Firstly the passing of Nick Kamen, 1980s cultural landmark, icon and star of BBHs remarkable Levi’s 501s campaign. My threadbare 501s were welded to me for YEARS, and life was GOOD in them, and not just because BBH told me it would be.
Secondly, a recent client’s abject abandonment of a great creative idea in favour of something more anodyne. This had led me to ponder a little on what makes a creative idea big – and, in turn, what it means for an ambitious creative idea to succeed, ether in whole or in part.
So, let’s start with the obvious. What is a ‘big’ creative idea when it’s at home?’
There was a time when that was an easy question to answer.
Big Creative ideas smacked a little of madness – an audacious ambition wrapped up in a slightly megalomaniacal belief in possibility, all stuffed through the multi-million dollar mincer of creative chutzpah and craft obsession. Big creative ideas took cojones to create, to buy and to run. They weren’t simply the outputs of a smart collaborative team. There was a legendary status ascribed to big creative ideas and their creators.
There was a time when big creative ideas were seemingly forged in the fires of myth, rendered in gold and then scattered like diamonds across the arid deserts of our ordinary everyday lives. A time when Ad men and Ad women wore Sex Panther, and had highly inappropriate impromptu TV production meetings in the hedge at the Hurlingham Club on a hot summer Awards night. A time when a long lunch could reach across three dawns. A time when you didn’t fuck with big creative ideas. A time when creative hot shops were on fire even though some may have sounded somewhat like a collision between a Victorian legal firm and a minor sex offence.
Much was made of the slightly unsavoury emollient nature of the Persuaders inside the Hot Shops’ doors with their dark arts of Madison Avenue. But, for all that, the creative work the hot shops and better agencies generated was memorable, often exceptional. Their presence on poster sites, newspaper ads, television sets and cinema screens made the world a richer, funnier and more interesting place. Saying that, not everyone appreciated the new, slick, bold and confident nature of the creative industry.
Just a bunch of slippery market stall wide boys selling fizzy drinks and jeans to poor unsuspecting idiots.
Perhaps, but if the aforementioned Levis 501s campaign and Tango are anything to go by, slide on McDuff.
Add to that the likes of Honda Cog, John West Salmon Fisherman, Carousel, Sony Balls, John Smiths, KFC FCK and the myriad other big creative ideas that leap to mind, and why wouldn’t you give the creative folks your cash in search of a big idea?
Was their fetishization of gongs and plaudits, gathered up every year in the discarded clothing of the TV Department, deeply narcissistic and unsavoury? Perhaps.
Awarded work was the only trumpet to be blown. Over the glory years of D&AD pencils, Cannes Lions, Creative Circle awards and various others, the industry revelled in its ability to use ground-breaking creative work to make their clients’ brands famous and echo through culture.
Everything was seemingly perfect and exceptional and single-minded creativity was revered and defended.
The downside [if there was one] was the agency people’s tendency to turn up for meetings in a car worth as much as the marketing director’s house, accompanied by a rather over-engineered sense of their own fabulousness.
‘We’re the best part of their dull day job. ’Coming to the agency is like an outing for them’.
Even when said marketing director realised that the Ad people’s magazine-lifestyle of smart restaurants, endless bubbles, Cannes trips and Tony Montana-sized heaps of cocagne was being paid for by them, still, the value of and reverence for great creative work was upheld. As with every other cod trope about putting up with the difficult genius, the world still allowed for the minds that might make something exceptional.
But as the world turned a new dawn of democratic creativity arose. Creativity was reframed. ‘Everyone is creative’ – and ‘great creative ideas come from anyone and anywhere.’
This new egalitarian creative dawn, fuelled by the post-it-note frenzy and white-board abandonment of tech fuelled innovation sprints and hacks, seemed to diminish the pure dream of the big creative idea. It visibly shrank in the room. Suddenly, real world-changing Creativity was super-processor shaped and lived in Silicon Valley. This creativity was not only shinier and sexier – it was worth a jaw-dropping amount more money for its priests and advocates. And the fractal screenage media world that came with it didn’t help matters.
When you can shade every channel to the immediate audience and a brand must speak in segment tongues you are in effect viewing everything through a sieve.
Where once a single killer TV or Cinema spot could knock itself and its audience out of the park, said idea now needed to be capable of the creative equivalent of channel parkour – leaping from blog to vlog to App to platform to paid social to podcast to Youtube to PR event to TV.
All too often, in this environment, the value of a big creative idea is quickly diminished – suffocated by too much channel complexity, over-bearing and ill-conceived metrics – leading to a slow though rather intelligent death by democratic contribution. Not always – but increasingly nonetheless. It takes nerves of steel and endless patience to keep it on the rails.
But is that such a bad thing you might ask? Doesn’t that just test the mettle of the idea even more – a sort of Iron Man endurance test for creative thinking? Good point.
There are also many who dismiss the search for the ‘big creative idea’ because they look back at the golden age of them and simply see self-interest and sophistry. What’s more the purpose of big creative ideas if there was one, is perceived as rooted in endless and infinite growth and gain.
‘Come to think of it’ they say, ‘Big creative ideas lacked real integrity because they were used to persuade people to buy shite they never needed while making them feel like enough was never enough’
OK – again, fair-dos. The gold mine of unfettered consumption, feckless social engineering and the waxy, bloated god of endless growth throned inside a Super-Size model of excessive corporate greed may well have underwritten the whole cult of big creative idea advertising BUT that don’t make them less valuable M’lud.
In that small slightly defensive truth lies the point.
There will always be a value in reaching for a big creative idea – even when some people are calling them anachronistic – others saying they’re not fit for purpose any more – and more still decrying their seeming indifference to robust data measurement and research.
Even when the budget has shrunk, and the joy has been suffocated in its sleep, the deadline looming and the client exercising their dick-ness or insecurity or both – don’t stop reaching for a big creative idea, because even if you don’t quite reach it or you do and they don’t run it, the sheer act of reaching for it will create a positive impact in the world.
Now to be clear here, there is a very clear line that divides the messianic pursuits of creative ambition and the sociopathy of misguided creativity, inappropriately applied.
Seeing an opportunity for a Platinum Lion in a single social post hashtag for Leclerc supermarkets on Insta and burning the ferocious gem-like-flame of creativity in pursuit of it is simply madness. We are only talking here about situations where a big creative idea might be fit for purpose – where a client has said ‘We’re up against the big guns here. We’ve got to really stand out. Cut through. We need a big brand story, a brand idea that gets us noticed.’
Having recently created an idea rthat delivered way beyond the particular client’s ambition – an idea that may well have set a new optic through which to view their world and their proposition – to watch if get fleeced out and side-lined through a mixture of bad timing, over thinking, cold feet and an overly-rushed need for a website led me to contemplating the idea of what it means for a big creative idea to ‘land’ and ultimately succeed or fail.
Does the fact that the bigger idea wasn’t taken up mean that it failed?
Does it make the desire to keep on seeking a bigger creative idea or play-space a rather nihilistic exercise fuelled only by ego?
What does it mean for creative ideas to succeed?
Must they always do it in totality?
How much tenure does a creative idea need to have to impact and shape something good both within and without a business or brand?
Lots of questions then. Any answers? Dunno. But here’s a thought hidden inside an observation.
What I did notice in the new stripped-back vanilla version of the client’s website was a phrase – one of the original phrases I’d written as part of the creative idea. Now, if that phrase goes forwards and upwards into their business and brand vernacular – and shades and shapes how they think of and apply their IP and proposition in the world over time – in turn reshaping and transforming their clients’ worlds’ to even a small degree – then all is not lost.
Do the businesses and brands who have a tendency to not convert the big idea but flourish from the ideas that fall out of the process of chasing it realise what they are doing when they magpie creativity along the way? Usually. Especially if some nominal sums have been exchanged for the thinking. But in a world where they’ve been taught to honour the whole idea or nothing, not buying it allows them to not recognise the influence of the creative exercise on their thinking and doing.
The evidence of various pieces of creative shrapnel embedded in a clients’ thinking, echoes of the big ideas that have been blown-up along the way, are not that hard to find. Their role in influencing the client’s proposition and trajectory are, equally, often plain to see.
To be clear, I’m not referring to that really crappy behaviour that we’ve all come across in our time – that of running a pitch and then ‘scraping’ the pitch works, taking what you like from across the work yet not recognising any of it. That’s just plain old opportunistic theft of others IP and creativity.
No, I’m talking about when ideas and thoughts and strategies shared along the way, openly and in good faith, to the point they become shared perspectives and therefore part of the commons – at which point they are adopted as part of the client’s new dawn with no real appreciation or recognition of where those ideas came from.
These pieces of creative shrapnel embedded in a client’s thinking and doing are proof of the fact that it is never a waste of time to go for a bigger creative idea and ambition, even in the absence of gongs, fat cheques or even client appreciation.
The unreasonable power of creativity needs to be unleashed in the world at every opportunity.
Is this a desperate re-rationalisation of what it means for a creative idea to succeed, just to make me feel better – a last ditch effort to stop it feeling like an utter waste of time and energy? Perhaps. Quite possibly. But not necessarily.
An hour in the company of PJ O Rourke – iconoclast, much lauded author of the seminal Republican Party Reptile, contemporary of Hunter S Thomson, man of letters, polemicist, contrarian – and of course the near mythical voice of some legendary BA adverts that wrote themselves into our cultural mythology with that laconic opening statement: “You Brits!”
The Theme for the gathering – a TortoiseMedia-eye look at America Today in the space between Presidential conceding and inauguration. Rich pickings indeed.
What’s not to like.
PJ O Rourke is a hero, the meeting of which can be a precarious thing at the best of times, as James Harding, Tortoise co-founder and our host rightly pointed out. But we were in safe hands. Mr Harding’s effortless steerage allowed us to hang out in our PJs if you will, consuming PJs warm yet remorseless observations without said meeting popping the heroic balloon.
The hour was spent walking the tightrope between PJ’s ability to infuse Zoom with the smoky, peaty warmth of an antique Chesterfield chair and the frothy opinion and polemic bubbling up in the chat stream at the expense of the departing POTUS .
What does the lampooning and highly satirical Republican-ish writer PJ O Rourke think of The Yellow Hair? [my imagined Lakota Sioux name for said POTUS].
A proponent of Gonzo Journalism, this was the man who famously wrote on “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink.” He also notably served as Editor-in-Chief of National Lampoon for many years with his imprint on many National Lampoon classics. His room for satirical manoeuvre was vast.
And then it hit me – the fact that a master of Yan-kee satire and lampooning would be discussing a political culture of shifting-sand sensibilities underwritten by fatuous and sometimes almost wilfully funny untruths struck me as ironic at best, or at worse, a conflict of interest.
This tension felt like it deserved a little more poking.
To most people outside the U.S., and a rather large number inside, American Politics feels like it has been hijacked by the writers of National Lampoon and The Onion – with a smattering of H R Puff N Stuff and The King Of Kings screenplay bringing in the wings. At the heart of it all? Fake News – a master class in obfuscation. Everything is Fake, unless the Real President says otherwise, with @realDonaldTrump playing a pungent role in the Real Fake divide. Madonna or Maradonna? You decide.
Fake News – ridiculous flights of factual fictions, fantasies and potential conspiracies – all liberally doused with the petrol of incensed ‘values-based’ hurt and ‘spiritual’ mortification. As the American master Mark Twain proclaimed: ‘Why let the truth get in the way of a real story.’ Amen! Each new ‘real’ news story is another tongue placed firmly in 330 Million or so American cheeks – and all the while POTUS gleefully flicking off the critical flies with pronouncements of ‘Fake News.’
Fake News feels so, well, American. The right to shape any truth, fact, system, person, group, taste, belief, or data point in your own inimitable and highly subjective image feels more than just human. It feels like a goddam’ amendment in the constitution of all that is American.
Hunter S Thomson summed it up thus in his seminal Gonzo tome, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:
‘But what was the story?
Nobody had bothered to say.
So we would have to drum it up on our own.
Free enterprise. The American Dream.’
Damn right. The Right to live out a Truman-show life under God & Fake News feels pretty damn good. Throw in a Rifle and I’ll pay the damn sub RIGHT NOW – in dark web crypto-currency of course, so those long-haired, bean-shoot-smokin, pinko sons-of-bitches can’t trace me. Hell yeah. I’m a Boy and Proud of it. Get me?
When the fact that the greatest political satire is real life – when everything is Fake, up is down, black is white, left is right, sex isn’t gender, fixed is fluid, everything’s a meme and the question of ‘how did we get here?’ gets begged – my tuppence-worth of an observation is this.
In the old courtly world, high satire was exactly that: the rarified and vaunted art of the rapier strike – of barbed projectiles of intelligent drollery fired against the pustular buffooning of royals, aristocrats and their petite bourgeoisie henchmen, with a liberal dose of mockery reserved for the sprawling, brawling plebiscite.
But in the New World – the land of opportunity – where every man was equal under God [though not the women – and…uhm…oh, yes, those dark skinned folks and any Native Indians we haven’t killed or filed under D for Destitution – just saying] – everyone should be allowed to play. Why just let the nobs of Nob Hill have all of the fun.
