My Primary Purpose

I am a bit like the Queen. I have had two birthdays every year for the past nine years. I have no idea which is her favourite – her official one, or her real one, but I know which is mine. It is the birthday I have today, 29th September. It is my sobriety birthday and this year I am nine. Nine years sober.

I am just going to let that sink in for a moment, if you don’t mind. Nine years without a drop of alcohol. Not a jot. No cheating or hiding bottles, either.

It still seems unreal, when like now, I sit down and think about it, which I don’t do very often. I’m not saying that I take it for granted. I don’t. That would be a killer. It is why I say a little prayer every day. A prayer to stay sober for the day. Just for the day. Then show gratitude. “I’m truly grateful to be sober, thank you.” I am too.

I don’t take time out like I am doing now though, to think about how amazing it is that this hopeless drunk hasn’t drunk booze for so long and, what’s more, how it is that this hopeless drunk has not had the slightest inclination to drink since 29th September 2011. I’m not taking the credit. It’s a miracle, which means I’ve had very little to do with it.

During the last six months of my active alcoholism, I struggled to stay sober for nine minutes. I’m not much kidding about that either. Alone in an apartment in a town in the south of France. Lying on the bed at night, unable to sleep, unable to do anything but listen to the endless whine of French mopeds going past the window all night. Seeing the walls moving when I close my eyes. The shakes. The sweating. The terror.

Then in the morning, crack of dawn and out to the supermarché.  A real effort, in itself. Crawling from bed to bathroom. Throwing t-shirt and shorts on. Splash water on the face and clean the teeth, trying not to retch. Doing my fairly limited best, not to look like death warmed up, but obviously failing. “Make sure you take your money, some carrier bags and your keys. Make sure again.” Hands shaking. Legs like jelly. Call the lift. “I hope there’s no-one in it. Please God, don’t let there be anyone in it.”

There’s no-one in it. Phew. Get outside. The supermarché is only around the back of the flats. Less than a five-minute walk. It feels like it’s five miles away. Concentrate. One foot in front of the other. Is anyone looking? No. Ok. Heart going ten to the dozen. In the store. Get a basket and straight round to the booze aisle. Grab some beer and some wine. Easy does it, don’t drop anything. Everyone is looking. (They’re not).

Finally, the till, the worst bit. I’ve tried to calculate the amount to the exact centime, so I can give the cashier the exact amount. All so I don’t have to wait for change. Avoid an awkward conversation in French.

‘Merci, au revoir.’ That’s fine.

Sigh of relief. I’m off again and with a bit of a spring, if you can call it that, as I’m on the home leg, which takes all of three minutes or so. In the foyer of the apartment block, no one is around and the lift is waiting and free. Up to the 2nd floor. Key shakily in the door and… I’m in. Thank goodness. Thank, goodness.

I take my booty into the lounge. Open a can and ‘glug, glug, glug’. There’s a warm glow as the alcohol hits the back of my throat. Another can and then another. Finally, at last, the state of ‘even keel’ is reached. It’s 9 am.

Eat little, drink, repeat.

Today, I’ve been sober for nine years. This day, my primary purpose in life is not to drink alcohol. Just for today.

7 things I’d tell my younger self

This blog has one of those really cheesy, yucky tiles. I know. I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve been thinking about the past. I don’t know whether other people who’ve got to 60 do the same thing, but I find myself playing ‘what if’ sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my lot. This is not a morbid game of dwelling on regrets. No, it’s a lot more fun.

For example, in my mid-late 20s when I was a single lad, living in a ‘studio’ flat (bedsit) in Didsbury (Fallowfield), Manchester, and a jobbing solicitor in Stockport, I contemplated taking a postal course to qualify as a US Attorney at the Californian Bar (ha, ha, not of the drinking type on this occasion). It may have had something to do with watching a series on the telly in the late 80s called, LA Law. Well, it certainly had a lot to do with it.

I think I probably came up with the idea sitting in the cells at Stockport Magistrates Court on a wet Monday morning whilst on Duty Solicitor duties and listening to some toerag going on about how he didn’t want me to apply for bail, because he wouldn’t get it, on account of the fact that he’d coshed an old lady when he broke into her house, so could I just get the Dibble (police) to give him back his baccy and the dosh they’d taken from him, as it wasn’t proceeds of crime.

You can see why LA was appealing!

Well, of course, I didn’t do it, but what if I had? Would I have gone on to become senior partner of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak? Would I have married Susan Dey? (I hadn’t met VW then, so wasn’t being disloyal !) Would I have lived on the Pacific coastline of Malibu in a 15 bedroomed shack? Would I by now have had a nose job?

The example is, of course, a bit of nonsense. However, it’s a bit ironic that life waits until you’re getting on in years before revealing some of the truths that really would have helped you at the age of 10, 15, 20 and so on. In some ways, it would be good to live life backwards so that by the age of 21, you are one hell of a well adjusted human being. Unless that is, you have just remained stupid all your life, in which case, there’s not much point to this exercise. Think Trump!

You see, when I had this madcap idea of becoming a US Attorney and flying off to LA, my older self could have stepped in and told me to fast forward the video. What it would have shown me was that assuming I had taken the exams and qualified to practice law in the US, and that I got that LA Law job, I’d have got to Manchester Airport, got hopelessly drunk, missed the plane and ended up getting a taxi back to Fallowfield! ‘Don’t do it, Carl.’ Get sober first at least, then have another think!

It would have been great to have my older self around.

So what would I say to my younger self?

Here are 7 basics for starters.

1. Just be yourself. Don’t be afraid to be different. Start off like that and stay like that. As long as you are being true to yourself, and as long as you treat other people the way you’d want to be treated, you can’t really go wrong. Being yourself gives you so much confidence and it means you are more likely to take the path that is right for you, not the one that you feel someone else wants you to take.

