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May 26thGetting Older

There are, according to my understanding, challenges ahead for us all as we get older. Watching the BBC’s The Dementia Choir – a moving pair of episodes of individuals with dementia coming together to sing for the first time in their life in public – and reading about the challenges of elderly people, I start to think about my own life at 68 (fast approaching 69 in October). Though my health is generally stable – been taking tablets for Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure for over 30 years – and I enjoy life to the full, one wonders what will happen in the next decade as I pass the 70th birthday in 2020 and 75th in 2025?

These questions about the future are sharpened by recent conversations with members of Richard Gale of Llangollen’s family. Richard passed away just over a year ago – a combination of pneumonia and heart disease. Richard was, to use his son Andrew’s line, “a legend in his own lunchtime” and a wonderful man. But he left behind a family that grieve for him and miss him deeply.

Then just now someone who I respect and admire just shared the fact that, a few hours ago, her sister aged 49 had died suddenly at home in British Columbia. This Facebook friend – a wonderful cook, smart and skilled woman and a wonderful writer, has lost many members of her own family over the last few years (including a son). I can only “guess” at what she is feeling right now.

So we need to care and take care – to think of others as well as ourselves and to imagine how we can live our lives to the full. That’s what I intend.

May 28th My Day

Each day begins for me in the same way – coffee, tablets, email, newspaper quick scans (Washington Post, NYT, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, Globe and Mail, National Post, Edmonton Journal) and watching Global News Edmonton while attending to FaceBook and other social media sites. This all takes about an hour, though I keep Global News running on a second screen since I see the team (Shaye, Erin, Daintree and Mike as a set of distant cousins who keep me posted about the city I live in).

After this and some breakfast – Keto granola which we make – I make a list of things to do today, which often includes reading some new material, meeting client needs or attending some kind of event. Then I start the real work of the day – writing.

When I was 13 my careers teacher at school asked me what I wanted to be “when I grew up?”. I told him I wanted to be a writer. He told me not to be silly and to think about a real job. So I am a writer – I got paid to write as an academic, an author, a consultant – but I am a writer. With over 40 books to my name as well as hundreds of other “bits and pieces” – book chapters, journal articles, newspaper articles etc – I now write every day except Saturday. My word target is 2,500 words a day and I find it not only fascinating as a process, but therapeutic. It helps me understand what I know and what I need to know. I once explained that I write to find out what I need to learn and I think this is right.

(My sister, Wendy Rhodes, is also a writer. She has four books to her name and is, like me, always working on the next one. This is a recent development for her. Twenty years ago this week she bought a pub in Filey, North Yorkshire and this took up a lot of her time. She also moved from Filey to Spain and then started her Masters degree in Creative Writing. She is one smart lady and I am thrilled she is my sister.)

My working day ends around 1.30pm (it normally starts at 05:30 ish) and I take a nap. I have “napped” most of my adult life when I could (sometimes work got in the way), and I am up again at 3 ish and watch TV or read or both. We watch a lot of British TV (its just better), especially drama series like Line of Duty, Killing Eve, Gentleman Jack..some great writing and wonderful acting (unlike the last series of Game of Thrones!).

I also am focused on reading poetry this year – trying to find poems that help me better understand myself, other people and my world. They are also helping me write (poetry is one of the most difficult forms to write). Currently I am re-reading the poems of Peter Porter and Lawrence Durrell.

On the serious reading front I have just finished Roger Scruton’s book Fools, Frauds and Firebrands – Thinkers of the New Left. It is a critical and reflective analysis of left wing thinkers and writers of the 20th century – Hobsbawn, E P Thompson, Miliband (senior), Sartre, Foucault, Delize, Adorno and many others. What is impressive is the depth of Scruton’s analysis and the expanse of his own knowledge. It is a book which is, as one reviewer said, “gloriously provocative”. Before this I read Yanis Varofoukis A Brief History of Capitalism – Talking to My Daughter. He is also an excellent writer. His book The Adults in the Room – My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment is an excellent read and provides real insights into how Europe is not at all interested in negotiation (Brexiteers take note!).

I subscribe to a number of journals and periodicals – The Spectator (UK), London Review of Books, Monocle – and receive other publications due to my Fellowship in the Royal Society of Arts or my Fellowship in the British Psychological Society and the Institute of Directors (UK). Each of these I devour on arrival.

My next big read will be Dieter Thoma’s book Troublemakers – A Philosophy Of. It explores figures like Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Chelsea Manning and how and why they acted in ways that disrupted power, revealing truths that those in power wanted to keep hidden. “They are thorns in the side of power, troublemakers in the eyes of the powerful, though their actions may be valuable and lead to positive changes”. But as one of Europe’s leading philosopher’s, he will no doubt offer a framework for understanding these disruptors.

I also want to look at Bacon and The Mind – Art, Neuroscience and Psychology by Christopher Bucklow and Martin Harrison. This is about Francis Bacon not the stuff we like in sandwiches! While it is an expensive book – thank goodness Edmonton has wonderful public libraries – I think it could also be important frontier book looking at the neuroscience of art.

A book I read in April also had a lot to say about ideas and art. Maria Popova’s book Figuring, which builds from her weekly Brain Pickings Posts (which I read each Sunday), explores the impact women have had on science and art and how women influenced the direction which many men took in physics, astronomy, chemistry and biology. It is a big book – 578 pages – but its worth it. Maria writes well and the book is grounded in years of research and exploration.

