Friday, 30 November 2012

On Moving Forward - Slowly

Yesterday I threw out most of my running gear.  This was not a deliberate attempt to take up a sedentary lifestyle but a recognition that A) most of it was no longer usable and B) that I was very unlikely to be able to use it again.

For a few years during my 30s I was a keen runner, getting up early each weekday to run before breakfast and running 10 miles home from work one day and 10 miles back the next.  Then it all changed.  In 1995 I was training for my fourth marathon when I went in a month from doing 16 mile runs to hardly being able to walk up a flight of stairs.  Slowly the reasons became apparent, my asthma was out of control and I had acid reflux (later shown to be caused by stomach ulcers) but I didn't get better.  I was plague by chest infections and every time I tried to get back to running I would fall ill with yet another infection.  Eventually, after about 12 years, I was diagnosed with bronchiectasis (dead areas of lung) and put on medication to keep it under control and although this has improved my health it hasn't been enough for me to go back to running.

The first few years after I stopped running were the worst as I thought I'd soon be able to start running again and each time I went for a run and then fell ill was like a hammer blow.  At this time I couldn't bring myself to clear out my running gear as it seemed like an admission of defeat.  So I said I'd leave it for 10 years, then 12 and then 15 but each time I couldn't bring myself to touch it as it felt too painful.  Now, 17 years on, it felt right and I don't have any regrets about what I've done.

Now is the right time because I have finally accepted that my running days are over as my lungs just won't take the stress.  Of course I could have got rid of it ages ago but I would always have wondered about whether I could have got running again.

When life serves up disappointment it is easy to tell yourself to get over it and to move on but that isn't always the right thing to do.  Sometimes you have to let the pain and disappointment run their course until one day you realise it no longer matters and you can get on with the rest of your life.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Living With Depression 2

After my last post someone pointed out that the Mersey Ferry analogy made it sound easy to manage depression.  If that was the case I'm sorry because that was never my intention; I was just trying to share something that I have found helpful but far from a cure.  As I said at the time I have been only partly successful in using this advice as while I notice if my mood is artificially high I don't notice when it starts to slide downwards.  My motivation for writing the post was that I realised that I had been on a downward path for some months but hadn't noticed it until it started to become a problem.  As I battled with how I had let things slip so easily I wrote this:

The Fall

The way ahead look clear
The sun was bright
The path was firm
No need to change direction

Then the clouds rolled in
But still the path was firm
No need to change direction

Then the rain rolled in
But still the path was firm if slippery
No need to change direction

Then the mist rolled in
But still the path was firm if slippery
No need to change direction

Night came
The way ahead was hidden
But the path was firm under my feet
I was sure I’d find the way

Stumbling forward
I didn’t notice
I’d wandered off the path

I didn’t notice the gentle slope
Beneath my feet

I didn’t notice the slope get steeper

Until it was too late

And I fell

And as I looked up
I thought
“How did I get here?”

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Living With Depression

As far as I can tell I have been living with depression for around 40 years but it is only in the last couple that I have been receiving help and treatment; it took a complete breakdown to get me to that point.

One of the misunderstandings about depression is that it is all about feeling down and miserable but you can be like that without depression.  Depression is where you don't control your emotions but they control you so you swing between highs and lows without being in control.

The most useful advice I have received is this:

For those of you who don't know this is the Mersey ferry which crosses the river Mersey between Liverpool and the Wirral.  What is important about the ferry is that the river is tidal which makes it harder to steer the ship directly from one side to the other.

Now what, I hear you say, has this got to do with depression.  The answer is in the ebb and flow of the tide over which the ferry has no control.  If the tide is flowing in the ferry has to be steered downstream to arrive at the right place and if the tide is flowing out the ferry has to steer upstream.  It is the same with depression if  it is pushing your mood high you have to steer it back down and if it is pushing you down you have to steer it back up.

Now I'm not saying I've mastered this because so far all I am able to spot when I'm getting too 'high' and have been able to bring myself back to an even keel. (Too high is dangerous because it leads to a crash.)  So far I'm not very good at noticing the much slower signs that lead to a 'down' but I'm learning.

Monday, 22 October 2012


Do you ever cringe at a word or phrase in church? I know I do; I cringe at the start of the Lord’s Prayer when we say “Our Father.”