Cue the heady days of the 60s and 70s. American polemicists took the spirit of free speech and the people’s right to voice their disdains, loathings, suspicions and truths to a whole new level. In the social splintering of the politicised Beat Generation and with the late Sixties agitprop movements came a new wave of satirists and lampooners with a much more audacious and ambitious sense of their audience. Hell, if a washing powder can change the behaviours [and underwear colour] of millions of Americans through television – just think what we might achieve.
Mid West college kids, East Coast ingenues and West Coast dilettantes, growing up on the mass-market all you-can-eat-buffet of the American Dream, got busy. And they got tooled up. They armed themselves with Satire. What’s more, they got populist. [For the people by the people. How could they not. The whole point of propaganda, whether to stop a war, a politician, or a bunch of racists, is to inflame a reaction in the hearts and minds of as many people as possible as often as possible for as long as possible. Ridicule became the power tool of their populist propaganda..
Serious political discourse and posturing was already in full flight across most US college campuses. Over arch and deeply myopic, radicalism, was the order of the day and it had ‘rules’ as Saul Alinsky so clearly set out. This modern radical agenda and its propagandas cut deeply into the fresh-faced self-serving idealism of the existing New World elites. But it would always be a throw-back from the old world that would cut deepest. And that throw back was Ridicule.
Ridicule, an art practised slavishly and to a higher order in the Old World of the 17th and 18th Centuries was, once again, to threaten the power elites of the New World. The using of formal and informal fallacies and fakeries to undermine someone or their argument – to make a mockery of their position or beliefs and in that way disavow them of any credibility, credulity or integrity – was to have a U.S. make-over.
As a weapon, Ridcule, designed to wither and erode the very foundations upon which someone stood, was remorseless and relentless. Ridicule is engineered to destroy the essence of the thing it targets. Forensic. Calculated. Cruel.
The new satirical U.S. version was simply the old Ridicule dressed up in a goofy Matt Monroe jumper.
In playground terms, National Lampoon magazine could be said to have ‘started it’. Originally the Harvard Lampoon, NL parodied, mocked and ridiculed everything and everyone. In that way it was VERY egalitarian.
In it we can find perhaps a ground zero – a crucible moment – in a Gonzo to Fake News trajectory theory.
True Facts, one of the magazine’s cornerstone pieces and in fact the only factual part of the whole rag, used such bizarre obtuse and ridiculous pieces of real news from around the world that reality, even when it was in evidence, was barely distinguishable from ridiculous madness and satirical surreality.
It is at this point that the connection between Gonzo Journalism and Fake News becomes clearer for me. In that moment, where reality and the ridiculous were purposefully blurred beyond comprehension, the possibility of a Gonzo society became an unsettling reality.
In that effect, I believe that for all the good they did, and for all the rotten edifices they collapsed, the arch lampooners and satirists have at least a little to answer for in regard to to the polluting and toxic nature of what we now call Fake News.
The multiplier in all of this? The steroid of mass media – the exponential reach and influence of Television and the Movies.
Hot on its heels of National Lampoon came the fire-starter of Saturday Night Live. From its inauguration in 1975, SNL packed and wrapped ridicule for mass American consumption. By the mid-to-late seventies it was a seed-bed of cultish satirical showmanship.
Between National Lampoon, SNL and all the subsequent mischief makers they spawned [The Onion being a notable example], the intelligent populist, comedic contrarian and anarcho-satirist had the opportunity to fire their ire into millions of homes via both printed piece and the cathode ray. What’s not to like?
The small flaw in the blessed trajectory?
If everything is ridiculous, then nothing is serious – and more importantly, nothing is sacrosanct. There are no safe places or secure vaults of immutable truths and irreversible facts. Relativistic trick-cycling allowed anyone to present even the most rigorously tested or peer reviewed truth or fact as open to disdainful disregard or suspicion. Nothing can be fixed. Everything is fluid. Everything suffers a Borderline Personality Disorder.
In a culture still mostly raised on the biblical trope of Let him that is without sin cast the first stone, the idea that any flaw whatsoever disavows you of being able to stand in serious and sometimes punitive judgement of a belief, moral code or political position, satire is more than just an intellectual foil, it is an instrument of faith. When that happens, you’re effectively fucked.
Everything is flawed – ergo – it does not have the untainted status, permission or the credibility to ever take higher ground or present an unassailable position, framing fact or truth. In that instance, everything is relative and nothing is what it seems, to the person or persons ‘seeming’ it at least. So any and every thing can be ridiculed, undermined and summarily dismissed with no right to reply. Sound familiar?
The satirist and the lampooners power to pull down edifices of bullshit, self interest, political filibustering, outright deception and lying changed the face of massed political debate and its accompanying sophistry, in some cases irrevocably, removing its cloak or invisibility and invincibility completely.
More recently, Social Media has simply accelerated the whole kit and caboodle – leaving us with Radical Pamphleteering to the power of Moore’s Law.
People under the cosh of power elites have always seen potential witchery and devilry in those above and beyond them. Unknown darkness and debauch in the big houses and the strange ways of those who Have have always been with us. And elites have always attracted suspicion, with wild stories of their excesses and self interest [often true] used as propaganda to bring them down. Put that sensibility into the New World and the land of Salem Witch Trials and the Pilgrim suspicions of the excesses of Mammon and, well – light blue touch paper and stand well back. Conspiracy theories have always existed. But as with any fact or ‘truth’ generally, pop a conspiracy theory into the super-fly, deep-fat-frier of investigative gonzo journalism to the power of social media and shazaam, Bob’s your slightly unnerving and sexually ambivalent Pizza Delivering Paeodophile Uncle of the Jewish Global Conspiracy variety.
Suddenly, It feels like a very short walk
everything is underwritten
everything is undermined
How does one sustain a shift of that scale and nature?
Comedy of course. Great comedy. Crazy comedy. Off-beat comedy. Free-form rough-edged comedy shit. Funny shit. People love to laugh, especially at things that would otherwise make them cry – like the state of their wallet, their world or the nature and idiosyncrasies of the people tasked with running it – elected or otherwise.
Funny is what we do when all else fails. Humour is how we navigate the madness. Funny is sacrosanct; a human right. We don’t like people telling us what to laugh and not laugh at. If you need proof, look no further than the belief that the the inauguration of Donald J Trump was in part powered by people reacting against being told what not to laugh at. Don’t mess with funny. Even it if is offensive or potentially dangerous.
As Sy Benson, head-writer on King Kaiser’s Comedy Cavalcade in the movie My Favourite Year proclaims when challenged to remove his ‘Boss Hijack’ sketch, a bitingly satirical yet potentially libellous piece on a Mobster thug:
“You never cut funny.”
The relationship been truth, satire, journalism and dangerous living are ancient. Telling powerful people, or massed tribes and types of people exactly what you think of them and their shibboleths has been getting satirists into trouble since Aristophenes in Ancient Greece first thought to poke fun at both Socrates and the Athenian Court System. The golden age of Satire was no different – Moliere, Voltaire and Boileau-Desperaux in France and Swift, Pope, Dryden and Hogarth in the U.K. walked a perilous line with the potential for censure, prison and death threats as the reward for their caustic, parodical exclamations.
This whiff of danger has lurked in the wings of Gonzo since its inception. The counter culture and its harrying of state instruments and bodies in the era of the Pentagon Papers, Nixon and Watergate bought investigative journalists, cultural commentators and bold satirists closer to the flame again. To be seen to be distributing a truth that did not align with the ‘confected’ truth of the governing elites was a very dangerous pastime.
Furthermore, it wasn’t always political truths that were being smashed or subverted. This was also the era of brutal self enquiry, identity myth busting and raw revelation – where people mined the underlying flows, fractures and flaws of the human psyche through explorations that sought to break down multiple doors of perception in search of some greater cosmic truth via LSD. A search for absolute truths in whichever shape they came could be cause for concern
Again Thomson, this time in a Rolling Stone Article in 1973 states:
“Absolute truth is a rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.”
If you set out to design, engineer and seed a social movement custom-built to suffocate serious debate and enquiry, undermine universal ethical and moral constructs, and effectively neuter any intellectually-rigorous and profound discourse or enquiry, you couldn’t do better than Gonzo Journalism and National Lampoon’s anything. A stroke of genius. In these two pillars the foundations of a Gonzo Society are born.
To that point, one could posit that Gonzo culture and Gonzo Society both deserve and create Gonzo Politicians.
Followed to its logical end, one could say that Donald J Trump was the only choice in 2016.
Trump is the ultimate Gonzo Politician. The perfect POTUS to sit in power at the heart of a nation of states suckled on gonzo lampooning and relentless irreverence. In 2016 Hilary was the epitome of a satirical target. Rooted and raised in the self serving circles of political power elites and Washington well-doers, Hilary was never going to have an easy race against Trump in a predominantly Gonzo Society. Gonzo was the pixie dust in Trump’s armoury, the accelerator of his ambition. The 2016 election was far more a realisation of gonzo politics than an assertion of real inalienable political will.
Is P.J partially responsible for the political mood in 2016? Kinda but not really. No more than for any election since 1969. Should Hunter S Thomson take a bow? Again, it’s a No.
But their legacy does certainly taint the world we now live in, for both good and bad.
If showbiz rules and we’re all Gonzo now, Trump Rules – or at least did for 4 years longer than most of us would have liked. But, careful what you wish for. And perhaps more importantly careful what you laugh it. Because someone might take you seriously.
Inspired by the very real events and conversations [recorded] in an An Evening with PJ O Rourke hosted by Tortoise Media. The topic? America Today.
A point of crossing has seduced me. Slowly. Irrevocably. Immutably. Emphatically. No immediate and violent passion. It didn’t seize me. I wasn’t fired by it. No turbulent thoughts and painful feelings of loss suffered by its absence or my distance from it.
This point of transition, of crossing, didn’t press itself on me in a gaudy show of beauty, high-mindedness, primitive baseness or dramatic wonder – no, this transition allowed me to alight upon it. In my own time. In my own way. It waited for me. No ta-da. No trumpets, no fanfare. No hashtag or meme flurry.
This was subtle. Nuanced. A sense of an elegant coercion within it. And I realise now that within that elegance lies the transcendent part of it – barely discernible, vaporous, ephemeral – but very much there.
This makes sense to me. I would venture that transitions are seldom sudden or violent things. Of course we can cite transitions of power – sudden brutal exchanges and bloody un-seatings – where a collective or individual change from one state into another, whether desired or not. The board room putsch; the post-pub brawl. There are many transitions where a violent suddenness is part of the fabric of the transition, an essential element or particularity if you will. But this was not one.
The richness in my crossing revealed itself over time. Only after repeatedly traversing from one point in space to the other did the deeper, more spiritual sense of the crossing become apparent.
Each time. Each traversal. Knitting the contextual fabric around it, securing it. A small fractal moment, repeated over and over. Knit one, pearl one. The repeated act becoming an integral part of the fabric of the experience, not just the act of moving towards and away from a particular point.
As the emotional density and gravity of the point of transition increase with each undertaking, the act becomes an Act. The act of transitioning from one side to the other is rendered into an experience unto itself.
Where the Act of Crossing now stands, a simple set of actions stood. A set of actions with the sole purpose of traversing space in time towards a desired goal, objective, state or destination. In this instance, cold water swimming, the sea-bound kind, was the simple, practical thing I am repeatedly moving myself towards.
There were clues I suppose, to the profundity beneath the function. Clues to the deeper transitional nature of this ostensibly practical routine.
When I look back, the idea of my revelation is in itself unoriginal – merely the echo of someone else’s. But then I wonder if that matters; and I come to the conclusion, self interestedly that it doesn’t. Echoes and reverberations through time space and people are fundamental to how we have evolved as creatures. So balls to it.
This transcendental tale began as I would contest all do, knee-deep in human banality.
In conversation with an old friend of mine, I was despairing a little. My infinite positivity and usually rather annoying glass-half-full-of-itself-ness was stuttering and stalling. The Pandemic had devastated my modus. And utterly floored me.
“And how. But it’s ok. You see, I walk. I walk religiously every morning. Well. I march to be fair. Marching. Yomping. Sturdy stomping. Up Down and down Down. Until the ferment in my head calms a little, and the noisiness of my mind decreases.”
Which I did. From Lockdown’s beginning. When my need to commute up to London, sometimes 3-4 days a week, simply stopped. I walked fiercely; fervently, feverishly. Two hours. Sometimes three. On the Downs, lost in my thoughts. Sometimes with the wind against me, sometimes with the mist lying over the plain beneath, like the dragon’s breath of Arthurian legend. But always with nature’s dignity all about me, punctuated by Tick Warning signs, curious sheep and the odd passing hallo.
Yes, there was a sense of lifting, of elevation in these walks, climbing the scarped upsides of ‘pick a Down. any Down’. A sense of elevated connection. But even in the midst of all this beauty and nature’s wonder, there was something missing. The nature of Nature wasn’t quite immersive enough for me – at a base, primal level.
I needed something else. My soul was greedy for nature of a more dynamic, turbulent, flowing kind. Something in me seemed to reach back into the core of my creature self, stirring up an old and primary connection.
