School Days and Beyond

I received a ‘Former Pupil’s’ magazine from my old school the other day. There had been an ‘Old Boy’s Association’ of which I was a member, having paid into a fund every term for the privilege. Things changed when the school, all boys when I was there, acquired a Girl’s Division when the local High School, a selective Grammar, finally fell under the Comprehensive axe. Obviously we couldn’t all be Old Boys now, and it gave the opportunity for a revamp, a new organisation (with a joining fee obviously!) and much more regular contact and vibrancy than before. All of which are good things.

It does make me wonder however when I read of the successes and careers of my former school mates what I have done with my life. Comparisons are odious, but unlike Ian Taylor of Vitol (d. June 2020- RIP Ian) I never had £2million or £3million to give each year to the arts. I remember rugby training with Ian after school and watching his performances in the Drama club with admiration. It never occurred to me at the time that he may go on to be the man to transform the oil trading and energy commodities industry.

There are others. I remember having impromptu late night coffee and drinks with the now Director General of the International Labour Organisation, in his parents kitchen after a night out not long after we left school. Amongst the usual young men’s trivia, we discussed what we were going to do in the future. I don’t remember mentioning what I ended up doing and I don’t recall becoming DG of the ILO being at the forefront of his mind either.

I wasn’t in the same year as the first Captain of the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, now a Vice-Admiral, but he followed me through the same classrooms and gymnasium and Main Hall.

There are luminaries of all kinds: England Rugby Union scrum halves, England Rugby Union doctors, England Cricket coaches, leading business chiefs, scientists, senior civil servants and yes, the odd pop star, who attended the same school before, during and after my time, including (many years before) the Judge who tried and signed the death warrant of Charles I.

And what did I do?

Well not what they did, although I have had an eclectic, entertaining, and rewarding life. Possibly not as well, depending if and how you judge these things although I have had successes both personal and career I would not swap for all the oil in Vitol’s accounts. There has, however also been bewilderment and frustration. I was surely as clever and as capable many of the people in the list above, but doing something with my ability proved elusive at times.

Ian Taylor, interviewed by Bloomberg News in 2016 said ‘ You need to have relationships’ discussing his success and the constant travel and willingness to meet and negotiate with people that characterised his work.

I never quite felt happy or confident with that side of life’s equation and my late diagnosed ASD probably helps to explain a lot of my difficulty in recognising opportunities, career and personal, that presented themselves. It wasn’t that I disliked people or didn’t want to have relationships with them, I simply didn’t get the different levels, nuances and interactions that others took for granted. I learned many of them as the years went on, but it was never an instinctive thing with me. It was like working really hard to learn and speak a foreign language. I could make it work to a point but the instinctive recognition and speed of response was often missing.

If I had known in that kitchen with Guy, or on that training field with Ian, what I know now, would my life have been different? Probably. I would still have had the ASD. I would however have been able to make changes of approach, expectation and how I let people know about why I am the way I am. I would still have been me, but maybe those relationships I needed to have developed could have been simpler to make, easier to maintain and more frequently identified.

29 March-4 April was World Autism Awareness Week and some organisations are extending this to make the whole of April, Autism Awareness Month. I would rather we are all more aware and accepting of those who see the world differently all the time, but hey, I’ll settle for a month to start with.

TL;DR?

Can people read more than 280 characters?

I was reading an article on the internet this morning:

https://sunilsuri.substack.com/p/gamingforgood

which I had been referred to by a gaming acquaintance. It is a fascinating article (to me at any rate) about using games for purposes other than straightforward entertainment. The obvious additional purposes include education – both in getting children to practice maths, engage with the concept of probability, social interaction and action/outcome ideas.

But there are bigger aims in some games, for example emergency response, planning, disease control, social planning etc. Whilst this is all good stuff, it may not be related even remotely to writing (although writing the scenarios, putting the results of gaming actions into stylised reporting/ narratives surely require authorial skills?). Something did leap out at me however which triggered a little thought regarding current writing practices and received wisdom about length of articles, stories, novels etc.

This is the quote which swapped tracks for me from a games to writing.