I seriously wish Jesus had said something like “our eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent Godhead” because that removes God from a messy family relationship.  Not all Christians have an easy relationship with their earthly fathers and within the church universal there are Christians who have been abused by their fathers, abandoned by their fathers or rejected by their fathers.  How do those, my brothers and sisters in Christ, feel about saying “Our Father.”? What picture does it bring up for them?

If we want to understand what Jesus meant we must understand what being a father meant in first centaury Palestine; in particular what they thought the biological relationship between a father and child.  While they would have expected a father to provide and care for his children (although, as I pointed out above, this doesn’t always happen) they would also have regarded the children as a continuation of the father.  They believed the father placed the seed in his wife and the child grew from that with no biological input from the mother!  Now this seems crazy to us today with our understanding of biology and genetics but it is part of the picture of fatherhood that would have been in the minds of Jesus’ listeners (and probably Jesus himself.)

When we look at it this way we find “Our Father” not only confirming a God who cares and provides for us but also a God who loves us so much He made us in His image!  Made us to be creative as He is creative and to be loving as He is Love.

So next time you say the Lord’s Prayer take a quick moment to reflect on the God who loves you so much He made you in His image.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Suffering 2

For a while I have been completely without an idea to write a poem (prayer/mediation may be more accurate) so when an idea popped into my head at the weekend I was pleased until I realised that I had already written that poem and even blogged it! (

However after a while I realised I had moved on and although the initial idea was the same there was more to say.  In this I have started with my complaint to God but moved on to the things I have learnt over the last year - I'm not saying God "spoke these words" to me but this is what I now understand; next year it could be different again.


Why does it still hurt?
Over a year has past,
Life has gone on,
Things have got better.
So why does it still hurt?

Time has taken the edge,
Dulled the blow
That Breaks the heart.
So why does it still hurt?

Why, below the ebb and flow of life
Does pain still lurk?
Waiting to catch you off guard?
A photo
A person
A memory
That opens the depths
And lets the pain flood out.

With the Psalmist I cry
“How Long.”
How long must I carry this pain?
How often must I fight my anger?
How long will I wait to find peace?

“My child, You will carry this pain
Until the world finds peace.
Not an absence of war
But a peace between all people.
My Peace
That passes understanding.
Until that great and glorious day
You will carry that pain.
And it will give you wisdom.
Wisdom not to hurt others.
Wisdom to protect others from pain.
Wisdom to stand with the hurt and downtrodden.

Do not despair
For you are not on your own.
I have already carried your pain
And hung it on a cross
So that I can be with you
Each painful step of the way.”

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


I have been very lucky as the one time I have met and talked to one of my sporting heroes I found a charming modest man; Gareth Edwards.  The Welsh and British Lions scrum-half was probably the greatest rugby player of all time but he told me he was lucky to get in the Welsh team as he was only called up for Wales when his predecessor was injured.

Today some fairly damming evidence has been made public that Lance Armstrong, the 7 times Tour de France winner, was using illegal drugs to enhance not only his performance but also that of his team mates.  He is likely to be stripped of his titles and the inspiring story of the man who came back from cancer to be the greatest ever Tour de France cyclist becomes one of a common cheat.   However life isn’t that simple because this is the same Lance Armstrong who founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation which has raised more than $470 million to support, inspire and empower people affected by cancer.  On the one hand he is a man so driven to win that he will risk his and others’ health to achieve his goals and on the other we have a man who is responsible for raising hundreds of millions of dollars to help other cancer suffers.

As I write this the story all over the media here in the UK is about the late Sir Jimmy Savile being a serial sex predator; an article on the BBC News site ends: “It said the alleged victims were mainly girls who were aged between 13 and 16 at the time, and the allegations spanned four decades.”  What the truth of this may never fully be known as he isn’t alive to defend himself (unlike Lance Armstrong who has decided to not defend himself) and so only one side of the story is being told.  However, this is the same Jimmy Savile who was knighted "for charitable services" – the small matter of raising some £40 million for charity and giving his time to work as a volunteer hospital porter.

Should this surprise us that men and women who are capable of so much good are also capable of falling for temptation in such a big way?  It doesn’t surprise me because, as a Christian, I believe we are all this jumble of good and bad.  On the one hand we are made in the image of God and capable of much good but on the other we are fallen people living in a fallen world who can easily fall into temptation.  It is said the higher you climb, the harder you fall so perhaps those who push themselves to the top face greater temptation than those of us who don’t.

