Living well with solitude – Brothers and Sisters in arms

Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) wrote Brothers in Arms. The idiom “brother/sister/comrade in arms” refers to those who are absolutely bonded together in a shared cause.

Written during the 1982 Falklands conflict, Knopfler wrote about a soldier who is dying on the battlefield, surrounded by his colleagues, who remain with him until he passes. Through “Brothers in Arms” he looks at the folly of war and those who fight them. He was quoted as saying to the BBC: “We’ve got just one world, but we live in different ones. It’s just stupid, it really is. We are just foolish to take part in anybody’s war.”

My daughter was a small baby during the Falklands war. I clearly remember being in Woolworths in Evesham with her as a baby-in-arms watching with horror on a TV monitor a report about the sinking of the General Belgrano* while people all around me shouted and applauded. I was horrified at people taking pleasure at the injury and deaths of fellow human beings. (*ARA General Belgrano was an Argentine Navy light cruiser in service from 1951 until she was sunk at the beginning of May 1982 with the loss of 323 lives.)

Marina Hyde has today written very powerfully in the Guardian exhorting us not to turn this horrific coronavirus scenario into an imaginary war: 

Marina writes eloquently about the inappropriate war-like language that is currently being used as we work through the coronavirus pandemic. She even commented on Dominic Raab saying yesterday that the PM is a “fighter”. Indeed, as she says, war-like language is also regularly used in scenarios where an individual is suffering from a terminal illness. Its use is just as inappropriate, she argues.

The use of language does matter. We don’t “fight” illness be it COVID-19, cancer or lupus or whatever. We are not engaging in a battle with a physical illness. With support and help, with appropriate medical interventions, we work with the condition, helping our body adjust, come to terms with it, weave it and its impact into our own individual rich tapestry that represents “us”. A tapestry of vibrant colours, textures, experiences and which uniquely represents us as an individual.

NHS frontline workers are all indeed at the moment “brothers and sisters in arms” – because they are absolutely bonded together to do their very best to help patients be kept alive through the worst impact of COVID-19 (there is as yet, no treatment). In Critical Care, their care and ventilation of a patient is to ensure they arrange the “breathing” for that patient and allow their body to begin, if it can, to recover from the effects of the virus that has set their immune system into a hugely damaging mission of self-harm to that person.

Every NHS healthcare worker is front line, since everyone they meet may also have COVID-19. They and all the other essential workers who are helping care for us, those who are ensuring we have food, water, utilities, and so on are all members of our families, our friends, our communities …. so together we really are indeed “Brothers and sisters in arms”, bonded together to find our way through these very tough times in whatever role we can each play.

Not at war, but united in finding our way through and beyond the pandemic.

#StayHome #ProtectourNHS #SaveLives

Stay safe, stay well, stay in touch x

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Living well with solitude – the emotional challenge for all of us

We are all living with and through a huge, unbelievable and frankly enormously scary transformational change. How we work our way through change is well-documented via various change curve models.

One thing for sure, is that it is essential that we work through change in the first instance via our emotions and emotional reponses.  Being self-aware, understanding our emotional responses, processing them is important in order that we can then think more clearly, plan and act rationally and steer our way (and others) through and beyond the change itself.

So today, I’m going to concentrate on trying to help us all understand our personal emotional journeys as we go through this massive change.

  • Our journeys will all be different; we will all experience a range of many of the emotions outlined in the picture above, but this list is not exclusive.
  • Our journeys will all be different; our journeys will be at different speeds; some of us will struggle to move through and beyond the stages of denial or of grieving.
  • Our journeys will all be different; they won’t be in a straight line; they’ll be up and down, slip back and do so often.

We will come through.

The Kübler-Ross curve, which is about grief and working through the stages of loss, makes sense in the scenario we are all currently experiencing. We’ve all lost our “normal”, many have lost income, lost jobs, lost social life, lost human contact and many lives will be lost.

(Reference: Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth; Kessler, David (2014). On grief & grieving: finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. New York: Scribner. ISBN9781476775555. OCLC863077888)

We have all experienced how rapidly we have, as a society and as individuals and families, moved away from stability (normality you may say) into the unknown and scary scenario that is corona virus.  We have done so in literally just a few days. This is a huge challenge emotionally as well as in every other way …………….

