Good Can Win Over Evil if…

In RL Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, it is clear that everyone has good and evil within. To remove the evil in order to be 100% pure good, means that the 100% bad part is freed into the wild with dangerous consequences.

Although the total good or evil remains the same, the effect is a strange case indeed. Perhaps it’s not what you do, but the way that you do it? Perhaps we ought to have the internal good v evil battle to “win” and be virtuous or worthy of the afterlife in heaven… or something.

It is a fascinating novella, and a great subject for discussion and thought. However, the most interesting notion to be teased from this work is, for me, the external manifestation of good and of evil.

Let me go further, does the good erase or in some way make up for any bad that someone does. I don’t mean atonement or penance, not exactly (although that is also very interesting), rather, I am taken with the idea of someone inventing or discovering something, but being a thoroughly disagreeable person – perhaps even considered evil.

I know that this is a poor introduction to what I am on about. Sorry about that. It’s just that it seems to come up again and again in recent times.

Take Wagner – a brilliant, innovative and unique composer – but a Nazi sympathiser and Jew-hater. Even today, his music is taboo in Israel. Can it be possible or reasonable to separate the man from his work – to allow yourself to enjoy his music and disagree with his politics?

In recent times in the UK, it has become clear that in some celebrities at least, the evil side of the personality triumphed from time to time. Jimmy Savile became a prominent BBC radio and television personality, gained fans and followers, brought entertainment and enjoyment to millions, and raised over £40 million for charities. However, it seems he might have had a dark side as a sexual predator. All of which has come out after he died.

Do the allegations and accusations overthrow or trump the good works?

Should they?

Rolf Harris was a role model – someone to look up to, a national treasure, but he’s in jail for sexual offenses. How should I feel about that?

Wagner was open and unapologetic, but no-one knew any bad things about Savile until after he died. Harris’s dark side was hidden – but he was found out while alive, and brought to justice.

Some people say that we ought not to speak ill of the dead, and I am inclined that way myself particularly if nothing can be gained by raking up evil.

Take Savile – he did good works and died. His bad side was then discovered. The big question I had at the time this came out in the media was – why did no-one speak up while he was alive to defend, respond or be brought to justice. If he was prolific as is suggested, surely some of the blame has to be borne by those who, by keeping schtum, allowed further abuse to take place. But all-in-all, what overall good would come of posting allegations over the front pages? I do think that the end result of this particular case is to negate the good. So the whole thing is just pure Mr. Hyde.

Wagner is different. He did not hide his antisemitic views. I wonder that – if he had held them as a dark secret – would people stop liking his music upon discovering “the truth”? Another thought – would his personal beliefs make people listen to his music? And so what? Does anything matter? If his beliefs were not known, what difference would it make to his music, and how it is received as music?

Pop Stars align themselves with political movements – should they? Should it matter to us? Should I stop liking or listening to their songs?

Rolf Harris is different again; he was disgraced and will pay his debt to society. By going to jail, by apologising and atoning, he is cleansed. In theory anyway. Harris faced justice, and gets a clean slate – so all his works, his TV, his books, his paintings – even his pop songs, all should be OK to like – shouldn’t they?

My thought is that we should always be inclined to good, to an exemplary life – even if fake. Why? Because fake is normal. We each have good and evil. We do good and bad, we have to try to let good win. Good must outweigh bad in the scales.

That way lies hope.

Savile did good for more people than he did bad. That’s tough to type in this climate; it goes against everything just now. Same with Harris. Unlike Savile, Harris was found guilty – and is paying. Wagner didn’t even DO anything; he merely held a view that is unpopular. Why can’t we just focus on the good stuff as a default rule? Doing so doesn’t condone crime or evil or unpopular extremist views. Really it doesn’t.

Michael Jackson was a long list of accusations of child abuse, and yet it is widely considered acceptable to enjoy his musical legacy without a care about all that – why? Why is Jackson different from Savile? Jackson didn’t do as much for charity as Savile – Jackson was keeping his money for himself. Is this a double standard?

I remember when Rock Hudson died and it came out that he was actually homosexual. He clearly did not want this to be known while he was alive. He did not want to represent homosexuality. that’s just who he was and what he wanted to do. To out him after his death is not really fair to my mind.

