I’ve been procrastinating as to writing a post for a while now, it’s about two and a half years since my last post and we moved back to the UK last year. I thought I’d start with a post about change.

Well surprise! It’s about excitement! untitled

I attended The Guardian Debate last week, the final Ageing Population Quarterly to discuss innovative solutions to the consequences of ageing, (already a slightly problem focused tone to the title).
The panel of speakers kicked off the debate with some rousing references to opportunities, especially encouraging employers and business to welcome people working longer and of course more volunteering.
However it didn’t take long for the discussion to revert to the well established gloom with regard to Ageing.
One of the fundamental aspects that were not addressed on Wednesday was the perspective of the individual entering this period of transition into “a next stage”. Dr Lynne Corner (Director of Engagement, Newcastle Initiative on Changing Age) referred to the potential opportunities of this next stage, however we didn’t examine how to support the individual to make informed choices or who should coordinate and lead on providing objective, impartial support and advice.

I left the meeting frustrated, and quite frankly angry at a missed opportunity to “capture” opportunities.

It so happened that a day or so later I heard the Head of Foundation Studies at the University of Creative Arts Canterbury talking about what they looked for in applicants to the Foundation course.

“Basically it comes down to a sense of excitement”, he said, “an enthusiastic interest in what’s next”.

It occurred to me that we seem to have lost sight of a sense of excitement at the prospect of the gift of some 25-30 years of life that an Ageing society provides.

This is the picture that came up when I searched for an image of an excited older person.


Let’s nurture, or more likely re-kindle the sense of excitement for what’s to come, (it ain’t gonna come again).


We’ve been away since my last post in April anticipating coffee in Milan but more of that  soon.

In the meantime I note that today Brazilian Maria Gomes Valentim the world oldest person has died aged 114!

Shortly after we left on our travels on 14th April Walter Breuning, the World’s oldest man died in Montana aged 114.

It seemed appropriate to pay tribute to these two folks in a blog focusing upon Coffee and Change (and Age) as apparently last month, Maria Valentim, who was known as Grandma Quita, attributed her longevity to a healthy diet: eating a roll of bread every morning with coffee, fruit and the occasional milk with linseed.

In an interview last autumn, Walter Breuning attributed his longevity to eating just two meals a day, working as long as he could and always embracing change, especially death.

After moving into a retirement home in the 1980s, Breuning spent his time just talking. Here’s a bit of advice he left for generations to come:

  • “I think every change that we’ve ever made, ever since I was a child – 100 years – every change has been good for the people. My God, we used to have to write with pen and ink, you know, (for) everything. When the machines came, it just made life so much easier.”
  • “Life begins each morning whether we have succeeded or failed or just muddled along. Life is a school to learn, not to unlearn.”

Farewell fellow coffee and change devotees….



My father used to joke with his doctor that he was keeping him alive longer than he could afford. He died aged 86.

His expectations and template for later life were based upon his father’s experience and his father’s before him……

I recall reading somewhere that about 50 years ago most (men) retired in their mid to late 60s and probably died within an average of three years. The model of retirement was just a few years “pottering around”….

All that’s changed…….and is still changing…….

  • Statutory retirement at 65 and the state pension were introduced when the average length of life was around 50.
  • Average length of life is now around 80 and the average retirement age is 61. 
  • Therefore the post-retirement period may occupy a quarter of our life.
  • Another 22 years of life for the average man of 65 – another 25 for the average woman of 65.
  • More people are reaching 65 (8 in 10 men and 9 in 10 women).

 But we haven’t changed our view of what’s to come……understandably the advice and warnings are around financial provision and health concerns… but few coax us to think about our dreams for this quarter of our lives…(That’s  a lot of cups of coffee).

 We’re used to being encouraged to have expectations and dreams for other stages of our lives but not it seems for this quarter of our life.

 It’s like training for a marathon and somehow not thinking about the last 6.5 miles… sort of getting three quarters of the way through the race and then simply hoping for the best….. so in the New York Marathon that would be like crossing over the Willis Bridge into the Bronx at 20 miles and forgetting about Central Park!

I’m reflecting as I gaze into my cup of coffee today (Tanzania Nyamtimbo Peaberry purchased from Sweet Maria’s  – apparently best to roast to City + or Full City + ).

I’ve been experimenting with my new coffee roaster – the Gene Café. It’s completely different from my iRoast2. I’m in new territory and frankly I don’t exactly know where……I’m not sure I’ve got this roast “right”… that is have I really brought out the delights of this particular bean?  The wonder and joy of the Gene Café also means that I’m thrown overboard into the sea of roasting. I now need to watch the changing colour of the  beans as they roast… to listen to the “first crack” as well as get used to the foibles of the new machine, not least the undulating voltage in France……

Ah La France!…we’ve been here now for 16 months…. Whenever people ask me “How’s my French?” I’m reminded of a passage in Neither Here nor There by Bill Bryson:-

When I told friends in London that I was going to travel around Europe and write a book about it, they said, “Oh, you must speak a lot of languages”. “Why no”, I would reply with a certain pride, “only English”, and they would look at me as if I were crazy. But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don’t want to know what people are talking about. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.

