Blog 33 – For your own sake volunteer.

Have you ever walked into a place to be greeted warmly, with smiles and a genuine welcome? With luck that may have happened to you on a few occasions and if so it is an experience that you might wish to repeat. So where are these places that could give you that sort of welcome?

One area is volunteering for charitable organisations. Here you are giving your time to help the charity by supervising their exhibitions or manning the counter in a charity shop. Beyond helping the charity you are also putting yourself in the front line for meeting people and those people will probably have the same values as you, which is a good start to any potential friendship.


As an artist working in my own little studio, I very rarely got out to meet people. So missing company I volunteered to work for an organisation that took over temporarily empty shops and turned them into galleries and music venues. In a short while I was paired up with another artist to be behind the counter and welcome any people who might come in, explain what was going on and how they could use the property.

The first thing was that I was paired up with as I said, another artist and after a few months we had an exhibition together in the shop. Most artists are always searching for exhibition opportunities and here was one that virtually fell into our laps. I gather that at one time some of the public galleries in London would allow their staff to have exhibitions on their premises. I don’t know if the same applies now. Eventually this organisation closed down when the owners managed to sell the shop, so we moved on to another one and when that went the whole exercise finished. During that time a great number of musicians, poets artists and so on got to know each other and were able to form a loose network of artistic colleagues.

I went back to my studio and during that time a new public gallery was built in the town. I decide to volunteer for that, where I am now doing one morning a week. What I discovered was that many of the people who I had worked with previously as a volunteer had decided to do the same and on my first morning I found a number of them now employed by the new gallery. Their previous voluntary work had helped them to produce a good CV for their present employment and gave them the confidence to work with and deal with other people.

What I gained from the past volunteering was meeting so many people with similar tastes to myself. They had an interest in art, folk and rock music, poetry, drama and many other cultural activities. I am still meeting them and I am still getting that warm welcome when I see them. This is something that can happen to anyone, all you need to do is to volunteer.





Blog 32 First Impressions

I went to a well known building society yesterday to make some alterations to a substantial account. This society is one of the foremost when it comes down to advertising for customers.

I went in to an otherwise empty foyer to find a ‘meeter and greeter’ sitting on a high chair at a high desk like teachers many years ago used to do. He was young, smart and presentable and looked the sort of person who could rise in the organisation except for the fact that he chewed gum the entire time.

I found it disconcerting and irritating that someone while trying to conduct business with me should be continually chomping away on a piece of gum. I think that it is very bad manners and I am amazed that the branch manager would tolerate such a thing. For surely something like this reflects badly on the branch and the manager. It also reflects badly on the young man who was representing the company and could, if there were complaints, affect badly his future with that company.

This sort of behaviour indicates that the person who is talking to you neither knows or cares about his attitude. He is the first impression that the society gives and so it is shown by this that the society is basically indifferent to me as a customer. If that is the case then why bother to spend an extraordinary amount of money on advertising for customers if you really don’t want them?

Many of us have been brought up through film and television to recognise the ‘baddie’ because of their bad manners, often illustrated by them talking with a mouth full of food. Whether we like it or not that image is subconsciously printed on our brains and our reaction to it is not logical but emotional. To come across it in real life can be something of a shock and surely no organisation that relies on customer goodwill wants to shock potential clients.

Is it important? Well consider this, according to one report a London based company that meets clients in person can increase their revenues by an average of 34 per cent per year. According to some experts face to face meetings are the best way to make a sale or to hire a new recruit. It seems that for every £1 spent on business travel a 60% return on the investment can be seen.

One of the problems of say telephone negotiations, can be that you can lose concentration or ‘zone out’ and similarly sound only contact can miss that all important body language which can tell you how the approach is going.

Blog 31 Are You Boring?

DO YOU read the same newspaper , never checking to see what other opinions there may be?

– watch the same television programmes every week?

– go on holiday to the same place every year?

– have a fixed routine when you go shopping?

– take the same route to work each day, never looking down any side streets or byways? What would happen if there was a bus/train/tube strike could you get to work on your own initiative?

– never do anything that is worth a comment from someone else?

– vote for the same political party regardless of how they have performed?

– go to the same restaurant and eat the same foods?

– have nothing to say about any new experiences because you haven’t had any?

– read the same type of books, following one author or genre exclusively, if you read at all?

– make your own opinions or do you follow those put out by your newspapers? Do you actually think for yourself?

– wear the same type of clothes and hairstyle, never experimenting with a new look?

-are you the person who hangs around at the back of a group, always following never suggesting anything new?