Now I am not for one minute suggesting that homosexuality is evil or that Hudson’s dark side contained his gay secret. I am suggesting that he was careful about his public image and probably would have wanted to maintain that as his legacy. What good did outing him bring? People today look at him playing the very heterosexual male roles in pictures, and know what he really was – and that was likely to be exactly what Rock Hudson did not want to happen. People may even boycott his films because of that. I have heard of Christian fundamentalists taking that view.

There seems to be a popular trend for seeing the bad in people, in revealing things that ought to be hidden, and I don’t go along with that.

If someone was struggling with a personal issue, a dark side, a kink, an addiction – whatever, what business is it of mine? What good does it do society at large to display the flaws sufficient to overshadow any goodness?

I would suggest that the sooner we as a society drop this trend in favour of role models of positivity and good, then we can return to aspiration, looking forward, making good, advancement, and betterment.

Ups & Downs of The Market

Right after Brexit’s result, the markets dived. Right after Trump’s win, the markets collapsed.

And everyone points to the drop in the markets as though these indices were in some way a reflection of how well a country is doing. But that is simply untrue.

The big fuss about the Dow Jones Industrial Average number is ridiculous – an arbitrary selection of 30 companies, not even the biggest or most well-known, record their share values and this rather silly and unrepresentative value is then divided by a weird number that someone came up with in the 1800s (which we over-egg by calling it an “algorithm” in today’s parlance).

The Foostie, the S&P 500, the Hang Seng and the rest are indices of the stock market. That is all they are.

This is about the rich people.

When an index rises, this simply means the rich people are getting richer.

When an index falls, then rich people are losing money – and if the drop is significant enough and for a long enough time, then there is a chance that it might actually affect real, everyday people like you and me because companies may shed employees, or close down altogether.

This means that in a recession, everyone loses.

But at all other times, it is mainly about rich people and their value on paper.

Trump wins the election in the USA and the markets drop in value. OK, Boo hoo – rich people have less dough for a few hours because Trump then makes his acceptance speech and the markets rise to previous levels and above. So the rich people don’t lose a penny after all.

I just don’t get why the news media keep reporting the ups and downs of the markets when it is mainly only of interest to the rich – to people who own shares, to stockholders – do you know any?

It seems to be used as evidence of the foolishness of the masses to vote the way they did. The flavour is: Look what you did! See what has happened?

The markets are not a true reflection of the state of economic or political heath of a nation – these indices do not account for the common man – there is no consideration of inflation, currency exchanges, GDP, interest rates or anything other than the gambling value of company shares being traded by computers at break-neck speed over fibre optic cables.

Whenever I hear a news bulletin report the Footsie 100 or the Dow Jones, I grind my teeth and wish I were rich enough to give a damn.

 

Touching design

As a design student, it was impressed upon me the importance of how users intimately interact with a product design. I have never forgotten the handshake, the contact points, and I still use it to decide which things to buy. It’s how I evaluate everything, a benchmark.

I remember how BMW made the interior light fade instead of just switching on or off, and how that made me feel it was somehow of superior quality. How my CD player grabbed my disc solidly and drew it into the slot – how the lid of my cassette player slowly slid open – the sound of a Jaguar car door shutting.

Similarly, I remember so many things that felt lightweight, plasticky and cheap.

I was chatting with a colleague at work about vinyl making a comeback. He said “Why? the sound is terrible, and you get scratches and hiss.” He was genuinely puzzled.

That was when I realised how much tactility we’ve lost – and how that might be something we feel lacking today.

A digital file might sound better, and be conjured up easily on a phone or laptop – but with vinyl there is handling. The design handshake. You get artwork, a card sleeve, the disc itself and the ritual of taking it out, putting it on, and turning it over when the side was played through.

This is common to all audio formats – cassette, CD or 8-Track. You got a “thing”.

Reading a Kindle book is great – cheap and very convenient. But it also lacks that handshake. A book feels, smells and looks better – and an expensive book – a hardback with a dust cover – is a prized possession to be cared for.

I worry about the future in this respect; driverless cars, voice activated audio and video and more besides. If you are not driving the car, how can it thrill?

