All the knowledge allied with inquisitiveness, thirst for knowledge, natural talent, the self-seeking passion, all the knowledge the natural man promptly understands to be worth learning is also basically and essentially easy to learn, and aptitude is involved here from first to last. Therefore people are willing enough to learn when it is a matter of learning more, but when it is a matter of learning anew through sufferings, then learning becomes hard and heavy, then aptitude does not help, but on the other hand no one is excluded even though he is ever so lacking in aptitude. The lowliest, the simplest, the most forsaken human being, someone whom all teachers give up but heaven has by no means given up-he can learn obedience fully as well as anyone else.— Søren Kierkegaard, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, 1847
So anyway. Had another birthday. I had a card. I received messages via social media. Which I appreciate more than any of the senders could possibly know. You see, by the end of my birthday I did not have a single conversation with anyone. Actually that’s not quite true. I spoke to The Samaritans.Just as a top up. I’m no danger to self or others. Just emotionally and mentally desolate. Anguished. Which doesn’t sit well when people express a desire for one to have a great day.
“Have a great day”. It’s a lovely sentiment. I understand it semantically as a wish for something pleasant. Unfortunately I really don’t know what it looks like in practice. For example, on reflection I’ve never been out for drinks, never been for a meal and never had a meal made for me on my birthday as an adult. Never had a “great” day. Which I think is a bit weird. Weird more than sad. But then that too has been the pattern of my life. Earlier this year I fell prey to an ancient instinct. That is, to think that when clouds pass in front of the sun, that the sun has disappeared. And that you and you alone were responsible for the sun going. It is part of being human. But when the anguish of making the sun disappear becomes too much ? Well that’s when one forgets that it is only clouds in front of the sun and that they will pass. My pain has taught me that much so I know that I will never seek to end my existence. There is too much to learn. Too much to know.
Naturally it causes me to reflect on things. Stuff. Life. How did it come to this ? To be perfectly honest, I’m buggered if I know. I’ve lived a decent life for the most part. I mean I’m a bit of an arsehole if I’m honest. But there’s no malice and no ill will towards others. I have always, but always, put others first and tried to help wherever I thought I could. There’s no pay-off to this. No ease or comfort, no respite from feeling “less than”. It would be easy to think that the ease with which I am prepared to convey my feelings openly and regularly marks someone who is terribly highly strung. But I’m really not. I learned long ago that what little ability I have with words is best used to convey a reality. Not a specific reality. But a version of the world that places the other person at it’s centre. Back when I was performing I chose to create characters but for there to be no visible join between the character who arrived at the venue and the character who performed. Never the same twice. I enjoyed the frisson of people being unsure how to take it. To shift them out of illusory habit and assumption.
Which is how I’ve approached life ever since. Deploy a ‘version’ of me to compensate for the dull, unappealing interior. It’s not low mood or brain chemistry. I know my reality as well as I know my own name. And anyone who gets close sees it too, eventually.
You see, to put it as plainly as I can, I have never been the guy someone buys lingerie to wear for. I’m the guy who steps up after ‘that guy’. I’m the guy who steps in and tidies up and washes up and puts tea on and makes you feel good about yourself and sacrifices his own feelings and desires for the greater good of the relationship organism. And then I’m the guy who proves to be dispensable. Leaving behind someone ready to buy lingerie to wear for someone. Not that lingerie matters. It’s merely a useful illustration. Though it would have been nice at some point to have been ‘that guy’ as well as me.
And now I’m in my early 50’s with a life limiting condition, “my turn” will literally never arrive. I’m done. This is what I have learned. The only thing I can do now is live a quiet, lonely and essentially melancholy existence. It would take someone to actually want to persuade me. And that will never happen. But it’s okay. The melancholy is ingrained. It is an essential part of who I am. Never had a relationship of any kind (including family) that I could actually rely on. Which means the only thing I have now is a sense of waste. Of what I might have been. But it’s okay. I look around (via social media) and see I have at one time or another, in one way or another crossed paths with the very best of people. So there must be something about me. It’s also why I like The Book of Job. Why Job 1:12 resonates.
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Now I do not for one second believe that my ill fortune and failure in life is the result of Satan. But the notion that I aspire to certain virtues regardless of gain is a good thing about me. My anguish is educational and illustrative. It is not in vain. I’m not saying that because I aspire to a moral and ethical propriety that I always achieve it. As I said earlier I am quite, quite capable of being an arsehole.
Anyway, I’m away to drink heavily (and yes, come January that has to stop) and pine for the arms I wanted to wake up in. I don’t know who they belong to, but sometimes when I wake, I can still feel them for a short time. Conrad was right,
We live as we dream, alone
May the light of love shine upon you and within you.