Our initial emotional response is shock and denial: surely, this can’t be happening to us? Surely, we can choose to go for a walk in the countryside. Go to the shops? Or the pub? Go see our parents? However, it was in the light of that emotional denial within the population to the seriousness of our predicament, that the Government “requests” for us all to stay at home had to be turned urgently into “legal directives”. There was no time left to allow emotional processing to catch up, since what is at stake here is thousands of people’s lives and the NHS being able to cope and care for us.

I guess we have all experienced and will continue to do so from time to time the paralysis stage? Normally when we face danger and are fearful and scared we can choose to fight the danger or to flee from it; if a dangerous scenario is all too overwhelming for us then sometimes we actually freeze (that’s the paralysis) or fragment (feel we can’t cope, be very tearful, can’t think rationally and so on).

Having worked through our fight or flight or freeze or fragment stage, we progress to anger and hurt. For me anger generated by those who carelessly ignored the Government directives, believed they are invincible and headed to Welsh beaches and tourist spots in their droves as if this was a national holiday! By so doing they just ignored all the data, the warnings and advice and even the knowledge of the building of 4000-bed field hospitals around the UK and much more besides. I know, they were still in denial and shock.

Most of us (thank heavens) have yet to reach the stage of bargaining – maybe with God (even though we have no faith) – promising to change our ways if He will spare our loved one.

As we work through the eye of the corona virus storm we will also find new and increased strength to deal with whatever it is we need to deal with; we will begin to articulate our personal vision and goals for dealing with the present as well as for creating the future (in the same way that our Governments will be needing to do as well).

We will build up our emotional strength and resilience; we will have learnt to work hard and from our changed scenario and shared experiences we will also have been changed as well as deeply touched and moved by the successes ……….. by new friendships built, by our neighbours’ kindnesses and care, by the unstinting generosity and compassion we will repeatedly witness from NHS and other frontline workers, by the medical and human care we know our loved one(s) will have had from their NHS carers even if we ourselves could not be there with them, and much, much more besides. Have no doubt there will indeed be many successes; there will also be so much that will deeply change and touch and move us; there will be much grief too as all our families one by one are touched by corona virus.

As human beings we will be changed; it will be incredibly tough whoever we are, whatever our role; there will be many tragedies. It will be indescribably tough for those who are caring directly for patients with corona virus. It will be incredibly tough too for all the other front line workers who are ensuring we have food, transport, utilities, medicines, refuse collections and so on. In a different way too, it will be incredibly tough being shielded, and living in solitude.

Whoever we are, whatever our role, to deal with the biggest transformational change of our lives, we must indeed pay attention to our emotional health and resilience.

We will indeed get through. Together.

Stay safe, stay well, stay in touch x

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Living well with solitude -6

Today has been uneasy for me – restless, hard to concentrate on anything. I have spent my time doing bits of this and bits of that ………. I guess everyone understands that kind of day! So, I am going to flag up two things that really help get me grounded again a) music and b) connecting with my local community:

  1. The Great British Home Chorus:

I loved the first get together! Gareth Malone has big plans to make a mega recording of everyone with his Great British Home Chorus! It was good tonight to see that Gareth was back on form (he was off-colour last night). The first half of the 30 minutes was lots of useful whole-body movement and voice exercises. Great fun, and I felt so much better after the nightly get-together. I also did 2K steps to add to my daily total at the same too!!

Register by this link and it is nightly via YouTube at 17:30.

  1. Connecting with neighbours

Our AQ whatsapp group continues to grow into a support and help group. We have some housebound #highriskcovid19 members and we have plenty of offers of help, to get shopping and so on, and additional contact such as phone calls. We mostly didn’t even know each other before! Across the group we share helpful information, ask for and offer help, share funny stories and videos as well as quizzes. And nightly we open windows at 19:00 and give a HUGE round of applause for our NHS colleagues, followed by a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Some of our neighbours are themselves frontline NHS workers and have told us that this means such a lot to them.