At one time, people bought a daily newspaper – it  was used as a tablecloth, a napkin, to wrap chips, scrunched up to clean stainless steel and windows, rolled-up to swat flies, stuffed into damp shoes, cut into party decorations, used to draw a coal fire… it was read, the crossword was done, articles clipped out, ads circled, moustaches doodled onto the photographed luminaries. It was laid under carpets and used to fill gaps in window frames.

Today, we read our news online, listen to the radio or watch TV.

I’m no different; I stopped wearing a wristwatch in favour of the smartphone. I put away my cassettes, videos, CDs, DVDs, LPs, 45s, reels, books, magazines… I will ask Google before looking up a dictionary or pull a book from my shelves. I threw out my maps and atlases years ago in favour of my sat nav and google maps.

My TV is too thin to have a decent speaker, and I have lost all concept of quality, accepting whatever my phone or TV gives me. I put up with slow browsers, buffering, Freeview digital “Max Headroom” glitches. This is what I have become.

My pens have dried up, my watches stopped. Nothing ticks, nothing takes time to dry, nothing needs a tactility skill, fingers swipe screens and click mice.

I have playing cards, chess sets, wind-up toys and board games in a sealed box in the cellar. My children play with tech, and buy apps. Will they grow up with no understanding of what a new book feels and smells like? What it’s like to be given a designed product as a gift? Will they know or miss knowing that feeling you get  when you clean the capstan and recording heads, when a tape desk has been demagnetised, when a record has been brushed, when a guitar has been restrung and tuned, when a car was driven with joy and appreciation?

Will they care about design? Will they grow fond of a thing? Will they relate to the ghost in the machine?

I wonder if vinyl’s return reveals an innate need…

 

Petty Crime for the 21st Century

The way we shop has changed – along with the way we steal.

My mother shopped every day, sometimes more than once. She would take her shopping bag and buy just what she needed for the meal or recipe – a couple of slices of this, a few scoops of that. This type of shopping made it difficult to steal because you were served by a counter assistant on a one-to-one basis.

Stealing relied on sleight of hand skills and misdirection. You could ask for something on a high shelf, for example, and while the assistant wasn’t looking, items could be pocketed. You could use an accomplice too – this helps with misdirection, and while there were no CCTV cameras or smart tags, the risk was direct and personal.

I know of people who are nostalgic for such days; they miss the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the risk of shame and humiliation. Even when there was no criminal intent, this was present; the shop assistant knew exactly what you were buying – pornographic material, condoms or ointments for thrush.

Perhaps because of the personal interaction element, the embarrassment factor or the need for privacy, shopping changed, and along with it, the crime.

Supermarkets introduced baskets, trolleys and check-outs. The thief only had to put items in a pocket or otherwise avoid the check-out till. Shopping was much faster and less embarrassing, but so was shop-lifting.

It is possible that the losses, at least to some extent, would be offset by the savings in reduced staffing levels and relying on technology like CCTV.

But people are inventive, and with each new innovation in shopping comes an innovation in crime.

Today, we have the Self-Service-Checkout.

Thieves must be delighted with this – it makes everything so much easier and less risky. If caught, one can simply say it was an innocent error.

George Charles of VoucherCodesPro.co.uk carried out a survey of 2,634 people aged 18 and over about their shopping habits and use of self service checkouts.

About 19 per cent said they stole from Self -Service-Checkouts – and the majority said they stole regularly.

Helen Dickinson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “Theft from stores pushed the direct cost of retail crime up to £511m last year, 166 per cent higher than five years ago.”

Of course, this generates more vigilance – usually in CCTV at this area, but what if there was a way to go undetected by CCTV?

Well, it seems that there is a way. I was recently told of a popular method to rob a store blind while appearing to do everything properly and honestly.

Here’s how it works:

You do not scan your expensive steak, instead you turn the barcode from the scanner, and weigh it on the scales instead. You select a cheaper item – so instead of paying for steak, you pay for apples or a potato or something about the right weight. This allows you to put the item into the scaled bagging area, where it will be expected.

Nothing looks amiss; on the CCTV, you have scanned everything, and no alarms have been sounded. You pass through the door scanners too – you have a receipt, so you can even return items later. Everything appears above board.