For me the Christian response is to say “there but for the grace of God go I” and to not join in the public demonisation of those who don’t live up to our expectations.  That in no way means I am condoning the alleged actions of Lance Armstrong and Jimmy Savile but I would like to balance that with the great works which they have done.

Monday, 6 August 2012


Today I went for a swim at the gym and struggled up and down the pool for 15 minutes.

The last time I went for a swim I swam for a mile and then kept going for the fun of it.

The problem is that was 9 years ago and in the intervening period I had lost a lot of fitness and got older so what was easy then is hard work now.

The other odd thing about my swimming now is that I mainly do a lazy breaststroke and I struggled down a length of backstroke before I wore myself out trying a length of front crawl – not helped by messing up my breathing and trying to take a breathe in with my face under water!!!  The odd thing is breaststroke was the last stroke I mastered having started by managing a width of ‘crawl’ (doggy paddle?) aged 10 and mastering backstroke a year later.  As far as I remember (and this is a long time ago) I had actually swum a width butterfly before I could manage breaststroke but now it seems to be the only way I can swim.

This strange turn of events got me thinking (always dangerous) about the way things change as we go through life; what was once easy becomes hard and what was hard becomes second nature.  That is the way life is and it would be very odd if we were the same at 50 (OK – nearer 60) as at 20.

The really odd thing is how many Christians try to remain in a teenage faith as they get older and how the church does very little to encourage Christians to grow and develop their faith.  Having spent most of my life in an evangelical church I have often wondered about the number of young Christians who drift away from the Church as they move into their late teens and early 20s and now I think I know why – the church doesn’t show them how to grow up in their faith so they leave it behind as something they have outgrown.

To prevent this happening Churches have to enable young Christians to grow into a mature faith that doesn’t rely on feelings and music but enables them to deal with doubt and disappointment.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Hardest Commandment

Which commandment do you think is the hardest to keep?  Love God? Love your neighbour? 

How about love yourself?

Yes it’s there, slipped in by Jesus at the end of the second greatest commandment.

Love your neighbour as yourself.

We all get the “love your neighbour” bit but what about loving yourself?  The problem is that most of us don’t really know ourselves.  We think we do but we don’t really see ourselves as others see us but an idealised version of what we would like to be, not what we are.  If you get past this and begin to find the real you (it took me a breakdown and a lot of counselling to do this) there is a very good chance that you won’t like yourself because your faults start to dominate your thinking.

It is at this point that God tells you to love yourself.  Not because you deserve it but for the simple reason that God loves you – warts and all.

This is not an excuse to stay as you are but rather it is a signpost to keep you moving in the right direction.  God loves you as you are and as you should be; perfect in His image.  Just as we wouldn’t leave someone we love to struggle with something they can’t manage so God doesn’t leave us to just get on with it but comes to us in the person of the Holy Spirit to guide and encourage us in our journey.  This may be directly to you or through the Body of Christ here on earth – the Church.

So don’t forget God commands you to love yourself, not in a selfish way but so you may reflect His glory.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012


Last Sunday (8th July 2012) I did something I’d never thought I’d do in the first 56 years of my life – I was confirmed in an Anglican church.  Traditionally confirmation is a service where people who have been baptised as children confirm that they have grown up and accepted that faith as their own but for me it was slightly different so I thought I’d explain why I, having been baptised in a Baptist church in my teens, thought it was right for me.

Firstly I did want to confirm my faith.  A year ago my wife and I moved church from the Baptist church I was carried into as a baby and where I met and married my wife.  You will understand that it was not an easy decision to make but a series of events had made it clear that we could not remain in communion with some of the people there.  The last few years have not been very easy for me in both physical and mental health and being forced out from my birth church had a negative impact on me.  All through this time my faith, although battered, survived and the confirmation service gave me an opportunity to affirm this in public.

Secondly my confirmation was a sign that I had committed myself to that particular part of God’s church; in this case St George The Martyr, Shirley.  This was not the first church we had attended after leaving our home church but, when attempts at reconciliation failed, both my wife and I suddenly felt this was where we were meant to be.  I cannot tell you if we will be there for a short or long time but it is the right place for us for the foreseeable future.