Stay safe, stay well, stay in touch x

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Living well with solitude – 5

Lots of positive steps now, I believe, with choirs starting online, exercise classes and the sun is shining too, which always helps. (My blood results were also very reassuring too!) Lead on! Ymlaen!

Great photo of Penarth pier from a year ago too – just love it!

Today, I am staying with music as a way of supporting our emotional health as we all socially isolate either living with solitude or, for that matter, with others.

  1. The Great British Home Chorus:

I loved the first get together last night! Gareth Malone has big plans to make a mega recording of everyone with his Great British Home Chorus! Register by this link and it is nightly via YouTube at 17:30.

  1. Royal Opera House:

The Royal Opera House are launching free online content for the “culturally curious at home”! Access will be via their free Facebook and YouTube channels, starting with Peter and the Wolf this Friday (27th March). They are developing a free roll out of lots more in the coming weeks (#FromOurHouseToYourHouse)

Stay safe, stay well, stay in touch x



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Living well with solitude – 4

Morning! It is crazy isn’t it? I can’t believe how anxious I just got this morning about going out to have an essential set of blood tests done. However, job done, thankfully for 2 weeks.

Today we have suggestions from Sophie Howe (The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and patron of Daring to Dream) and also from the world of comedy!

From Sophie Howe: 

Sophie said that she believes it is important to “really connect with your family in person (if you live together) or otherwise online. This is especially helpful if you have little ones, since they never fail to put a different and often funny perspective on things.”

Sophie also finds audio books brilliantly relaxing; she says she falls asleep to one every night which is great to aid refreshing sleep but maybe not so good if you actually want to follow a story!

Enjoy laughing by watching comedy TV or films:

The right TV to watch really is a huge boost isn’t it? I had another bad night last Friday and after waking and realising I wouldn’t be falling back asleep any time soon, I decided to watch Friday night’s version of “Would I lie to you?”  Am not sure if I woke my neighbours by me changing gear from feeling anxious into roaring with laughter at Rob Brydon, David Mitchell and Lee Mack and their fellow team members! I always really enjoy their quick-fire humour (a little bit “irreligious” I know, but so clever).

Do find the comedy programmes that work for you and watch those as part of your early evening relaxation time, which is important before heading to bed to assist better sleep.

Stay safe, stay well, stay in touch x

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Living well with solitude – 3

These times are increasingly surreal, aren’t they? Very frightening indeed. Finding ways to focus on thinking on how we move forward as well as live well day to day are increasingly essential. Today’s suggestions are:

Music is really uplifting: Last night, where I live in the Bay, in the early evening we had a round of applause for the NHS staff and all the other front line staff everywhere, followed by blasting out (via some speakers of mine)

You’ll Never Walk Alone: We are going to repeat our applause and play and sing #You’llNeverWalkAlone nightly at 7pm. I had already decided that this was going to be the anthem of the Daring to Dream choir whose setting up is of course now delayed for a while.

Catching 10 good things that happened today:

Huge thanks to Alex for her top tip to support well-being whilst we socially separate from nearly everyone in our life! She suggests that it is really helpful to write down each night the 10 good things that happened today. Alex said, “I write this every night before I go to sleep as a kind of download to remind me that Spring is still blooming, acts of kindness are happening all around us and across the world and that the world is still turning.”

Alex McArthur-Davies runs “Kinesiology by Alex”


Stay safe, stay well, stay in touch x

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Living well with solitude – 2

As promised, more tips! Today is my daughter’s birthday and it is hard to believe that just last summer we were in Barcelona, relaxing over a leisurely meal and glass (or two) of wine.

Her Skype party for tonight is all good to go and we’ve already had one of many chats on the phone for today!

Suggestions for today to enhance emotional health are:

Make good use of mindfulness apps:

Huge thanks to Jon Antoniazzi (Macmillan’s Policy and Public Affairs Officer in Wales) for his suggestion of these well-being mindfulness apps each of which are either offering large discounts or making their content free for an extended period of time.

Nice photo Jon! Thank you!

Rylan Clark-Neal:

You probably think I have lost it here with this suggestion! However, he represents a tactic for dealing with very disturbed night’s sleep, finding another way (on top of mindfulness apps) that help me relax and go back to sleep.

