Page 3 of 23
AMO personal Diaries

 

Dr. Robert Lefever


Click for Dr. Lefever's background info



Dr Robert Lefever established the very first addiction rehabilitation centre in the UK offering treatment to patients with eating disorders, alcohol or drug problems.

He is regarded as one of the leading addiction specialists and experts in the treatment of addictive diseases and is a regular contributor to the BBC.


Daily Diary: Mental health advice for elderly in quarantine


Dr Robert Lefever is one of the best and most well-respected mental health professionals in the UK. He is 82-years-old and currently in self-isolation amid the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Like Dr Robert, millions of elderly people face months of quarantine. This could become a mental health crisis. So AirMyOpinion.com is publishing Dr Robert’s Daily Diary, featuring top tips and advice on how to stay mentally healthy and active during a long period of isolation. 

Leave comments with messages of support

Diary Part IV


2nd July
What I posted on line:

Back to Work

I’ve gone back to work as a counsellor. I’m earning my living and paying my way again. I have my dignity.

During coronavirus shut-down, I’ve become very familiar with running Zoom discussions for my special little groups.

When I did a couples counselling session yesterday evening, I was comfortable with the way it went technically and clinically.

I was able to ask questions and make challenges in the same way as I do in a physical - rather than virtual - environment.

I’m back!

(That’s what Paul Newman said in The Hustler so - as a compulsive gambler myself - this might not be the most appropriate quotation for me to use. But, no matter, it’s true.)

I delivered a video talk to a convention two weeks ago and I did a one-hour tv interview yesterday so I’m fully up to speed.

As my timetable fills, as I hope, I won’t be able to spend quite as much time composing and writing as I have in the last fifteen weeks. But I’ll see how it goes.

I’m very privileged in being able to choose what I do with my professional time.

Since my bankruptcy, I do have to earn my living. My savings won’t last as long as I hope I shall.

But I enjoy what I do. And I don’t have to work flat out unless I choose to do so in order to be able to afford to stage (very simply) one of my musical works. And right now I can still compose and write to my heart’s content.

I’ve enjoyed my time in self-isolation. The last time I had no responsibility for patients was during much of my year of bankruptcy in 2009.

And before that it was when I was a medical student in 1964. I’’ve been earning my crust for two thirds of my life. Work, in one form or another, is my comfortable norm.
2nd July
What I posted on line:


Problems

If we didn’t have problems we wouldn’t be alive.

There’s always something we could have done better or which hasn’t worked out as well as we’d hoped.

Relationships are never easy: they wouldn’t have any depth if they were.

In COVID-19 shut-down some people have suffered severe problems.

Some have died. That’s tragic for them, for their families and for those who love them.

Some have been trapped in an abusive relationship. I hope they’re able to contact a helpline. I pray they survive somehow.

Some have lost work, home, possessions, money or opportunities. Or all of those things. Some never had any of them. In each case, that’s very difficult.

At risk of being a Job’s comforter, I recall a prayer I wrote in 2004.

It reminds me that (in my relatively privileged position in comparison with many other people) I can follow the Chinese suggestion to see my problems as opportunities.

Thank God for my problems and the opportunity to find a whole range of potential solutions, keeping my mind alive, improving my awareness of many things, and helping my relationships to mature into value.

Here’s the prayer:

Problems
- I can’t get the government off my back.
- I can’t borrow money from the bank except when I don’t need it.
- I can’t do what I want without adequate resources.
- I can’t always rely upon professionals to deliver a professional service.
- I can’t persuade children to write thank-you letters and turn down their music.
- I can’t teach the dog to behave politely to visitors.
- I can’t remember when life did not have one problem after another.

Dear God, help me to remember that a life without problems would be indescribably boring.
1st July
What I posted on line:

Gestures

I don’t hold up placards for television cameras.

I don’t initialise slogans to make them appear profound.

I don’t copy and paste at other people’s invitation.

I don’t give salutes or take a knee or make other identifying corporate gestures.

I don’t wear baseball caps or T shirts with emblazoned slogans. And I certainly don’t shout them.

I don’t employ emojis other than 💕.

I make my own statements through my composing, writing, speaking, counselling and photography.

Here’s a sonnet I wrote two years ago in a book of Sonnets for Today, one for each day of the year:

The tipping point is past. We won’t go back
To what we had before. That hope is dead. The family is broken on the wrack,
Society has met its watershed.
Aquarius destroys Piscean ways
And says that love is all we ever need
With brotherhood, integrity, new days
Of unity that cause our hearts to bleed.
So much for bourgeois creativity!
Conformity, the order of the new,
Destroys all individuality
In dreamy drug-fuelled social rendezvous. When murderers are heroes to the youth,
We know we’ve reached the death-knell of all
truth.

And here’s how I imagine the colours of each of the twelve notes in a chromatic scale and the feelings I attribute to major and minor keys:


And here’s a photograph I took in Crete three years ago. For some reason best known to itself - my IT skills are zero - it appears in duplicate.

I make my own gesture in my own way on ideas that matter to me.
30th June
What I posted on line:

Passion

Without passion life is hardly worth living.

To rise with the sun (just for once) and hear the dawn chorus of birdsong;

To be out on a hillside (safely sheltered) in a storm;

To take the risk of being laughed at for creating something original;

To slow down time and find more hours in a day than actually exist;

This is what life is about.

The alternative is to do what the government and society expect us to do.

What’s the point of that life? We might just as well be worker bees or mules, not human beings with our beautiful creative potential.

The whole point of recovery from a life of self-destruction is to rekindle our passion, to grab hold of life and make it spin, to fly, to dream and put the dream into practice, to live our lives as expressions of our own creativity, to love.

Here’s one of my prayers;

- A searing of the soul,
- an untamed single-mindedness,
- a violent loneliness,
- a wild searching,
- an unrelieved agony,
- a merciless lashing,
- an exhausting fight,
- an absolutely total commitment.

Dear God, thank you for life.
29th June
What I posted on line:

Health and Safety

Compulsive helpers invented the requirements made by Health and Safety officials. We see them as one of our proudest achievements.

It never occurs to us that this craving for total security has produced an unutterably bland existence and a litigation lawyers' paradise.

Our intentions are good. They always are. We want people to be healthy, happy and free from harm.

We see the terrible toll of industrial illnesses and accidents and we decide to put a stop to it.

We do this by making sure that someone will be blamed - or at least that lessons will be learned - if anything ever does go wrong.

We want a perfect society. But what we achieve is tantamount to a police state.

Every action is deemed to be wrong until it is proved - through pages of risk assessments, policies, procedures and outcome studies - that every possible negative outcome has been considered.

By that time, of course, nobody wants to take the risk, and endure the hassle, of doing anything innovative.

Furthermore, the compensation culture takes a commanding position. If anything goes wrong - even events that are really beyond anyone's control - someone must be made to pay.

Punitive damages should be paid by any individual or company able to pay.

Best of all, because state coffers are the deepest of all, the government should pay.

Small wonder that a risk-averse society is also an unimaginative and unproductive society.

We compulsive helpers are shocked and frightened by the proverb that says omelettes cannot be made without breaking eggs. Surely there must be a way.

Sod's Law states that, if anything can go wrong, it will.
But nowadays, with excessively restrictive health and safety regulations, this is superseded by The Law of Unintended Consequences.

28th June
What I posted on line:

Health

What is health?

Is it simply the absence of disease? Or does it involve physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual well-being?

By and large, compulsive helpers get this one right.

From daily experience, we see addicts destroy themselves in every aspect of their lives. That’s definitely unhealthy.

Doctors may also see this but still focus their attention primarily on physical problems.

Then - to judge from the vast numbers of prescriptions issued - they treat all other issues by giving their patients antidepressants.

But we compulsive helpers know better. From our wide reading on medical matters, we recognise that drugs of any kind, recreational or pharmaceutical, can never solve problems. They tend to create them.

So we decide that we ourselves shall be the 'drugs' to help the people close to us - at home or at work or in the wider community.

We are unstinting in giving of ourselves at least three times a day with water.

Unfortunately, we tend not to see that this ‘treatment’ can have significantly damaging side-effects.

The more we do for other people, the less they do for themselves.

They become dependent upon us for providing things many of them might well be able to provide perfectly well for themselves.

We infantilise competent people, reducing them to the emotional and social status of babies.

We protect them from pain of any kind. In this way they don’t get the consequences of their behaviour. Therefore they see no reason to change it.

By tidying up the messes in their lives, we cause them great damage. They come to believe they can go on creating mayhem without concern for what they are doing.to themselves and other people.

And we can be guaranteed to be responsible for ensuring their behaviour is isolated in a safety bubble.

We protect them at all costs.

Furthermore, we take the rap for everything that happens outside that comfortable cocoon.

We don’t see that this is a very unhealthy state of affairs for everyone concerned, ourselves included.

As COVID-19 lock-down is gradually eased, we want safety bubbles (for other people) here, there and everywhere.

That, in our view, would be really healthy.

Why can’t the addicts - especially our pet ones - see that?

Heaven forbid we should ever examine our own ideas on health!

The Underlying Cause of Addiction - Neurotransmission Disease


My professional life goes on even in self-isolation.
Here’s a video (recorded in my home) of a talk I gave last week. 

The underlying cause of addiction (continued)

Following on from this morning’s video post, I think...

Dopamine metabolism defects are related to hedonism (seen in self-centred addicts),

Serotonin metabolism defects are seen in people (such as those with eating disorders) who seek nurturance of self

And Nor-Adrenalin - Nor-Epinephrine - metabolism defects are seen in those (compulsive helpers) who seek the nurturance of others.

I have all three of these addictive outlets so my neurotransmission system (in the mood centres of my brain) is a right mess.

But I’m an addiction specialist, not a research neuro-biochemist.

I believe researchers should look broadly rather than search for one addictive gene.

I think there are several addictive genes and they are expressed in response to a range of stimuli.

Trauma wakes up the craving for mood-alteration. And then exposure determines the specific addictive outlets that we each discover ‘work’ for us.

Emotional trauma is common in childhood. It is a contributory cause, but not the primary cause, of addiction. It is an association rather than a direct cause.

Without the genetic predisposition, non-addicts can become physiologically habituated. But they can stop when they choose. And not return to previous use of mood-altering substances and processes.

The Vietnam War Veterans Study illustrated that point. The poignant film The Deer Hunter showed it in practice.

Addicts by nature, like me - about one in six of the general population - can’t simply stop without going up the wall and becoming ‘dry-drunks’ (with all the behavioural ‘isms’ of alcoholism or other addictions even in the absence of the substances). We crave to return to former mood-alteration.

That’s the emotional and behavioural driver consequent to our neurotransmission disease.

And that’s why we need to work the Twelve Step programme on a continuing basis so we experience the emotional lift from reaching out to help other addicts anonymously.

Maybe the flagrant partygoers (seen in the news yesterday) would benefit from reading this post before they risk damaging themselves and other people with COVID-19 infection from disregard of social distancing.

Diary Part III

26th June
What I posted on line:

The Weather

Heatwaves, like the one we’re in now, can be dangerous. But they kill off coronavirus.

Except, of course, when people ignore the suggestions of epidemiologists on social distancing.

In sensible people there’s a trade-off between the disadvantages and benefits of fine weather.

Attitudes towards the weather divide addicts from compulsive helpers as strongly as any other subject.

Compulsive helpers don't want it to rain on our parade. And particularly not on anyone else’s. We always hope that everything will be fine and dandy.

Addicts ignore sensible precautions because they believe they are invincible.

Generally, addicts could hardly be less interested in the weather. If there’s a prospect of them getting their particular 'fix', they’ll go out in any weather.

Sun worshipers like to get tanned. They believe it looks good and that it’s a sign of robust health in white-skinned people.

That may be so. But it can also hide any number of destructive behaviours.

The skin effects of alcohol, drugs and other addictive substances can, to some extent, be hidden behind the tan. The internal bodily effects and the mental, emotional and social effects cannot.

Couch potatoes, who may or may not have a binge eating disorder, tend to stay out of the sun. It makes them too clammy and it tires them out.

A neutral attitude would be that the weather is just weather.

But its variety can be the most wonderful thing about it.

Rain refreshes the grass, flowers and trees and makes the world a more beautiful place.

Gales, hail and snow can be very exciting.

Sufferers from Seasonal Affective Disorder need sunshine to brighten their spirits.

People who suffer from Porphyria have to stay out of the sun in order to protect themselves from terrible blistering and scarring.

Sunshine is necessary for the formation of Vitamin D for healthy bones.

Too much exposure can lead to melanomas (highly malignant tumours of the skin).

Of course, compulsive helpers know all these things. We make it our business to do so. We never know when this knowledge might help someone else.

Addicts don't give a damn.

Addicts and compulsive helpers are equally obsessive - but in opposite directions.

As someone who is both an addict and a compulsive helper, I’m a very confused laddie if I forget which ‘hat’ I’m wearing in each of my relationships.

But in self-isolation I don’t have to think about hats of any kind. For me, the weather is an outside issue.
25th June
What I posted on line:

Complicit

To accuse someone of being complicit in another person’s action - when not actively opposing it - is a cowardly cop out intellectually and philosophically.

It’s in the same category as the interrogator’s question “Have you stopped beating your grandmother yet?”

The person on the receiving end of the challenge (B) is trapped into the mindset of the initiator (A).

It is not true to say that B supports an action if he or she does not actively oppose it.

Edmund Burke said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Yet he is quoted most vociferously by those who are intent on imposing their viewpoint on others.

For example, genuine pacifism is against all war. Not specific wars perpetrated by one political faction or another.

Black and white thinking is dangerous personally and politically.

Particularly as Western civilisation polarises.

Wokeness and wickedness go together if based on the principle ‘I’m right and you are wrong. This gives me the right (and moral duty) to tear down everything you believe in’.

Communism (C) and fascism (F) are identical in their statist convictions. The opposite to both is individualism (I).

An opponent of F may not recognise that C is equally anti-I. And vice-versa.

A Vegan (V) may be vicious and a pacifist (P) may perpetrate violence in a ‘just’ cause

Certitude cripples consideration.

Absolute conviction admits no alternative.

‘Straight and Crooked Thinking’ (by Robert Thouless) - rather than ‘Das Kapital’ or ‘Mein Kampf - should be required reading in places of learning.

I won’t hold my breath while waiting for that to happen.

Physically holding my breath is no solution to the risk of catching coronavirus. I would die from asphyxia.

Reducing human ideology to algebra (A, B, C, F, I, V, P) is useful for clarity in discourse. But not in living a life.

I treasure uncertainly.

I resent accusations of complicity when I reject polarisation.
24th June
What I posted on line:

Tied up in Knots

Addictive families have had a tough time in COVID-19 shut-down.

For compulsive helpers and addicts to be locked in together is a recipe for misunderstanding and mayhem.

However, although restrictions are being progressively relaxed, this is not the time for addictive families - or any other - to breathe sighs of relief.

Closer proximity with other people could be potentially dangerous in terms of spreading the virus in a second wave of infection.

And, for addictive families, returning to ‘normal’ is not necessarily a happy prospect.

It's very easy to tie up compulsive helpers in knots. All that addicts have to do is to keep talking.

It doesn't matter if they make sense. It's more successful if they don't - because we compulsive helpers can be guaranteed to tie ourselves up in knots when we try to make sense of the addict’s gobbledygook.

We ourselves would be mortified if other people felt we were trying to tie them up in knots. We like to explain things very clearly and carefully.

Of course, addicts know this personal characteristic of ours very well. So they play to it, pretending they haven't really understood what we said.

The knots get progressively more complicated and tighter so that even a fisherman or a Langian psychologist would find it difficult to untie them.

Needless to say, in due course we become rather unhappy about this. We wouldn't go so far as to say we’re 'sad' because we can't stand people being sorry for us or trying to help us.

And we don't like it when people poke fun at us when we're only trying to be nice.

Eventually, we recognise that there is no hope for us in this battle of wits with addicts.

We get tied up in linguistic knots every time we have a conversation with them. .

The only solution is to recognise our powerlessness over all the tricks that addicts play: tricks with us and with other people and even with themselves.

We cannot change any aspect of their behaviour. They have to change it for themselves when they are fully ready and willing to do so.

In the meantime we can gain much comfort from being in the company of recovering compulsive helpers.

We see that they have been just as tied up in knots in the past as we are now.

Some of them have even discovered a way of talking back, rather rudely it seemed to us, to addicts by saying, "Get knotted".
23rd June
What I posted on line:

Brain health

Bodies need regular exercise to keep them in good shape. So do brains.

Brain health leads to body health. Body health doesn’t necessarily lead to brain health.

The brain is a physical substance. It gets physically damaged by neuro-toxins such as alcohol.

The brain is also the source of mental activity. If we befuddle it with chemicals or unwise actions, we can’t think straight.

And it generates feelings in response to behaviour in oneself or other people. When an action is in accordance with our values, we feel good.

And our brains give us the opportunity for creativity and enable us to experience the spiritual senses of awe and wonder.

Essentially my brain is me. And yours is you. Our bodies merely carry our brains around and enable us to interact with our human and physical environment.

With this in mind, I look after my brain. Every aspect of my life depends on its integrity.

Avoiding damaging the brain should be common sense for all of us but it is remarkably uncommon.

Dr Daniel Amen has a library of over 100,000 PET scans of brains. The physical effects of injudicious use of alcohol and other drugs (and many fascinating - but macabre - effects of a wide range of clinical conditions) can be seen in frightening black and white detail.

My conclusion (from viewing the Amen Clinics website) is also black and white. I don’t want to do anything that might damage my physical brain.

Dr Amen suggests that looking at healthy brain scans should give us ‘brain envy’. I’ve got it.

My osteoporosis leads me to envy people who can stand up straight. So what? Being unable to do so is hardly the most profound handicap.

My vision and hearing are not the best. So what? I can still discriminate between things and people I want to see and hear and those I don’t.

Most importantly, I value the choices my brain gives me.

Yesterday I had an IT calamity at the worst possible time. I had prepared thoroughly for a particular event I value. It was kaiboshed by glitches. My brain gave me the choice between throwing a tantrum or accepting that Fate had produced a Joker from the bottom of the pack.

Today my brain has given me the choice of fretting over yesterday or getting on with today.

Acting on what I consider to be the more healthy choice, I spent two an a half hours this morning researching and writing my daily post on Facebook. In the rest of the day, I’ve composed nine very short (twelve bars each) simple pieces for piano, giving musical form to various pets. (My favourite is the randy guinea pig, although the globbing goldfish comes close.)

I reckon that’s healthy.

Thank you, brain. I’ve looked after you and you’ve looked after me.
22nd June
What I posted on line:

Insecurity

Insecurity is healthy and rational.

I never say “I’m married”. That leaves out the essential additional two words: “so far”. They recognise that Pat has a choice.

I don’t assume my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. I work each day to maintain it. Otherwise I’ll lose it and be very insecure indeed.

In coronavirus self-isolation, I’m secure provided I don’t put my curious - and dangerously risky - nose outside our front door.

In my creative life, in my writing, composing, psychodramas and photography, I’m insecure. Complacency - believing I’ve got it made - would be a death sentence to my Muse.

Here’s the first of my autobiographical sonnets:

A childhood photograph of me is all
I needed to restore to mind the sense
Of wonder and of awe that one so small
Already had the face and eyes intense
And curious as they still are today.
Or does my retrospectoscope play tricks
With memory? Do thought and hope convey
No more than current mental building bricks?

Of one thing I am sure: my inner Muse
Gave me the reason I was newly born.
I saw the twinkling, sparkling, loving soul
She brought to me. She taught me I could choose
Between a life that’s happy or forlorn
As I stride on towards my Earthly goal.

The first section of this sonnet shows continuing insecurity. The second is more confident. But it still shows - hopefully in a healthy way - the inevitable insecurity involved in choice.

As I got towards the end of creating my sonnet saga I speeded up. I feared I might die (of no particular condition) before I completed it.

This particular form of insecurity - mortal dread - happens any time I’m writing or composing or preparing a book of photographs.

I’m scared that I’ll snuff it before I get to the end. So the more I do, the more I speed up.

I’m crazy... But I’ve acknowledged that before. And probably will again. You see... I’m insecure.
21st June
What I posted on line:

Get over it

I find this reminder very helpful.

Sod’s Law dictates that if things can go wrong, they will.

Yup. He got that right.

I don’t find it very constructive to look back at the difficult times in my life. (I’ve had a few.)
They’re history.

Even so, I’ve just completed writing the story of my life in a series of sonnets. This literary form requires me to be succinct. That’s fine by me.

I’ve said all I want to say. On the bad things and the good.

Events and people string this epic together. But my focus has primarily been on the progression of my ideas.

Here’s what I’ve written as the ‘taster’:

Autobiography can bend the ear
With rambling happenings and painful rant.
In sonnet form I’m forced to précis near
To bone. There is no room for mush or cant.
The discipline of rhythm and of rhyme
Ensures that I stay focused on each word.
I cannot waffle on. I keep to time.
My bonded thoughts are shaken but not stirred.

I’ve had exciting times. That is for sure.
Adventure is my middle name. (I know
That’s troublesome for people’s sanity.)
I’ve lived and loved and hope for so much more
To learn and think and feel and do and show
St Peter that I’m glad that I’ve been me.

Now they’re done. I’m writing this post at the precise time when a professional writer friend of mine is reading them: all 206 of them!

(In coronavirus self-isolation I’ve had oodles of time to do whatever I want. Provided I don’t disturb Pat.)

He’ll probably tell me this evening what he makes of my sonnet saga. But, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve moved on already. My piano keyboard beckons.

I’m not looking for praise. Nor am I protecting myself from disappointment.

My work is done. It’s over.

I have no intention of cluttering up my head with conjecture. I’ll listen to my friend’s feedback and I’ll act on it. That’s a further phase in my creative process.

But, for today, I’m going to welcome my Muse to sing to me.

She’s done a great deal of work with me on the sonnets. But that’s all over now. We’re moving on...
20th June
What I posted on line:

Protest

I believe in protest. I’ve always been an iconoclast.

I don’t respect people in authority unless they do something I consider worthy of respect.

I obey rules. But I sometimes ridicule them in the hope of influencing change.

And yet I’ve never gone on a protest march.

I did more than enough marching when I did National Service in the army. That experience didn’t persuade me it was a valuable process physically or tactically.

And I’ve never banged a drum except in a school cadet force band.

When people bang drums, blow whistles and shout slogans near my home, they disturb my concentration on my writing or composing.

I protest (silently) at having my creative processes disrupted in this way.

I like being silent. I like silence.

There is no sound attached to this Facebook post. Nor do I write in capitals, over-punctuate or use emojis (other than 💕, which expresses my general attitude to life).

Yet my hope is to be persuasive, to influence opinion.

I’m aware of my educational privilege. But I don’t think my Cambridge degrees make me more tolerant.

To judge from the academic qualifications of people arrested for violent protest, I may have more in common with ignoramuses.

I protest in my own idiosyncratic way:

I don’t watch television, I do read widely.

I don’t chant slogans, I do chant in mediaeval music.

I don’t value mob rule. I do value the opinions of a few chosen friends.

And where will all this get me? From what I read in the press (on both sides of the Atlantic), my guess is that I shall be ostracised, condemned and possibly committed.

I protest that possible outcome.
Now.
In print.
Silently. 
19th June
What I posted on line:

Impatience

Come off it! I’m an addict.

You can’t expect me to be patient.

My theme song is
‘I want what I want
When I want it.
And I want it
NOW!’

I put that song into my first musical, ‘The Individual’. I wrote it - and paid for it to be orchestrated - a year ago.

But, along with everybody in the world of performing arts, I have to be patient.

Full-time professionals are desperate for work while all the theatres, concert halls and opera houses are closed in CLOVID-19 lock-down.

Why would anyone want to put on something of mine when they open up again in due course?

‘Bums on seats’, not ‘Inspiring works of art’ are the economic principle that necessarily drives Broadway and Soho.

And how many works by unknown writers or composers have I myself attended at any time?

Not a lot... and only then because of favourable advance reviews by Ann Treneman in The Times or Hugh Canning in The Sunday Times or David Mellor in The Mail on Sunday.

And what chance is there of them reviewing a work of mine?

In danger of sounding like a broken record (remember those days?)... tic... not a lot.

So I have to be patient. (Yes, me - an addict!) Humph.

I need to establish my name - along with gazillions of other youngsters trying to do the same - by composing simple pieces first of all.

The principle ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ is something I’ve heard somewhere before...

And that’s how I learned to be patient.

The Twelve Step programme has turned my life around ‘one day at a time’.
18th June
What I posted on line:

When

The way we see things depends upon our previous experience and understanding.

We may interpret something in one way yet another person may have a completely different perception.

We might like to believe we know the truth. And saw exactly what happened. Or heard precisely what was said.

Yet video recorded evidence may prove us wrong. (For a bit of fun, have a look at The Invisible Gorilla on YouTube.)

Interpreting someone else’s motives is even more difficult.

We may see his or her behaviour (as accurately as we can) yet still find it difficult to understand why he or she took a particular action.

Fortunately there is no confusion over why people work the Twelve Step programme: we work it because it keeps us abstinent and leads to us developing happier relationships.

As compulsive helpers, our fervent belief is that there will come a time when everything will be sorted out just fine.

Our family members will learn the errors of their ways.

Difficult social situations will be resolved.

Financial troubles will melt away when our ship comes home.

The problem is that we don't know when that will be. So we soldier on.

We say to ourselves that it doesn't really matter that things are such a mess right now. One day it will all be different when...

When what?

We fail to see just how many 'when's have come and gone.

In the past we have looked to one boundary moment after another to be the time when things will change for the better.

But they didn't.

Maybe they changed a bit but something else, or somebody else, turned up and off we went again, chasing our own shadows.

We found that we repeated previous compulsive helping behaviour but hoped this time that the outcome would be different.

In this respect, as in so many, we were no different from any other addict.

We need to ask ourselves when we are going to put a stop to this sad charade.

When are we going to see that our compulsive helping way of doing things has not worked in the past and will not work in the future? When the cows come home?

The solution to the recurrent disappointments of fanciful dreams and hopeless quests is in the magic word 'now'.

We need to take a grip on our lives and face reality right now.

Even - and perhaps especially - while the COVID-19 pandemic dies down (we hope) but leaves us confused on the precise nature of our present and future reality.

The 'when's in life will never happen unless we make them happen.

We need to accept that the possibility of change is almost entirely in our own hands.

Here’s a prayer I wrote for myself;

Dear God, help me to perceive what people are really saying, rather than merely hear the words they use:
- to know when anger is a statement of fear or insecurity,
- to know when concerns are expressions of love or caring,
- to know when corrections are appeals for clarity,
- to know when interference is intended as careful guidance,
- to know when criticism is meant to encourage,
- to know when rejection is a response to hurt,
- to know when cynicism and sarcasm are defences against vulnerability.
17th June
What I posted on line:

Alternatives to the Twelve Steps

Old-timers debated long and hard over how the Twelve Steps should be spelt out.

As their starting position they took the Five Steps of the Oxford Group, founded by the American Christian missionary Frank Buchman.

He believed that personal issues of fear and selfishness lay behind alcoholism.

And that the solution was to surrender one's life to God's plan, as specified in the Holy Bible.

Bill W and Dr Bob, the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, expanded the five Steps to Twelve.

They were very definite that a God (a Higher Power than self) should be of one’s own understanding.

This HP could have a Christian or any other religious form or could be anything whatever outside self. The God of Nature or the God of Love might suffice.

The God of Little Green Apples might not be sufficiently powerful to effect the necessary behavioural changes. Nor might The Tree at the Bottom of the Garden.

‘Grandma’ might be too restrictive a concept, however kind and caring she might be.

St Julian of Norwich, Thomas More or Mother Teresa, magnificent individuals though they may be, were specifically Christian.

That might not suit Muslims, Jews, Buddhists or the Baháʼí. Or Atheists.

But members of any of these groups could still have problems with alcohol.

And The ‘Wee Free’ Scots Presbyterian total abstainers and Mormons might still have the potential for alcoholism in their natures.

Bill W and Dr Bob wanted the ‘Fellowship’ (strange word - but try finding a better one!) to be all-inclusive, rather than exclusivist in any way.

So God as you understand (with that qualifier underlined and italicised) is the Higher Power that came to be immortalised in the Twelve Steps.

Yet, right from the start, people have tried to re-write the Twelve Steps without ‘the God bit’.

There’s no need for that. I have no religious belief. My HP is the Twelve Step programme itself. It’s worked for me for the last 35 years and I’ve got no intention of looking for an alternative now.

But can people get sober without working the Twelve Steps?

Of course they can. Determination and willpower can achieve a ‘dry-drunk’ state (in which the ‘ism’ of alcoholism is still very much present even in the absence of the hard stuff).

But can they be ‘happy, joyous and free’ (as
foretold, if not specifically promised), in the Big Book of AA, simply titled ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’?

I think not. But that’s only in my experience. And I’m not God.

If I were to believe that I’m God, everyone would know about it very soon.

I’d be blind drunk. And singing.

And my counter tenor voice certainly isn’t up to that nowadays. I’d be ‘happy, joyous and free’ in very strange ways.

I think, on balance, you’d better pray for my continuing sobriety (through working the Twelve Steps exactly as written) to save yourselves heap big agony in your ears.

You might pray for COVID-19 total shut-down to be reimposed if it keeps me away from disturbing one and all with my cacophony.
16th June
What I posted on line:

Exercise

Physical fitness is important.

Failure to maintain it each day results in flabbiness and poor health.

In coronavirus self-isolation I choose to stay at home in order to keep the virus outside the front door of our flat. Therefore I have to do all my daily exercise indoors.

Recently I read of a man who ran a marathon distance inside his home. I’m certainly not going to do that.

Running a marathon is a sign of obsession rather than fitness.

The healthy obsession is to raise money for charity.