‘Consider news consumption. The Reuters Institute found that younger generations “do not want to work hard for their news.” In practice, news is often consumed on smartphones in small amounts to fit around other activities. Such consumption habits do not necessarily lend themselves to deeper engagement with the issues of the day.’

Well yeah. Difficult to get the nuances of anything in 140 characters (now 280, but 140 has a certain ring to it as the limit of human attention span in a digital world). Now most social media content is longer than that, but not by much.

Ah the horror of the modern world! Kids can’t concentrate. Millennials are so needy and have no depth! We’re all doomed.

Well I remember the heady days of proper print journalism and news that contained news on Television and radio.

And hardly anybody bought broadsheets, watched extended news programmes or listened to current affairs on the BBC Home Service.

There are more opportunities to read, hear and see extended, in depth, insightful news reports on thousands of items which would never have made it into the old ‘quality newspapers’ never mind red top tabloids or scandal sheets.

Attention span may have shortened but I remember many people consuming their news from ‘newspapers’ which had pages of hardly any content and masses of filler and still believing made up lies about European legislation which would ban bendy bananas and the British Banger.

The internet and social media may have made such gibberish slightly more available and a few more people than before may not have realised that reality checks need to be applied to anything, wherever you read, hear or see it. That doesn’t mean that any fewer people than before deeply engage with the issues of the day. I suspect there may be slightly more engagement in fact. Young people weren’t that bothered when I was a child/young adult. All those pictures and film clips of protestors on marches and rallies show the active minority, not the majority who were sat at home, or playing sport or working for their exams.

We shouldn’t get suckered in by fuzzy memories of halcyon days when everything was better. Goodness knows I have my doubts about the uses and abuses of digital technology but let’s not overstate them or use the idea as yet another stick to beat younger generations.

As for writing and reading, there seems to be a lot of appetite for reading about. Just because traditional media publishers haven’t always been up to speed on response doesn’t seem a good reason to bemoan the state of modern readers, or writers. Nor is it necessarily a reason to insist on brevity to point of meaninglessness. Yes, micro-fiction is a demanding and entertaining art form when done well, but its brevity is no more likely to get readers on the strength of its size alone than any other length of work. The good thing about reading is you can stop and start at will. Not many of us sit down and read a great slab of a book in one sitting no matter how good or engaging it is. I am however quite capable of remembering where I left off and resuming. I am sure ‘young’ people today are quite as capable of that feat if they wish as anyone else.

Thoughts On ‘Your Call…’

Odd short story. Arrived out of nowhere that one.

I suppose it was a bit trite wasn’t it?

A grumpy old person’s pop at things changing from their past.

Never mind grandad.

Of course I’ve felt like this from at least the early 1980s.

Not I suspect an accident that period of realisation that history was not an unchallenged Whig progression to English glory.

That initial realisation that things didn’t always improve was prompted by a friend trying to contact someone in the council to get something done. I can’t at forty years remove remember what it was, but I do remember his frustration at discovering that, due to the changes in local government funding being foisted on councils at the time, they no longer dealt with whatever it was because, if it were outsourced, it came under a different budget heading and they wouldn’t get grief from Westminster.

Victoria Park Flats

 

I walked past the monolith of the facade of Victoria Park Flats in Macclesfield thinking about how he could maybe persuade someone to tell him how to deal with this problem. And failing.

I mention Victoria Park flats as a cunning acknowledgement that change, ‘progress’ can be good and bad. Victoria Park flats replaced a demolished area of very tightly packed brick terrace mill workers houses. They had a sub Dickensian charm but must have been hell to live in. Victoria Park flats, ‘Viccy Park’, were medium rise concrete rat runs built in neo brutalist style that even the architect probably hated. But they were better plumbed, heated and not as rapaciously landlorded as 19th century mill owners tat.

The fact social disintegration set in shortly afterwards and the physical design encouraged that alienation beloved of social realists was the down side.

There were lots of good people in Viccy Park, but the drugs and the criminal minority got the headlines and the reputation was forged.

