Posts Tagged ‘Alan’s adventures’

What trains can teach us about relationships..

Sep 30 2015
.. Insights from a zugteilung in Hanover The special overnight trains which in English we hopefully call sleepers, are in Germany sensibly called Nachtzug, night trains. No false expectations there. In fact, I’ve used the Nachtzug many times, and they’re very comfortable. However, my recent German holiday involved getting onto the night train in Hamburg at 00:31, and off in Cologne at 06:14. Exotically, this Nachtzug was from Copenhagen to Switzerland, with special coaches for Prague and for Amsterdam via Cologne. German is a wonderfully literal language, so I didn’t need my dictionary to figure out that Zugteilung meant train-part-ing. In Hanover, night trains from Copenhagen, Berlin and elsewhere would be split up, shunted about, and rejoined. The reality of this was that around 2am, when I’d at last got soundly asleep, my coach was repeatedly and vigorously bounced, as if the German engine drivers were playing ping-pong. It’s thanks to this awakening experience that I can offer you this new model of relationships. Gehen wir los… Imagine that a relationship is like the connection between railway carriages. Your relationship may run smoothly along the tracks, round the bends, through the tunnels, for a good while. But there come times when you have to uncouple, and this can be bumpy. There’s also the question of destinations. You may hope that your relationship is headed in a certain direction, just as I had bought a Nachtzug ticket for Cologne, but once embarked, other factors are at work…The driver and signalmen can take you to Hanover, or wherever, and bump you around as they choose. Depending upon your chosen weltanschaung (outlook on the world), their role could be compared to Fate, guardian angels, or the working-out of your own complex subconscious. However, if you and your adjacent carriage need to go in different directions, the Zugteilung is inevitable: but you may end up coupled to a new coach from an interesting origin. Who knows what plans the Fat Controller of relationships may have for you? At least you now have a fine German word for the process. By Alan Heeks

Out of the Woods; the book and one man’s journey.

Oct 14 2013
I met Alan for the first time early in 2012. He had been on a desert walk in North Africa the previous Autumn, and I remember him saying that in the emptiness of the dunes a BIG QUESTION had come to him – Where are the older men? And then related questions; Where are the older men meeting; Where do older men go to get help; Where are older men being seen, and bringing about positive change in the world. To all these questions (and more) there appeared to be a resounding silence. So the idea for the book was born in Alan’s mind because he felt – and still feels passionately – that the answers to all these questions are there, and need to be written about and told. So the chapters of his book were organised, topics thought through, and the words began to tumble out on to Alan’s PC (…and I was asked to write the Health Chapter, which I was happy to accept and got me into the project). DCIM100MEDIABecause as well as the idea for the book, there was now a Men Beyond 50 project, the other related big question now going on in Alan’s mind in 2012 being – How do we spread the word to older men? The answer to that was a website that could become a resource gateway for older men, events that focussed on providing for the older men’s sector, and a posse of like-minded guys to help support, encourage and energise getting the message out there. Several Men Beyond 50 workshops at Hazel Hill Wood and elsewhere later, and a slow learning curve of how to create an attractive user-friendly website, do social media, enewsletters online and more, and things are beginning to bear fruit and the word about Men Beyond 50 is starting to spread. And now the best fruit to date: the launch of Alan’s excellent book Out of the Woods: A Guide to Life for Men Beyond 50 – the culmination of one man’s vision and one man’s journey. May it sell well and bring the author the rewards he deserves for the 3 years of hard effort! May the book also be the ground-breaker, bringing focus and attention on to the older men sector, as well as being a very practical and inspiring help to the many older men who read it! And thirdly may the book also act as the herald and catalyst for many more older men to join in our ongoing play at Men Beyond 50, for us all to tell our different stories, meet in groups and gatherings, and come together to grow the conversation in collaborative community. Finally, what next for Alan after his three year journey from North Africa desert to printed page and published book? We are all waiting to hear the next BIG QUESTION that I have every confidence is at this very moment being generated in the spaciousness of his delicious mind and caring heart!


Jul 22 2013

Major social insights from the world of barbeques


I’m happy to say that even now, in my sixties, I am a BBQ virgin.  Barbies have never appealed to me: they remind me of the joke, ‘Why do men do barbeques?’ : ‘Because they end up burning the meat better.’

However, my wife’s family are keen on the barbeque scene, and when we decided to invite them all to our house for a weekend party to celebrate Linda’s 50th, there was probably some self-interest in their decision to give her a barbeque set as a birthday present.

My father-in-law clearly felt it was his duty to train me in doing barbeques, not a view I shared.  However, it is thanks to Richard that I have a major social insight from the world of barbeques to share.  He explained that you need two kinds of charcoal to get a barbecue going well: firstly, fast-acting, self-impregnating for a quick and fiery start, and then lumpwood for a steady reliable flame.