It depends on how many of these questions you have answered ‘yes’ to as to how boring other people think you are. You would be the best person to work out that value rather than taking the opinion of an anonymous questionnaire.

If you have answered ‘yes’ to rather too many then surely it is about time you changed that. Remember you are looking for friends and being a ‘stick in the mud’ is one sure way of putting those potential friends off. We all want exciting and innovative people to brighten up our lives, why can’t you be that person?



Blog 30 – Conversation Killers and how to avoid them



So what do you do with your time?

-Golf and gardening


-I’m just a housewife.

What conversation killers!

Did you really want to represent yourself as insular and boring? Do you really want to present yourself as not needing or wanting friends, are you happy to be lonely? At least reply in a way that will open up the conversation.

I can remember being interviewed by a radio presenter and when he asked a carefully prepared question, I simply replied ‘yes’. He stopped the recording and said ‘well that’s killed that’. I should have been much more forthcoming and embellished the ‘yes’ with a lot more information. His question was carefully designed to lead me into saying more about myself and what I was doing, he wanted to know for his radio programme and his listeners. Luckily we started again and went on to cover a lot more ground and made (I hope) a much more interesting feature.

Going back to the conversation killers, it could be that you are a very uninteresting person who wants to remain isolated and alone behind their lace curtains, or it could be that you just didn’t think about the replies that encourage a conversation to develop. So it is important to give something of yourself. Your life may be fairly hum-drum but you still have likes and wishes. Let people know that maybe you get a lot of pleasure reading books about ghosts or railway engines, or you are studying to be a water diviner or a painter or an art gallery visitor, subjects about which many people could have opinions. Who Knows? But you have put something of yourself forward, something that other people can continue to ask questions about.

For people who know little about golf or bridge these occupations can seem quite insular, you have your golfing partner who you regularly play with or your Bridge four who meet once a week, but with these there seems to be no room for other people to be a part of it. So try and add something extra to your reply, something you know to be inclusive, ‘but I’m also a great reader’, and there you are. For how easily the next questions flow ‘what sort of books do you read’ and an hour can go by discussing literary preferences. That hour might discover that you have very similar tastes and there could be the basis of great friendship.


Blog 29 Top Gear – Chris Evans

So Chris Evans is leaving ‘Top Gear’ (July 2016), the BBC television programme about cars. He said he ‘ gave it my best shot but sometimes that’s not enough’.

Chris, along with Matt LeBlanc from the American television programme ‘Friends’, were the replacement presenters for the original team of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hamilton and James May who left the BBC after a disagreement.

The new version of the programme is much flashier, with lots of whizzy graphics and speeded up shots of cars zooming off into the distance and drifting round corners.The latest version I watched spent a lot of time comparing two versions of Rolls Royce motor cars. Each of them costing the same as a small mansion. But there wasn’t the camaraderie, the friendship that had been so obvious in the first version. Early viewing figures were apparently disappointing.

For me the secret of the old programme was that it was the adventures of three overgrown schoolboys ‘cocking about’ as one of them said, trying to find news ways of destroying one of their pet hates – caravans. They would blow them up, push them off cliffs or so it seemed and try and devise new and horrible fates for them. Love or hate caravans, what you got was a lot of fun. It is that fun and friendship that I found was missing from the new version and it was that fun and friendship that I believe brought in the many millions of viewers who saw it as entertainment rather than live motoring magazine. And as entertainment it was great. It was reported that in the US viewers ‘related to the friendships and personalities on camera’. I still miss the camaraderie.

Many millions of viewers? With 3 billion requests on iplayer and in the Guiness book of Records as the most watched factual programme in the world, shown in 212 territories and seen by 350 million people said it was’one of our biggest global brands’.

Blog 28 The Gang


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These days the ‘gang’ can have nasty undertones, but for us many years ago it was simply a term used to describe a large group of friends. For your parents to know that you were going out with the ‘gang’ was something of a relief for them, for they knew immediately who you were with and where you would likely to be.

The group of friends that I belonged to may well have come together when four boys and one girl were all born within a few hundred yards and a few months of each other. They were the core of a group of people who have remained friends for over sixty years.

The flowering of the ‘gang’ really came into existence in the early teens when many people joined because they lived locally, went to the same schools, joined the same swimming club, became members of scouts or guides and joined the same junior part of a political party, although their interest in politics was minimal but their interest in fun was maximum. When local sources of entertainment failed to satisfy they set about organising their own ‘dancing’. They hired the local scout hut, borrowed a gramophone and dance records and brought in Tizer and biscuits for refreshments. That once-a-week meeting was remarkably innocent, in that the evening was genuinely devoted to improving dance steps although there were occasional moves outside for couples to indulge in a little ‘necking’. No-one was excluded, the only reason for belonging to the group was that you wanted to have a good time.

