Why has Eton produced so many Prime Ministers?

An article on the BBC News website failed to satisfactorily answer this question so I decided to have a go:

Eton has produced so many Prime Ministers because they teach a different curriculum to state schools. State schools’ purpose is not intellectual development but socialization in obedience and subordination.

Eton’s curriculum includes: literacy (public speaking and writing), study of law, literature, philosophy, theology, history, understanding the workings of government, independent work, physical sports, access to leaders, responsibility, personal code of standards, morality, an appreciation of music, design, literature, drama, art, observation and recording, ability to deal with challenges, a habit of caution in reasoning to conclusions and the constant development and testing of judgement.

These are not the skills required to fill the majority of jobs, such as shop assistants and nurses.

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Notes from Derek Sivers’ ‘Tao of the Conference’ post

Yin Yang
Derek Sivers recently gave a talk at the SxSW music conference called Successful SxSW: the Tao of the Conference. He fielded the question to his contacts ‘what advice would you give people attending’ and asked people to submit short videos with their advice and presented 20 of these at the conference. In all there were 60 videos submitted which he presents on his site.

Whilst a Tao is often referred to as ‘the nameless’, because neither it nor its principles can ever be adequately expressed in words. The Tao that Derek is pointing to is woven amongst the useful networking tips and strategies.

Instead of seeing people as contacts and leads that you want to exploit you should see people as the treasure; each person you meet will literally change your life, even a small change of course now can take your life in a whole new direction.

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One & Other – The Emperors New Plinth


I ‘won’ a chance to strand  on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, London for 1 hour from 3am on Monday 12 October as part of Antony Gormley’s One & Other.

On 12 October in 1797 a famous Mackem nailed the Union Flag to the broken mast of the HMS Venerable. At the time Britain was at war with France, Holland and Spain. 212 years ago British and Dutch navies met in battle off the coast of Norway, near Camperdown, close to Bergen.

During the fierce fighting, HMS Venerable was badly damaged and the main mast was broken. Jack Crawford climbed the broken mast and nailed the flag to it, whilst under heavy fire. The Union Flag was the command flag of Admiral of the Fleet. In a time without electronic communication systems this flag was a very important identifier, and a proud symbol of British power. The loss of the flag could be a great blow to morale and could affect a battle. The phrases to “nail your colours to the mast” and “show your true colours” refer back to the original use and meaning of these flags.

After the battle there was a victory procession in London. Jack’s action was said to have helped win the battle. In 1890 a bronze statue commemorating Jacks deed was erected in Mowbray Park, Sunderland and unveiled by the Earl of Camperdown, the grandson of Admiral Duncan.

I applied to be involved in Gormley’s latest art attack as I thought it would be a good excuse to stand on the plinth and see things in the square from a new perspective. Its a silly thing to do and I love a bit of nonsense now and again. Since being selected the One & Other team have asked me what am I going to do on the plinth? Like I am supposed to attempt some sort of performance for the Sky Arts Endemolesque reality show.

Friends have suggested things, which in there own right would be quite fun to do anywhere – a Punch and Judy show, Nude Karaoke or something else to get a reaction.

Plinths in Trafalgar Square are reserved for monuments of monarchs or military heroes. Places where dead heroes disappear in to the landscape of myth, legend and bird shit. People like Jack Crawford.

So i’m nailing my colours to the mast: I’ve decided to boycott my slot at One & Other. The fourth plinth should not be hi-jacked. It denigrates the value of the real plinthers.

Real ‘plinthers’ make their actions on the ground (or in the air) and the lone and level sands stretch far away.

Posted in fun, nonsense, Uncategorized · 1 Comment

What it was like to Skydive for the first time.

As the plane levels off at 7000 feet it feels like we’re slowing down. They open the transparent roller door and a guy in a blue suit turns his head to the right, looks at me but through me then he’s gone. If you blink you missed him. The girl with the purple malformed helmet for the built-in camera holds the bar above her head and peers out for a few seconds. The whiteness and windy exterior silhouettes her as she looks down and leans forward slightly, is she jumping after him? No. She pulls the shutter closed, my ears equalize and I can hear more.

“How was he?” My instructor yells.
She shakes her head.
“He spun out of control”, she smiles. I sense my instructor shake his head knowingly. She sits down.

I ask a couple of questions above the rumble. Everyone is nervous but acting cool. I hold my hand up in front of my face – it’s shaking. I breath deeply, aware of the physical sensations and press my other hand against the shaking palm. Looking round I see my instructor has his eyes closed meditating on his fate. I can sense his breathing is shallow and more rapid than mine. We are all bunched together sitting between the other mans thighs. The plane climbs higher above the clouds and the green squares of land fade behind them. Snaking in spirals. The flying dragon is waiting for us to ride it down.