Fast-acting, self-impregnating seemed a pretty good summary for the frenetic youth of today. And whilst lumpwood may not be the most elegant name for the over fifties, there’s such a desperate lack of a good collective name for them that this could be a strong candidate.

At least the term lumpwood suggests a solid, important, dependable, and central role, with a hearts of oak quality, which I feel is very appropriate to the many invaluable roles which we over-fifties could play in society, if we start to find our voice, re-discover our purpose, and act on it all. But then, to return to the barbeque analogy, it might just be the role of the fast-acting, self-impregnating generation to light our fire…



Warrior to Elder: We’re doing it for the tribe

Nov 08 2012

Learning from my own workshop

For some time I’d been feeling how great it would be to have a big gathering of men, so I was delighted when the UK Men’s Network organised one in Brighton recently, and extra glad when they asked me to lead a three-hour workshop at the gathering.

I chose the theme Warrior to Elder: partly because it would be teaching what I need to learn.  Since I turned 60, four years ago, I’ve been hoping to evolve from heroic struggle/warrior mode into elderhood.  The two questions we explored in my workshop are both pressing for me: what is elderhood, and how to move into it.

I’m glad to say that everyone in my workshop, including me, got some really good insights from it.  Here are a few of those I can share without breaching confidentiality.

My view was confirmed that there’s no one-size-fits-all version of elderhood.  One general principle may be to fulfil parts of yourself, and qualities, not expressed earlier in your adult life. If you’ve been quiet and reclusive, this could be a time for active leadership.  If you’ve done a lot of leading, consider shutting up and doing nothing for a while.

We realised that older men can do a lot for younger adults: firstly, by witnessing and hearing them without trying to fix their problems; secondly, by showing them that one can be happy without known all the answers or being on top of situations.  All this is part of ‘elder wisdom’.

Many men now aged fifty-plus were touched by the idealism and excitement of the late 1960’s.  Many of us then had naive ideas about how to achieve our big hopes, like a society based on love not money.  Now that so many of us who were touched by those times are elders, maybe we can find wiser ways to manifest ideals that are still valid.

When I ponder rising pressures of our times, like the impact of climate change, service cuts, crop failures, I see a big need for the elders, men and women, to find their voice.  Our society needs the elders to embody the wisdom and values to thrive despite such pressures: for example by collaborating, sharing resources, and valuing quality of life more than quantity.

Some of my blind spots about elderhood were gently pointed out to me during my workshop.  For example, how valuable humour, and the roles of fool and trickster can be at this age.  They can help us lighten up about the problems of ageing, and they’re powerful ways to reach younger generations.

I was also reminded that my emphasis on shipwrecks and re-invention may suggest that men beyond 50 don’t have much fun: whereas this can be a deeply happy time, as it often is for me.  But I can get too serious and earnest, and it’s good to be called on that!




Further insights from Europe’s Sleeper Trains…

Oct 31 2012

Do Sleeper Trains Resemble their Country’s Leader??


For those of you eager for a sequel to my blog from the German Nachtzug, here ‘tis.  The Paris – Venice Treno Notte has advanced my insights into the special ways that so-called sleepers help me, and maybe other seekers for truth.

The France – Italy sleepers are now run by an outfit called thello.  As the name already suggests, this is a new private venture, and guess what, it’s the same run-down carriages, with a thello badge stuck on them.  You can probably imagine the gimmicky graphics on the website: I could put up with that, but the site doesn’t work.  I had to book our tickets via The Trenitalia website, and all they had left were couchettes.

A couchette is like sleeping on a lightly upholstered park bench, with a tiny cushion and a few rags for bedding, in a space the size of a walk-in closet, shared with several strangers, who may cough, snore or worse.  It’s a very surreal situation.  For example, how and when do you undress and put on your night clothes?

Not only do you get a rare chance to lie awake for hours in the middle of the night, you can also be inspired by a unique range of bumps, groans and rattles, intrusive lighting, airlessness, and noises from fellow-travellers.

Somewhere in the night, I found a useful comparison between sleeper trains and national leaders.  The German Nachtzugs are like Angela Merkel: blandly modern, efficient, and they clearly know what’s best for you.  Whereas the Treno Notte are like Berlusconi: ancient, a bit sleazy, erratic, but trying to look modern; blow hot and cold, dodgy sanitation, but somehow keeping a touch of Mediterranean style.

Those long hours gave me time to extend this model to UK sleepers and David Cameron: modern-looking, shiny, but doesn’t deliver on some of its promises, expensive, trying to be superior, liable to sudden delays and failures.

My couchette night on the Paris – Venice sleeper wasn’t great for sleep, but good for insights, and Venice remains one of the best railway destinations anywhere.  You walk out of Santa Lucia station, and in front of you is medieval Venice: the Grand Canal, the palaces, the churches, the light, the colours…










Tags: Alan’s adventures, Travel