So thirty odd years after being ‘the finest housing development in the country’ according to Anthony Greenwood, Harold Wilson’s Housing Minister, demolition began. Traditional low rise buildings replaced the experimental work, but we should remember, that cool as those black and white photos of mill workers in their quaint dress standing outside Coronation Street style houses may look, the flats were a vast improvement for many. The sense of social togetherness and improvement that engendered the idea of replacing those terraces with the flats, may have been let down by the architecture and system build design of the private company that constructed them to the borough architect’s plan, but the recognition of owing the public something better than slums was good.

Under what social ideal were they demolished and replaced? Social justice? Better welfare? Or a desire to have a better facade for the town for visitors on the train.

So I don’t want to return to the terraced houses. Nor the collectivist vision of Viccy Park flats, but I have reservations about why they were replaced.

What worries me is that you can knock a concrete estate down and rebuild. Can you do that with a society? We’ve been through a period where the vision was; ‘no such thing as society’, and defenders of the person who said it can claim as much ‘misrepresentation’ as they like but it was taken as a mantra. A mantra that justified rapacious, devil take the hindmost excess in deregulated city firms that eventually led to the 2008 crash and a near collapse of capitalism. Oddly enough a world system saved by the intervention of governments led by Gordon Brown. A system that fell over its own greed, swallowed the state intervention medicine, kicked the doctor who saved it, and started chanting about the benefits of ‘small government’ and misquoting Ronald Reagan to say government wasn’t the solution it was the problem.

So when I looked at what was going on in the high street, in the offshoring of support services, in the crass manipulation of the language of ‘customer care’ from the viewpoint of someone looking at trying to save the world from outside the world, it became clear that maybe we, at least the western anglo-saxon version of how it works, ain’t worth saving. Even our supposed cures are nightmares: the internet of things, total digital integration to be exploited by monopoly global companies, dehumanising support chains with algorithms masquerading as artificial intelligence, and worse; the spectre of real AI hovering over us.

This isn’t an old git looking back, but a rational humanist perspective that realises there is no Whig theory of history that is going to save us. Unless we get our fingers out and make it clear: progress works for us or ships out, we are stuffed. We tell history where it goes not the other way round. We need to make sure those telling us that ‘X’ is inevitable get told where to go before they take us all to the cleaners.

Then again maybe it was just a trite bit of fun.

Action Monday

A news presenter on radio has just wasted several precious minutes of air time wibbling about ‘Blue Monday’. Apparently that is today, 18 January 2021.

The slot started off moderately light heartedly but rapidly drooped into the usual misery about the ‘last year’ and how we can all avoid our suicidal depression.

Well I’m not in one.

I’m sure there are some people who are down about life, and I sympathise but there are obviously a lot of people who are not and designating a day at random as ‘the low point of the year’ isn’t helping anyone.

I’d never even heard of ‘Blue Monday’ as a concept until today, and thirty seconds of searching online revealed what I suspected. There is no evidence for this as a real thing at all. It was a creation of a psychologist, Cliff Arnall who was suckered into the idea by Sky Travel in 2004. They were seeking a way of getting people to book holidays early for that summer and used this concept to prod people into parting with their hard earned cash. Arnall has since asked people to ignore the whole thing as irrelevant to real life. But as Dr Frankenstein found out, these monsters are harder to slay than create.

So here we are then on the most depressing day of the year (not). And you would, under the current circumstances, be mad to book a sun packed overseas beach holiday any time soon. So do you end it all now?

No.

Lift your head up and look at the glory of creation. Whether you ascribe the wonders around you to a God, or to a Gaia type concept or to the random chance events of scientific evolution they are pretty amazing and so are you. Your sheer existence is a wondrous victory over chance. Celebrate it.

Vaccines are on the way to offer a hope at least of a path through the Covid-19 minefield for many of us fairly soon so we should bear up under the strain and keep a clear head.

Actually if we are looking for something to be less than happy about, it might be that idea of vaccine rollout.

I am fortunate enough through happy circumstance, nothing to do with me, to live in a rich, self absorbed country, that had the money and opportunity to bung loads of cash relatively early on to pharmaceutical companies and ensure fairly early access to large numbers of doses of these lifelines. But what about the rest of the world? There are billions of people out there who will not have lifesaving vaccines for months, probably years the way things are going. The Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine is being made available to low and middle income countries at cost. Which is great but still expensive and supplies are currently being snapped up by rich ‘first world’ countries before they can rollout to these other needy areas.