So what can the shops do?

The answer to that might just be from Amazon – the new Amazon Go shops.

This idea seems a way to stop stealing – but on the other hand, it removes ALL the people – these stores do not need the same numbers of CCTV and store security personnel – and no till operators. Even if they are not foolproof (remember with each innovation comes innovation in crime), the saving in not paying staff might make it worth it.

I saw this with Uber recently too – they are having problems with trades unions and worker rights to the extent that they are heading down the driver-less car route.

The summary upshot and bottom line is that – as a result of petty crime over the years, the drive has been away from employees toward technology. The removal of people is what is going on. Less jobs, less face-to-face interaction, less embarrassment, less risk, and fewer thrills. Online shopping, cashless, credit cards and mobile smartphones, have heralded a new future where people are diminished in favour of technology.

I’m not sure I can make sense of this future – fewer jobs for people usually means fewer employed earners that are shoppers. We are being sold a future where we can shop without a queue and get a driver-less taxi, but can that be true? Will this only be for those few with jobs?

And what of those people with no jobs? Will they create an alt-society? Or will they innovate new criminal ways as before?

Only time will tell.

Sexism and Politics

The Trump sexism thing has really blown up.

Recently, the Washington Post found and shared a secretly recorded conversation (from 11 years ago) between Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush and Donald Trump. They were both lewd and Trump boasted that he can do anything he wants to women because he’s a television star – including “grabbing them by the pussy.”

Since then Trump has become the US Republican Presidential Nominee, so it’s a big deal – right? Sexism loses votes – doesn’t it?

I am not sure because of what happened in Australia with Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, and the famous “Misogyny Speech” given by Julia Gillard on 9th October 2012.

At that time Julia Gillard was Australia’s first female Prime Minister (from 2010-2013), and she suffered a lot of lewd comments every single day as leader of the Labor Party and as PM. She was very often openly called a bitch and a witch, and widely mocked in the media. Her hair and clothes were always being commented upon, and all of it was about her gender – not her results, leadership, effective governance, debating style, intellect or politics. And she put up with it every day until she snapped and made the speech that went viral on the internet.

In this famous speech in parliament, she directly faced Tony Abbott – the Leader of the Opposition sitting across the forum – and let loose. She did not miss. She listed all the things he had said and done to her right to his face. It was a roast.

“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man; I will not.”
– PM Julia Gillard about Tony Abbott

Gillard described comments by François Hollande and Helle Thorning-Schmidt: “The president of France congratulated me on the speech, as did the Prime Minister of Denmark, and some other leaders, just casually as I’ve moved around, have also mentioned it to me.” US President Barack Obama reportedly complimented Gillard on the speech in a private conversation following his re-election, and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, praised the speech as “very striking” with Gillard going “chapter and verse.”

Some dictionaries updated their definition of “misogyny”  from “hatred of women” to the broader “entrenched prejudices of women.”

This was a Big Deal – Global leaders’ support, viral video, dictionary redefinitions, massive support and encouragement… so what happened next?

Well, Tony Abbott got over his roast, everyone forgave him for the sexist comments he made and his world-famous misogyny… and he became Prime Minister of Australia from 2013 -2015.

So, hey, it’s just the way men talk, it’s Locker Room Banter; all bravado and silliness. Boys will be boys, eh?

And clearly perfectly natural, totally forgivable and totally forgettable.

 

 

How to Get an Instant Divorce

I was once witness to the terrible consequences of loose talk, and have been very careful ever since.

This happened years ago. John and I were in the pub trying to chat up two girls who had already told us they were married.

I had seen this all before – girls who were married didn’t go out on the town by themselves. If they weren’t lying, then they were unhappily married. That was John’s theory, so we continued undeterred – and they seemed to like it (and us) – however, as the drinks flowed, talk got looser.

It turned out that Julie was indeed unhappy in her marriage, her husband was a useless unemployed drunk. She was fed up earning all the money and working long hours just so that he could lie on the couch all day drinking.

John had had a few by now. He knew he was too drunk now to make good any amorous advances, but his mind still worked, albeit without the usual constraints of caution, propriety and inhibition. This was one of those turning points. A game-changer.

