Tuesday, 19 April 2022


I spent Easter quietly.  Watching films that seemed oddly appropriate. V for Vendetta, an old film with Natalie Portman and John Hurt, where the line 'artists tell lies, to tell the truth, politicians tell lies to hide the truth', should headline as the motto of the year, if not the decade. The first part is definitely mine. 

In V, the establishment created fear to keep control and everyone decided to wear masks and then simultaneously take them off, in revolution.  And Parliament was blown up and all the politicians were sliced to pieces.  I believe there is a group that wears the Guy Fawkes mask.   I had tapped already into much of the thinking and themes behind this film.  It echos the more recent Parasite where everyone accepts their status, their box, their place, to their detriment.

And then Anatomy of a Scandal where a smooth-talking liar politician curates the truth to his own needs continually betrays his beautiful but carefully constructed cold wife.  The man belongs to an Oxford club that strongly resembles the Bullingdon and/or The Riot Club (film of the same name), of self-righteous entitlement which they rehearse with religious rigor.  They get away with rape continually, disarming with charm, but not - probably, possibly - murder - in this particular story anyway. In real life, I believe they regularly do.  I admit, there were moments watching this series that made me go cold with recognition.  I admit I haven't met the equivalent at Cambridge. It probably exists although Homerton is a progressive college, so there wouldn't be time or space for this thinking.  Or lack of it. 

I checked out Wag the Dog, about a false war being manufactured by media to help a failing politician, who wants and needs to be portrayed as a hero, and detract from his lies.    

Someone suggested I watch the Jimmy Saville documentary but I think that would have been a bit too much. Although I am told he was a devout Catholic. 

As a child at Easter, I remember when it was Ben Hur and the chariot race, and my Christianity always being reborn.  Somehow Easter was more powerful that way than Christmas - rebirth more than birth. An inspiring story, or parable, inspires humans to be empowered.  

I would receive a collection of eggs, which I would bit-by-bit demolish by June, my birthday.  Easter chocolate always tasted better than at any other time of year.   The shining colourful packaging, the colour, the secret, the breaking of the egg, the always pleasant surprise.   

This year, no eggs.  Gifting them, but not receiving them.  And that was fine. 

Watching the BBC and ITV News, it appeared life was not imitating art.  It was attempting to ignore it. 

Thursday, 10 March 2022


 So here am I at 2.19 (almost 2.22 in the morning) that paladrom again, All the twos.. dreaming about how Trump gave all the US secrets away to Putin, his ego betraying not only himself but his country and the west to the contempt of a man who has been a politician for far too long and believes the rhetoric of his own press release.   

He has acted by the playbook and will use chemical weapons, just as he did in Syria, flattening a country and a people, which initially the media covered, until a Royal or Spice Girl did something and the attention went else where.   I remember when studying for journalism, a lecturer asking me to put in order of news items I would cover.   It would always be any news related to the death of someone British.  It could be just one, but if it was one British person, that would be of more interest than say, a train crash in India, or cyclone in Fiji.   Even then in my twenties I thought this was odd. This jingoistic view nurtured by media, under the guise of this is what the people want.  The media has never thought of its punters as part of a global community unless of course it was in their interest - not ours - for it to do so. 

I watch the reportage of the news in Ukraine. At any hour of the day or night when I can't or won't sleep.   The news reporters being made courageous, intrepid in their own right, when really it is their job.   Having reported on items which probably made them despair about why they entered the profession in the first place (anything to do with celebrity meltdowns), they have had plague and now war to speak and write pithy and inspiring.  I watched as reporters stood in front of scenes where the evacuees where dazed at a train station or warehouse where they were finding shelter, wanting, someone to tap them on the shoulder and shout. 'Will you stop filming and fucking do something'.  It will only be a matter of days when a film crew will be bombed, shot, accidentally as the Russian media will report it.   For both sides are organising the propaganda.  Unfortunately the media in this country have been stirring something out of nothing for so long, they don't know what to do when there really is something to report on.   

I presented a talk to a group of PhD students at Cambridge yesterday on the use of lateral thinking in the real world.  An alarmingly obtuse title, especially for PhD students and spent the first ten minutes dissecting that title.  What is real?  Is it truth or perceptual truth?  Is there such a thing as perceptual truth? (no).  Is there such a thing as perceptual thinking (all thinking is perceptual).  Is lateral thinking a good thing? (yes, portfolio careers, no gaslighting, and finance).  Tapping into what the late and great Ken Williamson says about education squeezing out creative instincts, reading a poem about the language used by academics which the first time I heard it thought was a foreign language (dominant hegemonic discourse - knowledge is power) wondering why they need to use it, but then realising that is why they do.  I also shared De Bono's thoughts on the media, interested in clash and controversy, attack, human interest and gimmick, all of which fall into the plague and war that have been going on in the past years although they have always been going on somewhere in the world, just that they haven't affected the British punter.  So they don't count as 'news' of value and substance to a paper that knows if they put Princess Diana on the cover, it will sell more. 