So if you want to shake off the imaginary Blue Monday lethargy, write to your MP and suggest we stick a couple of billion in the pot to help pay the ‘cost’ price for our fellow human beings to be safe. And maybe we could build and licence production facilities elsewhere to stop countries rich from the previous exploitation of other countries snaffling all the available doses first?

‘No man is an island…’ and all that.

BREAKING POINT

I’d like to end 2020 on an upbeat note.

But I have no desire to stick my head in the sand

Civil society in Wales is not in a good place.

Our Covid figures are the worst in the UK nations and the NHS is falling, or probably has already fallen, over.

And political accountability on a range of issues is non-existent.

Starting with the small stuff first, the idea that the majority of people pay the smallest amount of attention to various enjoinders or rules about the Covid situation is a joke.

I see secondary school children, old ladies and athletic looking middle aged men without masks in shops unchallenged by shop workers while pre recorded voice messages play over the tannoy system telling us all how there is a one way system in force, everyone must wear masks and assistants will enforce the rules.

Families have extended family over to visit from many different households and not just in the Christmas window and way beyond those limits.

And why would they pay attention when the rules change seemingly from day to day?

And when someone writes to ask a question via email about the policy, the system, its implications for a Welsh student studying and living in England and whether they can and how they should return for essential services still registered for in Wales, and might the Welsh Government apply a little more thought to those in that position, they are ignored.

The official system my daughter used to contact Mark Drakeford some months ago specifically says that the enquiry will receive an answer. She wasn’t expecting a personally signed vellum scroll in reply, but not to receive even an acknowledgment, as required, undermines belief in even the most basic lip service to democratic accountability and engagement.

But politicians and officials seem to care little about what the pubic want. We have recently had a new superhospital open in our area, The Grange at Cwmbran – the one recently in the news with no beds for A & E and patients sat overnight in ambulances waiting. Which is odd as it is the A & E hospital now for the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board. This has a huge catchment area and is not on the established public transport links in the area. Newport is the focal point for transport links in the area. Cwmbran is up one of the valleys and if you need to get there you have to change buses or trains at least once, in Newport, to get there and then the hospital is nowhere near the station in Cwmbran.

But obviously if you need to get there in an emergency you will use an ambulance to get you there in time to save you without the bother of public transport.

The 86 year old grandmother of a friend of my daughter had a fall a couple of days ago. She was in agony and the family couldn’t move her themselves as they suspected she had broken her hip. They rang for an ambulance to take her to the new state of the art centre of excellence that is the Grange at Cwmbran.

26 and a half hours later an ambulance arrived. The ambulance driver said he would complain as his patient was by then in a bad way and he had not heard about the call until recently. That obviously stops the press stories about waiting in ambulances for a bed.

As suspected, she as a broken hip, and will have an operation tomorrow.

I’d suggest writing to someone to complain, but as nobody is even likely to acknowledge it, it hardly seems worth it does it?

In case anyone thinks Covid and/or teething problems with the new hospital in Cwmbran are to blame, nearly two years ago my GP rang for an ambulance for me when my heart went into atrial flutter and I had a resting pulse of c150 beats per minute. I waited for a couple of hours and rang to see what was happening. There were no ambulances. They sub contracted a taxi.

Fortunately my wife got back from hospital and drove me to hospital. The ambulance/taxi never did arrive.

There were no beds. There were no trolleys. I sat in a chair in the waiting room overnight, eventually hooked up to a drip to see if they could get my heart rate down before I saw someone about sixteen hours later and I eventually got a trolley. I moved up through the hierarchy for a couple of days until I eventually got to a cardiac ward bed, got my heart rate under control and was discharged for cardioversion at a later (five month) date.

There was no Covid. There were no teething problems

I’m not having a pop at the NHS staff, but at the failure to finance, organise and direct their efforts while talking gibberish about how brilliant everything is.

A little less effort on the ‘message’ front and a little more at getting the bloody thing right would help.

It’s not just the NHS, and it’s not just Wales.