Author’s note – I had the idea to play with the authorial voice and mock leadership blogs. I tried to imagine someone as simple as the blog voice often sounds, a ‘typical’ management type. But imbue them with an innocence instead of cynicism. I like it. At the end there are 2 pieces where I adopted a female voice as a coda. Iggy is based on 3 real people I encountered throughout my career. And yes, of course one of them is me.
Iggy Wimpole’s Leadership Blog
I bin onna train. It tuk ages. Then we went to the pictures an I had a ice creem. It was a bit dark then it went really dark then the screen came on an lots of peepull was runnin everywhere and stuff and shoutin. Then sum music kem on and it was ded loud. DUM DUH-DUH-DUH-DUM DUM ACKA ACKA ACKA WAH WAH WAH. It wuz brill.
Also I bin to a quality conference. There was no music and no peepull runnin an shoutin. Just talkin. And on a big screen some pictures of graphs and stuff. We getting loads more graphs. Think we shud be mekkin graphs for a livin.
Had to right some words for mah blog. Del-boy says I got to or else. He’s such a lolly stick sniffer. He sez its engagement and stuff. An then he shows me this big graph. With mah name on it. An Julie’s and Doreen’s. An they got much bigger peeces of the pie. But that’s okay. I only like pie if its got beans wiv it.
I fink every won should do more of what they does. But quicker.
Iggy Wimpole’s Leadership Blog
Bin a bit tuff. I add to bury the dog. He wasn’t ded but he’d bin going on the rug so I thought just put him in a big plant pot up to his neck and it’d learn him. My wife sez this is crewl. But I put the plant pot on my skateboard so I could pull him around but she sez it was “Inhumane”. Whatever that is. So he’s add a baff and everything. And I’m in the conservatory. On the naughty step. But it made me fink. I like to fink. I bin finking about the my werk phone. Del-boy sez it’s got Joyce Recognition so my blog should be easy peas. But I don’t know any Joyce. Apart from the lady in Shoeburyness. With the hair what looks like a hat. But anyways, I can talk into my phone and the words appear. It’s magic even if I look a right prannyspong on the train.
Me and Sheila and Janice been talking about harassment. And about inclusion. I’m not sure what this is but it’s dead important not to say bazongas. So don’t say bazongas. I was talking to staff this week and I says to this nice lady “What’s your name?” and she says “Aisha” and so I think “I can be dead inclusive” so I says to her “So how often do you go to mosque then?” and she looks at me a bit funny and says “Not that often, I’m Hindu” and everyone laughed. So that’s leadership right there innit. Making people dead happy. So let’s all do that stuff we do. But more of it and quicker.
Sheila can you type this up sorry can I just get my skooter cos this is my stop Sheila that wasn’t for you no sir I know you don’t look like a Sheila I was talking to my phone but I don’t know how to turn this off but Sheila can you type this up and make sure it’s spelled proper and everything
Iggy Wimpole’s Leadership Blog
People bin axeing me what my dog’s called. They also wondered how I’m married. Me too. I met my wife in Aldi rummaging through odd sized crocs. I liked her a lot. Really pretty. And then she said to me “my face is up here” and that was that. I still don’t know what she meant by it. My dog is called David Walliams.
David Walliams is a lovely dog. I take him most places. We took him to a fare last summer. He had a hot dog, and then I dropped mine so he had that too then I dropped my ice cream and he ate that and then I dropped my candy floss and he ate that. Then we went on a roundabout. Then he was sick. My wife said he had a weak stomach but it looked like he was chucking it as far as he could.
Been finkin about summat Del-boy said to me. He reads books and stuff. Dead clever. He said “Iggy, never forget leadership is Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”. An I spose he means look where you’ve been wenting, tell people to get ready and then do summat. An I reckons doin stuff is important. Like my gran. My gran was always doin summat. Foldin vests mostly. And knitting. But she was happy and lived for ages.
I was looking at all the blogs there are on the intranet. And I reckons I could be dead popular if I wrote a blog called “My dog’s a robot and got autism” but apparently I can’t do that. And David Walliams doesn’t have autism. My brother Ziggy does. He reads a lot and is dead clever like Del-boy. Ziggy has burgers or summat. My mum says I’m me but she loves me anyway and if I’m honest I’m not sure what’s going on half the time. But when Sheila interviewed me I remembered everything Barbara wrote on me form. I reckons everybody knows someone with the autism even if you don’t know. I also think everybody knows someone who is a robot too. But my wife just sighs and looks at David Walliams when I say stuff like that.