An unhealthy one is the belief that muscularity or slimness in itself says something positive about us as sentient human beings.

I’ve run a marathon and I did raise a chunk of dosh to help the treatment of 50 impecunious addicts in my rehab.

I asked each of them to pay back £10 a week for two years out of their Social Security income so I could help others on a similar basis.

In total I received one £10 note. Lack of personal commitment (and generosity) doesn’t bode well for recovery.

I had anticipated running another marathon when I’m 100 years old, celebrating hitting the ton and demonstrating my physical invincibility.

Genetics decreed otherwise.

My osteoporosis has damaged my spine more than enough without me adding to the carnage by pounding the pavements again.

So I do 15 minutes of static (Canadian air-force) exercises and 10 minutes of yoga positions and balance exercises every morning.

Recently I’ve been doing 100 step-ups and downs on a single stair, hanging onto a bannister to support my weight and protect my spine while I get myself progressively more out of breath in this aerobic exercise.

Except that I’m so fit from my regular static exercise that I don’t get much out of breath from my step-ups and downs.

But enough is enough. I’m doing all I need to do for the health of my heart and lungs.

So a total of 25 minutes exercise each day is quite sufficient for me, thank you very much.

Is that obsessive?

Even in coronavirus self-isolation (which I intend to continue until a proven effective vaccine is available)?

And is that caution also excessive?

I’m not the one to judge. After all, I’m an addict.

And I’ve run a marathon (and had to be revived in the resting tent at the finish).

In fact I’ve run two. Stupidly, in training, I ran one the weekend before the main event. Just to see if I could do it.

I’m an ‘all or nothing’ person by nature.

Exercise or sloth can be equally dangerous for me.

So I’ll continue my daily ‘two dozen’ and leave it at that.
15th June
What I posted on line:

Chance

Lady Luck is no friend of mine. I don’t believe in her at all.

I believe in the random distribution of chance. And in capitalising on good fortune when it comes my way. And in diminishing the effects of the opposite if that’s my lot.

By chance I met Meg in an art gallery. Three years later I married her.

By chance I was encouraged to become a doctor when I failed in my hope of being a professional musician. I’m sure I’ve been much happier as a GP than I would have been when struggling with the consequence of inadequate talent as a singer or conductor.

By chance I learned about the Twelve Step programme. As his doctor, I put a drunken patient into a rehab - and he turned the tables on me, getting me to recognise my own addictive nature.

These chance happenings changed my life profoundly. But look what’s happened since then!

By chance, as a result of an invitation to meet up for a cup of warm milk (my favourite tipple) in Carluccio’s, I met Pat again. And then we got married two years later. And here we are, eight years after that, happy as can be.

By chance, or more specifically through fraud, I lost my medical practice and rehab. And I’ve been even more fulfilled, working as an out-patient counsellor since then.

By chance, when I was too late to get into a course for writing lyrics for musicals, I was encouraged to become a composer. And I’m now as creative - and as impecunious - as any professional.

Fate has turned a wicked hand in my direction at times. I don’t spend precious time thinking about those events nowadays. I’ve moved on from them.

Nor do I worry myself into a frazzle over what coronavirus might do to me. I avoid exposure by choosing to stay in self-isolation until a tested vaccine is available. I extend my concern to other people.

Maybe - probably (if I live as long as I hope in order to write more words and compose more music) - fate will strike me again at some time in the future.

But so it will do to all of us. Why should I be an exception to the roll of the dice of chance?

The Latins said that fortune favours the brave. So be it (Amen). I’ll take my chance.
14th June
What I posted on line:

Sadness

Alas! Alack! Woe is me!

Yeah, yeah, heard it all before.

Sadness sells pop songs because it’s such a common experience.

‘Woe, woe!’ fills the coffers more readily than ‘Wow, wow!’, which tends to encourage - through embarrassment - the coughers.

I find self-pity singularly unattractive. Because I’ve done too much of it for one lifetime.

I could mope for England. Often at times when there really wasn’t much awry in my personal and professional life.

But I’ve had times of understandable - and necessary - sadness. Genuine misfortune is reasonably coupled with authentic unhappiness.

The Pursuit of Happiness is an inspiring rags-to-riches film. But I find Stanton Peele’s critique of the Twelve Step programme - using the same title - when saying that addiction is a ‘normal’ part of life, less than persuasive.

Addiction - in one form or another - has been a common part of my life. It was customary for me and for many of my young contemporaries to use mood-altering substances and processes.

Some were going through a temporary phase of experimentation or rebellion. They were addicted only physiologically.

The Vietnam War Veterans Study showed that during this terrible conflict many GIs used drugs. The dramatic and onomatopoeic song N-n-n-n-n-n-nineteen mimicked machine-gun fire. But it also illustrated the average age of the American combatants.

Almost universally they took drugs. After the war, the majority gave up. They were able to use drugs occasionally, if they felt that way inclined, and to dink alcohol socially. Others remained addicted.

(The phenomenally moving film The Deer Hunter illustrates this difference.)

Debate raged over the justification of the war. And it raged just as violently over whether this study demonstrated a weakness of will or a genetic predisposition.

I believe the latter. My rehab patients were exceedingly strong-willed. So was I. That’s what kept me out of recovery until I was on my knees - spiritually if not physically - at the age of 47.

But that did not make my behaviour ‘normal’ mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

Stanton Peele’s observation applies only to physiological use, not spiritual dependency.

Nowadays, in full abstinence and adherence to working Steps X, XI and XII each day, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I love every day of my life. What on Earth would I have to be sad about?

In COVID-19 self-isolation I have no income apart from my standard State pension because I have no face-to-face work with patients. (I find I don’t get sufficient non-verbal information on Skype or Zoom to be able to do my work responsibly.)

So what? My work - and my income - will come back next year, if not before, when a successful vaccine against coronavirus comes my way.

Currently, because I’m in a high-risk group for viral damage, I choose to stay in self-isolation. This means I can’t go to live performances, which I find inspiring precisely because of physical proximity to the actors, players and singers. But they’ll be back.

And so might coronavirus, along with the common cold and influenza. But we’ll find ways of living with it if we can’t get rid of it altogether as we did with polio.

I believe sadness is an attitude, a reaction to an event - not the event itself. It’s a choice of reaction. And I do choose to feel it when unfortunate things happen. But they’re not happening in my life today.

It’s said that depression is ‘suffering in advance’. Yes I agree, even though I believe the feeling state of ‘inner emptiness’ is innate in any addict - and it’s what we try to ‘treat’ when we use mood-altering substances and processes.

I don’t use them now. So my mind is my own, not in hock to the breweries, cigarette manufacturers, sugar producers, drug cartels or pharmaceutical companies.

Provided I continue to work the Twelve Step programme (a substitute mood-altering process) each day, I don’t have any of those dependencies.

Or any sense of sadness.

I’m genuinely - not artificially - happy.
13th June
What I posted on line:

Re-wiring the Brain

The London taxi drivers’ study showed that it is possible to re-wire the brain.

Learning how to find their way around changed their brains. Physically. Two years after they retired, brain scans showed that the structure of the orienteering part of their brains had reverted to what it was like before they took up that trade.

I was thinking about that today in coronavirus shut-down. A ‘conversation’ (my collective noun) of cabbies will be gradually reverting to their original brain structure. They’ll have to remind themselves of ‘the knowledge’ when they go back to work.

And I think the same is true for any other professional. I haven’t worked as a doctor for ten years. I’ve lost my familiarity with practical skills as well as technical knowledge. I’m sure the ‘quack’ part of my brain has changed, shrunk.

And I’m sure that working the Twelve Step programme every day for the last 35 years has changed my physical brain in its mood centres.

Abstinence changes my liver, my nervous system my body fat and many other parts of my body. But I believe recovery is a great deal more than the starting position of abstinence. Working Steps X, XI and XII every day re-wires my feeling brain.

But I have to maintain that re-wiring, just as I have to maintain my physical fitness and dexterity by doing daily exercise. I’ll go flabby, spiritually and well as physically, if I take my fitness for granted.

In coronavirus shut-down, I’ve done the same physical exercises I’ve done every morning for years and years. But I’m doing far more writing and composing.

Fortunately, I believe the same ‘creative centre’ in my brain is involved in my counselling work and in my photography so I won’t have lost those skills and insights by the time I emerge from the safe cocoon of Pat’s and my home some time next year.

Yesterday I looked back at a piece of music I composed eighteen months ago. It was all right. But that’s the best I can say about it.

The ‘music’ sub-section of my ‘creative centre’ has been working overtime: six hours a day at least. So the end result of the re-wiring of that part of my brain is something I can witness for myself.

It’s not so much that I can put the dots onto the manuscript paper more accurately than before, but that I’m saying things through my music in a more effective way emotionally. My music ‘means’ more than it did previously. I think.

And the same is true for my life. I am no longer ruled by the bizarre motives of active addiction in any form.

My insights, my actions and reactions, my relationships, my spiritual input and output, every aspect of my life, is truly mine.

It’s no longer in hoc to mood-altering substances, processes and relationships.

I don’t want to be ‘wired’ (in the way active addicts use that term). I want to be re-wired away from all that nonsense. I want to be the ‘real’ me that working the Steps enable me to be: ‘happy, joyous and free’.
12th June
What I posted on line:

Silliness

For heaven’s sake, let’s have a bit of silliness in our lives!

If recovery isn’t fun - even while coronavirus still rages around the world - it isn’t worth having.

To sit around po-faced, congratulating ourselves – miserably – on not having had a drink or drug (or binged or starved or smoked or gambled or done whatever else we use to do in our active addiction) is frankly stupid and totally unrewarding.

Real, gentle, recovery is directly linked to laughter, a light touch, a willingness to be foolish at times while still taking life seriously and being disciplined in our daily application of the Twelve Step programme.

We have a great debt of gratitude to those who show us that recovery can be a lot of fun.

In coronavirus lock-down and gradual re-emergence into the big wide world, we need to be appropriately cautious and vigilant. But we also need to allow ourselves some levity, do some things just for fun.

Here’s a prayer to remind myself of that:

Dear God, please remind me to be silly at times because
- pomposity is ridiculous,
- I need to lighten up my own life and those of other people,
- I treasure the innocence of childhood,
- I might learn something new by accident,
- I don’t want to get stuck in a rut,
- I don’t want to get old before my time,
- life is too short.
11th June
What I posted on line:

Luck

In self-isolation, due to coronavirus risk, compulsive helpers have a field day every day.

We can busy busy busy all day long on our pet social projects because we may have little or nothing else to do. While other people may be gloomy, these are our lucky days.

Some good things just happen, as if by chance. Compulsive helpers are quite used to that.

Up to a point, we believe in luck. But we also believe in hard work.

We like to think that lucky people have made their own luck. They put themselves in the right place, and they did the necessary preparatory work, for lucky things to have a chance of happening.

However, we don't believe that we ourselves deserve that fortune should smile upon us unless we have worked really hard. Only then would serendipity come our way.

We have never believed that we deserve the same good fortune that we would wish for other people at any time.

Whereas addicts might say, 'Why me?' when something bad happens, we would say 'Why me?' when a lovely thing happens in our little world, out of the blue.

Both attitudes are silly. We can't stop the addicts from being awash with self pity but we can tackle our own self-denial.

This is every bit as important as dealing with our care-taking, doing too much for others so that they stay stuck.

We have the same entitlement as anyone else to spend time and money on ourselves occasionally. But it would never occur to us to do so - and that's the problem.

If we put ourselves down, other people will walk all over us. That isn't good for us but also it isn't good for them.

By helping ourselves to have an equal place in the world alongside other people, we improve both sides of our relationships. In due course, in their recovery, addicts will come to respect our rights to our own lives.

So, when it's our turn for a bit of serendipity, whatever it might be, we should smile gently and say, 'This one's for me'.

And, in the meantime (even though we may find this a difficult concept), say a little prayer for ourselves:

Dear God, please give me the energy
- to surmount my difficulties,
- to create something beautiful,
- to see beyond the humdrum events of each day,
- to fight the battles I want to fight,
- to do several things at the same time in order to enjoy the full richness of life,
- to earn my living,
- to make my mark.
10th June
What I posted on line:

Smart Recovery

All recovery is smart if we accept that using behaviour is stupid.

It’s smart to work a Twelve Step programme in order to get the full spiritual, mental, emotional, physical and social benefits of recovery.

It’s not at all smart to do otherwise. I thought I was being very clever when I was controlling my bingeing by starving. Or gambling only on property ventures rather than in casinos or betting shops or at the races.

In my younger days I thought cigarette smoking was clever, adult, cool and that it would have no damaging effects on me until I was much older.

My uncle smoked all his life and died in his eighties. My mother’s cousin did the same and made it well into his nineties. They were both exceedingly clever. And - as I realise now - very fortunate to have lived as long as they did.

Perhaps they had genetic protection against the ravages of the weed. Perhaps I do. But I’m smart enough nowadays to recognise I may not have that propensity.

SMART Recovery is the trade name of a particular approach towards treating addiction. The implication - and recommendation - is that people can use their own intellects rather than depend on ‘a higher power than self’, as suggested by Alcoholics Anonymous. They emphasise that their adherents can choose to work a Twelve Step programme alongside SMART Recovery practice if they so wish.

Is that really smart? I don’t think so. The principle of wearing belt and braces doesn’t apply in all areas of life. I don’t want a girlfriend on the side in case my wife becomes tired of me. Pat’s far more likely to move on if I get distracted in my attention by dividing my loyalties.

My take on SMART Recovery is that their aficionados haven’t grasped the AA tenet that nobody is too thick to work a Twelve Step programme but some people are too clever to do so.

The equivalent in these days of continuing concern over COVID-19 is that nobody is too stupid to follow advice on social distancing but some rebels and libertarians - like me in less cautious former days - are too clever, too smart, to do so.
9th June
What I posted on line:

Racism

At times anger is an appropriate feeling when something conflicts with our values. But it is not necessarily a command to reaction.

We have to consider the appropriateness of a range of possible behaviours.

Sometimes we may accept that a stimulating event was an accident. Or that the person involved was too young or too old or in some other way not fully capable of being responsible. In such circumstances we let the anger go.

At other times anger is inappropriate, such as when we’re looking for a fight because something didn’t go the way we wanted.

Or when we’re still boiling over with resentment at something that happened a long time ago and we keep ourselves stuck in the past, unable to forgive and forget or simply to accept that bad things happen sometimes.

It all depends on what we want for today.

To stand up for our beliefs is admirable when the outcome is intended to bring peace and harmony into the world. But using violence to achieve peace is unconvincing.

Violence breeds violence.

At all times (either through the use of force or through reluctance to take active steps against prejudice) we need to be careful to ensure we are not simply imposing our will upon others.

Vociferous harangue and silent ‘passive aggression’ are equally objectionable.

Black lives matter. Of course they do. It’s sad and frightening that nowadays it appears that bringing this belief to public attention can only be achieved through violence.

Martin Luther King believed in peaceful protest. And look what happened to him! He definitely did not live by the sword. But he certainly died by it.

Despite warnings, we waited for COVID-19 to arrive before we took action to deal with it.

How many more warnings do we need before we (individually and socially, not merely politically) take definitive action against racism?
9th June
What I posted on line:

Shoulds, Oughts and Musts

My life was ruled by these injunctions for far too long.

I learned from Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) not to allow it. He was the first therapist to say that we can talk back to our inner voices.

When I had a one-to-one public session with him in a conference (I volunteer to be a guinea pig because I’m keen to learn from anyone at first hand) I found him unpleasant and vulgar. But that didn’t distract me from learning his particular - and very helpful - insights.

I learned to ask myself where these inner commands had come from.

Should I really do this or that? Who says so? When was I first on the receiving end of this domineering discipline?

Ought I to follow a particular belief or course of action? Why? Do I still have to adhere to the teachings and instructions of my childhood and early adult life?

Must I do things the way I was taught at school, university, medical school and post-graduate centres? Or am I allowed to think and act for myself just occasionally?

I do not decry the teaching and practical demonstration I have received in the past. I value it. But this doesn’t mean that I swallow it in a gulp without tasting it.

A lecture has been defined as the transmission of the notes of the instructor to those of the pupil without passing through the mind of either.

Sentient human beings learn to think for themselves. Eleanor Roosevelt said “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

The shoulds, oughts, and musts of life should be challenged. They ought to be. They must be. Within the limits of damage to self and others.

While COVID-19 rages on throughout some areas of the world, and previously infected areas are concerned by the prospect of a second wave or even endemic infusion into ‘normality’, it is sensible to listen to the injunctions of scientists and politicians.

Well... perhaps not all of them.

Oh dear. When will this ever end?

The answer is that we need to learn from history. Bubonic plague eventually died out. The 1918 pandemic is not still with us. SARS and MERS had their day and their equivalents will do so at some time in the future.

But the sciences of epidemiology and immunology have also moved on. We should listen to professionals. We ought to do so. We must.
8th June
What I posted on line:

Encouragement

When people ask me to train them as addiction counsellors I do whatever I can to discourage them.

It’s by far the hardest work I’ve ever done. I found it much more demanding than being an army recruit, a junior hospital doctor or a solo singer.

It really is the school of hard knocks when we try to help patients to do the opposite of what they crave to do.

And each patient is a duality: the individual pleading (in a soft voice) for help and the addiction (in a harsh voice) spelling out exactly where I can put my silly ideas.

On top of that, I have observed that addicts die in much greater numbers than their equivalents (for age and gender) in my general medical practice.

I would see a medical practice female patient four or five times a year; a young man very rarely except for accidents.

In my rehab, people I knew well, from working closely with them day after day. would suddenly relapse and die weeks or months after they left.

Rehabs don’t cure any addict. We educate them on the continuing nature of addictive disease and we encourage them to work the Twelve Step programme, one day at a time. indefinitely.

It’s a dreadful tragedy for the patient, and for his or her loved ones, when someone dies.
It’s also tough on me.

I have to protect myself from developing ‘compassion fatigue’. I do this by recognising that I’m responsible for the process of my counselling work but not for the ultimate outcome.

Bereaved family members, and all-knowing and all-powerful inspection agencies, sometimes reckon this attitude of mine is a cop-out. I see it as realistic.

I’m not God: I can’t win all the battles (against addiction) all the time. I’m very fortunate if I help any addict to turn his or her life around.

In my musical life, I’ve had repeated discouragement. Decade after decade I’ve been told to drop any idea of being a professional musician. But here I am, in my eighties, with exactly that aim as a composer.

I follow the encouragement of my inner creative Muse. Human encouragement is nice but my composition output doesn’t depend on it. Words and music flow out of me - provided I discipline myself in technique.

Coronavirus has no effect on this at all. With my headphones on, when I’m sitting at my piano keyboard, I’m in a little world of my own.

And Pat’s in her little world of her own, editing her hiking guides.

Our front door keeps the virus out of our home. And our intense focus on our creative work keeps brutal ‘badliness’ - as Pat calls any physical or emotional insult - at bay.

We share many of the concerns of other people in this difficult time. But this doesn’t remotely discourage us from getting on with our lives in our own ways.

This is the secret of our happiness: we’re alive - and we are very much aware of our privilege and good fortune. We encourage each other.
7th June
What I posted on line:

Contentment

Contentment is an attitude of mind and heart and spirit.

Daily mental stimulation and creative output is an active choice.

In coronavirus self-isolation, I choose to spend my time writing and composing. And I choose to think of positive and beautiful things in my life. I’m very happy with my wife, Pat, and we have a lovely home. I’m very privileged and very content.

Currently, I have no work and therefore no income other than my State old-age pension. My savings won’t last indefinitely. I haven’t been outside our front door for twelve weeks. Zoom meetings are my only social activity.

So what? I’m still much more privileged than the vast majority of the world’s population.

Dr Martin Seligman, who created Positive Psychology, says that we can transform our lives if we focus on three positive aspects of our lives each morning.

His concept of ‘learned helplessness’ is profoundly influential in helping us to move away from the idea that the outside world is the source of all our problems.

I agree with Dr Seligman that our own actions and reactions can shape our internal world. Whatever our personal, social and even medical circumstances, we can find positives in the present.

His research shows that people with very similar backgrounds and current challenges can have dramatically different individual perspectives and consequent outcomes in happiness and in all aspects of health.

Close relationships can be made at any time. Having just one special person in our lives has been shown to have significant positive outcomes in all areas of personal, professional and social life.

Happiness creates happiness.

“It’s only money” can be said only by people who have plenty of it. Even so, the Micawber principle - of spending less than one’s income - holds true for contentment at any financial level.

Knowing when we have ‘enough’ of anything is an art, not a measurable science.

Getting over past misfortunes is a choice. My recommendation is that we can say to ourselves (in this precise order) “It did happen. It was very distressing. But it occurred then, not now. So I don’t have to carry that pain into today.”.

Even in the current difficult and dangerous situation, with COVID-19 far from quiescent, we can have choice after first doing whatever we can to help ourselves. (And, hopefully, we can call a helpline if we are not otherwise able to make our environment safe.)

Contentment - for most of us - is achievable at any time and in any place, even while this raging (but frighteningly silent) virus destroys so much of our society and so many individual lives.

It’s an active choice.
6th June
What I posted on line:

Growing Up

Growing up is seen initially as the process of growing older and becoming independent of parents or other care-givers.

In reality it is much deeper than that. One does not become an adult merely by having a child of one’s own.

And some parents are infantile in their understanding of responsibility.

Even more significantly, growing up is the process of learning from experience.

We make fewer judgements of other people when we know how difficult it is to modify our own behaviour.

COVID-19 lock-down is not a good time for the puerile. Having one expectation after another on other people indicates a restless spirit at any time, let alone when everyone has pressing challenges of their own.

The self-obsessed won’t find much sympathy today. Lost souls, locked in adolescent perspectives, will be very lonely... And promptly blame everyone else.

Adolescents hang out together. That’s healthy when exploring new ideas and ways of doing things. But using a group merely to complain about everyone else is not very edifying.

This contrast (between healthy friendships and unhealthy associations) can be seen at any time of life.

At 83, I’m young. I have life in me. Lots of it. I’m happier and more creative than I’ve ever been.

Yesterday I listened to a friend telling me about his recent bereavement. Then I listened to someone telling me, in the process of his AA Step V, about some fearful things he’s done. He felt he needed to acknowledge and admit them so he can move on, in due course in Step IX, to making amends. He’s growing up. Big time.

Then I watched a guitar masterclass on-line. I learned from the skill of the musician. He helped me to grow up in my musical understanding and insight.

When I listened to the two phone calls yesterday, I myself was helped to grow up spiritually by hearing others going through exactly that process.

Here’s a grown up prayer I wrote in 2004:

Dear God, please help me to learn
- that the world owes me nothing,
- that nothing is created by governments, only by individuals and that I should be grateful to them,
- that my rights and entitlements are inevitably at someone else’s expense,
- that taking is easy, whereas giving is difficult, but I can learn to give,
- that politeness and consideration can be most persuasive,
- that I never know enough to be able to pass judgement on anyone else,
- that other people also have difficulties.
Dear God, help me to grow up.

Sixteen years of familiarity with that prayer doesn’t make it easier for me to put it into practice.

I have a lot of understanding for adolescents because I still am one - eager to learn new ideas and ways of doing things.

And although I’m nowadays better behaved than in my chronological youth, I still need some rough edges knocked off me. But maybe I am growing up. Just a bit.
5th June
What I posted on line:

None

5th June. Royal Opera House. Electra.
6th June. Longborough. Die Walküre.

Ah. What might have been!

My thoughts are with the musicians and all the crew who bring us such happiness. Hopefully we’ll be able to see and hear them next year.

And that’s it, as far as this member of their audience is concerned. I’m disappointed but it’s not a disaster for me. I pray that it won’t be a tragedy for the performers and other creators of my favourite spiritual stimulus.

I’m merely on the receiving end. They’re the givers. Suddenly they have nobody to give to. And therefore nothing to take home financially.

The Arts are a vital part of our culture. They show us the world of our dreams coming to life right in front of us. They give us the opportunity to discover unimagined depths in our spirits.

Government sponsorship of the Arts is not something I favour. The cognoscenti put on parties for themselves.

I don’t see why other people should put their taxes towards my personal pleasures. I don’t pay for theirs.

And I don’t see that opera will die out if finically subsidised young people are not attracted to it. We grow to appreciate opera as our life experience increases.

But what really gets my goat is the arrogance of ‘celebrities’ who believe the State ought to support their stage performances in any genre. For the good of the souls of the ignorant troglodytes who know no better unless taught.

I pay the full price of a ticket to a football match or a rock concert. And so I should. Why should people who enjoy those emotional highs pay for mine?

It’s fascinating to see that in coronavirus shut-down there’s far more concern over when the football season can start again than over when the theatres, opera houses and art galleries can reopen.

The fear is that the vulgar populus will riot if not given its ‘drug of choice’: footie. Would the toffs do likewise if denied our passion? Not a bit. We’ll talk to our mates on the Arts Council and other quangos. And the back-scratching will continue.

When asked what level of government sponsorship I would recommend for the Arts, I give a one word answer. None.
4th June
What I posted on line:

Virtue Signalling

Political unrest gives huge opportunity for the heart-on-sleeve community to talk to each other.

I’m not convinced they are listened to by anyone else. But I doubt this is of great concern to them.

Their primary aim is to get their existing friends and followers to ‘like’ them on social media.

We’re all in trouble enough with coronavirus without having the issue politicised and band-wagoned by people wanting to capitalise on social insecurity.

The BME community has double the mortality rate of their white neighbours. This might reflect genetic predisposition to susceptibility. Or it could be an indication of social and behavioural factors reducing immunity. Or it may be because disproportionately more of them work in high-exposure occupations. I don’t know. But the Twitterati do.

The murder of an unarmed black man by a white policeman is a despicable outrage. Does this imply that all policemen in America are racist? And that America is institutionally racist? And that President Trump’s response is racist? The Twitterati know - with absolute conviction.

And they take every opportunity to tell each other.

What worries me is that Antifa defines fascism as any viewpoint other than that of far-Left totalitarians.

To them, my statement of outrage is woefully - even criminally - insufficient.

I’m not prepared to be bullied or shamed. By anybody. My hope is that this stance will be seen as inclusive.

I want other people (of all races, economic groups, religious beliefs and political persuasions) to have the right and opportunity to say what outrages or delights them - and not be bullied or shamed into having to make further statements.

I appreciate writers who take the trouble to make their points clearly and, if appropriate to the subject, entertainingly. But I discriminate between those who proselytise and those who inform or simply state their opinion.

For example (in writers for The Times) I enjoyed the writing of Matthew Parris when he was the diarist but I no longer read his personal column. I found his tendency to bang on about the joys of homosexuality tiresome. I would find it equally irritating if he were straight.

Melanie Phillips is a superb writer. Her pro-Israel stance reflects her experience (and that of her husband, Joshua Rosenberg) of living in that country. I’ve been to Ramallah. I’m familiar with alternative perspectives.

Philip Collins acknowledges his preference for Socialism. David Aaronovitch is certainly no hard-line Tory.

I read them and others (most of them) because they are such good writers. They say something stimulating and challenging. They make me think, ponder and reflect.

In The Sunday Times, I simply don’t care about the political incorrectness of Rod Liddle and Jeremy Clarkson. They are very very funny. Roland White is close.

I go through this catalogue of my own reading as a statement of fact. It doesn’t interest me whether or not other people concur with my observations and preferences. I don’t want ‘likes’ or a shower of emojis (the resource of the literary inept and emotionally incontinent).

Now then: the crux...

Printed newspapers are dying. Very few people under the age of 40 read them at all. Social media are the future.

I put up these posts on Facebook because I want to influence the style - not just the content - of this medium. Is my hope forlorn?

I find virtue signalling distasteful, not just irritating. Even in excellent writers. If that’s the future, I don’t want it.
2nd June
What I posted on line:

Anger

“Anger is the process of damaging oneself because of someone else’s behaviour” is a quote I like a lot. I can’t find out who said it. I wish I had.

In the bad old days of my active addiction, I didn’t do anger. I did fury. Inevitably it rebounded on me. Subsequent apologies never fully restored trust. That damaged my relationships. Sometimes irretrievably, idiot that I was.

I look back at those outbursts with curiosity. I can’t remember what caused them. Maybe nothing did. Nothing significant external to my own head, anyway.

I suppose I was just a ball of anger looking for somewhere to bounce.

Active addicts live a fraudulent emotional life. They get ‘good’ feelings on the cheap, without having to do anything positive or create anything beautiful or useful.

They don’t experience the genuinely happy feeling that comes with a job well done or a kindly act.

And they avoid pain at all costs. Their happiness is false. Appropriate sadness is suppressed.

As a result, they cannot learn from experience. They remain in permanent adolescence. They are often described as ‘age 42, going on 14’.

Consequently, their behaviour is rarely distinguishable from the tantrums and moanings of objectionable teenagers.

What should be an age of eager exploration, patient education and sensible individuation becomes one of tedious repetition, closed-mindedness and arrogant belligerence.

The thought of being in coronavirus isolation (even as the boundaries are relaxed just a bit) with one - or more - of these destructive deviants is very frightening. And rightly so. They can lash out unexpectedly. I did. Why wouldn’t they?

But, merciful heaven - for myself as well as for others - I don’t do that now. I express concerns but I don’t get angry.

The last time I remember losing my cool was about six years ago when I felt I was being ripped off. And about three years prior to that I was upset when I felt I was being over-helped with things I needed to do for myself for the sake of my continuing recovery.

I recall these events because of their rarity.
Maybe I’m a grown-up now. Yet, at my current natal age of 83, I feel 43 or 33 and - in moments of spontaneity in my various enthusiasms - I behave as a 23 year old.

And that’s a lot of fun that I missed out on (because of my various addictions) when I genuinely was that age.

So anger - let alone fury - doesn’t suit me nowadays and, please God, I’m easier to live with.

