‘I’ve read every word of more than 240 consecutive issues of The Psychologist’

One on one… with Peter Dillon-Hooper, who this month retires from the BPS and his post as Assistant Editor of The Psychologist after more than 20 years of service.

One long fortnight
I started work for the British Psychological Society in May 1998 on a two-week contract covering a staff absence…

One alternative career
I am just about to retire from it. The first half of my working life was spent in the travel business, I started with Thomas Cook in 1971 as a booking clerk (not a job title you see nowadays) and ended up organising overseas conferences and corporate events. The first Gulf War put an end to much of the business I was doing, and I found myself out of work. After a spell in the early 1990s working on building sites (which I really enjoyed and I was never fitter), I went to university, and serendipity and chance eventually led to my working for the BPS on The Psychologist.

One unexpected accomplishment
When I left school I had decided that higher education was not for me, so off I went to work and earn money. I came to regret missing out on university, but the opportunity arose again in my early forties, and I enrolled on a bachelor of laws course at Leicester University. With a family to help run, I treated it as a nine-to-five job and was delighted to gain a first class degree (one of only six awarded in a cohort of around 300).

One proud achievement at the BPS
Risking hubris, may I have three? Writing the Society’s Style Guide for Authors and Editors; in my role as Manager of the History of Psychology Centre, organising the first Stories of Psychology days, now designated a BPS flagship event; and leading on the setting-up of the PsychSource website. But I can’t omit also saying that 12 times a year for the last 20 years or so I have felt proud to have been part of The Psychologist team when I have seen the result of our work land on my desk.

One lifelong interest
I clearly remember when I was about 11 years old watching a sparrow picking up crumbs around a café table in my local park. I was struck by the subtleties of colour and pattern in its feathers. Off I went to the public library to find out more. I remember setting up bird feeders in my garden and being rewarded with some surprising avian visitors (this was the severe winter of 1962/63). I was hooked. This youthful interest in birds, and nature in general, has never left me. And now, to my delight, one of my sons has discovered birding for himself (no doubt from seeds I sowed when he was a boy), and our occasional days out together are an utter joy. 

One confession
I have on my bookshelf at home The Golden Treasury of Longer Poems edited by Ernest Rhys (1944). It does not belong to me, though it has been in my keeping for over half a century. It is a school book; it bears the stamp of Harrogate Grammar School. I no longer remember how or why I came not to return it after my O-levels; perhaps they’ll want it back if they see this. I do hope not. My English teacher, possibly still among us, might at least be pleased to learn that I have dipped into it continually throughout my larcenous possession, and that it has opened doors to my appreciating a wider landscape of poetry (acquired by legitimate means).

One book
So many I could choose, but taking the desert island book approach, it would be The Natural History of Selbourne. Actually a collection of letters by the 18th-century parson-naturalist Gilbert White, for me it is simultaneously a practical guide to critical inquiry about one’s natural surroundings, a fine example of elegant and expressive prose, and an evocation of England. All things I’d find useful or comforting stranded far from home and alone.

One place
I was considering saying Lake Lissagriffin on the Mizen Peninsula or Cape Clear Island, but really it’s West Cork, all of it… and its people. With family connections, we have been regular visitors for many years in every season.

We feel quite at home there and have considered making it our actual home. But we have more family in Britain, so West Cork will probably simply remain a regular place to go to for recharging our batteries, and for me to enjoy some excellent birding.

One influence
My wife, Gráinne. I owe much to her – she arrived at a low point in my life, and I know I wouldn’t be half the person I am without her. In many ways we are very different, but that’s what makes us a strong team.

One affliction
Being unable to read anything without infelicities of spelling, punctuation and grammar leaping out at me. This is useful for working on producing a magazine but is otherwise a potential social pitfall.

One thing I’ve learnt from psychology
I knew little about psychology when I started at the BPS all those years ago, but I’ve read every word (often several times over) of more than 240 consecutive issues of The Psychologist. If I take the one thing to mean ‘one thing that shifted my perspective’, then I suppose I could say it’s coming to understand that ‘madness’ is largely socially constructed, that the causes of mental distress are mostly environmental, and that the ‘cure’ does not come in a box of pills. 

One persistent challenge
As a largely self-taught classical guitar player, I have struggled with mastering the Five Preludes by Heitor Villa-Lobos for over 40 years. A kind of love-hate thing. Two of them I can play with reasonable fluency, the others present various technical difficulties that I have not managed to overcome, and probably now never will. But they are such delights to play when I hit a passage just right – at least, just right for me. I expect I’ll have more time to devote to playing in my retirement, so I shall soldier on with them.

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