Anyway, I’ve got to take David Walliams to the shops for kitchen roll cos he’s ripped it all up again. He might walk, or he might sit in his plant pot on the skateboard cos he likes that now. Remember, Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre. Make sure you’re always folding a vest. And do more, only quicker.
Sheila type this up neat and spelled right but leave the stuff off the bottom can I say bottom now ? but anyway I looked a right prannyspong so just type it up
Iggy Wimpole’s Leadership Blog
I call my dog David Walliams because he looks like him and I like him. My dog David Walliams hasn’t written any books though. Had a big meeting. Del-boy was there. I call him Del-boy cos his name is Rodney. And I was messing with my phone and my wife texts me to say the dog has gone on next door’s lawn again and I laughed cos I hate Alex and his High-undies parked all skew whiff. So I laughed and everyone looked at me. So I says, “It’s okay it’s just David Walliams has pooed on next doors lawn.” And it went dead quiet for a really really long time. Then Del-boy says “So anyway” which is what he says a lot after I says something.
We was talking about making the internet better and more important. By being on it and being good. Which is good because I like the internet. I’ve just put a vid of David Walliams in his plant pot on YouTube. People say it’s not proper. But I think it’s like the world. But the world in the olden times cos there’s executions and dancing bears and chickens fighting and cartoons and ladies with no vests and stuff. I says this to my wife and she says “They didn’t have cartoons in the olden days” but I says “Yes they did I did the biro tapas tree at school and drew a dead good picture of it.” She couldn’t say nothing to that. Just sort of sighed and looked at David Walliams. What gets me is that they was making this fuss about Tom and Jerry because of the lady who stands on the chair screaming “Thomas, Thomas” which I thought was dead sad because it was her house and her cat. What’s the big deal ? But anyway I’ve got to go and talk more about Edith’s tent poles. I hope I don’t have to talk actually. Just listen and nod and say “But you signed up to it” which is what Sheila has written on my cuff.
Shelia I’m dead serious cos all these bits on the bottom of my blogs are making people think I am not a serious leader and stuff can you just type it up and I’ll buy you some chocolate limes and an extension cord for your desk fan. Please please pretty please
Iggy Wimpole’s Leadership Blog
Weekend. Me and Mrs Wimpole and David Walliams my dog are going to a country house. When I say Mrs Wimpole I mean my wife not my mum. Though my mum could come too but she goes to Morrisons and she and my dad have what he calls a whoops sticker buffet for tea. I’ll be glad to be not at work. I got a right telling off from Janice. Well, she talked to me for ages and ages with a dead serious face. See I said something about LGBT* which I used to think was a type of sandwich and I said to some staff that no matter where you are on that spectrum you should be proud of who you are. And then Janice phoned Sheila and Janice talked to me and called me by my Sunday name which is how I know I was in trouble cos she said “Ignatius” and she told me not to call LGBT* a spectrum because that’s for autism. Which I know because my brother Ziggy has burgers. I’m dead jealous of Ziggy. I always ask my mum, “Why is my brother called after a David Bowie song and I’m called after a sneeze” Cos if I’m honest I’d rather be called Les for Les Dance or Ch-ch-ch-changes Wimpole. Not Lady Grinning Soul Wimpole though cos I’d sound like a racehorse. So Janice told me that I should be more aware. But I reckons that it’s none of my beeswax. I mean I don’t not like someone for liking cats not dogs. And if my mum wanted to be my dad then that’d be okay. She’d still be my mum. Just my dad. But Janice said that “you must understand that those of us” and went on and on and on and I says “well done for winning” and she says “what ?” and I says “well if you are telling me for all the LGBT* people then did you win a vote” ?” and she looked at her shoes and then said “yes because we all meet on a Sunday for fish and chips” and I says “no you don’t because Trevor my next door but 1 doesn’t go out on a Sunday he washes the car and talks to Graeme his husband and they both come out to stroke David Walliams” and she just sighed. But anyways it’s not a spectrum. And Janice isn’t queen of the lesbians, apparently. Even if she acts like it. She’s such a maungey horror. But she’s a maungey horror because she says daft things not because she has a wife. I have a wife.
