Quite by chance the other morning, I heard a toe-tapping tune on the radio featuring a harmonica.

It was very cheering, and so was the information given afterwards by the presenter, Petroc Trelawny.

The harmonica player was the late Tommy Reilly, a Canadian. He had been studying music in Leipzig in 1939 but was arrested and interned when war broke out and remained a prisoner for six years.

One can only imagine how desperately tragic that must have felt to a young man, far from home, fearing for his life and becoming increasingly aware that all his plans were postponed indefinitely.

But here, his history becomes even more interesting, because he used the time to become a virtuoso on the harmonica.

This is the sort of story I love – where talent, persistence and achievement triumph over adversity.

It would have been so easy for him to believe his life was over, to sink into despair and to perceive himself as a victim with no options. Instead, he seized the day and transformed disaster into opportunity.

After the war, now an accomplished player, Reilly came to London and had a stellar career. Those of you old enough to remember the BBC Light Programme may have been aware of him as – apart from being a successful classical artist – he also played the jaunty signature tune for The Navy Lark.

I mention this heart-warming tale because I know that loads of people currently are seeking inspiration to get on with making changes to their own lives – and if you think that’s a bit of a Radio 2 link, I apologise!

September, of course, is all about new beginnings and, if you think about it, is probably the most significant month of the year. It’s a time when structure and sanity return after the shambles that is August, and families throughout the land gear up for major challenges as their offspring embark on new stages of their education.

This has struck me particularly this year as the oldest of my grandchildren is beginning her first term as a teacher, and my youngest is going to ‘big school’ and is so excited she’s been wearing her school uniform for weeks.

But it seems to me that there is even more change afoot than usual after the disruption of 2020. Many people are going back into their offices for the first time, others are increasing the number of days they work there – having mostly worked at home since early last year.

On top of that there is a restlessness in many of us; we feel we have drifted somewhat aimlessly for too long because of the pandemic and that we want to do something purposeful.

Last week, four entirely different friends told me of their desire for change, saying:

  • I feel life’s passing me by and I need to stop that
  • I’ve realised I need to give time to what I want to do while I still can
  • I want to be more useful
  • I must do something more with my life

I’m sure these mates of mine are the tip of the iceberg. There is a palpable sense that we all need to step up and get going. It’s just a question of establishing what we should do.

If you have time to spare, perhaps you could consider joining local community initiatives such as picking up litter on beaches, or clearing local woodland, or volunteering for charities active in your area. Helping near to home always enlarges our social network and increases our feelings of self-worth.

Perhaps you retired and had extensive plans to fill your time with an Open University degree but somehow the pandemic got in the way. Well, you can’t blame Covid-19 for ever, so how about revisiting your ambitions?

Maybe you have lost fitness over the past months. The answer to this problem could lie in the many actual exercise classes springing up.

If you’re anything like me, you’re possibly weary of Zoomed classes now. It’s all too easy, as I well know, to slope off in the middle and answer the door to a delivery man or make a surreptitious cup of coffee without anyone noticing.

Back in a studio, with other people exercising nearby, and a teacher keeping her beady eye on you, it’s amazing how much more effective your efforts can be.

You may however want to do something that could lead to a change in career or help you get back into full time employment, or simply open your mind to fresh possibilities.

A quick trawl through adult education courses in Norfolk and Suffolk revealed a wide range on offer including classes in personal finance, lipreading, languages, and skills to help you get a job. And there are also creative classes in arts and crafts and mending and upcycling clothes and textiles. Really there’s something for everyone.

So how about it? Can we get ourselves together and embrace new stimulus, new challenges, and new opportunities to make friends who share our interests and activities?

I think it’s time we did.