COVID-19 social isolation has been disastrous to some couples and families but it has brought my wife, Pat, and me even closer together. I should be so fortunate!
1st June
What I posted on line:

Creature Comforts

My mother used to describe sweets, chocolates, biscuits and cakes as ‘creature comforts’.

She had plenty: she was almost spherical.

I inherited my eating disorder from her. But I also discovered the mood-altering effects of starving. So my pattern was the binge/starve cycle rather than progressive obesity.

Mum’s childhood was very demanding. Her father died when she was six and her mother was alcoholic. Mum did most of the up-bringing of her younger sister and brother. In that impoverished home the children had no creature comforts except each other.

Dad’s home was equally poor. His alcoholic father told him - at the age of 13 - he was old enough to be earning his living and supporting his mother. So he did what he could to look after his four younger sisters and his even younger brother.

Such creature comforts as Dad enjoyed in his childhood were in caring for others. His compulsive helping (which I believe - as with all other addictions - is genetically inherited and I think I got mine from him) took off.

By contrast with my parents’ young lives, I was very well nurtured. But my eating disorder was already apparent.

When I was six I fell into a lake when I was sucking a lollipop. I didn’t mind if I drowned but the sweet stayed in my mouth even though it impaired my breathing. Sugar was vital to me.

And my compulsive helping showed later on when I was at school. I often volunteered to take punishments for things other boys had done.

We all have creature comforts of some kind or other. ‘Retail therapy’ meets a basic human need for solace.

But compulsive shopping and spending - an addictive outlet that commonly goes with eating disorders, as it did with mine - is in a different league. I’m a fully paid up member of that club.

In due course my addictive nature had me floating on a raft of various addictions. But this temporary support and sense of safety became progressively less dependable as the weight of my spiritual burden increased.

Nowadays the Twelve Step programme gives me daily security - especially under the social and economic lash of coronavirus.

I gather from news stories that other people are currently spending less on clothes but very much more on alcohol than previously.

It’s not only the addictive population that sees booze as a life preserver.

Fortunately - one day at a time - I no longer have that delusion. I don’t want anything to get in the way of the super-duper relationship I have with my wife, Pat. Or to distract me when I’m writing or composing.

I’m so privileged to have the human and creative creature comforts that were denied to my parents. And - while I endure the minor social privations of coronavirus - I need to remember that they lived through two world wars. There weren’t too many creature comforts around in those days.


Diary Part II

31st May
What I posted on line:

Politeness

It costs nothing to be polite and it gives a great deal.

The most significant aspect of politeness (if it is to have any value in our lives) is that it should be universal - applied as much to people who are rude and aggressive as to people who are considerate and gentle.

People who are unpleasant in one aspect of their lives are probably also nasty in others. For this reason there is never any need to pay people back for aggression or insults dished out in our direction. They’ll get in the neck from someone else anyway. Probably at home.

I find it tedious when people attack politicians and their advisors. They are human beings with families and friends. To disparage their ideas is fair enough - provided one is prepared to put one’s own ideology into the lion’s den in equal measure.

But to try to wound the person is undignified and silly. And everyone else can see that. Far from gaining new friends, the antagonist will be stuck with the limited vision of his or her own mealy-mouthed menagerie.

I’m not a great one for turning the other cheek for it to be smacked again. I prefer to make myself scarce. I don’t stay around to have sticks and stones hurled in my direction as well.

I discuss but I don’t argue. I prefer to finish up happy with what I’ve said or done - because I’ve been considerate - rather than subsequently try to justify my hostility. I don’t like poisoning myself with my own venom.

Single-issue fanatics are absolutely convinced by their own message to the world, be it political or religious or deemed (by themselves) to be the necessary path towards saving the planet or furthering the (benign until threatened) interests of their own coterie.

That’s fine for bands of brothers of many and various persuasions to follow on their own. But I’d prefer them to leave me alone. I don’t want to be dragooned into their barmy army. I treasure my individuality.

And I also value the physical, mental, emotional and behavioural freedom of everyone else.

Therefore I respect our differences. And I choose to be polite while doing so. I’m happy that way.

I’ve even learned (to some extent) to be polite towards myself. This takes some doing because I’ve always been my sternest critic even though - historically, from my childhood on - there’s been plenty of competition for that position.

COVID-19 has brought out the best as well as the worst in us. Our society is ordered about as never before. Natural iconoclasts like me are not comfortable with being subjected to one instruction after another. But I’m not going to bang a drum, blow a whistle or chant abusive slogans. I’ll bide my time, as the vast majority of the population are also doing.

When this tiresome and tragic virus business has run its course, I hope there’ll be some residual vestige of freedom in our society.

I’ll use it - politely - to challenge statist and conformist ideas. Contradict me by all means. But please be polite - for your own health and happiness. And mine.
30th May
What I posted on line:

Looking forward

This present day, even before we gradually emerge from COVID-19 shut down, is a time of hope, of optimism, of appreciation.

I learned that lesson ten years ago when I was bankrupt. I had lost my home, my work and everything I possessed.

Initially I looked back in sadness at what I had lost. Then I had what can only be described as a rude awakening. I asked a friend “What do people think of me nowadays?”. He replied “They don’t.”.

Clearly there was no point in looking back, other than to learn from my mistakes.

Fortunately, at various times in my life, I had lost things before. I knew how to survive by putting one foot in front of the other.

But I wanted more than that. I wanted to live. And that was the crux, the stimulus to look forward rather than back.

Right now, in obligatory deference to COVID-19, Pat and I remain in self-isolation. The rest of the world is tentatively beginning to get its act together again. We can’t do that.

Anno Domini dictates that we don’t take the avoidable risks of popping our heads out of the door (apart from the solitary walks Pat takes early each morning).

But we’re very far from being shut-down. We’re wide open to new opportunities. After all, we’re only in our early eighties. We’re young.

As a writer, editor and publisher of hiking guides, Pat is revising her existing catalogue. There’s a lot of work in that. Already she has the vision of her avid readers wanting to shake off all memory of enforced caging and get out and about. She’s excited for them and for herself. The wider outdoor world beckons.

But we’ll have to wait for a reliable vaccine before we travel any significant distance. In Pat’s case that future adventure means catching an aeroplane. For me, with osteoporosis limiting my walking distance, it means going outside our front door.

I take sufficient static exercise each morning to stay in good nick. I’m not missing out on any healthy activity. My joints still move and I can still touch my knees. That’s the best I can ask for. I’m content. Physically.

Mentally, I’m not raring to go. Not at all. I’m galloping already. I never stopped. It’s only the direction of my energy that’s changed, not its quantity.

My counselling work involves face-to-face awareness of delicate nuances. I can’t do that on Skype or Zoom. Not in the way I function. And I’m not prepared to compromise. I’ll wait.

Pat, very kindly and patiently, does my initial accounts. They’re not exactly complex right now: Income zilch (apart from standard state pension). Outgoings food, books purchased on Amazon, and eager payments to my music engraver and orchestrator.

Yesterday Pat asked me how I’d managed to spend a sizeable wodge in mid-February. It puzzled me as well until we found the tickets to a concert performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in January 2021.

Hey! Hey! - or, more precisely, “Highaho Ya!” in The Ride of the Valkyries. Now that really is travelling! Something to look forward to.
29th May
What I posted on line:

Peace

Peace is not merely the absence of war. Inner peace is as vital as external peace.

We all have unsolved problems in this time of coronavirus shut-down but also at any time in our lives.

The challenge is to have peace of mind despite any number of unsolved problems.

The short quotation from Reinhold NIebuhr’s Serenity Prayer - often recited at the end of Anonymous Fellowship meetings - shows us the way:

‘God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.’

To howl at the full moon, as canines often do, is a symbol of pointless activity. But King Canute has been much maligned. He was attempting to demonstrate, to his sycophantic courtiers, the limits of regal power: a monarch raging against the tides, or commanding them to ebb, has no effect on them at all.

We cannot achieve peace of mind through activities that are totally unrealistic. Using mood-altering substances and processes and relationships to change the way we feel, brings short term gain at the expense of long term pain.

Changing the things we can is a straightforward concept (changing ourselves rather than attempting to change other people) but difficult in practice.

Bizarrely, addicts (like me in the old days) rush towards the substances and processes and relationships that damage us and we fend off - determinedly - all attempts to turn us round towards abstinence.

We treat our ‘enemies’ (the providers of addictive stuff and nonsense) as friends and our true friends (who want us to be clean and serene) as enemies.

Turning ourselves around isn’t as easy as we might imagine. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve run straight into a brick wall, picked myself up, and promptly done it again.

Even so, I’m not keen on the concept of ‘rock bottom’ (even though, each time I read one particular passage in the Big Book of AA, I’m amused by the idea of a ‘literal bottom’).

Some addicts are so determined to prove to themselves that ‘black’ is ‘white’, they die before they hit what the Fellowship cognoscenti might think of as rock bottom.

The process of intervention, first described in the 1960s by Dr Vernon Johnson of The Johnson Institute, spelt out a technique for helping addicts to recognise, and then (often reluctantly) accept the need to change, behaviour:

1. I love (or whatever word is appropriate in the relationship) you.
2. AND (not ‘but’ - which would cancel out the love.)
3. I’m concerned for you.
4. Because I observe... fact, fact, fact (not opinions that can be countered).
5. I recommend... (rehab or whatever).
6. If you don’t comply, I shall... (Never make a threat you are not prepared to carry out. Otherwise the whole procedure is pointless.)

This is where ‘tough love’ is most painfully illustrated - in the person doing the intervention, not only in the person on the receiving end.

Sometimes the second word (love) is forgotten by people focussing on the first word (tough).
As a result of that misapplication, the process of intervention has sometimes got a bad reputation.

The effective approach is to give the recipient a choice: Continue to do it your own way and this will happen... Do it the way we (Interventions are best enacted by a group of family members and friends who are previously rehearsed by a professional interventionist) will...

I think it was in the State of Ohio that - some years ago - a law was brought in that said all drunk drivers would be sent automatically to rehab for 28 days.

The incidence of driving under intoxication (DUI) went down. The drivers who were alcoholic got the treatment they needed and the others wised up.

But an organisation called ‘Mothers against drunk drivers’ (or a similar group) protested and the legal process lapsed. So the mayhem continued while ‘justice’ was confused with ‘revenge’.

Peace is a state of individual mind. It cannot be imposed from outside. Nor can it be taken away by others.

Man's Search for Meaning, a beautiful and peaceful literary masterpiece, was written by Viktor Frankl when he was in a concentration camp. He described his psychotherapeutic method, in which he identified a purpose in life - something to feel positive about - and then immersed himself in an image of that outcome.

Pat and I have emulated his magnificent example in a very minor way. We perceive the closed front door to our flat, in this time of rampant Covid-19 viruses flying around, not so much as trapping us in but keeping the coronavirus out and leaving us in peace.
28th May
What I posted on line:

Strength

“You’ve got to be strong, Robert”, said an acquaintance (not a close friend) after my wife, Meg, died.

I didn’t see why.

Who for? Meg and I had been on our own already for a year. There was no one close, physically or emotionally, in the Old People’s Home in which we lived.

And what for? Why should I push down the most desperate feelings I’d ever had? They would only come up again later. After causing all sorts of emotional, mental and physical problems in the interim.

I reckoned it was better to let my tears flow spontaneously. For as long as they found it necessary.

That was a good plan. I came through my distress naturally. In time.

Other family members took antidepressants. I couldn’t see what good they would do. I wasn’t depressed out of the blue. I was sad for a very understandable reason.

There was nothing awry with my brain biochemistry. It was functioning exactly as it was designed to do; it was telling me something awful had happened and that I needed to be gentle with myself.

The last thing I needed was to be ‘strong’ in any way.

Bereavement is a commonplace in this time of COVID-19 devastation. The young and fit, along with the old and infirm, are all at risk at some level. Who knows the name of the next person to meet St Peter (or the other fella)?

And is this the time to crack the old joke about wanting heaven for the climate and hell for the company? I don’t see why not.

My father said, on the day itself, that his mother would have been late for her own funeral if someone hadn’t brought her.

And at family funerals my mother and I both attended, I would whisper “You’re next”. And, of course, on one occasion, she was.

At my father’s funeral I put my hand on his coffin and said “I suppose that’s all there was”. I’d hoped that we would grow closer since the many years of separation in my childhood. But we never did.

At Meg’s funeral, in a crematorium, I watched her coffin roll away and I gave a very small air-punch - downwards in front of my chest - to say “On we go...”

We cry (or not) for ourselves, for what we believe we shall miss. I’ve done plenty of that on my own. I’m not inclined to wail in public.

Each of us grieves in our own way. I choose to remember happy times together, rather than focus on the immediate separation. Each year I remember the day of Meg’s birth and the day of our wedding anniversary. I don’t recall the day of her departure.

The rite of passage of a funeral service (sadly impossible right now, for fear of transmitting coronavirus) is a necessary formula for acceptance and transference to a new emotional and social reality.

When the sword of Damocles falls, there is no debate. That’s it. And then, in time, we look to the future. Gently.
27th May
What I posted on line:

Change

I’m a creature of habit. I work out what I want to do. Then I do it. And, after that, I do it again if I’m enjoying it and getting something positive from it.

In coronavirus chaos, as with anyone else, there are lots of things I can’t do at present. But I’m turning this enforced time of reflection to my own advantage.

I’m asking myself whether I want to do these activities again in future. I’m giving myself the privilege of choice before it’s forced upon me.

Previously my order of priorities has been :

1. Staying abstinent from everything addictive.
2. Staying married.
3. Earning my living as a counsellor.
4. Composing, writing and photographing.
5. Travelling with Pat on her working expeditions.
6. Going to operas, concerts, plays and films .
7. Staying in touch with my family and friends.
8. Physical fitness

Other people may have very different priorities. Or many of mine in a different order. That’s their choice.

On reflection, I’m content with my list and my ranking order as it is.

1. If I lose my abstinence, I’ll lose everything.

2. Pat is my sweetheart. And that’s that (from my perspective). All I have to do is to do the things that are likely to ensure she wants me in her life.

3. I want the dignity of earning my living. It doesn’t have to be in counselling but that’s what I most enjoy and where I have the most experience. I’m a long way short of having any alternative income as a writer or composer.

4. I imagine I’ll compose more, write less and maybe do some pencil drawings. Taking photographs is only one visual art, not the only one that interests me.

5. I’ll go where I’m put by Pat.

6. I don’t need to do as much homework (in learning how to compose an opera or musical) as I’ve been doing in the last couple of years. I need to put into practice what I’ve learned already.

7. My family and friends know where I am if they want me in their lives but I don’t want to impose myself on them. The Christmas and birthday card test (comparing what I receive with what I send out) is, I believe, a fairly accurate indicator of the mutuality of a relationship.

8. I am physically fit. Maintenance is straightforward.

And how much time have I devoted to each of these activities today in COVID-19 shut-down?

1. Recovery: 3 hours.
2. Pat: 24 hours.
3. Work: Nil.
4. Composing/writing: 6 hours.
5. Travel: Nil.
6. Arts activities: Nil.
7. Family and friends: 1 hour.
8. Fitness: 1/2 hour

That may look unbalanced - or even odd - to other people. But it suits me. Just for now. This change in my daily routine is becoming a habit. I can get used to it.
26th May
What I posted on line:

Words

At school I was taught things. At Cambridge I was trained to think.

I’m no academic but I very much admire thinkers and reasoners.

I valued the philosophy book Straight and Crooked Thinking by the Cambridge don, Robert Thouless, in which ‘he describes, assesses and critically analyses flaws in reasoning and argument’.

And I very much respect the work of Charles Dodgson who, in a previous generation, was a mathematics don at Christ Church, Oxford.

I remember reading his book, Symbolic Logic. He would make a number of statements and then challenge the reader to deduce the next. Self-indulgently, I enjoyed that literary game.

Dodgson is better known by his pen name Lewis Carrol. In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, he took the nursery rhyme character, Humpty Dumpty, and immortalised him philosophically:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.”

Ha! I love it!

This is Charles Dodson, or Lewis Carroll if you prefer, at his humorous, literary, mathematical and philosophical best. His own precision in number is mocked by this quasi-incantation of imprecision in word.

Mark Twain said "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education".

Ha! I love that as well!

And also my very favourite Mark Twain quote: “I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn't know”.

But in the exceedingly serious situation of COVID-19 shut-down, we have a desperate need for answers to ever so many questions. We want mathematical and verbal precision.

Generally - in my counselling work - I ask questions, rather than give advice. I have myself been given so much well-meaning, but inappropriate or frankly crazy, advice in the past, I’ve come to distrust the process.

My answer to the question “What do you think is best?” is usually “Whatever you feel is best in your particular circumstances”.

Applying that maxim to myself right now, I reiterate “Follow the suggestions of people who know more than I do”.

Yet again, the specific and gentle and heart-warming words of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer suit me just fine:

‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’
25th May
What I posted on line:

Poverty

Here’s a prayer I wrote in 2004. I repeat it today as a reminder to myself that, even in coronavirus shut-down, I am exceedingly privileged.

‘Dear God,
Please guide me towards helping rather than patronising the poor.

Please help me

- to recognise that “poor” is a relative rather than an absolute term and that it may be employed for political rather than genuinely compassionate purposes,

- to observe that poor people in freely commercialised countries are a lot richer than those in countries under full state control and that it is governments who make and keep people poor,

- to resist shedding crocodile tears over other people’s poverty while preserving my own relative affluence,

- to accept that, if poverty really concerns me above all else, I should go to countries where the people are destitute,

- to find ways of assisting competent people to achieve the dignity of self-sufficiency rather than continued dependency,

- to give my own personal time, effort and money rather than clamour that governments should do something.’

My parents went to India as Christian missionaries, not to feed the starving millions but to preach the Word.

When I was an active member of the North Kensington Labour Party in my twenties, I was a governor of Ladbroke Upper School. No child in that school had ever taken an O level, let alone an A level, exam. My principal duty was to rubber stamp the list of children to be entitled to free school meals.

As an NHS GP, I was particularly concerned to help the destitute in welfare homes and, subsequently, to undermine local private practice by taking on as many new patients as I could.

Then, as a private GP, I earned my income from those patients who could afford to pay and I established a rehab to care for addicts whom the state neglected. (There were no state-funded Twelve Step rehabs.) So after failing to raise charitable funds, my wife and I used our own.

Virtue does not ooze from my every pore. I did the work I wanted to do. I made my own choices.

But these practical experiences gave me the awareness of true poverty. And also true humbug.

It was from that background that I wrote this
particular prayer. Yet still I wrote it for myself. For all my self-proclaimed beneficence, I need to remind myself each day that my addictive nature could still fill my cup with blame and self-pity until it runs over in floods of crocodile tears.

So here’s another prayer I wrote at the same time:

‘The courage to change

- from defending myself with rigid emotional control to allowing myself to welcome emotional vulnerability,

- from poisoning myself with anger and resentment to healing myself with acceptance and gratitude,

- from regretting what I don’t have to valuing what I do have,

- from looking back to looking forward,

- from being where I was to going where I want to be,

- from fighting a losing battle to recognising the need to surrender it,

is difficult to acquire on my own.
O God, please join me on my journey.’

When the COVID-19 pandemic is over (perhaps only temporarily) a great many things in our lives will have changed.

In my view, the art of survival and spiritual prosperity is through acceptance and gratitude.

That’s worked for me in previous crises of one kind or another. I’ll use those same self-healing practical activities again now.
24th May
What I posted on line:

Survival

The survival instinct does not appear to tally directly with quality of life. It’s an individual characteristic, based on how people see their lives in any state at any time.

In my work as an NHS GP for 17 years, I visited many people in their homes. In dimensionally identical flats in a tower block, dramatic differences were apparent inside each front door. Some people lived in cleanliness and dignity, others in physical and mental squalor.

My sense is that the difference depends on whether individuals look for their contentment and survival to themselves or others.

I know people who are in desperate physical shape, with one disability and disadvantage after another, who do whatever little they can to maintain their proud independence.

But, in the nature of my daily work, I also know others who are relatively physically fit but eager to grab state benefits and entitlements. (I emphasise ‘grab’ to distinguish between those for whom welfare services are a vital necessity and those who use any opportunity to take free this or that, irrespective of the needs of others for access to limited resources.)

The dividing issue appears to me to be one of self-esteem.

But the creepy-crawlies who irritate me are the self-satisfied creatures who signal their own virtue by demanding that someone else - usually taxpayer-funded welfare workers - should do something.

While saying “We believe in the NHS”, they take from the common pot rather than contribute to it.

To applaud front-line workers each Thursday evening during coronavirus shut-down is one thing. To be a volunteer assistant is quite another.

Self-centredness eventually gets its comeuppance.

Hospital patients with identical physical conditions may have vastly differing clinical outcomes. Some survive while others turn their faces to the wall, give up and die in a surfeit of self-pity.

And the sanctimonious scroungers who demand “Someone (else) should do something!” get their ultimate just deserts in lonely emotional, if not physical, isolation.

Retribution also comes to the ‘Me too!’ brigade. By focussing their attention on looking back, they fail to look forward. They sow the seeds of their own dismal demise.

And the same pathetic end result comes to attendees of ‘Survivors Workshops’ and ‘Therapeutic Methods’. In an orgy of self-pity and blame, they walk proudly into oblivion.

Survival is far more than determination - which is a handicap when facing in the wrong direction (as I have done many times).

It’s a fundamental commitment to the beauty of life that comes from giving (appropriately and sensitively) rather than taking and demanding.

There’s an A.A. saying I use as a reminder to myself (in my more aware days), “We keep what we give away”.

And, on that basis, it doesn’t matter whether we survive or die. We live each day to the full while we can.
23rd May
What I posted on line:

Harmony

Harmony in our lives is music in our ears and sweet melody in our spirits.

We crave the quiet life, the carefree moments, the un-troubled and positively happy relationships, if only...

And there's the catch: if only what?

Why do we dream of a perfect future, rather than focus our attention on being happy, joyous and free, as best we can, even in our present circumstances?

We may be so tied up in our daily preoccupations that we become part of the problem, rather than contributors to the solution.

We need to focus first of all on being in harmony with ourselves. Being in discord, always doubting and criticising ourselves, is no way to live. It doesn't do us, or anyone else, any good. It harms.

A true inventory of our behaviour needs to examine what we do well, alongside noting what we do not do so well or even do badly.

We rejoin the human race when we treat ourselves in the same way we treat other people. We can then be in harmony with ourselves and with others.

A wind instrument, such as the human voice, is capable of beautiful speech or song on its own. But it is even more beautiful in harmonious combination with others. Close harmony is a very special treat.

Counterpoint, weaving two or more melodies together is fun. Each part retains its individuality but the combination develops a beauty of its own and, in skilled and sensitive hands, creates harmony.

We can achieve this harmony in music or in personal relationships, if we choose to do so.
Even in coronavirus shut-down.
22nd May
What I posted on line:

Appearances

Many people like to keep up appearances, to make things appear good even when they aren’t.

This behaviour is fair enough. But it is often seen excessively in compulsive helpers. We take responsibility for other people, tidying up their messes and finding acceptable rationalisations for their behaviour. This doesn’t help them or us. Addictive behaviour is the only beneficiary of our white lies.

Maintaining neat and tidy physical appearance is very important during coronavirus isolation. We should want to look good, and keep our homes in fine fettle, for our own dignity and self-esteem, not for the approval of someone else.

In the early weeks of shutdown, this isn’t too challenging. But hair grows and the professionals who groom us have gone to ground, same as we have. So either we have to cut our own hair or, if we live with someone else, cut each other’s.

And therein lies a problem. My hairdresser has a touch of genius in making my pate look better covered than it actually is. So I’m anticipating appearing progressively more bald as the weeks go by. I’d like to say this doesn’t matter to me. Ha! Of course it does. I’m as vain as the next man.

However, my changing facial appearance is working to my advantage. I’m eating less. I’m not sure why. But the end result is that I’ve lost my jowls. I have to be careful about this because, from previous experience, I look scrawny if I get any thinner than I am now. And then people start asking me if I’m all right...really all right. That isn’t at all a comfortable position for a compulsive helper like me.

Friends and acquaintances seeing me on Zoom, will notice that I’m not wearing a suit. I’ve worked a seven day week all my life until now so I’ve always worn a suit. It’s an emblem of my professional persona.

Each and every day I’ve dealt with issues that are deeply distressing to the people I see. I don’t believe I could comfort and reassure them (rather than merely inform them or prescribe for them) if I decked myself out in jeans and a bomber jacket. I don’t care what my patients wear but I do care a lot about what I wear.

I haven’t worked as a doctor for ten years but I still think like a doctor, my kind of doctor, and wearing a suit reminds me to uphold professional standards.

Will that change now that I’m wearing slacks and a T-shirt or pullover? I don’t think so. They’re what is referred to in invitations as ‘smart casual’.

So there it is. I’ve discovered a new identity: a Smart Casual.

Well at least it’s better than ‘scruffy ruffian’. I’ve got appearances to maintain!
21st May
What I posted on line:

Creative Time

I
value my time - especially when I have plenty of it. In coronavirus shut-down I can do all sorts of things I gave little time to previously.

I can think more of other people and less of myself when I am not busy busy busy.

Even though I have worked all my life in a helping profession, and focussed my attention on developing my knowledge and skill, there was still an element of me me me.

I wanted to create the finest this or the most effective that. These are good values. I still have them today - except for the superlatives. ‘Finest’ and ‘most’ are comparisons. They’re ok only when I evaluate what I create today relative to what I myself have produced before.

But nowadays, in the sole company of my iPhone (on which I do all my writing in the Notes section) and my electronic piano keyboard, I do so without a thought on what other people are doing. I’m in competition only with myself.

I’m not trying to survive. Paradoxically, at this time when my GP has placed me on the NHS high risk category, I’m doing far more than surviving: I’m living!

In my private medical practice and rehab, the professional world I inhabited for two thirds of my working life, I had to survive. Patients don’t come from the patient tree, as they do in the state sector. I had to find them and keep them. Today I have none. In self-isolation I don’t leave my home and nobody comes here to see my wife and me professionally or personally.

In my first musical (I’ve recently completed a second) I wrote a song for a groupie who had lost her identity. She wept the recurring refrain ‘But I’m a non-person now’. I don’t remotely share her feeling today. I have no organisation, no staff and no income. But I’m still ‘me’. My enthusiasm - my creative Muse - is very much alive.

In The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, TS Eliot says ‘Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea’. What a fearful intimation of loneliness and lack of inspiration!

Today, at my piano keyboard I composed a short vocal quintet. It isn’t Mozart or Wagner. But it is me. Now, awake in the middle of the night (as with other people in my age group, I tend to sleep in four-hour batches), I’m writing this post. It’s not Shakespeare or Milton. But it is me.

And, as with all communication, I’m focussed on what might arrive in the listener’s or reader’s mind. I have to give time and attention to technique and style but, if I don’t create pieces that attract other people, they’re mere self-indulgence.

In the year from mid-2018 to mid-2019, I sat in the audience - for operas, musicals, recitals and plays and the occasional film - four or five times every week. I wanted to get the feel of what comes across the footlights. I finished up broke and exhausted but it was educational time very well spent.

Now, in coronavirus self-isolation with my wife, it’s time for me to switch from observation to production. And, despite tragic circumstance (of which I’m very much aware) for many other people, I myself have all the creative time in the world.
20th May
What I posted on line:

Normal

I’m not at sure I know what ‘normal’ is.

The twin, equal and opposite, parts of my addictive nature that affect my relationships with other people are primary addiction (using other people as if they were drugs) and self-denial (using myself as a drug for other people).

I assume that normality is something in the middle. Or maybe doing something different altogether. But how would I know? I’ve never had that experience. I’m a wild one.

My chances of being a ‘normal’ drinker or eater or gambler or helper are not good. I don’t have a stop button.

But, through working the Twelve Step programme on a daily basis, I can acquire a semblance of normality by not doing the crazy things I used to do.

But does abstinence make me normal? I think not. I’m merely given a daily reprieve. Wearing specs gave me a daily functional reprieve from my short-sight. But, after 50 years of wearing glasses or contact lenses, I was still just as short-sighted as I was to begin with.

The same is true for my addictive nature. My last use of any addictive substance was 12th October 1984. So what? That’s just a date. What matters is today. I can drop off my abstinent perch any day I get it into my thick head to do so.

So, even after all this time, I don’t consider myself to be ‘normal’. I’m still an addict and a compulsive helper. These features go with me. I can’t grow out of them or pray to God to be rid of them.

I can pray to the God of my understanding to remind me (psychologically) each day to be honest, open-minded, willing, accepting, grateful, spontaneous, creative, enthusiastic, sane, kind, courageous and forgiving - and I do.

But I have to take the necessary action. The Higher Power of my understanding (the Twelve Step programme itself) works for me only if I work it. I don’t get a magic fix by gazing into space or twiddling my thumbs.

I have no expectation of being able to use mood-altering substances or processes or relationships sensibly. That’s not in my gift. I don’t see myself having any chance of that. Heaven knows I tried long and hard to achieve ‘normality’ in this respect. I failed every time: crash, bang, wallop.

So I don’t waste time on trying to change what I believe cannot be changed. I’d love to grow back the seven and a half inches of height I lost through osteoporosis of my spine. But I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon - either spontaneously or through sheer determination. I have to accept that my current height is ‘normal’ for me today.

And I don’t believe I can become a ‘normal’ or ‘moderate’ user of anything addictive, either through extraordinary intuition or through encouragement by other people. I’m the way I am.

Happily, I don’t want to be ‘normal’ in any way. I would find it excruciatingly boring. My songs and my sonnets express what I feel. I want them to challenge, disturb, inspire. If someone were to call the product of my soul ‘normal’ or ‘interesting’, I’d die.
19th May
What I posted on line:

Loyalty

Loyalty to an idea, belief, ethic, principle or value can have lasting significance - for better or worse.