He leaned forward and spoke so softly that we all had to lean in to glean what he was saying.

“I say you dump this guy and move on; you can do better for yourself and you’re not getting any younger.”

“But I can’t – he needs me, he depends on me…”

“No, no, not at all; you’re actually keeping him down. Cut him loose; it would be the best thing for him. Believe me.”

“But where would I go?”

“Go? No, you go nowhere – he goes.”

“But I can’t just throw him out without a reason.”

“Is he bad to you?”

“No, not really, he’s bad FOR me. As I said, he just does nothing. He’s always just lying there zonked out on the couch in front of the TV, a waste of space…”

“If I could tell you how to get rid of him in the quickest, easiest and most painless way possible, would you be interested to hear it?”

“I’m telling you he won’t go just like that, it won’t be easy …”

“But it could be; I know a way – and you’d be the hero too, you’d be the good guy and he’d be the bastard. Would you be interested in hearing the plan now?”

“Yes, I flippin’ would, because that’s nigh on impossible, John, seriously!”

“OK, here’s what you do: you go home, you find him zonked out on the couch as usual, dead to the world, right?”

“Right.”

“Right, so you carefully place the lamp on it’s side on the carpet, and do the same with ornaments, pictures, and whatever else you have. Make it look like there’s been a struggle and things have been knocked over. You can even extend the idea to another room, pour something on the carpet, whatever.”

“And all this while he’s drunk asleep on the couch?”

“Exactly. Now you need to rip your blouse, get your hair pulled this way and that, ruin your make-up. Girls can do wonderful things with make-up. All that matters is that you have to look like you’ve been beaten up in a big struggle. Then pick up the phone in the other room and cry and sob and wail down it that he’s gonna kill you and plead for help to the police.”

We all stopped and looked at John. Julie’s eyes were as big as her surprise could make them.

“But the police will arrive and wake him up – he’ll just say he didn’t do it…”

“Ah, but,” John said, “They won’t believe him – they’ll see you, they’ll see the state of the place, and they’ll drag him out of there in two seconds flat.”

I chipped in: “Just say he passed out waiting for you to come out from hiding or something.”

“But – and I’m only asking for the sake of argument – what would happen next? Wouldn’t he just get let off a warning or something” Julie asked.

“Well, the police will warn him not to visit you because you would have seen a lawyer.”

“A lawyer?”

“Yes, a lawyer – to stop this violence once and for all…”

“What violence?”

“All the months and years of suffering that he’s put you through, and that you so skillfully hid from the world. The physical and mental torture you kept behind closed doors, you poor thing!”

“Jeez. He’d deny everything…”

“Yeah, and who’s gonna believe an unemployed drunkard who beats his caring wife and then blacks out?”

And that is how the evening went. Drinks were drunk, thoughts were thought, drunks were ejected onto the street, into cabs, and home to sleep it all off. It was just chat, it was pub banter. We knew she wouldn’t have the gumption to carry out such a nefarious plan – who could?

Look, she must have loved the guy to get married in the first place. She must still love him if she’s been putting up with him as he is. And like most women, she probably thinks she can change him. And like most wives, she’ll be long-suffering.  If they don’t survive, or prevail, after a fashion, they’ll eventually split up somewhere down the line – because that is what happens.

That is what is supposed to happen.

But Julie did listen, and what she heard resonated within her. She had the power now, and she liked that. She could be proactive, she could pull the plug any time that she wanted, and that was excitingly empowering.

When she got home to find her once-beloved lying on the couch pissed, and beside him was a half-finished takeaway curry and a splash of vomit drying into her good carpet,  she realised that she was no longer in the mood for all this.

.oOo.

It was six months before I was back in that particular bar. I was early to meet up with a couple of pals I hadn’t seen since uni, and there she was in a booth. I caught her eye and nodded in polite recognition – the usual cursory acknowledgement before turning to the barman. She was suddenly beside me.

“I did it!” She pulled on my elbow.

“Eh? What? You did it?”

“Yeah – I did it. I got rid of Charlie!”

“Charlie?”

“Aw, don’t you remember? We were all here a few months back and your pal John came up with a scheme to help me get rid of Charlie…”

“Nah! No way! Are you saying you did one of John’s madcap schemes? You took all that seriously?”

