THE REAL THING by Simon Shepherd

Two global icons – the cross and the Coca-Cola brand, both claiming to be The Real Thing.  What do we worship in the 21st century?  Has the focus shifted from the worship of the spiritual to worship of the material?  Can we see what is ‘real’?  This piece on show currently at the Chaiya Art Awards Exhibition at the gallery@oxo until 8th April 2018.

It was my privilege to write the Chaiya Art Awards coffee table book which complements the exhibition and is on sale at the venue. 

Chaiya Art Awards

Join me in my latest adventure. The Chaiya Art Awards competition is fierce with so many mediums including painting sculpture and #video, the quality of the work was astounding! Over 450 entries. Come judge for yourselves 29 March – 8 April at the Oxo Gallery – Don’t miss this unique exhibition. Please spread the word and let all your friends know.

Christmas in Freetown

This Christmas I visited Sierra Leone for two weeks.  My husband and I stayed our daughter and her husband who work there .  It has a chequered history.

In the late 1800s the British inhabited and governed Sierra Leone.  Freetown was created as a haven for freed slaves. The British were there to develop mining and other industries.  To live there, they needed housing.  Remarkably, they approached Harrods to pre-build a house.  This they did, compacting it for shipping to Freetown. 

Today the houses remain striking but suffer from decay.  Situated high above Freetown, they enjoy stunning views, away from the noise and bustle of the city.  Now owned by the government they are rented to government workers.  I imagine the stilts they rest on are because of the deluge of water in the rainy season.  My daughter says the rain pours like a never-ending power shower.

The house pictured is typical of these ‘Harrods’ houses.

However, there are many other wooden homes scattered across the chaotic capital Freetown.   They could belong to the east coast of 18th century America.  They are a living link to the past.   Sadly, I don’t think they will last much longer.

For more information:

Sierra Leone’s Historic Homes, Built by Freed Slaves, Under Threat

One of the highlights of our holiday was spending three nights camping on what is known as the ‘British’ beach.  Our tent only a mosquito net so we could lie back and enjoy the loveliness and shapes of the trees and vegetation illuminated by the large, incandescent moon.  So bright it made it difficult to see many stars.  I didn’t sleep particularly well, but the upside was seeing the moon set and enjoying looking up at the majestic palms. 

Sierra Leone is so poor it remains relatively unspoilt with glorious beaches.  A country with so much to offer in need of strong government leadership to improve the standard of living for everyone.

Our beautiful beach although the harmattan had arrived, so the air was full of Saharan sand.


12 Steps to becoming trustworthy

Trust one who has tried (Virgil)

To have good friends requires being a good friend.  Being a good friend is built on trust.  So what does being trustworthy mean?  Trust is an elusive component in life, but essential.  Building trust takes time, effort and commitment. 

  1. Be there. You have to spend time with a person to gain trust. Someone who hangs in with another however tough things get.   Ready with a word of kindness but also practical.  Our actions speak so much louder than our words.   We must allow our lives to get interrupted at the most inconvenient of times when the person on the phone, or at the door, needs our company.
  2. Learn to listen. When you are with someone do not allow electronic or any other interruption. At that moment they are the most important person in the world. 
  3. Be honest but with kindness – say what you think. It is amazing how difficult we find it to tell the truth in all circumstances.  We make a mistake and rather than owning up we lie.  Don’t deceive people or tell lies to make ourselves something we are not.  Most of us hate confrontation so rather than express what we are truly feeling, we say nothing.  It is so difficult to build a relationship with someone who will not say what they feel.  It makes both parties feel insecure. 
  4. Do what you say you will do. If you make a promise keep it or if it becomes impossible say so and apologise. Learn to be efficient – some are better at this than others, but we can all learn to do better at what we put our hands to. Be punctual. Meet deadlines. Be reliable.
  5. Be loyal. Be someone your friend knows will never betray them.   In any and all circumstances you have their back.
  6. Speak well at all times in all situations. Don’t jump in and say you can do something only to realise you cannot. If you are asked to help and you are unable to, say so. We are allowed to say no.
  7. No gossip. When people share themselves with us, they must know they will not be talked about when they leave the room. The confidences that have been aired will not be expressed to anyone else.
  8. Be empathetic. Learning to stand in another’s shoes and see what the world looks like from their viewpoint.  It means we can stand with our friend, utter words that will soothe and heal because we understand.
  9. Choose close friends carefully. Go for quality not quantity.  We can befriend many people, but not all people can or should be close friends. 
  10. Learn to say sorry. Take responsibility for all we do including the bad things, the wrong things, and the mistakes. Never blame others.
  11. Avoid denial. When things happen that disrupt a relationship don’t push it under the carpet. Face what has happened, talk openly and find a way through.  If we fail to confront difficulty eventually we will lose each other and the relationship.
  12. Stay consistent. Hold fast to the values of trustworthiness and don’t allow misunderstanding or unkindness to sway you. 

