Dream On

I find dreams fascinating.

Not my own dreams though. I mean they might be quite interesting. In fact they could be amazingly exciting and prophetic or something. I just do not know, because rarely do I wake up with even the slightest remembrance of what the dream might have been about, never mind what might have transpired within it. I feel faintly cheated much of the time, as I know many people, including those very close to me, who seem to have a different experience of the matter, retaining at least some of what has been going on in their heads during sleep well into the period of wakefulness – sometimes even in quite a lot of detail. But I may have invented the solution for the World’s energy problems in my fantasy dreamscape, only to lose it again with the literal rude awakening of morning.

Sadly the only dreams I seem to recall are the ones with negative connotations – for example ones that are associated with occasional bouts of sleep paralysis, or ones that leave me deeply sad, the feeling leaching over even into wakefulness. For example, when I dream of late mother, and then realise once I wake up that she is indeed no longer with us. I recall the ‘falling’ kind of nightmares, although it is fair to say I have never knowingly dreamt about being naked in some public situation – although those of you how know me well will know that has been reality once or twice and therefore probably does not register on the humiliation feelings that allegedly this sort of dream is supposed to be about.

And in that last sentence is another question. As well as whether you remember your dreams or not, are they actually ‘about’ anything? Instinctively I feel there is a reason for them, as very little about our bodies and minds have no function at all. For some of course there is meaning in dreams – even profound meaning – but as I do not remember mine I will have to duck those arguments. What rather more fascinates me is the nature of the biology here, with the complexity of our brains and the way that data is processed and interpreted. My sleep paralysis incidents, for example, where I reach semi wakefulness without muscle control leads inevitably to feelings of dread and oppression, leading to the terror of something leaning over you, something you brain interprets as a threat that you cannot do anything about (because you are temporarily paralysed). The actual period of stress is only a few seconds, but it seems like an age. Now, the biology is clear enough; but the way my brain interprets the situation is out of my own lurid imagination. I do not find it hard to believe that in normal dreaming (if there is such a thing) a lot is to do with the way an individual tends to see and interpret the world and how, therefore, interprets the slightly odd inputs that it is receiving during sleep – because our bodies do not ‘switch off’ we are receiving input all the time, even if we are not aware of them consciously. Add that to the processing probably going on in the higher centres of the brain and that is a heady cocktail for some unusual fantasy scenarios. As I said at the start, it is fascinating.

Maybe I am lucky in not remembering most of my dreams. It is entirely possible that most of them are pretty negative and the conscious part of my brain does not want to remember. But then again; sometimes I feel it is a little bit of a shame to think that I might just have had the most fun (if weird) adventure and never remember just how good it was; I’m prepared to cope with a few bad dreams for that.


Artificial Joy

Last week was an odd one at work, with a number of changes that have been in motion for months now coming to fruition. For me not a lot changes, bar once more losing a lot of good work friends and making me feel a little bit like the boy stood on the burning deck (and yes, I did look up ‘Casabianca’ by Felicia Dorothea Hemans, because I needed to convince myself that was actually a real poem and not just a playground joke).

Anyway, I do not want to moan about work. No I’m actually in a positive mood after a weekend of fine beer at the St Albans Beer Festival which is an annual delight (although where we are going to put all those commemorative beer glasses is an increasing problem as they are starting to try and break out of the cabinet we keep them in as though our glassware had become possessed and is trying to escape, possibly because it feared that it may be forced to carry poor quality lager (guys – relax, no danger of that). Even better than the beer though was something last week that transported me instantly back to my childhood.

At the site celebration that marked the major changes here, among several other nice things to make the transition easier there were ice cream vans. Serving effectively unlimited ice cream, with a 99 flake… And not only a flake but they had flavoured sauce too. I of course went for raspberry, a lurid sugary thing of beauty adorning the white cone of ice cream. I do not think I have sampled this gloriously artificial delight (let’s be honest – we know that no fruit were hurt in the making of this product) for maybe twenty years. It was marvellous and tasted just as it should – i.e. like sweet red syrup should taste. I had to avoid the van for the rest of the afternoon to avoid a potential overdose.