I’d love to claim that, at this moment of revelation, a higher lyrical sensibility consumed me; a poetic reverie from an ancient memory – but not so. [Though I would claim that the power of the cosmos resides in even the smallest and most banal of moments. In this case, old family photos.]
In the process of clearing out a cupboard I find an old shoe-box full of photos [yes, really: like a bad film script cliché]. Amongst the photos, there it is – a slightly yellowing photo of me, as a child, in a rather dainty tea-potting stance, in red swimmers, on the beach in Genova.
The moment I see the photograph, I am catapulted backwards [or forwards, or sideways; whichever direction the space time continuum and human episodic memory sends us in]. I can hear the sound of the beach. Smell the warm air about me – and the tang of the sea only a few feet from me. The aromas of the beach restaurant at Capo Marina float past me. Sound becomes sharp, clear. I hear my uncle’s name rattle across the beach intercom:
Telefono. Cleo Paravagna. Telefono.
The sea sound accompanied by the noisy bustle of humanity at the water’s edge. The rattling sticks and handles of the table football players near the bar. The splashes in the small, circular salt-water swimming pool where I probably learned my first swimming strokes. Every memory, living and true, plays out under the watchful eye of the Hotel Villa Park’s pagoda’d roof. I see the formidable silhouettes of the big ships in the distance as they leave the port, passing beneath the sundial shadow of La Laterna, as my brother and I try to guess where in the world these exotic, hulking ships are bound. But above all else, the photograph reminds me of the sheer joy I always feel and have felt in the sea.
Ever since I can remember, the act of rolling in the spume and briney embrace of her, bouncing through her waves, submerging into her ‘inky depths’ [I am one of Cousteau’s children], twisting and turning through her eddies and bobbing on her tides exhilarates me far beyond the physical.
Looking at the picture, it all seems so obvious. I realise what I need to do. To break the Lockdown blues. I need water. I need to swim. At the deepest yearning middle of me. I want to swim. I need the cold-water clarity of St Cuthbert. I need sky and the sea beneath it to un-clutter my panicking mind.
I need the sea to pour into the void left by the utter collapse of everything I understood to be my professional life and direction of travel.
When I announce my need, my friend gives me a deeply practical response. He tells me of a beach where he swims, to help him recuperate from a rather bad bike accident. He explains where the beach is and how long it takes to get there. He describes the beach very simply. Wide. Deep. Crescented. Pebbled [or stony if you are feeling ‘flinty.’] But a short walk, some two minutes, from a small car park
He uses some words that give it a more emotional context. Unexpected. Calming. Regenerating. But only lightly and only in passing. There’s no lyrical reverie in him. No momentary loss for words. The emotional weight of the place doesn’t create a trough in our conversation.
He describes the functional nature of how I get to said beach. Sat Nav. Parking, he suggests, is either to be had at the larger on-road car park. Or alternately, if I’m feeling forthright, pushy, or lazy, there is a smaller strip of parking on the left hand side up near the railway crossing. This is reached by driving up the aforementioned concrete access road lined with shrubs and bushes.
“At the end of that concrete road” he says, “you’ll find the railway crossing. Cross over the railway tracks, Walk the path. Bob’s your uncle. The sea.”
Crossing railway tracks!
This news thrills me. I’ve always loved crossing railway racks, or tram tracks, or any kind of track. I love the sound car tyres make as they cross them, the deep-set drum flourish and squeaking rubber purchase as the air filled tubes strike the rails. [This is an ancient love in me, rustled up from years of driving across the Continent where rail crossings seemed so much more plentiful and open.]
This brief rhythmic communion with the deeply carved infrastructure of our world has always enamoured me for some reason – these great lengths of steel or iron set into the rock concrete, tarmac and earth of us. Travelling infinitely, into the distance, in either direction.
Their weight excites me. And the opportunity cast into the form of them. In both directions something, everything lies – another story, another place – something other than where you are in the Now of your crossing.
The rails’ connection to all those other intersections of humanity, of teeming lives and industry, past, present and future. The connection. The materials and humanity they carry along their lengths. As I contemplate this an insane picture rises up in my head, of places, lands and people tumbling through occasions and moments and happenings both within and beyond my immediate existence, all interwoven and stitched together with rails – rails everywhere, like some insane theme-park ride, all surging upwards like a dramatic curlicued and brilliantly-inked spread of pages in a pop-up book.
In this crossing lies something else though. Beyond the rush of child like reverie. Something with edges. Something of the creeping crime. In the crossing lies the possibility of Transgression. There is something of the outlaw about being in close proximity to railway lines – and of walking the rails. Mischievous, pioneering – like the young boys in Stand by Me walking towards their destinies, great, small and indifferent. Walking across railway tracks smacks of the Outlier – the intrepid hobo-vagrant, the missionary or the errant child. They are also fringed with darker stuff. The edges of railways lines are lined with the human debris of us, cast both from and in front of the trains. The stories of the dead lie in the shadows at the edges of the railway tracks. There is the chiaroscuro of us in them.
None of this falls from my friend’s lips of course. In his mind, the crossing is a purely functional descriptor – part of the process of getting me from despair to elation. In that he is purposefully precise. Correct. Useful.
In the first few days of my new swimming regime, I undertake the journey with the practical mindset of my friend’s instruction. I drive to the car park, either road side or the one closer still. I cross the railway lines. Gates clank behind me. I walk to the wide crescent pebbled beach – as a function of going cold-water swimming.
To begin with there is nothing in any aspect, element or ingredient of the journey to and from the water that is anything other than functional.
The drive through the countryside. The expanse of sky, clouded, low, wistful or otherwise is there as a matter of fact. Even the swimming itself is a gym-deprived exercise regime cloaked in a communing with the sea. Nothing more.
Even when my pedestrian eye for beautiful light makes me pause and capture aspects of the walk through the flinted shadows and echoes of the Mill, viewed over the wildflower and gorsey borders, the penny has not yet dropped in any substantial way. Something whispers to me in the back of my mind but I am otherwise occupied.
The feeling of crossing, the act of transition, physically, materially, temporally, spiritually, comes through in small glints and sparks. Much as the sun scatters splinters of light off the surface of the grey-green sea, the revelations came to me randomly at first, and then, as time goes on and the rhythm of my crossing becomes more regular, so too do the revelations of crossing, of transition, become more regular, more fixed.
The first realisation is through taste and smell. Unsurprisingly some might say. But there we are. I am a number of days into my regime. The morning journey to the water and the arrival at the beach is increasingly visually rewarding. But the visual allure has not popped properly yet. I am in the water, slow rolling tide waves moving me in an exotic manner far beyond my own physical abilities or grace.
As I move the moment occurs. It is the way the salt water feels and smells and tastes on me. As I tread water I am held in the glittering laser beam of morning sun streaming across the water towards me. The air shifts. Warms. The salty taste and smell of the sea water cracks into a memory. I am young. I sense the sea. The smell memory is overwhelming. Behind it comes a splinter of every warm-air, salt-water, sun-scratched memory – a rush. I feel my body change as an electric charge bolts through me momentarily. It is exhilarating.
And it comes to me.
I feel like a Russian doll. The shells of previous increasingly younger, other mes lining the inside of the other all the way back to the first time I would have been dipped in the sea and anointed with her salty divinity.
My recollections – of the nature of the sea, my immersion in it, and of the scattering of sun across it, its interplay between the clouds and sky above it, and the rocks and sand beneath are informed by something other than by the wells of sentimental data stored in various corners of my mind.
I do not trust my own memory to have such depth and expanse. Even though many papers and articles and studies point to the incredible faculty of our episodic memory and what it is capable of retaining.
I am certain that my earliest technicolour memory of sea water, is largely informed by the kodachromatic photographs of my childhood – those snapshots of existence – which I have then subsequently codified into ‘memory.’
It must be photographs. Of me as a baby in my father’s arms as he stands at the edge of the beach, rolling sea water glinting beneath his feet and into the distance. Various tableaux interleaved with each other in various shoe boxes. Of the beach at Capo Marina. Various people, in their youth, bright floral 60s bikinis and swim suits, about me as a baby, as a child. And the sea always there, nearby. The glinting sea below at Portofino. The sandy Paraggii beach with the crescent road. Cornish waters with the grey stone hotel standing on the cliffs above them. The beach at Weston SuperMare with Renee, my brother’s and my long-time babysitter and sometime nanny. Every one of these images, singed and tinged with sensorial data and emotional memory, flood into the space in my head and heart triggered by the salt edges in my nose and my mouth, and across my skin.
Finishing my swim, I feel quite electric. Time to return to ‘reality.’ I hear myself say. Hmmn. ‘Reality.’ This shift seems to be pervasive. From my physical and mental sense of it out into my phrasing. I am seeding the language I use about this place with otherness.
I traverse the crossing. Gates clank. I return to my car. Something has shifted. Small tectonic plates within me and about me have moved, ever-so slightly. The sea and the beach have taken on a different role for me, suddenly stitched into my myth. A sense of otherness has developed for me here. The utilitarian nature of traversing the railway line has transformed into something richer, deeper.
The small concrete road up to the railway line. The railway line itself and the gates at the crossing either side of it. The borders of the derelict Mill strewn with thick gorse, hawthorn and blackthorn and wildflowers. This coming to the sea feels as if it has multiplied in depth by multiple lifetimes.
I feel the relativism of it, the connection of myself in relation to the now derelict and deserted mill buildings, and those that lived and died here. It feels overwhelming. And beautiful.
These moments, experiences or happenings have now become regular, each quietly overwhelming or increasingly profound in different ways. I realise that I can perch at the edge of the water here and, in turns, all time becomes Now. Salt on my skin, and the sea air in my nose. The horizon fizzes – starts to feel particular. The clouds become timeless; become the same clouds I have looked at since arriving in this world – rolling, turning, folding, dissipating, building, streaking, patterning themselves. One day – subtle shifting formica patterns. The next; a chevroned pattern shuttering above me as if a celestial tractor tyre has imprinted its tread across the sky.
All time is Now.
I turn my head slightly to the left and the soft wind blows over Thurlestone beach against my 13 year old face, as I watch the edge of the sea hit the sky, the voice of my mother calling me to lunch from across the paddock field behind me. I turn my head slightly to the right as the motor boat pulls the skier in the distance, and I am simultaneously on the prow of the boat post-ski in Ibiza, saltiness baking into me, and my tubes still filled brimming with the salt water my face smashed into when the cosmos, tiring of my showing off and conceit, decided to trip me in a defining act of enforced and inelegant humility .
The salt tang and breeze about me creates a constant re-cloaking in shards of my life and other deeper ones I cannot fathom. The churning water off at the mouth of the Hanalei river. The blistering light over Bantham beach. The Indian Ocean’s tealy iridescence after a storm. The frothing topped Tasmanian Sea on a spring evening. The salted sandiness of Paradise Cove and the municipal beach at Huntingdon. A freezing monkish baptism in the North Sea in a Northumbrian spring, playing out across an endless expanse of sand beneath the warm sun-struck sandstone of Bamburgh Castle on its promontory.
Every immersion in every corner of the staggering entity that is earth’s singular ocean has informed and shaped me someway somehow.
Not only am I child of Cousteau and his expeditionary wonders aboard the Calypso but also of Attenborough and his natural world and the blue expanses of it. And of the wonder of my beautifully tooled pop-up book, of Jules Verne’s 20,000 leagues Under The Sea, which I immersed myself in as a child. The film of the same name with the majestic James Mason as the wise, capricious and flawed Nemo. Moby Dick. Call me Ishmael. Again, translated into a formidable 1956 epic of the same name, its salted obsession and creature madness fuelled by Gregory Peck’s masterclass Ahab. A mind filled with the puppeteering wizardry of Troy Tempest, Marina and Stingray. Marine Boy with his oxy-gum and twanging psychedelic theme tune. The deep memory imprinting of the magnetic boouuuu boouuuuu boouuuuu of the sonar emanating from the ray-nosed submarine in Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea, the immutable Richard Baseheart’s stern, troubled expression reflected in the blue void of its deck viewing glass. The pop cultural plotting points of my sea-bound psyche pour in from all quarters.
A sense of the seas’ natural wonder and fantastical nature has been instilled in me from a very young age. But there are things of the sea that vibrate through me that reach far beyond the warm ebbing and flowing of Attenborough narratives, seminal sea books and the pop cultural referencing of my young TV life.
The sea runs through me, spiritually, physically, temporally and genetically. I have Genoese blood, which should be sea-faring enough for my purposes. But in doing research for a book a few years ago, I discovered the simple scientific truths that mark our connection to the seas. The similarity between the salt levels and ions in our cells and in our blood plasma and those in sea water are seen as evidence of our evolution from and connection to the oceans. Human fat density, make up and ratios are very similar to those of cretaceous mammals and a world away from our ape cousins. We also potentially share the necessary crypto-chromes for magneto reception and navigation, though it is felt that we civilised ours out of our everyday lives long ago.
I find these facts and theories astonishing yet unsurprising. They add colour and depth to a deepening sense of wonderment in every journey to and from the beach,
But the taste smell and rub of the sea is just part of this. There are aspects of the beach and sea beyond the crossing that, for me at least, add to the transitional, the transformative and ultimately transcendent nature of it.