2. Bearing in mind that this is me, Carl, telling younger Carl, what he thinks will help him get the most out of his life, probably the most important thing I could say to him is:

‘Don’t drink alcohol, mate. Never’.

There’s nothing killjoy about saying that. It’s just that he (young Carl) and I, were made differently to others. We were born with the ‘ism’ inside us. Mix the ‘ism’ with alcohol and ‘boom’ – lots of crazy, dangerous, painful things will happen and he’ll hurt a lot of people, including himself. He’ll know dark times, the like of which most others would struggle to comprehend. If he’s lucky he may finally come out the other side. Most don’t though. On the other hand, if he heeds the advice, he can achieve anything he sets his mind to.

3. Accept everything – expect nothing. No one gives us a free pass when we are born. Life throws tough things at us all the time. It would be pretty boring if life were a new ‘box of chocolates’ every day. However, that’s what I used to expect – wonderful things to just keep on happening. Surprisingly, that’s not how things always used to turn out. So when they didn’t go according to how I wanted them to, I’d be crushed. Take a drink, most probably, just to anaesthetise the pain of things going wrong or simply not going as I’d planned them to. By just accepting life on life’s terms, everything is so much easier to deal with.

4. Don’t be afraid. I used to be afraid of everything. From a very young age, I’d expect the worst to happen all the time. I had that almost constant sense of foreboding, even if I didn’t know what that meant. It wasn’t usually a fear of anything tangible. It was just that sense that something was just waiting to go wrong. Maybe that was part of my alcoholic thinking, even when I was young. (I believe that I was alcoholic even before I ever drank.) No coincidence, therefore, that since getting into recovery, that sense of irrational non-stop fear has gone, or at least most of the time, it isn’t there anyway. Go on, young Carl. Do it without any fear, because as I’ve since found out, 90 odd per cent of what we fear, never comes to fruition. If it does, you’ll deal with it, because of 5 below.

5. You are stronger than you think. Believe that. Use it to bolster your confidence, because as a young Carl, I know you will be lacking in confidence. Use the knowledge that you are stronger than you think you are, to go out and achieve anything you set your mind to do and deal with anything not so good. That inner strength will get you through anything. It has me. When I didn’t mix it with alcohol.

6. Make sure that you become fluent in at least one other language. At the time of writing, we are living on a small island that’s been taken over by lunatics. Learn another language and go and live and work abroad until the idiots have got bored, gone somewhere else or self combusted.

7. Life is good. If you work at it, it gets even better. Just do the right things and the right things tend to happen. Be kind to others and to yourself. As long as you are doing that you won’t go too far wrong.

Oh and ‘good luck.’ I’ll be looking out for you!

Life after lockdown? The good, the bad and the downright ugly.

No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.

Excerpt from Meditation XVII of Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne

When I set up this blog, I thought I’d be rattling them off at the rate of a least one a day. That’s not been the case, to say the least. It’s not by design, but I believe, in part, because I also write for a living.

During working hours I turn out blogs and articles for lawyers, web pages, content for legal news outlets and legal PR for the regional press.

There’s usually a set structure to that. By that, I mean that I have a steer from my clients on the topic I’ll be writing about and with my long term clients, we work to a plan which dictates what needs to be written.

My own personal blog, on the other hand, is a blank piece of paper, which gives me options. Too many options. Of course, I could write about my beloved Manchester City or Lancashire CCC, or about my love of running, my dogs or family (they’d love that -not). Then again I can bleat on about my recovery from alcoholism as it stands today. For now, though, I’ve written enough on that aspect of my life.

So, left to my own free will, I’ve found it a tad difficult to get writing.

I do wonder whether some of this is partly down to Covid19 and the lockdown. I’ve been trying to go through in my head how the past 104 days have affected me generally and the family too, for that matter. However, I can only speak for myself, not them.

Here are some of the positives

Covid19 scared the pants off me health-wise, when the pandemic first hit, as nothing before has ever done. The first thing it did was make me put out my last cigarette on the 16th March. I have not touched one since. I stopped, by using a patch for one day and since then, nothing. Completely smoke and smoking-substitute free.

I’ve always had a strange relationship with smoking. I’d never smoked a cigarette in my life until I was 39. Then sometime in 1998, after a bad bought of alcoholic bingeing, I was waiting to be carted off to the Priory in Chelmsford. Without a drink, I was pacing around like a caged lion, withdrawing badly and so I took one of VW’s menthol cigarettes. It took the ‘edge off’ sufficiently well that I took up smoking.

Over the following 20 years, I turned into an on and off smoker. I was not habitually, that heavy a one. It was a strange relationship. I ran 5 marathons in 2003/2004 and the first thing I’d do after finishing each one was to light up!

However, it was a bugbear and annoyed me, as much as anything else. Having managed to stay off the booze for now for 8 1/2 years, it bugged me that I couldn’t put down the fags. Well, Covid19 sorted it. Cancer amongst smokers is rampant, but the threat of getting that didn’t make me stop. Enter Covid19 and I threw away my tobacco in a heartbeat.

For me, this whole pandemic lockdown, wearing masks, not taking chances and abiding by the rules and guidance, as pathetic as it has been from our incompetent government, have all been down to a real fear of getting Coronavirus. I’m 60, get mild asthma and hay fever, so have felt pretty sure that I’d struggle if I caught the virus.

This fear was also the driving force behind me ramping up the exercise. When Bojo the Clown advised that we could do one hour a day’s exercise, I took him literally. As a counterbalance to the possibility of COVID striking, I took the view that if I’m as fit as I can be, then I’m giving myself a fighting chance.