Last night was a rough night for me and after a bit of sleep I was wide awake and feeling quite anxious. Having fibromyalgia, developing relaxation and sleep strategies has been essential for me. Sometimes reading doesn’t work to relax me again, even though I am an avid reader.

If this is the case, then I turn to iplayer and daytime TV programmes, but definitely avoid the news! I love cooking, I really enjoy the happy atmosphere of the newly revamped Ready Steady Cook. What’s not to like about the Essex boy’s happy personality, fake tan, teeth veneers? More seriously he is a really good presenter – talks well with people, relaxes them, they speak up and overall, I’ve yet to hear him be anything but kind.

That’s a recipe to feel calmer, stem the feelings of anxiety, relax and return to sleep.

Stay safe, stay well, stay in touch x

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Living well with solitude

Clearly in these unbelievable times, we all will all take the most unusual and extraordinary measures to protect our health and that of our family, friends and neighbours.

However, let’s deliberately look through and beyond our current anxiety and concern towards the happier times to come. So let me introduce Bella who is now obliged to put up with me 24/7 more or less! As you can see, she has a mind of her own, maybe she takes after me? 😊

I know from personal experience that chronic illness is hugely socially isolating. Social distancing, in the new language, is equally socially isolating.

To deal with the isolation, finding new ways of doing things, is essential for our emotional health and well-being. Maybe there is much to be shared here about practical tips that may have resonance with some? On that basis, each day I will share 2 suggestions:

  • Tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday: she and her group of friends have arranged a Skype party in the evening to celebrate her birthday, to chat, laugh, raise a glass to my daughter and each other. We can all arrange Skype parties with our friends!
  • Create a structure (a timetable) for your daily activities:
  • maintaining a consistent pattern in terms of going to bed and getting out of bed in the morning will support good sleep;
  • build in exercise (Wii, running on the spot, stretching, walking, running);
  • build in a strong focus on creating healthy meals and regular eating times;
  • plan times to practise a musical instrument, to read, to write a blog, to knit, do soduko etc;
  • commit to phoning / Skyping family and friends each day;
  • plan time to watch a film;
  • plan a point in the day to catch up on the news (rather than have the news drip feeding into you 24/7) – I have decided to watch the afternoon briefing each day but otherwise to try and avoid the news. Whatever you want to do, whatever works for you – create a structure or timetable for your day. It really helps!

Spetses Harbour, Greece

Stay safe, stay well, join the conversation x

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Why should I be nominated for a 2018 Leading Wales Award? #embarrassing!

The 2018 Leading Wales Awards are live now for nominations. Nomination documents can be downloaded from and nominations close midnight on June 1st. We have 8 categories, seven of which are to identify, recognise and celebrate individuals whose leadership is inspirational and transforming ways of working and organisations. The eighth category is our new organisational award (Inspiring Great Leadership) for which we are seeking organisations in Wales who are deeply invested in and committed to developing the leadership skills of their employees and volunteers – from grass roots to board room.

Over the years a few times I have been told that “it’s embarrassing to be nominated or to be a finalist or winner, because really it’s all about everybody and not just me”.

I think it is essential that we tackle this notion head-on once again! An essential element of any leader’s role is to inspire, encourage and support other employees and colleagues to develop their skills, to build their confidence so that they can really believe that they too are able to develop leadership skills and aspire to and achieve more senior posts, contribute to public appointments or Board appointments etc.

Many individuals (all inspirational leaders in their own right) have told me that one of the reasons why they are doing what they do now and achieving so much in their leadership role is that another person had (recently or some time ago) really encouraged and inspired them to believe in themselves, to learn new knowledge and skills and to aspire to and achieve promotion.

This act of “extending the ladder” to those coming up behind, encouraging them find their own self-belief and sense of purpose for what they wish to follow as their cause or vision or passion is incredibly important.

It is an essential activity of all leaders – to help develop the up and coming leaders.

You know me, I totally get that those who are inspirational leaders have an absolutely clear value that “it is not about me” but it IS about the team, the business or enterprise, community or organisation and the people it is there to assist, support, employ and so on.

