Friday, 24 February 2012

The top five regrets of the dying. (1/5)

Bronnie Ware is a nurse who specialized in caring for patients in the last weeks of their lives. Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as identified by her:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

I thought I would start from the bottom and work up.

My biggest regret was never finding the time to study for a PhD. The obvious and best time to have done this was immediately after I had finished my first degree at Nottingham. I had no ties, no responsibilities and no reason, other than I was bored with studying, for not staying on. Instead I started working in the food industry where I wasn’t particularly happy and where the money and job satisfaction were both lousy. To put the pay at United Biscuits into perspective I got a 50% pay rise, £4,400 to £6,600, when I started working in Further Education and education has never been famous for generous salaries!

For the next 30 years I was in full-time employment, supporting a family and enjoying a wide range of hobbies – both indoor and outdoor. Every now and again I thought about doing a PhD and I even went as far as taking a second degree with the Open University “to get my brain working again”. But I never took the next step, the crucial step, of enrolling to study for my PhD.

Then retirement came along – perhaps my last genuine opportunity to revert to being a student. But it wasn’t to be. My Father died suddenly and Claire and I acquired the responsibility for my Mother. She suffered from dementia and although she was well looked after at Cherry Trees she was never far from our minds. Family geography meant that almost all the twice weekly visits were made by Claire and I and before either of us realised it another three years had gone by. By the time Mother had died and we had sorted out her financial affairs I was in my mid-50s and I realised that a PhD would only be possible by making unreasonable demands on those around me.

So I didn’t

Friday, 17 February 2012

What would my 20 year old self think of how I turned out?

When I was 20 I was at Nottingham University studying Food Technology. I hadn’t thought much about careers especially since employment prospects for graduates were said to be the “worst they had been for a generation”. I assumed I would look for a job in the food industry but where, when and what never crossed my mind. I had a regular girlfriend – I’ve now been married to her for over 30 years – and a group of close friends all of whom I still regard as close friends.

I would have been shocked to find out that I only lasted three years in the food industry before changing careers and becoming a further education college lecturer. When I was 20 I didn’t know myself well enough to realise that I was going to find working for people as opposed to working with people a source of great personal unhappiness. I hated most of my time at United Biscuits and the only positive thing I gained was the reference that got me a lecturing job down in Somerset.

When I was 20 I never thought I would travel the world or achieve greatness in my career. And of course I never did. I certainly never would have guessed that I would end up spending much of my working life in a career that didn’t even exist when I was at university. As for living in rural Shropshire, engaging in creative writing and attending a “Walking for Health” group. No way!

“You did what!” just about sums it up.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Deep breath - then start again

I started this blog with the best of intentions. I thought that I would have the time and the inclination to post 2 or 3 times each week. But as you can see that never happened and 11 posts in August shrank down to 7 in September and down to just 2 in October. Since then silence has reigned.

Now I am not always like this. I write a weekly column for the astronomy group VSNET-CHAT and I have never missed a deadline. Not once, ever. So what was the problem with this blog? Why did it fail? I think I set myself an unrealistic target and when I couldn’t reach it I felt disheartened and rather than simply modifying the target I gave up entirely.

The best solution seems to me to widen the scope of the blog and to set myself the target of posting at least 250 words once a week. So this blog is now going to cover the whole range of what I do, what I think and who I am. The attraction of this change is that I don’t really know the answer to the last question. My nearest and dearest are surprised at my sudden enthusiasm for writing fiction and they are getting slightly weary of the number of times the work I am doing with E + E comes up in conversation. Against all my previous ideas about Martin the person the creative and the emotional parts of my new daily routine matter to me. Matter a lot.

This week I was emailed by an amateur astronomer with a particular interest in double stars. Nothing unusual there except that he wanted to buy a copy of the double star software I wrote with the late Hannah Varley. To cut a very long story short. Hannah was in her early 30’s when she got cancer. Treatment was unsuccessful and she went into a hospice to die, but then against all medical expectations she partially recovered and started doing odd pieces of work with me to improve the software. With no warning our almost daily email exchanges stopped and a few days later I was told she had died. The software is like a little piece of Hannah that lives on and the thought of it being used by somebody who didn't know her or her sad end is just something I cannot cope with. So I turned them down.