Another List

10 Seminal Books

Here is another, controversial list. This one is a list of ten books that have changed me in some way – change my mind or change the way I see or think about things. They are not my favourite books, or the best written or ones I would take to a desert island, but they probably represent those books that helped to form who I am now.

Your list will be different, but writing it down helps to clarify, to yourself, who you are.

  1. Essays by George Orwell
  2. The Making of the English Landscape by W G Hoskins
  3. The Way of Zen by Alan Watts
  4. The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
  5. Sapiens by Yuval Harari
  6. Feral by George Mombiot
  7. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
  8. Walden by Henry Thoreau
  9. I’m OK, You’re OK by Thomas Harris
  10. The Empty Space by Peter Brook

Plus any map by Ordnance Survey.


Posted in Arts, Books, Education | Tagged | 7 Comments

Wapping Old Steps

Well, I’ve made it. I am now a State Enrolled Old Person. When I was in my twenties I never thought I would get to be this ancient, with a body and mind that are breaking down, and no longer always selflessly acting in my own long-term interests. I am starting to lose track – multiple sclerosis, blindness, and now prostate cancer. Each day is starting to bring its own bitter-sweet sunset.

I am a little scared of the future, which is a new sensation. In the past, a flight of steps meant a journey to a new place at the top; now I know steps go down as well as up. There are steps to the Thames in Wapping, where we were staying at the week-end. The steps go down to the River Thames where convicted pirates were taken to be executed and then left to hang to be washed by three tides. For the felon, these were the final steps.

Wapping Old Steps to the river


We all totter down them eventually. Some go proud and defiant; some go with quiet acceptance; some go sobbing and kicking. Maybe, in our search for wisdom, it is possible to make that decision, a conscious decision as to how we will go down the steps to Execution Dock.

Whichever scenario I choose, it will not change the ending, but presumably it will change the way I live between now and the washing of those three tides.



Posted in Age, Death, History | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Waiting is Over!

The waiting is over . . . . for now. It is the waiting that is the worst bit. The wait for the appointment, the wait for the test results, the wait for the letter, the wait in the waiting room. If you allow your mind to follow the demented, paranoid monkey that is your own thought process, it can seem like a huge ante-room for Death. It would be easy to see yourself in a Kafka novel, and oh so easy to become a victim.

I now have the result of my biopsy. They took six cores from each side of my prostate, and found cancer cells in four of them – not many, apparently – 2% in some, 6% in others – which suggests a relatively small and well-behaved cancer at the moment.

Strangely, this is the best of bad news. If the biopsy comes back clear it doesn’t mean you don’t have cancer. The biopsy needles are random, so might miss anything sinister.

So at least now I know.

There are three possible treatment options.

The obvious one is surgery. It has the advantage of being total, but causes urinary incontinence and loss of sexual function. This seems a quality v quantity question. And you can’t change your mind.

Next is to treat with radio therapy, which has the side-effect of causing bladder cancer. This is a frying pan and fire question.

The third option, and the one I chose, is active surveillance, which means regular MRI scans and blood tests to keep an eye on any developments before doing anything drastic. I can change my mind at any time, and I have a good support team around me, including the excellent team at home!

I have no other symptoms than poor stream, as they call it, and no pain, so I have opted for quality of life, knowing that one day things might change and I will have to re-think.

Re-thinking and re-adjusting are fine. MS has taught me how to do that. It is still possible I’ll outlive you all, and die with MS and cancer, not of MS or cancer. Just at the moment I’m finding it all very interesting, and it was wonderful to wake up this morning with the relaxed realisation that I didn’t have to go to see a doctor today!

Thanks for all of your best wishes. They seem to have worked!

Posted in Age, Death, Health | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Low-Level Anxiety

This time is all about waiting, and I am not as good at it as I thought I would be.

I had my biopsy on my prostate two weeks ago, the consultant team met to discuss my results last Wednesday, and I am going to the hospital for those results on Tuesday. I like to think I am relaxed about all this, and I trot out the cliché that I don’t feel any different. I feel the same as I did last month.

I like to think I am “interested” in the process, in a detached, authorial kind of way, and, certainly, the biopsy itself was an interesting sensation. It was not a sensation I had experienced before, feeling something inside my body cut and scrape at something else that was inside me, but something nameless that, in some way, actually was part of me. It wasn’t painful – just very strange and sharp.

But then the waiting begins.

Is a long wait good or bad news? Have the bits of me shown no sign of cancer cells? Or have they just lost my results?

When you are waiting, all things become possible. Maybe the news is good; maybe the news is bad.

I will find out on Tuesday. Is that a long time, or does it count as a frantic emergency? It’s like those financial statistics on the news – so many millions of this, so many billions of that. Should I interpret the figure as a lot, or as not very much? Is a billion pounds of a particular thing something to worry about or something to celebrate?

Whatever happens on Tuesday, it feels like a junction. Either I will turn one way and celebrate, or I will turn the other way and my life will change.

Wish me luck, and I’ll keep you informed.



Posted in Death, Health | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Radio Wisdom

Heard on the radio this morning and worth remembering:


If you want to understand the man or woman, first you must understand the world as it was for them when they were 21.


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A New List

Being a man, I am an inveterate producer of lists. Here is what I constructed on my walk this morning in drizzly rain.


Things I am interested in:

This list seems to get shorter as the years pass. Things that fascinated me as a young man, no longer seem to be worth the effort.

  1. Being wise before I die.
  2. Writing.
  3. Greece, ancient and modern.
  4. Dogs, for their honesty.
  5. Being in the natural world.
  6. Meditating.
  7. Music.
  8. Family history.
  9. Silence.


Things that worry me:

  1. Staying healthy.
  2. The state of the natural, non-human world.
  3. The extent and prevalence of human greed.
  4. Ubiquitous noise.


The balance still seems good to me. There are more things that interest me than things I worry about. A good exercise to do, along with books that have changed my life and the eight pieces of music I would take to a desert island!


Posted in Age, Blogging, Greece, Health, Hobbies, Lists, Music, Nature, Wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Update to the Update

Total embarrasment! I told all of you my new book was called “Watching for the Downbeat”.

It is, in fact, called “Waiting for the Downbeat”.

I’m not going to sell many copies this way, am I?


Posted in Blogging, Books, Music, Writing | Tagged | 1 Comment