It mad we wonder why some things just delight you, particularly things that were a treat as a child. My dear departed grandmother, in her final years, had largely given up on eating anything and as such was fading away before our eyes. But there were exceptions, things that she could still be tempted with. The things were aware of was the slightly conflicting mixture of treats formed of strawberries and the Christmas cake made by the Lovely Wife. The latter would keep her company for some weeks as she gradually worked her way through it to accompany the copious amounts of tea. I think that it is fairly certain that both these represent treats very rarely available in a hard and poor North East childhood – picked wild blackberries, if you could get to them first at least, would have bene the best you could hope for rather than something as exotic as strawberries. The richness of a Christmas cake is also something that even apart from the seasonal nature of it, would have been a rare delicacy. The little girl that she once was would have never passed up the possibility of a strawberry and neither did the dear lady that she became.

I really do not care about the additives in the raspberry sauce. It is such a rare occurrence for me to come into the company of the stuff that I think I will take the risk. It was a childhood treat and, as noted last week, sometimes I need to feel like a child, especially when some things may be hurting elsewhere in life.

Then we were 6

I was at a friend’s house this weekend who has a number of children, the youngest of which we had evicted from her bedroom for our use, leaving the six year old concerned to sleep in her brother’s bedroom. As time for bed came, she breezed through her very nearly twelve year old brother’s (shut) bedroom door initiating squeals of alarm from the poor lad, who was presumably in a state of undress.

‘You have to knock!’ was the shouted reminder.

Dutifully younger sister exited the room. She then knocked once, briefly, and walked straight in again without the slightest hesitation. More squealing follows.

When eventually I stopped laughing, it dawned on me that life is much simpler when you are six. Pretty much everything is done for you for a start – no need to think about things too much as that is up to Mummy and Daddy to manage. You are old enough to communicate but not yet old enough for people to have too many expectations of you other than perhaps to get yourself dressed and make sure you time the trips to the toilet properly, and eat at least some of what has been put in front of you by your serving staff (aforementioned parents of course). If all goes well, the worst thing that can happen is a scuffed knee after you have fallen over, which will of course be kissed better (and possibly milked for even more – even an ice cream! – depending on how many people are watching and how much you can get away milking it for all it is worth).

The Lovely Wife and I have a house very near to a school, and when working from home I am disturbed twice a day by the arrival and departure of parents with (often multiple) little charges. I am being a little unfair with ‘disturbed’ of course. Apart from the chaos caused by the multiple vehicles ‘parked’ in our road for the duration of the daily ritual it is actually one of the most amusing times of day. Small children are particularly delightful when you do not have to manage all the difficult aspects and can watch them skip along the road, chatter excitedly like so many sparrows about nothing in particular and leap onto pavements from the road as though it were some kind of Olympic feat. Which depending on the size of the child can sometimes be not too far from the truth.

That simple joy is something you rarely see in adults, and I think it is too our detriment. It does come out every so often… Kicking leaves around in autumn, the urge to make snow men (I do not think that ever really goes) and singing along to a song on the radio (providing you are sure no one is watching/listening). But after the age of about six, we never seem to skip any more (although it always seems to me to be a pretty efficient way of getting around on foot, but there you are). I guess many of us have been indoctrinated into acting like adults (whatever that is) and not acting childishly. I think, however, that while being childish is not something you might promote, we could all do with being a bit more child-like. If we can recapture some of the innocence (unlikely) and sense of wonder (now that should be possible) then maybe we can enjoy life just a little bit more.

