Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Wonderland that can be Created from Goodness

I’m trying to write the blog this morning without too much schadenfreude and, yes, it is extremely difficult. So I probably won’t bother. Instead, I’ll just say that it’s about time that a political manipulator of the highest order was hoist by his own petard. Interesting times indeed. Still, if the Tory party is at war with itself, perhaps it will have less time to wage war on the rest of us. We shall see.

I also notice that the buds are out on the trees and that we are now, officially, in springtime; a time of year that I love with its heralding of the end of winter. Still, I’m not holding my breath on the change in the political climate as I’m pretty sure that we’re currently governed by people with the bleak view of the world that winter can represent. I, however, prefer to base my ideals on a tee shirt I once saw that bore the slogan “Just remember that, above the clouds, the sun is always shining”. As indeed it is.

I also know that when you destroy hope, you also destroy one of the forces that help to see us through the bad times. More than that, you destroy that which can be the driving force in creating the good ones. As for me, I will continue to see the good in people and try to build my little world around that ideal. It’s not served me too badly so far and helped me, in the process, to help others to create some “little bits of Wonderland” in this world. Projects that do truly demonstrate that “We’re all in it together”.  Having been part of that is a lovely feeling. It even beats schadenfreude.

The Goodness of People

At what might be considered a, somewhat, advanced age, I remain an idealist; something that, to me, is represented in a belief that my fellow human beings are, with a few exceptions, honest, decent people who just try to do their bit. One of the main problems, however, is that many of those exceptions are in positions of power.

Among my reasons for those beliefs is that, in my 35 years in or working for the voluntary sector, I witnessed the ways in which the people I worked with helped others. This was, often, on a voluntary basis but also among the paid staff of the organisations themselves; most of the latter of whom weren’t in receipt of large pay packets. In addition, many of the people we helped did amazing things; not least the people who were homeless and unemployed who built their own homes.

That faith in the goodness of most people was demonstrated again today at the Lambourne End Centre, an excellent project that I’m currently working with. Among the young people the Centre works with are those experiencing difficulties in their lives and, in my, somewhat, cack handed way, I was trying to repay one young man who been very helpful a few days previously. This took the form of me offering him my old Smart phone, which I’ve just replaced and which, I thought, might be better than his old mobile. He didn’t seem too keen and was, perhaps, a little embarrassed at the situation.

So, at the usual early meeting this morning, I asked if anyone else wanted it before I put it in the drawer at home. One young man present was a little surprised but took up my offer, delighted to be able to replace his, which had a broken screen.  He left the meeting but returned 10 minutes later to give it to the other young man, saying that he thought he might have a better use for it. The phone was happily accepted and, quickly set up. No one had suggested to the first young man that he should do what he did; he just felt that it was the best thing to do. I left the project some hours later with my faith reinforced and I’m still feeling good. Money can’t buy that.


Just Keep Trying

I simply don’t believe the simplistic view, that government ministers and many of the tabloids promulgate, that the world is made up of shirkers and strivers. Indeed, we may all be hard working or less so, depending on circumstance. The environment in which we find ourselves and the ways in which we are treated can, themselves, pay a crucial role. Indeed, when I left an Army Apprentice School to join the Regular Army at 18, my report read “Daligan tends to take the easy way out unless the effort will bring speedy, personal reward”. Now anyone who has witnessed my 35 years in the voluntary might be hard pushed to recognise that particular description. I prefer to think that, if I am asked for help and trusted, I respond positively whereas, if I am not, I tend not to.  That’s not to say that I don’t try, just that my response is of a different quality and order.

The fact that I have rescued at least three charities, that were in dire circumstances, from closure, would indicate that the latter approach has some validity in my case. The fact that I’ve won national commendations for this work would further indicate that others recognise that too. Also, when I look back from where I am now and what talents have been realised, I still find it difficult to see that it’s me that has done all this. Without blowing my own trumpet too much, the fact that I’ve now written three books, with three more planned, has delighted me. Indeed, one of those greatest delights was watching my grandson, Chris, and his girlfriend, reading my autobiography.

There have, for me, been a number of crucial elements in this journey. The first has been in getting myself sorted out and dismantling that template of my childhood. The second has been, what my wife describes as, “my amazing perseverance” and what I call, “just getting up in the morning and doing something” and the last has been letting other people in.