The beach sits, in a somewhat surreal manner, between two very distinct and very British things.
Looking from sea to land, to the left lies a small working port – where fishing boats and ferries crisis-cross out of the estuary and harbour mouth into La Manche. From the beach and in the shallows, before the sound of the water envelops you, it is possible to hear the wheezing, clanking industry of it all: the clattering release of anchor chains, ships horns, clattering endeavour, the scrap-yard claw wrenching and grinding clutches of metal wrecks and rubbish from one corner of the yard to the containers and crushers in the other. Humming cranes. Distant engines. At its edges, rows of housing braid the hills, off-set with anomalous ‘beachside’ apartment developments. A small drilling rig, out of commission, sits hunkered down on its legs, an old sea fort set into the cliffs above it.
Looking to the right, just before the white cliffs climb up and into view, lies what can only be described as a most quintessential sea-side town. Part resort, part dormitory, with a mixture of architectural styles one only ever finds in British sea-side towns. This place feels both timeless and lost in it. Sea-side towns in this country have a remarkable melancholy about them. Even when bathed in sunshine and light, the memory of that melancholy, and the inevitability if its return pervade its being. Sea-side towns wear the tenure of sometimes brutal and unforgiving human existence where the land meets the sea. These towns and the settlements that lie beneath them are riddled with the fragile truths of human endeavour and the indifference of nature and her oceans to the passing of our time here.
To one side Brutal utility and to the other an elegant melancholy. And between the two sits the beach. The crescent pebbled beach. And while swimming something struck me.
The beach sits like an unfinished piece of collage. To the left and right of it pictures and fabrics and textures have been applied, richly, clumsily, workman-like, with gentle artistry or brutal utility. All about it has been ‘coloured’ – with the sea beneath it and the sky above it. The derelict Mill and settlement behind it is defining – a solid something. Even the lighthouse has a charming simplicity – the kind of lighthouse a child would draw at the edge of their seaside picture.
But the beach itself?
A magical oversight. Exquisitely unfinished. As if the collage maker was suddenly called away, just for a moment, distracted. But the moment passed into months and years and then decades. And became a lifetime. Leaving the beach as a simple a fabric, a speckled flax of stones and rocks. The raw material of something.
Perhaps it is the nature of the beach as a work-in-progress that invests the experience of transition – of crossing – towards it into something seemingly metaphysical – capable of weaving and stitching its own folklore and gentle piety while time suspends itself, hung either side of the beach in purposeful waiting. Perhaps it is this otherness of the beach’s nature that gives a Narnia-like quality to the crossing.
Otherness is a theme here. The land and sea scape fizzes with it. Each time you move through it, it is different yet the same. In a certain light at a certain time, derelict mill buildings in East Sussex suddenly resemble the derelict farm buildings at the edges of airport runways in the southern-most latin countries. Landing strips at the edges of cities, carved into the rural surround. Vestigial echoes of lives once hewn from a land now veneered with the petrol physics of aviation, global travel and the need for our metal birds to alight somewhere. The light, momentarily crisp and blued air can turn in an instant – and a warm African reddishness run through it and across the foliage and flint. Or, as the blue deepens above it, the whiff of a New Mexico morning alights upon it.
Otherness marks this place. Otherness makes a beach you reach across a railway crossing, slung between two very different types of seaside town, tucked along a B-road on the south-east coast of England an extra-ordinary place.
Perhaps this is why it appeals so deeply to me. Because it plays to the sense of other in me. Something I’ve always felt. A sense of not quite belonging where I am, or to who I am or what I am.
Nothing dreadful. Quite the opposite. Something I’ve celebrated. Almost to the point of an arrogance. A quiet sense. Small. Momentary. Passing. infinitesimal sometimes. A twist in the lens of life. As if the picture is slightly skewed; askance, something different about it. The spectre of some hand at work. Perhaps that sense of not quite, of difference comes from within. A simple rather mundane irregularity in the fabric of me. Or perhaps it comes from growing up in a very provincial English village with a mother who is ‘foreign’ and a father who is ‘racy.‘ Perhaps it’s the reverberation of my parents dreadful schism, separation and deeply upsetting divorce, when the lives of all those about me seemed to simply roll on, secure in their banalities and routines, while mine seemed to inexorably stumble and crumble into some slip-shifting divided life, ferrying between two homes and selves. Perhaps this is from where my sense of sympathy and syncopation with spaces of transition comes. This relentless crossing between selves.
Perhaps that is what I do here. I use the crossing and the beach as a way of relentlessly reliving and, in doing so, reiterating my sense of other – recharging it, replenishing it, reinvigorating it.
My morning swim is a way of communing with that otherness. My own and that of the merfolk that inhabit the beach most mornings. Each of us, either individually, paired or in clusters and bunches, each of us with life happening to us, for us or against us in some way or other, gather up on the beach, a mercurial event, under the infinite possibility of nature. It is a celebration of otherness, each marching to the beat of a highly individual drum, yet, we gather.
A lost tribe of Other. Finding itself on a beach, in East Sussex.
But therein lies a different more expansive story, far greater than this small essay on the seductive qualities of a crossing near a beach.
Bear with me as I just want to set out the slightly odd logic that got me to here.
While walking along the banks of the Ouse towards Hamsey, mist rising off the sky soaked water, a chattering Magpie swooped and settled on the dewy path in front of me.
Good morning Mr Magpie:
how are Mrs Magpie
and all of the other little magpies?
Thats what I should have said at least, if I were a man truly stitched into the natural fabric of Albion’s rolling, rural majesty and the echoes of our medieval ritual and lore. But it was in fact the Magpie theme tune from the 1970s children’s show, with accompanying electric moonage graphic intro that came to me first, through a rose-tinted mist of Angel Delight, It’s a Knockout, Berni Inns [the Tudor Tavern in St Alban’s to be precise], ABBA, and Susan Shanks.
This was closely followed by an passing echo of Radiohead’s:
Good Morning Mr Magpie,
How are we today
Now you’ve stolen all the magic
And took my memory
At which point I settled back into the familiar One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, Three for a Girl and four for a Boy refrain. And it was the word Sorrow that finally popped to the top of the pile in my head.
As I walked I remembered a passage in Stephen Pinker’s book, Enlightenment Now which alluded to Sorrow and something about pandemics.
For those who might not know him, Stephen Pinker is a Scientist first and foremost, the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard, and an Elected Member of the Academy of Sciences. He is also an advocate of Eco-modernism or what some call Eco Pragmatism, and actively refutes any attempts to create a morality play around issues concerning the environment and climate change. He dismisses the positioning of these arguments as being those of Good vs Evil and rightly questions all of the incumbent fanatacisms that come with that framing from either side. To some Green Revolutionaries and Climate extremists this places him firmly in the opposition.
Why had this Sorrow Pandemic thought demanded revisiting? Because recently in the pursuit of seeking out and discussing positive outcomes from our current crises, I’ve been reminded that some, especially those at the bleeding edges of the Environmentalist establishment [and yes, you are as much of the established order now as those you damn], see the crisis unfolding around the world as licence to make unrestrained and slightly gleeful statements and exaltations about the impacts of COVID 19.
There is no doubt that this cloud does contains a multitude of silvery positives. That there is barely a plane in the sky, no travel to speak of, a collapse in oil demand, a shrinking if not collapse of unfettered consumption, the return of certain ecosystems to their purer nature [the canals of Venice’s return to beauty is a much trumpeted benefit of the collapse of its tourism trade], and a general re-engaging with nature in all of its glory are indeed to be somewhat thankful for. But they come at a price.
There is also a sense from some that COVID will act as a great leveller, and that, just perhaps, this crises may lead to a shrinking of inequality in the world; a rebalancing in favour of smaller living and needs and a greater balance between humanity and the natural world.
The upsides are plain to see. But where my issue lies is that these upsides often seem to be dislocated from the downside price we will have to pay for them – and what’s more, unfettered from whom will pay that price eventually. It is that dislocation that concerns me. And it is the glee present in some of the exhalations that pricked me; the whiff of a misanthropic, Thanos-shaped righteous mania that is in need of checking, in my humble opinion at least.
The piece I remembered was in fact to be found in his chapter on Inequality, and if you’ll bear with me I’ve reproduced it below in its entirety:
‘The historian Walter Schneidel identifies “Four horsemen of Levelling”; mass-mobilisation warfare, transformative revolution, state collapse, and lethal pandemics. In addition to obliterating wealth [and, in the communist revolutions, the people who owned it], the four horseman reduce inequality by killing large numbers of workers, driving up the wages of those who survive. Scheidel concludes, “All of us who prize greater economic equality would do well to remember that with the rarest of exceptions it was only ever bought forth in sorrow*. Be careful what you wish for. ‘
Source: Stephen Pinker, Enlightenment Now, Penguin Random House
There it was – careful what you wish for. In reading this I had mentally added to Sheidel’s prize of greater economic equality those of greater environmental well-being; an equality of possibility for all regardless of gender, colour, creed or background; a reduction in industrial carbon emissions; greater respect and care for the creatures we share the planet with; a return to less nihilist consumer tendencies; and a general rebalancing of humanity and planet.
All of these are eminently desirable, but must exist within a universal order under natural laws, and therefore there are losers and losses to be accounted for with these gains. Positive and negative externalities. We must be cognisant of that.
And this is where I come to my point [at last].
I have a simple request to those whom might quietly caw and reel and dance as the old order burns about them – the price for your glee is being carried by human beings who do not necessarily deserve your dance at their despair.
To punk and pimp Yeats:
But I being poor have only my sorrow:
I have spread my sorrow under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my sorrow.
Before you say or do anything in celebration of the upsides, just be conscious that there is a bill: the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives; the deaths of precious loved ones, the loss of millions of jobs and the supplementary well-being and progress they bring to individuals, communities and economies – and a severe loss of momentum on the social and technological progress that might just accelerate humanity out of the poverty that fuels so much of what’s wrong on the planet.
In his chapter on The Environment, Pinker quotes Indira Ghandi; ‘Poverty is the greatest polluter.’
If we only look to the negative environmental impact that historic and more recent scale industrialisation brings and discard the fact that the advances inherent in these epochs have in turn raised millions out of poverty, of course we will see a doomsday scenario.
Pinker’s book reminded me that for all the degradation and diminishments the industrial revolution and subsequent technological advances have bought [and he does not shy away from pointing to the dreadful scale of them, and equally the role of tyrannies of both the extreme left and the extreme right in escalating them], he reminds us that once the leverage of progress has lifted millions out of poverty and away from scratching a daily subsistence, they are able to raise their eyes and minds to higher-order issues and challenges that might face us not just as individuals but as a collective.
In the act of liberating millions from poverty, enlightenment stops being the exclusive preserve of a small cabal of highly-educated and righteous minds exercising the luxury of their conscience above everyone else. Enlightenment becomes democratised across millions, eventually billions, of people – and through that enlightenment comes the responsibility it brings.
The rise out of poverty allows any society to educate and enlighten those liberated millions to the positive and negative impacts of our existence, both on each other, the environment and on the planet as a whole – and it elevates and accelerates that society’s ability and capacity for making and acting upon smarter choices. There has to be some good in that.
And in regards to a point I made earlier, whether Pinker is the opposition or not, here’s a thought in regards to how we might nurture greater consideration and consciousness of others in the machine of all of this.
Break out of your echo-chamber. Every now and then. Move away from those that celebrate the same beliefs and value systems as you and consume the same feedback loops of ‘suitable’ or relevant data that you consume. Read texts that make you feel uncomfortable; texts that hold the opposite of your belief system; texts that present research findings, insights and correlations that contradict those you usually rely on to support your beliefs – seek out the peta-flip-side to the peta-flop of big data points your echo-chamber usually feeds on.
Big Data and the feedback loops of insight and ‘truth’ it brings are the drug of Now. But this presents us with somewhat of a dichotomy. What makes one ‘truth’ right and the other wrong? Who decides?
What we trust and why is a shaded and complex thing, as Withnail’s provider of Phenodihydrochloride benzelex, Danny the Dealer points out:
Marwood: Give me a Valium, I’m getting the FEAR!
Danny: [very calmly] You have done something to your brain. You have made it high. If I lay 10 mils of diazepam on you, it will do something else to your brain. You will make it low.
Why trust one drug and not the other? That’s politics, innit?
Why trust one ‘drug’ and not the other? Though the data point itself may be scientifically or statistically immutable and solid, it does not stop the purveyor, distributor and propagator of that data point ‘framing’ it for their own benefit and in such a way as to suit their immediate need. So for balance, and in search of illuminated self-enquiry, it pays us to see and contemplate on all sides. In doing that we might achieve a slightly more universal, humane and less partisan perspective.
You might of course align yourself with Saul D. Alinsky’s Rule for Radicals of polarity and extremity as the only way to drive transformative change. You may choose to remove any of the naturally occurring grey and revert to a black and white absolutism underwritten by the fifth rule of Ridicule and think ‘Fuck your Trumpist orange-man point of view’, in which case, enjoy your radical bully-hole.
