One line bio: bassist, photographer, hillwalker, father, breadwinner.
The longer version:
If I’m feeling charitable towards myself, I might say I’m a polymath. If not, I’d say I’m a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.
Three of these ‘trades’, featured in this blog – musician, photographer, hillwalker and occasional rock climber - have been with me since childhood. They may have waxed and waned, but each has had a consistent thread running back pretty much as far as I can remember. Certainly at age seven I had my first camera, was listening to classical music and learning to play the recorder, and had been captivated by the first real mountain scenery I saw on a family holiday to north Wales.
Then there’s the ‘real’ trade - work. I won’t call it a career; I never had one of those. I hadn’t planned to say a great deal about that. I spent a lot of time on my old blog trying to explore that road but ended up going round in endlessly repeating circles of self-doubt that were ultimately destructive, in that the process just consumed emotional energy for no benefit.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe a brief summary of the work thing is in order; people seem to expect it in a bio. I could list companies, roles and dates – but that would tell you very little about who I am. This isn’t supposed to be a cv, after all. But my workplace history has a strong bearing on where I find myself today, so I guess it has a place here.
At school I discovered I had a knack for passing exams. Didn’t really matter what the subject was, although at the time I was most interested in science. Hec, hardly surprising - I was a boy growing up at the burgeoning of the space age. That skill got me an impressive set of A-level results, and a place to study physics at Cambridge University. Mere exam-passing skills weren’t sufficient though in the dizzy heights of world-leading academia, and I struggled. Top-of-the-form turned into also-ran.
So I got a job. Got married. Changed my job. Started a family. I mean, that’s what you do, isn’t it? Third job was in engineering at the BBC – I did quite well at that. Looking back, there’s a theme which runs through all my successes there – they were all creative. Electronic circuit design, software design, systems diagrams, even down to the aesthetics of printed circuit board layout.
Then we were re-organised. New name, new management, new location – a hundred miles away. But I’d just finished building an extension to my house - oh yeah, that’s another strand of things I do. Anything practical. Kind of goes along with the engineering. So when I say built, I mean brick by brick, block by block. Pipes, wires, timbers, drains; I like that kind of challenge – learning as I go. I guess I had faith in myself that I could do it, even though, at the start, I didn’t know exactly how. Anyhow, after spending 2 years of my life devoted to this project – all my holidays, all my weekends, evenings spent researching and planning - I wanted to rest and live in it for a while. And get to spend time with my family again. Plus my ageing father wasn’t well and I felt we should stay within easy reach. So I left the relatively easy-going public service ethic of the BBC and went into the alien world of the explosively-growing telecommunications industry.
Bad move. This was a fast-moving, go-getting, competitive entrepreneurial environment. They wanted a forceful leader, prepared to be assertive, dynamic, aggressive if occasion demanded it - which it did. Instead, they got me. Square peg and round hole weren’t the half of it. I found out later that my boss – the guy who appointed me – nearly lost his job over the mess I got them into. And I understood so little of what was going on that I didn’t fully realise what a big mess it was. Bad times. I had to steel myself to walk through the office door every morning and pretend I was in control.
That was all twenty years ago. Eventually I found a niche there where I kind of fitted, where I could do something useful without too much risk of doing any harm. But then there was a big downsizing and I got made redundant. After six months out of work, in 1997 I found my way back into the BBC, and have muddled along there ever since – and will probably continue to muddle along there until I retire, which can’t come soon enough. End of career story. I wasn’t going to mention it, but as I say – people expect it in a bio.
I nearly forgot. There was one brief interlude of brightness in that otherwise rather gloomy work history. Difficult to summarise in a short paragraph. It grew out of a USA-style corporate culture change programme which introduced the concept of coaching into the workplace, led to my doing some introductory counselling training, then a bit later spending 18 months in counselling myself, and doing some careers counselling at work. But that was a trade at which I was most definitely not a master. Not without some reluctance, I abandoned it.
But although I may sound defeatist about those hours between 9 and 5, Monday to Friday, when I apply my grey matter to my employer’s business in return for funds in my bank account, life is actually very good. We have three grown-up children of whom I am immensely proud; one, in addition to his day job, is in the Territorial Army and has served a 6 month term in Afghanistan; one is married and a maths teacher, who began his career – and his married life - with a year spent teaching in Zambia; one is making a career for herself as a musician. That’s what they’ve done so far, but more important by far is the people that they are – and are becoming. Compassionate, capable, confident, caring. Not that I’m taking the credit, but somewhere along the way I can’t help thinking we did something right. And actually, that more than makes up for all that career angst. Just look at all those people with “successful” careers whose relationship with their kids is in tatters. No, if it’s either/or, I’ll take our path any day. If I say so myself, I think I’ve done okay so far at the parenthood thing.
Then there’s another parallel strand I haven’t mentioned, but which also stretches back to childhood. I believe in God. I think. I’m not altogether sure. Intellectually, I don’t need to postulate God as an explanation for the universe; I’m generally mistrustful of religion (although I do belong to, and attend, a Methodist church); yet I know that, were a gun to be held to my head and I had to say yay or nay, I‘d say yay. Although not “YAY!”, mind. It’s not a comfortable belief. It is, to misquote Al Gore, an inconvenient truth. But a truth nonetheless. To me.
I still haven’t said anything about those first three strands I mentioned, but then that’s supposed to be what this blog is all about.
As to how I came to play bass guitar, this post gives the history.