Finally it was also a Thank You to St Georges for making us so welcome and accepting us into membership; more people talk to me after each service than at my old church despite only having a lot less members.  Although we have not joined the choir we have sung with them at special services and they have even been brave enough to let me play guitar in the few services that have a small music group playing.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Climbing A Ladder

On Sunday it rained.  Most of you in southern England will have noticed that but did you notice it blew in from the east and not the west?  I did because when the rain is driven in from that direction the windowsills by the stairs get wet.  This isn't a common occurrence but as I'm in the (very long) process of decorating the hall stairs and landing I had to do something about it.
On close inspection it turned out that when the windows were fitted, as part of the loft conversion work, the pebble dash was brought flush to the wood at the top of the frames instead of overlapping it to prevent water ingress.  Over the years one or both have shrunk leaving a small gap over the window frame; there was also no sign of mastic which didn't help the situation.  This close inspection was done by going up my ladder to both windows; the top one being on the second floor which meant the ladder was on its full extension.
Today I used quick setting cement to build up over the wood frames and then applied mastic over the edge between the wood and cement. It wasn't until I'd finished I realised something odd - I'd just gone up a ladder to a second floor window.  This may not sound odd to you but I suffer from vertigo in buildings (not mountains or cliffs) and going up a ladder that high has always filled me with dread; I'd be clinging on for dear life.
Today it just seemed a natural thing to do so I can only assume that the Prozac I take for my depression has either lessened or cured my vertigo.  This isn't all good news as I used to be very cautious up a ladder and I'm now a bit worried that I may be too relaxed about it.

Friday, 27 April 2012

What's Wrong With British Politics

So here, in the UK, the news is full of politicians sucking up to the press at the same time as the economy is in its worse peacetime condition.  The odd thing is I think the two are connected.

The problem is career politicians; people who have only worked in the political arena and who see their life in terms of how 'successful' their career has been. That means how much power do they wield and power and the press seem to be linked all too closely.  Now I know that is a massive generalisation but it does appear that the top echelons of our major parties have a predominance of these people.  In the past politics was seen as serving the nation but now it's your career.

One of the big problems this leads to is short termism - something that is rife in government.  Apart from the obvious fact that every government is actually working to get re-elected it shows up every time there is a change of minister in a government department. The new minister arrive and wants to make a big impression to further their career and they do this by introducing a lot of new initiatives.  While there is nothing wrong in that in itself it usually means new initiatives and ways are working are rushed in before the initiatives of the previous minister have been allowed to bear fruit or even be fully implemented.  Now it should be the role of the civil service to bring a level of impartiality and continuity to the transition between ministers but, of late, this has been undermined by ministers appointing 'special advisers' who are not civil servants and report directly to the minister.  These advisers are, of course, political careerist who aim is not to look after the country but to further their own political career; paid for by the tax payer.

With ministers (and MPs) surrounded by career politicians all parties have become increasingly out of touch with the life of the average Britain.

I don't have all the answers but how about these fort suggestions of how to make politics relevant to normal people:

  • Ban special advisers.  If a minister wants a political assistant it should be paid for by the party and not funded out of tax revenues.
  • Set the salary of MPs at the national median wage; currently around £26,000.  There are two reasons for this; firstly to ensure MPs know how the rest have to live and secondly it might discourage people from entering politics for self interest and encourage those who want to serve the country.  I know people will say you need to pay more to get the right people but as that doesn't seem to be working we need to try something different.
  • Have a mainly elected upper chamber whose members are elect for 10 year terms to counter the short term objectives of the Commons.
Any comments?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Why I Now Know History Is Important

Many years ago when I was at school (I left in 1972) I used to think history was a waste of time; what mattered was the future and not the past.  Over the years I have changed my mind and realised that it is important to study history for two reasons; to know how we got where we are and to avoid making the same mistakes again.  This second lesson and my days at school came back to me when I read this story:

You see I was among one of the first students to take Business Studies 'A' Level and as part of this we did some economics.  Among the things we were taught was that one of the fundamental mistakes made in the Great Depression was for firms, who facing tough trading conditions, to cut wages in order to cut costs.  While they did get a short-term cost cut they also reduced the market for their goods which meant they had to cut production which, due to the fixed cost element, meant their costs per unit increased.  It doesn't take much to realise that this is a vicious circle of wage cuts, sales losses, production cuts wages cuts etc.