You might be so delighted at the evidences of nature’s ascendency that everything else can go whistle.That’s also fine. Unlike millions of people who still live under the shadows of poverty, tyranny, ignorance and degradation, you live in a society that treasures and upholds free speech and the application of free will. So you’re free to utilise your educated, enlightened mind to think and say what you like.
And if, given all of that, you quietly and simply don’t care; and see the doomsday scenario of natural reordering and devastation required to deliver your aims as worth cheering for in the face of others sorrow, then crack on.
All I would ask is this – that you and your opposites, those who trumpet and celebrate free-market dynamics and profit while dismissing the destruction and degradation they bring on humanity, our communities and our environment as a fair price for the gain, do us all a favour:
Get a room, and leave the rest of us to try and make the best of this.
This is a really simple, and hopefully, rewarding and meaningful exercise we can all do.
The only barrier to participating will be your broadband connection.
If it is dodgy and you already spend indeterminate amounts of time waiting for the frozen rictus grimace of the person you’re zooming or hanging-out with to unfreeze, what I am about to impart as an exercise in intimacy will be lost on you. Though you may want to try filling the down-time by capturing screen-shots of the best ‘frozen faces’ and creating a ‘rogues gallery’ to while away the moments.
But, if your broadband is bulging with bandwidth, we’ll crack on.
Now, hands up who’s spending a ridiculous amount of time on Zoom meetings or call meetings or meeting meetings of any kind? Thought so.
It seems that though we are winding into our newly virtually-streamlined dance of life and work reasonably well, some of us are finding it hard to shake the need to be busy being busy.
Working from home seems to be an exercise in existential professional angst.
“Should I have a Google meeting Calendar?”
“Should I just ‘be around, dial in whenever’ or more formal and less available?”
“What is ‘too many meetings” in a COVID 19 world?”
“ How do I project value to my employer while ‘not in the room’?”
We also then have the aesthetics and logistics of the Lockdown Screen-Age. There’s been lots of adjusting, and light moving, all to sort the Zoom friendly ‘best angle.’ We know full well that people are surrepticiously viewing our Now – the life of us visible around the edges of our in-screen head when we meet. Slightly to the left? To the right? Painting or book shelves in shot? But which books? Which artists? What do they say about me? Back to the wall, or space behind me? Comedy zoom-bombing by family members [or pets]? Or door cemented shut with barbed wire?
Questions questions questions.
The one outcome or effect?
Zoom & FaceTime saturation. And a staggering disappearance of natural intimacy.
Once upon a time when it wasn’t used for everything FaceTime was fun and quite personal. Not any more!! You are as likely to have your line manager, CEO, business partner or the accounts department on FaceTime as you are your 12 year old and the family dog.
And it’s also getting a little ‘performance’ out there.
We are trained almost chimp-like to ‘lean in’ [the crap silicon valley speak for being half-interested] when the camera is on. And we seem to be suffering from accelerating excitability, so desperately in need are we of a new face/conversation/topic/theme/human to point ourselves at.
So we tend to perform a little more – and in turn perhaps be a little less genuine?
So how do we rediscover intimacy not only in the absence of hugs and physical proximity – the rub of life – but also in the accelerating tsunami of zoom screens and facetime?
And here is my thought – and, as I say, it’s really simple.
Select someone you love – family, friend, child, grandparent, anyone – and the best channel on which to connect with them – hangouts, face time or zoom.
Then do the following:
Agree in advance that you will only be on the ‘call’ for 5 minutes max – no more
Agree that after the first minute, you will both stop talking.
Agree that you will just look at each other directly; no wriggling or evasion
Agree that you will do that for as long as possible.
And see how you do.
This is about a simple shift in behaviour with big impact. And putting the staggering intimacy of silence and direct gaze to work.
And it’s tough. You may only get 10 seconds in – or, perhaps, like a lot of other things recently, you may surprise yourself and last longer.
But don’t underestimate it. To engage, fully, in silence – to truly look at the person, and not demand noise, action, words or response; that is ‘powerful shit, man’ as Cheech may well have said to Chong at some point in the late 60s early 70s.
To look at the person directly, and just be comfortable with that and the deafening silence of it can be remarkable and so intensely intimate you’ll be amazed. Or terrified.
Someone mentioned that they’d be lucky to get through 2O seconds without either breaking wind, slurping tea, cackling randomly or bursting into tears.
Well, all of those sound great to me. But perhaps all at once might be a challenge.
Give it a go and then at least you’ve tried and there’s another thing to cross off the Things To Do In A Lockdown list.
Love Gogglebox. Every fidgeting, gasping, shrieking, bantering, bolshy, camp, caustic, crass, deep, playful minute of it.
Gogglebox is soul telly.
There is no better reminder in these C times of why things will be alright. Gogglebox reminds us that the genius of every British sitcom from Fawlty Towers and Sorry to Plebs, Shameless and the IT crowd is rooted in the fact that basically they’re us, but with a director and a cameraman attached. But there’s more to soul telly than meets the eye. And its just one beautiful piece of the puzzle
In the words of the master Blockhead, Ian Dury, that timeless funk-punk Chaucer, Gogglebox brings Reasons to be Cheerful, 1, 2. 3.
So let’s pick through those Reasons. Starting with the biggie. No. 1. Gogglebox is Soul telly. And I really need to be clear about what I mean when I say Soul Telly so we don’t get muddled up. For me there are many kinds of telly so I break them into four buckets just for my tiny brain to order them better.
First there’s Brilliant telly. Now Brilliant Telly is the Oh my God have you seen…? format of telly that people refer to as having ‘water cooler’ cache [though I prefer to call them Kettle Conversations as we’re keeping this British!]. Brilliant telly is the likes of: Blue Planet, Peaky Blinders, Killing Eve, The Nest. Brilliant telly goes off like a rocket and lights up culture and conversation.
Then there’s Reassurance telly. We all know this one. It’s the t.v. solution to ‘now THAT was a shite day. Is it wine o’clock yet? Right answer. Yes.’ Once the liquid and the nibbles are sorted [more of the later], next step, reassuring telly. The increased likelihood of Reassurance telly viewing can be mapped in direct relation to the degree to which you’ve had a shite day, are knackered, and simply can’t be arsed to start a new box set, navigate Catch Up or start a movie. At the intersection of all of those variables a moment occurs. ‘Modern Family? Love it. I’m well in the mood for that. Pass the Chipsticks and that full-fat hummus, right now.’Reassurance telly is telly that is an old friend. You know each other and you are happy in each other’s company and it requires little effort on either part. And the biggest upside? You know you’ll have a good time and you shall go to sleep quietly happy.
Then there’s Nostalgia telly. V. different to Reassurance telly. Nostalgia telly does a very particular job. It is the televisual equivalent of sticking your thumb in your mouth and having a good old suck. Nostalgia telly is when you purposefully call up something that is as much a part of socio-cultural memory and history as it is of your own personal intimate memories. For me that can be anything from The Sweeney [the original] and Thunderbirds [the original] to Dr Who [the third one]. Granted some telly does a weird slip-shift thing between Brilliant and Nostalgia – Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes are a perfect example of this. But don’t be fooled. These anomalies are Brilliant first and foremost. Nostalgia tends to announce its presence – like the screen format giving away the fact that it was built for the old television format. Porridge. Fawlty Towers and BlackAdder fulfil these things nicely.
And finally there’s Soul telly. And this is a transcendent level. Soul telly seems to be able to reach something that, to punk an old beer advert, other telly cannot reach. And Gogglebox is one of those for me. It is not just something I look forwards to; or something I love to watch with my family; or something that just makes me feel better. It fundamentally restores my faith in a very British humanity. This is not solely reserved for reality formats. The Detectorists, a masterclass in gentle, wry, rolling storytelling is one of the most sublime pieces of soul telly I have ever seen.
NOTE I have not included the slightly difficult 5th child. Shite Telly,as I didn’t want either to pretend I give a shit or to intellectualise what is effectively shite by its very nature. And to be fair it demands a whole journey into the underworld of its own.
So, Reasons to be Cheerful – part 1.
Now Reasons to be Cheerful parts 2 and 3 exist, in my world at least, directly in relation to part 1. This may be currently due to the lockdown and the country calling on us to park our arse on a sofa and crack on. But to be truthful, it’s not that much of a change for me.
When I’m not wandering around the Downs in my over-tuned trainers pretending I’m Wordsworth, or perched at my lap top typing stuff like this, or undertaking any of the various other task-based living that makes up my day, I can be found parked in a blue, poplin armchair in front of my television. [I can’t bring myself to call it a smart screen TV as it isn’t – it’s my mother’s old telly which I’ve never upgraded.]
Sometimes I am doing this with my children. And sometimes alone. But for the purposes of this piece I’ll stick with the version that includes nearest and dearest. When we do, as has already been pointed out, there is always some form of snack close to hand .
Which neatly brings me to Reasons to be Cheerful – part 2.
Yup. Snacks – or nibbles. Some form of savoury snack is always welcome – piles o’ toast. Crisps, chips n dips. [Naked Tyrells for me]. Or sweet stuff. Maltesers, M&Ms or some such chocolate. Chocolate Fingers. Whatever. [Be warned, it’s a bit of a push dragging 85% Patagonian cocoa chocolate with organic caramel splinters into this environment – a little like trying to watch Corrie with Donatella Versace but – everyone to their own.]
Make no mistake, snacks are REALLY important to the Reasons to be Cheerful. They are not discretionary. They are a pivotal part of the whole shebang. But, again, I cannot be generalist here. In this instance, for me, snacks require a nature of self-containment if not portability. Snacks need to come in a packet, bag, sachet, wrapper or box. Cakes should be of the already individually-portioned, or of the complete-format variety – for example; chocolate cake rolls or eclairs. Though I LOVE Marmite toast, marmite toast is a step or two beyond ‘snacks’. It is for want of a better word – un-contained. Toast? Fine. But Marmite Toast. It requires toasting – and the buttering – and then spreading.
It is no surprise that every one of the gorgeous, funny and highly individual families and units on Gogglebox always have some form of snack on the go, from expansive picnic-like extravagances, red wine and chocolate, to cup-a-soup, glazed eclairs, and spray cream. They play a profound role in the dynamics and integration of the people in the room. A catalyst to lean in.
One question that does arise in my mind though is why Dave, one of the Malone family’s dogs, doesn’t eat the piles of snacks and treats on the table? Plastic props? Discuss.
Which also brings us to Reason to be Cheerful – part 3.
There is something simple and human about the intimacy and proximity of the people in Gogglebox and the company they keep [even when they are not always human]. And once we’ve got beyond the slightly self-conscious construct or conceit of us watching them watching telly – a simple truth reveals itself to me every time.
We’re going to be alright. If this is a half decent mirror of British society, give or take a little tweaking around the edges, we will be fine.
I am uncertain as to the degree to which they programme tries to ensure that it is being ‘UK SAMPLE’ representative but there seems to be a reasonably decent balance between types and natures and backgrounds in the Gogglebox regulars with little preference shown to any one unit.
And as if we needed proof of the great leveller of it all, Celebrity Gogglebox simply proves that however extraordinary the things people do, they are still ordinary people. Whatever makes and bakes their fame, they are still broadly the same: same quirks; same glitches; same beliefs; same values; same need for simple acts of togetherness and belonging.
I am reassured by the fact that if I were to put a camera on myself I am no different. When I sit and watch The Detectorists while stuffing Tyrell’s Naked crisps in my face, nibbling a Malteser, or scoffing hummus with carrot batons [I just HAD to use that word], I am them. And they are me.
I am no different to any of them really. And the reason that makes me cheerful is this:
Before the big C popped up, we have been living arse-deep in divisive shite. If it wasn’t the strange and quite unpleasant hectoring and bullying of BREXIT, the utterly slippery nature of how all sides presented themselves at any given time, and the civil war of LEAVE and REMAIN, it was the hysteria of identity politics, with seemingly intelligent people sucked into messy, unravelling justifications for carving society into finer and finer pieces in some insane slice and dice race to the bottom of the self-assertion barrel. And however good the cause that one or other crowd or tribe might ignite, the nasty social smack-down bullshit of the echo chamber prevailed, and it got uglier and uglier and noisier and noisier. Cheerless, Soul-less. Charmless. Over protesting. Needy. Crooked. Divisive.
In Gogglebox. I see a celebration of shades of same. Not difference. And I think right now, out there, the majority of people are proving everyday in so many ways that shades of same are a beautiful thing. Something we’ll all stand up for and fight to protect. And it is not isolationist to look to our own first before we look to others across the world. We must secure the integrity of our society first and foremost. We’re no good to anyone elsewhere if we don’t.
And if Soul Telly, Snacks and Company underwrite that sterling effort… I’m in.
The sponging of dense grass and moss muffles up through each footstep. Each earthly percussion creates a physical feedback loop that drives the next step and the next. There is something of the mechanical meditation in this walk. Each step reaches further than just the simple exchange of calorific energy through muscle and sinew for propulsion. Each footfall connects me with the deeper history of the chalk and flint ground beneath my feet. My pace is steady. [My speed hovers somewhere around the 7 in gym treadmill terms.]