I took Johnson’s advice and ran every day. I made a point of running for 58/59 minutes (all a bit pointless as I took the dogs out separately too, on the basis that that was their exercise, not mine!)

Personal fitness then, has been good so far and God willing, may that continue.

Other good things?

Still sober (always the number one priority).

Family not tearing each other’s hair out. Some dodgy moments on that score, but hey, show me a family that won’t have had them.

I’ve been able to work – thank you, my super clients. A new contract that was about to start has been put on hold, but I can’t complain. I do love what I do and if ever an occupation was made for lockdown life, writing for a living, is it.

Dogs have never been fitter.

Life has become simpler in many ways.

Using one bar of the petrol tank’s worth of petrol in 3 months.

I’ve picked up some books I’d probably never have otherwise had to time to read, such as the works of some of the authors considered ‘the angry young men’ of the 50s and 60s (Barstow, Braine, Sillitoe, Waterhouse et al).

…and the negatives?

Most of the negatives have come from outside the home. Turning on the news is necessary to stay informed, but there has been little comfort from any of it.

I couldn’t write an article about COVID without acknowledging the tragic deaths that this pandemic has caused. At the time of writing the UK death toll is just over 44,000 officially but thought to be more realistically around 60,000. It’s over half a million worldwide.

It’s a devastating toll and made all the more so by the government’s handling of the crisis, which has been appalling. I know, I know. It’s a unique set of circumstances that they have faced. What’s the word, unparalleled?

But please, none of this:

‘they’ve done their best, though…”

That’s not good enough. They are the government, not a group of boy scouts doing a charity event.

Hearing about the amazing work of the NHS and other frontline workers has been something of a counterbalance to the misdoings of our so-called leaders. I’m sure that they would prefer a few more quid in their pay packets though, rather than having co-ordinated hand-clapping from Tory politicians and the hypocritical members of the public who voted for the Tories at the last election!

Having the worse government in my lifetime in power at any time was going to be a disaster. Having them in at a time of true national crisis is catastrophic. Led by Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, they are truly the most incompetent, awful bunch of politicians we could ever have had the misfortune of being ‘governed’ by, at any time. In my opinion.

Their lack of ability is self-evident with almost every false step that they make. What else could we really expect, from a Tory party that won the last election on the basis of a right-wing, Brexit driven agenda that has no more substance to it than ensuring that we leave Europe without striking a deal to facilitate our exit?

After dithering, lies, U-turns, false moves from the outset, double standards (witness the Cummings and Jenrick affairs in particular), we are now seeing them ease lockdown to the point of it becoming non-existent. Desperate, it seems, to get to the stage that other countries that locked down hard and before we did are at, they seem to be throwing any pretence of listening to the advice of experts, telling them to slow down, out of the window.

Yesterday saw pubs, cafe’s and hairdressers opening up. This all at the same time as Leicester has had to go back into full lockdown.

I know that people in business all over the country are desperate to get back to work. I get that and my views might sound particularly rich from someone who has still had some work to do. However, I can’t help but think that there is a determination to get things moving too quickly, and at any cost.

I can’t get away from the feeling that this is going to end up with a second wave of coronavirus infections or even an overall spike across the whole of the country. Don’t just take my word for it. I’m only taking my lead from England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jenny Harries.

If that happens we are in a whole heap more trouble than we already are and have already gone through. Don’t worry though, because Brexit is just around the corner.

In my own bubble, with my family in our Cottage in rural Essex/Herts ( we really are right on the border) all is fine, in day to day respects. In fact more than fine.

As John Donne famously said, though; ‘No man is an Island.’ We are affected by what is going on in the rest of the country, indeed the world. We feel ‘another man’s death.’

How do I feel? That all I can do is live each day as it comes. Do my work, enjoy my free time reading, running, being with the family and staying fit and well.

Hovering over all this though is a constant sense of unease. The government would have us believe that we are off and running again. Maybe they are right, I personally doubt it, but maybe they are right. Perhaps we are off and running and the virus won’t return.

Even then though, where will we be running to? A ‘No Deal Brexit’ on the back of a humongous recession, with the spaffing buffoon and his chums running the show? No reason to be alarmed. No, none at all!

Don’t Get So Close To Me

I very nearly got killed two weeks ago. I was running along the village road, when a car came round a corner at a ridiculous speed. I was running towards the traffic, as is advised. I was on the road because there is no path on the village road, apart from a very short stretch much further down the road than where I was at the time. I was tucked into the kerb.

The road is one (unmarked) lane in each direction but if two cars pass each other there’s not much space on either side of the road. So, if vehicles see me as they approach, they have to slow down if there’s something coming in the opposite direction and then overtake me once the other vehicle has gone past.

It’s an interesting one because quite often you can tell by driver’s faces as they approach that they don’t see why they should slow down for a runner. Some of them just don’t bother even trying, whizzing past, inches from you. It’s incredible how many drivers seem to be oblivious to what I’d have thought was a pretty well-known fact, namely:

‘If you hit a pedestrian (runner) in a car, even at 30 mph, the pedestrian (runner) is likely to be seriously injured or killed.”

Anyway, back to the matter in hand. I’m in a nice rhythm, enjoying my run on a Saturday morning. I’d already done about 4.5 miles, with just under 1.5 to go, to get home. It’s still lockdown during the COVID pandemic, but nevertheless, there were more vehicles evident on our main road through the village, which also just so happens to be a cut through to junction 8 of the M11 Motorway.

The section of road I was on, is a 40 mph zone. All of a sudden, as I approach a slight bend in the road, a sports car comes flying towards me. It was almost bobbing along sideways, it was going so fast round the bend.

