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Clear Eyes, Humility and The Plague

Posted by Simon on 17th, February 2018 at 17:09:08

I went to an exhibition of pictures of the Third Flu Pandemic in Cambridge this week. 

(Yes, I must have been in a cheery mood.) 

But although it was disturbing, with its images of dreadful mass suffering, it was also very thought provoking. 


Something that stayed with me was overhearing another visitor saying to a friend, "Medicine was so primitive then."

And, as little things often do (with this strange brain, anyway), that led to a tumble of thoughts. 

Part of the job of a writer is to see the world with clear eyes, drawing attention to things which are often unnoticed or unspoken.

We think our science and medicine are amazingly advanced now, but...

In a hundred years, won't people of then look back on us as primitive?

We haven't even managed to conquer the common cold yet, as my suffering this winter will tell you loud and clear. 

And as for being so incredibly enlightened - 

It's only ten years since the ban on smoking in public places was put in place.

Up until then, it was deemed fine to risk other people's health with personal vices.

And still today, we do our best to choke our wonderful planet to death with our pollution. 

Enlightened? Hmm. 

That's why I so value exhibitions like Visions of Plague - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LX8D_m8bM18 - if you care to see my video.

Apart from being fascinating and educational, they often bring a sense of humility. 

And that can be very welcome in these sometimes self absorbed, and even more self congratulatory times. 

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Woo Hoo and Wow

Posted by Simon on 10th, February 2018 at 16:38:24

Excuse the strange title, but it sums up how I feel about this particular musing. 

It's probably both the hardest and easiest blog I've written. 

The headline is that this week marks ten years to the day since my first novel was published. 


The hard part of this is trying to find the words to express what writing has meant for my life. 


Enormous personal pride at the challenge I set myself, and seeing it through. 

Everything I've learnt about writing and the world since. 

The amazing places I've travelled, talking about my books. 

The incredible people I've met on the way. 

The rediscovery of my passion for teaching. 

The people that's allowed me to help, young and old, to fulfil their ambitions, whether to become journalists or authors. 

The learning of the great art of public speaking. 

The kingdoms of writing I've explored, from novels to short stories, plays to pantomimes, radio comedy to social media. 

The buzz writing has brought to my life, as every day I think about a new story to write, or character to create, or way to teach. 

The discovery of a lifelong friend, who will keep me challenged and stimulated for all my days. 

I could go on and on, but I think you've probably got the picture and I don't want to bore you. 

It's not a happy ten years anniversary, but a dizzyingly brilliantly delightful one. 

The strange title of this blog, the easiest part of all, just seems to sum it up - 

Woo hoo and wow!

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Posted by Simon on 3rd, February 2018 at 08:05:02

As the great David Bowie sang - change can be unsettling, but also refreshing. 

I've been asked to give a talk at the wonderful Exeter College next month.

I've done this for several years now, always on the theme of journalism, and it's always gone well. 

So it would be easy, safe and effective to do the same talk all over again. But this time I'm going to change it. 

Why? To reflect what's new in life. 

Much of the reason I left the BBC was to try something different.

Work in the private sector. Work in the power circles of London. Teach at one of the world's greatest universities.

In short, to challenge myself. 

I've already learnt a great deal in the few months since I departed dear Devon. And I want to reflect all that in the college talk. 

So instead of lecturing about journalism, I'll be talking much more broadly - yes, about the terrific life of a reporter, but also the many other worlds I've had the honour of mingling with. 

Great researchers. Business people. Politicians, civil servants, lawyers, medics, so many wonderful minds. 

I started writing the talk yesterday (over a beer in my favourite Cambridge pub, you won't be surprised to hear.)

And it came out with so much energy and enthusiasm I was both surprised and delighted. 


Why are you looking at a picture of a gang of pelicans? Because here's one of the delights of my new life.

I've been doing some work with the Civil Service, in the heart of London, right next to St James's Park, where these hoodlums live. 

I make a point of going to see them every time I'm in London working, and they're a joy to watch. 

Ok, they'll never quite replace my beloved gang of geese in Exeter (although don't tell the pelicans that.) 

But for me they're a little illustration of the delights you can find if you gather your courage, take the plunge, and try some ch-ch-ch-changes in life.

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Keeping the Faith

Posted by Simon on 27th, January 2018 at 16:45:16

If I was being English about it, January hasn't been the best. 

Being more forthright - it's been a bloody awful month. 

It started with the flu, included a foul blast of excessively boisterous food poisoning, and ends with a flu hangover; as I'm still not fully recovered.

Plus it's snowed and rained and been cold, grey and grumpy, and just generally a pain.

However! A moaning, misery-memoir style blog isn't me, so this is the point. 

Life is getting better. As it does.

Just this week, I saw a wonderful sight in a garden in Cambridge - 

FFFaith blog.JPG

The rain stopped, the sun came out, and there was colour. Colour at last in this endlessly grey month. 

Despite feeling peaky, under the weather and less than chipper (I'm so English) I've carried on working, albeit at half my usual effectiveness. 

And here's the point - 

At last, I'm feeling more human (or as good as it gets for this model.)

My pitches for work in this new self employed, going where it takes me life are paying off, and offers of employment - some quite fascinating - are coming in. 

That's one of the wonderful bonus features of this great game called life.

If you keep the faith and keep going, your luck does change, even if it can take a while. 

As the darkest hour comes just before the dawn, so the coldest months fall just before the springtime.

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Endless Creativity

Posted by Simon on 20th, January 2018 at 17:27:59

There's a phrase that really annoys me, which I heard again this week. 

"There's nothing new under the sun."


And nonsense. 

The human mind, and creativity, are limitless. There's always something new to imagine and explore.

Writers are often told there are only a set number of stories. Romance, crime, rags to riches etc. 

And maybe that's true on a very basic level. But when you imagine the characters that can populate them, the settings, and the things that can happen...

We're talking worlds without end. 

And in the science field too, not always thought of as the most creative, creativity is essential. 

How did we ever take to the skies, until it was imagined and then realised? To space?

And to the smallest levels of existence, the sub atomic. 

It took leaps of imagination to see the structure of DNA, and visualise black holes. 

Creativity enriches our lives, wherever it's found, and it will endure as long as we strange human creatures do. 

I saw a lovely example this week, when I did a careers event at St Mary's School in Cambridge. 


How about that for a rack for the visitor badges? 

If you can be creative with such a seemingly mundane object, there's always something new under the sun. 

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