Had to talk to Del-boy about my career development. He said “career development” in a really funny way like the voice of the balls on the lottery used to. I mean the voice of the balls never said “and now on Saturday night it’s time for career development” I just mean he said it like it was special and not just remembering loads of stuff to say in an interview about what we have done especially the stuff we haven’t done but would have if we were better. Sheila says it’s like a bedtime story for bosses so they can sleep better thinking there’s a bunch of elves who do all the good stuff. But Del-boy says Sheila is cylindrical and passionate aggressive or summat. And he looks over his glasses at me and says dead quietly “just look at you for one thing” which seemed to cheer him up no end. He told me to do more “engagement and inclusion” and I says “But I haven’t said bazongas in ages not even to myself” and he says ”talk to your teams” and I says “I do all the time and sit on the tellykits saying ‘overarching’ as much as possible or anything else Sheila tells me.” And he says yes but look at what #TeamWCA are doing” and shows me this poster and I says “that’s a bit harsh innit?” and he says “EveryoneCounts is a great idea” and I says “Oh, counts ” but he started talking really quickly. So I asks him why everyone is doing hashtags and he says “It’s in vogue” and I thought that’s a bit rum cos my wife reads Vogue and all I ever see is ladies sucking in their cheeks doing fishfyace and it’s got smelly pages that make David Walliams sneeze.
So have a great weekend. Everybody should be proud of themselves for being themselves. Except the rubbish people who are mean. And next week we should all do more, just quicker #fishyface #itsinvogue
Sheila I knows you are going to type this bit up aren’t you ? Is it because you are passionate aggressive and cylindrical ?
Iggy Wimpole’s Leadership Blog
Had an interesting weekend. Went to a country house with my wife and my dog David Walliams. My wife is called Claire. Got into trouble cos David Walliams chased a goose then some geese chased David Walliams and he hid in a bush for ages. My brother Ziggy and his wife Joooolie was there too with their dog Andrew and the twins Reg and Dwight. My brother is a chemist. He dunt sell beechams powders and nit shampoo and johnnies he works in a la borrow tree. He invented a blue that goes into icing on cakes. He’s dead clever. Was dead worried about Claire’s birthday. I dunt know what to get. I asked Sheila cos she’s a woman and Sheila says “what about a sponsored silence in a barn somewhere but keep it a secret and only tell Claire when it’s done.” But I can’t wrap that up in paper with a little tag that has tons of x’s on it. So I asked Del-boy and he says “try some frilly pants and a slap up meal” but Claire dunt like frills on her jeans. Well, she has jeans and leggings and summat called jeggings which I think is dead clever. And she dunt eat slap up meals cos she’s training for a big run and also is a veggie. So I thought cos she has big meetings at her works too like me that she’d like some of them pull-ups for grown ups cos I hate it when I’m on the tellykits and I’m bursting for a widdle but they’s going on and on and on for ages so you just says “I can take that on board Megan” just so’s you can have a widdle and end up having to talk to loads of people called Pee Argh and they is all called names with J like Jeremy or Jamelia or Jamiroquai or summat. But when the ad came on telly and I says “cor they look good for big meetings and in the car and stuff” she just sighed and looked at David Walliams. So I’ve got her a big bottle of gin and a unicorn onesie. Cos she likes gin and I think she’s like a unicorn. Dead special. When we got home from the country house me and Ziggy was talking in the garden and Andrew sat in David Walliams’s plant pot so they had a big doggy row and then Reg and Dwight started crying and we shouted for Claire and Jooolie but they sticks their head out of the conservatory and says “Sorry boys but it’s ten past wine o’clock” and me and Ziggy looked at our watches and it looked like twenty past 5. Women. They is a mystery. I think if I could find out the rules to hop scotch and bally against the wally then I’d be a feminist like Janice and Sheila and Joooolie and Claire. But they never tells. I think they think it would be cheating. Anyways, have a big week. Do more, only quicker.
Sheila. If you is going to type this bit up then I am going to be really mad. As mad as David Walliams when Andrew sat in his plant pot.