Then came one of those strange moments where time stands still. I could see the car was on course to hit me. That is all I can really remember. That and the fact that the driver was an older chap, with slicked-back white hair. I remember that because we got fairly up close and personal to each other.

I also know that I threw myself kerbside even more than I was already (although there were hedges right up to the roadside). He certainly emergency braked and swerved, at the very last minute, as he went past me.

I wasn’t hurt, but my hackles were up. He’d pulled up to halt in his car further back behind me and was hitting his steering wheel, shouting:

“Get off the f*****g road!’

Which kind of made me fairly annoyed. However, as I started to make my over to his vehicle he drove off. Probably good for us both that he did.

Then I carried on with my run.

“Get off the f*****g road!”

It was when I got home that I got really angry. The bloke was absolutely flying along the road. I’m guessing he was doing 60/70. As a runner, you get a sense of whether a motor vehicle is:

  1. Doing less than the speed limit or less – ‘nice one, thank you.’
  2. Over the speed limit a bit – ‘just slow it down a tad please.’
  3. Absolutely flying -‘ What the F***?’

‘Old Slicked Back ‘ was in category 3 and a bit.

What really got to me, was that his first thought wasn’t that he’d nearly brought about my demise, but that he should instead yell at me for being on the road!

I really wanted to tell him, very politely ( whilst pinning him to the floor) that, “I am totally within my rights to run along MY own village road. Where there is no pavement on the particular stretch of road I want to run on, I have to run on the f***ing road itself. Oh and by the way the speed limit is 30 mph and in some stretches 40 mph, and you, old boy, were travelling at almost double the speed limit. It’s you that needs to get off the ‘f*****g road!”

Then I would pick him up off the floor, dust off his dandruff ridden lapels and send him on his way. By bus.

“Irritants, to be buzzed out of the way”

There’s no doubt that there are a great number of motorists – car, van and truck drivers who think that the road belongs to them. Full stop. Studies carried out in recent years seem to confirm this. An article in Forbes magazine in 2018, reported on the results of two such surveys, concluding that:

“Those piloting heavy, fast motor vehicles often use their speed and power to muscle all non-motorised users out of the way, sometimes without knowing they’re doing it. “Vulnerable road users” – such as cyclists and pedestrians – become either invisible or irritants to be buzzed out of the way.”

Motorists are supposed to give cyclists, motorcyclists and by implication also horses, pedestrians and runners a wide berth of at least 1.5 metres when passing them. Indeed since 2019, police forces have been encouraged to find and apply penalty points to the licences of motorists who they are caught passing cyclists without at least 1.5 metres between them.

The reality is that every time I run down the village road to either the end of it that’s 1.7 miles from home or the other end of it which is 1.2 miles away, on average, on each run, I’m passed, by at least two vehicles, that are far too close to me. No police force in the world can enforce that frequency of incidents of seriously poor driving.

Lockdown has been great in the sense that runners and cyclists have been taking to the roads of the country in ever greater numbers. However, even in the heaviest form of lockdown of several weeks ago, it was impossible to be out on the road without encountering many of our four-wheeled friends behaving badly. Fewer cars on the roads admittedly, but the ones that were out and about saw the quieter roads as an excuse to totally ignore the speed limits and rules of safe driving generally. My recent near accident was evidence of that.

I think the situation has got worse and worse over the last 10 years. So much so that having escaped injury by a whisker the other week, I’ve decided that I will stick to trail running across the fields and countryside paths, around where I live. I’m really fortunate that there’s an abundance of those, plus a National Forest when it opens again. The exception to the rule will be where I can run safely on the pavement.

It shouldn’t be so, but I have to accept the things I cannot change and I can’t change other people’s bad driving. Whilst I love my road running it’s not worth dying for.

(I wrote a more detailed blog on the dangers road runners face on a daily basis for Mooneerams solicitors in September 2019. It can be found here.)

On Being 60

“There’s a few bob in your pocket

and you’ve got good friends

and it seems like summer’s never coming to an end.

Young, free and innocent, you haven’t got a care,

apart from decidin’ on the clothes you’re gonna wear.

The street’s turned into paradise,

the radio’s singing dreams,

you’re innocent, immortal, you’re just fifteen.

And who’d dare tell the lambs in Spring,

what fates the later seasons bring?

(From ‘Blood Brothers’ by Willie Russell)

As my 60th birthday in October 2019 was approaching, I thought how good it would feel to be able to write a blog, entitled, ‘On Being 60’. It had a good ring to it. I would write some haughty piece about laughing in the face of my advancing years, how age is just a number, that you’re as young as you feel and a host of other platitudes.

I didn’t get round to it then, but as I’m now over 60 and a half, if I’m going to make use of this literary, luvvy sounding title, I’d better get on with it.

When I was a young lad if you had asked me at what age I thought people could be said to be old, I’d have said that it would be at 50. Very old? 60 onwards.

If you’d asked me the same question in my early 20s, in all honesty, I’d have probably said the same thing – and at 30? The same. You see at all those ages and even at 40, I never thought that I would get old. Yes, I knew that you did in my heart of hearts, but not in that part of the brain called the ‘leave that until another day’ section.

Then suddenly, in the words of the poem written by the old lady who lived in a nursing home (the one that you can read when you visit our downstairs loo, where it hangs on the wall), all of a sudden ‘dark days are upon us.’

I wouldn’t go that far, but it can no longer be denied. Time is at a premium. I’m not young.

So here’s my take on being me at 60.

Let’s be honest, if being 60 didn’t bother me at all, then why am I writing a blog about it?. People don’t tend to write blogs called ‘My life at 21’, although granted footballers have their life stories written at that age. ‘My life in pictures….’