If I told you, I’d probably have to kill you

This weekend I was back at my old university for an alumni weekend showcasing some of the current research into biological sciences that they are progressing, much of which was fascinating; it also reminded me of a lot of things I had forgotten, and brought back that feeling you get when you are in a place that you understand completely and feel as though you could slip back into routine again – albeit with a lot better facilities than I recall having to manage with, at least in the teaching labs. Of course not everything was the same or indeed an improvement… I am not sure the slightly soulless looking restaurant area is an improvement on the comfy chairs and coffee serving hatch of over twenty years ago, and while I entirely understand the change, the lack of any kind of library – its place taken by ranks of computers of course – did make me feel just a tiny bit sad.

I might go into more detail on what I learned on the day, but actually it was something more personal that struck me afterwards. I am sure I have written about it before, but once again I found myself in a bit of difficulty explaining what I do for a living in any kind of clarity and without seeing someone’s eyes glaze over and realising that in my zeal to make them understand I had gone just a little too far.

A few years ago the Lovely Wife and I went to a Lee Hurst gig and foolishly managed to be in the front row (a fatal mistake at most stand-up comedy gigs). Needless to say, at one point Hurst made the error of asking me what I did for a living. So off I started and with a few minutes he motioned me to stop and insisted that considering my explanation was so convoluted and opaque I must actually be a Secret Agent (the waffle obviously being my cover story). It got a laugh, I guess I have a stock answer to the question when someone asks me if I think it is just better to duck the question.

However, surrounded by scientists at the weekend the question came up several times and in that kind of context I felt I had to give it a go.

So what do I do?

Professionally it would normally be referred to as Regulatory or Regulatory Affairs. It is a technical function usually, and at the basic level involves ensuring that products meet the regulations laid down for the countries where that product is going to be sold. Those regulations may be down to what the product can and cannot contain, what the labels might have to have on them and/or some forms of administrative procedures that need to happen before or after putting a product on the market (such as notification/registration with a government body).

Most people do not realise (why should they?) that a lot of products they use are actually quite highly regulated. Mostly the reason for this is for. The other reason is to drive consistency and allow free movement of goods.

The most regulated categories would include medicines and medical devices, but in Europe at least foods, cosmetics and biocides also have specific so-called ‘sector’ legislation, and that is what I have to deal with. My particular area is cosmetics, and I am a close personal friend of the EU Cosmetics Regulation.

If you are not in the sector the word cosmetic is generally tied to lipstick and eyeliner and similar products. Actually it is much wider than that, with shampoos, skin creams, deodorants, toothpaste and sunscreen products all falling under the definition and regulated as cosmetics (pretty much everything in your bathroom).

But trying to explain all this inevitably starts to take yourself into some kind of lecture mode and you can see the attention start to slip away rapidly even before getting into the joy of International regulations, Trade Associations, Scientific Committees and all the, um, fun stuff beyond the dry bones of the actual Regulations.

So maybe I’ll just stick to the Secret Agent story.

Human Racing

The best moment on Sunday was right at the end. A middle aged Geordie gentlemen handing out the medals to exhausted half marathon runners took one look at my vividly red face and sweat drenched bull costume and just said:


And proceeded to shake my sweaty hand (poor man) before ushering me past into the ‘collect your T shirt’ line.

That was what Sunday was about for me really. Respect – for complete strangers who you have never met before and probably will not meet again. It flies in the face of game theory but then again it is one of the things – together with a highly developed imagination (some animals clearly do have some powers in this regard but not to the same extent we have – we are a class above) – that makes human beings special.

I felt many things on Sunday, including pain, being far too hot (a cheerful sign at half way round the run declared that the temperature was a mere seventeen degrees, which was blatantly not true) and anger focused at myself for not fixing some things about my costume in advance that would have made things a whole lot easier (preparation was never my strongest point). I also felt lots of love and a reminder of what I will miss from the great North Run; after twenty two consecutive years it is time to stop (and I really mean it this time).

I will not miss all the sitting around at the start (you really do need to get there early). I will miss the Red Arrows a bit, but I’ll see them elsewhere. The various landmarks and both depressing and invigorating mile markers (for the record, the 8 mile one is particularly good, appearing out of nowhere just when you are beginning to despair of it). The packed sweaty train ride back to the car can also be consigned to memory.

