Saturday, 24 October 2015


  • to get an overview of your life and some perspective

  • to have a record of all the people, places and events you have known 

  • to excavate from memory countless experiences you have forgotten

  • to provide a legacy for your children, grandchildren and their children, a first-hand account of what it was like to live in your lifetime

  • to help historians understand this period

  • to understand yourself better, as a product of these times, and of the important people and events in your life.

  • to have the hugely enjoyable and compelling experience of remembering so much
          more than you expected, and re-creating a kind of mental video of your whole life


Friday, 23 October 2015


Thie vivid recollection of childhood fame in the MayDay pageant, prompted by opening a creased manila envelope in a box of family photographs, set a process in train: surely I must be able to remember something before the age of 7 (though in the photo I look more like 5; being short was a recurring theme in my life, until the age of 18, see FESS  #21 "Short Story"). Soon afterwards I recalled, with some horror, a scenario that unfolded when I was 4 and newly enrolled in a local nursery school. I needed to take a dump, which started as  a slight feeling that it would be a good idea but then very quickly became something that needed to be done as soon as possible. In the toilets, four boys stood around blocking my way to the stall. They delighted in refusing to move, preventing me from going in. The inevitable happened as I couldn't wait any longer. It was traumatic and humiliating, and probably the worst thing that had happened to me in my life to date. I suppose it was a novel kind of bullying; it was certainly a passive kind of aggression, when I would have much rather suffered the real thing. Some years later I read William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' which many people found shocking, because of the cruelty and violence of the little boys to each other; I found it totally unsurprising.                                      

Sometimes there is a connection between memories which is not to do with their similarity or anything else except their nearness in time. A few months after the nursery school incident I went
into the Middlesex Hospital to have my tonsils out, a very common operation in those days. It was on my 5th birthday, unfortunately, but I had my presents brought in: one was a double-barreled pop-gun
which fired corks; the other a Dan Dare telescope (DD was the main man in the Eagle comic). The lens dropped out and I dropped out of my 'cot' trying to reach it on the hard marble floor, and landed on my head. I was knocked out for a while, but despite that being 60 years ago, I found that I'd retained a very clear image of the nurses staring down at me on the floor.

I suppose the pop-gun was a more successful present, laying the foundations for my successful career as a sniper and international assassin. You may remember that the investigating team were puzzled at finding so many corks at the site of the Bin Laden shooting. I'm saying nothing.

Thursday, 22 October 2015



                                                     This little boy sat down to write
                                                      'The story of my life'.
                                                      He was nine years old,
                                                       It was rather a short book.
                                                      Actually just a page.

    60 years later this man's autobiography is
    225 pages long, and is called FESS. The
    difference between the boy's page and
    the man's book is a lifetime's experience.
    This blog is a taster. If you read it and decide
    to write your own version, it will be one of
    the great experiences of your life: trust me.

I've gone through my life thinking that I had a 'bad memory': terrible problems with examination revision, never able to remember song lyrics, even confusing my two daughters' names from time to time. Being introduced to people at parties was a joke, their names were gone before the end of the sentence.

So you might think I wasn't ideal material for writing an autobiography. What would I write about if I couldn't recall anything? Wrong! When I came to do it, the almost miraculous part of the whole thing was the vast amount of material which came back to me, the clarity and vividness of the images and the very strong emotions that they conjured up.

How? Well I don't want to sound like one of those small ads in the papers: 'How to improve your memory in 7 easy lessons you can do at home, at $19.95 plus p&p'.  This is easier than that, and free. There isn't a formula, or a list of instructions.  Just start with one memory that you know you do have, as far back in your life as possible.

When you try and remember something there is often a block. Sometimes it feels like the effort of remembering is the block: you're sure the memory is there, you just can't retrieve it. So you give up, think of something else and then it pops into your head: like it was outside and waited till you were looking the other way to slip back in. So you did have it, but you didn't have the key to the library door, or a catalogue of the contents to locate that shelf on that aisle of the memory store.

The secret is association: thinking about things around the 'forgotten' memory, in a relaxed way, and sooner or later the answer appears. After that it's simple. Once you've started writing about a particular time or incident in your life, your mind will generate many, many associations without trying, whether it's people places or events: memorable people, important conversations, dramatic events, school friends, holidays, rows with parents, first partners, films and their stars, great music (play it, you'll love it and you'll remember who you were snogging the last time you heard it) and so on, to infinity. It's not a labour to remember your life this way it's a delight. And the words just roll out effortlessly, and it's hard stop them, for sleep.