Underfunding, poor planning and a desire to egregiously lie about how ‘World Beating’ everything is at every verse end is infecting every facet of public life in the UK. And it is not ‘public service inefficiency’ that is the problem. The efficacy of the Government’s remedy of choice, privatised sub contracting, can be seen in the woeful performance the World Beating private test, track and trace system in England. It is undoubtedly setting records but not at the end of the leader board you’d like it to be.

A little more honesty and genuine attempts to fix problems rather than ‘perceptions’ would go a long way.

Christmas Teaser

A while ago I was moved to bemusement, sarcasm and derision regarding the meaningless language used in an advertisement for a senior post in the Metropolitan Police. I thought it would be a one off, as once you’ve goggled at the imbecility of the unholy spawn of HR and advertising speak, is there anywhere else to go? In this case however it appears there is and I am happy to make an exception and return to the concept that perhaps job adverts should convey some idea of what the job is. It is perhaps a coincidence that it occurs in another part of the ‘Justice’ system recruitment process, or perhaps key stakeholder account personnel are particularly heavily infected in this area of advertising copy.

I am not now nor have I ever been a ‘Key Accounts Lead’

Having got that confession off my chest I will attempt to reclaim some legitimacy for my response to the job advert for the Law Society, reproduced below.

I speak English as my native tongue, I studied law, have an LL.B. and have worked with legal documentation at various times and have a moderate degree of intelligence. I should be able to work out what a job advert is saying. Shouldn’t I?

This however leaves me scratching my head, open mouthed. Frankly this is the sort of thing I write as a joke to point out the execrable silliness on marketing and management speak.

Anyone using the words ‘stakeholder engagement strategy’ without a large emoji to show they are taking the mick should be avoided like the plague. I give you the advert.

Prizes may be awarded for anyone who can tell me what it means.

‘The Role

The Law Society is the membership body for the legal profession. Our members are at the heart of what we do and we’re committed to providing ongoing support, training and events to assist them in their careers.

The Key Accounts Lead is a new role and will be responsible for leading a team to successfully develop and implement the stakeholder engagement strategy and plan for maximising engagement with and satisfaction of strategically key membership accounts.

The successful candidate will lead and develop cross-organisational stakeholder engagement with key membership accounts in collaboration with colleagues. This will include managing the relationships with strategically key accounts, and leading, influencing and working in partnership with them and senior colleagues to develop and enhance the Law Society’s member offer

What we’re looking for

Any successful applicant will need experience of working in a law firm, in-house or similar professional environment.

The candidate will need proven experience of improving client engagement and satisfaction across a broad and diverse membership to deliver increased member satisfaction.

This role is responsible for engaging with a large segmented professional audience within a complex governance membership organisation. The successful candidate must be able to foster and influence relationships at a senior level and demonstrate the ability to develop and deliver client focused solutions through multiple complex projects.

Comfort with a senior stakeholder audience as well as excellent written and verbal communication skills in order to communicate at all levels within the legal profession will put candidates ahead in the selection process. This role comes with responsibility for managing a small team and developing cross team working, hence experience of such is essential.’

Well that can take the place of those Christmas Quizzes one gets on other sites. Remember its only a bit of fun and nobody except the senior stakeholder audience will be affected by the outcome.

Merry Christmas everyone.

APRÉS MOI…LE WHAT?

I have a guilty secret.

It’s a kind of addiction.

I gave the game away in a recent post here, but I think I may have gotten away with it too,  if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids

Which kids?

Those on University Challenge.

I have been watching UC and attempting to compete with the contestants since its inception in 1962. Given I was seven at the time, you might have thought that this was a forlorn hope. I was however a precocious little person. Although I doubt my memories of each week being in with a shout at the gong which ends each episode in those early years, I had been attentive enough to my father’s readings to me of Norse and Greek mythology, Roman history and basic science, to get one or two answers each episode. The canon of academic knowledge seemed narrower then.

Which is why contemporary questioning has exposed some lacunae in my knowledge base, and led to this confession.

My interest in a TV programme which asked questions with definitive right or wrong answers based on a well bounded sphere of academic, cultural and political knowledge played right into the strengths of my ASD brain. Read these works, study these equations follow the news in reputable papers and all the knowledge worth knowing was available and could be remembered.