Learning to be trustworthy is a journey. I have made so many mistakes in my life. Every single point I have written about I have at some time done the opposite.  However, I have learnt.  I continue to learn.  I want to be a trustworthy person, an authentic faithful friend, and treat the relationships I have as the treasure I have discovered they are.

How to flourish

This is a holly tree. It is not remarkable.  When we brought the bonsai from our previous home, the plant looked as if it was dying.  The greenery had gone.  There remained a few scattered individual leaves.  It was a tree due for termination.









My determined husband placed it in front of our new house, to give the shrub another season.  Imagine my surprise when over the next months this happened.  In its fresh position it flourished.

  1. Love–we all long to be loved and accepted as we are. Sometimes we feel this is our right.  True for a child.  However, as an adult we need to become lovers in order to give and to accept being loved.  Life is challenging, painful, distressing, and alienating.  Choosing to love and also to receive love releases the oil of gladness into our hearts and minds
  2. Community–we are social beings and isolation and aloneness cripple us. It is not only elderly people who suffer from loneliness.  In our busy, over-stretched lives, making time for genuine friendships is something we all need to do.  Failing to give time is detrimental to health and well-being.
  3. Encouragement–the challenge is to discipline what comes out of our mouths and our fingers. Our tongues can indulge in gossip and tear into people, our fingers can do the same through social media. This is destructive and upsetting.  I remember gossiping about someone and then they walked into the room.  Shamed I vowed I would try never to gossip again. 
  4. Work–whether paid or unpaid, we all need gainful employment. Earning money is vital.  We need money to live, but work is also about well-being. Volunteer to help somewhere if you cannot find work.  I have done some boring and excruciating paid jobs, but it was therapeutic to give my best.  The work I loved I did after hours crucial because that work filled me with well-being.

Are we flourishing?  Do we need to change our position?  Do we need to change our environment?  Can we assist others to flourish?

The Key of All Unknown


This book is such a good read.  The story centres around Tilda Moss, a brilliant scientific researcher who wakes up in hospital unable to speak or move but completely aware of what happened to her. 

Determined to discover the truth she works back through her life, filled with fractured memories looking for clues. The question in the reader’s head and hers is –  did someone try to murder her? 

There is a cast of possibilities that Tilda  interrogates forensically in her mind as she hovers between life and death. 

K A Hitchins writes beautifully and throughout the twists and turns of this woman’s mind I was totally absorbed. 

The end was marvellously appropriate.   Hitchins in an intelligent and well-researched writer.  An unusual and interesting story that I highly recommend. 





Why do we forget to play?

Life can get so hectic, so commitment and work driven, that we stop playing.   When we stop we try and zone out. We watch the TV or computer or do social media but this isn’t the same as playing.

We need downtime with our partner, friends, pets, children, work colleagues.  In playing together we connect and communicate in a different way and it can be hugely enjoyable provided it doesn’t get too competitive.   Play is not being idle, it is nothing to feel guilty about.  Rather it is to be embraced as part of our lives.

I enjoy playing with my grandson.  He is seven months old and I bought us a soft ball to play with.  He loves it. He has learnt to reach out for it, hold it, shove it away from him towards me, make it fall on the floor out of sight.  Oh the joy on his face when I magically make it reappear and gently throw it towards him.  He can play this game for ages.  It is a wonderful way for the two of us to connect.  We don’t have words, noises yes, he can’t do much on his own yet, but this way we connect and relationship is built.  When he comes to our house, he relaxes and gives a huge grin of delight when the ball is held out to him.  Delightful.