You don't have to be a great writer; in fact, setting yourself up as
A Writer can be paralysing, and send your friends into convulsions.
I didn't set  out to write a book. All I did was write a few short pieces, some recollections of childhood, and put them up on Facebook and tumblr. The beauty of this is that you get instant feedback and when I found that people were really enthusiastic about the work I was encouraged to write more. When I had 25 of them I realised that I wanted to do something with it, and the  idea of an autobiography occurred to me - but not the really tedious kind that lists every possible detail of the person's life, rather an episodic one, just constructed around the good, bad, funny and merely interesting things which had happened in my life, which was what I had already been doing.I finished up with over 100 pieces, culled down to 70 on the advice of a publishing person. It was a great deal of hard work over a period of 15 months but probably the most enjoyable hard work I've ever done. Uncovering all those old memories, re-experiencing them, meeting up again with all those people: the whole thing was a blast, an undiluted pleasure from start to finish.

When I started to write FESS I thought it might work to look through some old photograph albums I had inherited from my parents. In a rather tired brown envelope I found a remarkable shot which became the icon for the very first piece I wrote. I'm pasting the piece in here just to give flavour of the book. It depicts me (the one with the dodgy legs) and Susan C, the May Queen (the one with almost white hair, finespun like candyfloss; I remember her skin was almost translucent, like an old lady or possibly an alien),


Where on earth, you may be wondering, did I cross paths with the diminutive songster from Minneapolis, the one with the moustache that was less visible than my grandmother’s? Well, it never happened: but I was Prince-for-a-day at St. James Infant School, Chase Road, Southgate.

I have virtually nil recall of my time at St. James. I do remember gathering bluebells with my parents, one weekend in a wood out in Hertfordshire, giving a huge bunch to my teacher, and then seeing them later that day in the staffroom waste bin. Hard to say whether this affected my subsequent attitude towards women or not. And I also remember the classrooms having very high windows so that you couldn’t see out, or others see in. But the main memory, the episode which haunts me to this day was a bizarre concatenation of patriotism, monarchism, pagan rites and Marxism-Leninism, when the school decided to mark May Day and the Queen’s coronation with a pageant.

It starred the May Queen, SC, who was the automatic choice because she was a beautiful little thing, delicate, pretty, modest, scrupulously well-behaved and therefore absolutely guaranteed not to say ‘oh shit’ if she dropped her posy. Let the Palmers Green and Southgate Gazette court correspondent complete the picture:  “The Queen was ably escorted by her gallant Prince, David Milner (7)”.  The accompanying picture (quite large and probably displacing several W.I. reports and the Mayor’s Musings, a page I always turned to first) showed Susan looking so stunning that it might have accelerated my adolescence, had I not been more interested in my Hornby OO-scale train set than torrid sex.  
If I had followed this order of priority through life it might have all turned out a lot better. Anyway, there she was, in her filmy fairylike dress, her hair garlanded with paper flowers, stepping out on the arm of this funny little fellow in white shoes, white socks, white shorts and shirt, plus a huge rosette on the chest, looking ever so much like a target for a firing squad. But why on earth was he wearing a satellite dish on either side of his head, in an eerie anticipation of today? Ears: they were his ears.
 The final touch of humiliation, the coup de grace, had been applied by my Mum. Tiring of wetting and coaxing his hair into a suitably regal style and running out of time she had improvised a solution to the fly-away bits. Of course, why didn’t we think of it before – a hair-grip! Assured that it wouldn’t show, and aware of a 7 year-old’s lack of sanctions, the condemned boy was marched off to the scaffold. I believe this was the only truly cruel thing my Mum ever did to me. In a way she was fortunate: today’s sensibilities would have dictated that the visible hair-grip on a boy constituted child abuse under any contemporary penal code. I’m sure nobody noticed. I’m sure it was just a trick of the light that it shone out of the PG&SG’s photograph like a beacon. One thing is certain, though: if there had been thunder and lightning, I would not be alive now to tell this tale.

Did I mention the speech? I had to give a speech. I was allowed to read it, which I did with all the passion of a second iteration of the football results. It was my first acquaintance with public speaking and I felt it went quite well, really. I had thought of a good beginning; I took a deep breath, gulped twice and squeaked “I have a dream……..” And I got a kind of mobile standing ovation at the end. There was a whisper of applause, then everybody rose to me and scampered off to get their cars from the little playground car park.  What a day.

About me

Professor of Social Psychology, who retired early in order to do something else: writing a novel, Black and Blue, (which has yet to find a publisher), and an autobiography, FESS which is self-published (Amazon ebooks or from In FESS I have found what I will be happy to do for the rest of my life: writing stuff. I have been married twice but have not yet found the key to this peculiar institution. I am still auditioning people for the role of 'my partner', but it may be that my age (102) is some kind of deterrent , as the tsunami of applicants has become more like a dripping tap. I may become bi-sexual in order to increase the target group. I have two creative, intelligent and beautiful daughters, and two stepsons, one of whom is a leading mountain biker and journalist, the other is a white rapper. Check my website: