Category Archives: Communicating Ideas

More obfuscation

There hasn’t been much said about Brexit in the last couple of weeks or so,  mercifully.

But that hasn’t stopped the present administration from uttering platitudes while implementing some pretty harsh legislation.

What are we to do with them?

You only have to look into their eyes to know that, when they speak, they don’t really believe a word of what they say. They’re mouthing from pre-written texts. So, platitudes cover up a multitude of sins against the populace.

Of course, if you’re one of them, and that means an MP or just a sympathiser, you’ll be used to this and not take any notice. Politicians have been ‘economical with the truth’ ever since the phrase was first coined, and before then. And they show no signs of changing their ways.

But what do you do if you don’t like what you hear?

You can’t really turn a blind eye or deaf ear, or can you – do you?

You can’t really shrug and say “It was ever thus” and let the half-truths roll on and on. Maybe you do, and may be it was.

Perhaps the answer is: we ought to care more about what they say and do, so that they only say what they are going to do.

But that requires politicians to be honest. And it’s a very long time since I met one of those in the flesh.

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Do the politicians know anything?

The more I see and hear of it, the more I’m inclined to agree with my friend in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey.

He believes Brexit (or Britain leaving the EU, to give the process its real term, not it’s media-driven nickname) is far too complex to be left to mere politicians.

All they seem to do is shout at each other from positions of emotional weakness, and listen to what they want to hear.

Tattered Jack

Take the leavers, for example. Last year, before we were asked to vote “In” or “Out”, they told us that £350 million pounds a day was being spent on the EU which they would spend on the NHS. Where’s that money today? And where’s the talk of how it will be spent when we do leave? As leave we surely will.

I was recently in hospital and all I heard from the staff were comments about the lack of funds (£350 million a day, anyone?). I heard, too, how the NHS would not work if it were not for the cleaners, caterers, health care assistants, nurses and doctors – almost all the staff you would ever meet – who were born outside the British Isles but who chose to work in this country, because there is no work for them in their native land. Most of them do not know what they’ll do if they are told they must leave. “None of the local people want to do this job” was what I heard over and over again. Watch the television if you don’t believe me.

I first heard a remark like this from a pea-packer, years ago. Interviewed on television somewhere near Boston, Lincs, she said she would gladly give up work to care for a small child she and her Polish husband had had in the UK, but “everyone who’s British who’s interviewed says ‘no’ to the job”.

Does no one want to bend their back? Do the politicians think that all they need to show us is their posturing?

David Davis, for example, looks like a fairground busker who must’ve thought you believed him when he put it about that you would “See the bearded lady!” Was he referring to Mrs May? Where is said hirsute female? Perhaps more accurately, he looks like a sharp-suited shyster who has asked us to invest in a multi-million pound enterprise, knowing all along that the enterprise isn’t worth much more than sixpence of anybody’s money.

Would you buy a secondhand car from him? I know I wouldn’t. Neither should you.

As for Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, he very nearly blew it completely when he implied that Europe could “whistle” for Britain’s due payments.

The opposition is no better. They seem to have too many of their own axes to grind.

So why not leave it all to the bureaucrats? They have nothing to lose by sticking to the facts. The politicians have everything to lose by trying to suggest that we are all like them: no matter which flag they salute.

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At last, it’s all over. For now.

I’ve been waiting a long time to write that headline, or something like it. The recently held, unnecessary, ego-driven election to determine who runs the UK seems to have gone on forever; like some kind of degenerative, wasting illness that has to be endured.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard politicians speaking (or in some cases, barking) about almost everything, but we haven’t heard any of the detail we want to hear. For example, there’s been virtually no mention of the kind of country we can expect to be living in. None at all. At least, none that I can relate to.

Instead, we’ve heard only that we can expect ‘strong and stable leadership’ from an administration led by The Maybot, Theresa May, (what a joke that empty mantra seems now, after so many climb-downs on her part!) or one that’s ‘for the many not the few’ from ‘Jezza’ Jeremy Corbyn (at least that one sounds plausible, even though it seems to have been invented by a marketing guru).