Not only that but I could test and compare myself with the contestants.

I answered the questions where I could, but early on I began a quite strange, now I look back on it with more insight than I then possessed, habit. I would count the answers I got correct, but they only counted if I said them out loud before anyone on the two competing teams or the host, Bamber Gascoigne initially, now Jeremy Paxman, announced them.

I considered for a while the idea of marking myself in terms of the show’s  marking schema; with ten points for a starter question and five for a follow up bonus, to see, presumably, if I alone could have defeated the accumulated brainpower of St.John’s College Oxford or Durham University or Manchester. I am still tempted, but I drew a line. Somewhere a warning note regarding the dangers of stepping over the line of casual enthusiasm into obsession, sounded. Some may say it sounded a little too late.

I was distraught when he show disappeared from ITV in the 80s. But it had sown the seeds of a slight quiz mania. I was already part of the Pub Quiz boom in that period and played for a team in a local league and joined peripatetic quizzers looking for fresh challenges and cash in the tough semi pro world of quizzes for cash. I’m joking of course, it wasn’t bare knuckle boxing, but sometimes the distinction blurred. There were bans on some itinerant teams who showed up to local pubs running cash prize quizzes and some people could and did get quite shirty about the presence of (mostly mythical) quiz hustlers in competitions.

When UCt returned in 1994 I was elated.

So why has the current iteration of UC brought me to this confession?

Well I still watch, and I still count my scores in terms of questions answered. Okay, so far so weird I know. The thing that has concerned me is that my number of questions answered correctly before the students can, or before Paxman can put them out of their misery should they not know the answer, is declining.

In the first round games I have been still okay. I scored 31 in one round this series and I was regularly in the high twenties and convinced the old brain was still ticking along. The subsequent rounds I believe get harder, at least they do for me, but this week I was reduced to 16. I’m not saying I’m grabbing the mess Webley yet, but I am wondering where we put it.

On a seriously anal note I had a deeper think about the reasons.

Obvious answer: they were asking questions I didn’t know the answer to. (I know where prepositions go, I’m embracing the vernacular) But why? The answers thing, not the vernacular.

In some cases even this is not true. I have noticed that although I know the answer, my recall is too slow to beat the 19 to 20 something brains. The number of times I have been tempted to ‘cheat’ and count the answer if I knew it but couldn’t spit it out fast enough is increasing dramatically. Thoughts of normal age related impairment reassure me a little, but don’t waft away the various dementia concerns that start to gather in the darker moments.

But a less threatening answer also raises its head. I just don’t keep up enough with the changes to the modern academic and cultural canon. An average awareness of Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Wagner no longer suffices to cover questions on serious music, and don’t even start me on contemporary music – is it music? (Oh Guy! ‘Modern beat combos’ anyone?) Similarly Titian, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, van Gogh, don’t appear as much while Banksy, Emin and Hirst will only get you so far. As for the proliferation of subatomic particles in common circulation since 1962…

I realised many years ago that to attain the Renaissance ideal of knowing everything had become less likely to put it mildly, but I still tried. To what purpose I was never sure, save emulating my father who was my internet. But not only has the canon grown exponentially it appears the relevance of the earlier iterations has declined or in some cases disappeared altogether.

This isn’t always a bad thing. The removal of sub Galtonian justifications for crude eugenics is hard to shed a tear for. Likewise, for different reasons, some of the earlier explanations of life, the universe and everything that preceded scientific method. Although I note neo-Lamarkism is very popular among the epigenticist class.

So there it is.

I am an inveterate consumer of, and participant in quizzes (whether pub or TV). Preferably not involving too much ephemeral popular culture. But one who is slipping down the rankings as failing brainpower, interest in keeping up and an expanding world knowledge base conspire to reduce me to what must surely be single digit scores at the hands of Paxman et al.

Barbarism and dissolution await, I embrace them.