Iggy Wimpole’s Leadership Blog
Cancer is rubbish. It just is. Everybody gets dead sad and the person who gets it gets dead ill. And the medicine is as bad as the illness. It’s all rubbish. Apart from when me and David Walliams got dressed in pink and did a run for Claire’s mum. Claire is Mrs Wimpole but not my mum. Which is weird. When we first got married I spent ages and ages wondering why the bank was writing to my mum at our house. Anyways me and Claire and David Walliams were dressed up in pink and ran for ages. It was dead easy. Then we took a picture and I tried to get David Walliams to do the Mobot but dogs arms don’t work for the Mobot. Which is why you never see greyhounds doing it I suppose. Had a meeting with Del-boy about the new agreement for staff hours. Del-boy says “we need to be all on the same page” and I says “what’s the book though” and he looks at me for ages then says “we need to be a team and be flexible” and I says “is that the flexible where someone can put their ankles behind their lug’oles or the flexible where they does what we tells them” and he looks over his glasses at me and says “the second one”. Then he says I have to talk to the “Trades Union” but said it with his voice of the balls voice. So I knows it was dead serious. So I had a meeting with a bloke called Tony and a woman called Tabitha who had green hair and a tattoo of Woody Woodpecker behind her ear. Sheila was there too. And Tony and Tabitha was talking and talking about how people are mad and sad cos they have to work late and I says “but you signed up to it” and Sheila nodded. And Tony says “but the collective agreement is very clear” and I says “no it’s not. Loads of dead clever people wrote it so you know it can’t be clear that’s not what we pay them people for” and then Sheila says “But nonetheless” and Tabitha says “I don’t think you understand the impact” and I says “Now listen here I am the one in the blue suit with brown shoes and pink shirt and mauve tie so I am the one to say we must all be flexible. And now I’ve said it there can’t be much more to be said is there ?” and they looked at each other. And Tony says “but my members have given up so much” and I says “we all have to be flexible and be a team about this so do as you’re told” and Sheila kicks me under the table and says “We want to avoid Mandation at all costs” and said ‘Mandation’ like she was saying “Izzy wizzy let’s get busy” or “abracadabra” or summat. And it went dead quiet. And so I says “look, Zaheer near me opens ‘til late. Says so in his window. I can buy a bag of wotsits at half past ten if I need to. 5 o’clock is afternoon” and Sheila says “but nonetheless” and Tony and Tabitha looked dead angry. Then I says “if I went to Zaheer’s shop at 25 to 7 and his sign says open til late in pink letters and he’s shut how would I get a bag of wotsits ? And if I don’t get the wotsits then David Walliams will start ripping up the kitchen roll again and that’s all rubbish. You have to think about the customer service” and Tabitha put her hand over her face and turned her head and her shoulders were going up and down and it looked like Woody Woodpecker was dancing so I started laughing too and Tony and Sheila both said “but nonetheless” and I think that was good way to end the meeting with people laughing. I know doing as you’re told and being flexible in the way you are supposed to be is rubbish sometimes. But it’s only a bit rubbish.
Anyway, try and do more quicker.
Sheila I still have a bruise on my leg from where you kicked me. Do I need to fill in a accident form ?
Iggy Wimpole’s Leadership Blog
Del-boy been in a really bad mood. Loadsa stuff is mekkin him angry. Too many aggro nymphs is one. He says there is a “great pre pond rinse” so I’m thinking it is summat to do with water. He also says we needs to “get creative” and call stuff by different names to stop people moaning and whinging. He says “if the law requires a license to own a shotgun, let’s call it a bang bang stick and tell people there’s no law says we need a license” and I says “what you talking about Willis?” and he looks over his glasses and says “Focus Iggy”. So I shut up and looked serious and thought about Toy Story which is what you do to be serious.” He also then says summat about “Rolls Royce procedure being driven like a stolen VW Golf” but I don’t know what that was except Janice sacked someone and now they is unsacked. I did the appeal and said “robust guidance” loadsa times and then Jenny from legal comes into the meeting and says that person only got one leg so being off when it was snowing wasn’t that bad and I says “she came in to get sacked so she can get out so it’s not bad” but Jenny says “it is doofus” and I don’t what was doofus or why it was doofus but Jenny says it was then I says “But Jenny she was sat down” and Jenny says that she was in a wheelchair cos she broke her prophetic and I says “well how was I supposed to know that ?” and she says “did you not read the file ?” and I says “sort of”. And she says “sort of is where the trouble starts”. So now when I do appeals I got to read the file at least once. Jenny is Chinese but from Gloucester. Like Ziggy’s friend Gregg who is Chinese but from Manchester. Gregg taught me Chinese. When Jenny comes in I says “Ni hao” and she nodded and then I remembers that funny film so I says “We are the knights who say Ni hao” just like in the film with the voice and everything and they all stops and looks at me. And Jenny laughs. and then she says “that’s Mandarin doofus” I don’t know what this doofus is but I reckons it must be a type of pudding if it’s got little bits of orange in it. Me and Claire had a duck once that had oranges in it though so you just can’t tell. Tasted like an orange toffee apple but with a duck in it. Been wondering about these aggro nymphs. Wonder whether they might be little fairies in the taps. I never thought fairies was real but if a big boss like Del-boy says he’s worried about fairies then we all should worry about them. Mebbee that’s what all them little sticky boxes is down for to catch. Anyways I got a file to read. Booooo. But if we all does more but quicker it will get much better soon. And watch out for aggro nymphs.
Sheila I put a fruit shoot and a twix in the fridge can you make sure no fairies take them ?