But the atmosphere among the vast majority of runners, that is irreplaceable. I really struggled in the heat and it was very obvious I was having a hard time. But I lost count of the times in those latter miles when people of all ages slapped me on the back and/or gave encouragement – often commenting on how glad they were not to be wearing what I was and how hot I must be. I think there is a clear element of ‘thank goodness that poor wretch is not me’ coming out but the support is quite genuine. As I struggled I suddenly remembered better years when I have done the same to people obviously at the end of their energy and, in particular the latter stages, a drive to see fellow participants make it to the finish, even if you have to carry them across it – and this does indeed happen all the time.

I once remember a 10K race which finished in a field, in which kids were kicking a football. I was coming into the finish as the ball strayed in my direction – I was enjoying the run and kicked it back to the lads, whereupon I was a bit surprised to find a complete stranger telling me off for ‘not taking the run seriously’. This is the opposite to the approach most people thankfully take to the Great North Run. Unless you are an elite athlete there is no way that a personal best is going to come out of the race – it is not the easiest of courses and too many runners to allow you to run freely. It is a race about completing it, not the time. It is also a race about community, both the community formed of the runners (as noted above) and for the local communities the race runs through. This is a big thing for these communities. In Marsden, near the finish, pretty much everyone seems to turn out and the atmosphere is more carnival than road race. To be frank, it is the big event of the year for this community and boy do they embrace it – and the participants. In the last few miles you could feast on unofficial supplies including oranges, jelly babies and (to the vast amusement of some of my fellow runners) custard creams. If you slowed to slap the hand of every child along the route that held theirs out you would never finish – but it is very easy to do so as they are so excited by the whole thing. For a second you are a minor celebrity – just about the right period of time for that I feel.

So I will miss this, but now my place will be taken by someone else, hopefully someone for whom this will be a new and landmark experience. If you do like running, give it a go. Just remember that it is much, much more than a road race.


Be Nice

Do you ever have that experience of doing or saying something and instantly regretting it or at least wishing you had done whatever it was differently? I certainly have, frequently. It can be in all sorts of contexts, but what is concerning me this week is in the light of the fleeting relationships we have with the people around us, with our neighbours (in the broadest sense). Recently I have found myself regretting not showing enough generosity of spirit to people around me, and seeing that kind of behaviour in others making me feel somewhat embarrassed by my own falling shorty of the standard that I would prefer to uphold.

For example, I find myself being quite a rule based person, and as well as following the rules myself, I do tend to feel everyone else should too. So when I see people littering, or blatantly ignoring signs for no cycling say, or not cleaning up after their dog, it makes me cross. Sometimes I have to say something. That is the point it all goes a bit wrong.

Now, I am not saying for one second that it is not right to point out to people that maybe something is wrong with their behaviour. Anything we do effects the other people around us and the environment to some extent or other and whether we see it or not. ‘Minding your own business’ is one of the worst concepts anyone ever came up with and eventually leads to much worse things happening than the dropping of litter. Society and each other are always ‘our business’ in my opinion.

What I sometimes get wrong is not what but how I react to this sort of thing. Too often it is some kind of low level righteous indignation that some miscreant is not following a rule and a burning need to point this out. In fact, it is a pompous, Pharisee like obsession with the rule, and not on the consequence or the person that I am attempting to reprimand. All I am doing is creating a place where embarrassment and anger can fester – on both sides – and not resolving anything.

But there is another way, albeit one that requires a bit more thought and effort. In many cases, a softer, gentler approach might be more productive. Gently pointing something out, even with a bit of forced humour is more likely to get a better reaction than a sharp reprimand. Even if it does not, it make me feel better about it because I can find it easier to let whatever it is go when it is clear that the offender is the kind of person that probably needs some kind of help. And yes, sometimes I should just let it go, because maybe I am not the right person to resolve this particular little problem (goodness knows there are plenty in the world to deal with).