I remember being in an interview for the BBC journalism course (I should have pursued that) and having a first interview being asked about the order of the news again.  By that time, I had worked in radio and some freelancing on the Mail on Sunday, where I had a scoop finding Brits who had escaped from Kuwait across the desert when the country was annexed and Maggie (Thatcher) sent in the troops.  I was confined to my page three byline only by pictures of large phallic missiles. Sex and violence in once phrase.  One of the interviewers asked me in what order the radio, TV and print journalists would cover the story.  I replied the newspaper would cover all the stories, taking the risk, the radio would cover it, bleeding off the newspaper reporting, with 'real' people (anyone who isn't a journalist or a PR), and the TV wouldn't report it eventually but only after the paper had taken the first step. 

For ultimately media lacks courage and curiosity. It is left to documentary makers to go in depth, and step over and through the red tape, everyone terrified of what they might find out on their way to uncovering one story as they realise they have found many others which would lead to people in power, having their ego and livelihood damaged. 

I listen to LBC and turn down when someone comes on and gets ripped to pieces by James O'Brien, who loves the sound of his own voice and laughs at his own jokes and mentions he has listening figures which have grown exponentially, Ive noted he likes that word. 

I told the PhD students to write clearly, simply, making their language accessible, because unlike most of those I have met outside academia, they really know their stuff rather than they pretend to know their stuff. They have integrity of thinking, while those outside have fluency of style, when both are needed.  

I told them the concept of 'real' world, is a misnomer. The real world is nothing more than an illusion, in and of which we are complicit for example in advertising and most certainly in politics, and also again the media who shine a light on issues because people want to know human interest, gimmick, attack, clash and controversy.   Actually they don't, but that is what they are fed. That stuff is bad for the soul as well as the brain and 'be careful the stories you tell, children will listen (into the woods) is as relevant to the adult punter as it is to the child listening to a fairy story about a prince rescuing a princess, because a lot of women grow up thinking they need to be rescued and a lot of men grow up wanting to be the princess.   Personally, I never wanted to be in that fairy tale. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, lacking in kindness (think of the Duchess calling the baby 'pig') and decrying the fact cooking is a relaxing and rewarding past time, and the pompous caterpillar who fails to blossom into a butterfly and the empty dinner party full of empty chairs. How relevant to life that story is.  How observant Dodgeson was, although highly dubious as well reading about him. How he observed everyone and looked at what they said and how they said it, manipulating the light to fall on them. Where angry ugly women want to decapitate their underlings, but looking closer its men in drag, paper thin shallow superficial, good at playing the game of life.  

How much Alice's Adventures tell you about life. More than any socio psychology text book or website on how people live could and more effectively and playfully provocatively.  I am doing the same with a book I am writing - Size Six - which has the same back story of how things are reported, observed and if you don't fit, like Alice into the doors into paradise, you have to change shape because you are never enough.  And we are all animals with a thin veneer of sophistication which goes completely to the wall when we are in war. What does Putin care about all the sanctions, when he wins the war he will get it all back again.  They will forgive and forget and the protectionism which previous generations have fought so hard to tap away at over the decades, making us realise we are a global nation, has now entrenched into small states, much easier to attack.  Divide and conquer. We should be rescuing the Ukraine, and the images are hitting those psychologically more than they are physically.   False evidence appearing real I said to the students, that is what the 'real' world encourages, as does finance, as does insurance, as do politicians, as does religion.  The one area it is exempt is education. They do question and do have to research their stuff, and they do focus on evidence - although how much of that is perspective again, they need to take into account. Everything is perspective. and that is why Edward wanted to teach learning how to think in schools because he realised advertising politicians would become so sophisticated at influencing not only what we perceived but how we thought if we didn't realise what was happening. He listened to the Etonites who hold the power in all industries, at strategic positions at the top of the pile.  The papers like the New European and TV like Al Jazeera report more fluidly about events because they see the bigger picture, they zoom in and zoom out.  And they spend time investigating.   

So Trump gave up official secrets his ego stroked, and China is invading Taiwan and flattening the rebels in Hong Kong as the eyes of the world are directed onto Ukraine where they are taking the wheat and nuclear and strategic positioning.   Playing the long game while the west play the short game, as they always have.  Chemical war fair will be used, and everyone is hoping our government are far more intelligent and fast moving and long sighted than they appear.   The class system, with talk of the working class and the elite is alive and kicking thanks to the media and politicians who keep those words in play. 

