Monthly Archives: April 2020

Death and life – review article

Some years ago, when my work-life balance was causing me serious stress (I’m reformed now…) I used to remind myself that “Nobody on their deathbed ever says ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work’”. As a mantra it helped bring some perspective back into my life, and I’ve since repeated it when counselling others.

Little did I know at the time, but the quote probably originated from a now-famous blog post – Regrets of the dying – written a decade ago, which I discovered soon after it was published.

The five regrets in the piece were simple and wonderfully matter-of-fact, but ultimately deep:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier

I could relate to each of those five regrets, even though I was only 54, and certainly not close to death. I suspect many men of my age would agree – particularly the one about expressing our feelings!

Author Bronnie Ware had written the blog post from her experience of giving one-to-one end-of-life care to many people – men and women, mostly older, but some as young as I was when reading the piece. The positive response to her initial piece prompted her to write a book – The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – a Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing – which I would describe as a personal understanding of life through death. For Bronnie Ware, it’s also about re-birth after being on the brink of taking her own life, induced by what reads like PTSD at a time when, objectively, she shouldn’t have been happier.

The book isn’t just about her close relationships with people with terminal illnesses, it includes many other diverse elements of her personal and professional life – including a violent upbringing, an abusive adult relationship, teaching song-writing in a women’s prison, house-sitting other people’s properties, travel to remote places, falling in and out of love and, ultimately, motherhood.

Many of the issues addressed by the author are life lessons for us all – much is about finding balance: the need to work and the desire to find something we love to do; a longing to be free but wanting to have enduring relationships; a desire to travel but feeling a need for security and having somewhere to settle down. She shares wisdom throughout the book – not just her own reflections, but advice she’s inherited. “They say everything comes down to love or fear: every emotion, every action, and every thought” and “Nothing good can be done alone” are just two of many.

The author’s relationships – with herself, with family, friends, the natural environment and, of course, the people for whom she is a professional but loving carer – are a golden thread running through the book. She writes well and movingly – I had many a tear in my eye as she described (with verbatim records of conversations that makes me think there’s been some artistic licence in the retelling) intimate moments so vividly.

The subject matter of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying may not seem like an obviously read while the world is witnessing a pandemic which is bringing death to thousands. But the book is strangely uplifting and the writing makes the numbers real and lifts the taboo about talking about death.

As Bronnie Ware herself writes “Our society has shut death out, almost as a denial of its existence. This denial leaves both the dying person and the family or friends totally unprepared for something that is inevitable. We are all going to die. But rather than acknowledge the existence of death, we try to hide it. It is as if we are trying to convince ourselves that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ really works. But is doesn’t because we carry on trying to validate ourselves through our material life and associated fearful behaviour instead.”

Further reading

Bronnie Ware’s blog

The book–A-Life-Transformed-by-the-Dearly-Departing/23828296

A related blog post

Shedloads of DIY – review article

At the time of writing, we’re all being instructed to stay home because of the Coronavirus pandemic. ‘Staying home’ means different things for different people – those lucky enough to have gardens and garages have space to breathe and do stuff; I feel for those in tower blocks with young children for whom the options are very much more limited.

Already there are people speculating how the world might be different ‘when this is all over’ and I think, at a personal level, there’s no harm in thinking about projects you might undertake when the lock-down is lifted (or while isolating if you have the space, tools and materials to hand). With this in mind, I’m highlighting two books that might help practically-minded people at least plan some creative home-based projects.

Note: These reviews first appeared in Shoulder to Shoulder – the free monthly bulletin from the UK Men’s Sheds Association

DIY for beginners

Full declaration: I know co-author Alison Winfield-Chislett as it’s she I have to thank for introducing me to the world of Repair Cafes (she runs one from her wonderful Goodlife Centre in London). When, with Alison’s encouragement, I set up a Repair Café in Royston I was amazed to discover how many people of a certain age and stage seemed to know about electronics. I was not one of them and, when I asked how they knew about fixing electrical appliances, I got a puzzled response; ‘doesn’t everyone?’

Well the answer is ‘no’, or nor does everyone learn DIY at their mother’s knee. Which is why I welcome this hands-on book that guides the first-timer through the basics of DIY – from the tools and terms, through 30 step-by-step projects around your home, to the techniques.

I love the ‘DIY hacks’ sprinkled throughout the text – so you can talk like a professional, even if you take a while to learn to work like one. I was also pleased the book has a gender-free feel to it – both in words and pictures – which may be explained by the female co-authorship.

Speaking as a grumpy old pedant who worked in book publishing for 15 years, while I welcome the inclusion of a jargon-buster and index, the book’s transatlantic character means there’s no explanation of the similarities between anchors and Rawlplugs, between P-traps and U-bends, and I had to check that a vice and a vise are the same thing. But maybe I’m just splitting hairs; not one of the DIY projects…

Beginner Guide to DIY: Essential DIY Techniques for the First Timer by Jo Behari and Alison Winfield-Chislett. Order online at and (if you must…)

More about The Goodlife Centre here

Haynes Shed Manual

Another full declaration: I went to the same school as Alex Johnson – co-author of this book – and my top tips for starting a Men’s Shed appear on page 173.

Shedders know it’s a lot of fun working alongside others in a shared workshop, but we can also enjoy tinkering in a shed at the bottom of the garden. This new Shed Manual from Haynes (better known for their car maintenance guides) is a great resource for working on a range of timber-based projects in home and community workspaces, not just sheds. The authors show their passion when they say “Whatever tools you have already, a big project such as building a shed is always a good opportunity to buy some more!”

Alongside four step-by-step shed-building projects are generic sections on planning, tools and materials, furnishing and decoration. There’s more than a nod to environmental considerations, including an eco-shed build, and references to sustainable energy and roofing. But I was surprised not to see more being made of reclaimed materials; I know that making a shed from pallets is neither as easy nor as cheap as many people imagine, but reclaimed timber can make an important statement about greener ways of working.

Who would use (it’s very much a tool and probably something you’d not read from cover to cover) this book? Perhaps a reference to Eddie Grundy and Lynda [Snell] on page 163, without mentioning the Archers on Radio 4, gives you a clue.

Shed Manual: Designing, building and fitting out your perfect Shed by John Coupe and Alex Johnson. Order online at More from the authors at and

For a look at light-hearted books on Sheds, see

Working well at home – some resources

I started drafting this blog post some time ago and then, of course, the Coronavirus struck – not me, but… well… everything else! I had to go away and rethink what content might be most useful during the current lock-down.

There’s small comfort coming out of Government for small businesses and self-employed people – I know some are ill-able to wait while the promised financial support comes through. For what’s (meant to be) available, this summary from my friends at Enterprise Nation may be useful

There’s lots of non-financial support around and, personally, I think it’s a matter of identifying just one of two reliable sources to avoid information overload! Below I’ve highlighted a couple of items I’ve spotted recently:

Are you sitting comfortably?

If you’re running a business from home

Free upcoming ‘lunch and learn’ webinars for small businesses

5 work from home tips

Being connected

Advice from ACAS on rights and responsibilities

Here are a couple of items around sustaining your wellbeing in the current climate….

At a more personal level, I hope you’re discovering ‘what works for you’ while staying at home. Most people I’ve spoken to find some sort of routine helpful, but I also try to build in some differences as well, otherwise one day is very much like another.

I find purposeful activity (such as combining a bit of shopping with a longer-than-normal walk) also rewarding. It’s also a good idea to focus on what you can control and avoid the rest.

For loads more resources to support small businesses, check out

Go well, work well, and stay safe