It’s still a great shame we were not offered a No Confidence space on the ballot paper. For all that the turnout was encouraging to those that would clutch at any straw blowing in the wind, that’s where a great many Xs would’ve ended up.

After all, do we really want a government lead by a woman who looks and sounds as if she is the product of a machine? One that was made on the home counties production line, with all the small-mindedness that that implies? Do we really want to be governed by a person who, at the outset, looked like a young middle-aged woman dreaming of past glories and future triumphs but, by the end, looked like an old middle-aged woman, broken and sad, contemplating her own mortality?

Do we want a government led by a person who was once described by Ken Clarke as “bloody difficult”? By someone who refuses to debate matters on tv? By someone who tells us that ‘strong leadership’ will be needed in the now-stalled negotiations with the European Union, when we must know (unless we are all ostriches) that She Who Tells Us will not be at the negotiating table herself (just as she wasn’t in the tv debate), but that a person with the mindset of a man like David Davis, who describes Brexit as “the defining issue of our age”, will lead the team? Or might it be a member of the DUP?

Or do we want a government led by a person who, at the outset, looked like a broken old milddle-aged man not knowing what to do with retirement but now looks like a young middle-aged man rejuvenated by the thought that the even younger civil servants will do most of the heavy work, and that there are equally pressing issues, other than the dreary one of  leaving the EU, that have to be attended to?

The Conservatives made almost no mention of Britain’s housing crisis, our failing mental health provisions, or child poverty.

They didn’t even have the guts to present themselves as a team. The Supreme Leader was the only one we were asked to think about.

And now we are stuck with that thought; with her. For another five years, or for as long as it takes for her to change her mind – yet again.

Those of us who can’t abide the woman will – like my late mother who used to turn off the telly every time Mrs Thatcher hove in view – have to bear her as we bore Mrs T and survived. I guess we’ll survive Mrs M.

But will she be remembered? Margaret Thatcher

Now that the election is all over, we can only hope that she will disappear into obscurity.

I doubt there’s much hope of that. We all still recall ‘That Woman’. But Mrs May is likely to be remembered as The One That Got Away. For now.

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As it were, as it were

A friend of mine has, for some time, been peppering his text messages and emails with “as it were”.

The other day, I received a text message that had at least three “as it were”s in it. So many, in fact, that I was compelled to reply: “Thanks, as it were.”

Now, I’m not sure what his own ideas are. I feel as though, by constantly saying “as it were” he’s frightened of owning any of his own expressions in case they seem prosaic to others. If so, poor him. If they’re understood, so much the better.

In any case, ‘as it were’ could just easily be ‘as it might be’, or ‘as it could/should be’, or even ‘as it ought to be’. Let alone ‘as it might not be’.

Either way, I no longer believe anything he has to say.

Say what you mean, and mean what you say. That’s my motto.

It’s a shame other people don’t live by the same code of clarity.

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Right on the money

As they pulled into the parking lot the sign over reception said it all. The Weary Traveller Motel. It wasn’t promising.
Getting out of the car, Tom said: “Is this what you’re trying to get us into?”
“Aw c’mon, soldier. It’s a brilliant opportunity. Forty-four room motel just off I-19. Been closed for a while. Going cheap. Spend some money on it and we’ll clean up.”Pictures Love Words FG7
“It sure needs a clean up. I’ve seen better in Kabul.”
“Yeah, yeah. But this is Arizona, man, not Afghanistan. Fifty miles south of Tucson. Perfect for people needing a break. C’mon, let’s take a look at one or two of the rooms. You’ll see what I’m talking about.”
There never was an end to Joe’s enthusiasm.
They got to room thirty-nine before the handle turned and the door opened onto a dark, gloomy space smelling of stale tobacco smoke and cheap perfume.
“This is terrible”, Tom said. “If they’re all like this …”
“I’m gonna check the last five. See if any of them are open.”
A moment later, Joe returned.
“Rest of them all locked, just like the others.”
“So why is this the only one open?”
“Dunno. Let’s take a closer look.”
Just enough light
With the door wide open, there was just enough light to make out a large bed, a TV, a picture of the Rockies on one wall and a nondescript prairie scene on another, an easy chair, a simple closet and a chest of drawers.
Stepping into the bathroom, Tom opened the cupboard under the washbowl.
“Whoa”, he whispered. “What’ve we got here?”
Pulling out a battered holdall, he took it into the room where Joe was going through the chest of drawers.
Dumping the holdall on the bed, he opened the zip.
Turning, Joe let out a low whistle. “Jesus Christ! Will ya take a look at that?”
As they up-ended the bag, wads of dollar bills cascaded onto the chenille coverlet.
They stood there staring at the pile of cash until Tom said: “Must be a hundred thousand. Maybe more.”
Joe could hardly speak. “What the hell’s it doin’ here?”, he whispered.
“I don’t know”, said Tom. “All I know is, possession is nine tenths of the law and finders keepers. And I think we should put it back in the bag and get out of here, fast.”
Leaving the room just as they’d found it, they made their way back to the car. There was no one about. No one had seen them.
As Joe gunned the engine, Tom said: “Not a word to anyone, right? Not even Becky. I’ll keep my mouth shut. You do the same, OK?”
Joe nodded.
Drug-related
A couple of days later, Tom spotted an item in the local paper. The Weary Traveller had been trashed. The police suspected it might be a drug-related act of revenge. Someone hadn’t found what they were looking for. But he and Joe had.
Sitting in their favourite bar a week or so later, Tom said: “You know what we should do with the money?”
“Nope. You tell me.”
“Open a parking lot on the edge of town. Charge by the hour and the day. Clean up big time.”
“Hey”, said Joe. “No sheets to launder!”
“And I reckon we should call it … The Last Chance Parking Lot.”
“Soldier, you always were right on the money!”

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Making democracy work

It’s been Democracy Day today and, quite properly, we’ve heard a lot about the way we vote and what we vote for.
All the discussions and debates I’ve heard have made sense.
I have to say, it would have been a shame if they hadn’t. We are, after all, a civilised society and democracy is a civilised way of choosing our governments.
Major points
There are two major points that have stuck with me throughout the day.
The first is that politicians of all parties should offer us clearly defined, coherent policies that they then adhere to.
The second is that the increasing professionalisation and splintering of politics means it’s inevitable we’ll be offered a plethora of parties to choose from – many of them with no experience of government – when we get to the polling booth. Ballot Paper Cross 1
Like children in a sweet shop, we’ll be faced with a bewildering array of tempting goodies, all of them enticing but none of them guaranteed to do us any good.
Indeed, some of them may even do us serous harm.
Sharper cures
Faced with such a wide choice, and increasingly dubious about the worth of anything we’re offered, it’s little wonder people are turning away from mainstream politics.
Rather than suffer a never-ending diet of sugar-coated placebos prescribed by smart-suited spin doctors, some of us are turning to sharper cures for our current ills.
Protest has become rife. Revolution is on the rise. The clamour to be heard is mounting.
For some of us, the question now is where to turn for the kind of government we crave; fair, open, honest, honourable and humane policies that provide a solid foundation for a sound society.
True, most of the parties offer a version of this.
The disappointment for many of us is that few, if any, deliver on their promises, which leaves us disillusioned.
The sour choice
As a result, fewer and fewer of us even bother to vote.
We don’t go to the sweet shop because what’s on offer makes us sick.
Even if we did go, we’re not really able adopt a suck-it-and-see approach because, instead of giving us a second choice immediately, the current parliamentary system saddles us with a government we can’t change for five years.
So, if we are feeling sour-faced and militant enough, we trot along to the polling station and spoil our ballot papers by writing something rude across them, which makes us feel better.
The savoury alternative
The tragedy of this approach is that our votes are disregarded completely; written off as “spoiled papers” and never properly accounted for.
It’s my belief there could be an alternative for those of us who want to vote responsibly. Ballot Paper Cross 2
We should be given a box on the ballot paper where we can put a cross, not against a name or a party, but against No Confidence.
In this way, we would be able to voice our disappointment – even our disillusionment – without running the risk of our vote being, quite literally, consigned to the dustbin of history.
Moreover, all our No Confidence votes could be counted, thus sending a clear message to the politicians that – if they want to win our votes – they must give us something we can have confidence in and therefore vote for.
It’s not rocket science. It’s just democracy at work.

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Art and the age of invention

In the London art world at least, 2014 may well be remembered as the year of the old men.

Three of Europe’s most influential artists – Henri Matisse, JMW Turner and Rembrandt van Rijn – have all been honoured with major exhibitions at the capital’s Tate Modern and Tate Britain galleries, and the National Gallery.

Whether by coincidence or collusion, these three shows have focused on work produced in the artists’ later years.

But that’s not the only thread that draws them together.

For me, the most astonishing thing about all these exhibitions has been the sheer invention on display.

Cutting edge

Matisse was old and infirm when he began to create images using scissors and paper.
Matisse-The-Parakeet-and-the-Mermaid-1952

Yet his mind was quick and his hands as strong and deft as ever.

Working at an incredible speed – and often far into the night – he produced images that, in many ways, have come to define his life’s work.

His version of The Snail, which hangs in Tate Britain, is probably one of his best-known works; famous for often evoking the retort: “My five-year-old could’ve done that!”

But Matisse wasn’t five. He was a very old man, confined to bed, or at best his wheelchair, unable to see the real world around him, yet driven to create and – critically – to experiment with new techniques.

And determined, too, to fill his world with images of joyful life and playful fun, as The Parakeet and the Mermaid so aptly demonstrate.

A man gone mad

Turner was another who, in his later years, broke free from anything resembling the chains of convention – which he always railed against – and, in his sixties and seventies, produced some of the most remarkable images of his entire life.
Joseph-Mallord-William-Turner-Paintings-Whalers-Boiling-Blubber-Entangled-in-Flaw-Ice-1846
So extreme were his ideas about light, and so seemingly perverse his use of oils and watercolours, many contemporary art lovers believed he had not so much lost the plot but suffered a complete disconnect from his senses.

Today, of course, when we see a painting like Whalers (Boiling Blubber) Entangled in Flaw Ice, Endeavouring to Extricate Themselves, which Turner produced when he was 71, we know we are looking at the work of a man who, far from being mad, was still trying to push his medium to its limit; still wanting to show us the sensations of the world rather than its mere surface.

The Dutch master

Born 169 years before Turner, and dead exactly 100 years before Matisse was even born, Rembrandt van Rijn never stopped experimenting.

How much he influenced the other two is open to question.

But, if nothing else is certain, he should have been a role model of determination and invention.

rembrandt.1661Here, in this late self-portrait, he is experimenting with the effects of light and paint on a flat surface, working with the very stuff of oil and pigment to create an image that says: “I may be old, bankrupt and out of fashion, but I’m not finished yet. See, I can still draw circles!”

If we are to take anything from these three remarkable exhibitions – and there is much to enjoy and savour in reflection – it is this: that age never diminishes the creative spirit and infirmity cannot destroy the will to communicate ideas.

Matisse, Turner and Rembrandt have not only been role models for the thousands of painters who have followed them, but also for us all.

At the end of this, the year of the old men, we should remember that vigour and imagination, skill and dexterity, truth and vision are attributes and virtues to be valued and striven for, right to the end.

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The chips that flew the Atlantic

We had exchanged emails and knew something about each other, but nothing had prepared me for the welcome I got in Bloomfield, Prince Edward County in September.

Wood turner Paul Ross and his wife, Lynne, are both small people. But their hearts are huge, their smiles wide, her soups delicious and his handshake as firm as the grip you’d expect from a man who spends his days steadying his chisels as they cut into the fast-turning pieces of maple chucked onto his lathe.

Drawn together by 26 Atlantic Crossings, the three of us spent several hours over the weekend of the Prince Edward County Studio Tour, swapping notes on everything from how to learn a craft skill and make a living from it, to the life and wines of this very pretty Ontarian county.

On more than one occasion, our animated conversations were lubricated by some of the product under discussion.