“I am – and I did!” She beamed.

“Jeez. You seem happy on it…”

“I am indeed. Never been happier – I have a new man too.” She indicated a chap over in the booth. “He’s great. We’re great. Together. It’s night and day. John turned my life around – when’s he coming in?”

“Oh, he’s not – I am not meeting up with him tonight, just other pals as it happens.”

“Ah, well, I wish he was coming because I would just like to than him for being a genius!”

“Did it all go to plan then?”

“To the letter. Charlie didn’t know what hit him! You know what’s most funny about all this? Charlie believes he’s been blacking out and battering me. He believes it himself!”

“You’re joking!”

“No – it’s been the best thing for him too; he’s dried out, sorted himself out, turned his life around. He’s even about to start a wee job! I just cannot thank you two enough! If Charlie knew, he’d probably thank you too!”

And that was that. From a careless, half drunken rant, a dream schemed up on a lager’d evening to pass the time – an amusing diversion… to wham! And lives have changed forever! Cause and effect. Consequences.

And before you think that it all worked out for the best – just as Julie told me – it didn’t.

Julie’s was only one side of the story.

Charlie’s version was rather different as we found out later… but that’ll keep for another time.

 

Facebookery

I got a new phone and facebook doesn’t like it.

It finally killed me.

Here’s the thing with smartphone apps – they are too difficult for me to read; I can’t adjust the font or text size.

The solution is simple – just use the browser. Web pages can be zoomed in.

However, since getting my new phone and browser, every time I try to visit facebook, it locks me out of the account and sends me an email.

Then, when I say it is me after all, facebook insists that I change my password.

The first time is annoying; who likes thinking up passwords? After a while, it gets more tricky to think up a new password that contains some kind of memorable rationale.

Today it finally got me beat. I can’t remember the password, so it’s goodbye facebook I suppose.

I will take this as a sign that a break is needed. If I return, I will have to think up a new name but my password can return to my original one! On the other hand, it is a lot of setting up – and that is daunting; it took me ages to get into all those groups, to like all those pages, and to get facebook providing me the feed experience that kept me coming back to be updated on music and arts.

I suppose I can put those energies into twitter, wordpress, feedly and so forth, because one thing is for sure – I can’t go back to being fed news and sport on mainstream media.

Getting Started with My New Thing

I decided to get a new interest or hobby, and settled on playing around with computers for recording music.

A DJ pal years ago had software that let him compose dance music. He simply downloaded files – loops or whatever, and messed about with the software. He had no instruments, no inputs or anything to worry about; it was all self-contained.

We played about with various software packages, Cubase, Cakewalk, Reason, Fruity Loops, and Reaper, and they were easy enough to play with. I think we stumbled with driver at first, and it was frustrating for a while before everything settled down. I might be in for a rough ride.

I need to decide on software. And I need to find out how to get instruments plugged into the laptop. I only have one small jack input – which seems to be for both a mic and a set of headphones. How can I hear what’s going on if the socket is used up by a mic? Hmm?

Software first. This seems to be called a “DAW”. I have Audacity, but something better is needed.  Went along to a local studio and had a chat. They use Pro Tools on a Mac. It is expensive, but dead easy to use – very intuitive.

I scoured subreddits and after an afternoon reading on-line stuff, I saw Reaper as something everyone liked and used. It has a trial version, and for personal use it’s affordable. Perfect.

None of the stuff I looked at seemed to be much good with Linux, so I will have to use the old Windows 10 laptop which has less RAM. I downloaded Reaper.

To be honest, I couldn’t get Reaper to do anything. It’s just not working. I tooled about a  bit on line and downloaded/installed ASIO4ALL drivers from their website.

Next was the  lame_enc64.dll missing problem. I downloaded this file, but so far I’m not getting a peep. I had to download the user guide from Reaper’s site. This is going to take a while.

Hardware-wise, the studio nerds recommended some kit. I am considering my options with what to get.

It’s not much progress, I will admit, but I feel I have some of the foundations down.

My New Thing

I have decided to have a thing. I have not had a thing for ages because of children and work and grown-up stuff, and y’know.