That I connect to this ancient soil through the soles of my very urban white, red and green Suacony Jazz 91 trainers doesn’t quite fit the idyllic bill. But in their defence, they have carried me through hundreds of hours of walking around this Downland over the last 3 or so years. So they have earned their place, however incongruous they might seem amidst the herds of professional walking boots and shoes we pass.
The wind-blown tree sits on the prow of the hill. The tree is my first marker. Beyond the tree, decompression and a quieting of the mind awaits.
As I pick up my pace, I imagine each heel-crump and sole-scuff echoing down through the Cretaceous layers beneath me. The chalk here is a vestigial blanket beneath the patchwork quilt of the East Sussex Downs – a residue of microscopic plankton skeletons from the bed of the shallow sea that once covered this area. As I veer left towards the tree I see the roof-tops of Cliffe High Street and the scimitar curve of the tidal River Ouse behind and below me as it exits Lewes. I also sense the Culfail Tunnel that cuts beneath me behind the chalk cliff-face that rises up over the south-easterly point of Lewes.
The walk takes me up and into the Southerham Farm Reserve, just south-east of Lewes. The grassland here has developed into the close-cropped downland pasture through over a 1000 years of grazing. South Downs sheep speckle the hillsides, bobbing like fluffy white and grey corks on the waves of chalk and flint hills rolling back towards the sea some five miles off to the south of me. The Reserve footpath scarps up a green incline to my left punctuated with sheep and meat-herd cattle. In front of me to the right and below where I am standing is a curved hollow that wends around to the right and down into a dip through which a farm track runs – a natural amphitheatre with topographic welts running along its steep sides – the long grassed-over furrows of some older crop raising.
Vestigial echoes are a theme up here. Another quirk of my Saucony Jazz trainers is that the left one wheezes slightly each time my heel hits the ground. [Well, more of a squelchy-sigh than a wheeze.] The right remains inscrutably silent. I speculate that this lop-sided sound effect might be due to the fact that I carry more weight on my left foot. A physical echo perhaps, of an L1/L2 prolapse disc that demonstrated itself [sciatica] in my right leg and foot. The echo here resides in the heel of my left trainer as evidence of my ‘carrying’ it still, [my leg that is, not the trainer] some 18 years after the fact.
Beyond the wizened tree, the ground raises upwards in a gentle slope and then steepens. The meat-cattle are closer now, bunched in this narrower spit that runs around the top edge of the amphitheatre to my right. As I move to the prow where a stile opens onto the next leg of the walk, the wind blows up a little. I am suddenly aware that there is not one obstacle between me and Eastbourne to the immediate east and Beachy Head and the Birling Gap to the south-east of me.
Sound overwhelms me here, the wind buffeting my ears. Until this point the walk has been wrapped in the birdsong of skylarks hovering and flitting 20-30 yards above my head. The warbling sing-song of them wafting over the downs just above ground level is particular to this landscape.
The purity of their song marks a clear phase in the walk. Earlier on, as I climb the tarmac hill from Cliffe High Street up past the golf course to reach the downland, the birdsong is an exquisite collision of sparrows, starlings and blue tits, tinged with the corvid caws of crow, magpie mutter, wood pigeon coos, and the wood chatter of a distant woodpecker.
This blanket of birdsong is soulful evidence of a universal grammar at work in the natural world. Current research shows increasing evidence of the links between birdsong and the universal grammar evident within it and the syntactical rhythms of creature speech. It would come as no surprise to me that humans have mined and mimicked bird song to elevate and sophisticate the basic range of primate vocal communication. Chimpanzees may well write Shakespeare given a typewriter and long enough. But it takes birds to elevate the human language to a sonnet or an aria.
Once past the golf course and out on to the downland, everything falls away. I am left with only the skylark song all about me. It is punctuated every now and then by soaring seagull calls high above me and the distinctive cocking of the male pheasant below me, scuttling along the fringes of the low copse woods. Ive decided that, at their harshest, pheasant calls sound like a hybrid between a crow caw and a fan-belt slipping.
As I look up into the blue, scanning to find the various protagonists of said songs, something reveals itself to me. Before the lock down came, even up in this beautiful and reasonably unspoilt part of the world, there would still be a steady, low level of noise pollution coming both up from the traffic rush of the A27, and down from the planes heading for Gatwick Airport.
Now. Just blue. And silence. As testament to the emptiness of the sky bar the birds nature put in it, I spy just one high distant vapour trail. This blue canopy is usually criss-crossed with the vapour scratches of windswept and interesting air travel. No now at least.
The lockdown has given those of us lucky enough to live at the fringes of nature an opportunity to reconnect with her beyond a simple Sunday walk. The silences left by the absence of air and road travel amplify and elevate the natural orchestra of the wild. Greater tracts of time and a far deeper need to reflect and interrogate some of the turbulence and anxiety the COVID 19 pandemic has bought compels us to spend longer out in nature than we might otherwise do. Thats not a bad thing. And it is a living privilege that I am deeply grateful for.
As I loop my way up and across the downland, Mount Caeburn sits to my left-hand side at the highest point, with Lewes to its north and the silvery Ouse snaking beneath its gaze southwards to Newhaven and the sea. This hunched, moated echo of an iron-age hill fort is from a time where defence against the dangers that might lurk all around the settlement, against what might harry and kill the occupants, was the key to survival. It was a defended place everyone could withdraw to and take refuge in. It strikes me that every home in the UK right now is less a castle and more a Mount Caebourn.
The sun is up properly now and the mists are starting to lift off the alluvial plain below and to the south. The striding dark sigh of me falls away to my right across the grazing field.
It makes me think.
The shadow that falls from me is not the stretching shadow of an evening sun whose lengthening signals the coming darkness of a long night. This is a morning walk. On this day, for the moment at least, much like our impacts on the environment, my shadow will only shorten as the sun rises and the day fills to blooming.And with the coming of the mid-day sun that shadow will briefly disappear. To nothing. The long shadow of my presence on the downland will have passed into memory, for a short while at least.
It would be rather nice if our impacts on the only planet we have did much the same.
Mike did not see Sir David Attenborough until the moment he stepped in front of Mike’s speeding Lexus Hybrid NX 300h.
Thankfully Mike did what every right-minded father-of-two raised on endless episodes of Life on Earth would do when a force of nature steps in front of your vehicle.
He braked; heavily.
Truthfully Sir David was never in danger. A combination of a fierce primal instinct to preserve Sir David’s life and the superior braking system of Mike’s new hybrid Lexus SUV meant that Sir David was successfully avoided. Mike was highly attuned to forces of nature. He recycled – and drove a hybrid, albeit a self-consciously ‘desirable’ one.
No, It was the occupants of Mike’s car who experienced the full weight of this event. In so many different ways.
The first fact we must absorb is that Mike is speeding. No surprise there. It’s not that Mike is irresponsible. He is a very cautious man in many ways. But. The smarter the technology life gives us, the simpler and more effortless our ability to accelerate to fibre-light speed, and the more cocooned we are made to feel as we do it, the more oblivious we are. And ultimately, the faster we go. It’s a human thing. It’s what we do.
Now to Mike’s driving. Is he fully attentive to the road? Kind of. Truth be told, he is perhaps a little preoccupied with how things are going right now. Mike is a reasonably senior director in a small local firm. And BREXIT has been a little bumpy – but things are sort of OK. They’d only had to lay off Sharshi, but frankly that was more to do with her being a gob-on-a-stick as well as being highly inappropriate with the logistics manager over company email than it had to do with any financial pressures bought on by ‘BREXIT. But Mike cannot shake this creeping feeling that failure is lurking around every corner at the moment.
The other occupants in Mike’s speeding Lexus NX 300h with superior braking are: Tilly, Mike’s partner. Tilly is an exceptionally rigorous and controlled laboratory director at the local University. And part time keep-fit instructor.Though right now, data sets and crunches are the furthest thing from her mind. She looks blankly at the txt. thread she should never have answered talking back to her now in highly physical terms. Words like sucking and pumping shouldn’t be in her message threads, especially when accompanied by a picture like that. Jesus! Her laboratory was potentially losing funding – cheers BREXIT – so everything is a little crazy.
Next is Kiera [yes, really. Blame the film Love Actually.] Kiera. 15 years old. Up to her ears in GCSE study modules, performance anxiety and Spotify playlists [her most recent being MentalSplinter – music to die for.] At this very moment life is a mixture of ear-bleeding headphone-induced oblivion, fierce self scrutiny, a particularly tricky spot on her hairline and a pubic pimple that was frankly freaking her out. Fuck growing up if this is what it had to offer.
And then there is Rachel. The ‘clever’ one. Rachel is 13 and better read than Mike currently. Two more text books and she will over-take her mother. She is startlingly astute, with a vocabulary and syntactical sensitivity that could fell Stephen Fry. BUT. For all of Rachel’s blistering astuteness, learned appreciations and curious ability to breakdance, she cannot fathom what to do with the complete B in year 8 making her life an utter hell on SnapChat. Speccy virgin. Shoot yourself. Skiddy Knickers. Nightmare. And no idea how to stop it. Yes. I know… I shouldn’t even be on Snap Chat but COME ON people. Anyway, right this minute, the sun’s streaming across her and ABBA are on her playlist. LOVE Mamma Mia!
And now to that series of events:
Well, heavy braking creates a rather remarkable succession of immutable truths – unstoppable occurrences that one always hopes will end well. So with an optimistic note, let’s unpack them a little more.
The minute Mike hits the brakes two things happen. And they happen in hyper-slow motion.
Firstly everyone in the car is dragged [sometimes screaming] at hyper-speed from whatever thought, moment, reverie, dream, fantasy, space or private perceived hell hole they’re in into the Now. Boom. And what a Now it is.
As the driver’s reflex dictates, Mike puts his left arm across Tilly’s chest to potentially stop her over-accelerating towards the dashboard and, hopefully, the airbag – and in doing so comes far closer to her breasts than he has been for quite some time.
At the exact moment Mike stamps on the brakes, Tilly’s txt concerns become utterly irrelevant as a mixture of gravitational pull and sheer momentum pitch her towards the dashboard in a rather twisted and uncomfortably movement caused by her badly positioned seat-belt [Tilly always slightly wriggles the seat belt down and across her so it doesn’t cut into her gunmetal silk blouse.] The raised airbag logo on the dash board is something she has no wish to become more closely acquainted with but equally appreciates that she may well end up emblazoned on her forehead. What’s more it will be reversed in much the same way that AMBULANCE is written to be legible in the rear view mirror. Nonetheless forwards she goes. And she is uncertain as to what is less welcome, the word airbag tattooed on her forehead, or Mike’s hand hovering in intimate proximity to her breasts.
Rachel’s master plan of destroying Yr 8 B in a firestorm of BRILLIANT Snap Chat ripostes simply leaps from her mind as she starts a low-rider body slide towards the back of her mother’s seat. The combination of highly-synthetic patterned jeggings and the leather-creamed sheen of the open-stitched leather seats quickens her already pacy trajectory as the lower seatbelt-strap ratchets up over her hips as its diagonal strap hovercrafts upwards over her wrinkled chin towards her pert nose. The phone that’s in her hand is now just another item in the vehicle heading forwards at a greater velocity than the vehicle in which it is currently travelling. Mamma Mia, here I go again…my my… how can I resist it. For Rachel resistance is futile as forwards she goes in super slo-mo, her wide eyes furiously snapping a million single images in quick succession to turn into some survival slide show fora later date.
Kiera’s mind’s eye has dumped the multiple threads of general teenage angst, confusion over two-timing Archie, the pubic pimple debacle and exam horror to concentrate solely on her trajectory towards the back of her father’s driving seat and the small plasma screen currently showing High School Musical 3 with the sound off. In this moment Kiera is focused on the general dynamics of her motion towards an irritatingly perfect Troy Bolton as her seat-belt steps into the role of Sharpay, holding her back from an accelerated rendezvous with Troy’s plasma-screen lips. This series of unfortunate events is accompanied by the 4th random play track on her Mental Splinters playlists. As it turns out, Stormzy’s Heavy is the Head is the perfect anthem, given that her heavy head separates from her headphones like Usain Bolt on a very good day.
The second thing that happens in times of heavy braking is an exercise in relativity. When seen from the outside world through which it moves, the car slows rapidly, but when viewed from the inside we see that the the occupants inside the slowing vehicle experience the polar opposite physical phenomenon as they accelerate through the cars space, embarking on a whole new journey through space and time. And not only the occupants, but every other thing in the car that is not of the car.
As the Lexus screeches to a halt things fall open, fall apart, tip over, reveal themselves. Objects roll out from under seats and from behind head and arm rests and door side pockets – things once considered lost, or misplaced, or nicked by one’s siblings: Those special Lego characters thought pilfered. A small corner of an ancient blueberry muffin, a load of CDs [wot they] that simply got transferred from the old car to the new one and got dumped in the boot. Three random and now chalky Maltesers. A pen. Old car park tickets. Carb Killa wrappers. A branded gym water-bottle A scrunched and discarded note, written by a teenage admirer. A copy of a ‘no idea, never been there’ restaurant payment receipt for a meal for two. And a Final Reminder letter that proved to upsetting to open.