Do I like being 60? I accept it, rather than like it. I see it as a challenge. It’s no coincidence that over the past 16 months or so, I’ve got very fit. I pride myself on being fitter than a lot of men who are much younger than I am. Ego? Pride? Yes, probably.

I’m looking after myself in other ways, rather better than I used to, as well. Part of that has nothing to do with my advancing years. I got sober in 2011 because I was fed up with being an active alcoholic. I’ve stopped smoking. I don’t eat junk.

I still have goals. I want to write a book. I want to travel more. I want to become much more fluent in German and French. I want to become a better freelance writer. I’d like to get more non-work-related stuff, published in the press.

I want to spend more quality time with my wife and even though they are in their twenties now, my boys too. Again, some of that comes from making up for the years when I wasn’t a great family man – when my head was in a bottle or I was pining for a bottle. A lot of it comes too, from the fact that I love all three of them, very much.

Time is precious – partly because I value being sober and I enjoy life now and partly because, well, time is slipping away. (It does go faster as you get older kids – mark my words!)

Undoubtedly what living through this pandemic has brought home ever more, is how fragile life is. Having lost my parents in a car accident in 1999, that is something I am acutely aware of anyway. Life can be gone in a heartbeat. That’s not being morbid. It just means I should get on and live life – and enjoy it.

What don’t I like about being 60 then?

Ok, the trivia first. I don’t like how all the musicians that I grew up listening to, are either dead already or are in their 70s and how if they are alive, they insist on still performing in their 70s. I’d quite like to see Fleetwood Mac, but I want to see Stevie Nicks and Lyndsey Buckingham as mid 20-year-olds, not now they are in their dotage. I was going to go and see Mannfred Mann at the nearby Rhodes Theatre last year until I found out that the ever-youthful Paul Jones was in fact now 75!

I also get angry beyond belief with myself, when I’m just about to go somewhere and I can’t find my car keys…..or my phone….or my wallet…or my specs. When I lose one of these items, I really lose it too. I’ll find it days later resting on the 4th shelf up of one of the myriads of bookcases that line the walls of this house. I get angry beyond angry. I blame it on my disease, my alcoholism, for eradicating mass chunks of my grey cells (which it undoubtedly has) and woe betides anyone who offers this ‘helpful’ piece of advice:

‘Just try and remember where you last had it!’

I’ve also got a related problem in that I can be in full flow in a meeting, telling a story to a friend or giving someone directions on the street, when I just get brain freeze. I simply have a total blank about what I’m talking about and have to say so. ‘Mind’s gone blank, sorry.’ Again as much a problem of having drunk too much rioja and Stella Artois as being 60, I’m guessing

As I write this though, I realise that there isn’t really all that much that bothers me about having reached three score years. That I have my health, is the main reason for that. If I didn’t have that and if any of my family were ill, life would look different. I’m grateful that we are all well and pray that that continues. I have a lovely family and a nice home. I have my dogs, my running and I have some special friends. Today life is good and today is all any of us have.

If anything has happened on turning 60, it’s the final, dawning realisation that youth has gone forever. I say finally, because whilst daft as it might sound, until a few years ago, I honestly did feel that I would be eternally youthful. I do miss that feeling that I used to get as a youngster, of the world being right there at my feet. I was always a dreamer and it was a lovely state of being.

But wait. Why should any of us ever stop dreaming? If we do that aren’t we asking for the carpet slippers and a pipe? Oh. stuff it. I’ll always be a dreamer. A dreamer at 60? Forever young? Why not? Pass the sanatogen wine, Val. Oh, I forgot – best make that a cup of tea!

Lockdown or your life?

I’m writing this on what I think is day 39 of lockdown here in the UK. It’s late Friday afternoon and I’ve finished my work for the day. I’m glad I still have work, not just for the obvious financial reasons but also because I have something meaningful that exercises my brain for large parts of the day. I write for a living, and doing a piece of content that needs hours of research and then putting together as an article, gives me a real sense of satisfaction. I’m glad I have that. I’m lucky that I have that, too. I’m aware of that and grateful.

As the weekend arrives, there’s the;

‘Ah, it’s the weekend’,

feeling, if only for a few fleeting moments. The feeling that you’ve earned a break.

Then realisation hits. The weekend’s days are the same as any other day in this new world we are living in. Every day is in fact, Sunday. Or Monday. Or Friday. Take your pick.

There can’t be many out there now who still think that lockdown is a bit of an adventure.

To be honest, I normally quite like living in a bit of isolation. I work in my study on my own and I value that. As a recovering alcoholic, I live a simpler, less complicated life than I did in years gone by.

However, the difference is, that in normal times, I can choose when I’m going to be a loner or conversely when I want to be part of a 55,000 crowd at a football match, or go to a coffee shop with my wife or one of my sons, or take a trip into London to see a West End show. I am the agent of my own decisions.

At the moment I am not. That for me is what is now starting to play with my head a little. I have times when like Roger Daltrey, in the rock musical, ‘Tommy’, I want to run shirtless through fields of wheat (not with Theresa May, though) and do cartwheels along Brighton beach, whilst singing, ‘I’m Free.’

I can’t do that though. The reason? In a nutshell – I’m scared. The prospect of getting Coronavirus scares the crap out of me. I’m glad it does. Fear, where this novel coronavirus is concerned, is healthy. That’s why I’ve respected and welcomed being locked down, It has kept my family and me, safe. So, far.

Now, however, on day 39 or whatever it is since we became confined, I’m concerned. Although I go out only rarely other than to walk the dogs or to go for a run, I get the sense from others that the roads and streets are getting busier with both traffic and pedestrians. Talk of starting the football season again and of some cricket leagues starting in July, of more shops opening than just the essential supply types, and of people being told that they have to start going back into their places of work imminently, is worrying.