I am sharing these observations about my day since a student at a local high school asked me “how do you do what you do?”. They were interested in how a disciplined writer goes about their work.

The most useful book about writing I read was by Stephen King – On WritingA Memoir of the Craft. Creating the space, seeing it as a job not just an art, letting the writing happen and enabling ideas and the hands to work with little “anticipatory thinking” are all key. In fiction, really working on the plot helps before you start writing. Anyone who wants to make writing central to their lives needs to read this book.

I also noted a recent paper by Miller which indicated that futurists (which I am) who have broad interest make more helpful contributions than those who have very narrow interests. I think the more we explore the world, the better we will be as writers and the better we will be as citizens.

May 29thLearning from My Parents

My parents are both no longer with us in person, but they are around in spirit in the lives of my sister, brother and myself.

I learned a lot from both of them. From my father: I learned to think and speak for myself, to laugh at all sorts of things which others took far too seriously, to care about the work I do, to care for others and be passionate about family. Father was a skilled carpenter / joiner who trained several apprentices who saw him as a mentor, coach and life-friend. His christened name was Horace (which he didn’t like) – everyone called him Jack.

From my mother: I learned to appreciate music and art, to love language and literature, to think about broader politics and society and not be preoccupied with self and “things” and to recover from moods of depression and anxiety by doing something positive. I also learned from her that it was never too late to learn. In 1969 she applied to be a student of the “brand new” Open University and fulfilled her life-long ambition to obtain and degree and teach school. (My brother, sister, wife and myself all have degrees from the OU and I worked at the OU for 15 years).

One interesting feature of my parents was their relationship with food. Mum was the daughter of an excellent Parisian trained chef and her brother became a chef. Mum wasn’t a great cook – we never starved (indeed, some meals worked really well), but there were issues around portion size, timing, variety, “doneness”. Dad enjoyed his food “as fuel” but had some strange food prejudices – he didn’t like eating “other people’s lettuce” and was vehemently opposed to “foreign food”. Despite this opposition to things foreign, mum and dad spent their wedding anniversary evening at a Chinese restaurant in Shipley. I wondered why. The answer is simple – it had a dance floor and a three piece band. They ordered “mixed grill” and danced their evening away. I joined them when I was around 14 and had Chow Mein (I was an annoying person even then) and my father was none too pleased.

But they were wonderful people. Father struggled with mum’s mental illness and having to cope with three very different kids. Mum struggled with her mental illness, having three kids with a significant age difference between myself and my sister and brother and with fathers various illness issues later in life (he had several strokes) and her own diabetes.

I was so blessed by knowing these two people who supported me in all that I ever did and who loved the fact that I happened to be reasonably successful. I miss them all the time.

May 31st

I have been fortunate in meeting a great many very interesting people – Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, John Cleese, Frankie Howerd, Les Dawson (all three very funny in different ways), F R Leavis (English scholar), Jacinda Arden, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Neil Kinnock (now Lord Kinnock), Glynis Kinnock (now Baroness Kinnock), Gordon Brown (that’s 3 British Prime Ministers and one New Zealand one), Al Gore, Stephen Harper, Don Simpson, Bob Church, J B Priestley (I was 11), John Brain (I was 14), C Day Lewis (poet), Ivan Illich, Cardinal Basil Hume, Cardinal John Heenan, Sir John Barbirolli, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Arvid Yanssons, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Julie Walters, Sir Ken Robinson, and many many others.

But who would I chose to have dinner with and why? Of all the people I have met so far and all the people I still have time to meet, who would I most like to have dinner with and why?

My answer may surprise some, but not those that know me well. It is J K Rowling. This is not because of Harry Potter or because she is so wealthy, but because of her life-story and her creative energy. Not only did she create one legend (Harry Potter), but she followed it with a second one (Cormoran Strike). Not only did she make a lot of money, but she gave most of it away. Not only did she do well in writing, but she used her position to champion social and political causes. Not only did she become hugely successful, but her life-story and where it began is fascinating. She is a very smart and creative woman, a great writer, a philanthropist and a family woman. A couple of hours with JKR would be well worth it for me.

When I met Ian Rankin (author of the Rebus novels), he joked that he and JK Rowling and Alexander McCall Smith (author of the Ladies #1 Detective Agency stories and many others) should all live in the same cul-de-sac and it should be called Writers Block. But he also said that JK was one of the most interesting and imaginative writers he had met, and he’d met a great many.

If JKR wasn’t available, my back-up would be Graham Norton, the TV chat-show host, agony “aunt” and (now) novelist. Graham has had an interesting journey. Trained as an actor (appearing in Father Ted, for example) and appearing in a number of Indie Films, Graham is a master of the chat show. I do enjoy his banter and sharpness of mind. But after he was attacked and left for dead, he changed and has got much better and sharper, especially in his writing. His first novel (2016) – a kind of country crime story set in Ireland – is worth a read as are his columns in The Daily Telegraph responding to reader issues and concerns about their personal lives. Graham is also smart as a businessman, selling his share of his production company So Television for around £17 million in 2012 – he also own part of winery in New Zealand. He has had an “up and down” history of relationships (he is gay), but now appears very settled in his own life. I think this would be a very interesting evening.

Not sure why I started thinking about all this, but it is an interesting thought experiment.