Naturally the parents were delighted with this arrangement, for it meant that not only did they know who where their child was but also who they were with. They had met many of the group on various occasions. This did mean that that on occasions parents would come home from an evening out to find maybe twenty or so young people occupying their sitting room. But this was a small price to pay for their children to belong to such a very supportive group. There were always friends for their children and everyone was looking out for everyone else. A girl had effectively the protection of may be ten or so ‘older brothers’ in the group who would make sure that she didn’t have to walk home alone.

The gang continued to operate as a close-knit group right up until job mobility and the prohibitive price of housing forced them to move to other areas. Despite this some sixty years later they still meet up very two or so years to keep up with the latest news and developments.

There were a number of marriages within the group, and these appear to have been very stable. perhaps because the partners had got to know each other over a long period of time  and had seen each other under a wide variety of conditions. It could also be that these marriages had the support of their friends. Certainly members who married outside the gang seem to have had a much higher divorce rate.

Every member of the ‘gang’ I think, felt secure because of the support that they received. When one went through a difficult or traumatic time the others were there to support and lend an ear to hear the troubles. One final aspect of this group was that they would recommend each other for jobs and help each other out when they wanted a step up in their career. Some of them went into business and because of the gang they had a readymade customer base on hand.

Blog 27 – The menace of the mobile phone

Yes I know that there are continual laments about the use of mobile phone, but I want to look at one form in particular.

Have you noticed how often, when people get together for a meal, that the first thing that appears on the table is their mobile phones?

For me this is quite simply, rude. The implication is that the live conversation between them can never be as important as what might come up on the phone, even a cold call from an insurance company.

But now it is seen as quite normal and everyone at the table does the same. This surely diminishes the live conversation to the trivial, to series of wisecracks or one-liners. But conversation is one of the main ways of cementing friendships and helping them develop. Physical, face-to-face contact is one of the wonders and pleasures of true friendships. Through it you can get immediate support, sympathy and joy.

Apparently, now there is among young people something known as ‘phubbing’. This is a term that is applied to the practice of snubbing someone in favour of a mobile phone; that they maintain eye contact while text-messaging someone else. The word was coined  to describe an already existing habit as part of a campaign to promote Macquarie Dictionary Australia through the advertising agency McCannMelbourne.

There are reports of the practice being originally just that – to insult or diminish the other person, although why someone would want to go to the trouble of meeting up with another person jut to be rude to them seems to be a terrible waste of time and energy. Surely they have better things to do or are they just simply inadequate and are trying to establish some sort of superiority.

So while on the one hand we are in contact with the rest of the world on the other we have reduced contact with the person in front of us. Are face-to-face conversations really that difficult and more uncomfortable  than digital ones. Do we feel vulnerable if we display emotions like joy, sadness, grief, enthusiasm, anger, disappointment in front of real people, whereas we can ‘edit’ ourselves in a text?

Simply talking can do so much. Not only do so many great ideas come in ‘brainstorming’ sessions, where everyone is expected to contribute and with no criticism of apparently useless ideas, but it can also help develop empathy so that you can understand better the other person. There is some evidence that there is a decline in the ability of young people to identify and relate to  feelings in others as well as themselves. Does this coincide with their increased use of mobile phones,  are they better connected digitally but humanly more lonely?






Blog 26 – What can we do about Pat?

It was the day after Christmas that I went round to see Pat (all names have been changed) and I found her looking quite down. She said that although she had heard that many people had been going to parties over the Christmas period she had not been invited to any, and she wanted to know why.

Pat has been divorced for a number of years, she has her own house and a small business where she meets lots of people. She is very busy but still finds time to help run an international charity and to have people round for a Christmas brunch on one day of the season.

Despite all this she finds her social life very limited and her chances of making new friends pretty small. She is very loyal, very caring and supportive and determined. She is a no nonsense type of person. She can be stubborn, not particularly relaxed, serious and slightly tough in the way she talks, all of these qualities are desirable when you are running a business single handed, but they may not help when it comes to simple social interaction. I cannot imagine anyone wanting to ‘chat her up’, she would probably freeze them out perhaps without realising. And it is perhaps here that we should look at for the source of her problems. She does not give the impression that she is easily open to people. She was keen on one man who also ran his own business but who managed to leave the business attitudes behind in his social life. He was quiet, gently spoken and amusing but that relationship fizzled out.