Loyalty to an individual or to a domestic, social, professional, political, economic, cultural, national, racial or religious group can also have long-term benefits or hazards.

Loyalty is not the simple straightforward concept it might initially appear to be.

True loyalty has to be freely given. It should not be demanded, although - distressingly frequently - it is.

Politicians say “Do as we decree or you will be fined, imprisoned or legally put to death”.

Religious leaders say “Follow our teaching or you will be cast into outer darkness and burn in hell fire”.

In a theocracy, in which religious leaders become political leaders, barbarism is sanctified.

The origin of social grouping, in primitive society, will have been for cooperative production and mutual protection. Social leadership will have been bestowed on the strongest in body and mind. Or demanded by them.

And mystics, interpreting geological or astronomical events, will have claimed predictive and preventive power. ‘Knowledge’ - true or made up - was respected (either freely or compulsorily).

Nothing much has changed over the millennia.

Then marauders pillaged and plundered in order to appropriate to themselves the products of the inventiveness and hard work of others. Little has changed there. Except that the robbers nowadays wear suits.

Our principles and practices have suddenly been catapulted into stark relief by COVID-19. Where is the current divide between liberty and dictatorship? Once moved, how easy will it be to shift that boundary again? And in which direction will it be most likely to move?

Cooperation in material production and mutual protection is as important today as it was in the Stone Age. And social cohesion is as vital in our time as it was for the cartoon Flintoffs. But without the slightest semblance of humour.

The origin of this pandemic - irrespective of its precise cause - was a global tipping point. And paradigm shifts are occurring daily, rather than over decades.

So where do our loyalties lie now? Do we stick with our customary allegiances? Do we modify them in the light - or dark - of pressing circumstance? Or will they be demanded of us and imposed upon us?

In St Paul’s cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, there is a Latin inscription that is customarily translated ‘Reader, if you seek his memorial - look around you.'. If we now want an insight into the privations and perils of primitive society, we have only to look around us today.

Yet the Age of the Enlightenment can come again in new forms. Mankind is immensely resourceful.

We have practical precedent for hope. And we do not need tin pot dictators or witch doctors. Within each one of us, in our individual ways, is the spark of creativity, the life force. Let’s kindle it in our hearts and homes. And let’s use the miracle of modern technology to communicate it to others.

Let’s develop a sense of loyalty to ourselves and each other. Perhaps as never before.
18th May
What I posted on line:

A Light Touch

“The chef had a light moment”, said the waiter in one of my favourite local restaurants, some years ago, when I asked him to convey my compliments to the maestro in the kitchen on the quality of the soufflé.

Indeed so. But not today. Restaurants still exist in South Kensington, even though every other retail outlet is an estate agent’s or a coffee shop. But today they’re all closed. Coronavirus sweeps all away with a harsh hand, tightly gripping the throat of my adult lifetime local community.

So my light moments and delicate touches have to come from other sources.

Pat’s smile lights up her whole face, not just her eyes. (Memo to self: Do something that makes it more likely I shall see it again each day.)

When we sit on the sofa each morning, doing the Times 2 Codeword and Crossword puzzles, she puts an arm round my shoulders. That’s a nice touch if ever there was one! (Another memo to self: Behave yourself.)

And then, when she goes to her workroom and I go to mine, she has a light editorial hand on her hiking guides and - in my less than delicate moments - I have a clunking fist on my piano...

I do wish I could play the instrument. And I do so wish I could even play the pieces I compose. But I can’t. Grade VI of The Associated Boards exams doesn’t qualify me as a pianist. I yearn for a light touch but I haven’t got it. My fingers still trip each other up more often than not.

In my writing and in my counselling work, I do know what it is to have a light touch. Part of that comes from natural gift - which I had to discover for myself - but mostly it comes from sheer hard work and practice, practice, practice. I remember being told many years ago that, in any creative endeavour, the essential ingredients are 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

I’m not prepared to give that level of time and effort to learning to play the piano or any other instrument. I want to compose. I’m exceedingly fortunate to have my ears. I don’t need fingers as well, other than to fidget around on the keyboard at my level. I don’t possess the light touch of instrumentalists.

But I hope one day, when someone else plays a composition of mine, in the happy times when coronavirus has left us (Please God!), the audience will say “Robert had a light moment”.
17th May
What I posted on line:

Age

I hadn’t realised that my sense of thirst would diminish with age, along with other faculties. I knew my sight and hearing would go off. But thirst? Really? Even when my senses of taste and smell are still intact?

It appears so. Sometimes I get a dry mouth all of a sudden and it affects my speech. Some people might be thankful for respite from my babbling. But I’m not. I enjoy nattering away, even though it hasn’t yet come to me doing so on my own.

So I’m drinking water. Lots of it. Regularly. Two pints at breakfast and another two pints at lunch. I don’t drink anything at supper because I don’t want to traipse off to the loo and wake Pat every couple of hours.

But what goes in must come out. So pee I must - again and again - during the day. It’s become part of my routine.

If I were not to drink this quantity, particularly when I’m not taking aerobic exercise - and therefore not sweating - while confined to our home, I would become dehydrated. And I know that a dry mouth and loss of skin elasticity are only the first signs of that. Keeping my kidneys well flushed, and reducing my risk of falling over as a result of light-headedness, are much more significant considerations.

My real problem - through sheer stubbornness - is that I don’t like acknowledging my age at any time, let alone when considering the cause of any symptom.

So I play a psychological trick on myself. I want a continuing thirst for new ideas and new insights. I’ve now persuaded myself that these adventurous qualities come in London tap water (along with oestrogen and cocaine and other drugs that survive the filtration and purification processes.)

I gather an early sign of coronavirus infection (which Pat and I have no signs of) is loss of the senses of smell and taste. I don’t want to lose those sensory pleasures along with the other bits of me that are dropping off, year by year. So I’ll be thankful for small mercies and toast our continuing good health in Aqua Pura.
16th May
What I posted on line:

Balance

Coronavirus has thrown all of our lives completely out of balance. My take is that I’ll work to find a new balance.

A month ago the see-saw of my life had my counselling work (from which I earned my living) and my writing and composing on one side and my personal time and Twelve Step programme time on the other. My balance was not so much between work and play as between spiritual output and input.

At times one side or the other became too heavy. When I’m dealing with particularly challenging patients - the abusers rather than the abused, the compulsive helpers rather than the addicts - I take out my small collection of single-sheet mediaeval manuscripts and gaze at them for five minutes. I have an image of a monk doing painstaking work for the good of his soul. That heals my strained spirit from its vicarious traumatisation, in which I get damaged by working with damaged people.

Conversely, when I had time on my hands and was full of creative energy, I would apply it to writing or composing or photography. But I had to be careful not to neglect my recovery. Addicts like me can get high when things are going either badly or well. Both extremes are dangerous.

When the balance was right, my wife and I sat comfortably on the central fulcrum of the see-saw. When it wasn’t, I would have to provide extra pressure on one side or the other so that we didn’t fall off. Pat spends most of her day up-dating the hiking guides she writes, edits and publishes. So, independently of me, she’s well balanced.

Now, in isolation, I have no counselling work. I don’t like Skype consultations. In that artificial medium, I miss the vital nuances, the minor signals of body language, the eye movements, the sense of physical presence, the ‘vibes’. I’d rather do no work of this direct kind than get it wrong and hurt my patients and myself.

So I post on Facebook, as I’m doing right now. My spiritual output is the same as before - I have to concentrate hard on how I express my ideas - but it goes to a wider audience than an individual. So I have to think and write generally rather than talk specifically.

Also I’ve been giving daily podcast interviews on Zoom (the same medium I use for
Anonymous Fellowship meetings nowadays).

And I spend special time telephoning or texting and e-mailing individuals who are central to my personal and spiritual life.

So the balance has shifted from professional to personal, from being paid for my time to giving it freely. (I was very well paid as an NHS doctor in the old days so that’s not remotely an equivalent.)

On the other side of the see-saw, there’s no foreign excursion to photograph but I might do some pencil drawings. We’ll see.

But I have lots of time to compose. Yesterday I wrote a Jig for a granddaughter who has just taken up the violin (and been banned from her home!). She’ll have to dance to it round the garden.

And that restores the balance of my - very different - life so that Pat and I remain comfortable in the centre.
15th May
What I posted on line:

The Food of Love

In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Duke posited that music is the food of love. I think it’s aubergines. Or mangoes. Or maybe cashew nuts. Or anything my wife serves me. When Pat dishes up one of her specials I know I’m in with a chance of staying married.

Of course I understand the Duke’s sentiments but, for me, music is about a lot more than love.

Purcell’s Dido’s lament is as haunting as any tune ever imagined, the orchestration of Holst’s The Planets as ethereal, the solo flute of Debussy’s Prélude à l'Après-midi d'un faune as magical, the lyrical piano in Chopin’s Ballades as wondrous, the late String Quartets of Beethoven as infinitely mystical, the Bach B minor Mass as divine and the passion of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as carnal. The Duke missed out in a sentimental blur.

Bob Stanley's exciting book Yeah Yeah Yeah tells the story of pop. He rates the music of The Beatles as the most influential in any genre in the twentieth century. I think he’s right - and they’re up against magnificent competition in the classical, jazz and rock worlds.

For me the operas of Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss or Giacomo Puccini leave me ecstatic, enthralled, entranced. But I’m also thrilled by the music of Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, John Williams, John Adams and Hans Zimmer.

But, despite my initial dismissal, I have a message of agreement for the Duke. Sex is like the slices of a cake: give one extramarital slice away and there’s less left at home. But music is indeed like love: the more fully we appreciate its many facets, the greater our appetite for more.
14th May
What I posted on line:

Tears

In this extraordinarily difficult time, facing the devastation caused by coronavirus, it’s understandable that (at times) many of us feel on the verge of tears, even if we’re not openly crying. That’s healthy. The losses are huge. We need to grieve appropriately.

Only by coming through this phase - gently - are we able to look forward in hope.

Many people have died and it’s predicted by eminent virologists many more will do so. The families, friends and colleagues of these fatalities will grieve, each in their own way.

Many people have lost their homes or livelihoods or both and wonder what - if anything - the future holds for them personally, professionally and financially.

Those who are already destitute may wonder if they can survive at all when other people are necessarily more focussed on their own financial lives.

Those who have created businesses, buildings and beautiful works of art in one genre or another, may wonder what comes next. Anything at all?

Our society, and the whole world, is on the verge of tears if not openly crying. So it should be. With this COVID-19 crisis, it’s sadly true that for many individuals, families and whole communities, life will definitely not be the same as it was.

But that’s been true on several occasions in my life and, I suppose, it’s been true for many people in their individual and social experience.

In childhood, my parents went back to India, leaving me in England to be cared for by guardians.

At university I was advised to read something other than music, my heart’s only desire at the time.

Many years later I lost my medical practice and my rehab in my bankruptcy.

My wife, Meg, died after we had been together for 51 years.

On each of these occasions I wept. I had bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.

Yet I moved on - and look where I am now: happier and more creative than I’ve ever been.

At my age (83), I’m likely to have more losses and concerns than gains and reassurances in the remainder of my life. And therefore I’m likely to be on the verge of tears or openly crying again - perhaps many times (depending on how long I live).

But I’m not on the verge of tears today. Nor openly crying. My heart is full of gratitude; my soul is full of hope.
13th May
What I posted on line:

Projections

Projections are for epidemiologists. Each and every one of us has our hopes and fears but we should leave projections to professionals.

‘Foretelling’ the future, at any level, is no more sophisticated than reading tealeaves or observing ‘choices’ made by a pig or an octopus.

I’m fascinated by astronomy but astrology stuns me into silence (a rare event) because of its presumption.

Predictions can be made by experts in mathematical probability, or by people with photographic memories, when playing patience or poker. But even they - as a basic tenet - acknowledge that, when throwing a die, a 1 in 6 chance applies to every throw. They cannot predict what’s going to happen in the next few throws. A five might turn up three times in a row. The probability is small but it could happen.

Chartists note successive numbers and predict a future pattern in a game of roulette. But the only thing that’s predictable in this ‘game’ (‘bloodsport’ might be a more appropriate term) is that the house eventually wins. Who pays for the flashy environment of a casino? - The punters, of course.

Other chartists follow the movement of stocks and shares. There is some value in noting annual trends. Beyond that, the chartists are fantasists.

Nothing prepared us for COVID-19. Except that it had been predicted to happen at around this time because pandemics appear to occur every 100 years or so.

Once upon a time I wrote the weekly medical column for a woman’s magazine. On the facing page to mine were the Zodiac predictions. When I mentioned to the editor that I thought science and fantasy made strange bedfellows, she - with an eye to her readership - said that if either of the pages were to be dropped, it would be mine.

We were told by epidemiologists that the peak of our coronavirus infection curve in the U.K. would be on Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion of Christ. It came three days later, after the day of the resurrection. Was that a sign from heaven? Is there a reference to it in The Book of Revelation of St John the Divine? Did Nostradamus write about it? No, it was the studied belief of scientists who have no religious or political axe to grind.

I see superstition of any kind as hotchpotch. I have no time for it. But I do have a lot of time for the science of probability.

I do know something about my own subject - addiction - but I know better than to make predictive assumptions. Exceptions do not ‘prove’ any rule but they certainly occur. So I keep my trap shut when someone tells me he or she knows precisely why someone became addicted and knows exactly what will happen next. There would be no greater chance of me persuading this ‘knower’ to emerge from his or her mental ark than of getting my former editor to drop the Astrology page.

So I sit here, reading the projections of scientists I respect... And I take a pinch of salt and throw it over my shoulder to keep the devil away.

Superstitious?
Me?
12th May
What I posted on line:

The Human Spirit

I have no religious belief. I find religions divisive. “I’m right and you’re wrong and that gives me the right, and even the duty, to kill you or, at the very least, do everything I can to show you the error of your ways while clinging to mine” doesn’t persuade me that religious Gods are accepting, forgiving and loving.

I certainly do not accept that the coronavirus pandemic is God’s retribution for the sins of mankind. As I see it, the oldest proverb in the world is ‘Shit happeneth’.

But I do believe that we each have a unit of human spirit. My unit is mine. Yours is yours. Together we have two. Cumulatively, human spirits number the whole population. That’s a lot of spirituality.

And I believe animals and plants and other living organisms also have spirits of their own, singularly and collectively.

And I think spirits are eternal. They cannot (note ‘cannot’ rather than ‘do not’) die when physical forms perish.

When I choose to live a spiritual life, as I do, I become conscious of a fundamental ‘life force’. The ancient Greeks believed Gaia is the Mother Goddess, presiding over the Earth. I find that concept too limiting. There are trillions - maybe even a googolplex or more - solar systems in our universe and maybe there are a similar number of universes, linked together by black holes.

Faced with numbers that my young children described as ‘off counting’, I have a sense of awe and wonder. Point to the sky, anywhere, and we’re pointing at life - in the same way that pointing at a patch of earth or a pond, a hill or a seascape, illustrates the same teeming living subject of awe and wonder - life itself - if we care to perceive it that way.

At distance, physics merges into metaphysics. Pontius Pilate is not the only person ever to have asked “What is truth?”. And Monty Python were not the only people to ask about ‘the Meaning of life’, although they did so superlatively.

So where does this leave me right now in coronavirus pandemic self-isolation? - Right where I was before my mind pondered the infinite: sitting on the sofa by my electronic piano.

And, you know what? - It’s time for me to get up, move over to the keyboard, switch it on, put on my headphones, look at the manuscript to see where I left off composing, pick up my pencil (and eraser) and GET ON WITH IT!

That, as I see it, is the message from the Greek’s Gaia or, in the opposite direction, from Wagner’s Erda (who just wanted to go back to sleep), or any other Goddess or visionary: “Life is for living!”.
11th May
What I posted on line:

Patience

The traditional song for addicts is ‘I, I, I’, sung to the tune of Me...Me...Me. I had another one as well: ‘I want what I want when I want it - and I want it NOW!’

Those two repetitive mantras (rondos, I suppose, in musical form) caused me a lot of damage.

My self-centredness drove other people away. At the end of my using days, when I looked around for my friends, there was nobody there.

My greed resulted in a fat stomach and a load of stuff I couldn’t remember buying - although I could see a deep dark hole in my bank account.

In recovery - such as mine may be - I’ve had to learn to be other-people-centred by taking my mind off myself and putting it onto them (if they want it and provided I don’t patronise and belittle them by doing too much for them and stifling their own growth). And I’ve had to learn - the hard way - to buy only what I genuinely need.

Those lessons took time. Lots of time. My time. I had to teach myself - the hard way again - to be patient. The ‘hard way’ was the observation that rushing caused mishaps. I tripped over my own feet. I ignored the angels’ warnings. I rushed in where they feared to tread, fool that I was.

I’m wiser now, maybe just a little bit. Anyway, I’ve got something to show for my recent patience in the last decade since my bankruptcy: a few music manuscript books full up with my compositions, seven books of my photographs, two stand-alone novels and a five-book saga, a book of sonnets, a book of daily reflections on co-dependency between addicts and compulsive helpers and, of course, another book on addiction (my Street-wise Guide).

Putting my addictive nature to one side 35 years ago (it has all the patience in the world: it rests but it never goes away) was the greatest challenge of my life, precisely because my recovery comes one day at a time rather than in a lump or as the product of a wish-list. I had to work the Twelve Step programme day by day by day by day by day - and many more days.

I think of that process as professionalism. (As an addict, I’m averse to the concept of discipline.) Nowadays I know how to take my time and get things right. And that’s given me ideal preparation for coronavirus self-isolation. I’ve got time and I know how to spend it wisely (on things I really want to do) because I’ve done that before. Patience is built into my psyche nowadays precisely because it was shut out for so long.

The Prime Minister has given us an initial road map towards releasing us all - in successive stages - from lock-down. Inevitably some people want the restoration of ‘normal life’ to be quicker and others slower. There are physical, social and economic risks in both speeds. The secure path is narrow. tricky and previously untried. We need to be appropriately cautious. The one valid current prediction is that ‘normal life’ won’t be normal (as we previously understood it) for a long time, if ever. But a new - perhaps less frenetic - normal will emerge.

We have to be patient. I anticipate staying within the confines of Pat’s and my home until some time next year. I think I’ll be able to cope with that pretty well. I’m only too familiar with the damage impatience can cause me. Time and again in my past it would have been so much better for me - and everyone else around me - if I had followed one very clear, albeit uncomfortable, personal injunction: ‘Stop spinning your wheels. Be patient’.
10th May
What I posted on line:

Sense

We refer to ‘common sense’. But how common is it? The phrase implies there is a majority verdict on appropriate action and that this assessment should be a benchmark for everyone. But is this borne out in practice?

In our parliamentary democracy we elect Members of Parliament to represent specific constituencies. But these MPs - to the fury of some sub-sets of local constituency members - do not always do as they’re told. They don’t believe they are ‘told’ to do anything. Their sense is that they are elected to represent all the local electorate - those who voted for them or against them or abstained - and that they have a duty of individual conscience. A specific case in point is capital punishment. The general public supported hanging until 2015 but parliamentarians have consistently voted it down for murder since 1965, one year after the last hanging in the U.K..

Within local constituencies, members of specific political parties have the right to vote for their own committee representatives. But, typically, only the ‘activists’ (with an agenda agreed in advance) are prepared to give up personal time, week after week, to support ‘the cause’ (one that is usually well to the political right or left of most local party members and the constituency electorate).

Their rationalisation tends to be “We stuff the envelopes and knock on doors at the time of a parliamentary election. We have earned the right to have our views heard.”. To which the local M.P. may say “I hear you but I don’t always agree with you. I shall make up my own mind on each issue that is debated in the House of Commons.”.

There is a sense of self-justification on both sides of this issue. But sound and fury tend to obscure discussion. And that makes little sense to the wider electorate who get fed up with ‘politics’.

In the sphere of journalism, newspapers have individual standpoints. They have an ‘in-house’ editorial policy on a wide range of issues. Typically this is dictated by editors rather than proprietors - but, of course, the proprietors choose editors in their own image.

Social media are anarchic. They don’t follow rule books. They have to obey guidelines set by parliament on issues such as racial and religious prejudice. But ‘hate crimes’ and ‘political correctness’ are self-defined by the ‘true believers’. In a forum where all opinions are equally valid, the lowest common denominator of lack of sense and sensitivity tends to dominate. ‘Debate’ becomes a euphemism, the same as in radio and tv ‘chat shows’ which tend to degenerate into shouting matches.

But am I saying I’m above the common herd, the ignorant masses, the hoi polloi, the great unwashed? Absolutely not. I think not anyway... But then, as Mandy Rice-Davies might have said on my behalf, “I would; wouldn’t I?”.

I expose myself to attacks precisely because I value all consideration - of the seemingly sensible and also the credulously crass. Wondering where my ideas might be inaccurate or misconceived, is important to me. It’s how I continue to learn, even in coronavirus isolation.

The Police Federation have said that it is ‘not realistic’ to enforce daily exercise and shopping lockdown rules. Where does that leave vulnerable adults in my age-group? Are we being self-indulgent in our concern? Or is government stricture, bearing in mind the risk of a second wave of COVID-19 infection (ignored most of all by young white males), an imposition that diminishes human rights, particularly for youngsters? Yesterday, in the sunshine in Corby in Northampton, the local police received 500 telephone calls on lockdown breaches. Has the Law become ‘a ass, a idiot’?

When I use the public forum of Facebook (rather than traditional media) to present challengeable ideas rather than hot-headed harangues, my hope is to influence others towards common agreement on what constitutes sense and sensitivity.
9th May
What I posted on line:

Acceptance

I accept changing circumstances. I’ve done so all my life so I’ve had plenty of practice.

When, at the age of 10, I was left in London with guardians while my parents returned to India as missionaries, I accepted that my own immediate mission was to survive emotionally and get on with my life as best I could in those lonely times.

When the music department at Cambridge suggested I might study a different subject, I accepted their recommendation with a very heavy heart but became a very happy doctor and addiction specialist.

When my wife, Meg, and I lost everything in bankruptcy, I accepted it. Through my incompetence at running a business, I had taken my eye off the practical ball and brought ruin to my dearest love and unemployment to my wonderfully talented and loyal staff. But I also accepted I had to move on as best I could.

When Meg died of a stroke three weeks after I came out of bankruptcy, I had no choice but to recognise and accept that my life would be profoundly different in future.

The devastation caused by COVID-19 cannot be shrugged off as the consequence of a temporary illness. All our lives are being profoundly changed - rapidly, confusingly and (for many) very sadly.

The old song suggests we should pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down, and start all over again. Oh yes? How?

Yet the experience of my past does give me clear guidance for the future: my survival instinct serves me well. And I can look to discover how I can create something - anything - beautiful and constructive.
Let me see...

Go back to working as a doctor? No. I feel young but I accept I’m not young enough. Ten years of absence from clinical work have left me significantly out of date in my knowledge and inept in my practical skill.

Set up another rehab? No. Even if I were to be given the opportunity, the money, the staff and everything else I would need, I think I have more significant ’rehab’ work to do right now by healing myself and encouraging others through these daily posts. I accept this privilege and challenge. In due course, when a coronavirus vaccine is available, I can get back to my individual face-to-face counselling work.

Write more poetry? Yes. I have sufficient life experience to write an epic. Here’s the beginning I thought of last night: ‘......’ No, I’ve forgotten it. But it will come back to me later on when this ‘senior moment’ has passed.

Compose more music? Yes. It’s a solitary pursuit anyway so isolation imposed on me by coronavirus precautions makes no difference. Currently I’m writing a dance suite for piano solo. My only problem is that I can’t play it. Ah well, there’s always a summat.

Take off in a new direction altogether? I’ve done that many times. I remember a bank manager telling me I had ‘a butterfly mind’. I knew he hadn’t intended that to be a compliment but it’s the way I chose to take it. I thanked him. I’m certainly capable of finding ‘fresh woods and pastures new’ but I don’t want to. I think I can do something more beautiful and constructive by staying put.

The opening words of an ode by Arthur O’Shaughnessy ‘We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams’ apply not only to professional musicians and Willy Wonka but to all of us. I can put them into practice right now, cuddled up next to Pat in the middle of the night while she is fast asleep.

I have a waking dream of happy days in the future. I dream of these days of enforced isolation paradoxically bringing our fractured society closer together through shared savage experience. I dream of days of innocent laughter and carefree activity. I dream of continuing creativity in myriad ways.

And I accept the validity of these visions. Life is for living!
8th May
What I posted on line:

Forgiveness

As a compulsive helper, I don’t find it difficult to forgive other people for what they’ve done to me but I do find it difficult to forgive myself for my own wrongdoings.

As an addict, I resent other people for what they did to me but I don’t really acknowledge the harm I may have done to other people - and anyway it’s easy to rationalise it.

In recovery (such as I may have) I want to get both parts of my addictive nature into balance. I want to treat other people and myself identically.

I can reflect on abandonment and abuse in my childhood. But why would I choose to look back at all? My childhood is over. I’ve learned from those experiences and moved on.

In my early adult life, as a flamboyantly using addict in many ways, I harmed most the people I love the most. I do ask for their forgiveness. And, as ‘living amends’ to them, I don’t do those things today.

In the last 35 years, while working the Twelve Step programme, I’ve been a lot more respectful towards other people and a bit more respectful to myself. This disparity became apparent to me after my wife Meg’s death ten years ago. Prior to that, she was the identified compulsive helper in the family and the ‘addict’ label was mine. It is only since that time that I’ve recognised that my own compulsive helping (needing to be needed) was florid.

The benefit of daily abstinence and daily working of Steps X, XI and XII (keeping my own house in order) in my primary addictions and in my compulsive helping is that I see myself as never before. I could view these daily reminders of my addictive nature as a handicap. But, as they give me the opportunity to heal existing relationships and create beautiful new ones, I see this (sometimes painful but always rewarding) process as a bounty beyond compare.

The tricky bit for addicts and compulsive helpers comes in Step IX, making direct amends to those I have harmed except when to do so would injure them or others.

So I use tricky solutions:
When I say I’ve no idea where someone is today, I imagine that person owes me ten grand: I’ll find him or her very smartish!
When, in the past, I have offended a complete stranger, I now make a point of going out of my way to be polite and considerate to people in that person’s profession. To this day I’m scrupulous in my behaviour towards shop assistants and bus drivers - for memorable reasons I won’t go into.

But what of Meg? She’s dead. I attempted to make amends to her in a spiritual dimension. I sat in a chair and imagined her sitting in one facing me. Systematically, from previous preparation, I talked through (out loud) a written list of my misdeeds towards her. And I said how sorry I was. I didn’t feel much different the next day so I did it again. And again the day after that. I wanted to heal my own spirit as well as hers but I recognised that I could do so only if I was absolutely honest and sincere. So I dug deep...

And, for my compulsive helping, I can’t very well say “I’m sorry I helped you”. But I can say “I’m sorry I patronised and belittled you by doing too much for you and getting in the way of you finding things out for yourself”.

People who imagine that the Twelve Steps are a cop-out, or a process of self-justification, might like to try working Step IX for themselves. Come to think of it, in coronavirus isolation, it would do me no harm to look at it again myself. Even deeper.
7th May
What I posted on line:

Open-mindedness.

Of course I believe I’m open-minded. We all do!

So let me examine some of my ideas and see where I might reconsider them:

I’m 100% Twelve Step in my daily commitment to my own (hopefully) continuing recovery. But do I believe the Steps are the only way of becoming abstinent? No I don’t.

But mine was a trap question. Let me ask what I consider to be a better one: Do I believe ‘recovery’ is far more than abstinence and staying out of legal trouble and hospitals? Yes.

I don’t consider Methadone maintenance programmes to be anything other than a substitute addiction. And I don’t believe that ‘real addicts’ have necessarily done time in prison or been hospitalised or slept in the street. I consider myself - on plenty of evidence - to be a ‘real addict’ yet I’ve had none of those experiences. Step 1 in A.A.’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions makes it clear that even those who are ‘scarcely more than potential alcoholics’ are welcome.

But I believe working systematically through the Steps does bring a ‘spiritual awakening’. I have my own thoughts on what that comprises. I’m open to looking at other interpretations but I’m not going to be persuaded of their validity merely by the decibel level of speech or the intellectual intensity of discourse.

I believe that antidepressants are major addictive drugs for those of us who have addictive natures.

And I would go further: I believe that the sense of inner emptiness in addicts should be diagnosed as such, rather than as ‘depression’ and then ‘treated’ with antidepressants.

And even further: I believe ‘depression’ and ‘addiction’ are synonymous, describing the before and after states in the process of discovery of mood-altering substances and processes and relationships. ‘Depression’ should be differentiated from ‘sadness’, which is the normal emotional response to distressing circumstances.

And yet further: I believe that addiction has three causes - genetics, trauma and exposure - and it therefore needs to be treated in reverse order - abstinence, emotional (not intellectual) therapy and continuing adherence to the Twelve Step programme.

There now: that’s sufficient controversy for a lifetime! But am I open to challenge? Yes, of course. That’s how I learn. I don’t value adoration by sycophants. I want new ideas to supplant old ones that have not stood the tests of time and experience.

After all, the concepts I’ve just put forward did not come in a ready-made package. They developed over a professional lifetime. And I had to pull out deep-rooted ideas in order to make room for better ones. Or stagnate and, as William Blake says, ‘breed reptiles of the mind’.

And now, in physical near-isolation due to risk of Covid-19 infection, I need to focus on what I still have, rather than on what I’ve lost. My feelings are intact, not suppressed by addiction. My mind is still functioning. So far. And my relationships seem to me to be mutually rewarding.

I’ve lost my counselling work and my income, my excursions to foreign climes with Pat or up the road to the Royal College of Music or to the ENO or the Royal Opera House. I’ve lost physical contact with family and friends. I’m very sad (not depressed) about these losses.