There is a sense from reading the press and on social media, that we are, as a nation, starting to relax – all this despite the fact that another 700 plus deaths were announced in today’s early evening government briefing. It feels like the flood gates of lockdown are being ever so slightly opened. We all know what tends to happen when flood gates are slightly opened – first there’s just a trickle and then before you know it, a torrent is bursting through the gap in the gates.

I can’t help but fear that if that happened, it would signal a second coronavirus wave and more new cases. That there’d be a rising death toll again and ever more pressure on the NHS and its wonderful people on the front line.

Whether this drive to get the country unlocked is coming from the business community, from those amongst us that have had enough of being at home, from those that want to get back to work or to look for new jobs, or simply from people who’s desire is to get back to ‘normal’ as soon as possible then the answer has to be the same. It’s too soon. We are being impatient if we think otherwise. That’s my view, anyway. Give it time. In the scheme of most lifetimes, if we have to stay locked down for as long as we already have, again or longer, then so be it. If we take a long term view, it isn’t a long time. not with what is at stake.

I understand people’s frustrations and economic fears. We are being told by some commentators that we are heading for an economic catastrophe if we don’t open the country up soon. However, that ignores the alternative – that if we get this wrong, many, many thousands more are going to die. I can only speak for myself – I don’t want to die from Covid19. I especially don’t want to die as a result of the nation relaxing too soon. The same goes for my family.

I don’t know about you, but if it really has to come down to a choice, I’d choose a bit longer in lockdown and all its downsides over giving up my life to this virus. Anytime.

Me, my wife and Devon Malcolm

I’m a member of a Facebook group called the Cricket Grounds Appreciation Society. It’s as anoraky and twee as it sounds, but to we cricket-lovers, shorn of the summer game that we love so much, this year, it’s becoming a bit of a godsend during these barren times.

Members of the group simply post pictures of cricket grounds that they have played at or visited, wherever they are in the world. Little village club grounds, picturesque grounds and famous ones, too.

The other day someone posted a picture of a ground where a Lashings CC charity cricket match had been played. In the photo was the former England and Derbyshire fast bowler, Devon Malcolm. On his day, Devon was as fast and aggressive a quick bowler as I’ve ever seen in my life, particularly if he got riled. The South African’s found that out to their cost in a Test Match at the Oval in 1994, when one of their bowlers, a chap by the name of Fanie de Villiers, hit big Devon on his helmet with a bouncer. Allegedly a furious Malcolm turned to the south African slip cordon and told them:

“You guys are history.”

He wasn’t kidding, either. When the Saffers came in to bat, he produced one of the best and fastest spells of bowling I’ve ever seen, ripping the South African innings apart, taking 9 wickets for 57 runs.

However, seeing a photo of Devon again for the first time in years, reminded me of a chance encounter that Val, my wife and I had with Mr Malcolm, the year before his destruction of the South Africans.

On the weekend of the 22/23rd July 1993, I took Val away for a ‘romantic’ weekend to London, from our then home in north Manchester. I took her to see the Benson and Hedges Cricket Final at Lords between my beloved Lancashire and Derbyshire!

We decided to stay over on Friday evening before the game, at the Clive Hotel in Hampstead. We drove up on Friday afternoon and as we pulled into the hotel car park, I got noticed a lot of guys getting out of cars, carrying cricket equipment. For a moment, I thought that we were going to be staying at the same hotel as the Lancs team. Then I saw Dominic Cork and a few other faces of Derbyshire cricketers that I recognised.

I turned to Val and said:

“We’ve only gone and booked into the same hotel as tomorrow’s opponents, Derbyshire!’

Anyway, next day we duly trotted off to St John’s Wood to Lord’s cricket ground. A day out at the ‘home of cricket’ is always something to be savoured. As a bit of research has reminded me, the weather wasn’t the greatest, but the game was played out in the day without interruption. A cracker of a game it was too.

Although they were the underdogs against a Lancs team that included Atherton, De Freitas, Fairbrother and the legendary Pakistani all-rounder, Wasim Akram, Derbyshire won the game by 6 runs and Dominic Cork, who years later went on to wear the Red Rose, was named Man of the Match.

This little story isn’t really about the game itself, but it is worth noting that there was ‘an incident’ when, during Derbyshire’s innings, batsman Chris Adams was hit on the back as he instinctively turned his body away from a very rapid beamer from Wasim Akram. For non-cricketing aficionados, a beamer is a type of bowling delivery in which the ball, without bouncing, passes above the batsman’s waist height. It’s illegal because it’s dangerous, particularly when bowled by someone as quick as the Pakistani maestro Akram, was.

Immediately after the delivery had been bowled, Akram apologised to Adams. The Derbyshire man understandably required a fair bit of treatment before bravely carrying on. Adams was as gutsy a player as he was feisty. He was out for 11 shortly afterwards.

During the tea interval, Adams and Akram are alleged to have squared up to each other, with the former still being highly aggrieved at the illegal delivery from Akram, despite the latter’s apology.

Anyway, with the game over VW and I trotted back to the hotel, with at least a few drinks and maybe a curry to look forward to.

After a couple of aperitifs at the hotel, we went out in search of an Indian restaurant. A suitable looking venue was swiftly found.

It was one of those places that had lots of nooks and crannies and we were shown to one of two tables for two in a particular nook (or cranny). The other table was vacant when we sat down and ordered our food.