Plane slows again. Things are in motion. There is not even time to think forwards or backwards. ‘Now’ is all there is. My heart thumping, drawing atttention to itself. I remind it that this is what it desires. Trepidation is not fear, just not knowing. I literally have to sit on the instructors lap. and he buckles us together. My flying cap is fixed on. Minor details, it is too tight. He notices and asks me then adjusts it. Details. “Are you wearing contact lenses?”, yes. “Okay, we’ll make your goggles a little tighter than normal.”

He shuffles forward. Others are also shuffling towards the open door and instantly vaporizing in to the whiteness. We are at the door, its quick. Good. Arms crossed, hands on shoulders. Knees back. Feet back more. Look left. Smile for the camera. Flash. The moment. The moment.

The moment. Cold thin air ploughs through my face. My arms are crossed, hands on my shoulders. Legs arching back like the videos. Two hands slap my shoulders. Look fowards forwards the camera. Smile. Its cold. There is a man 10 feet away waving at me and smiling at a hundred miles an hour – hands flapping happy dancer. The freefall is counterpointed by the clouds. We are falling through clouds. Grab two for Ella and Rosa. The plane gone.

We were always falling.

The earth appears again. Hello you. We spin counter clockwise. My instructor is gaming. He gets paid to do this! My 50 seconds at 55 meters per second is over now. The camera guy zips out of sight. The shoot is open and we slow. Fast. But we’re still falling. Only that’s under control. I feel elongated. Going over a hill and down. The rippling flapping of the £10,000 parachute comforts me. The wind snake hisses through the silk in awe. I can fill my lungs more easily, more full than ever before.

“Well done” my instructor says, “how was that”.
“Just brilliant” I say. We can talk. I equalise my ears, they crunch-pop like I used to do as a kid.

The Earth growing in my eyes. Looming like Google Earth on super-steroids. I say as much.

“I love Google Earth” he says.
“My favourite video game” I say.

He twists the shute, we arch around in a spiral, I can see straight down. The air is very cold, like the ocean. But thin. It is Air. Stupid. I look up and marvel at the technology and fleetingly, DaVinci’s genius. The view is crystal. The horizon connects all around, 360 degrees. I can see behind my head.

“How did you like that spin?” he says, rascal.
“Not really.” My organs aware of their freedom for the first time. Its falling but more.
“No thank you”, I say.

I can see other people falling. Small.
“Where’s our guy?” the camera man.
“Down there”.
I look down. Maybe 2000 feet, racing ahead.
“He’ll be on the ground to film us landing”, he says.

Up higher we rehearse the landing. As you do. Knees up, palms behind calfs. “Good”.

The air is very cold still but not as difficult to take Oxygen from. My lungs and face and spaces in my head fill like never before. Inflating with effort, they yearn for more oxygen. No worries. I’m enjoying this moment. Everything else is not there. My mind is only filling with the total moment. A field of microscopic cows. The green patchwork quilt growing. I wave. My instructor is manouvering us left and right. More spins.

“Where are we aiming for?” I say.
“See that patch of lightened grass over there?”. A secret message is scorched in to the earth with weed killer for us by some other rapscallion.

“How high are we now?”
“About 600 feet.” Its nearly over but it is enough.

Knees up. All procedure now. Danger time but i’m safe.
Down down down.
“Okay, put your feet down Dan”.
Terra Firma.
I take my weight fully, its over.

Everything has changed.

Or is it just me.

Posted in books, experiences, family, fear, fun, sport · Tagged · 1 Comment

Falling, Failing and Jumping

“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate”.
Tom Watson, IBM Founder.

photo credit: Afroswede

When I was 4 years old I used to tie a pink towel around my neck like a cape, put the Superman theme tune LP on my Dad’s dusty old record player and fling myself off the top bunk-bed in my bedroom just at the moment John Williams’ orchestra spoke the word ‘Superman’ with their instruments. For a few moments I was flying and it felt incredible then I would crash down and twist an ankle, or bump my head or knock the wind out of my chest with a thud. Once my knee somehow struck my chin and I bit my lip causing it to bleed. Always making that record skip. I’d hurt for a a minute or two then climb back up to that top bunk and jump again. And again. Eventually I perfected my landing but for some reason could never work out a way to stay in the air.

This coming Monday I plan to jump from a much greater height, 12,000 feet or thereabouts. The idea of a parachute jump is something that used to fill me with terror possibly up to a year ago until I faced much greater fears, now the fear of jumping is replaced with excitement. I’m ready for it.

A martial artist is trained to fall. If he/she doesn’t a hit the ground totally and tries to keep off the floor taking all of the impact on one point it will hurt a lot more than it needs to. Like Tom Watson said in his cardiac resuscitating statement for this once weary entrepreneur, you have to fail if you want to succeed.