In the linked article are a couple of paragraphs that I had feared would happen when all the government cuts were announced:

The ONS said output of the production industries decreased by 0.4%, construction decreased by 3%. Output of the services sector, which includes retail, increased by 0.1%, after falling a month earlier.

It added that a fall in government spending had contributed to the particularly large fall in the construction sector.

Notice that the government cuts have led to a 3% decrease in construction which will in turn mean less government revenue and higher welfare payments which will lead to further cuts/higher taxes, which will in turn push national output down further.  Does anyone spot the similarity?

I know that, as a country, we have been living above our means and the deficit has got to be cut but this  needed to by tackled by greater efficiency and not just cuts.  My time in the Civil Service tells me that successive governments have introduced endless changes to bureaucracy, usually before the last changes have been implemented, as they asked for more and more information to make the 'front line services' prove they are value for money; politicians not trusting anyone to do an honest job unless they 'prove it.'  Given the way politicians behave (MP's expenses etc) it would be better to get the politicians off the front line services back and let them get on with the job.  That way we could have efficient public services, cut costs and be more productive as a country.

The only snag I see with this plan is convincing the politicians that, for reasons of self interest, they don't know how to run a country.

Friday, 23 March 2012

On Getting A Good Night's Sleep


On Missing The Bleedin' Obvious

For the last couple of years I have been tired; I don't mean just yawning a bit but so tired I could hardly function.  I'd wake up tired, I have to sleep in the morning, I'd have a nap in the afternoon and be just about awake for the evening.  Even though I'm retired I didn't have the energy to tackle the backlog of DIY in all round the house and garden - I was too tired to think straight.

I spoke to the GP and she, twice, sent me for blood tests but they didn't show any reason for me being tired.  Given the amount of medication I'm on (for depression, bronchiectasis, asthma etc etc) I began to feel I should just get used to it and to make the most of what energy I'd got left.

And then I saw the light


It said "updating"

You see in our bedroom we had an old TV with built in video player (yes, that old) and in order to watch DVDs and digital TV we'd bought a DVD/HD Recorder.  Now this wonderful piece of kit can record TV from its programme guide but to do this it has to keep the guide up to date.  Some bright spark had the brilliant idea of getting it to do this at about 4am each day and, just to add to the fun, get it to make little beeping noises while it goes about its work!  Now I'm a light sleeper and so that was enough noise if not to wake me but to disturb me out of a deep sleep.

It was a couple of weeks ago that the penny dropped - it nearly always said  "updating" on the front of the machine when I woke up at night.  First we unplugged it and, when this seemed to help, have replaced it with a basic DVD player to go with the new TV that we'd bought in the meantime.

I now wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and can actually get through the day without sleeping.  All that remains is to work out how to link the DVD/HD Recorder into the system in the living room so that we can record from cable as well.

The moral is the answer can be literally in front of your eyes.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Eli, Eli, lamasabachthani?

For me living with depression is something I have had to get used to; it will always be with me.  Medication is definitely helping but the level of medication needed to eradicate the depression would also kill me as a person - I'd exist in a dulled world.  Of late I have got better at noticing the warning signs and consciously adjusting my  behaviour to prevent a crash.  However there are times when external factors jump up on me giving me no time to adjust and this happened to me the other night.  I am currently fighting off a chest infection with the aid of antibiotics and oral steroids and this and the enforced inactivity won't have helped.  However I was still surprised when I plunged into despair while trying to get to sleep and what I experienced led to the following poem.

Eli, Eli, lamasabachthani?

My God, My God, why have You deserted Me?
I cried in the dark of the night

My God, My God, why have You deserted Me?
As the thick veil of depression enshrouded me

My God, My God, why have You deserted Me?
As hope faded to nothing

And then I was silent

And in the silence a voice spoke
“I thought you’d deserted me.

In your pain and suffering I was always there
Even when the fog descended
But you let go of my hand when you lost sight of me.”

My God, My God, why have I deserted You?

Friday, 9 March 2012

How to Keep Your Brain With You

Today I came across the following on my friend Stephy's Facebook page which I think sums up what I mean by Don't Leave Your Brain at the Door:

Bertrand Russell’s 10 commandments for 
 everyone with a brain

The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

In my opinion a good place to start using these rules is in Church and when you read the Bible - you'd be surprised what wonders and truths are to found in the Bible if you just approach it with an open mind.