Beauty in wood

The piece Paul had made for what turned out to be our shared Atlantic Crossing was as delightful to see in life as it was unexpectedly beautiful to touch.Star Bound

It had taken days, weeks and even months of drying, hollowing, turning and decorating to create this very special, smooth-as-silk Star Bound urn, which I had been asked to write about.

As I visited other artists taking part in the Tour, I learned of other endeavours that had stimulated creativity and, in some cases, tested patience and challenged confidence.

The astonishing blue bridge-like item, made by Kirei Samuel of Lalaland Glass Studio from fused glass fragments, involved ideas and techniques that, Kirei told me, had no precedent.

“I went out of my mind trying to figure out how to make it”, she said. “And I was well and truly out of my mind by the time I’d finished it.”

I wasn’t out of my mind when I left Prince Edward County, but there’s no doubt that my sensibilities, like Paul’s maple, had been turned.

My few days in Ontario showed me that, with a little endeavour and a lot of skill, anyone can chip away at life’s obstacles and turn their ideas into tangible objects worth crossing the Atlantic to see.

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What’s in a word?

Words are a strange phenomenon.

Tall or wide, they sit there on your screen, or lie there flat on a page in front of you, doing nothing.

Strangely, for all their inherent meaning, they have no third dimension.

Yet, as we know, strong words can leave you feeling admonished; powerful words can be very uplifting.

You’ll hear stern words if you’ve committed a misdemeanour.

A pain might be eased by soothing words.

Or you could be left feeling abraded by harsh words.

Your first words may have been things of joy and wonder for your parents.

Their advice on life might’ve been wise words.

If you’re lucky, you’ll never hear a cross word.

And a few well-chosen words are often more useful than any number of random words.

At times when you’re down you can be lifted by kind words.

And a few loving words will almost certainly make you feel good.

If you’re close to death, someone might record your last words.

And that could be the end of this idea.

 

 

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A transatlantic adventure with a wood turner

As anyone who’s crossed it will tell you, the Atlantic is a very big ocean. I know, because I crossed and re-crossed it as a merchant seaman.

But my most recent transatlantic adventure has been quite different.

Not for me the ocean’s harsh, wet, winter winds and wild waves. Cocooned in the comfort of my own home, I’ve been travelling through time and space, trading ideas and information with a Canadian wood turner whose creative skills make maple sing.

Paul Ross and I were brought together by ’26’, a writers’ collective that numbers me amongst its many more than 26 members.

A unique marriage

Together with 25 other arts, crafts and wordsmith pairings – all given a similar job in various media – Paul and I were tasked with marrying his manipulation of maple with my ability to respond to his work with a literary construct of exactly 62 words: a sestude.

Separated as we are by three-and-a-half thousand miles, it seemed an impossible task.

But hey, we live in a technological world!

Emails flew. Questions were posed. Answers returned. Concepts were revealed and ideas were latched onto. A relationship was established.

As the days passed, Paul’s ‘Star Bound’ became my sestude. The task was completed.

Between us we had united our skills and created something utterly unique: an object made of wood and finished with thread, married to 62 carefully chosen words knitted together in exactly the right order.

A course stayed

Unlike my earlier Atlantic crossings, this has been a different kind of adventure.

At times, I thought I was losing my way. I couldn’t find my compass and – changing course too often – it seemed as if I was headed for oblivion.

But Paul’s ‘Star Bound’ was constant. I had only to return to its substance and explore its mysteries to find a way to my destination.

You can see the results of our journey, and download  a free copy of the resulting book featuring all twenty-six connections, at: www.26.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/26AC-ebook.pdf

Sadly, the delightful video shot at a recent exhibition held in Picton, Ontario, has been taken down by The Wellington Times. Maybe they don’t keep things on their site for long. If so that’s a shame, because I think you would’ve enjoyed it.

I will be in Ontario for the upcoming Studio Tour; a weekend when Prince Edward County’s creative community opens its doors to the public.

It’s bound to be a lot of fun. Much more so than weathering a January force nine in the middle of the Atlantic.

 

 

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