Thursday, April 29, 2010

The truth will set you free

Unlike Robert Fulghum I didn't go to kindergarten but I wholly understand what he is saying when he says All I Really Need to Know I Learned at Kindergarten. One of those maxims is “say sorry when you hurt someone” and I am pleased that Gordon Brown said sorry to Gillian Duffy, I only hope his apology was more genuine than his warm words to her before he called her a bigot!

But it does seem that we are progressively coarsening society by forgetting some of the home spun truths we learn when we are young at mother knee so to speak. There has been a trend, it seems to me, to regard any idea that has a long provenance is misguided or out of date, or not in tune with modern society. But to me many have stood the test of time, are universal and underpin a civil world and telling the truth is surely one of them.

I don't want to sound like an old curmudgeon but I am saddened by the number of media commentators who have said in the case of Gordon Brown – “There but for the grace of god go I.” Really? “We always tell little untruths don't we?” they say, “We all save peoples blushes by little white lies don't we?” they say. Really?

Well maybe it isn't entirely black and white this telling the truth idea but surely the casual and wholesale abandonment of it must be a concern. Media managers and spin doctors would deny this but they are fundamentally about peddling untruths by seeking to hide it. This is a practice that I have always found despicable in business where these days it seems telling the truth is to be regarded as entirely naïve. Lying and deceit is seen almost as macho thing and incumbent upon management as the burden of management despite the fact that it is in most cases entirely unnecessary. I have always held to the view that telling the truth is generally for the best. Whilst it can be hard it has generally worked well for me in the long run. To me it is fundamental to developing trust.

And that is what is at issue here for Gordon Brown. Its not that he called her a bigot its that he hadn't got the courage to challenge her views face to face despite the fact that he was seeking her endorsement as her representative. Can we really all say “Well we would all do that wouldn't we?” Well no actually not all of us would, because I wouldn't.

I am not making a party political point here. They are all at it. The expenses scandal seems to me the most compelling example of how this particular group of people have lost their connection to the simple maxims of the kindergarten about fairness and respect. Ed Balls brushing off the fact that he used his mobile while driving as a “fair cop”. So that makes it aright then? You can decide to risk the lives of your cars occupants and other road users by taking an unnecessary action in full knowledge that it was illegal.

The selfish and casual abandonment of Fulghums wise observation will come back and bite us I feel sure and, in the meantime, civil society will just get progressively less civil.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Sunday was the anniversary of the beginning of the Dardanelles campaign – or Gallipoli as it is commonly referred to. Being married to a kiwi and having lived for some time in Australia I am very aware of how this event profoundly influenced those countries and shaped both their sense of nationhood and their place in the “Empire” as it then was. It was also a seminal moment in the development of modern Turkey as the old Ottoman empire collapsed, and Kamel Attaturk built his record as a formidable military commander.

The place itself is an extraordinarily beautiful location. Turquoise sea and timber clad coves, but the hillsides are still cut with the remains of slit trenches and redoubts now overgrown. Yet it has that sense of place so beloved of poets that even if you were unaware of its history you would detect that momentous and significant events had taken place there. For me visiting it for the first time, more than 20 years ago now, was a very affecting experience. I was lucky to be visiting with a small group of friends most of whom were Australian and New Zealanders. Ironically I was the only the only person from the group to have any relation involved in the campaign, and I had carried my grandfathers polished steel field mirror with me on the trip. We arrived late in the eventing and slept on the beach in Anzac Cove lighting a fire and talking late into the night. Before dawn we swam out into the cove and watched the sun come up from our vantage point out in the water. The silence and beauty of it all seemed so at odds with the knowledge of the carnage noise and death that we knew had happened there. For me it was a very moving and spiritual event and one that will always remain a solemn but treasured memory. As a reminder of the impact of war and, for me, the futility and waste of conflicts such as these, it has little to equal it.

When I visit an RSA in NZ and the lights are dimmed at the moment when we pay our respect to the fallen my mind often goes back to that place, to its peacefulness, its beauty and the terrible loss of life. We will remember them and their sacrifice.

Friday, April 23, 2010

An auspicious day!

World Book and Copyright day – and St Georges day all rolled into one. Doesn’t come much better as far as I am concerned. So I recommend you:

  • Settle down with a nice pint of good English bitter – how about trying something from the PotBelly Brewery in Kettering a fine micro brewer, Yeller Belly would be my choice today.
  • Have a read of a good book, how about Tulagi Hotel – written by a Fin but in English – in fact it is the first book by a Fin to be both written and published in English not in Fin.
  • Listen to some great spoken word and in the spirit of being inclusive I would recommend any of the quintessentially English Sherlock Holmes dramatised by Bert Coules and on the very fine BBC7

The game's afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge. Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Angels have a new boss

Once again – an obituary piece. This is getting sad, but this morning I hear about the death of John Forsythe. I suppose the curious thing for me is that, whilst most think of him in his role in Dynasty where he sparred with Joan Collins in true soap style, for me he will always be Charlie, the disembodied voice of the eponymous Angels’ boss. Despite all of the other things clamouring for my attention in Charlie's Angels (and bear in mind that when it first aired my hormones would have meant that I had eyes for little other than the fairer sex!) I was very much intrigued and drawn in by his superb vocal performance. Some may mock but even now I can conjure up that voice to mind in a heartbeat. For me it reminds me that the voice has such power, and when commanded by an actor of skill it is a lasting and striking tool. Fare well John and thanks.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The myths of surveys

Surveys are very poor indicators of truth and fact. They are often gameable, and demonstrate significant cognitive bias in those that construct them. News of a banking survey did rather make me smile today.

So people don't switch banks according to the ICM/BBC survey.
Not surprising when it is made as difficult as it is. And what to switch too?

And people are happy? Apparently, but I suspect that, given that the services are pretty much universally poor, they are really saying “well my bank is no worse than any of the others so I guess I am happy relative to what I think I could actually get.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Small Films - Big Impact

I have always been a great fan of the quirky and idiosyncratic work of Oliver Postgate. Indeed I lamented his passing in this blog some time ago. The BBC have just shown a film about his life and the work he did with Peter Firmin as part of its Time Shift Series. As usual the Beeb did a lousy job of publicising its quality output, but if you are quick you can still catch it on the iplayer here.