I guess I am thinking here along the ‘loving your neighbour’ lines and recognising that when we have to pull each other up on something it needs to be from a place of love rather than anger or outrage. There is a time for anger, but in many of the interactions we have it is inappropriate and counterproductive. To be honest, I have a kind of fantasy of the kind of person I would like to be and am a long way from achieving it, but then there will always be some room for improvement and I would rather change things with a smile then a sharp word – if at all possible.

Not Just About The Pets

So why overheat for the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) this September? Well, apart from sounding like some kind of far left organisation founded by James Herriot, PDSA is one of the major UK charities that helps manage and pay for veterinary treatment for people’s pets when the owner is unable to pay for that treatment – and increasingly common situation as veterinary care is expensive and can spiral in the case of some ailments. Not remotely getting at vets here by the way – one of my best friends is a vet and after all the work that goes into getting qualified the service demands a decent return. But the reality is that while in the UK we are blessed with a system of minimum free health care for humans the same does not extend to pets.

Animals should not suffer unnecessarily so to withhold treatment does not fit well with me. But there are insurance schemes to pay for treatment. Also, if you cannot pay vet fees then perhaps you should not have a pet in the first place.

For me personally it is not quite as simple as that. In the end pets, particularly dogs and cats in some situations can be much more important than simply a luxury affectation, which they clearly are for some. There is now plenty of data available on the benefits for some individuals of having a companion animal in their life. I can attest this from personal experience of the presence of a dog in my father’s life after my mother passed away. His black Labrador Sooty was a huge comfort in terms of company and in getting him up and out of the house to walk her, and in doing so kept him fitter and made sure he was engaging with people – the regular dog walking community can be exactly that, and for the older end of the population where people often live on their own will often notice if they do not see someone for several days and check on people as a result.

In fact I was a little surprise to find the US government Center (sic) for Disease Control website supporting exactly this with a nice little summary of potential benefits of having a pet, namely:

  • Reduction in blood pressure
  • Reduction in cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Reduction in feelings of loneliness
  • Increase in opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
  • Increase in opportunities for socialization

The reality is that many of the people who will benefit most from these are those who live on their own and may well be older (and/or infirm). In a lot of cases I also suspect that they are also exactly the group that might struggle to pay vet fees and/or fail to make provision for treatment through insurance. The latter I do not level as a criticism as pet insurance certainly did not exist as a major thing when I was growing up with a dog. My father had a policy that paid for Sooty’s treatment in her last years, but then he had worked in insurance services most of his life so the concept came naturally. I do not know if the same thought processes apply for others in his age bracket, and as already stated I would rather see the animal treated than wag fingers.

So partly my interest in raising a little cash here is in the interests of animal welfare; however there is a human dimension here that I do not want to overlook, to be able to help those in need of the company and reassurance that a companion animal can provide retain that relationship a little longer by having timely and effective treatment.