The Under Sufferance Blog of Sheila Massey-Ferguson
Inexplicably, or perhaps looking at society in general, entirely explicably Iggy Wimpole has been called to jury duty. So I’ve been lumbered. I’m certain sure that saying lumbered is deemed by someone somewhere as lacking the esprit de corps required these days but with 42 years service under my belt I am in no mood to pander. Time was, of course, that the desire to emote everywhere about how wonderful life in general and one’s job particularly is was confined to the break room or the ladies and was the sole province of people who one would jump from a moving train to avoid. All this boisterous enthusiasm can be wearying. Like working with a junior gym mistress unable to go 15 minutes without shrieking “Quick sticks gels” in the manner of Joyce Grenfell on Baroca. But I wouldn’t want anyone to think for a moment that I am not proud to work for our employer. No. As long as they think I am, they are happy. As long as I look proud, then I might as well be slaughtering cockerels under my desk. Time was the advice to junior staff was “always look busy” but it is a sign of the times that now it is “always look engaged”. I was saying as much to my other half Herbert the other evening shortly before turfing him out to return home to allow me to enjoy quality Kindle time to the sound of “Sailing By”. His name isn’t Herbert. I suppose it’s my pet name for him. As a much younger woman I learned that they are all Herberts. Which in these politically correct times may be regarded as sexist by some. Which goes to show, they are Herberts. This Herbert of mine is the 2nd this year. The earlier one met a sad end after I had, under the influence of rhubarb and ginger liquor had expressed, in frank and unusually robust language, a weakness for Mr Tom Hardy. Unfortunately Herbert took this as some sort of cue. The following Thursday he arrived at my door wearing a tall hat and long coat with fur collar, and very little else. What can one do ? Despite an overweening urge to simply set the dogs on him I turned instead to dratted popular culture and simply said, “Sorry Herbert but it’s a no from me”. And so he left. Sans chapeau. I have kept it as reminder of the importance of sobriety in company. So I turned to the internet for a replacement. And my goodness but it is filled with the most appalling people. Grubby looking types with the haircuts and dress sense of a 9 year old. But this current one responded well to a request for a photo of his fingernails with that days Evening Standard in frame for proof. And he also responded well to the stipulation of no more than 6 hours fraternisation a week. I mean to say, any more than that and one is simply tolerating a non-paying lodger.
Well, I should think that is more than enough over sharing for a first effort and should be enough to keep the dratted Rodney at bay. I am now supposed to say something improving, like the preacher when the television used to mercifully shutdown for the evening. So here goes. Always look as if you were happier, more productive and less homicidal than you actually are.
The Under Sufferance Blog of Sheila Massey-Ferguson
Oh my dears, is it really time for another of these insufferable things ? One would think that with the advances made by jolly clever but terribly dull types in IT on artificial intelligence that they could easily create a robot to write one of these dratted things. Improving homily coupled with the personal insight of a supermarket advert.
Of course, for those of us who have toiled down t’pit of our employer and it’s forerunners, the notion of the artificial is nothing new. We have all known colleagues who have progressed on the basis of much which was artificial. Their intelligence being little more than idle speculation. But one digresses and might be accused of being something of a female dog about these things. I have refused, even when off duty and in mufti to use certain words. The term for a female dog unless applied, literally, to a female dog is one. Another is feminist. At one time one would be regarded as a feminist simply for applying a firm slap to the inappropriately ‘handsy’ colleague on social occasions. Every office had one, almost like the annoyance equivalent to a first aider. And everyone knew who it was. Thankfully we have moved on from those days. Both in terms of the lurking Herbert ape, and the days when feminism was deemed an unholy combination of hemp, henna and hessian. I’ve read Dworkin and Greer and while I wouldn’t wish to share a railway carriage with either for longer than 5 minutes, I appreciate that we have evolved in societal terms. Language for example moves on and what was once acceptable becomes infra dig. I well remember Pippa Woolfson who, for simply eons, was known to all as ‘Woofter’ Woolfson. Nothing to do with her orientation. In the mists of time on a long forgotten Xmas ‘do’ and after altogether too much mascara thinners (gin) confessed at a volume which had no regard to her reputation or good manners, that she had been expelled from 6th form. It transpired through a thick veil of lachrymose sentiment that she had been on a school trip to Northern Italy and had had a tryst with an immigrant farmhand from what is now Croatia. Unfortunately Pippa, with an operatic flourish summarised this with the, quickly notorious, phrase “I was caught in flagrante with a Dalmation.” And therafter was known in certain precincts as “Woofter”. Of course that term has other uses, all equally unacceptable. And so in time Pippa’s nickname became, to apply the bard, more honoured in the breach than the observance. She retired to live a semi-sozzled, happy if slightly theatrical life on the South Coast with her husband who had made an absolute mint in surgical hose. That is, the manufacture and sale of, not simply prancing around in.