I think I am playing with him in order to teach him.  In reality he teaches me.  He gives me so much.

  1. He is stress relieving – I think about nothing else other than the sheer enjoyment of connecting.
  2. I know it stimulates his mind and gives him ideas, but it does the same for me. I find it profound and energising.
  3. It definitely improves my relationship with him. We laugh and smile at each other. We converse through play.  Sometimes he is so excited he just has to scream.  I love to feel excitement like that, I used to.  I would like to again. He’s teaching me.
  4. It improves social skills because there is a rule. Once you have the ball you have to give it back.  Okay maybe not immediately, but you do have to let it go.  We share it.  I don’t shove as much of it in my mouth as he tries to, but eventually he makes himself let it go and kick it away.
  5. So we have to co-operate with each other. Heard that one before?  How lovely if we could all learn that we are on the same side, working together, to make where we are better for all.

If I feel sad for any reason I can’t stay sad. His smiling face, his abject delight, melt into me and soon my spirit is cheered.   All those endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals start rolling around in me. 


Playing is important for all these reasons and more.  Doesn’t matter how young or how old, it is still delightful to connect with another human being in some sort of game.   Get out the board games, retrieve the balls in the cupboard, shuffle those cards, and play.


Speaking dates for Time to Live

I list below the times I will be speaking on the content of my book Time to Live: The Beginner’s Guide to Saying Goodbye.  Do join me as most venues will welcome visitors.  

October                22                          Engage, Church Halls, Church Road, Leatherhead KT22 8BD                                                                  at 4pm

                                29                           Refresh Centre, 129 Walton Road, East Molesey at 10.30am


                               5                              All Saints Church, Elm Grove Road, London W5 3JH                              

                             18                             Bethany Tamil Church, Greenacres Woodland Burial, Potkiln                                                                 Lane,  Jordans, Beaconsfield, Bucks HP9 2XB  11am

                             24                           St Mary’s Church, St Mary’s Road, Ealing W5 5RH at  10.30am

January 2018

                                23                           Moorlands Bible College – Chapel plus lecture (no visitors)

                                31                           New Life, Miracle House, 2A Silva Island Way, Wickford                                                                            SS12 9NR  (check address several venues)  01268 916080

February               1                           Quaich Cafe, East Horsley – all welcome 7.30pm

March                    7                            Churches Together Loughborough (Ness Wilson)

                               20                          London School of Theology (no visitors)

April                       4                           Spring Harvest Skegness – afternoon seminar

                               21                         Capital Vision 2020 workshop: Willesden Area Training & Dev                                                               Venue: Holy Trinity Church, Suez Avenue, Perivale, Middx                                                                       UB6 8LN       Time:  10am – 1pm       All welcome

October                9                            Ealing Deanery Chapter – Midday – 2pm

The Waterstones Book Launch


The launch of Time to Live was a great evening. The support from friends, family, colleagues, random ‘Ealingites’ was superb and yes we actually sold out.  Waterstones will be restocking in Ealing.  Their support has been much appreciated.  

We had the launch in Crispin’s Bar in Ealing run by the wonderful Polka.   It would have been easy for this to be a dour event, something I really did not want.  There were other people in the bar that evening but as we numbered 60+ persons we were a significant gathering. A problem occurred.  The only way to the toilet was through the centre of our group.  One indomitable gentleman launched himself into a moment of silence.  The MC for the evening, Steve, could not resist capitalising on his long ‘walk to wee’.  However, he had the last laugh as when he re-presented himself ready to take his place back at the bar, he said “I’m not dead yet!” and continued through to resounding applause.  He was a gift. No idea who he was, but we laughed.

In fact several people who had simply come in for a drink found themselves caught up in the moment.  At the end three of them came and bought a book.  I was touched.

I will give one more clip.  In it I read from near the beginning of the book.

It begins like this as the recording begins after I have started. 

“So what if…?

  • What if dying carried with it a sense of promise and a sense of excitement?
  • What if meditating about dying brough a fresh sense of perspective and purpose?
  • …..
  • What if, in our dying and death, we became our best selves?