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  • Mike and Helen

Bids for Attention

When the Sunday paper arrives, the back page of the Observer Magazine with Ask Philippa is a good place to start! Celebrity psychotherapist, Philippa Perry, has stripey hair, red glasses and dresses, like her artist husband, Grayson, in bright colours. We rarely disagree with and sometimes learn from her compassionate and down-to-earth response to people’s problems. It keeps us in touch with the world of human problem solving in which we have both worked for so many years in different ways – and miss!


So Mike bought Helen (for which read ‘us’ ), Philippa’s latest book for Christmas. It’s called, The Book You Want Everyone You Love* to Read  * and maybe a few you don’t! And it’s dedicated to ‘all the people who are brave enough to write to me at The Observer.


One of her basic ideas is that so often, when we are faced with problems, we tend to ask, ‘why?’  Why does x treat me this way? Why do I feel the way I do? Philippa’s approach is to ask a different question, ‘How?’ How do I come to feel the way I do? How you approach life and people in the way you do? Once you understand how, you can make some changes..


One of Philippa’s four ‘how’ sections is concerned with relationships – one of the most popular subjects for people who go into therapy. She calls it ‘how we love’. One of her phrases about marriage puts into words something about successful relationships of all kinds that is rarely expressed so clearly. ‘What sustains a marriage,’ she says, ‘ honouring bids for attention....Honouring doesn’t necessarily mean doing what the person wants, but it does mean listening and communicating that you’ve understood them’.


As we get older, we wonder about all those ‘bids for our attention’ which we have somehow missed and so failed to honour. We were talking recently about Mike’s mum who was a widow for nearly 40 years. In our youthful ignorance, we probably just took her struggles for granted.

 ‘Don’t get old, Mike, she would sometimes say.

‘I am not planning to’, Mike would jokily respond.

‘It’s not much fun,’ she would say.


We wonder now whether her words were a kind of bid for attention. An attempt to engage in some sort of conversation about ageing which she would have liked and needed. She lived till she was 95 and was well acquainted with the ‘aches and pains’ of old age. Now that we have begun to know those ‘aches and pains’ for ourselves, we’re sad that we missed an opportunity to honour someone very dear to us.


You can see ‘bids for attention’ playing out on the world’s grander stages – think Gaza and Ukraine and so many other places. Those we can do little about. But we can honour the ‘bid for attention’ when it comes from families and friends.

It is no easy thing to offer another person such real attention, attention without an agenda, without a ready riposte or piece of advice in one's own mind just waiting an opening to deliver it. It’s so easy to miss the riches that can be offered in return as we honour the bid for attention.


In her poem ‘The Whistler’ about her partner Molly Malone Cook, Mary Oliver recognises how difficult it can be to know even those most familiar to us:

I know her so well, I think. I thought. Elbow and ankle.

Mood and desire. Anguish and frolic. Anger too.And the devotions. And for all that, do we even beginto know each other? Who is this I’ve been living with for thirty years?






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colin weedon
colin weedon
Feb 11

Oh yes ! Thought-provoking as usual. I recall my mother often saying "no joke, this getting old" ... but her irrepressible sense of humour got her through all sorts of trauma - and we didn't recognise, maybe, this 'bid for attention'. Anyway - I've bought the book so we'll see what transpires ........

Mike and Helen
Feb 11
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Let us know what you think of Lady Philippa😊

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