Once these are seen, they re-enter the lives of the car and the occupants, evidence of other times and moments until recently lost to them.
In a time of heavy braking, as the speed of life both reverses and accelerates, the unseen become seen. Things reveal themselves to Mike, Tilly, Kiera and Rachel – material things, physical things, emotional things, spiritual things – things that they might otherwise miss, ignore, over-look or feel able to hide in the usual speed of life.
And in the midst of this moment, their minds will demonstrate exactly how quickly we adapt – how we create expanses of inner space in what we thought was a mind full up with life’s really important stuff – an expanse of inner space that gives us the room to take up new threads, scrutinise events, record information, and expand to accommodate all of those tasks and complex conundrums and puzzles to solve in the next few nano seconds.
In a moment of extreme reflex survival, our hearts and minds demonstrate how resilient they truly are – how fast they can operate, how much they can absorb, how much thinking they can do, how much consideration they can muster and how many decisions and commitments they can make in the lifetime of infinitesimal moments that occur in times off heavy braking. And in that moment we are re-stitched into the fabric of each other’s lives in the most profound way.
All of this seems clear enough.
The big question is this – when the period of heavy braking is over – once the agile, highly engineered and resourceful Lexus NX 300h comes to a stop [beautifully of course, as the hi spec ABS and sports suspension has fulfilled its role] – once everyone is checked and found to be OK, other than the odd scuff, chaff and wrench – what will Mike, Tilly, Keira and Rachel have learned? About themselves and those in the car with them? What life lessons and outtakes can they pop in the back of their memory for later?
Will the shared moment of dramatic suspension – the memory of their collective journey through space and time, hurtling through the inner space of Lexus engineering towards the unknown [the cosmic unknown that is – there is very little unknown about a windscreen, air bag or dashboard], the intimate proximity of it, their shared expulsions of breath, their primal exclamations, all mixing in some primal soupy in-car atmosphere of survival – will those things positively imprint on Mike, Tilly, Keira and Rachel?
Will the experience make them see how some things are barely worth the anguish or the upset – and how sometimes our vanities and inflated expectations of ourselves and what life serves us are just that and with the gift of a clarifying experience to guide us, should be set aside and good things embraced.
Who knows? But you can only hope.
In these times of heavy braking, take the time of slo-mo living that it presents to look to those closest to you, open your eyes to them – freeze frame these moments. And try and catalogue the gifts this time gives us. Starting with the realisation that the previous speed of life was bullshit really. And all that shiny ‘look at me’ momentum was simply that, the veneer of our vanity. Take the time to think What If… what if we managed to capture even the smallest of the gains from this time of heavy braking – insights, realisations, commitments, behaviours, resolutions, even the smallest of transformations in ourselves, our families, our communities and our societies. That would be good. That would be something.
Author’s Note: I apologies if the use of Sir David Attenborough as the human embodiment of Nature’s volatility. Sir David is Nature to millions of people – so I popped him in there. Though he may not like being used to represent COVID 19 – and some might even question the ‘natural’ nature of the virus given humanity’s ability to turn it into a blight.
It seems we are only ever one click away from digital heaven or hell – the chiaroscuro of polluted data bases, email hijacks, scams, dark trading and the ugly beauty of spam and click-bait either flinging us skyward or casting us down into the digital lava of e-hell.
Internet searches can get dicey even with the most innocent of search terms. So staying vigilant and being careful helps.
God help you if you’re stupid enough to glaze over while scrolling emails [that’ll be me] or even staggeringly dumb enough to click on one that reads ‘Your Amazon Order Update & Competition Exclusive’ [that’ll be me again] especially if, on thinking about it, you weren’t actually expecting an Amazon or any other kind of order for that matter!! [And yes, still Me!]
But Lordy lord does your gut know the minute you click on that icon that you’ll rue the day you ever did. Perviously this kind of stuff would really irritate me – my inbox suddenly filled to spilling with mindless and pointless pap – honking scams, over-promise and tat. But as life goes on, I’ve started to quietly enjoy the spillage and taint of the ridiculous and spurious missives that land in my box.
And I’ve even started taking to building out a sort of emotional logic around them just to amuse myself!
So here is my take on the most recent batch of e-joy that’s popped into my world. I’ve snatched the most important first few lines just to show flavour. Enjoy!
Erase my Back Pain
1 weird stretch DESTROYS Back Pain & Sciatica
Delicious! Free anything is good – but PAIN and FREE and two screamers? Wow. I just feel the need to use 13 ‘screamers’ in celebration!!!!!!!!!!!!!And this one’s actually relevant to me.I had a prolapse L1/L2 disc some years back, and the terrible sciatica from it destroyed me. So the chance to DESTROY it back with an obtuse physical gesture makes me very happy.
Get perfect Little toes in as little as 3 days
Nail Vitamin Deficiency
Mother natures recipes
But not as happy as the idea of perfect little toes. Anyone that can save me from my Frodo feet gets a prize.And there is a certain messianic thread to the 3 day promise. And on the third day my feet will effectively rise from their calloused, shoe-stuffed grave to throw light and beauty into the world. Who knew. And that it is Mother Nature doing the raising of my dead feet, all the better.
You read the paper Genetic Risk and Reproductive Decision Making:
Read this paper too!
Punchy. And you are correct – yes I did. But that doesn’t mean I would subsequently like you to send me an update every time someone puts out a white paper with the words ‘genetic’, ‘reproductive’, ‘decision-making’ or ’Risk’ in the title or sub-head. Or for that matter any derivative of the above, words – e.g. gene, or risk – or associated key words, compounds, synonym/antonym comparatives – or any random fridge-magnet approach to key word search stuff you may choose to push at me. Come to think of it, perhaps a peer-reviewed White Paper on The Impact on Intellectual Discourse of the Vulgar Monetisation of Academic Mediocrity might be a whizz.
Diabetes will kill you!
Blood Sugar Formula – Mother nature’s recipes
No shit. Will it? I absolutely never, ever knew that. My mother was diabetic – late onset, in her 60s by the time it snuck into view with its thin-lipped, mean-spirited needling and blooding. But she managed it with remarkable elegance and aplomb. And no, it did not kill her. But its presence in her life did really, really irritate her for a while, much like the reoccurrence of all this scruffy E-vertising in my life.
One of the best smart phones in the world
Offers a true visual experience at a very cheap price
Lummey. An X phone. What, like an X Men phone? Incredible. No? Oh, or X-rated? Weird. But strangely modern. Anyway. None of this matters. As this is one of the best. But not the best though? I think your ambitions are a little frail at the end there, guys. Or are we worried about over selling – in email – spam? How can this matter when a phone offers a true visual experience. What does that even mean? Are the pictures and films true to the originals? Like they actually play them without creating untrue versions of them? Do phones do that? Play unreal films? Like, swapping out original content and playing a pirated or faux version of it – to avoid licensing fees? A sort of digital mobile BeKindRewind strategy. Hmmm. This X Phone is a conundrum.
Invest in bitcoin and the life of your dreams
Earn 13,000 in exactly 24 hours riding the bitcoin wave
Only 3 free copies still available
But not as much of a conundrum as deciding what dream life I’m going to take a run at with the 9 bucks a minute I’m earning investing in bitcoin over the next 24 hours. Get In. And, note, it isn’t 23 hours and 49 minutes – or 24 hours and 32 minutes. Be very clear – this is ‘exactly 24 hours’. And it is 24 hours with attitude. This 24 hours is no slacker – no slouch. This 24 hours surfs! This 24 hours carves off the lip of the bitcoin WAVE! How cool is that! Every minute’s worth of that $13,000 – every 9 bucks of it – comes dripping with bitcoin spume. BUT hold on. There’s a sort of Stranger Things thing going on here, no? I could have SWORN that the only 3 free copies still available went weeks ago. So there must be a universal 3 somewhere. Like deities perhaps. Eternal. Invisible. A trinity of Bitcoin Divinity existing only in Upside Down world.
DRONE 4K Camera
Best affordable drone just hit the market
Adventure unfolds with the MACVAIR
Got it. I know how to find out whether the Trinity of Bitcoin Divinity exists in Upside Down world – send in the DRONE 4K camera. And not any old DRONE 4K. We’re talking the most affordable – which means cheap, right? As I really don’t want to be splurging even one cent more than I have to of my 13,000 bucks – no way. But MACVAIR gets that, right? They know that searching for a Trinity Divinity of Bitcoin in Upside Down internet world is an ADVENTURE, right? And that shit is going to UNFOLD. And let’s face it – if I pull this off, find the trinity of bitcoin divinity, convert the 13K in 24 hours [exactly], I am hot stuff. I am off the scale desirable. EVERYONE will be chasing me down. Wanting a piece of me…
Positions available – YOU’RE HIRED
2 position available GOOGLE & facebook
So let’s put it another way GOOGLE. Lets re-frame this facebook. I’ll decide whether YOU’RE HIRED. Hows about that? Not the other way around. Do you know who the actual f%&* I am? I am the wave-riding, drone-flying Bitcoin Trinity Divinity Slayer. I have the last 3 copies, purged from Upside Down World. I DECIDE who hires and fires. Not you. And just by-the-by, if you are going to even dare approach me, I suggest you make that 100 positions available – as I am now obviously worth a hundred of your usual talent quality. Just saying.
This drink is the answer to becoming skinny
Your stomach will shrink fast
Shark Tanks new product is a diet sensation!
Oh I see. So you’re implying that I not only carry the intellectual mettle and heroic weight of one hundred people but also the physical mass of them? Well, if the Shark Tank thinks it’s a diet sensation, how could I possibly refuse. These people are the leading, bleeding edge of entrepreneurship and business nous. Sharks, Dragons, Tigers. They are a menagerie of business brilliance. And if they say that this will indeed be the answer to becoming skinny, how could I question that – other than asking on which planet the originator of the delusional waffle lives? A dystopian one liberally scattered with Crystal Meth and freely available prescription opiates, punctuated with double-fronted fixed trailers lying unnervingly close to a breastaurant, a breakers yard and a penitentiary I’d wager. But hell – let’s try it!
Rest easy and never worry about your car being stolen again
Richard Berg says
It works like a charm! CAUTIONMake sure you really want to know what you might find out. This thing tracked my wife and her boyfriend into the middle of nowhere
If this push email trail is anything to go by I probably NEED to drink myself skinny, as my united-state-of-largesse has patently rather put off my other half, potentially to the degree that, much like Mr Berg here, if I were to track them to the middle of nowhere I might otherwise find my loved one in fiercely repeated receipt of someone else’s largesse. But hey, you know what? Knowing the exact GPS location of that rutting betrayal completely takes the sting out of it. In fact, it allows me to rise above it all through smartly applied technology. Track allows me to be the bigger person and take the bigger view. Thank you Track.
Stop Snoring device
The mist that stops you snoring
New invention gives hope to all of those suffering from chronic snoring
And now that we’ve broached the issue of the fading and faltering nature of personal desirability, this email allows me to embrace the wider ambition. Why stop at just getting skinny quick to alleviate the possibility of philandering and betrayal. That over-carbureted nasal exhaust is hardly likely to get the lower engine running and the pheromones firing, unless one finds oneself lying furtively next to a member of the Sus Scrofa family. So the misty blue yonder of non-snoring hope is beckoning me.
The smart watch that watches out for your health
The smart watch that big tech companies don’t want you to know about
Have you been wanting a smart watch. Well now you can afford one!!
Now, fatuous, fat, snoring, dream-life-living greatness aside, I have never claimed to be smart enough for my phone. I am indeed a stupid man in charge of a smart device. At most recent reckoning I have estimated that I use, at best, about 3% of the functionality of my phone.
So IMAGINE what I felt when I saw that a watch, smarter than my phone even, will look after my health. And what’s more, it will do it TO SUCH DEGREE that Apple and Microsoft just won’t want me to know about it. Wowsers. Could it get any better?
Theres a new smart phone. You can’t ignore its performance and price
Wow-wheezers. It just did. Game change! I agree. It is night on impossible to ignore the words performance and price. Well, that’s what it says in Killing it in the Email Sales Dept 101 Guide to Successful product sales. Helluva key word focus. How do they do it? It would be so easy to stumble into mediocrity in this game, sliding down the greasy chute of indifference towards lowest common-denominator schtick and sleazy selling – but all these guys manage to keep that quality bar so high it makes me dizzy.
Drone X Pro
Limited time sale on drones
Foldable quadcopter with wide angle batteries [US]
Speaking of which, the DRONE X Pro just feels like its going to take me up to a whole new level. Foldable! What the wahoo is that all about? But it sounds really exciting. But if I’m really brutally honest, the thing that hooked me through the lip like some digital grouper is the idea of ‘wide angle batteries.’ Frankly that is simply genius. Not only is the lens wide-angle but the batteries too. I’ve no idea of the technical nature or material build or the power engineering required to enable a battery to both power the unit AND expand the retinal capacity of the lens on the on-board camera. But that’s got to be worth stacks! Thats worth swag-money.