Perhaps the best example of what the problem is came when she joined us for a trip to the cinema. The film was one of those exploring a difficult social problem that we knew nothing of and wanted to know more. Pat had a very passing contact with and limited knowledge of the subject and when we gathered at the end of the film for a coffee she held forth at length on the subject, to the exclusion of other people’s opinions. It was then that we realised why she was not at the top of any invitation list. Wherever she went she would dominate the conversation. And a conversation is surely a two way thing.

So what can we do about Pat and her loneliness. I think the first thing is that she has to spend more time listening and less time talking. She has got to get out more to try more fun things and look as though she is a fun person. In this case perhaps some form of dancing like salsa or tango, not serious ballroom or joining an out of the ordinary choir, not the more formal singers of classical music that she occasionally joins. She needs to relax, laugh more and be open to new and stupid ideas and above (again) listen.

Blog 25 – the number of friends, the Dunbar number.

The Dunbar number suggests that there is a physical limit to the number of friends you can have.

By friends, it suggests those people with whom you can maintain a stable relationship. A stable relationship in this case would mean one in which you know who each of your friends  are, put face to a name and know something of their likes and lifestyle.

This is very different to the sort of friends you can make on the internet. It is possible to have millions of ‘friends’ or followers on Facebook or twitter, but you know nothing of them and would be hard pushed to even know if they had declared themselves friends without consulting a list.

Dunbar’s number was proposed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar in 1992. He suggested that most people can only comfortably maintain about 150 stable relationships at a time. This number is only an average but it will comprise of a range of friendships of different depths. Firstly there would be casual friends, the sort of people you might meet regularly in the street and have a small chat with. Then there could be closer friends who you might invite to dinner, there could be as many as 50 of them, but usually they would be much less. After that come those people  to whom you might turn for sympathy, perhaps as many as 15 and finally there would be your close support group, maybe about 5 who would be your best friends and family. The average Brit has only 3 friends they would class as close, 88% defining a close friend as someone they can rely on.

These numbers sit within a range  of between 100 and 200 casual friends. For many people the number of people they know fairly well probably falls far short of that number. It takes a lot of time  and work to keep up with them all. As we get older our social circles tend to get smaller as people become busier with careers and family or disperse to other parts of the country or even overseas.

Try making a list of all the people you know or recognise and mark up on a monthly basis how often you see them and see how your relationships

Blog 24 – friends and male suicide

I was in a restaurant a couple of days ago and a group of five men came in. They were loud and showing off.

They ate their noodles with forks rather than trying out chopsticks so that they could not be seen as unable to do a simple task like using the correct utensils. One, the most objectionable, was obese and dressed in a way that suggested he wanted to look scruffy for the occasion. The others were also on the heavy side. They were not interested in the welfare of any of the other customers only in throwing their weight about. They talked very loudly and swamped the conversations at other tables. We have all come across people like them at some point.

The point about throwing their weight about was that they were showing off to each other. This was not a group of good mates settling down to a great meal and enjoying each other’s company, this was a group where a little fear of the really large fellow and the desperate need to belong to a group were the main purposes. There was no indication that they liked each other, they were there because of loneliness. You can see the same thing with groups of young women in bars and restaurants who are loud because they want attention. They want to be noticed and they want to show off.

My point here is that although this group of men had got together to have a meal and show off there was no real friendship. There was no room in their demeanour for one of them to admit that they were lonely and needed proper friendship. Each one was trying to prove just how successful they were in their life. They could take friendship or leave it as and how they felt.

This is a very worrying thing, for recent figures show that for men under the age of 45 in particular, suicide is the biggest cause of death. The figure for women of the same age group has fallen significantly. In 2014 there were over 4,500 male suicides in the UK meaning something like 12 a day. Whereas over the past 10 years there has been a steady decline in female suicides the figures for men seem to rising.

In the USA there is also a worrying trend, for there the male mortality rates which had been declining for years have suddenly got much worse. In an age of peace and prosperity, middle aged white men seem to be killing themselves; death from drugs, alcohol and suicide have increased significantly. It has been suggested that this could be due to disappointment and despair, that they through unemployment have been thrown on the scrapheap and can expect a lifestyle worse than their parents. But this is not happening to the same extent in the UK. One reason that has been suggested is that the greater mobility of these men means that have been uprooted in their pursuit of employment from their any form of support networks like family and friends.

Curing unemployment is a massive problem but coping with it can be easier if you have the support of family and friends.