GET ON THE TRAIN

I can’t remember how long it is since I watched Billy Liar. It was sold to me as a must watch by a school friend sometime in the early seventies. I may have watched it again in the late seventies depending whether it was repeated on BBC2. That was the only channel (out of three available in Britain) that would have bothered repeating something which passed for an arty, niche piece in the world dominated by the likes of James Bond, The Great Escape and similar blockbuster style films that made it on to BBC1 and ITV.

Be that as it may, if people mentioned it in conversation since then (not a frequent occurrence, but more often than you would think for a black and white British film about someone who daydreams a whole country but doesn’t leave home), I would smile in recognition, but there would be an uneasy feeling, squirming away at the back of my mind.

Then I read a piece in the Guardian some time ago that made me remember where my uneasy feelings about it came from. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/nov/10/billy-liar-my-most-over-rated-film

If you haven’t watched it and don’t want to know the ending – spoiler coming along – look away NOW!

Billy has his chance to leave and doesn’t take it. More foolishly he has the opportunity to leave the North of England head for London to try and make his future, with Julie Christie.

He gets off the train and ‘misses’ it, marching back home to failure with his imaginary army trudging behind and Julie Christie on the way to London.

It is a paean of praise to lost opportunity.

I remember being very afraid that Billy was me. I played wargames with toy soldiers (still do) so ‘imaginary army’? Check. Dead end northern town existence? Check. Dreamer with pretensions of writing? Check. The only thing I was missing was Julie Christie – maybe that was the problem.

To be fair, I like and liked Macclesfield, not such a terrible existence. But I found a way out, having had a kick up the backside from reading, a few years on from seeing the film, the sequel: ‘Billy Liar on the Moon’. Still in the town, now a council official, he breaks a corruption scandal. But he is stuck there making the best fist he can of a bad job.

So I left.

So why drag all this up now? Well I have unfulfilled ambitions and I was looking online for something else entirely and came across this review again and almost immediately afterwards on the name of someone I used to work with. He worked in another organisation and I thought he was a good bloke, but a bit fly. Vey fly it seems as he is now a big wheel in the privatised bit of the world we used to inhabit for the Public Sector. Looking at his business social media led me to another couple of names I know, both of whom I worked with and thought were okay but frankly nothing that special and certainly no better than me at what we did.

I took another path and now I wonder if I missed a train somewhere?

The Julie Christie reference didn’t help either, because although I am happily married with two lovely children, I remembered a huge missed signal from someone I was madly in love with at the time. The combination of being head over heels and ASD made me miss a rather large hint and opportunity. I am squirming with embarrassment as I write this that I didn’t see it at the time.

Of course my life might have been very different or very much the same, we never know where the untravelled road might have led us. I’m very happy with my family and although remembering that incident makes me cringe, I wouldn’t not have my family. But realising I definitely cocked up recognising an opportunity in one field of life has made me wonder what else I might have missed in fields I would have liked to have gone differently?

A medical friend who dealt with many injured soldiers in recovery and rehabilitation used to say ‘we start from where we are, not where we would like to be’. Wise words. So whatever I may have missed the thing to remember is don’t miss things now, don’t dwell on what might have been.

I’ll get on the next train.

MEDITATION ON A LOST YEAR AND A NEW CROSSROADS

There’s been a lot going on in the world over the last nine months, despite the narrow parochial view from a small town in a corner of Wales in varying states of quarantine. As much as Wales has big cities, (Cardiff? Swansea? Newport?) where I live is most decidedly not imbued with a big city perspective. So the closure of one of the local supermarkets, last trading day Sunday 6 December, has been the big, and miserable, news of the last few months. The other has been the remodelling of the crossroads at the centre of the village finally finished, sort of. What was supposed to be a three month job was strung out with Covid and its response into nine. It still hasn’t got all the promised bells and whistles and frankly at the moment looks like the biggest waste of money on a cosmetic effort since the rage for trout pout lips some years ago.

The USA has had an election. Result not quite confirmed. You have an election to elect people who have an election that happens six weeks later? Probably worked in the nineteenth century before modern transport and communication systems, but now? Six weeks? And then another month to move the furniture for the new guy?

Of course that has all been exacerbated by the present incumbent’s approach to elections and news. I guess the combination of Donald Trump and a system that means the nation has got used to ‘mainstream’ media outlets being the ones to ‘call’ the election, was asking for interesting times if it didn’t go spectacularly in his favour.