KETO SLIM DIET
Shark Tank Investors LOVE miracle weight loss pill
50 lbs. in 61 days: No New Exercise Skinny Pill melts Belly fat
And swag money is the name of the game with these Shark Tank kids. KETO slim diet is feeling like my kind of miracle weight loss pill. And the Sharks LOVE it. That makes this one hot. So hot in fact, that it ‘melts’ belly fat. ‘Melts!’ How cool is that. A kind of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nazi-Face-Melting moment…but for belly fat [national socialist or otherwise]. You’d need something pretty powerful if you’re going to lose 50lbs in 61 days so something akin to the power of the Christian faith’s Almighty God as vested in the Ark of The Covenant seems like a pretty sensible choice. I mean it could be a scam but there’s something so trustworthy in phrases like No New Exercise Skinny Pill. It just SMACKS of integrity and professional discretion. I’m in.
Get this new diagnostic Tool and Save Money
Prevent car repair scams …as opposed too online ones…
Hang On. Ryan. You beauty you. Scams! You read my mind. And not just those of the car variety. Car scams. Diet scams. Technology scams. Bitcoin scams. Ryan you are the man of the moment. So, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to suggest something. Might you ever consider getting together with Sheila, MACVAIR, the Shark Tank guys, Richard Berg and Lillian and create one universal Diagnostic Tool that prevents all and every kind of scam? That would be thrilling.
Meet a Lovely Russian Woman Today
International Russian And Ukranian dating
Free membership will close in 01:02:47
Now this is fascinating on three levels. First of all I sense there may be a role for the Universal Diagnostic Tool here as the countdown clock seems to be stuck at 01:02:47 – so free may not be as free as you think anymore. Secondly, I find it remarkable that one needs a site to meet Russian ladies. There was a perfectly charming young Russian lady on the train the other day, travelling to the airport with her father I believe. [It demonstrates just how conservative and old fashioned the Russian culture is. A young 20-something Western-European woman wouldn’t be seen dead going on holiday with her father!] And thirdly I am quietly surprised how blatant the Russian Annexation of the Ukraine has become. I mean land is one thing but appropriating the woman as yours seems rather arrogant and presumptive if you ask me, especially if you then flaunt them on a dating site.
Logo and Website design for my business
Attract more new customers …
But bless Sheila for being the absolute antithesis of all that arrogance and sleaze and complex Ponzi style selling schtick. Simple. Straight up. Honest. Logo and Website design for my business. Do you know what Sheila – if I had a slew of small, low-level, low-grade slightly shady, grubby businesses all scrabbling to make a good impression in an on-line world, before I let them send one email, I’d have them sitting in front of you talking logos and websites. And that’s a promise.
Best travel pillow that ever hit the market
Rest even in difficult conditions
Phew. All of this typing on trains is making me rather sleepy. Can you imagine then how thrilled I was when I saw this. I am in a chair. I can sit back. It is possible to close my eyes – ergo, I can relax. But what really snagged my curiosity on the broken fence of promises is the fact that Ergo Relax tells me that I can rest even in difficult conditions. Holy Moly. So, though I may have made an inappropriate slur for which someone chose to press charges, I would still sleep like a baby! I could tuck in for 40 winks with flood water rising about me. And a good night’s sleep in the midst of a climate crisis beckons. Amazing. Ergo Relax is not to be sniffed at, either with or without Snoring mist.
3D Airplane games
Presenting the most realistic flight simulator ever created
I can’t pretend to be anything other than a tiny weeny bit suspicious of this. I have a lot of love for simulation tech in all of its guises. And I know that the track records of the USAF and Boeing leave a lot of room for people who might create superior flight simulations and trainers that prepare people to a] not crash and b] not bomb the wrong people. But when I’m told that this is the most realistic flight simulator ever created I am stunned into humble silence. Perhaps this is the issue. The real geniuses are to be found not in Bomber Command or Boeing’s testing team but here, discreetly and humbly selling the most realistic flight simulator ever quietly in the furrows and margins of the internet and my inbox. No accolade chasers or plaudit junkies them. A small profitable stipend from an email campaign is more than enough.
Medical Mystery. How did their Herpes disappear
Hi If you or a loved person suffer from herpes simplex it is urgent that you do not go another day without the powerful information in the following lines
Didn’t you see the news? Its a revolt!
Perhaps this might explain the shyness of our majestic simulator designers. They may have been so busy creating the most realistic flight simulator EVER that they missed the revolt, the news passed them by and they continued to live another day and another day without this powerful information in the following lines [whatever that might mean.] Can you blame them for choosing to stay rather discretely out of the glare of fame and fortune.
Canvas Print Ads
Add to your holiday collection
Hmmmn. I wonder whether our reclusive simplex flight engineers might just be a little down. Perhaps they might just need a lift of some sort. Something to jolly them up a bit. Digging out a picture of favourite holiday moments and suchlike can be a real tonic especially when rendered across the highest quality synthetic canvas. I know someone whom has two rather fetching canvas prints of themselves throwing what someone mistakenly referred to as a VOGUE shape at the Casino club, Guildford on MADONNA NIGHT, while sporting a wet-suit and a rather fetching fedora. An easy mistake to make but, for the record, they report that they were simply gesturing to the fire exit due to the fact that the person in front of them looked so HOT they thought they might well burst into flames. That the person happened to be both my associates boss and also their bed mate probably explains why said associate got a raise and was fired, all in one 24 hour period. But to be clear, it wasn’t EXACTLY 24 hours. No bitcoin investment there. Nor a professional Reference for that matter
Professional Who’s Who
Nominated for inclusion
On the subject of professional credentials, imagine my surprise when the e-call came to join the rarified ranks of the professional aristocracy. But Who Knew Professional Who’s Who even existed? And a nomination for inclusion no less. I am always up for inclusive action. Diversity is a really strong suit at the moment in corporate circles so nominating people for inclusion strikes me as a very enlightened action on Who’s Who’s part. Thank God their email arrived frankly. I was starting to think ‘What? Is every email a scam or a prank?’ So here’s to your professional rigour and enlightened inclusivity programme Professional Who’s Who.
Ultra Boost WiFi
No More Buffering! WiFi boost speeds up your internet
Your cure for spotty internet
Buffering. I must confess I LOVE this word. [Note to self: beware excessive use of screamers, capitals and absence of punctuation induced by protracted periods of time looking at push emails from shite businesses, products, faux brands and personalities.] Buffering implies a fierce circularattention to something, involving friction and some form of rotation or animation. So I can imagine that once someone’s stopped buffering this liberates a massive cache of energy to apply in some other direction – to power the WiFi connection for instance. That we can give that surge of redirected energy a boost just fills me with utter joy. Currently my wi-fi wheezes along at barely a breath. If I was of a mind to take up contouring as a new face-forward make-up solution, I’d be stuffed. It would take an age to play even the smallest section of a 2 hr 32m Contouring Tutorial – to such degree that I would probably take to spending enormous tracts of time seemingly in a creeping state of tribalism – given that, at any point in the day, the marks on my face would have developed in some really slow flick-book animation of an abstracted patch pattern effect – a sort of snail’s pace Tyson-face tattoo – part Maori part Bobbi Brown part Shrigley.
But nonetheless, all’s well with Ultra Boost. And that it cures spotty internet is a matter for religious level celebration. Hallelulia. No more teenage internet angst. No more screen scrubbing. No more microbeaded bandwidth. Internet spots are gone forever!
I am vitiligo free and so much healthier and confident overall.
Cure Vitiligo holistically
Much it seems as will be the ones on my hands face and other extremities, very, very soon. As the words set out, I may well be Vitiligo free with this holistic miracle. I have had Vitiligo for a few years and it is spreading. Though I am aware of it, especially when I have been in the sun, it has always been a visual thing for me. So LORD, I never knew that I might be unhealthy because of it? Unhealthy? How? Herpes. But I’ve got news on a natural remedy revolt for that. Obesity? Screw that, as I’ve got two Shark Tank approved skinny making pills and something from a lady called Lillian for that baby. Diabetes? I can kill it before it kills me. Back Pain? Again, one ninja move and a weird stretch and that baby’s history – so not that. Which leaves me little to worry about. My anxiety seems to have ebbed away.
And how amazing – my confidence… has soared! It’s true. I am going to be absolutely fine!
As all of the wonder emails have told me. I am the answer. I only need act. Perfect.
Seems simple enough to me. But hang on. Just got to read the 347 emails that have just popped up in my inbox.
But then I’m getting RIGHT to it.
er compromising on quality
Beingorganised with time and resources
Utilising available learning
Taking care of EHL property
Making productive use of available technology
Being productive with time
Living the 7 steps of service excellence every day
Ensuring processes are implemented and followed
Meet your deadlines
Understand our business
Be a champion of sustainability
Measure and evaluate the impact of your decisions
Never compromising on quality
Beingorganised with time and resources
Utilising available learning
Taking care of EHL property
Making productive use of available technology
Being productive with time
Living the 7 steps of service excellence every day
The sun strikes the Corinthian uprights of Barry’s Royal Opera House building.
And unless the world spins on its axis, gets jolted by a passing asteroid or we find we are inadvertently sitting on the fault line between two tectonic plates, nothing will change in the nature of how the sunlight falls across these columns from when morning breaks across them to when nightfall takes them back again. [Other than when London’s cloudy temperament muddies the moment.]
To feast on London, to receive her positive charge, is to look up, especially on a crisp blue-sky day like today as the sun fires up the masonry above and around me.
And at no time in recent history do I think we need a little upward-looking optimism.
The art in this though is to prime this upward-looking optimism in ourselves without waiting for anyone else to delver it to our door – especially anyone from our political classes. And there’s plenty to distract ourselves wit is we choose.
To walk [especially in the quieter hours of the morning] past the fascia of the Opera House, to then turn left down Long Acre, cutting through Mercer street to Seven Dials – and then along Earlham Street to Cambridge Circus and to the Palace Theatre in front of you, is to find your eyes constantly being drawn upwards.
Porticos, balustrades, fascia decorations and old advertisements painted on the walls above the line of shop fronts.
To cut through to Old Compton street as the collision of scents and aromas rolls up to meet you – of restaurants prepping garlicky delights, bars scrubbing off ale-soaked floors, the warm wrap of air from the Chinese bun bakers, and the beep beep beep of Vans reversing into lay-bys with crates boxes and bags of ingredients and supplies – all mixed with the sharp acrid bright citrus of industrial bleaches and disinfectants slopped into doorways and across the restaurant and bar thresholds. To swim in this soup and yet to look up and watch the light as it crosses buildings [much as it has done so for some hundreds of years] is truly a beautiful thing.
To find a complex yet staggering simple beauty in London, one need only swim in her streets while looking up at how the sun light falls on her building tops.
To immerse yourself in this continuum can smooth even the bumpiest times and the greatest turbulences out of your mind – like a de-wrinkler for the soul.
As I walk through the streets I hear people barking BREXIT platitudes for and against. People crouch crowd and squat over their screens sniggering at cruel memes, bathing in podcasts and trading ugly human politic in gif format.
And as these people teem about me, snippets of conversations are scraped. A slathering of WTF! and ‘its all gone to shit’, with a fistful of Keep Calms and a mouthful of ‘They’re all as bad as each other’s.
Off-hand paens to BoJo float towards me as devout van drivers flick a V to both cyclists, foreigners, and ‘the lot of ‘em’.
Pacifists and anarchists fight each other with words and slogans shouting off the front pages of newspapers as wi-fi-eared drones march ever forwards to the beat of their spotify drum.
London teems with the bleary eyed and the upright, the dishevelled and the dandy, puffer jacketed tourists clutch street foods as TV producers and media types clatter across paving stones vaguely chewing-gummed together. But they are all simply the colouring in. They are the water running through it, human flotsam and jetsam that either surges onwards or washes up at the edges of the streets in cafes and bars and restaurants. The true riches lie above the screen line of ordinary people.
A sharp neon hum over Bar Italia draws our eye to the blue John Logie Baird plaque above it. Twas ever thus. Almost all of London’s most famous sons and daughters are celebrated in blue and white above our general eye line. And something pushes our eyes up to meet them. There is an irrepressible something that comes up through the ground London walks on. Something that vibrates up through it. Pushing our thoughts and dreams skywards. And none more so than in Soho. If ley-lines are a thing, then I sense a cluster of them collide under SoHo’s streets.
Theres an over-powering sense of timelessness here. The past and future are one – tied together by the Now. Today is simply a bridge between yesterday and tomorrow. And on we go.
And, in much the same way, so do many of these buildings, enduring as they have always done – weathering the collapse of societies, the chess game of Royal In and Royal Out, decay of Empire, financial crashes and crunches, street riots and both World Wars of course, especially the one that peppered London with every nature and type of bomb, incendiary or otherwise, and on the back of which and calls of Never Again led directly to first the Treaty of Paris in 1951 and the reconciliation of France & Germany as promoted by Winston Churchill and closely followed by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, in which European Union was made material and binding.
In much the same way these streets and buildings have weathered one European firestorm, I am certain they’ll weather this one. And in much the same way that they now simply carry the echoes of the many who lived through those times and whom are now long dead, they will carry the echoes of my footsteps and the noise of our current european furore that echo up and around these streets..
In the long run October 31st. will be a date like so many others whose import will whither and fade. But right now…