I thought about returning to painting in oils – I still have a couple of easels, loads of palettes, knives, brushes, oil tubes – even metre squared canvases from the old days. The thing is it’s smelly and messy.  Oils take ages to dry, so you have a room full of conveyor belt canvases all at different stages of underpainting and prep. Nah.

The darkroom still has a sink, enlarger and all the gear – although I probably would toss out the chemicals and get fresh… but my wife has taken up photography, and is into it in a big way – fancy-dan digital cameras etc. I’m a bit lost with all that. Nah to that too.

Writing could be a thing – I have a list of what-I-think-are-brilliant ideas, but I don’t feel up to the commitment; I have found it to be all-engrossing, and work (and real life) would interfere and deter and something would have to give. So Nah again.

Well now – music! Of course!

My children are studying piano, and my wife and I still enjoy a wee jam of an evening from time-to-time. I could set up a little digital studio and play around with ideas.

I could perhaps dig out my old reels, minidiscs or the Teac 144 portastudio. There are loads of my old bands’ stuff on 4-track cassettes. Maybe I could transfer them into a digital form, clean them up and push out a clean mp3 file?

Yes. I have decided that this is what I shall do. My new thing will be music and recording onto a computer.

I need to think about where to begin as I know absolutely nothing about this.

Who Do You Think You Are?

This relates an important life event, it’s an odd situation, so let me set the scene.

David L. was a client of mine. He asked me for help; a big client of his was demanding a big meeting regarding a climate control system he’d designed and installed for them. They reckoned it wasn’t up to scratch, and David was worried as he wasn’t a suit-wearing corporate type, and didn’t ‘do meetings’. David wore overalls everyday, even though he was the boss.

I was a tad put out that I was, to him, a suit-wearing corporate type, but I said I would come along and “hold his hand”.

“So what do I do?” He asked in worried tones as we drove to their place that sunny morning.

“The main thing,” I said, “Is to admit to nothing, agree to nothing, and offer up nothing.”

“Really? So we don’t have to come to a conclusion or anything?”

“No; we’re there to listen – to their fears, complaints, grievances, suggestions, demands – whatever they’ve got on their collective mind.” I continued.

“So we are not defending or attacking or…”

“Oh no – and the shorter the meeting, the better.”

“Right-o, keep it short and sweet.”

“David, the less we say, the better. Saying things drags things out; it refreshes the discussion and leads to other things, remember that we just want to gather information and get out – so we can figure out what to do about it all in private.”

“OK, you do all the talking,” he nervously said, and we parked up and went in to the lions’ den.

After the round of handshakes, we were presented with coats, shower-caps, and shoe covers. I regretted wearing my ‘power suit’. I hadn’t known that we were attending a meeting in an atmosphere controlled and graded-air facility. It added a sense of surreality to the proceedings. I wondered if this was to put us on the back foot; they would be used to this, and this was their domain. Hmmm.

So. There we all were, sitting around a big boardroom table. Not a single suit and tie was visible, not a distinguished greying temple, not a shined brogue.

But boy, they had brought in their Big Guns – chaps had flown up from head office – it was a lynch mob of TEN to us two. A Multi-National against an SME. David & Goliath? This. Was. Not. Looking. Good.

During the pre-meeting chattering, I leaned over to David, and whispered through clenched teeth, “This is Not Good – say absolutely nothing, no matter what happens.” I knew he was a hot-head, and I knew he was (like me) feeling like a cornered animal.

The meeting got under-way by a chap who was comfortable, relaxed and confident in public speaking and chairing meetings.

We gave them nothing in the pauses, I scribbled in my pad.

The next speaker was more direct, more of an attacker. Still we held sway.

I saw from the corner of my eye that David wanted to butt in and fix some ‘wrong’, but I managed to kick him under the table, and he broke off and shot me a look of suddenly remembering the Game Plan.

We were giving them nothing, so they interrupted themselves, soon everyone had got their knife in.

At times, we both dearly wanted to take the bait and engage them, it was hard, but we kept ourselves in check. I badly wanted to do some body language display, but having to be near David for a kick or hand on the wrist, meant that I was sitting too attentively.