But I’m alive! - and never more grateful for that.
6th May
What I posted on line:

Honesty

There are different levels of honesty and they each represent a specific challenge.

George Washington honesty - “Father, I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree.” - is basic and straightforward (even though the story is a myth and therefore dishonest in its own way). We need to admit our errant behaviour and be prepared to face the consequences.

Financial honesty should be straightforward as well but there are some challenges we might prefer to ignore. Do I have to be honest with people who have been dishonest with me? Yes, there are no two ways about it. Do I have to be financially honest with people who have far more money than I do? Yes. Do I have to be honest with institutions, such as banks and mortgage companies and even debt collectors and pawnbrokers? Yes: there is no such thing as a victimless crime. Someone - maybe way down the pecking order - will suffer. And the institutions will suffer. So they become more cautious and restrictive - and that damages all their customers. Do I have to be honest with the taxman? Yes, of course (and it’s no use hiding behind an accountant: the Revenue are very familiar with that game).

Intellectual honesty is vital in the professional world. Plagiarism results in socio-political penury. Regardless of our qualifications and status, we can never recover our reputation.

On a personal intellectual basis we also need to be honest, for fear of being exposed as a charlatan. Say “Anna Karenina” to me and I’ll nod my head and say “Tolstoy”. But, to my regret and potential shame, I’ve never read that novel. So I couldn’t answer questions on it.

Emotional honesty requires soul searching. That’s very difficult. There are people I love but don’t like. They don’t share my values, ethics and principles. Depending on their age and the nature of our relationship, I may or may not feel the need to confront them. However, they’ll get their comeuppance one day. (You can’t be an idiot in one relationship and a love in another. You’re either an idiot or a love in both or neither.)

Spiritual honesty is the most challenging of all. How true are we to the spiritual values of honesty (in all its forms), open-mindedness, willingness, acceptance, gratitude, sense and sensibility, carefulness, spontaneity, creativity, enthusiasm, sanity, kindness, courage and forgiveness? Yes, it’s an extremely tall order.

This is why the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says “No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress”.
That takes a lifetime.

But here we are, beset by the barbarity of Covid-19 and stuck in our homes (most of us). Do we have anything better to do with our time than being honest with ourselves and growing along spiritual lines?
4th May
What I posted on line:

Friends

I have friends who share my values. Some of them are members of my family.

I have friends who share my interests. We challenge each other and therefore stay mentally active and young.

I have friends on Facebook. I’m pleased.

I have friends in the Anonymous Fellowships. I’m privileged.

Bill W, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous along with Dr Bob, said “Let’s be friendly to our friends”. I believe he was referring to the many people - family members, professional colleagues, social workers, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, and even complete strangers - who tried to help us in the past and whom we shunned, rejected or abused.

Alcoholic drinks (or drugs or sugar or gambling or any mood-altering substance or process that lifts our mood temporarily) were the friends we most valued. Anyone who got in the way of that precious relationship was seen as an enemy.

Turning around that bizarre concept is a fundamental prospect in working the Twelve Step programme each day.

Today I know who my true friends are and I treasure them.

At the time I was made bankrupt, I very quickly discovered what I meant to other people. A fair number of names on my mailing list became nothing more than that. I no longer served any purpose in their lives. And that was that.

I had the same experience after the death of my wife, Meg. Over 1000 people attended her memorial service. (She knew how to love people and they loved her.) But beyond the un-cashable cheque -“Do let me know what I can do for you.” - the letters became few and far between and the invitations dried up altogether. Without my medical practice, my rehab and my wife I was, to a large extent, a non-person.

I asked one true friend what people in general now thought of me. Disarmingly, he replied “They don’t”.

I tell these stories as a factual record, not out of any sense of self-pity. I did more than enough of that in my days as a using addict. I didn’t want it to infect and infest my recovery.

So, back to the top of this piece, nowadays I know who my friends are. They share my values of kindness and tolerance, of goodwill and concern, of positivity and creativity.

In this dreadful time when coronavirus is carving swathes with its deathly sickle, and sweeping away human beings - many of them my contemporaries - as expendable extras, I stand firm in my belief that friendships matter. They matter a lot. Let’s be friendly to our friends.
4th May
What I posted on line:

Happiness

In one of my lighter lyrics in the musical I composed recently, I rhymed ‘’happiness’ with its opposite: ‘nappy mess’.

All right. All right. It’s awful. But it un-furrowed my naturally frowning brow for a brief moment. In my adult life, my mother often asked me “Why. are you so angry?”. This always surprised me because I wasn’t angry at all; I was thinking - not necessarily upsetting thoughts - just thinking.

My wife, Pat, is the opposite. Her default facial expression is a smile. The only times she frowns are when one of her computers (the one for text and the other for maps and pictures for whichever of her hiking guides she’s currently editing) plays up. Or the router. Or the internet connection. Or the electricity supply. Glitchy gremlins stalk her keyboards.

William Glasser, the distinguished American psychiatrist creator of Choice Theory, says that nobody and nothing can make anyone else think or feel or do anything. We ourselves make choices. We don’t have to react in any particular way at any time.

That’s a surprising, but very helpful, personal philosophy for any one of us to adopt, particularly right now in Covid-19 shut-down.

Would Bill say, we don’t need to be upset? No, not at all. He would say that being distressed (in any of a number of ways) might be very appropriate. But it would not be universal. Some people choose to deny the seriousness of coronavirus. We might think they’re misguided but their thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions are their choice.

When challenged that feelings come automatically, Bill (who I had the privilege of knowing well before he died a few years ago) would point out that our reactions to the behaviour of young children might be very different from the response we give to adults.

I remember the 1987 hurricane carving great swathes through beech woods (which grow very tall but have shallow root systems) in East Kent. A local farmer said to me “Life will never be the same”. Well there’s no sign of that devastation now. New woods have grown up. But the farmer chose to stay miserable, rather than put any positive picture into his vision for the future.

Bill says unhappiness (a personal ‘dis-ease’ often leading to physical disease) comes from us failing to coalesce two pictures in our minds - the ‘how it is’ image and the ‘how it should be’ image. We can move on only by accepting how our lives have changed in some way. Then the two pictures coalesce. And then we get on with our new life. And choose to be happy.

All right. All right. It takes time to see the truth - and the profound value - of Dr Glasser’s ideas. But we don’t have to frown while we’re thinking about them.

Could I choose to be happy at this present time of coronavirus carnage? Shall I be happy in one year’s time? In ten? In twenty (by which time I’ll be 103)? And, if then, why not now in whatever way I choose today?

After supper this evening, Pat and I played a game of pick-up-sticks, as we often do. She demolished my masculine pride. Well, in truth, I haven’t got any. But that doesn’t mean I’m happy to lose the game. Hopefully I’ll level the score tomorrow evening.

And if I were on my own (God forbid!), might I choose to play the game by myself? Yes, I certainly would - to revel in a happy memory, while I take gentle time for a new ‘how it is’ picture to form in my mind in comfortable conjunction with a new ‘how it should be’ vision. Happiness - in some form, even though I can’t imagine one right now - will be my choice.
3rd May
What I posted on line:

Passion

Am I more passionate now than I was when I was younger? I was always hot-headed but passion is deeper than that; more reflective and considered. As a boy, I loved the music of Puccini but found Bach too academic. Now I’m passionate about both.

I was thinking about this today when my wife, Pat, expressed concern for the future of opera companies. Their audiences - and therefore most of their income - largely come from oldies (and even wrinklies and powderies). But we are likely to be among the last people to be released from COVID-19 isolation. By that time only a few opera companies may have survived. Götterdämmerung will have wreaked its havoc in the auditorium, not only on stage.

Attracting a young audience has been a perennial challenge to opera companies. The word ‘opera’ itself is sometimes seen as elitist. Wagner described his works as ‘music dramas’. Well, rock concerts could be described in similar terms so maybe that’s the way forward.
But I think we grow into opera through our life experience. My feelings are at a deeper level now than they ever could have been before the death of my wife, Meg, or the destruction of the institutions embodying my life’s work. I’m calmer, less frenetic. I react less impulsively, more thoughtfully. I’m ready for Tristan and Isolde and Der Rosenkavalier.

Will I ever be present at a live performance again? I very much hope so but maybe not, if the opera companies go down to the Styx along with Eurydice. That matters to me personally but even more to the musicians and to our cultural heritage.

Yet hope springs eternal in La Calisto and in our daily lives - even in coronavirus shut-down. The history of music is one of repeated re-birth. That’s what’s in store for us all. One way or another. Our passion will out-shine and out-run any temporary glitch.
2nd May
What I posted on line:

Mistakes

I hope I continue to make mistakes. That’s the only way I’ll know I’m still alive and creative. If I were to make no mistakes it would mean that I’ve become ossified and got stuck in a self-satisfied rut.

On the other hand, I don’t want to repeat the mistakes I’ve made many many times before. An example of that is in the use of addictive substances, processes and relationships. They’ve caused me more than enough pain for one lifetime. So I work the Twelve Step programme each day to keep me ‘happy, joyous and free’. And married.

At the other end of the scale are computer glitches. I hope I’m no longer at risk of pressing ‘Delete’ when I meant to press ‘Send’. But I ask my wife Pat to check over everything I write because I find it very difficult to see my own errors. I see what I think I wrote, rather than what is actually on the page.

My grammar and punctuation could always benefit from second thoughts. Simon Heffer’s book ‘Strictly English’ is my guide, even though I still make occasional mistakes in knowing when to use ‘that’ or ‘which’.

But these are small potatoes in comparison with errors in my writing itself. I use Google to make sure I’ve quoted someone correctly. However, Spellcheck is very imaginative at times. And my own creativity can also be more adventurous than is sensible.

I’ve worked hard at improving my skills, such as they are, as a doctor or counsellor, I’m in a people business. And people get hurt if I’m all-knowing or careless. My mistakes matter a lot in those areas.

But not in composing my music. Silly slips in writing wrong notes are easily corrected when I play a piece through. (My works are not so avant garde that even I wouldn’t notice an unintentional harmony.) The ‘mistakes’ which concern me are those I make in failing to say what I want to say in each piece. My eraser does as much work as my pencil. Sometimes I have to recognise that something went ‘wrong’ in my translation from head to hand. Or, more accurately (I think) before that, from soul to mind. When I find I haven’t said on paper what I wanted to say in my heart, I simply rub it all out and start again.

And that’s not a bad general principle in other areas of my life. It was a mistake when I tried to be a politician. I’m not temperamentally suited to sitting on backbenches saying “Resign! Resign!” day after day. And I like to consider a wide range of viewpoints rather than stick rigidly to my own.

And it was a mistake - a very stupid and expensive mistake - when I tried my hand at farming. The less said about that disastrous episode the better. But at least I learned from my experience. Hmm... I hope I have done.

And what of today, in COVID-19 shut-down? I can’t afford to make any mistake. I want to stay alive. So I stay at home in my safe cocoon with my wife, my piano and my iPhone. Tightly focusing my attention in this way, in order to reduce the frequency of multifarious silly mistakes, is very necessary for this numbskull. Mistakes

I hope I continue to make mistakes. That’s the only way I’ll know I’m still alive and creative. If I were to make no mistakes it would mean that I’ve become ossified and got stuck in a self-satisfied rut.

On the other hand, I don’t want to repeat the mistakes I’ve made many many times before. An example of that is in the use of addictive substances, processes and relationships. They’ve caused me more than enough pain for one lifetime. So I work the Twelve Step programme each day to keep me ‘happy, joyous and free’. And married.

At the other end of the scale are computer glitches. I hope I’m no longer at risk of pressing ‘Delete’ when I meant to press ‘Send’. But I ask my wife Pat to check over everything I write because I find it very difficult to see my own errors. I see what I think I wrote, rather than what is actually on the page.

My grammar and punctuation could always benefit from second thoughts. Simon Heffer’s book ‘Strictly English’ is my guide, even though I still make occasional mistakes in knowing when to use ‘that’ or ‘which’.

But these are small potatoes in comparison with errors in my writing itself. I use Google to make sure I’ve quoted someone correctly. However, Spellcheck is very imaginative at times. And my own creativity can also be more adventurous than is sensible.
I’ve worked hard at improving my skills, such as they are, as a doctor or counsellor, I’m in a people business. And people get hurt if I’m all-knowing or careless. My mistakes matter a lot in those areas.
But not in composing my music. Silly slips in writing wrong notes are easily corrected when I play a piece through. (My works are not so avant garde that even I wouldn’t notice an unintentional harmony.) The ‘mistakes’ which concern me are those I make in failing to say what I want to say in each piece. My eraser does as much work as my pencil. Sometimes I have to recognise that something went ‘wrong’ in my translation from head to hand. Or, more accurately (I think) before that, from soul to mind. When I find I haven’t said on paper what I wanted to say in my heart, I simply rub it all out and start again.
And that’s not a bad general principle in other areas of my life. It was a mistake when I tried to be a politician. I’m not temperamentally suited to sitting on backbenches saying “Resign! Resign!” day after day. And I like to consider a wide range of viewpoints rather than stick rigidly to my own.
And it was a mistake - a very stupid and expensive mistake - when I tried my hand at farming. The less said about that disastrous episode the better. But at least I learned from my experience. Hmm... I hope I have done.

And what of today, in COVID-19 shut-down? I can’t afford to make any mistake. I want to stay alive. So I stay at home in my safe cocoon with my wife, my piano and my iPhone. Tightly focussing my attention in this way, in order to reduce the frequency of multifarious silly mistakes, is very necessary for this numbskull.Mistakes

I hope I continue to make mistakes. That’s the only way I’ll know I’m still alive and creative. If I were to make no mistakes it would mean that I’ve become ossified and got stuck in a self-satisfied rut.

On the other hand, I don’t want to repeat the mistakes I’ve made many many times before. An example of that is in the use of addictive substances, processes and relationships. They’ve caused me more than enough pain for one lifetime. So I work the Twelve Step programme each day to keep me ‘happy, joyous and free’. And married.

At the other end of the scale are computer glitches. I hope I’m no longer at risk of pressing ‘Delete’ when I meant to press ‘Send’. But I ask my wife Pat to check over everything I write because I find it very difficult to see my own errors. I see what I think I wrote, rather than what is actually on the page.

My grammar and punctuation could always benefit from second thoughts. Simon Heffer’s book ‘Strictly English’ is my guide, even though I still make occasional mistakes in knowing when to use ‘that’ or ‘which’.

But these are small potatoes in comparison with errors in my writing itself. I use Google to make sure I’ve quoted someone correctly. However, Spellcheck is very imaginative at times. And my own creativity can also be more adventurous than is sensible.

I’ve worked hard at improving my skills, such as they are, as a doctor or counsellor, I’m in a people business. And people get hurt if I’m all-knowing or careless. My mistakes matter a lot in those areas.

But not in composing my music. Silly slips in writing wrong notes are easily corrected when I play a piece through. (My works are not so avant garde that even I wouldn’t notice an unintentional harmony.) The ‘mistakes’ which concern me are those I make in failing to say what I want to say in each piece. My eraser does as much work as my pencil. Sometimes I have to recognise that something went ‘wrong’ in my translation from head to hand. Or, more accurately (I think) before that, from soul to mind. When I find I haven’t said on paper what I wanted to say in my heart, I simply rub it all out and start again.

And that’s not a bad general principle in other areas of my life. It was a mistake when I tried to be a politician. I’m not temperamentally suited to sitting on backbenches saying “Resign! Resign!” day after day. And I like to consider a wide range of viewpoints rather than stick rigidly to my own.

And it was a mistake - a very stupid and expensive mistake - when I tried my hand at farming. The less said about that disastrous episode the better. But at least I learned from my experience. Hmm... I hope I have done.

And what of today, in COVID-19 shut-down? I can’t afford to make any mistake. I want to stay alive. So I stay at home in my safe cocoon with my wife, my piano and my iPhone. Tightly focusing my attention in this way, in order to reduce the frequency of multifarious silly mistakes, is very necessary for this numbskull.
1st May
What I posted on line:

Living

There’s a vital difference between living and merely existing. To say someone is ‘only human’ - implying a behavioural weakness - is a prodigious insult to the ingenuity and creativity of mankind. Using these facilities to the full is living.

If ‘the good life’ is growing vegetables, I don’t want it. And, despite many of my friends and family members enjoying these activities, nor do I want to play golf or sail a boat, let alone go on a cruise or fly an aeroplane. Those are all pass-times. There’s nothing to show at the end of these activities. Except sunburn and possibly a gaudy trophy. Nor do I want to kick, hit, swat, bowl, pass or do anything else with a ball. Or run from A to B. Certainly not from A to Z when taxis are available. If The Divine Providence had intended us to move about at anything other than a leisurely stroll, we’d have been born with wheels instead of toes.

And I can’t stand DIY. I go for YDIIP (‘You do it; I’ll pay’) every time.

I don’t see ‘life’ as something that happens after work. I want to live the whole day through. And half the night as well.

I do live each day as if my last. Coronavirus shut-down has made no difference to this attitude and behaviour. This isn’t because I fear I’m running out of time. I make time for the things I want to do. And I’m very fortunate nowadays in not having to do things I don’t want to do.

The end result of this philosophical and practical choice is that I’m alive, very much so. I’m brim full of enthusiasm and eagerness.

Yesterday evening I did something I’ve never done before: I began to compose a piano piece. Despite my mistakes - I can’t really play the music I write - Pat likes what I’ve done so far. That’s good enough appreciation for me, particularly as she’s 100% of my audience.

My iPhone keeps me in touch with the outside world. Consequently, I’m still very much aware of news (mostly bad) and comment (often inspiring). And I have frequent contact with friends and family. They all have challenges of one kind or another - or several - but our lives go on in the happiest way we can create. Because they are my friends (through choice) and family (by genetic inheritance), we each understand one principle very well:

Life is for living!
30th April
What I posted on line:

Predictions

Making a reasoned judgement on what the future might hold in store is sensible. Predicting it - from the stars or tea leaves or the movement of a pig or octopus - is crazy. The capacity to live with uncertainty is a sign of emotional maturity but also of common sense.
If we don’t know an outcome, we need to look for ways of keeping our options open and minimising potential harm.

If we believe we do know - because we trust the predictions of a mystic or an astrologer - we lose all sense of benefit or loss from personal choice.

With COVID-19, the sensible course of action is to do as we are told by government. That process doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m a born rebel. As a result of my iconoclasm, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve made good choices. Doing things my own way inevitably damaged me when I was moving in the wrong direction. But I’ve benefited hugely when new ideas of mine paid off. Therefore I learned - mostly through pain - to stick to my day job.

I still think like a doctor even though I put down my stethoscope 10 years ago. And I still intuit as a counsellor because I still am one (currently ‘resting’, as out-of-work thespians say). So I understand the predicament of government scientists when they try to present a ‘best guess’ on what will happen to us all. They dare not use that precise term because they would be pilloried in the press. But that’s what it is. Only the Twitterati and conspiracy theorists, have absolute certainty. I therefore trust the government scientists because that’s their day job.

But Prof Isaac Ben-Israel, who is head of the Security Studies program at Tel Aviv University, has said his widespread analysis across the globe proves that coronavirus morbidity and mortality rates peak at 40 days before declining. And he has suggested that all efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 will lead to the same results because the killer bug is ‘self-limiting’. Therefore outbreaks will die out within 70 days, regardless of using - or not using - lockdown measures. (We’ll see what happens in Sweden.)

The Israeli professor is a rebel after my own heart. I like his science (his graphs are persuasive) and I like his style. He tells it how he believes it is. And this work is his day job. ‘Security Studies’ in Israel have form.

But could politicians fiddle while Rome burns? With Nero as a precedent, and with Fleet Street’s finest hounds barking at their heels, ‘the art of the possible’ is a reality rather than a casual phrase for our leaders. They do play with people’s lives (even though this description would rightly offend the families of those who have lost theirs). Even so, whatever it’s called, judging the risks of one policy or another is what the Civil Service do. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) do the same when they talk of ‘quality adjusted life years’. A proposed treatment is sanctioned if it costs £20,000 to £30,000 per Qaly. In this way they put a financial value on a human life. In the real world of competition for resources, this is an aspect of their day job.

And then politicians have to formulate policies and communicate them effectively. That’s their day job. And their difficulty is that, by popular demand and press insistence, they have to do it NOW! - when the science is still unfolding. Fear unravels the best made plans. Predictions are used as political battering rams by pundits who may never have had to take decisions upon which many lives depend. The front pages of each day’s newspapers illustrate this point in lurid detail. They make demands on others while impotent to do anything themselves other than conduct campaigns in support of their chosen cause of the moment.

But rather that than totalitarian regimes dictating the will of the self-chosen elite. North Korea has ‘no cases’ of coronavirus infection. Iran may well have many more than the dominating mullahs admit. The Chinese threaten Australia with economic sanctions if it publishes anything critical of their Great Leap Forward in virology. Doubtless the World Health Organisation will kowtow. President Putin’s puppet fiefdom is restless. And curiously named ‘Democratic’ countries declare whatever suits their pseudo-elected leaders, even while the United Nations welcomes them with open arms and American money (so far). Meanwhile, the teeming masses of Asia and Africa, with no economic or political clout whatever, wait to be slaughtered.

No prizes will be awarded for predictions on world affairs. The whole world is in a terrible mess.

But so it was after the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic. Yet only three years later the picture changed to one of entrepreneurship and enterprise. I predict the same will happen here. But this isn’t my day job. Don’t trust me on economic predictions. My track record isn’t good. Let’s just say it’s my best guess
29th April
What I posted on line:

The Past

The past cannot hurt me if I don’t carry it with me. That’s obvious. So why do I find it so difficult to let it go?

I’ve had a lovely day today. I valued the Zoom meeting I attended. I finished off numbering the pages and bars in the musical I’ve just written. It took two hours because I kept losing my place - but it’s done and that’s that. I’ve composed another four lines of my very first piano piece and now I’m writing this post... Oh. - and Pat and I did the Times 2 codeword and crossword and she served up a delicious curry for supper. Life doesn’t come better than that.

So I think I’ll sit down now and have a good worry...

about the separation from my parents for much of my childhood.

about the abuse and bullying I endured at school.

about my disappointments in university and medical school.

about the financial and regulatory struggles I had to go through in establishing my medical practice and rehab.
about the pain of losing them.

about the death of my wife, Meg.

about, about, about... The list goes on for precisely the length of time I want it to.

And you know what? I’ve completely forgotten about the lovely day I’ve had today. I’ve fly-tipped these negative memories of my past all over my innocent, beautiful today.

So let me run through my history again from a different perspective.
of my parents. I have very happy memories
of my mother’s painting and knitting. She was very skilled. And I inherited my father’s sense of humour.

of singing in the school choir and of being in the Boy Scout troop.

of lasting friendships and wide interests fostered in university and of all the fun and games I got up to in medical school.
of the thrill in creating my medical practice and rehab and then running them creatively for years and years.

of the wonderfully happy and exciting life I shared with Meg for 51 years.

But, of course, I didn’t think of any of these beautiful things this evening. Because I’d decided to clutter up my head with carefully selected miserable memories.

Now looking to tomorrow, I have another choice: enjoy another lovely day with Pat and with my piano or have a wretched one going through my litany of woes yet again.

Expressed this way as a clear choice there’s clearly only one way to go.

BUT...
Hey! Where did that word come from?

Out of the back of my head, where it waits patiently for opportunities to squelch any bright moments. Maybe I should write a set of post-it notes, all saying the same thing, and stick them on all the surfaces in my piano room: ‘BUT is a very nasty word. Don’t use it.’.

Ha! I might just do that small thing. Then I can reflect on how my feelings (alongside my thoughts and actions) are a choice.
My feelings for those affected in any way by COVID-19 are those of sadness, sadness, sadness. I hope they can share some of my happiness today and have hope for a beautiful future.

28th April
What I posted on line:

Too much hurt

Clearly, they’ve been hurt too much. It comes out in their bitterness.

When we look behind other people’s blame, shame, self-pity and resentment, there is often a slag-heap of pain. At any moment, it can slide down the mountain of perceived - and sometimes very real - rejection and engulf the individual.

In COVID-19 shut-down, it’s only too easy to blame politicians or scientists, or the Chinese or the Americans, for our own wretchedness. But hurt - and our reaction to it - are inside jobs.

If my inside is hurting, I tend to look outside myself for possible causes. But attacking others does not heal me. It fuels my blame, shame, self-pity and resentment even more. I try to put out the fire of my bitterness by throwing petrol on it. Or I justify it socially or politically or in any other way that diverts my attention from assessing my own behaviour. The only reason I know this is because I’ve done it: I have post-graduate degrees in self-destructive behaviour.

It’s true. I have had too much hurt at times. My childhood was not the best. My early adulthood was also problematic. Come to think of it, my later life was often pretty desperate. Oh dearie, dearie me... I’ve been hurt many times. I really have had too much hurt.

So I decided - wait for it! - to leave it behind.

For example, I imagined a homunculus (a tiny human figure representing my headmaster) sitting comfortably inside my head, saying he wouldn’t allow me to study music. I allowed him - invited him - to take up residence year after year after year. And my resentment came flooding out all over the place. So I took him out of my cranium and told him to take a hike.

Ha! That’s easier said than done. After many decades of familiarity, his negative attitude towards me had taken root to such an extent that I shared it. And then I blamed other people - when the one and only cause of my distress was my own attachment to it.

So now - particularly in this time of self-reflection consequent upon self-isolation - I focus my attention on putting down blame, shame, self-pity and resentment and picking up acceptance and gratitude.

Yes, I have had a challenging time in the past. But it’s over. I don’t need to revisit it in my head. That’s a choice I have no intention of repeating.

And I do accept that I have caused myself - and other people - a lot of pain through my avoidance of reality. I’ve taken solace in fantasy for far too long. My reality nowadays is that I’m very grateful for wonderful opportunities to be the person I want to be. No homunculus dictates a negative message to me today. And - because I don’t blame - I don’t feel remotely wretched. I’ve had too much hurt in the past but I’m not hurting now.
27th April
What I posted on line:

Serenity

Dictionaries don’t go far enough. To define serenity as ‘the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled’, is only half the story. How about ‘relieved, grateful and forgiving’?

Clearly this particular lexicographer is not ‘one of us’, as the recovering community often describe ourselves. He or she hasn’t ‘been there, done that and got the T shirt’ of experience in addiction and recovery.

I like the observation that religion is for people who are frightened of going to hell whereas spirituality is for people who have been there.
I have a very clear image of what I want to experience in my recovery:

1: Peace of mind in spite of unsolved problems.
2: Happy and mutually fulfilling relationships.
3: Spontaneity, creativity and enthusiasm.

If I don’t have this picture of a magical destination (or one like it) in my mind when I set out on my journey on ‘the road to happy destiny’, as described in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, I won’t recognise it when I get there. I’ll be lost.

Like any other addict, I’ll go here, there, everywhere, all over the park, instead of following the straight line indicated in the direction of Steps I to XII. I certainly won’t be serene. I’m more likely to to confused, upset, worried and, of course, angry that things didn’t seem to be working out in the way I hoped (even if I had no specific sense of that aspiration or goal when I set out).

So I’d better put my thinking, feeling and behaving cap (far more than a mere ‘sorting hat’ known to Harry Potter fans) firmly on top of my noddle box and delve into the mists and mysteries of ‘serenity’ before setting off and losing my way.

‘Peace of mind in spite of unsolved problems’ means exactly that. Worrying an issue to near death doesn’t solve it. For a start, I tended to think that the world had problems and I had solutions. After painful excursions down various highways and byways, I recognised that I’d got things the wrong way round. I had to ‘get out of the driving seat’ and also ‘take the cotton wool out of my ears and put it into my mouth’, exactly as A.A. members often suggest.

‘Happy and mutually fulfilling relationships’ also means exactly that - with the emphasis on mutuality. If my wife isn’t happy, our relationship doesn’t work - regardless of how ‘happy’ (self-indulgent more like) I may be.

‘Spontaneous’ has to be distinguished from ‘impulsive’. I’m much better at headlong and damaging impulsivity than I am at entertaining but cautious spontaneity.

‘Creative’ has to be true to the sensitivity and guidance of my Muse. Drunks believe their prose is purple when it’s gibberish. Addicted artists see their works as profound when they’re infantile and self-obsessed. Medicated musicians entertain themselves rather than the audience. Addled actors play to the adoring gallery.

‘Enthusiasm’ is - literally - divinely inspired (Greek: en Theos). We see God lighting up the contemplative or sparkling eyes of the mystical or eager.

Is any of this possible when witnessing the wretchedness brought about in coffins, rather than on chariots, by the fifth horseman of the apocalypse: COVID-19?

Of course it is. - What’s more, we’re lost without it.


26th April
What I posted on line:

Donkey Work

There’s donkey work - following basic routines that have no creative entity - in any profession.

Paperwork is tedious but also self-protective. A well structured medical record comes in very handy when giving evidence on behalf of a patient. And even more so if the patient is the litigant.

In my counselling work I have to have a clear mind so I can pick up nuances and sense insecurities. That isn’t possible if I have preoccupations of my own. So I have to clear them out. Systematically.

In my composing, I start with a blank sheet of manuscript paper. Bar lines, key signatures and tempi have to be written in before any note graces (or sometimes disgraces) the page. As an aspirant opera conductor I was taught that the job was 99% perspiration and only 1% inspiration.

In my photography there’s leg work galore. From a hundred snaps I might keep five or six.

And in my writing, it usually takes me two hours to write an article or a sonnet. And that’s fast - only because of the sheer volume of rubbish I’ve previously written in 45 years and thrown away.

The ‘easier, softer, way’ doesn’t lead to recovery from addiction. The old timers made it clear that we have to be ‘fearless and thorough’ when working the Twelve Step programme. That’s a heavy - but vitally necessary - burden to carry.