Now, contrary to that army report, I like to thinks that I’ve always been a trier. However, the environments in which I found myself weren’t ones that would enable me to realise and develop those talents. Also, I have to admit, that I like to plough my own furrow. Well, for me, all those parts of the jigsaw are now falling into place. Or, to put it more accurately, I am putting them into the right place to create my own, personal, picture. So that “trying” has a direction and a purpose and these can be a powerful combination. The bottom line, though, is that, above all else, you need to try. Oh and keep getting back up!


All You Have to Do is Try

Some people like change while others don’t. Some like the object of change but not the process. Personally I relish it and tend to get bored if I don’t do something. Perhaps that’s why, at an age when most of my peers have opted for cardigan and slippers, I’m on my 6th career.  Hold on, my wife is now on her 4th career and she doesn’t like change. She does, however, like the object of the change is a very determined person.

So, change is inevitable; it happens all the time whether you want it to or not. The important issue is whether or not you have any control over that change or feel that you do. When it comes to wider social change, those individuals that can create that alone are few and far between and even they need supporters. For most of the rest of us, however, the important changes are likely to be the ones that we make individually. These, of course, no one else can really make for you, although they can help.

In my own case, I’m very aware my childhood gave me the impetus to create order out of chaos while my early years in the army provided me with the expertise to organise the process. So that, when I joined the voluntary sector as an unemployed single parent on a Job Creation scheme on a project that was threatened with immediate closure, rescuing it and making is successful was like a duck taking to the water. So much so that I’ve repeated the process with other charities. It is, I have to say, immensely satisfying to see those organisations flourishing many years later.

I also believe that many of us see what others have achieved and convince ourselves that these are special people who can do what others can’t, and there may be some truth in that. However, there is just a much that is fallacious. I, for example, had done no real physical exercise from the age of 18 until I was 40; at which point I decided that, unless I did something, it was all downhill from here on. So, that evening, I went for a, very short, run. By the end of the week, I was running for 40 minutes and, in my mid 50’s ran the London marathon on two separate occasions; the first in 3¾ hours.

So, do you want to change and can you do it? Well, the answer, I believe, is likely to be “yes” to both. You just have to try and then take that first small step. If you continue, you will achieve and, more importantly, I doubt whether you will ever revert to what was before.


Cream Doesn’t Always Rise to the Top

I’m not too taken with hype and bullshit; I had too much of it in my army days. Mind you, you could argue that, in its efforts to turn its recruits into a fighting unit, the army has to engage in some unusual activities. This, however, doesn’t really apply to the rest of us, so I’ll stay with my dislikes. I also don’t like not being told the truth even though I realise that, for many, that concept has an elastic quality. For me, this situation is at its worst when, not only do those lying know that they are lying but that they also know that you know that too; which brings me to my diatribe today.

Now governments have long worked on the concept that, to get wealthy people to work harder, you pay them more, whereas the opposite is true for those on lower incomes. In the more recent past, they and their cohorts in big business, have also justified paying exorbitant amounts to those at the top on the basis that that is the way to recruit the best and that, if these people didn’t receive the necessary salaries and bonuses, they would take their expertise overseas. Yet, at the same time, I don’t remember hearing too many of those other countries clamouring to have, for example, their economy nearly brought to its knees. Perhaps they had quite enough of their own people to do that.

So, when I wrote my first published book, “The Real Big Society”, I did some research and what I found was fairly commonsense. This was that most of the people in these positions didn’t necessarily move just for the money. In fact, like the rest of us, they took all sorts of factors into account. Advancement and the quality of life for them and their families being among these. Yet we still had, mainly, governments trotting out the mantras mentioned above. This, at a time when the rest of us were being told that austerity was the only answer and that we were all in it together. More mantras that were untrue. Demonstrably so with research showing that bosses of the FTSE 100 companies are now paid 130 times the average of their employees. In effect, that means that, in one year, these people receive what it would take their employees more than two working lifetimes to earn. In 1998, this ratio was 47 and, in 1980, between 13 and 44. Has the country benefitted to the same degree? I think that that would be hard to argue.