Not just that, but I needed to change to a more comfortable position, so I decided to heck with it, and sat back, crossed my leg, and jotted on the pad propped on my knee.

This move coincided with the first time I had to speak; we’d been asked a direct question. My answer was monosyllabic. And so it went on – minimalist answers, long pauses, the dissipation of the curve.

We could see that they had used up their ammo, and I had politely acknowledged everything they had said, taking care to repeat it back to assure them that we had a full grasp of their point. I had agreed to look into it quickly, thoroughly, and professionally, and I smiled as I promised that we would work with them to find a satisfactory solution to all their problems. I think it helped that I had no idea about this project, and so I did not have all the ins and outs at my fingertips to distract me.

When enough was enough, I used the body language codes of shutting my book, standing up, and offering a handshake, as a sign that this meeting was over.

David was beside himself all the way back to the office! He was excited and thrilled! It went exactly as we’d planned, and he admitted that he was nearly ‘sucked in’ a few times. He called his wife, his people, everyone. I think it was relief and nervous exhaustion more than anything else – he’d lost a lot of sleep in the days before this meeting. A lot was at stake for him.

Now, I did nothing very special, to my mind. I followed the simplest rules regarding politeness, fairness, and the customer has to be happy at the end of the day.

For me it’s not about winning, losing, bullying, dog-eat-dog, personalities, career moves, postulating, aggression, ladder-climbing, or whatever – it’s not an arena, a bullring, a gladiatorial contest. But I know that some think it is, or should be. Stuff them; we won’t play that game – small businesses just can’t afford to.

To this day, David says I saved his company. I’m flattered, of course, but it’s an exaggeration.

I have never had a ‘proper job’, as I have always worked for myself in one capacity or another; I like it that way. I cannot imagine being on a career path or corporate ladder, living in fear of my job, or of not-getting promoted, or of the younger man. I usually speak just for myself; I usually have only myself to worry about. This was different in that I was with someone else, I was representing someone, but then, I’ve been at business meetings of all kinds and levels pretty much all my adult life.  What was really different about this one was that I learned something profound.

Yes, it was not a simple case of following the rules and doing the job (‘the usual’), this was the one time in my life that I’ve received performance feedback.

Because, for weeks and months after this meeting, David provided me with a stream of feedback about myself, and I was astounded. When you work on your own, you cannot get this. Because we were double-handed at the meeting, I got a new perspective, a new angle on what happened.

It must have been just as unusual for David too. Bosses are alone and lonely creatures. There’re no friends with which you can share – he was loving this!

He gleefully reported that one chap he’d spoken with on the telephone shortly after the meeting, found me ‘slick’, and he congratulated David on bringing in a high powered consultant – Huh?

Another report was that I was ‘too laid back’ – and that I did him no favours. I was also reported as being ‘too aggressive’, ‘too legalistic’, ‘nippy, sniping and picky’, ‘obviously dumb and mentally slow’, ‘a lightweight’, ‘not aggressive enough’, and everything in-between.

I was described as ‘a bit young’, ‘seasoned’, and even  ‘that old lawyer David brought along’!

What went on here? How can I be all those things? Remember – I said as little as possible, we did not chat before or after either. We were wearing shower-caps and coats. They had few clues, so perhaps it was just the body language – but that seems to have been interpreted in many ways.

So I have to say that this short meeting has taught me that I am not in control of what ‘I am’ – and what ‘I am’ is filtered through the imaginations of others.

I am not what I think I am. I am not what I want to be. What I want to be changes every five minutes anyway. I am not what I was. What I was changes when I see an old photograph, read an old diary entry or hear about myself from someone else.

Robert Burns’s famous “To see yourself as others see you” is not even half the story.

Descartes famously said (in translation), “I think therefore I am”. This ought to be “I think therefore I am – whatever that is.”

TL;DR – In summary, I went to a meeting and found out that the impression I made was ridiculously varied. As a result of which, I suddenly understood that I have no idea who I am, that who I am is not a fixed concept, and that who I am is not really in my control.

But you have the right to your opinion of you as much as other people have the right to their opinion of you.

What to do about this knowledge? This realisation? – well, I would suggest that you stop worrying about it; it’s not something you can control, so let it go.