Right now, in their formulation of policy for escape from the present - and likely future - ravages of COVID-19, I pray to God that politicians shall not listen to tabloid or chat-show journalists. Those scribes and pundits insist on answers when currently there are none. They want specifics rather than a range of percentages and consideration of options. They demand direction instead of pause for thought. These journos might be more circumspect and succinct if their own heads were on the blocks in place of those of politicians. This branch of The Fourth Estate tends to couple itself with the oldest profession when avoiding responsibility for the consequences of their trade.

But the star prize for self-aggrandisement, and avoidance of the hard graft of thought, must surely go to ‘celebrities’, along with minor royals whose utterances should also be classified under ‘Entertainment’.

By contrast, Bill Gates is spending a sizeable chunk of his fortune on preparing several different manufacturing processes for vaccines against coronavirus, fully knowing that most will be dead ends. He won’t have wasted time trying one after another. He’s doing several sets of donkey work simultaneously. The variable is not time but results.

And his primary concern is not for the glitterati but for the destitute. His clear focus is on the city slums of Asia and Africa rather than the spiritual cess-pit of Hollywood or the self-obsessed swamp of Washington.

What a magnificent man! His generous preparedness to to do basic donkey work - on behalf of humanity - makes an ass of our own pretension.
25th April
What I posted on line:

Empowerment

In my professional experience, counsellors often say “Don’t give your power away”. What on Earth do they mean by that? And do they honestly believe this self-obsessive process will be helpful?

My fear is that they are saying “Protect yourself at all costs”.

I very much understand that people who are being repeatedly abused do need to make themselves safe if they possibly can. This is exceedingly difficult during COVID-19 shut-down. Sadly, the recent incidence of reported domestic violence and abuse has significantly increased.

But, for the rest of us, putting up our emotional shutters keeps us trapped in a self-imposed mental and emotional prison. We become unthinking and unfeeling robots.

I’ve seen that happen in nurses and doctors who work with patients who are likely to die or with those patients who, through fear, are abusive in some way. These professionals risk getting compassion fatigue. Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is not entirely fictional. Nor should we forget that Dr Josef Mengele, the Nazi torturer, was a physician. Those cases are extreme but minor versions can be distressingly common.

When Cicely Saunders, an English nurse, social worker, physician and writer, created St Christopher’s Hospice to provide gentle professional clinical care and personal nurturance for the dying, she knew precisely what she was doing and why the hospice movement, of which this was the forerunner, was necessary.

In my counselling work, I find it is vitally necessary to be emotionally vulnerable. This does not mean that I should have cathartic moments of my own when patients are distressed. It implies that I should be aware of my own sentience, my capacity to feel, perceive and experience emotional pain. And keep this capacity very much alive in my mind and heart.

I don’t want power over other people but I do want to be able to influence. As the head of the counselling team in my addiction rehab, I saw myself as the equivalent of a constitutional monarch: I sought no personal power but I denied absolute power to anyone else.

In this fearful current time, when coronavirus - with Nazi nonchalance - strikes down the vulnerable, I trust professionals (our politicians and their advisors) to lead us. I want them to have the power to decide what is best for our distressed and confused country.

But I retain my power to love, encourage and support whenever I can (provided this is wanted). Any one of us can do this, if we have a mind to do so. This gives us the collective personal power to heal our crushed community.
24th April
What I posted on line:

The Law

Addicts and compulsive helpers have very different attitudes towards the law. Addicts see laws as a restriction upon their freedom. Compulsive helpers see them as an opportunity to protect people from harm.

Addicts see the law as an unfair imposition. Therefore it becomes a challenge. It's fair game, in their eyes, to break the law.

Compulsive helpers take the opposite view. They believe the law should be upheld until it is changed. They urge politicians to enact even more laws in order to make the population behave itself.

When addicts see or hear the warning 'Do not...', they see it as a command to do it.

When compulsive helpers see or hear the same instruction, they dutifully obey - because it's the sensible thing to do. They simply don't understand why the addicts wouldn't see that as well.

The plain fact is that addicts and compulsive helpers have opposite viewpoints and intentions. They come into line with each other only when each of them is in sufficient pain to motivate them towards change.

With that understanding, compulsive helpers have to learn to leave addicts in the pain that they themselves create when they break the law. By bailing them out of their difficulties, they prolong the addictive behaviour. Compulsive helpers do not cause the addicts’ pain but they learn to leave them in the pain they have caused.

This is very hard for compulsive helpers to achieve because it is counter to everything they do through their own compulsive nature. This is the pain that compulsive helpers have to leave themselves in, rather than relieving it by rushing off to help yet another addict.

In coronavirus shut-down we can see this codependency - and warfare - between addicts and compulsive helpers played out every day in the news. Addicts and compulsive helpers are certainly not the only people to hold these opposing viewpoints, and have these contrasting behaviours, but my general categorisation (into addicts and compulsive helpers) when describing attitudes towards the law is probably not too far from a general truth. Maybe it could be called a law.

In my case, as both an addict and a compulsive helper, I need to look at each of these proclivities. My primary addictions have not gone away even though I haven’t fed them any mood-altering substance for 35 years. But my range of addictive behaviours can still undermine my recovery if I fail to be vigilant. And my compulsive helping can still be rampant today, which is why I’ve been focussing primarily on this aspect of my addictive nature recently.

Fortunately, abundant Twelve Step meetings are now available on Zoom. We can attend them in the comfort (or discomfort) of our own homes. We can make very positive connections with other people any day of our choosing - even while staying within the law on self-isolation.


23rd April
What I posted on line:

Clarity

My head is clear. That’s wonderful.

Putting down all my resentments - systematically in Step IX - has lightened my spirit. I’ve dropped the rock. The Promises attached to this particular process (making direct amends to those I’ve harmed except when to do so would injure them or others) are being fulfilled already.

Personal experience is convincing. I believe my own. But there’s no reason other people should take my words on trust. They need to discover the benefits for themselves. If they want.

My head is also clear for another reason. I’ve been doing two 25 minute sessions of tapping (EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique) each day for five months. I’ve been looking at various feeling states and their physical counterparts. Both appear to be improving.

For example, I would like to have a better sense of balance. Both in my body and in my mind. From my osteoporosis, I get long tract dysfunction. Disc protrusions in my lower back press on the nerve supply to my feet. As a result I get ‘stocking anaesthesia’: I can’t sense when my ankles and feet are being touched. Without this sensory feedback I’m unsteady on my pins. Occasionally last year, when looking sideways while walking forwards, I would lose my balance and, embarrassingly, find myself face down on the pavement.

The only thought that came to mind on those awkward occasions was Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tale about a young boy’s experience of contact with the medical profession: ‘They answered, as they took their Fees, "There is no Cure for this Disease”.’.

Except that - mirabile dictu - I seem to be getting better. This morning Pat gently tickled the sole of my uncovered right foot and I flinched. Well well...

I’m a straightforward allopathic quack. There’s nothing remotely ‘alternative’ about me. But, as I say, I don’t knock personal experience. Especially my own.

And there’s another aspect to this. Tapping away - with my eyes closed - for 25 minutes is quite possibly self-hypnosis. I go into a meditative trance state. I’m not really interested in diagnostic labels. All I care about is that, if something works, I don’t analyse it or fix it. I’m grateful for mercies of any size.

I can do heel/toe walking around the bed - being careful not to give Pat further opportunity for physical contact - and that’s good enough for me.

The last time I did heel/toe walking was after the Force nicked me for speeding. After I completed the test perfectly, the Boy in Blue asked me when I had last had an alcoholic drink. Almost by rote, I replied “Twelfth of October 1984”. He let me go with a surprised but respectful caution.

My head was clear then and it’s clear now. The only caution I need today, in coronavirus shut-down, is “Watch it. Don’t get overconfident”.
No Sir, Mister Government or Doctor Doctor, I promise. I’m very clear on that.


22nd April
What I posted on line:

Clarity

My head is clear. That’s wonderful.

Putting down all my resentments - systematically in Step IX - has lightened my spirit. I’ve dropped the rock. The Promises attached to this particular process (making direct amends to those I’ve harmed except when to do so would injure them or others) are being fulfilled already.

Personal experience is convincing. I believe my own. But there’s no reason other people should take my words on trust. They need to discover the benefits for themselves. If they want.

My head is also clear for another reason. I’ve been doing two 25 minute sessions of tapping (EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique) each day for five months. I’ve been looking at various feeling states and their physical counterparts. Both appear to be improving.

For example, I would like to have a better sense of balance. Both in my body and in my mind. From my osteoporosis, I get long tract dysfunction. Disc protrusions in my lower back press on the nerve supply to my feet. As a result I get ‘stocking anaesthesia’: I can’t sense when my ankles and feet are being touched. Without this sensory feedback I’m unsteady on my pins. Occasionally last year, when looking sideways while walking forwards, I would lose my balance and, embarrassingly, find myself face down on the pavement.

The only thought that came to mind on those awkward occasions was Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tale about a young boy’s experience of contact with the medical profession: ‘They answered, as they took their Fees, "There is no Cure for this Disease”.’.

Except that - mirabile dictu - I seem to be getting better. This morning Pat gently tickled the sole of my uncovered right foot and I flinched. Well well...

I’m a straightforward allopathic quack. There’s nothing remotely ‘alternative’ about me. But, as I say, I don’t knock personal experience. Especially my own.

And there’s another aspect to this. Tapping away - with my eyes closed - for 25 minutes is quite possibly self-hypnosis. I go into a meditative trance state. I’m not really interested in diagnostic labels. All I care about is that, if something works, I don’t analyse it or fix it. I’m grateful for mercies of any size.

I can do heel/toe walking around the bed - being careful not to give Pat further opportunity for physical contact - and that’s good enough for me.

The last time I did heel/toe walking was after the Force nicked me for speeding. After I completed the test perfectly, the Boy in Blue asked me when I had last had an alcoholic drink. Almost by rote, I replied “Twelfth of October 1984”. He let me go with a surprised but respectful caution.

My head was clear then and it’s clear now. The only caution I need today, in coronavirus shut-down, is “Watch it. Don’t get overconfident”.
No Sir, Mister Government or Doctor Doctor, I promise. I’m very clear on that.
22nd April
What I posted on line:

Projects

I’m a strange creature. When working on any project - such as a book or a piece of music or a collection of photographs - I get faster towards the end. This is not because I’m becoming progressively more familiar with the process but because I’m afraid that my accumulated work will be wasted if I pop my clogs before the whole thing is finished.

I’m frankly nuts. Although, come to think of it, this fantasy will be a real-life (or death) situation one day. Hopefully not just yet.

But here I am in COVID-19 shut-down, worrying about my creative output, rather than thinking about my demise itself - which, as with anyone else at this particular time, could come any day. Out of the (literal) clear blue sky. Just like that.

Ha! I’m round the twist... Ah well, ‘twas ever thus.

And there’s another complication. I fear that my creative Muse will walk away one day and leave me in the lurch. So I always start looking at the next project - usually in one of my other creative outlets (so I don’t get muddled) - before I’ve finished the current one. And this quirk is a magnification of a smaller one I follow each day: before I take a break, I start the next bit (of whatever I’m working on) so I don’t lose my thread and can see my way forward.

Today I completed the vocal and piano score of the two-Act musical I’ve been writing. Well, I haven’t really really finished it. Just the melodies and harmonies. The metronome markings, the dynamics and the phrasings are all in my head but not yet written out on my manuscript paper. Interestingly, I’ve got the final page of the m/s book still blank and I found myself wondering if I should compose some more music just to fill it up for completion’s sake.

Oh dear. I’m beyond redemption.

So here I am, batting away on this Facebook post, holding the attention of my fragile and potentially errant creative streak.

Tomorrow morning I’ve got three books I want to read: one on musical notation, one on counterpoint and one on the story of Chopin’s piano (the instrument itself, not what he did with it). That’s about 1000 pages in all. Lunch will be delayed.

And then I’d like to get out my practice drum skin (a quiet one that won’t drive my incarcerated neighbours to distraction) and improve my sense of rhythm. That’s a heavy-duty task because I can beat two against three but that’s about it. I’m not Buddy Rich or anyone out of a kindergarten as a thrummer. Supper will be postponed or possibly cancelled altogether.

And then there’s Paul Hindemith’s Elementary Training for Musicians. I’ve only glanced at it...

When I read that self-isolation might continue for many months for people in my age group, and with my possible medical risks, I have my concerns. I need an eon - or even a yonk - to get my projects up to speed.


21st April
What I posted on line:

Clearing the Decks

I have to keep my spiritual house in order. Otherwise it gets cluttered up with self-pitying and resentful garbage. And, as with a physical home, I can’t simply clean it once and assume that all will be done and dusted for ever more. I have to maintain my cleanliness.

In this time of coronavirus shut-down, I have plenty of time to reflect on my past, consider my present and ponder my future.

Edward Gibbon said “All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance.”. He’s right. If I don’t take active steps to move forwards, I don’t stay where I am now; I go backwards. It’s as if I got on a down-coming escalator when trying to go up. I have to take repeated steps forward just to stay still.

So I decided to look at all my addictive outlets and my relationships to see if some were getting a bit out of kilter (or a lot, without me noticing the gradual but progressive decline). The last time I did this was ten years ago, when I had time on my hands in an old people’s home after my bankruptcy. That was a wretched time and I had lots to acknowledge to my sponsor (mainly on my compulsive helping, taking my professional eye off the financial ball - which led to me destroying the current livelihoods of my staff and the future security of my wife and myself).

In the last decade, my life has got progressively happier and more productive. I might therefore imagine that I had nothing significant amiss in my spiritual life. I would be wrong. The resentments that I was too shocked to look at last time round, had peeped out of the woodwork and were waiting patiently for me to become complacent. I could easily think that everything was fine and dandy in my heart and soul simply because my mind and body were more functional.

From my experience of working with other addicts, I know that when we are down we use addictive substances, processes and relationships for comfort. And when we are up we use the same artificial ‘sweeteners’ to celebrate. I can’t afford to go off track in either direction.

Steps I, V and IX came to my rescue: I admitted that all was not well, I shared my detailed notes with my sponsor, and I made amends (in my own idiosyncratic way) to those I have recently harmed through my compulsive helping. To say “I’m sorry I helped you too much” doesn’t hack it. Saying “I’m sorry I patronised and belittled you by taking on responsibility that wasn’t mine” is too open-ended. That could go anywhere. And I certainly don’t want to open up old wounds, when living amends and the passage of time have healed so much.

So I imagined each of these people in succession joining me in my piano room. I spoke out loud to them until I felt I had done my level best to dig out even the tiniest bit of residual resentment (the number one offender even for compulsive helpers) and replace it with unconditional love. Yeah, yeah... all very New Age or something slushy. Yes, I had to dig out that cynicism and superiority as well.

My experience of the Twelve Step programme is that it is the most challenging - and also the most healing - task I’ve ever faced. And it’s ongoing, dammit. I am - and always have been and always will be - on the down-coming escalator (that’s where my addictive nature puts me) and I have to take repeated Steps - all Twelve of them - in order to advance rather than retrograde.

Now I’ve dealt with my first priority, I can look at the next: I’m going to sit down at my piano and finish composing the musical I’ve been working on. I need a clear head - and heart and soul - for that. And I’ve got them (for a time, at least). On we go...

20th April
What I posted on line:

Resentment

In a Zoom meeting recently I heard one resentment after another. Young people - relative newcomers to the Twelve Step programme - piled on the agony. For themselves.

This helped me to recognise that I can’t afford to be resentful at any time over any issue. I can be hurt. I can see that life has been unfair at times. And I can see that I’ve been on my own - spiritually - on several significant occasions. But that’s all in the past. I don’t need to carry those sentiments into today.

There’s no deeper loneliness than feeling abandoned. There’s no despair more profound than the discovery that comfort and consolation are scarce commodities. And there’s no awareness more necessary than recognising that I myself have been the architect of my major misfortunes.

The sexual abuse and bullying I endured at school said something about the perpetrators but nothing about me. I don’t have to carry those memories with me for 70 years!

The disappointment I experienced at university when I was told I didn’t have the talent to be a professional musician was very real. But it’s not valid now. I wasn’t looking in the right direction at that time. I was hoping to be a singer or conductor and the judgement of the dons was correct: I wasn’t good enough. Nowadays I’m composing. I’ve found my metier.

The collapse of my medical practice and rehab was timely. If they hadn’t gone down ten years ago, they would certainly fail now. And I would not be as content as I am today. I’d be miserable. And resentment would poison me if I had nothing better on my mind.

All feelings are a choice. “You made me angry” can never be true. Anger is a choice - one of many choices in response to a given stimulus. (William Glasser’s Choice Theory makes this clear.) Only by recognising my options can I choose one that is likely to be beneficial.

I don’t choose to be resentful today. It’s a rotten choice at any time. It doesn’t help me to move on and be at peace with the world and its population of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells like me.

Perfectionism is a vice, not a virtue (except for Groucho Marx’s ‘distinguished amateur brain surgeon’). We love others for their frailties, rather than their achievements. It would be no bad thing to extend this same magnanimity to myself.

In COVID-19 isolation with my wife, I certainly can’t afford to entertain any resentment over any event or any relationship. It would poison me. And therefore contaminate my nearest and dearest as well.

These are early days. I anticipate being cooped up for months and months. But look at that! ‘Cooped up’? What’s that phrase if it isn’t a herald to future resentment?
19th April
What I posted on line:

Easy

In the coastal states of America, or on the BBC or Sky News, it’s easy to criticise President Trump. And it’s easy - and almost required - to refer to him without the prefix. But in the fly-over states or on Fox News or in the Daily Mail, it’s not so easy to be critical of him (although I have seen this, whereas I’ve never seen anything complimentary in The Washington Post or The New York Times or The Guardian.).

President Clinton has friends and enemies in equal measure even today. But he deserves credit for fiscal prudence whereas President George W Bush was spendthrift on welfare projects. They seemed to promote the policies of the opposite Parties.

American politics is a strange beast, not at all easy to understand and impossible to tame. But was Jeremy Corbyn all bad and Boris Johnson all good, as appears to be the recent verdict of the U.K. electorate? Or are those conclusions too easy to trot out?

It’s easy to have left wing views in a left wing profession. Writers, university lecturers, teachers and social workers would risk being de-platformed or ostracised if they were to make any statement slightly to the right of the beliefs of Karl Marx.

And it’s easy to have right wing views in a disciplinary profession, such as the police or the armed forces, or risk verbal excoriation - or worse - when expressing viewpoints slightly to the left of those of Genghis Khan.

The ideas of politicians, such as Bernie Sanders, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, have huge following. Except in national elections. When Donald Trump and Boris Johnson win, the Left are not simply dumbfounded but disbelieving. Their view is that there must have been a dastardly plot, a scheme cooked up by foreigners or a conspiracy funded by big business. And, in accordance with their Marxist creed, they hold that the lumpen proletariat have to be educated to vote in the correct way - or not be allowed to vote at all.

The ideas of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, David Duke (the white supremacist founder and former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan) and Nick Griffin (the former president of the far-right British National Party) are all as abhorrent as those of their extreme-left counterparts. But people join their fevered followers in alarming numbers even today.

The jack-boot reaction of right wing zealots to any perceived threat is to erect physical boundaries against all considered to be foreign to their particular Fatherland.

The open-armed welcome extended to all and sundry by left-wing brothers and sisters is in defiance of any budgetary principle.
Ideas - and the lives of other people - come cheap in extremist quarters. But not to me.

Working as a family doctor for 43 years, and doing something in the region of 250,000 face-to-face consultations in that period of my continuing professional life, taught me that any human life is sacrosanct and any idea potentially extremely valuable (or not).

I cannot afford to dismiss people or ideas out of hand without giving them appropriate consideration, particularly when COVID-19 recognises no physical or social boundary. Even though poor people and minority groups are affected disproportionately badly in this pandemic (as in all crises), we’re all in this current calamity together. Nobody will come out altogether unscathed.

If ever there is a time for putting down political divisions and joining together in prayer, this is surely it. Here’s a prayer from A Book of Prayers for Atheists and Agnostics (my own Higher Power is the Twelve Step programme), that I wrote - one for each day of the year - in 2004. I use it as a reminder to myself:

THE EASY WAY

It is easier to destroy than create.
It is easier to criticise than sympathise.
It is easier to analyse than empathise.
It is easier to demand than ask.
It is easier to retaliate than understand.
It is easier to resent than forgive.
It is easier to blame than accept.
It is easier to shout than talk.
It is easier to hear than listen.
It is easier to look than see.

God, help me to avoid the easy way.


18th April

Interview with Dr. Lefever


Q: What has changed for you in the last week?

I am now coming to the end of writing a musical, so I am thinking about what I can do next with my creativity in this downtime. Creativity is just pouring out of me, especially because I now have more time.


Q: What are you thinking about doing next? 

Well, my wife suggests I might do a symphony. But that is technically very complex so I am thinking of doing a string quartet or a piano piece.


Q: Do you relish doing things that you have never done before?

I feel that it is important to do new things. COVID19 is an opportunity to do beautiful things I have never done before. So I am looking to extend my skills by doing something new, this is what keeps us young. We have to embrace new things.


Q: Do you prefer to take on large or small projects?

I like to do both it is important to look at general themes of hope. Some of my writing is short posts on Facebook for example and other like my musical take considerably longer.


Q: How do you feel when you see all the negativity about COVID19?

I feel Inspired to create something beautiful, I have always looked at ideas rather than events. So really in that respect nothing changed.


Q: How do you feel about being told to stay home?

I like my home and being with my wife, so it feels comfortable, but I am a natural rebel. I tend to look at my rebellious nature to see if it has a positive or negative effect. In this case staying at home is the right thing to do.

Q: How do you feel about the Governments narrative on COVID19?


I think the Government do the best they can to put forward a reasoned case. I don’t think the Government is helped by the attacks from the media, always looking to criticise policy. As for social media it is a ‘bear garden’ I contribute to Facebook but Twitter I just don’t go near it.



18th April
What I posted on line:

Connection

Making close convections with other people becomes progressively more difficult from the moment we are born until we reach maturity (if we ever do). After that we’re in with a chance of making good decisions that lead to self-enhancement and mutually rewarding close personal relationships. But that doesn’t come easily. It’s sheer hard work.

Prenatally we are fed through the placenta in our mother’s womb. The placental artery brings nutrients from our mother’s blood supply to our own body. At birth the placental artery is clamped off so that all that remains to be seen is the tummy button, indicating its previous entry point and the exit point of the placental vein. That venous blood vessel had taken our blood, with spent metabolites, back to the placenta and into our mother’s circulation for purification. What could ever be a closer physical connection than that?

But there’s more to it than that. The child is fully developed anatomically by the intra-uterine age of thirteen weeks. Yet physical development continues to forty weeks. Beyond that the symbiotic physical relationship between mother and foetus begins to deteriorate so that birth sometimes has to be physically induced.

And there’s even more. The foetus develops mentally and psychologically. The mother’s emotional state and physical actions (such as stress and drinking alcohol) has profound effects. What a responsibility! When this vital interdependence is treated casually, or disregarded entirely, the consequences can be catastrophic.

A healthy birth should ideally lead to a healthy mother/child relationship. The English paediatrician and analyst Donald Winnicott used to say that there is no such thing as a baby: there is only a mother/baby unit. As a family doctor, I saw evidence of this when the infant cried in its mother’s arms if I was giving an injection to the mother. The child sensed the mother’s uneasiness even while completely unaware of what was going on.

The closeness of that neonatal connection can never be equalled in later life. And that’s a good thing: it would be a very unhealthy dependency. The function of adolescence is to enable the developing adult to individuate. The youth has to rebel against the adult parents..

Now consider this whole saga, from pregnancy to adulthood, in the current context of coronavirus shutdown. The domestic social stresses at any intermediate stage in that developmental process don’t bear thinking about. Oh God! What have we got in store in our society?

But calm down, calm down. Covid-19 isn’t the only disaster ever to strike the human race. War, not everlasting peace, is the norm. Infection, illness, accidents and decrepitude are commonplace. The human race has an amazing talent for interconnection in our quest for present survival and future prosperity. And that’s not the mawkish false optimism of Pollyanna. It’s history








DIary Part I

17th April
What I posted on line:

Unconditional Love

Unconditional love means making no conditions on loving someone. No boundaries at all. Wow - that’s a challenge!

We don’t have to like the other person. And certainly we don’t have to tolerate behaviour we find unacceptable. But the love goes on regardless.

I want nothing but unconditional love in my soul and heart for one very clear reason: it helps me.
If I heap yet another resentment onto the pile of those already cluttering up my psyche, I pay a terrible price: I feel wretched and I behave self-destructively.

But, if I have unconditional love in my soul and heart, my mind is clear and I can see beauty simply by looking for it.

Running my own addiction rehab for 23 years, and continuing my outpatient services for another 11, gave me a profound awareness of how lovely people can do dreadful things when they are in the grip of their various - or multiple - addictions. But when they put down their addictive behaviour and put equivalent energy (yes, I mean that) into working the Twelve Step programme, the beautiful individual emerges again.

The crucial process is to separate, in my mind, the person from the illness.

I demonstrate this by grabbing the back of my left hand (the person) with my right hand (the illness). In that fateful coupling, the tips of the fingers of my left hand give a little wiggle that says “Help me!”. But then the clenching fist of my right hand (the illness) forcefully takes over the action and moves my left hand all over the place while saying “Get away from me!”.

With that little psychodrama in mind, it’s easier to see the loveable left hand being powerless while in the grip of the ever-demanding and all-consuming right hand.

I give the disease no truck whatever. I confront it wherever I can. But, throughout all of that, I have unconditional love for the suffering individual.

And when each and every one of us is suffering, in one way or another, in this coronavirus pandemic, there is a greater need for unconditional love - to be given - than I have ever known in my entire haphazardly adventurous adult life.

16th April
What I posted on line:

The Road

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I,
I took the road less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
I love the poetry of Robert Frost. He’s on the button. His instincts are sound, he has clear imagery and a fine sense of rhythm.
Other poets sometimes go out of their way to be incomprehensible. If I don’t understand a piece of prose, I read it again. If I still don’t understand it, as with James Joyce’s Ulysses, I don’t consider myself stupid and the writer profound. I close the book.

I have the same experience with the poetry of Emily Dickinson, the art of Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin, the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen or the architects who imposed on us many of the modern buildings in the city of London. They may believe they’re going down a road less traveled. I feel they might simply be self-indulgent. The crucial test will be to see whether their innovations stand the test of time.

Here’s Howard Roark’s speech from The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand:

"Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received hatred. The great creators, the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won."

That’s what I call a road less travelled. (Ayn Rand is hated by many because she herself did not follow the political and cultural herd.) And hers is what I believe to be superb writing, not simply because I share her sentiments but because she expresses her ideas in a simple and understandable way.

Returning to the issue of the moment, who are the epidemiologists, and which are the countries, who follow the road of clear scientific integrity? When different countries assess Covid-19 incidence and mortality using different measures, how do we know whose figures to trust? Testing for coronavirus has many false results - both negative (saying someone hasn’t got it when he or she does) and positive (saying someone does have it when he or she doesn’t). These false results are dangerous in either direction.

Again, the test of time is the most accurate measure. But we haven’t got time! We have to make decisions now!

So who do we trust? I trust the advisors to our own government. But, on track record of recent clinical acumen, I trust the Germans. However, look at this: in Germany, death rates amongst younger people are especially high but overall death rates are low. But in Italy it’s overwhelmingly elderly people who are dying. It looks as if those countries are beset by different viruses. But that’s not true. They have different methods of recording deaths and their cause. Many of the elderly in Italy were dying anyway from other medical conditions.

I have a very clear message to young people in the U.K.. Take this pandemic seriously. Never mind about us oldies. You are at risk.

And how would you know whether to trust me? Ha! That’s easy. I’ve followed roads less travelled all my life. Mentally I may be younger than some of you.

15th April
What I posted on line:

A Wall

In response to his neighbour saying “Good fences make good neighbors”, the American poet, Robert Frost, said “Before I built a wall I'd ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offense. Something there is that doesn't love a wall, That wants it down”.

In Luke 10, Jesus Christ said “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

So is Robert Frost’s neighbour constructive or dismissive when he mends their separating wall?

And who are our neighbours in this coronavirus time of self-isolation?

I suppose each one of us answers those questions in our own way, depending on our personal experience and philosophy.

There are twelve flats in Pat’s and my building and over a hundred buildings in the Square in which we live in South Kensington. How many of these residents are our neighbours, in the physical or biblical sense? And what about other people who live in this local area? Or London? Or England? Or the U.K.? Or Europe? Or the world?

And how about people who do not come from Pat’s and my age group, educational and social background, race, creed or any other (sometimes) defining characteristic?

Who do we include in our social circle? And who do we exclude?

As a former GP in South Kensington, I knew many thousands of local residents. But this is bed-sit land, with multi-occupation flats as the norm. Almost the entire population turns over every four years. And, because of the museums, universities and colleges and The Albert Hall, 140,000 people used to pass through South Kensington underground station every day. Our Square, and Pat’s and my particular numbered terraced house, has many long-term residents. We’re joined together physically and socially in a community. But that is far from true in the whole of this part of London.

And what sort of community are we now, shut away in our separate hidey-holes? Walls are vital to our individual and communal survival. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. But something does.

Yet I’m sure Robert Frost was expressing himself metaphorically as well as physically. And Jesus Christ was challenging social isolationist ideas.

These are not ‘interesting’ times’, as the Wuhan Chinese might say. They’re very strange. All our lives have been turned outside in.

We can but hope that, as a result of this separation, we will be more joined-up and mended as a community in future. And even now in our individual ways.
14th April
What I posted on line:

Beyond Fear

Fear of death generates religious belief.

On Easter Sunday I shared in the on-line Eucharist of St Stephen’s, Walbrook. The open-air service was conducted by the solitary priest at a simple table in front of a multi-trunked tree reaching up to the heavens.