A short while later, the waiter appeared again followed by two men who were being shown to the table next to us. I nearly choked on my pappadom when Devon Malcolm and another Derbyshire player took their places at the aforesaid table. I’m not sure where VW was up to with her cricket knowledge at that stage, but I’m sure she recognised big Devon – definitely not the other chap though, who I’d worked out was that rare specimen: a Danish professional cricketer. He was called Ole Mortensen but went by the name of Stan! Mortensen was actually a really decent seam bowler.

The two sportsmen started talking to each other about the day’s events. I have to confess, I was listening in to their conversation like a seasoned Stasi operative in the former GDR. It became clear that they were less than happy with the attitude of the county of my birth’s cricket team that afternoon. Although I’m sure that the Adams/Akram confrontation was mentioned, what I remember being disappointed to hear, as a Lancastrian, was that the Lancs players were less than gracious in defeat. Downright rude and off-hand, according to our neighbours at the next table.

As time went on, I couldn’t resist it any longer.

“Gents, well played this afternoon’, I spurted out. “Would you accept a drink from two Lancashire fans?”

I was sat diagonally opposite Malcolm who stared across at Stan with a look that said:

“Ohhh shit!”

Instead he said to me with a nervous smile:

“You aren’t from the Press are you?”

I reassured him that we weren’t. Stan turned to me and said, in that case, that would be very kind and yes, they’d like that very much.

From that moment on we spent the next half hour, if not more, chatting to them. Devon was a little quieter than Mortensen, who was a really funny and entertaining bloke. We told them how we couldn’t believe that their evening after winning one of the major domestic cricket trophies, was being spent in the local curry house. As I recall they weren’t overly enamoured at the fact either, but then again Derbyshire was certainly one of the poorest counties in the first-class league. I hadn’t realised that it was that poor though!

As they got up, they invited us to join them for drinks back at the hotel with the rest of the team. I couldn’t finish my chicken jalfrezi quickly enough.

Sure enough, when we got back to the hotel, Devon and Stan greeted us like long lost friends. I recall standing at the bar next to Devon and marvelling at the fact that I was being asked by this giant of a world-famous cricketer, what I wanted to drink. Bloody Hell, if only social media had been around then, I’d have had a field day!

Chris Adams was called over by Stan to show us his wound from the game. Adams was a larger than life character and had had a few, as he took off his shirt and turned round to reveal on his back, the biggest single bruise that I’ve ever seen.

Then the TV in the bar started showing highlights of the game. Cheers, for Derbyshire successes, boos for Lancs, but when Akram bowled the now infamous ball – well, the room erupted into a crescendo of boos, an array of hand gestures and howls of derision directed at Wasim!

The B&H trophy was being tossed around the room like a toy, as the beer flowed, and when it came to Stan Mortensen, he signalled for VW and I to come over and hold the trophy, flanked by him and Devon. One of the Derbyshire committee members took a photo of us and then asked for our address to send a copy on.

Sadly the photo never did arrive. So the photo accompanying this blog is not one of me, my wife and Devon Malcolm (and a Danish cricketer called Stan), but the only image that came up on Adobe Stock Photos when I typed the name ‘Devon Malcolm’ into the search bar. It’s a picture of the Devon coastline.

Just do it!

I’ve been feeling really guilty. I had this little blog built for me by the super talented Gary Hartley of The Floating Frog up in Harrogate, a few weeks ago now.

‘Can you build me a blog, Gary? Nothing fancy, just somewhere I can write without constaint and share my thoughts with people, for what they are worth.’

‘No probs’ he says.

After some hassle with getting my domain name out of the clutches of a domain re-seller, a saga I won’t bore you with, it was done. Just like that.

‘Can you send me a blog to check the formatting?,’ asks Gary.

I don’t have one. I write something about Legal Marketing in these dificult times. That was published on the 2nd April, since when nothing. Zilch.

I feel guilty because Gary, a busy chap and much in demand as a web designer, did it for me so quickly and then I’ve left it.

It’s not that I’ve not wanted to write something or that I’ve not had any thoughts about what to write. I have ideas, usually whilst out running or walking the dogs. Then when I get back home, I get sidetracked and another opportunity is lost. I tell myself I’ll do it later, but then I make an excuse – getting late, better spend some time with the family, blah, blah, blah. No blog.

Anyway, finally, the penny dropped today. I got up and started worked early, so by mid-afternoon I was ready to call it a day.

I decided to take the dogs out. Just before closing the PC down, I was exchanging emails with a friend. For some reason that I forget now, he quoted some paragraphs from the book ReWork by two American guys, Fried and Hannsen. I remembered that I already had the book on Audible and had started listening to it before. I quite liked the theme – a sort of minimalist manifesto about work and business. I just didn’t like their voices!

Anyway, I decided to listen to it on today’s dog walk. This time I was very receptive to it. Although I only got an hour into it, it started to answer a few questions for me. In particular, I latched on to the fact that when we have a new business idea, our tendency is to think we have to fully plan it out before we start. Instead of just jumping into action we overthink and over-plan.

It struck a chord with the problem I’ve had getting these personal blogs written. Too much thinking, too much planning. I’m not writing a thesis for a PH.D after all. Just do it.

It’s not just these blogs though. I’m overcomplicating everything that I do. Instead of ‘doing’, I’m being too much of a perfectionist before I even start to ‘do’.

Alternatively, I’m indecisive. Faced with options, they become overwhelming. It’s mentally exhausting!

I don’t think it’s helped, that there’s a kind of feeling floating around at the moment, that because we are in lockdown, we should be using all this spare time we have to develop new skills, brush up on old ones, learn to play every musical instrument under the sun, read all those classic books that we’ve always meant to read and so on and so on.

I’ve had those thoughts too – get the electric guitar out, start studying German again or learn a new area of law. That Booker Prize-winning book that I’ve been starting to write for the last 40 years, has been sitting on my shoulder again, too.