If any of this chimes with you, please sponsor me and share


‘Two little Ducks’, 22

In September of 2015 I completed the Great North Run. Well staggered to the end is probably a fairer approximation. It had been a bit of a struggle that time around and not a particularly good time for me.
To be frank, I have been getting slower every year since my personal best times back in the late 1990s. Looking back at those times in comparison to what I am posting now it seems like someone else was responsible for them as I have trouble believing I ever went that (relatively) quickly.
So anyway, on the back of how hard it was and a few other associated things – travel chaos in Newcastle for the first time in ages seemed to be an omen – I swore that was it, and that next time I would just watch on the TV. Not give up running of course, I need to keep me sane and alive – but half marathons and in particular the Great North Run – which I have ran every year since 1995. I thought that was enough. I even thought I could overcome the fact that I had said the same thing the year before and broken my promise to myself a few months later when I had the automatic entry opportunity shoved under my nose. I should have known I would weaken once more.
The way the GNR works in terms of getting a place is like the London Marathon, i.e. by ballot. However, you can buy membership which then gives you automatically a place for three years (once you have paid the normal entry fee on top – you have to pay a reasonable wodge of cash for the pleasure of exhausting yourself on Tyneside). I have renewed membership a few times in the past, and last year was two of three. You can see where this is going. So I still had the place for 2016. I did not have to take it and pay this year’s fee. I could have had a relaxing weekend in September watching everyone else ‘enjoying’ the day. In fact, I reasoned, I was depriving someone else of a place, who perhaps had never had the opportunity (this is in fact true).
The email came round asking if I was going to take up the place, and I watched the deadline for that decision approach. Why should I want to do something I have done 21 times before, knowing perfectly well it will hurt and that I would most likely be even slower than last year?
Damn it, people started talking about charity and it needled into the brain over a few days. People started to laugh again when I suggest silly fancy dress and started to suggest things, and inevitably my resolve started to slide. So, I reasoned, if I was going to take up the place and was not in all honesty going to be going flat out for a race best time (no one, apart from the elite athletes, should ever try for a PB in the Great North Run – the course is surprisingly mostly uphill and there are far too many people to get in the way) then I would have to bother everyone again for money and do some fundraising.
So I entered. Now I have a bull costume that needs a few alterations from the Lovely Wife (who once more will be taking up her sterling work as personal baggage train) and the inevitable and embarrassing exercise of trying to get friends and family to part with their well-earned cash has begun. I’m running for The Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) and will explain why. Be Warned. And please visit

That’s Torn It?

One of the things that I tell myself all the time is that the universe has not really got it in for me and that runs of poor luck are in fact nothing more than an entirely biased over emphasis on a set of coincidences. Or that actually the luck, bad or good, is due to personal choices and/or actions making certain events more likely – the ‘harder I work, the luckier I get’ principle (which is certainly true at times). All very rational you would think, but the problem is I do not really believe it. Because we all have little (and not so little) sections of our lives where things do not go our way – apparently one thing after another and creating a deep unreasoning sense of unfairness.

For me this year it is leg injuries. It is becoming tiresome.

I have made no secret of the fact that while I am no way the fittest person, running to keep the fitness ticking over – and to give me reflection and prayer time, as well as getting to enjoy how lovely outside can be throughout the year – is really important to me. That is true even when you get abuse from idiot van drivers (another issue entirely) or have apples thrown at you. It happens. Anyway, pounding the streets and footpaths is a pleasure, most of the time. I have been blessed over the years to somehow avoid major injury. This year however, maybe because of my age or accumulated bad luck (see above) it has been one thing after another. Since April I have managed to tear muscles in three different places, each time just at the point I felt I was over the previous injury. Worse in a way was the way in which the injury arrived. The first one at least had the legitimacy of occurring during a run with a sudden weakness and then pain at the back of the knee bringing me to a painful halt just before a holiday in Somerset. Annoying but at least, I thought, not too much of a penalty as I could and did compensate with a lot of nice walking with the Lovely Wife. Then it was off to Singapore with work and by then I was starting to feel it was better, and some gentle runs later it seemed I was back.

Then at the airport on a short flight to Malaysia I had to take my boots off in security and tried to lever one off with my other foot. Suddenly I felt the muscle in my upper thigh snap under the strain; and that was that. This was a more severe tear and had the additional benefit of giving me the largest bruise I have ever had, all the way down the muscle at the back of the leg, as the blood filtered down the muscle and gradually faded as the muscle healed. Again, I got used to doing a lot of walking to compensate for again being banned from anything more energetic.

Now I was starting to feel some pressure. You see, as I’ll blog next week, I had entered the Great North Run for one last time and the weeks were now starting to whittle down to be fit for that.

So I was delighted that a few weeks ago, again after some gentle try outs, things seemed to be getting back to normal. Plus, and we do have to learn from these things, I am stretching more than I used to and mixing and matching the running and walking which is also a good thing. But paying more attention to the muscles has made me a bit paranoid, easing up at the slightest twinge.