My dears, I must summon a little sanctimony and urge you to consider the feelings of those around you, even those of you who are eager to lurch from one artificial trauma to the next to fill the longueurs of whatever it is you do. We are better than we ever were. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.
Human Rights. Some are fundamental. Some are implicit. The difficulty with trying to discuss rights is a new one which has become universally declared via the various platforms of social media. It is the right to be thick. Arising from that right is the additional right to publicly declare one’s stupidity.
There is very little self-reflection in evidence. Simply an assumption that because the means to communicate whatever it is that is in your head exists, it is perfectly fine to do so. As if the slightly older and more established modern rhetorical form of “shouting at the TV” were suitable for broadcasting to anyone within range.
I have followed the debate around the latest person to fall foul of section 127 (1) of the Communications Act 2003
127Improper use of public electronic communications network
(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or
(b)causes any such message or matter to be so sent.
(2)A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he—
(a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false,
(b)causes such a message to be sent; or
(c)persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.
(3)A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.
(4)Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to anything done in the course of providing a programme service (within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (c. 42)).
I don’t propose to give further publicity to an amateur dog trainer and consummate thick person by naming them here. But they trained their partner’s dog to perform tricks in response to several prompts. Some of which fit the term “grossly offensive”. They then, having gone to these elaborate lengths filmed it published it via a public communications network. And that, as our American cousins say, is the ball game. It isn’t a freedom of expression argument. Oh they used the tired and ubiquitous excuse that this was “a joke”. Well that defence is ubiquitous because it is used by people who have committed all manner of sexual and violent acts. Pointed a gun at someone ? Just kidding. Threatened rape against an ex-partner ? Just a joke. Been one of 3 people to hold down a 4th while a 5th pushes something up their anus ? Just a joke. Show pornography to your own children ? Well just for laughs. These are some of the examples I found when researching the use of “It was a joke” as a defence. In none of those examples did the people responsible publicise what they had done. As if pleased with themselves.
One of the things about the case of the amateur dog trainer is the extent to which prominent people are advancing the argument that section 1 of the 2003 act infringes freedom of expression. The first thing to say is that that argument is largely a bit stupid. Comedians, for example are exempt since their attempts at humour are, where available via a public communications network, covered by section 4. But nonetheless, there has never been an absolute freedom of expression in the UK. The Article 8 right to privacy is the first and only time the common law right to a degree of privacy has existed in the UK. But back to whether filming a dog responding to grossly offensive prompts in any way engages freedom of expression.
Article 10 Freedom of expression
1Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Schedule 1 Human Rights Act 1998 –
Let’s dispense with the #thickasmince argument in support of the dog trainer.
He has been convicted for telling a joke? Nope. He’s been convicted of sending his grossly offensive comments via a communications network. Had he trained the dog and told the alleged “joke” to his partner as intended it would have ended there. But he wanted to then go further and post it. “Look at what I’ve done” he said and in doing so abandoned his humanity and basic decency in favour of self gratification. In short, he was too thick to realise that he was breaking the law, and in no way has he suggested he was breaking it to draw attention to the law he was breaking. Just thick. This impinges the general freedom of expression. Again, no. That freedom never existed. The extent to which it perhaps should is a different argument, one that merits discussion. I’ll be the first to sign up for a better and broader definition that protects the right of people like me to voice opinions and arguments that challenge governments and society but which protects victims of crime from their attackers. If you remove section 1 of the 2003 act you simply allow abusive exes, for example, to subject their victims to endless abuse.
What is needed before any of that is for the #thickasmince majority to be educated on the nature of our democracy and the extent to which our rights and freedoms are subject to the laws parliament makes. We don’t elect people to do what we want. We elect people to do what they want and offset that with the hope that it will broadly match what we want.
Resilience. What is it ? Well actually that is the debate currently in psychology. There is no consistent definition which means that the research in the field is inconsistent. The only thing that links much of the most quoted findings is that those who are able to survive hardship have a predisposition to do so, they are not necessarily positive but persevere anyway. The cohorts studied have suffered extremes of prejudice. Adolescent transgender, teen pregnancy and racial prejudice in economically deprived areas. The way in which those subjects who coped best is a matter of both nature and nurture. One thing that can be said is that they survived. This isn’t wasn’t and will never be a matter of learning behaviours to make one resilient. Those who are, survive, those who aren’t don’t. Natural selection. But that hasn’t stopped the ‘snake oil fraternity’ peddling a strange concoction of softcore pop-psychology.