Most commentators seem to believe it is all over bar the shouting and that Joe Biden is President-Elect, and will take up residence in the White House. President Trump is still tweeting ‘we will WIN!’ and saying he will vacate the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden on 14 December. Am I the only one wondering what that means? I’ve heard of ‘faithless electors’ where College electors don’t follow their state’s popular vote but apparently (and I am no expert on US Constitutional Law, so don’t quote me) it is also open to State legislatures to appoint College Electors who will vote against the popular vote if that legislature is convinced the original ballot was flawed in some way. The Electors would not then be ‘faithless’ and laws constraining their voting (in some states only) that automatically invalidate ‘faithless’ votes, would not apply. The Donald may still have a technical route to that second term.

With me so far?

I can see why the demise of Waitrose here is the main point of discussion round here.

China appears to have shrugged of Covid-19 like a bad dream the rest of us are still enduring. Do we believe that? Is smoke and mirrors really the cure for SARS-CoV-2? Or a draconian social control that would make Winston Smith’s ‘1984’ look like an Ecstasy fuelled Rave? Facial recognition and re-education camps, fight Covid, Uighurs and Democracy?

Hong-Kong had its flirtation with post British colonial democracy prematurely trashed (see above) and the Brits use some really harsh words. Being in hock to the largest manufacturing economy in the world (which is doing the trashing) doesn’t help truth justice and the mother of Parliaments as it is about to crash out of the lee of the EU of course.

All the usual wars rage in the Middle East/Horn of Africa, different names, same people dying.

Covid of course is still with us, though vaccines appear to be on the way. Let’s hope they are not the false dawn so many other promises turned out to be in 2020. And can we please not give equal air time to ‘anti-vaxxers’ in a spirit of ‘balance’? Andrew Wakefield and his cronies did enough damage 20 years ago without more of his insanity flooding the airways and newsprint. It’s bad enough his corrupt stupidity will be perpetuated through social media and unregulated websites without giving this idiocy access to the validation of mainstream channels.

Having got that off my chest I can look forward to my isolated winter festivals of Hanukkah Christmas and Saturnalia (sorry Diwali, you have already happened) with a light heart. Can’t I?

Happy Winterval.

THOUGHTS ON SHOOT OUT…

Shoot Out At The Red Horse Bowling Club is now online in one block should anyone wish to read it through without the bother of clicking through the instalments. It is available in the ‘Writing’ tab on the menu bar or by clicking here.

I had the idea for that story years ago, started writing it about three years back and had to force myself to finish it. It was odd because I knew the ending from the off. Or thought I did.

It is not that usual that I know the ending of a story when I start it. I don’t mean that I have absolutely no idea of where the thing is going. I usually have a rough idea of where the protagonist/s are heading. I don’t usually have a fully fledged story arc in mind though.

I often start with a situation, a character or characters and an idea of their trajectory to resolve the predicament they are in or about to find themselves in. Occasionally I just let them run and they end up somewhere else entirely. Sometimes I want to end up in a particular place so I’ll plot a little more strictly and have been known to resort to mind maps and spread sheets.

In this case I started with a situation and the ending. But it didn’t work when I got there. I changed bits of the plot. I changed the ending and had to go back and re write developments to fit. I hated those bits so rewrote them. Then I went for a ‘genre’ voice. Then I lost it. I tried a rewrite with the voice all the way to the end. It felt very mannered so I rewrote the twee pieces ended with a half way house. Rarely a good place to be. I put another scene in to try and work the transition of voices and it became even more overlong than it is now. c5,750 words is a long short story these days apparently. I had to cut it back a fair bit to get it to c5,750.

In the end I decided it had had enough indignities inflicted on its creakingly flimsy frame of whimsy. And, rather obviously, I published it here warts and all. Is it what I expected when I started? No. Is it the same story? In essence I suppose yes it is. I wanted a bigger ending, and had one for a while, but that seemed too far fetched. So here we are. I have a horrible feeling it is both overworked and under edited at the same time. I have been so close to it for so long that I lack even a pretence at objectivity.