The martial artist tries by every way not to be thrown to the floor but when it happens it doesn’t hurt in the sense that it doesn’t matter. Avoiding failure when possible but fully accepting it when it happens. When you fail, you learn. Like the martial artist you shouldn’t shrink back from disaster but get back up straight away (or as soon as possible) and continue the fight. Falling seven times, and getting up eight.

I still have that Superman record and it has a deep scratch right on the landing note.

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My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night

But ah, my foes
and oh, my friends
It gives a lovely light

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sometimes I think words are barriers to fully enjoying stuff. As humans some of us feel the need to compartmentalise stuff, its clean and makes the confusion and complexity of reality easier to comprehend – that’s a bat, that’s a dog, it’s an apple, the peach tastes sweet. They don’t convey the experience. Things become symbols and code which eventually become meaningless shapes that when connected in a particular pattern can be decrypted via lightwaves that bounce off our retinas transforming to electrons that stimulate a chemical reaction inside our heads. Words are the magic ‘spells’ that orchestrate our perception but the simplification of reality to simple shapes and sounds can prevent us from really seeing what’s out there. Some people see beyond these barriers. My mate Adam did.

By ‘limitation’ I mean that a word creates a defined barrier around something, that something starts and something stops. The label compromises the thing, if we want to truly observe ‘it’. Take the word ‘Sun’. The accepted definition is of that big hot yellow ball in the sky that spits out light and heat. But where does the sun start and where does it stop? Is it at the edge of the fire? the edge of the the heat? the edge of the light? If its the light then there is no boundary – this definition is too huge to fully comprehend but I think its the right one. We are inside the sun right now.

Where do people stop? Is it where their body exists in space? Do we occupy finite space or is the edge of us where the light that reflects off our physical form stops? I think we are endless. The ideas we impart, the noises we make, the impressions we make on cmos chips that are converted to binary strings embedded on to magnetic discs, the memories that we conspire in creating, the genetic code in our offspring and the love we create and share.

Adam Theokritoff, a true friend of mine died suddenly at the weekend and I am deeply sad for myself, his family and everyone who loved him that we will not be able to conspire in creating beautiful new memories with him – there were so many left to be created. There is a part of me that feels hollow but I choose to fill it with the joy that I got from being in his radiant bold generous fearless hysterically funny and inspiring company.

The characteristics that impress us of people we admire and love imprint on us and are woven in to our own patterns of behaviour thinking and character. The things he touched, created, and crafted impeccably, the memories created, the battles fought, and the love he generously shared are all things that radiated from Adam – those things still exist. He had an indelible character and made an impression on everyone that knew him.

People that think that the light goes out choose to live in the shade. Love is as endless as the light of the sun burning through space in to infinity.

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Are You a Goldfish?

Rory and Twinkles are our Goldfish.

Every evening they swim to the top right corner of their tank awaiting a few flakes of fish food and without fail we provide them. Twinkles has hardly grown since we bought her home from the local ‘Pets at Home’ depot, she swims about back and forth avoiding Rory and looks forward to the evenings and the flakes. Rory forages, sucks the cluches of food that have escaped the filter and spits them back out again. He swims at the gush of water sprayed out of the filter but every evening he is there at the top of the tank awaiting the delivery of tidbits. He’s a fat fish.

When you get your payslip this month take a moment to think about what is going on outside of your fish-tank.

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My Favourite

My Favourite

I don't have thousands of favourites on Flickr. My conditions for starring pictures is not that I simply 'like it'. The images have to inspire me, they have to be good enough that I would spend money to see them.

I don't do this
This particular image I found so powerful and inspiring that I didn't just want it in my favourites, I wanted it on the wall in my home.

The bold brushstrokes look like they were created with the passion and energy of a samurai, spontaneous, confident, potent. Bam bam bam. I love it, it's inspiring. So I bought it from fellow flickr'er Snerdinski, a versatile artist from Boston. I promised him that I'd send him a picture of it framed but I think it deserves another outing on Flickr to be appreciated again. So here it is.

*sorry for the delay John, I've been a little out of sorts for a couple of months and the frame sat in the shop for far too long before I had the energy to bring it home to put on the wall.

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A Little Nonsense…

Remember that guy from Police Academy who could produce all those crazy noises from his mouth? His name is Michael Winslow, he’s one of my heroes. Check him out in this crazy video of him being Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. More serious posts coming soon, in the meantime enjoy this.

But of course there is a serious message behind this post. You can make any noise you want. You can achieve anything you want, the only person standing in your way is you.

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New commission

A commission! Here is my latest commission. Its to be a wedding gift to the bride pictured in the centre. Her brides maids are either side. I hope she likes it!
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