There is a quote used to support the very marketable concept “Resilience” which acknowledges the primacy of natural selection.
“It is not the strongest of the species which survive, nor the most intelligent but the one most responsive to change”
Charles Darwin right ? Wrong. The quote is not from the ‘Origin of Species’. It is from a management theory textbook. Written by Leon C. Megginson, Professor of Management and Marketing at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. and the actual quote is;
According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.
‘Lessons from Europe for American Business’, Southwestern Social Science Quarterly (1963)
The important thing to remember here is that evolution is not shaped by behaviour. The adaptations to the beaks of finches on the Galapagos islands did not come about because the finches went into a huddle and decided to change their beaks. It happened because those born with a genetic difference which happened to suit their environment survived and that genetic trait became dominant.
There is a quote from Nietzsche that is also often used. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. Which is almost what he said. The problem with this is that it is misunderstood. We emerge from calamity stronger, but not because of the calamity. Those who are strong emerge. Those who aren’t don’t. I’m not sure which bothers me most, the fact that this stuff is so poorly researched or that it is presented as genuine.
But anyway. There are some frequently quoted examples of resilient people. Terry Waite and Nelson Mandela. As if to say “other people have had it way worse than you and they survived.” We’ll overlook that those two admirable people were surrounded by significant networks of support and were members of large organisations. I’ll just say that’s probably the worst thing to say to a depressed person. But just to hammer home the irrelevance of selectively citing examples which support a view, I’ll throw another name into the mix. Primo Levi.
Primo Levi was an Italian chemist of Jewish heritage who was sent to Auschwitz and survived. He then produced some of the finest books of the 20th century. And then in 1987 he took his own life. He was certainly resilient. I cite him simply to demonstrate the confirmation bias in the greeting card level of insight in the resilience material. Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek and favour evidence which confirms one’s preconceptions and in the context of science leads to statistical errors.
“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
I have a plan. The next time your car breaks down, fix it the Public Sector way. Don’t get a mechanic. That is, don’t waste time and money on a trained professional with skills and experience. No. Gather a focus group of passers by. Note down their suggestions. Take the notes home. Collate them. Google broken down cars. Note the trends. Compare the suggestions. Pick the most positive and easiest. Obviously you may have to be getting the bus for a while. But it’s agile. [snurk] Agile ? “We are very pleased with how agile our team are, everything is in place.” Know who said that ? The head of a major high street bank’s IT upgrade team in December 2017. [snurk] 3 letters. Sounds like BBC. Give a chimp scissors and a comb it doesn’t make him/her a hairdresser. But every single IT and banking person I heard speak on Radio 4’s Today programme in the business segment at 6:15am said the same thing. They were doomed from the beginning. Not because they weren’t very good, but because the problems were complex.
I’m not being negative for the sake of it. I’m introducing a vital business skill. Thinking critically. I blame mindfulness. As a Buddhist I value the practice of meditation. As a Buddhist I am not offended by the corruption of an essentially spiritual practice by people who charge to learn the techniques. Lord Buddha called such people charlatans. Who am I to argue ? What I do know is that none of the ridiculous claims made for the efficacy of mindfulness are true or fact or remotely borne out by science. In truth, objectively, studies have shown that even placebo meditation techniques (ie completely made up) had beneficial effects. Meditation and relaxation is a useful tool but it is not the whole toolbox. There is some evidence, scientific evidence, that not thinking critically about your problems and just accepting is a very, very bad thing. Full stop. If you disagree with me produce your evidence. Comb the internet. It will be instructive. You will learn things. You will think critically about an idea. You will test it. That is a good thing baby. Nothing in the history of anything was made better by saying “everything is great”.
“Before I look for anything, I look for a mind at work” which is from the West Wing. “I don’t know if he’s thinking about Kant […] but I am comforted to know that if he does he’s reaching for all of it and not just the McNuggets”. So’s that. I also look for a mind at work. It’s called leadership. Be judged for what you do. Don’t try to semantically piece together a narrative which, if you squint a bit in a low light, might almost, almost look like you nearly addressed the concerns of the employees. For one thing we know it’s fake. No-one believes it. Not even the people who say “That’s brilliant” to your face. Why is this so hard in the Public Sector ? Because we don’t care about fixing the car. We care about taking credit for ever more baroque plans to get the car fixed. We trust the same people, none of whom are mechanics, to come up with ever more convincing ways to say “The car is going to be fixed. This time the process will work”. Isn’t it time we got a mechanic ?