Then I recently read this passage in Being Wrong (adventures in the margin of error) by Kathryn Schulz:-

As we get older, the learning curve decelerates, and all these things drop off exponentially. We make fewer mistakes, function more efficiently, and come to share with other adults certain baseline beliefs about the world. But we also spend much less of our time in anything remotely akin to exploration, learning and play. The pleasurable mistakes of childhood disrupt our lives less often, partly because the world is less novel to us, and partly because we don’t seek out whatever novelty remains – or at least we don’t do so with the same zeal (and same institutional support: classrooms, afterschool programs, summer camps) as children.

There are exceptions, of course. Long after we have left behind the error-rich kingdom of childhood, we find ways to put ourselves in the path of wrongness in order to grow and change. Take the example of travel, like children, travellers explore the unknown- where, also like children, they routinely make linguistic errors, violate social codes, and get lost, literally and otherwise…….

………Sometimes, we want to be the toddler in Times Square. We travel to feel like a kid again: because we hope to experience the world as new and because we believe the best way to learn about it is to play in it. In travelling……. we embrace the possibility of being wrong not out of necessity but because it changes our lives for the better.

I take another sip of coffee…I have no idea what’s going on……Ah bliss…..  it tastes great!

My last post was on June 11th 2010 . I look back on the period since then as though it was covered in ice… it’s felt like we have been stuck in a frozen time.

We’re now back in Nice after nearly nine months of to-ing and fro-ing between London, Hamburg and Nice….uncertainty….anticipation…… Only now does it seem possible to bring about a thaw.

A lot has changed during that time.

My father in law died in September… My close friend who I wrote about in my last post underwent a second operation to remove another tumour from his brain and he subsequently died in October.

I guess he was somebody I believed I could depend upon, he would always make time , he’d be there.. but now he’s not… so my vision of the world has needed to change……

I have been reading a great book by Kathryn Schultz  – Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error –                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       I I think I have experienced something Kathryn describes as “being between belief systems”… a  very uncomfortable place to be…..neither here nor there…… A belief that things, well people, will stay the same .. be there… and then they aren’t……it’s now a world without them….and in time I’m adjusting to this new model of the world.

However it’s also a world which now has Ted! During that time my (first) grandchild Ted was born on 29th August and as for change here’s a photo soon after he was born….

and now six months later……wow!

So with the passage of time slowly thawing I feel my optimism & curiosity returning,  Oh and incidentally I have a new coffee roaster…… 

a Gene Café…..but more of that later…..

It’s definitely time to wake up and smell the coffee………..

Over a small midmorning coffee I’ve been sitting here quietly pondering a surprising turn of events.

I had telephoned an old dear friend, I guess I was in a buoyant mood and full of high spirits; the conversation flowed but somehow when I put the telephone down I felt flat.

I have been wondering about this since then. I was baffled by what exactly had caused my spirits to plummet, seemingly for no reason.

It’s astonishing how fragile our spirits can be, fluttering in the breeze… volatile our feelings…one second strong and vibrant the next moment gone…empty … unconsciously changing without us noticing ….the vigour sapped by a moment of vulnerability exposed to some outside influence………

My friend is not well and he’s going through a very, very tough time. Although none of this came up in the conversation. It was nothing he said but more how I experienced him…..I realised it was no longer him….as I used to experience him. I know there is a strong chance he may never fully regain the former “him”.

It was very sad to acknowledge this loss.

The change had become clear, even though at first I had not recognised it. It had snuck up on me.

Reluctantly I now need to change too.

What helps lessen the risks and fears associated with change?

I had arranged a telephone co-coaching session the other week. We are friends, ex colleagues and had benefited from a co-coaching relationship when we trained together. We haven’t been in touch much since I moved and the conversation became a bit loose and we soon slipped from coaching and into more a friendly conversation between friends.

Inevitably it was only partially beneficial and my friend remarked afterwards that my line of conversation which was blatantly offering advice set up resistance. She described herself as probably not a very good coachee in that sense as she felt quite averse to direct challenge. However she helpfully identified parts of the conversation where I had raised a question or challenge in a more subtle way that led her into a challenge that seemed ok. An example was when I said….”when you say that, it makes me wonder if………”

It was a very helpful pointer for me to not only clarify the style and what the person would like before starting coaching but also the blatantly poorer outcomes if the language of change is not in tune with the recipient.

It was also a powerful reminder for me as to the intrinsic qualities of the methodology Appreciative Inquiry to assist change. It’s all about the crafting of the questions we ask and how they are articulated……”We create our destiny by the questions we ask…..”

“The types of questions we ask determine the types of answers we receive; and “the seeds of change are implicit in the very first questions we ask.”

We manifest what we focus on, and we “grow toward what we persistently ask questions about.” (both quotes from Cooperrider & Whitney, 1999)”

 So!  I ask myself…….. “as well as what to I ask, how best to ask it?”

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