However, “extending the ladder” is about accepting too your personal contribution and responsibility as “someone in Wales whose leadership is making a real difference” to encourage and inspire many others to “reach for the stars” and to be the best they can be and to provide the leadership we really need in all walks of life here in Wales in order to grow real prosperity and well being. So that together we can grow #thewaleswewant.

As a nominee or finalist or winner, it gives you the credibility to reach out and build links with others, to support them, mentor them (if unofficially) and encourage that building of self-belief and skills and hence be part of creating the future through ever-increasing leadership capacity, capability, networks and skills in Wales.

Some of our previous finalists and winners are contributing to the WG Be The Spark Project and inspiring and connecting with other entrepreneurs; some contribute to workshops and conferences and in so doing meet with and inspire and encourage others; some gain from the networking opportunities and work together with others from a sector that they would normally never work with and hence share those transferable leadership skills and inspiration; others meet like minded individuals and they mutually support each other; many of you I introduce to others to assist you with this. This is all about growing our leadership capability, capacity and networks in Wales and assisting via ever improved leadership to deliver a sustainable Wales.

Therefore, if your colleague wants to nominate you, be cheered and encouraged by your colleagues’ recognition of you, accepting graciously that recognition and with confidence and credibility use it to help others to also come along on their leadership journey.

So instead of saying “Oh no, that is just too embarrassing” when a colleague wants to nominate you, how about re-framing that question to “How will that help and inspire others on their leadership journey? What can I do to help others develop and aspire to be good leaders through this process?”

Go on – just do it! When a colleague asks to nominate you – say yes and help “extend the ladder” and contribute to growing even more Leaders in Wales.   

Register and download nomination documents from

Do please like, share and comment to help us uncover those leaders making a real difference in Wales – thank you!


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Keith Towler reflects on Leadership and the Leading Wales Awards

Keith Towler, Chair of the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services (CWVYS) was winner of the Leadership in the Voluntary & Not for Profit Sector in 2017.

This is a guest blog in which Keith shares his thoughts on leadership, on the impact of winning a Leading Wales Award and encouraging others to participate in 2018.

“What makes a good leader? A question that has a number of answers based on everyone’s own experience. We all have direct experience of being inspired by someone. That individual or collective that moved you to act.

I had an art teacher when I was in school who inspired a lifelong interest in drawing and painting. I had a line manager when I started on a career in social work that made me think quite creatively about what I could achieve. I met a number of children and young people, when I was Children’s Commissioner for Wales, that taught me that leadership and being inspired by someone’s experience or actions, was not defined or limited by status or age.

Winning a Leading Wales Award in 2017 was quite a humbling experience. To be recognised as someone who has demonstrated sound leadership is really quite something. As the Chair of CWVYS, the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services, I see every week how youth work changes young people’s lives for the better. In some circumstances it has actually saved a young persons life. I’m quite sure of that. So to be endorsed and nominated as a leader from the voluntary youth work sector is an accolade indeed.

Awards are very useful of course but what difference does it make? I’m no longer a practitioner. For the last 20 years or so my work has been at a national level, promoting legislative or policy change based on a commitment to improve children and young people’s lives. That’s the key. Remembering that everything you do, at whatever level, has to have a focus on improving the life chances of those you represent or advocate for.

The Leading Wales Awards are high profile and enjoy a prominent place in Welsh civil society. There is no doubt that being nominated and then winning my category had an impact on at least two levels. Firstly, on me, as I reflected on how I got here and what I might want to do next. And, secondly for CWVYS and the voluntary youth work sector. Youth work in Wales, like many parts of public service, face considerable challenges as it fights to continue its work in hard times financially. The publicity surrounding the Awards certainly helped to raise the profile of youth work but it also helped in cementing the importance of voluntary youth services at a time when the Welsh Government is looking to promote and expand the delivery of youth work.

It would be foolish to say that being nominated for an award, or being a winner, was an end in itself. Surely though it is good to share stories, learn from the experience of others and meet people from other sectors. Listening and reflecting on what you learn helps to make good leaders.

If you are thinking of nominating someone, or find yourself being nominated for a Leading Wales Award, the experience will be a positive one. Go for it!”

(Very many thanks Keith – a very well-deserved recognition of your leadership too via your Award win! Barbara)

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