So I opened my newspaper on Sunday to read of a London School of Economics report that was described as “a damning indictment of the state of executive pay”. It seems that interviews with the top 10 international recruitment organisations, responsible for between 70% and 90% of CEO appointments in recent years, found a consensus among, what were called “corporate kingmakers” (no queens, you will note), that levels of remuneration for most senior executives were “absurdly high”. Crucially, these head-hunters went on to claim that, for every appointment of a CEO, another 100 people could have filled the role just as ably and that many chosen for those top jobs, were “mediocre”. Why am I not surprised?

What is really troubling about this that this occurs in a country where, according to Jesse Norman, MP, “There is a vast amount of untapped talent.” I know, I’ve spent much of my career in the voluntary working with people in that situation releasing, what one MP described as, “the extraordinary abilities of ordinary people”. If we did this, can you imagine the country that we might have?

Impressions, Perceptions, Myths and Facts

I am much taken with the idea of reality even though I’m very aware that, for most of us, perception can, unfortunately, be as important as fact. I am, after all, a Spurs supporter of many years standing and have always consoled myself with the idea that, at least, they played lovely football. This latter concept, not always so.

So it was interesting to read this week that a number of local authorities have come to the realisation that outsourcing many of their services to the private sector is more costly and less effective than providing these themselves; something, it seems that they are, again, starting to do.

In addition, the privatisation of the railways has resulted, contrary to what was promised, in an increase in public subsidy while the energy companies, well, perhaps best not even to go there. Especially now that many of these vital resources are now in overseas ownership and where that ownership is, effectively, an arm of the state. If this should sound anti business, I would remind anyone who takes the trouble to read this, that I have run my own business for 16 years; albeit a one man band.

What I’m trying to show that the conventional business model of growth, acquisition and greater growth within a free market system is insufficient of a model for everything. Furthermore, it isn’t even a completely free market either in this country or globally. So this simple categorisation of the State as sluggish, bureaucratic and interfering compared to a private sector that is dynamic, innovative and competitive may not be the common sense truth that is appears. Should you wish to see the evidence of this, I would recommend a book, “The Entrepreneurial State”.

Interestingly, in this discussion, during the run up to the last Olympics, according to a BBC radio programme, it was the Civil Service that held it together, even during a change of government, and a private company which failed to deliver the promised security. So much so, that the army had to step in. The programme went on to quote Lord Heseltine who, when he was a minister, asked trade associations and businesses for examples of red tape. There were no responses to his request. Furthermore, a later initiative, the Red Tape Challenge was also reported as eliciting an underwhelming response.

So, when we consider how we wish to have our country run, perhaps looking at reality and not myth and perception might not go amiss.

Being Different

Some see the world as it is while others see it as it could be and I reside, firmly, in the latter camp. So I am fascinated by those who see things, from a different perspective than the conventional one. When they live that life as well, I’m doubly impressed. There are, however, those I’m in awe of; something I don’t admit to lightly. Top of this list, in my lifetime, was Nelson Mandela who is reported to have said, “The struggle is my life.” If more of us behaved in this way, the world really would be a better place.

However, those who really fascinate me are those who exhibit “otherworldliness”, something that is easy to recognise but quite difficult to describe. David Bowie, for example, in “The Man Who Fell to Earth” encapsulates it. It’s a pattern or a way of behaving that doesn’t seem quite human. The body is but the persona isn’t. It’s also, I think, not about acting but just what is; which is what makes it authentic.  I, as you may have gathered, am a great believer in that particular quality. It can’t be manufactured although many in the public eye try to do so, unfortunately.

Well, Gaynor and I went to a gig on Saturday evening which, while not otherworldly, was very “different”. Jack L was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Part revivalist, part showman with an amazing voice. I’m still trying to work out what planet we were on for two hours. Indeed, when we left the Irish Centre at the end of the evening, I kept looking around to see if we were still in Camden. It was wonderful, somewhat surreal and different and I’m still not sure whether I enjoyed it or not. It was, however, a magnificent demonstration of being different to that degree where you do ask the question “how can this be so?” So, on balance, it was worth living on that other planet for a while even if it was an alien, musical landscape for me. Then, again, I’ve always liked a challenge.

So, keep going, Mr L. We need more demonstrations of difference and quality; a powerful combination. You may never get auditioned for any of Simon Cowell’s programmes, although I suspect that you wouldn’t want to be. You will, however, be remembered for being different.