six things: John Anstie

John Anstie

John Anstie

About John

My first attempts at creative writing, of poetry and songs, were in my mid-teens. I played piano and then a guitar. I then ‘strayed’ for thirty-five years and, as an over-qualified Metallurgist, plotted a course through the special steels industry for twenty years (the last ten in Marketing and Export Sales), followed by fifteen years in various IT roles.

For twenty years I played rugby; an insane game that kept me sane. My recent poetry writing was ignited two years ago by the birth of my first grandchild; a surprisingly cathartic moment. I handed in my notice before Christmas, driven by a strong need to start writing, amongst other projects.

It has to be said that the redeeming feature of that middle thirty five years (apart from rugby), was finding a very good wife who has now agreed to be the sole bread-winner for a while.

John’s website:

• One thing that’s always worth getting out of bed for

Breakfast! Rather boring, compared to the rather grander motives of already published ‘six-thingers’. My motive is quite simple: if I don’t eat breakfast, I can’t leave the house. If I oversleep, which is very rare, I still don’t miss breakfast. I only have good quality muesli because it provides variety and substantial sustenance, along with fruit juice and tea. The fact is already widely reported and understood by many expert groups[1],[2], but for me, it is simply because, over the years, I’ve convinced myself of its value. There is a reason for my belief and this is that I spent a lot of my working life ‘on the road’. Therefore having a good breakfast was insurance against the day going wrong and having to survive on a quick snack for lunch, without loss of energy and concentration. In consequence, I find that I have no desire to eat between meals, whereas in the office environment I was surrounded by people who told me they ‘didn’t have time’ for breakfast and then proceeded to scoff quantities of variously non-nutritious foodstuff at their desks, in work time, which was not fair on them or their employer. So breakfast has my vote.

• One thing about myself that often obstructs me

My unerring ability for distraction and digression, both of which Kona has written copiously and eruditely about in various amusing ways throughout this inspired and well presented blog site. It is the killer of productivity, not to give oneself time limits to achieve specific goals. But, perversely, the kind of distraction, which I can honestly say has been a real obstruction for me, concerns my ability for concision. I have long had a need, when writing any communication, perhaps even a compulsion, to explain everything I say in almost endless detail, which itself leads inevitably to digression and verbosity. It’s a kind of insecurity, I suppose, a sort of defence against having to answer any questions about anything I have written. My salvation arrived in the form of writing poetry, which has, by its very nature, forced me to distil my thoughts and use language (and a dictionary) more carefully and to heed the wisdom that less is more. So I’m sorry if this ‘six things’ is still overly long, but I’ll get there, eventually…

• One thing I’ve learned the hard way

Bringing up children and parenthood is not for the faint hearted. That’s not meant to be a negative, so much as an observation. I would not want to have missed the deep sense of fulfillment derived from playing a part in and seeing my children grow up. I am lucky enough to have three splendid children, who are now fending for themselves. The fact that they are well adjusted, loyal to us as well as to each other and to family in general, pleases me beyond measure; but I cannot take much credit. This happy state of affairs didn’t arise so much because of me, as it did because I (fortunately) found a good wife, or perhaps she found me! Her intelligence, integrity and dedication to their cause, saw to it that they survived many a crisis and challenge and are, as a result, pretty well equipped to deal with whatever life may throw at them. She achieved this in spite of the fact that I spent a lot of time at work and traveling around the world. I am still tinged with a feeling that I could have done a better job as a father, but thank heaven for the goodness of a random world that blessed me with a partner of such calibre.

• One thing that gets under my skin

As a fully paid up member of the ‘Grumpy Old Men’ club, I don’t know where to start on this one! In no particular order: Bebe Doc, Mugabe and other not so obvious malevolent dictators; bad manners; gobby morons; politicians (and interviewers who don’t ask them the right questions); political correctness; arrogant merchant bankers; obsession with celebrity and shopping; celebrities who jump on bandwagons to embellish their hungry egos. Shall I go on? Yes, give it some, John! Religions polarized by indoctrination; the inability of too many of a young educated generation to write good English; those poor (unqualified) souls who park in disabled parking bays; untouchable pension salesmen; tabloid press journalists; greed (and lawyer) driven obsession with litigation; the arrogant (as opposed to the non-arrogant) middle-class, whose material aspirations and narrow perspective blinds them to an understanding of many people who have genuinely not had a chance in life (as opposed to those work-shy ones who can’t be bothered)… I confess to being middle class and privately educated, by the way, and grateful for all that, but it doesn’t alter my sense of injustice at the behaviour of the nouveau riche. I’m now exhausted and need a rest! So, it’s time to move on to the next ‘thing’.

• One thing I’d love to change

Probably all of the things in ‘What gets under your skin’ above! If there is one thing I would like to change, however, it is this: that we alter the processes by which we educate our children. This would essentially be to temper the ever increasing emphasis on exam results for the under-sixteens, which has pushed out so much of the type of learning that is essential for human survival, like collaboration, cooperation and team work, which can be so enhanced by ‘field’ exercises and forms of sport, which have been marginalised in the mainstream because of the fear of litigation and the focus on exam results and league tables. Given that I am neither a teacher nor do I have any experience in education, except for seven years serving as an industry governor, my brief would be roughly as follows.

From the age of thirteen or fourteen (or maybe earlier), I’d propose that we should start to ply students with regular and significant doses of knowledge and skills across a whole range of areas of life designed to equip them for a world they will soon enter. This ‘Life Skills’ part of the curriculum would be considered ‘core’ and include a whole array of subjects on Home, Work, Social, Family and Community. There will always be an educational elite and a need to ensure they can fulfil their potential as future leaders, but the educational mission for everyone else (the vast majority of us, in other words) has to be realistic. As much as I truly believe in the importance of learning the essential principles of language, mathematics and science, knowledge of these is neither use nor ornament if a child cannot first be armed with knowledge of the most basic of life skills and a confidence that comes from this. Until they know how to deal with the challenges of an uncertain world, they will not be able to absorb the principles of the academic world.

• One thing I hope for

A world that places far greater importance on caring for and giving a better chance in life to our children – they are guardians of the future of humanity. I hope for a world whose religious structure is more rational and inclusive, less divisive and polarized, and that has the courage to denounce and cast out extremism and provide a clear example for children on how best to lead their lives. I hope for a world where Family values are promoted as of the highest importance; a world whose political hierarchy and structure is such that politicians are somehow freed from the unwritten imperatives of greedy ambition, so that the young, instead of becoming premature cynics, will want to understand the issues and feel better able to vote with integrity; and, last but not least, a world in which the media have enough integrity to communicate this accurately… [now, I’m drifting into a dream of utopia!]

[1] “Breakfast is Most Important Meal”: BBC, 7 March 2003.
[2] “Why is breakfast the most important meal of the day?”: Mayo Clinic
[3] I originally included four more paragraphs here, breaking down these areas of life skills into more detailed proposals, but in my quest to reduce my ‘distraction’, I cut them out!

About six things

‘six things’ is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people, in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts. A new ‘six things’ is published on the site each Saturday.