Stop the washing machine head!

Time to dejunk the mind a bit. Too many thoughts and too much garbage in there. Back to basics. Keep it simple. Just do it.

So, I have and this is it.

Should law firms stop marketing during the Coronavirus pandemic?

I’ve been on this earth for a good few years now and have already lived through some famous events of the type that the history books are made of, some of which I can remember pretty well, some I can remember bits of and some not at all – The Vietnam War, man landing on the moon for the first time, The Cold War, Mandela being released, then coming to power in South Africa and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.

I haven’t though, lived through anything like the time we are experiencing at the moment. The total paralysis of the world. A time where there is a sense of trepidation every time a trip to the supermarket is made because it just doesn’t feel right to be out and where the majority of us are now working from home, or not at all. Conversely, it’s a time where some people are working round the clock in horrendous conditions, at huge risk to themselves, to save our lives.

Life has turned upside down for us all. The reality of illness, death, and grief from this hidden killer is with us. NHS workers have rightly become our national heroes. So too have supermarket workers, taxi drivers, dustbin men and a whole host of other ‘key workers’. All of a sudden as a society we are feting those who do the hard, dirty work and for so comparatively little in the way of remuneration.

As for the rest of us, we are a motley crew. For those of us that habitually work from home, maybe, like me, sitting in front of a PC writing words for a living, life is much the same as it was before, save for the fact that for many of our clients, it’s anything but the same as was. Businesses that could have actually allowed remote working for their employees before, but haven’t, have had to quickly adapt to the new reality – home working for all or shut up shop. Many are understandably finding the going, challenging.

In reality, business isn’t exactly carrying on as normal, for anyone. For those of us that are freelancers, we’re only as good for our incoming work, as our clients are for theirs.

In the world of this legal profession that I am able to view a little more dispassionately, than I did when I had my law practice, it has been interesting, but not always in a good way, to watch how things are unfolding.

For instance, it’s not necessarily small to medium/small solicitors’ firms that have been the first off the blocks in letting staff go – furloughed or redundant. Some of those who have been quickest out of the starting blocks in saying ‘goodbye’ to their workers have been of the larger, City variety. Others still, have been ones who, until the crisis hit, were busy buying out smaller companies: the movers and shakers of the legal world.

For some firms, purely from a marketing point of view, this could seem to be a time of opportunity – for instance, the views of employment lawyers are suddenly in high demand with both employer and employee keen to know where they stand on a daily basis.

There’s been a surge in people wanting to get Wills in the past few weeks. Grim? Yes. Being practical and organised? Well, yes.

So, should those lawyers who have relevant knowledge and skills to match up with this fresh demand for that knowledge, up the ante with their marketing?

Absolutely they should, as long as it is marketing that is subtle and tasteful. Blogs and articles setting out relevant, useful advice on matters that coronavirus has impacted, will be welcomed and those who provided that advice, bookmarked for future reference.

The reason I was so forthright, in saying; ‘absolutely they should,’ is because where possible, I think business should carry on as normal. My field is the legal profession and I think solicitors should carry on marketing and trying to bring in new business. To not do is a recipe for disaster down the line.

Some would say that this type of marketing is ‘cashing in’ on the crisis: that advertising will-drafting services, for instance, is in bad taste when so many people are dying from COVID-19 on a daily basis. I don’t believe that it is. If I am a wills and probate expert and more people than normal are looking to get wills drawn up, then why would I not try and make sure that the public is aware of the service that I offer. I want to try to get my name at the forefront of their minds.

Life has to go on and if we accept that as many businesses as possible should carry on trading, as surely they must, even if they are doing so remotely, then advertising their services is part and parcel of carrying on that business. After all, if new business leads, enquiries and instructions dry up, ultimately so too will the company!

What about advertising personal injury services at the moment? Again it comes down to being subtle in any form of marketing that’s undertaken. I personally think this may not be the time to be doing sponsored advertising, such as Facebook ads or Google ads.

Having said that, I’ve noticed that No Win, No Fee personal injury ads have been ever more evident on my Facebook page timeline in recent weeks. Some of the comments underneath the adverts have been ‘earthier’ than normal (and ‘normal’ still isn’t nice for those types of ads at the best of times.) I wouldn’t feel comfortable running them, even though personal injury claims do not involve making claims against the NHS. Personal injury claims and medical negligence claims are two different areas of law entirely. I’m not sure that some of the public recognise that distinction though!

I do however think that personal injury firms that use content marketing in the form of blogs and outreach articles to improve their website rankings, should continue to write and publish new material. Quality, useful content informs and educates. The best websites get plenty of page 1 Google rankings. First page rankings lead to new business enquiries.

There are personal injury firms that I know that are just settling down to do the best job that they can for their existing clients, whilst only taking on new business that comes into them, organically i.e. without them advertising for it. They think that now is not the time to be advertising for accident claims. I fully respect that altruistic approach.

I’m not an expert in medical negligence claims. At the moment, I’m probably glad of that. I’ll outline my thoughts about medical or clinical negligence and where it might go in the future, in more detail in a later blog. At the moment, it surely isn’t appropriate to be running any form of clinical negligence adverts whilst the doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers of the NHS are working all hours on the front line of the battle against coronavirus? End of.

I personally think that this is a time where real caution needs to be exercised in legal marketing. Law firms, like many other businesses, are in a battle to survive as lockdown continues. The temptation to market hard for the work that is still out there may be tempting.

However, this is not the time for hard marketing. On the contrary, one false move could, in this day and age of ‘viral’ social media posts and comments, lead to a PR disaster. Keeping the powder dry on that advert or social media post, maybe the best marketing move you could make right now.