapy. But that’s another story.
The point of my story which I seemed to have lost(!) was how I did not feel I belonged in my family – I used to think I was adopted as this would explain things (quite a common fantasy among counsellors apparently). And when I left there was no going back. I have returned for funerals and felt a strong sense of community which I have birth rites to but can’t live in. And living in a fashionable part of Manchester that is forever changing I feel something is lost.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Poem for Caroline


Oh God
What am I going to say
To you
Who are dying?
Words are hopeless
I have my presence
Deep breath
My task is to be with you
You are going too early
But I feel that way about everyone
Called to their own death
What next?
We sit in silence
Connected by spirit
I sing you a chant
We both know
When I speak to you
Your body moves in response
From the depth of your pain and morphine
You know I am with you.
I walk back to the train station
A local man with a fag and a walking stick
Says ‘Cheer up, it may not happen!’
I smile ruefully.

Monday, 1 January 2018

The Boss meets Q his spiritual director once more

The Boss and meets Q his spiritual director once again
-          Hi Q.
-          Hi Boss.
There was a short silence as the Boss relaxed somewhat into the familiar and comfortable ambience provided by Q who waited patiently and alert. The Boss sighed, Q raised an eyebrow but remained silent.
-          The thing is….The thing is, I am still troubled by those close to me having dreadful illnesses – dementia, Parkinson’s, a death by brain cancer and more.
-          Hmm.
-          Yes and, as you know, it troubles me that this happens in our world created by God.
The Boss shifts uncomfortably in his seat.
-          I know, I know, you theologians don’t talk that way anymore… but for an ordinary member of the congregation it is all God’s creation… And it feels so unfair.
-          Hmm.
-          Q stop ‘hmming’ me!
-          OK… I guess you are wanting a response?
-          I am!
-          To be honest I don’t know.
-          Oh for goodness sake!.... Next you will be telling me how mysterious God ways are.
-          True.
-          True but that is b- all use to me!
-          I’ll resist the urge to suggest that being useful to you is one of the meanings of scripture.
-          You better had!
-          OK let’s breath a bit….I now this is very painful for you (The Boss nods.) and for many others…. Can I tell you how I see it?
-          Yes please do.
-          A logical, rational reading of the scriptures and other holy texts only gets us so far. The idea that God has a hidden purpose in somebody’s suffering does not help much as far as I am concerned. I do, however, think that responding to others’ suffering can be valuable to us, as can reflecting on our own suffering. But this does not make sense to me as an explanation of suffering. What does makes sense (At this point the Boss leans forward in anticipation.) is that in moments of deep contemplation these issues do resolve for me; I am then at peace. However, when I return to ordinary consciousness I can’t find the words, the thoughts, the ideas. It’s like water slipping through my fingers. I can’t hold it. All I have is the memory of things making sense.
-          Oh, sighed the Boss.
-          Oh indeed. But perhaps we can invite that level of experiencing, of deep contemplation to happen to us… I know it is hard when we are suffering. Maybe pray for it if you like and then give ourselves some possible opportunities. Whatever seems to work for us.
-          Hmm…. Worth a try.
-          Indeed.