So it was especially galling when last week I tore a muscle in the other calf. By falling over a log, while going for a walk instead of a run because I was worried I had overdone it and did not want to damage a fragile recovery this close to September’s race. Honestly, I could have cried. It seemed such a stupid way to give myself another setback, and in a year I had committed to collecting for charity too. But realistically it is often the stupid, unforeseen little accidents that get us. We can try and be careful but often it comes down to can we get away with a quick recovery.

Practically I’ve had a few days to get over the frustration and the injury does not seem to be very severe managed to get out today and give it a gentle test, and it seems to be holding for now.

So it is in the balance regarding the Run. I will not be fit enough to go for a proper time, but since I’ll be dressed as a Bull with a full head piece I know that was never going to be the case anyway.

But I owe anyone who actually sponsor’s me the knowledge I’m actually going to give it a good go and show some damn perseverance. So if I have to crawl the 13.1 miles that is exactly what I’ll have to do (but I’d rather jog and wave at the kids) – if I can stay injury free in the next four weeks.

Next time I need to address something that several of you will pull me up on… Didn’t I swear that last year’s Great North Run would be my last?

Um, yes I did. I owe an explanation…


And if you want to support PDSA and I or want me to stop, please visit


In memory of Ron Harris. Who?

In something of a follow on from last week, I want to talk about someone who is no longer on this Earth. However, it is not someone I could say I knew in any way, nor was it someone famous outside his family. His name was Ron Harris, and he lived in a bungalow in Egham in Surrey. He passed away last month at the age of ninety-four, a pretty good innings by anyone’s estimation. According to the notice someone had put outside his front door he was a father, grandfather and great grandfather.

I had spoken to Ron – although I never knew his name when he was alive – many times. The conversation was always limited to one or two words. The word was usually ‘Hello!’ and sometimes it even stretched to ‘Good Morning!’ In reply, a raised hand and a similarly terse but clear ‘Hello!’ in reply. Not the most thrilling conversation perhaps, but it was repeated over the years as I staggered past the front of his house on one of my lunchtime running routes. In decent weather he would stand at his gate, leaning on the posts, apparently lost in reverie. But he would always wake up from whatever part of his past he was thinking about to trade a friendly greeting, after which I would continue my run and he went back to daydreaming.

He was so regularly there that he was almost a landmark. In fact I had already begun to worry about him late last year when I did not see him for weeks and his bungalow had an empty feel about it. I was then heartily glad to see him a month or two later walking unsteadily along the street being supported by a young woman (I assume family, possibly the same person that put up the notice as it was done with considerable affection) and he was back in place for the months afterward and the ritual greetings continued. Until last week when I saw the notice, which I have to say made me both sad and, at the same time left me with just a half smile.

You see, on the notice, as well as giving his name and dates thanked anyone who used to stop and chat. And then: ‘He used to stand at his gate – thank you all that stood and chatted and gave him a smile and a wave – he loved it!’

In the moment I read that, it was clear to me that our little interactions were far more important than I had given them credit for; I thought I was just being polite, but for an elderly man living on his own it was quite clear to me that merely to have someone register your existence in a positive way was something that probably kept him smiling for some considerable time. Sometimes ‘Hello’ accompanied with a smile might be the best thing you can say to someone, and when it is to a stranger you have no idea of what kind of impact you have just had. But I would hazard that very rarely is that impact going to be a negative one. Do I wish I had stopped for a proper chat? Well, it is a nice idea but actually I think for Ron there were clearly others better placed to do that, and so I am quite happy to probably have gone down in his view as polite but obviously mad red faced running man.

Often I find myself at the end of these blogs descending into something akin to the coda that you used to get at the end of ‘He Man and the Masters of the Universe’ cartoons where He Man or Man At Arms breaks the fourth wall to explain how today’s episode means it is dangerous to take drugs, or that if you are feeling depressed you should whistle a happy tune and it will make you feel better (no, really, look this up on the web, some of them are hilarious).

The obvious one here is try and make time to interact positively with your fellow human beings, no matter how simple and short that interaction might be, especially with the old and the lonely. For me, my few words with Ron now have a special meaning. I’ll miss him.