I hadn’t anticipated doing so because I have no religious belief. The multiplicity of ‘One True Gods’, historically preaching peace but declaring war on each other, does not encourage me to be a sheep in any flock or a standard bearer in any ‘good’ fight. I want to live in peace and - eventually - die in peace.

I see my own death as a gentle process of acceptance followed by exciting adventure. I respect other people’s take on this. Each to his or her own. I don’t feel sad that I have missed out on anything. I don’t feel - right now - a need for comfort and solace. I’m content in my personal philosophy of individualism. I have a sense of responsibility to and for myself. I am an island in an interconnected archipelago. But, in their particular situations, many people - perhaps the vast majority of the world’s billions - accept (or have forced upon them) political and religious exhortation or command to find corporate identity.

I watched the Easter service from the comfort of my wife’s and my home. I heard the Gospel of ‘good news’ beautifully read by my friend Gay Soper. (My foreknowledge led to my attendance.) I took in the symbolism and ritual. I shared appreciation of the English language at its finest. And I marvelled at the wondrous works of art shown on screen.

Yet I do not feel a need to ‘conquer’ death or have it ‘conquered’ for me. I accept its inevitability. I look forward to the discovery of whatever follows. I propose no answers to the three fundamental questions of life: ‘Where did I come from?’, ‘What am I doing here?’ and ‘Where am I going?’. I rest content in my ignorance. I’ll find out the answers in due course when my small unit of the eternal spiritual world moves into a new dimension.

Will coronavirus claim my Earthly life? Maybe. Will I die alone? Maybe. Will I be fearful? Maybe at the last trump. I don’t know. But right now, I have no fear of the idea of death; only of its process. And I’m too busy - in awe and wonder at the beauty of life - to worry about that today.
13th April
What I posted on line:


Time

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. In self-isolation I have all the time in the world yet I’m as busy as I’ve ever been.

This law is sometimes applied to the growth of bureaucracy in an organization. In my own medical practice and rehab I worked alongside my staff. We had no unproductive time other than on the reams of paperwork required by NICE, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Establishing the required policies, procedures and outcome studies for each of 63 sub-clauses of their dictates took two years of my personal time. I dared not delegate this task to others. If I were to write these paragraphs too loosely, I would be blamed when fish slipped through my net. If I were to write them too tightly, I would tie myself in knots and have only myself to blame. In either direction I was trapped in government gobbledygook - damned if I did and damned if I didn’t write too carefully or insufficiently so.

Even today I shudder at the memory of that cursed time in which I believed I would be more, rather than less, likely - as was the stated intention - to bring my patients to harm. Diminished focus on clinical care was inevitable when I exhausted myself on bureaucratic stuff and nonsense.

Right now I have no work but I note that NICE is still hammering away. Of course there have to be regulations to catch the incompetent and foolish. But excessive regulation penalises the imaginative and fertile.

Today I have all the time in the world and I alone (with one and a half eyes on the wishes of my wife) decide what to do with it.

I go to on-line Zoom meetings. I make deliberate contact with my friends and family. I write and I compose. I’m busy.

I’m also very content. I don’t fidget or fret. I’m making up for lost and stolen time. I write these posts every day and I’ve written the music to three songs in three days. I’m in heaven. I am indeed very privileged at this time when so many are in hell.

12th April
What I posted on line:

Health

Suddenly, with the effects of coronavirus infection dominating every aspect of our individual, family and social lives and damaging our personal, national and global, economy, health is a vital concern.

Sadly, and exasperatingly, this is not true for everybody. When the President of Brazil says that COVID-19 is no worse than influenza (Tell that to our Prime Minister!), when the Twitterati revel in conspiracy theories, when government recommendations on safe-distancing are blatantly ignored by a few hedonists or warped libertarians, and when criminals and scammers are having a field day, it’s only too easy to forget that the vast majority acts sensibly, considerately and compassionately.

Another disturbing feature is that on-line opinions are all of equal value and incontestability. Even our national press is tainted when forced to inhabit the internet blogosphere. There is no clear indication of the size of the readership indicating support for editorial viewpoints. Madcap stories and ideas have always been given prominence because they sell newspapers. ‘Man has found a miracle cure’ is merely a current version of ‘Man bites dog’.

Alarmist stories upset minds - they’re designed to do so - but this is surely not the time for those shenanigans. At our peril, we forget that the balance of any mind is only too easily disturbed. The vast majority is sane and sensible. But the few on the edge can cause fearful problems (to themselves and others) when their tipping-point is reached.

And yet... and yet... our free press is only free if it publishes the disagreeable along with the acceptable, the horrid as well as the pleasing, the asinine and the sensitive. Each of these polarities is based on individual value judgements. There will always be some who agree with a particular attitude and others who oppose it. In a democracy, we relish this non-conformity.

But do we still cherish this ideal when a street party breaks the rules of social isolation and risks medical mayhem? The political fallout (in the balance between individualism and totalitarianism) of this pandemic may well, in the long term, be more significant than the clinical and financial damage.

Health is primarily an individual responsibility. Each one of us has a duty (to ourselves and to our community) to do healthy things and avoid doing unhealthy things, as far as we are capable of doing so. The great danger of state funded healthcare systems is that they can be taken for granted as indispensable, not only that they can be profligate and self-serving.

‘Save the NHS!’ is a worthy rallying cry in a time of national emergency. But, as Ayn Rand pointed out, the difference between a Welfare State and a Totalitarian State is merely a matter of time. How much individual freedom in healthcare - and in any other aspect of our lives - will we have left when this hurricane dies down?

Will differing viewpoints be tolerated? Already, in many parts of the world, they are not. As our own free press disintegrates, as I fear is already beginning to happen, will we come to rue the day when the state really was indispensable? Politicians like the taste of power. Will they forsake it in calmer times? The precedent of income tax first being introduced as a temporary fiscal policy is not encouraging.
Solzhenitsyn wrote Cancer Ward as a factual account and a stark warning. In these heady times of adulation of state services, we might benefit from re-reading it.

My doctor grandson volunteered to work on a COVID-19 ward, caught coronavirus, self-isolated for a time and is now back at work in the front line. The doctor sister-in-law of my brother is still unwell. She said “I’ve never been so ill. I really did believe I was going to die”. I am the first in line to praise these wonderful human beings and other selfless individuals who risk their lives in the service of the needy. Some did die. And others will do.

It is their sacrifice I have in mind when I express concern over the memory that suicide was a commonplace in the Stazi (State Security Service) suppressed German Democratic Republic of Erich Honecker prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I visited East Germany one month after that momentous event. I saw for myself the savage physical contrast between true democracy and its sham counterpart.

And today, at this very time of highly appropriate lauding our own state services, we need to recall the concern of the German philosopher, George Santayana, that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.



11th April
What I posted on line:

Stones

I make stones: gallstones and kidney stones. And that’s the way it is. My body metabolism - like the rest of me - has its own idiosyncratic way of doing things.

My gallbladder, with hundreds of small stones inside it, went to its Maker as a result of surgical intervention 45 years ago. I don’t miss it. I’m well rid of it. While it was part of me, it was a painful nuisance. So goodbye gallbladder.

But kidney stones are different. I can’t say goodbye to my kidneys. I’ve got lots of living to do (I hope) and they’re vital. So I’m stuck with the possibility of more stones.

I used to get renal colic (said to be as painful as childbirth but I couldn’t judge that) every ten years or so. A small stone would take a wander down the ureter, the tube joining the kidney to the bladder, and then get stuck. Ow! Waves of contraction tried to move it on but all to no avail - and more pain. Ow again! And again!

So surgery was indicated again. The stone would have to be grabbed by a tiny twisting metal basket inserted up my you-know-what, pushed through my prostate (OwOwOw!) and then across my bladder and up the ureter. There’s nothing quite like the relief that comes when that procedure is all over.

But, of course, that didn’t change my metabolism and my recurring capacity to make more sones.

So then I had lithotripsy (ultrasound hammering to shatter the large stones in the calyces, the urine collection area of my kidneys). The intention was to end up with gravel that I could pee out comfortably. It worked.

But again, of course, my metabolism ignored all clinical procedures. It would have gone on doing so had I not been told to reduce the acidity of my urine (this process discourages stone formation) by taking a level teaspoonful if sodium bicarbonate (baking powder) every day. I’ve done that for the last 15 years and the last ultrasound scan - I don’t remember when - showed no sign of any stone. Dei Gratia.
The side effect of the sodium bicarbonate is ok for me but not for anyone standing behind me.

Hopefully the only stone I have nowadays is my pet rock (a beach pebble) that lives in the right hand pocket of my suit jacket. It’s a form of benign personal company for me, like any other pet, but it’s easier to look after. It doesn’t require feeding or watering, walking or tidying up after. We have a healthy symbiosis, which is more than can be said for any of my self-made stones.

The significant general issue today is that medical and surgical problems continue even while coronavirus destroys individuals, families and businesses and wreaks havoc with hospital provision. This is all the more reason for me to stay healthy and protect our NHS for people who desperately need it. My pet rock and I will look after each other.
10th April
What I posted on line:

Sanity

A.A.’s Step 2 says ‘“We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Many people find this statement challenging because they don’t consider themselves to be insane. They might acknowledge they had ‘a bit of a problem with’ a mood-altering substance or process or relationship. But insane? Certainly not.

Yet if they continue to use something they have ‘a bit of a problem with’, how would they categorise that behaviour? ‘Sensible use’? ‘A bit of fun’? ‘Not a real problem, if you know what I mean?’?

No I don’t know what you mean. Because I’ve seen so many people progress from casual use to dependency. The sensible (sane) thing to do is to give up before we damage our minds and bodies in more significant ways.

That being said, use of something doesn’t indicate addiction to it. Many people drink alcohol (on-line sales of alcohol in the U.S.A. increased 243% in the first three weeks of coronavirus shut-down) without being addicted to it. 60% of medical students (who should see the damaging effects in the psychiatric wards) use cannabis. Depending on socio-economic circumstances, up to 20% of pregnant women use it, despite medical concern that they could be harming their unborn children. Recent research shows that exposure to THC can affect a baby’s brain development. That’s tragic - for the child and also for the parents.

This illustrates an important general point: we may not see that a particular behaviour is ‘insane’ when we are doing it.

My own various addictive behaviours continued until I was 47. Other people could see the damage I was causing (to myself and to my family, in particular) but I couldn’t. I was too clever and too strong-willed to believe I could be an addict of any kind.

And the emphasis here is on ‘couldn’t’, rather than ‘wouldn’t’. That’s the basic psycho-pathology of having an addictive nature: despite heaps of evidence, we cannot see what we are doing to ourselves.

I didn’t see my eating disorder even though my weight varied by 50 pounds. I kept three different sizes of clothes in my wardrobe. I accepted the variation as ‘normal’. Looking back, I can see that behaviour was insane but, at the time, I considered it rational, convenient.
I could have looked at my parents and grandparents and noted their addictions as evidence of my potential genetic inheritance. But all I saw was their individual issues.

I could have looked at my friends and noted that I was most comfortable with other addicts of one kind or another. But I saw us as ‘the fun people’ - which indeed we were. ‘Normies’ can be indescribably boring to wild ones like me.

Putting all this observable evidence into one bundle now, makes it easy to conclude that I’m an addict and always have been. But I remind myself that the mythical ‘retrospectascope’ is the most accurate of all medical diagnostic instruments. I could not see then what is obvious to me now.

As with other addicts, some of the damage my addictive nature has caused is irretrievable. That’s tragic. But all I can do now is to accept the consequences of my previous insane behaviour, keep a check on what I’m doing now, repair - or compensate for (in whatever way I can) - the damage I’ve caused... and move on.

Before God (!), I don’t want to go back to my previous insane behaviour. I believe I can only avoid it if I really do accept that I have the potential for insanity. I may not have schizophrenia, acute psychosis or hypomania, but addictive insanity is just as dramatically damaging as any of those more formal clinical diagnoses.

In coronavirus isolation at home, I would make a serious error if I believe my wife is the only other ‘being’ with me. My addictive nature is with me all the time. I keep it at bay by doing Zoom meetings of various Anonymous Fellowships and by working Steps X, XI and XII every day. To believe that my chronic illness no longer needs a chronic treatment would be insane.

9th April
What I posted on line:


Appreciation

We all like to be appreciated for what we do - but how appreciative are we of what others do?

Yes, we appreciate medical and nursing staff for what they’re doing at this particularly challenging time, with COVID-19 attacking them and us. But will we be equally appreciative and understanding of their priorities, when we’re told we don’t qualify for a particular service?

Yes, we appreciate bankers when they give us loans. But do we understand and appreciate their professional - and therefore personal - risks? Or do we say that, after the 2008 debacle, they deserve whatever they get?

Yes, we appreciate welfare services. But do we understand and appreciate the taxpayers who fund them?

Yes, we appreciate our homes. But do we understand and appreciate the property developers who took risks when building them?

Yes, we appreciate entertainment in sports and music. But do we understand and appreciate how few individuals get to the top and how many struggle?

Yes, we appreciate affordable food. But do we understand and appreciate the farmers, wholesalers and retailers in the food chain? Or do we shrug and say “That’s their job”?

Yes, we appreciate transport services. But do we understand and appreciate the difficulty in running to timetable in all weathers? And do we understand and appreciate the competing demands of speed and safety?

Yes, we appreciate lawyers who do as we instruct them. But do we understand and appreciate that the law is the law?

Yes, we appreciate the police and the armed forces when they protect us. But do we understand and appreciate them when they reasonably expect us to do something to protect ourselves?

It seems to me that the world largely divides into givers and takers. But do we understand and appreciate that we ourselves - maybe at different times - come into both of those categories?

It also seems to me that politicians divide into those who want to create, those who care only for themselves and those who want to destroy so that a new order can (somehow) emerge?

I can give a straightforward answer to all of these questions, particularly at this time of COVID-19 crisis: Yes.

My hope in these Facebook posts is to give appreciation, understanding, hope and encouragement to everyone who reads them. I don’t care who or what you are. I know it’s inevitable that you have difficulties and concerns of your own. I wish you well. And I hope we can all come through this experience with understanding, appreciation and love in our hearts.



8th April

What I posted on line:

Kindness

If, at the end of my life, people remember me for being kind, rather than for institutions I’ve established or ideas I’ve generated or artistic works I’ve created, I’ll settle for that.

There are technical aspects to being a working doctor. But learning about them, and putting them into effective practice, is a sub-branch of being kind.

There are many practical considerations in setting up and running a rehab. But the primary motive has to be kindness.

Establishing any business is kind to staff for their employment, kind to suppliers for enabling them to stay profitable and kind to welfare claimants for provision of their tax-funded benefits.

Personal kindness is a matter of simple politeness: do things that the other person appreciates and don’t do things that irritate.

To ‘kill with kindness’ applies to plants when we over-water them or to animals when we over-feed them. But it can also apply to the behaviour of compulsive helpers like me.

I had to learn to give my children the consequences of their behaviour: praising the good and confronting the bad (as I saw it). Letting any one of them get away with unpleasantness, or lack of consideration, would undermine the cohesion of the entire family.

In my medical practice I had to learn to give patients what I felt they needed, rather than what they might ask for. In general, I was happy to provide time but not mood-altering medication such as antidepressants, tranquillisers and sleeping tablets. There are a whole range of therapeutic interventions that do not involve medication. And there are many things that patients can effectively do for themselves when shown how and encouraged to do so.

In a rehab, true kindness is shown by helping patients to withdraw comfortably from their dependencies and discover the lasting benefits of working for - and maintaining - their own recovery, rather than expecting it to be handed to them.

In professional relationships I had to establish my own ethics, values and principles, rather than assume the General Medical Council guidelines would be sufficient protection for patients.

In close personal relationships I had to behave myself, giving other people good reason for wanting to continue to live or work with me.
I see all of these professional and personal checks as reminders to myself to be kind.

I still follow this principle in coronavirus isolation. Social media is inhabited by sabre-toothed tigers. But they can be seen as paper tigers when I don’t react to their snarls and snaps. Politeness has to be universal - even to people who are rude - if it is to mean anything at all. Kindness to others has to be universal - even to people who are unpleasant and undermining - if, as I hope, others will be encouraged to give consideration to one and all.
7th April

Two things have been on my mind today: Technology, and Boris Johnson

…and not in the way those two subjects were splashed all over the news a few months ago! 

So, let’s talk about technology first. I know for many elderly people computers, mobile phones, video calls, downloading WhatsApp or other messaging applications can seem far too complicated and confusing. It feels like a ‘young person’s thing’ and something that is way beyond your capabilities. But that just isn’t true. 

You have time on your hands now during lockdown or isolation. Every computer, phone, Skype, application…every single one of them is designed to be easy enough for a child to use. That means that, given a bit of time and concentration, you will be able to understand it all, too.

Now, Boris…I think I’ve thought about him every hour. The poor, poor man. Here he is doing the best he can to serve the country and he is struck down - I mean, who’s he got to look after him? His pregnant finance is still getting over Coronavirus, he is still trying to see what he can contribute to Cabinet meetings and it may well be his patriotism and work ethic that made him as ill as he is.

Now we essentially have a stand-in Prime Minister and also bear in mind that this situation must be very difficult for Boris who is usually active, eager and enthusiastic but suddenly finds himself being laid low by this Coronavirus and dependent on other people to look after him.

I’m delighted that the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge phoned him. That shows real class and they recognise what he’s up against.  He needs all the support he can get at the moment. 

 I think the press have a lot to answer for, though. It feels at times like they are whipping ups controversy for controversy’s sake. At this time more than ever we need to debate rather than herangue.  

Well, I am about to host a Zoom call on my computer, utilising that technology I wrote about earlier! And then it’s time for supper, although I’m not sure what we’re having. I just eat whatever my wife puts in front of me! However, I did see some lamb chops so hopefully we might be onto something there!

After my Mom call it’s supper - I have no idea what I’m having, I just eat whatever my wife puts in front of me…but I did see some lamb chops in the fridge so hopefully we may be onto something there!


6th April

I was fortunate enough to be very busy this weekend! Yesterday I chaired two virtual meetings with a Cocaine Anonymous group and several Alcoholics Anonymous groups that I am affiliated with. I had to give two 20minute speeches and I spoke a lot about the importance of gratitude - gratitude for what you have, however little that may be, because there is always somebody worse off than you. 

On the topic of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is actually a very important element of it that I think most people going through isolation or lockdown will find incredibly useful - it is their 12 Step Programme. 

 The 12 Step Programme does not only apply to people with addiction issues, far from it. It can apply to everyone because every single person can find a way of relating each point back to themselves in some way. 

For example, the Serenity Prayer plays a big role in the AA process and it states: ‘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.’ 

Well, using myself as an example, I have to accept that I can’t beat Coronavirus all on my own. I have to accept that this is the way things have gone. I have lost my income, but I haven’t lost contact with people. I have the courage to change the things I can when in lockdown, by speaking to people over the phone, listening to music or writing. I acknowledge the things you can’t do - like go outside or see friends - but I have the wisdom to know that I have to do whatever it takes to stay safe and healthy. 

That wisdom comes from asking myself this: ‘Do I trust the Chief Medical Officer? Our top scientific officer? Our government?’ Well, my answer to those questions is: ‘Yes.’ I suspect most people feel the same way, truth be told. So therefore I have the wisdom to follow their guidelines and rules and not fight against it - You wouldn’t dig a massive pit in the ground and then jump into it, would you?

In case people are wondering about the 12 Step Programme, I’ve included it here: 
  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Top Tip: Get off the pity pot. 

What I shared online

Creativity

“Tell me... Who convinced you that you can’t draw for toffee? And when?”

The answers to these questions are usually “The teacher” or “another pupil” and “When I was six or seven.”.
How sad. How very, very sad.
We can all draw. And sing. And make a clay model. And sew. In our own way.

Some people have natural talent in particular ways. The mathematical ability of a savant (such as the autistic boy in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) is astounding to a mere double A level numerist like me. But that’s another story.

I’m talking here about you and me. What is it that we’ve convinced ourselves we cannot do with any skill? Or even at all?

On rare occasions an inability is true, permanent and probably genetically inherited. My father was red/green colour blind. My Uncle Michael, my first guardian when my parents went to India, was tone deaf. He couldn’t distinguish Pop Goes the Weasel from The National Anthem. This idiosyncrasy had unfortunate consequences when he was Foreign Secretary. In that exalted position, as the political head of the Diplomatic Service, The National Anthem is played almost every hour on the hour. My uncle would have to be dragged to his feet because he couldn’t recognise the tune.

Very strangely - portentously maybe - when my only love was music, both my other guardians were also tone deaf. I wonder what the mathematical probability is of that co-occurrence! Those two guardians were both clergymen. They sung the hymns with gusto. That shut up the choir in no uncertain terms! Well good for them! - (My guardians, if not the giggling choir.)

My uncle enjoyed painting in oils. His sister (my mother) earned her initial living creating illuminated manuscripts in memory of soldiers killed in WWI. My mother’s artistic talent was not shared by my uncle. But that didn’t discourage him from putting up his easel here, there and everywhere.

I think his form of creativity is nothing short of magnificent. He knew perfectly well that he ‘couldn’t paint’. But he persisted regardless. Because he enjoyed it.

Looking back at my own life (something I rarely do), I see one ‘failure’ after another in financial and professional terms. But I don’t use those yardsticks. I judge myself on whether I give my creative ability (such as it is) a good go.

I tried to sing and conduct professionally. I failed.
I tried farming. I went bust.
I stood for Parliament and came third out of three candidates - which I thought was rather a good result.
I was no more skilled in these enterprises than my uncle was in painting. But that’s not the point. I was trying out one form of creativity after another. Finally I’ve discovered counselling, writing, photography and composing. I’m okay in these slots. And I’m very very happy.

But even that isn’t the point. I’ve been happy in all my creative endeavours, particularly in my medical practice and in my rehab. It doesn’t matter a jot they’ve both gone to the great professional abattoir in the sky. I created them!

Now, in coronavirus isolation, I’m being creative in other ways... Come on! Join me (in your own home and in your own way) in finding out what we’re really made of! Don’t tell me you’re ‘no good’. I don’t care. And I don’t believe you. Not if you’re enjoying yourself.

4th April

Enthusiasm

We all know that ‘theos’ is the Greek word for ‘God’. The realisation that ‘en’ means ‘within’ is fabulous. Our enthusiasm is the expression of the God within us. We see it in each others’ eyes. And they see it in ours.

I used to love giving talks in primary schools. Apart from sheep, young children are the most attentive audience I’ve ever addressed. They would hang onto my words or songs as if their lives depended on them. It would be lovely for me if my words, in these coronavirus posts, bring small flurries of enthusiasm to those children (now grown up) today.

I’m very fortunate. I was born with a sense of enthusiasm for new ideas and activities. I loved being in the Boy Scouts at school. We went on ‘ventures’, making plaster casts of animal footprints, cooking potatoes in open fires, shooing away the cows from our tent. Oh yes. Those really were happy days.

So were the cycle trips some members of the school choir went on in the holidays. I particularly recall singing in the youth hostels in which we stayed at night. We sang after supper, rather than for it. (Youth hostel food is not renowned for culinary excellence!) But we were a good choir. We had been well trained and we were enthusiastic. We were appreciated.

During term time, school prefects did their best to beat ‘it’ (my enthusiasm) out of me. They tried to make me conform. Enthusiasts don’t know how to do that. We rebel. I still do.

Nowadays, in coronavirus isolation, my creative Muse channels my enthusiasm into my writing and my composing. I’m not doing any counselling work or photography at present. This means that my writing and composing get double the dose!

The first time I ever wrote for publication was 45 years ago. I’ve written pretty well every day since then. It flows through me. I can’t really take credit for it. Such credit as may be due should go to my Muse. I am the conduit.

The first time I ever composed was in May 2018. My Muse asked me what had kept me so long. Being busy was not acceptable as an excuse - any more than were the multiple excuses I gave at school for being late or over-excited or heaven knows what all.
But I’m making up for lost time now. Music is in my soul, my creative spirit (my Muse) lives there.

My wife, Pat’s, creative spirit is in her hiking guides. She doesn’t give herself (or her Muse) sufficient credit for them. She says all she does is to tell people to turn left or right and look in particular directions. I think of them as works of art. And her readers love them even today when all they can do is leaf through the pages at home. And dream...

And, as I see it, day-dreaming is very positive. I can imagine all sorts of beautiful things:

Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, narcissi and tulips come out.
The magnolia trees in the Square blossom.
Squirrels frolic.
Blackbirds and song thrushes flutter, dart and swoop,
The church spire stands magnificent against the bright sky.
I look out of our windows and all theses things have been true, are true and will be true.
I have posts to write, hooks to read, manuscript paper to record my compositions.
I have family and friends.
I have a wife to love and be loved by.
My dreams are reality.
My enthusiasm is kindled and rekindled every minute of every day.

3rd April

Care

In coronavirus isolation, I need to take care of myself and I need to take care - as far as she wants it - of my wife, Pat. I’m sure I’ve got that in the right order. As in the use of aircraft cabin oxygen masks, we have to ensure we’re in good shape before we focus on caring for anyone else.

As a compulsive helper, I tend to be reluctant to receive help, particularly over things I’m perfectly capable of doing for myself. But, as an addict, I’ll grab help whether I need it or not. Put the compulsive helper and the addict side by side in my crazy cranium and it’s no wonder I’m a mixed up kid!

The definition and purpose of care varies in different circumstances:
As an infant, I needed physical sustenance and emotional solace as well as housing and clothing.
As a child, I needed intellectual stimulus, adventure and entertainment.
As a young adult, I needed opportunity and focus.
As a mature adult... umm... I’m not sure I’ve got there yet!
As my parents got older, they needed care from me (which, in practical terms, meant from my wife, Meg).

And as I gradually get older, I’m going to need care of some kind - many kinds eventually - for myself. Watching my parents progressive physical and mental decline, fills me with understandable foreboding. Mum was deaf and blind and in constant pain. Dad had several physical indignities and his brain went to heaven three years before the rest of him. They each, at different times, needed nursing home care.

I think I’d rather jump than subject other people to caring for me in that way. But I say “I think” because I’m aware, from looking after 350 old people, with an average age of over 80, in Kingsmead old-people’s home (at the junction of Sydney Street and King’s Road) that they have remarkable tenacity.

At my current age of 83, I would have qualified for residency in Kingsmead and maybe there are some youngsters who would say it’s time for me to shuffle off and leave the Earthly stage free for them.

The Grim Reaper, with Covid-19 to breathe over me and my contemporaries, doesn’t need his scythe. But our financial legacy to the next generation, and the one after that, is an economy in ruins. Who’s going to care for them?

But, with bad news heaped upon very bad news, day after day, there is some very promising good news. The international giant company, British American Tobacco, that has significant experience in bio-technology from developing a successful treatment for Ebola, has announced that they have created a potential vaccine for COVID-19. It is already in pre-clinical testing. They anticipate that, if testing goes well, and if they have the right partners and support from government agencies, between 1 and 3 million doses of the vaccine could be manufactured every week, beginning in June.

Johnson and Johnson anticipate their biological vaccine will not be available until next year. Development of botanic vaccines is considerably quicker because plants grow much faster than animals.

Who would have imagined that a company selling mass-killing cigarettes could come to our rescue? And on a not-for-profit basis? I would. Through their interest in product diversification in order to survive financially, they might very well well help vast numbers of people to survive physically. They care for themselves and for us.
2nd April


I’m isolating at home in South Kensington and it appears that all of the other residents have gone away to the country - it's very quiet! There are a lot of empty parking spaces and I see fewer people from my window. 

I was thinking about those of you who are looking for a new hobby to throw yourself into during isolation, but are struggling to find something that you're really interested in! It is a common problem, don't worry!  

I am 83-years-old and I only started composing music 18 months ago. Now, music is obviously not for everyone, but the point is this - there IS something for everyone!  

A friend of mine (whose name I can’t even remember now!) said to me: “You know, anyone can compose music. It doesn’t have to be any good! Just sit down and try it.” And that applies to anything you may be thinking of trying in the coming weeks and months.  

I thought music was just for eggheads and academics. You may feel the same way about art, crosswords, whatever it is… But the truth is, nobody is judging you and failure is a great thing. Failure means you learn. Do not be discouraged if you’re rubbish at something first time around.

So many people were told they were hopeless at things when they were a child - singing, sport, learning foreign languages, the list goes on…and because of that discouragement they never, ever try it again. Anyone can be good at anything. Anyone can draw. Anyone can write. You may have been told: ‘You can’t, you shouldn’t, you mustn’t…’ Do not believe that.  

Just try something and, even if it doesn’t work out the first time, just try it again in a different way. And keep trying. I promise you, you’ll have a lot of fun.

Top Tip: Failure is the most creative thing that can happen to you.

What i shared online

Willingness

“There is only one key, and it is called willingness. Once unlocked by willingness, the door opens almost of itself, and looking through it, we shall see a pathway...”.

A.A’.s Step III is very specific on the need to be willing to hand over my will and my life to the care of the ‘God’ of my understanding.

My ‘Higher Power’ is the Twelve Step Programme itself. It’s been very effective in keeping me on ‘the road to happy destiny’ for the last 35 years. I no longer pray to the religious (Christian) God of my childhood. Nor do I expect magic fixes to be delivered on demand in response to prayer or some other form of psychological particular. I work Steps X, XI and XII every day and I say my ‘prayers’ (psychological reminders to guide my my daily behaviour) in the shower each morning - so I never forget to say them beause I never forget to take a shower.

I hand over the things I cannot change but I do what I sensibly can. I do not walk blindly into a road, trusting that I shall not be mown down by the traffic (when there is some). I look both ways, exactly as I was trained in my childhood. Nor do I expect a shopping list of my ‘needs’ (which I may confuse with ‘wants’) to be delivered on a silver salver without me working for them.

I was willing to learn a bit of spoken Arabic when I first established my private medical practice. The principle ‘Follow the money’ worked in helping me to survive. I wasn’t willing to learn how to write that picturesque script. I had no need for it.

Today I’ve been asked to work with a referral agency who want to send patients to me. I need, but don’t want, that money. I’m focussed on writing these posts on Facebook, giving Podcast interviews (for free) and continuing to compose my musical (which - because of the nature of the professional market - is unlikely ever to be performed even in stable times). I’m very clear on what I’m willing - and eager - to do or not.

I’m very willing to do whatever my wife, Pat, asks of me. Yesterday I stuck back onto our front door the brush strip that prevents mice creeping underneath it. So, today I’m still married. All marriages and other close relationships are - and should be - based on trading arrangements. Mutual benefit leads to mutual happiness. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to stay in this blissful state. So far, in our coronavirus-enforced duality, we’re even closer together than before.

I weep for those individuals who are having an exceedingly tough time. My cousin Janet’s husband has died from coronavirus pneumonia, my medical grandson, Sam, caught it at work and two of the six members of my psychodrama group have got it. Hmm... it’s getting too close for comfort. I’m willing to go to any lengths to keep Pat and me safe, protect our NHS (in which - for all its faults - most people believe and depend upon) and save lives. I’ve learned that mantra well and I’m willing to repeat it parrot-fashion if doing so will help anyone at all.



1st April

There is a real sense of powerlessness at the moment. It is impossible to know how bad the current crisis is going to get, how long we will be in lockdown, or even if life as we know it will ever reemerge. When people feel powerless over a situation, then it can be extremely damaging to one’s mental health. But you are not powerless. None of us are.

In fact, there are so many things that we are all, individually, completely in control of. Sure, you might not be able to find a vaccine for Covid-19, or influence government policy, but you are completely in control of your own actions. 

The way I look at it is this: I am 83-years-old, although I feel and act much younger, I am in isolation, my front door is closed and that’s that. But what you do with those circumstances is entirely up to you. 

If you choose to sit there on the couch feeling miserable, so be it, but you could choose to read, write, draw, exercise, contact other people…We are all very much in control of what we do with our own time. 

Do not get stressed about things that are out of your control. Just make sure you are in control of the things that are. 

Top Tip: Do what you can and leave the rest.

30th March
 
Isolation gives you a lot of time to think. Perhaps many people are discovering that this is the first time they have truly sat alone with nothing to do and just spent a long time thinking. It is easy for the mind to wander towards negative thoughts: Self-pity, anger, blame…
 
A long time ago, I can remember a friend of mine in Narcotics Anonymous saying: “My head is a bad neighbourhood…” I will always remember that. If you get stuck in your own head it can sometimes go round and round and down and down, and that is not a good place to be. 
 
But there are techniques to help you focus on moving forward and seeing the good in everything. Whether it is focusing on the fact you have a wonderful husband or wife, or even something as simple as the fact you love the wallpaper or paint you have in your living room, you can see the positives in everything if you try.
 
I recommend reading Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. He wrote the book while trapped in a Nazi concentration camp - he outlines how he focused on how beautiful life could be…if he can do that from a concentration camp, I think I certainly can do it from my home. 
 
I’ve written a lot about the importance of hobbies or activities during isolation. But many of you may be struggling to find the right one for you. What I will say is this; Get a pad of paper and a pen and see what happens. Whether you discover you have written a list, drawn a picture, played naughts and crosses, it doesn’t matter. What you have done is start an action. And you never know where that action is going to lead. 
 
Top Tip: Your head may be a 'bad neighbourhood', but start an action and see where it leads.




29th March

I know isolation can be exceptionally difficult, but it’s important to keep your focus on how privileged you are - whatever that may be. 

For example, the homeless community are in a terrible state over this. There is always somebody worse off. Instead of looking up the ladder, as it were, and only thinking about those who are in a better situation and then feeling miserable about it all, try to think of those who may be further down the ladder than you. That is an extremely important step in terms of being happier.

Also, is there anyone you can help at all? Whether it is a phone call, a social media post or a letter, try to reach out and offer help to people in any way you can. This will, of course, help them to feel better, but it will also have a positive impact on your own mental health. 

If you live with a partner, try to see what you can do for them. It is really important to maintain a good, positive home environment during isolation. Yes, they have a duty to you, but you also have a duty to them.

 I know several people who are living alone at the moment - fortunately I have my wife, Pat. If you live alone, try to maintain some kind of human contact by looking out of the window and seeing those who pass by. 

In terms of food, unfortunately our food delivery did not arrive this weekend. But we do have rations and a friend has offered to go and collect some for us, so we can survive. Unfortunately, there are people out there who really do not have that lifeline and my thoughts are with them.

Top Tip: This will pass. Humanity has a tremendous capacity to overcome disasters and we will get through this. 

28th March

What I posted:

Food for Thought

I’m a foodie, a compulsive overeater. Once I start eating sugar or refined flour, I crave for more. When my weight goes up, I starve or exercise it down again. Then the bingeing starts again and round and round I go.

But, as a result of working the Twelve Step programme since 12th October 1984, when I gave up all mood-altering substances and processes, my weight hasn’t changed significantly (only to adjust for loss of height so that I look the same shape) since then - and I have no cravings.

I buy my own food for breakfast and lunch (Pat doesn’t need to be burdened with things I can do perfectly well for myself.) I used to buy it in Waitrose in Kings Road and then haul it back to our home near South Kensington underground station. But, even with a two-wheeler trolley and wearing a back brace, my osteoporotic spine does not appreciate the challenge. (I’m 7 1/2 inches shorter than I was in my twenties. I’m shrinking so much, I’ll disappear one day.)

Be that as it may, I don’t give my eating disorder much thought, provided I stick to my routine of abstinence: three regular meals each day with nothing in between, no sugar or white flour or added spices and - the difficult one - ‘normal’ portion sizes. The last one is an issue for me because my ‘eating disorder’ eyes tell me lies.

Anyway, this week I was suddenly reminded that my eating disorder is not dead at all. It’s been resting, waiting patiently for me to relax my vigilance. The alarm call that woke it up was the notice from Waitrose that told me all home delivery slots are full. While in coronavirus self-isolation, I’ve had my food delivered to our home. That’s not going to happen again any time soon.
Hey!... I’ll starve!!!

Ha! Go back to sleep, you idiotic internal voice!

I have to acknowledge that my addictive madness still has the capability to destroy me, even if I escape the ravages of infection, illness, accident and decay.

And then I felt palpable relief when Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s said they would allot special times in their stores for the elderly to do their food shopping. There’s a Tesco just nearby so I can perfectly easily go there without asking friends to put themselves out on my behalf.

But oh what indignity. I’m young, I tell you! But, if the alternatives are starvation or relapse, I’d rather swallow my pride along with the tablets to shrink my prostate, confess the truth of Anno Domini and pop round to Tesco’s, wearing a pair of latex gloves and a dark scowl.

Oh dear. Listen to that! My inner addictive voice, my eating disorder voice, is cackling - saying “I’ll get you one way or the other!”. To which I have only one thing to say:
“Piss off!!!”

Fortunately, my regular Saturday morning meeting of Overeaters Anonymous has an on-line meeting at 11.00. (I can break my anonymity if I believe this would help other people but I do not break theirs.) I’ll check in - and my inner eating disorder voice will go back into hibernation.
27th March - Day 10 of Self isolation

You must keep looking to the future. Make plans, ambitious plans, because that keeps you going. 
 
Today I’ve been writing, following the news, talking to members of my family, composing my tango and loving my wife.
 
In terms of plans for the future; my wife writes walking guides for many Mediterranean countries and the Atlantic islands, so we plan on doing some of those when this is all over. I don’t allow Corona to stop me looking forward. The past is the past and let it stay there. Learn from it, but but don’t dwell on it. I live in the present and plan for the future. 
 
So, Boris Johnson has tested positive for Coronavirus. I must say I think the Prime Minister is establishing an excellent example. There he is, with Covid-19, still running the government responsibly in his way. If Boris can do all that, while suffering from the virus, then I can muster the strength to deal with isolation. 
 
Right now it is important for the entire country's mental health that we have a leader who makes sensible judgements based on evidence.  Boris is not shooting from the hip. He listens, decides and acts.
 
He has a responsibility to show us the positive side of this.
 
I don't normally watch too much television, so now is no different. I watch the daily government announcements because I think they're really important for everyone, and I want to stay involved. It’s reassuring.  
 
Remember this: Hope is like a virus. A positive virus. When you express it, others do too. Acceptance, tolerance, generosity and HOPE - these are the infectious qualities we all hope to catch. 
 
Top Tip:
Just because you are in isolation, it doesn't mean you are isolated emotionally or mentally.
26th March - Day 9 of Self isolation


My wife Pat and I usually get our shopping delivered, but they are so busy at the moment that they don't have anytime to come round. We're well stocked-up at the moment but next week I will have to venture outside to get food. 

Tesco have a set time each day where NHS workers or elderly people can go and get their shopping. I'll have to admit that I'm elderly, for a change! 
 
A lot of people are worried about spending a long time in isolation with their spouse, but so far I've found it absolute heaven. Try to do things together; Pat and I are about to do the Times crossword.
 
The weather is beautiful at the moment and that can make the urge to go outdoors even stronger than it already is. On sunny days I like to take my shirt off and stand by the window - you can get Vitamin D this way and certainly a nice warmth. 
 
I've also been spending some time sending positive messages over social media. I know a lot of older people may not be on Facebook, but at a time like this I would recommend thinking about it. It's a good way of either staying in touch with family and friends, or reconnecting with people from your past. If you do decide to use social media, remember to use it to post kind messages. There is a lot of negativity on there, and you should avoid that.
 
Top Tip:
 
If you're in lockdown with your partner, focus on their positive elements, not the less beautiful bits. 


What I posted:

Measured Risk

Coronavirus has risks for all of us. The level of risk can be estimated in statistical terms. But individuals are not numbers. Each of us has risk factors that are specific to us.

Let’s look at some of mine. Then you can see how yours compare.

Gender: male. Not good
Age: 83. Awful
Immunosuppressed: Slightly. Not good
General health: Excellent. Good
Emotional health: Excellent. Good
Smoking: Stop 1980. Good
Lung problems: Allergies. Slight
Overweight. No. Good
Fitness. Yes. Good

So, as an individual, I’ve reduced all the risks I can. The quality of my life right now is brilliant. I’m happier and more creative than I’ve ever been. I live in hope, rather than fear.

Now let’s look at wider risks and how they affect me:

This virus: Nasty. Isolate
Community behaviour: Mostly good. Isolate
Medical services: Mostly good. Beware

Again I’m doing all I can to stay healthy.

And what about political influences?

U. K. Follow scientific advice. Sensible
Europe. Divided. Tragic
N.Z./Aust. Thoughtful. Hopeful
Japan. Cautious. Optimistic
China. Ruled. Surviving
Russia. Ruled. We’ll see
Iran. Dictatorship. Sad
N Korea. Fantasy. Very sad
Africa. Potential disaster. Calamity
S America. Following on. Unknown
U. S. A. Divided + Ruled. Interesting

‘Interesting’ is an inadequate word to use when people are dying in America. But President Trump’s judgement is certainly very interesting. He has said that more people will die as the result of economic downturn than of coronavirus infection. His current policy is therefore to take a big risk in the hope of averting a vast one.

I follow American politics closely because I believe our situation - in many areas of life - tends to lag behind theirs by only a few years. If we want to see where we’re going, we need to look at where America is today.

President Trump is taking a measured risk. That’s his job. Criticising, castigating and vilifying him from the sidelines - or from a different political persuasion - is easy. Armchair pundits do that all the time.

I remember my uncle (Michael Stewart) receiving similar hostility when he was Foreign Secretary at the time of the Biafran war. Politics may be a facile game for some people but it never was for him. He had to take fearful decisions, knowing full well that people’s lives depended on them. So does President Trump.
25th March 2020 - Day 8 of self-isolation 

Genes and Choices

We’re not made in a jelly mould. There are continuing influences - from outside and from inside - on our structure and function. We are fluid rather than solid. We change all the time.

Genes are not simple on/off switches. Many factors influence their active expression.
How I take care of my health and happiness is very much within my influence. That can have significant effects on the expression of my genes.
By working the Twelve Step programme every day for 35 years - and with every intention and commitment to continuing to do so - I have had no negative effects from my underlying addictive nature since 12th October 1984.

I can still be forgetful, inconsiderate and just plain stupid as a result of making inappropriate choices on a day-to-day basis. But the cravings to change my innate sense of inner emptiness have gone. I don’t need to change my feelings by artificial methods. As a result of simple daily practice, my brain has changed, physically (through neuro-plasticity) and perceptually (seeing things in new ways). Nowadays I have a good chance of countering the influence of my negative genes and becoming the loving person I want to be rather than the idiot I was born to be.

Statistically, at my age, I have a 17% chance of dying if I catch coronavirus. I choose to keep myself fit and healthy so that I reduce that percentage.

If I were to stop working the Twelve Step programme each day to keep my various addictive behaviours at bay, my negative genes would come out of hibernation and I would have a much higher risk of dying than 17% - in any number of very unattractive ways. I don’t want any of that nonsense. I’d rather take my chance with the coronavirus.
24th March 2020 - Day 7 of self-isolation 

Self-isolation means spending a lot of time on your own. And 'time' can seem like the enemy. But we need to completely change that way of thinking. Having time is a positive thing - try to use it well.
 
There are two main things you can do with your time:
 
1.  Do something creative every day: 
- Everybody has the capacity to do something, whether it is knitting, gardening, drawing...I personally enjoy music. Being creative actually builds confidence. It expresses hope for the future and a desire to create new memories going forward.
 
2. Think of fond memories:
- I like to remind myself of beautiful time I've had. Don't focus on the negatives, like being bullied at school or bad decisions you've made, focus on the happy, positive memories. What hobbies did you have at school? Your first trip abroad? It's good to reflect and spend some time thinking about the past.
 
Top Tip: Do something beautiful and creative every day.
 
What I posted:

Time

Time is precious even now. It always was and it always will be. However much - or however little - time I’ve got, I focus on what I can do with it. Life is for living. In any circumstances.

I know how much time I’ve wasted in the past and I have no intention of doing so again.

In my teens, I was the most punished boy in the school. I interpreted the rule ‘Do not’ as an invitation to ‘Do’. Consequently I spent a great deal of time writing out ‘copies’ - line after line of a worthy statement (chosen by whichever prefect gave me the punishment for my transgression) written out at the top of the page. I could have spent the time learning Classics or English literature or a foreign language. I didn’t. I spent it writing copies. Or I spent it in hour after hour of ‘detention’ - staying in the classroom (while the master who awarded the punishment for my disruptive behaviour sat at his desk correcting homework or writing reports) after lessons had ended and while other boys went out to play.

At university I played bridge. At medical school I played poker. I threw away fabulous opportunities to take advantage of the best education available in the U.K.

This recalcitrance changed (necessarily) when I worked for myself, establishing my own medical practice and rehab. I learned the value of time. Time to explore new ideas. Time to create. Time to ponder, reflect and reconsider.

When my life fell apart as the result of my addictive behaviour, I had to learn a whole new philosophy of living. I’ve worked the Twelve Step programme, first formulated by Alcoholics Anonymous, every day since then. The rewards of spending maybe a total of two hours a day in this way has saved me countless potentially unproductive and harshly damaging hours in the rest of the day.

At the age of 73, being made bankrupt (as the result of fraud by my accountant and my own incompetence at running a business) gave me oodles and oodles of time. I used it to learn new skills - particularly typing and a modicum of IT.

Meeting Pat again, after Meg’s death, unleashed my creative Muse in wonderful ways. In all my life I’ve never been as inventive and productive as I am at 83. I’ve learned the true value of every minute of my time.

And now, in enforced isolation as a result of the coronavirus tsunami destroying so much of our communal lives, I have all the time in the world...

So I use it in ways my Muse approves. I work Steps X, XI and XII every day and I do whatever I can to encourage other addicts to find their own way to peace and happiness. I spend personal time with Pat. I stay in touch with friends and family. I do static exercise. I write. I compose... I’m so busy, the time flies by.


23rd March 2020 - Day 6 of self-isolation 

I had a very eventful weekend! It was my 83rd birthday, followed by my wedding anniversary. It can sometimes feel depressing when you 'celebrate' milestones whilst in isolation, but it doesn't have to be. 
 
It's important to focus on the positives - I'm grateful just to be alive! I start every day grateful! If you focus on negativity and self-pity then that leads you into a very dark pit. 
 
Just spend a few minutes every day thinking about what you have to be grateful for: It may be family, a roof over your head, neighbours, anything...
 
I woke up at 6am today. If you are an early riser facing a long period of isolation, you shouldn't feel like you have to stay awake for the entire day.  What many older people don't realise is that they tend to naturally sleep in four hour bursts. So you should take a nap in the middle of the day. 
 
Wake up whenever you wake up, and sleep whenever you feel tired. Don't look at the time on the clock too much. This means that when you're awake, you're mentally sharp. And that is really important.
 
Also, I took some time to make sure my internet connection, phone reception, TV and radio signal are working. They are valuable outlets to the wider world. 

Top Tip:
 
Choose acceptance and gratitude in place of blame and pity. 

What I posted:
Gratitude

We can feel grateful as an isolated emotion - just to be alive. We may be grateful to particular people or for particular things in our lives. But that’s a reaction, not a primary action.


I’m exceedingly grateful to my wife, my family and my friends. I’m also grateful for my health and for my creative opportunities. I’m very fortunate. I’m grateful that I’ve survived all sorts of things and came out sunny-side up.


But my gratitude is deeper than that, more fundamental. Wise heads taught me long ago to have an attitude of gratitude before a day even begins.


Of course I’m grateful for the beautiful people, events and artefacts in my life. And I’m grateful I haven’t got the trials and tribulations many people have. I’ve been poor, hungry and lonely. It’s a fearful place. I did not get out of it by being grateful for what I did have. I simply put one foot in front of the other until my head cleared - even while my social and financial circumstances were unchanged. My problems and solutions were spiritual. My human spirit (I have no religious belief) was in pain and I had to allow it to heal, one day at a time. Gently.


The only people who say “It’s only money” in difficult financial times are people who have plenty of it. They may have little or no understanding of spiritual pain and inner emptiness.


There are many people right now, right here close to us in our personal communities, who are in desperate straights. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knows that and he’s doing whatever he can to help the destitute and, at the same time, preserve our economy. But, in the still small hours of the night or even in the bright fullness of the day, there is fear and tragedy as a current commonplace.


None of us knows what will happen from one day to the next as coronavirus (and some unthinking reactions to it) permeate the lungs of the infirm and stifle the breath of our precious society.


Yet, even now as I look out on central London - with empty streets and closed schools, shops and social venues - I look forward to each new day.

I didn’t create my life. I was given it. That’s what I’m grateful for. And it’s up to me what I do with it each and every day.
Sunday 22nd

Anniversaries 

Pat and I got married eight years ago today. I remembered! Good. I’m in with a chance of staying married.

I remember that happy day when we had just two witnesses. Pat has no living relatives (a wonderful wedding present to me!) and we wanted the occasion to be special just for us. I had a moment of concern when Pat burst into tears when agreeing to take me as her husband. But she assured me they were tears of happiness. Each anniversary (and every day in between) I have to ensure there are no other kind.

I like to refresh my mind with happy memories. I remember my wife Meg’s birthday (26th of October) and our wedding anniversary (22nd of July) but I’m vague on the date of her death. It was sometime in May but I have no wish to specify that memory.

The anniversaries I treasure are the ones that lighten my heart and brighten my mind.

I remember the kindness of my parents and I remember the dates of their births but not of their deaths. My Mother’s birthday was the same as mine (20th of March). I was a birthday present. I’m not sure she was entirely thrilled. She told me many years later (I wonder why) she had had to cancel a party. Ah well. I suppose her eating disorder (she was almost spherical) was as dominating as mine has been in the past.

Do I want to remember the dates associated with coronavirus milestones? Certainly not. I’ll go on remembering today for a very special reason. Happy anniversary, sweetheart. 
21st March 2020 - Day 4 of self-isolation 
What I posted:

We make judgements all the time. And so we should. Before deciding on a particular course of action, it’s sensible to gather together as much relevant background information as possible. Then we evaluate the reliability of the resources from which we received that information. The evidence from a carefully controlled scientific study is not in the same bracket as someone who says “I know someone who...” or a loud-mouth foisting his or her personal opinions onto hapless listeners of readers. We make a weighted judgement on whether this evidence or that is more likely to be valid.

I’m an addiction specialist and a former GP. I know something about running a rehab or a medical practice. But I am not an epidemiologist. I have not spent years studying the patterns of spread (and deriving mathematical models to help with future prediction) in various types of infectious illness. Nor, despite my surname, am I a specialist in communicable diseases.

So, with coronavirus, I read what specialists say and I ask medical friends, whose judgement I trust, whether a particular specialist is sound or unsound.

This is important when we’re in uncharted waters. Academic brilliance and clinical acumen do not necessarily go hand in hand. In every profession - medicine, law, music - there are highly qualified individuals who know a lot about the subject but lack simple nous. Their judgement is haphazard and dangerous.

On the account of respected doctors and scientists who know the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, these are the right men in the right jobs in this time of particular need for vital balanced judgement.

The function of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson - love him or hate him - is to translate science into politics and then communicate it to you and me in a way that we can understand and trust. Considering the alternatives, we are fortunate to have such a bright button and skilled operator in charge at this frightening time.

He - not the doctors, like my grandson Sam working in a hospital ‘Covid’ team - makes the decisions that determine life or death for many thousands rather than individuals.

The Twitterati and Rent-a-mouths have their rightful say in a democracy. We listen to them, give weight to their clinical and scientific experience (if any) and test the balance of their opinions in the intellectual crucible. And then we make judgements of our own on whom to trust.
I go with the Prime Minister and his close advisors.

20th March 2020 - Day 3 of self-isolation 
What I did:


What a way to spend a birthday! I’m 83 but I feel 35 and usually behave 25. Today is no different. I spent a lot of time responding to birthday wishes.

It is important to keep the creative elements of one’s mind active,  so I started today by composing Act 2 Scene 4 of the Musical I’m writing.

Top tip:

Engaging with music, poems, novels and other arts often gives emotional stimulus and comfort.

20th March 2020 - Day 2 of self-isolation 

What I did:

I spent yesterday posting a positive message to my friends. They are real friends (not social media contacts). I like keeping in touch. It reminds me how fortunate I am even when confined to my home.

Top tip:

Be proactive and reach out to contact a friend with a positive message. It starts a conversation, which is vital mental stimulation during isolation.

Post for the day:

Birth and Death

The miracle of my birth is a demonstrable fact. I’m alive. I have a body and a mind.
I also have a spirit - a sense of conscious awareness and a revelling in spontaneity, creativity and enthusiasm.

My body, including my brain, comes from my genetic inheritance. That will return to ashes and dust when my physical body shuffles off this mortal coil.

My mind comes from my formal education and my commitment to learning. That is potentially communicated to others in my writing, my sonnets, my photographs and my music compositions.

My spirit is immortal. I believe it existed before I was born. And I believe it will exist after my physical body finally disintegrates. (Bits of my anatomy are doing their best to drop off their perches already!)

I’m not sure whether my spirit has a gender. I think of my creative Muse as both male and female (resolute and gentle, maybe) at different times.

But, because of the miracle of my birth - my spirit finding a temporary home in my physical body - I have no fears over the next transition. When my physical body is no more, my spirit will find another home. I have no interest in pondering what precise form that home will take. I’ll find out about it when I get there (not too soon, I hope). 

Then the next miracle takes off.

I don’t remember the time before my birth. I find re-birthing exercises as unhelpful philosophically as concepts of an afterlife. I don’t want to envisage a previous or a future existence. Those visions would be limited by the capacity of my existing brain. Perhaps it would be like an amoeba trying to visualise a human being. I’m content to bide my time.

So on this day, another anniversary of my physical nativity, I remind myself that my Muse frequently says to me “Stop philosophising. Get on with the practical challenge of creating something beautiful”.

Thursday 19th

Hope 

In the deepest pit of my despair I still had hope.
I owned nothing, had no income and no prospect of work.
My wife, who shared my life for 48 years, had died.
I was living in a Church of England Alms House, 70 miles away from my familiar haunts.
I had minimal contact with my family and friends.
I walked or travelled by bus,
From osteoporosis I had collapse fractures in my lower spine.

So...
I continued to do my daily exercises (wearing a back brace).
I continued to go to AA and AlAnon meetings and work the Twelve Step programme each day.
I taught myself to type and I found my way round social media.
I read books and newspapers and I did crossword puzzles and codewords.
I wrote a novel.
I went on an emotional survival course for a week - and I survived.
I gave a talk to the local Rotary Club. That was a novel experience at that particular time because on most days I had no human contact at all. (And we weren’t allowed pets of any kind.)
But here I am, ten years later...
Very happily married.
Living in a beautiful flat.
Working as a counsellor, loving it and earning my living.
Getting to lots of films, plays, concerts and operas
Composing songs, musicals and operas.
And having more than enough enough social life.
Until this week..., when the risk of catching coronavirus has put my wife and me into isolation.
Hope?...
Of course.
I would have been dead many many years ago without it.


18th March 2020Day 1 of self-isolation 

What I did today: I told friends that my wife, Pat, and I chose to self-isolate to protect ourselves and our contacts and avoid potential NHS treatment. 

We cancelled all appointments and tickets. I wouldn’t know about being old. It’s an attitude of mind. I’m 82 years young. Mental health is not merely the absence of mental illness. It’s an active process.


Top tip:

Dr Robert says: “Stay young by reading, writing, composing songs, doing puzzles and staying in touch with friends. “Doing puzzles in particular keeps the mind active and helps with your mental reasoning, which is vital when dealing with self-isolation.”

 Make sure you go to AirMyOpinion.com every day for Dr Robert’s expert advice. 

Post for the day:

Fear and Loneliness:

Fear is a natural, healthy self-protection mechanism. I want to be fearful of things that might damage me. Feeling fearful indicates that I need to make myself safe.
But what level of danger should reasonably trigger my fear?
And what level of safety is sensible?

Coronavirus is frightening because it is unseen. It comes at us just as dangerously as a stiletto knife. But it lurks on a handrail or a re-usable plastic bag. It comes with the warm hug of a friend or the comforting hand of a helper... And it kills the old and the physically vulnerable just as effectively as any political dictator or as unthinkingly as any self-cantered activist youngster or self-satisfied master of the universe.

Mankind is primarily a social animal. We cooperate with each other at work and in play. I’m not a natural hermit. I’m friendly, sociable.

But with this silent, invisible and fearfully patient assassin - coronavirus - I have to protect myself and other people by becoming a physical hermit. And I have to find new ways of being friendly and sociable.

There are many non-contact sports. We can learn from them. Defeating coronavirus, by slowing down its rate of spread, is a non-contact social activity.

I’m being friendly and sociable with you right now, while I’m sitting on my own on the sofa by my electronic piano keyboard. This room is about 14 foot (I don’t do metres) square. It’s small but it’s beautiful. The pictures, photographs, cartoons and plaster or wooden reliefs embody my fond memories. The trinkets are the happy flotsam and jetsam of a lifetime. The books are my friends, my comforters and challengers. The small rugs a homage to the memory of my kind parents.

Lonely? In this cosy, personal room on my own - even if (and God forbid) my wife were not asleep in our bed? I’m not remotely lonely. Or fearful. I’m sociable with my familiars all around me. And I’m reaching out to you.

Tuesday 17th 


Post for the day:

A Time for Happiness 
Why ever not?

Happiness is as infectious as any virus. But itheals rather than destroys. The deepest happiness comes when we take our minds off our own (understandable) concerns and reach out to help others with theirs.

When A reaches out to help B (in a way that is wanted and respectful of individual circumstances and beliefs), it is A who always benefits. B may or may not.

When despair and damage is greatest, there is an equivalently great opportunity for simple acts of thoughtfulness, kindness and generosity to be most effective.

Monday 16th 
Post for the day:

Privilege 

As a former GP for 45 years and, at the same time, the counselling director of my own rehab for 23 years, I am very much aware that happiness is self-generated. It doesn’t come from possessions, achievements or associations.

I consider myself extremely privileged.

My parents were in India for most of my childhood while I was brought up by a series of guardians in London and the Home Counties. As a missionary family, we had no money. At boarding school, one of my derogatory nicknames was ‘Pauper Bobby’. I was repeatedly bullied and abused (as was the norm in those days) but I didn’t bully or abuse anyone else. I was prevented from studying music, my primary love to this day. Two years of National Service in the Royal Signals did me no harm. Subsequently, being taken for granted as a junior hospital doctor and trainee GP, didn’t damage me at all.

Later on, setting up my own medical practice and rehab was heaven. Losing all of it in bankruptcy, from a fraud by my accountant and from my own incompetence in running a business, taught me very valuable lessons. Living in a Church of England Almshouse in Canterbury was strange but comforting after living out of suitcases for seven months. Losing my wife, Meg, when she died of a stroke after 51 years together was savage. But I survived. Of course I survived. The alternatives of suicide or retirement didn’t appeal to me at all.

Now, ten years later, I’m very happily married to Pat, a mere girl - eighteen months younger than me. And until last week I was happily earning my living as an out-patient counsellor, specialising in non-medicinal treatment of depression and any form of compulsive behaviour.
Now Pat and I are shut into our flat in physical isolation. 

But spiritually we’re in great shape. We recognise our privilege. 

     Help the Scientist's fight 

AMO Download

Help scientists by airing your opinion on COVID-19; download the App - your poll votes will help in efforts to understand, model, and improve future responses to pandemics.

 

AMO sends your votes securely via standard SMS, these are usually included free in UK airtime bundles. Ask your mobile supplier if you get inclusive SMS to standard UK mobiles.
Page 3 of 23