Because it is our language that limits our ability to think, the windows to communication or symbols in their own right. It is humour that taps into the multiple perceptions and breaks down dogma and ideology more effectively using playful provocation than earnest text books which disempower although they remit their brief as empowering. 

Mental health would be vastly improved if it focused on teaching people how to think rather than going on about the psychobabble and I teach yoga in schools.  Even I recognise that. 

And the travel industry will never be sustainable until it stops flying and staycations will never be value for money because we don't respect those who serve.  Amazing what happens when you stand back and start to think. 

But I could be wrong. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2022


 I watched a play Bloody Difficult Women by theatre critic and journalist turned playwright, Tim Walker.   Confidently directed by Steven Unwin, the plot is a dramatisation of real events, although the dialogue and situations are imaginary and certain characters are fictitious.  That said, having known Gina for many years, I recognised some of the conversations and it is a production I believe teenagers interested in politics, media studies and behavioural science in particular should go see, because this play teaches more about the nuance of male/female dynamics and the politics/media dynamic than many stage plays and films headlining their remit to do so.   

On one level, BDW is a political play about a seminal time in history when close attention to detail and knowledge of the law, as well as the tenacity and courage allowed one woman - and it was just one woman - to hold a British government accountable for its actions. It is also a play about how the tabloid media - in particular The Daily Mail - chose to re-allign the narrative of those actions. 

On another level it is a play about the systemic misogyny in British media and politics which is so engrained into psyche the only way to approach and access the dangerous implications of this behaviour is through humour.   There is more truth in Yes Minister and Have I Got News For You than any straight news reporting, and I sense there is more truth in this play than anyone, least of all Tim Walker, would wish to admit.  The play reminded the audience how media headlines during this time incited violence and triggered fear, rather than developed perspective and educated the populace of what was actually happening and how it would impact on their every day lives.

For despite the play being about two strong women, one of whom took on a government and won, the other who took on a punch (I miss-typed and meant bunch, but looking at the context now, punch will do just as well) of men for Prime Minister and won, the dominant and loudest character of this play is the editor of the Daily Mail Paul Dacre, who like some maniacal puppet master attempts to abuse and manipulate the female protagonists, although, to be fair, he does also appear to hurl substantial abuse at his own male staff, snarling at them with disdain when they don't know, for example, who Marianne Faithful is.  At least if the minions answer back, all they lose is their job (or job in journalism at a push), while Theresa had the threat of losing her PMship and Gina, her life. 

The audience laughed as Andrew Woodall who played Dacre's wired mannerisms to a tee, took over the stage.  Constantly rubbing his head while man-sprawling when not pacing, while spitting out a breathless and visceral scatter-gun tirade of potty mouth abuse that would shock even an FX Trader, he reminded me of the fiercely troubled character Ben Kingsley played in the film Sexy Beast.  Dacre's expletives became so prolific and violent, crescendoing when he wanted to headline Supreme Court judges as 'Bastards', instead of 'Enemies of the People', which years later has still not lost bite as a grossly irresponsible headline, reminding the audience of how this media attempted to trigger rage not perspective.

Dacre became a comedic character, offering Theresa May birthday cake and party but only on a day when he could make it, not on the day which was actually her birthday, and May taking the cake, almost dropping it in the process perhaps feeling it might be poisoned.   On another occasion he ordered a minion to find any and all dirt on Gina Miller's past, because 'everyone has one', although ironically what he discovered about Gina Miller added to her humanity and connection to those around her, rather than detracted from it. The humour in his character and indeed the play, belied the strategically malevolent long and short term implications of the Daily Mail media strategies at the time, which could have led people to kill people.   

If it had not been for the measured presence of Alan Miller, Gina's husband, who at one point admitted he missed the intelligent and quick witted banter of City life, where at least the drive is merely to make more money, rather than the darker and messier drive to gain more power, the male of the species in this play would not have faired well. All men on stage, with this exception, were shown as weak, malleable, disenchanted and pathetic.  Alan's character alone proved it takes a strong man to support a strong woman - and that there are perilously few strong men at the top of the pile in media or politics. 

Bloody Difficult Women is on at the Riverside Studios until 26th March

Saturday, 26 February 2022


Ive been going through the final edits on a biography of Edward de Bono.   It all started ten years ago when I met Edward by accident and felt no one had captured his warmth and humour, preferring to target his commercial success, his love of islands and the fact he mentioned Marmite to solve some world problems and was into colourful hats.   When he died in June last year, the obituaries of the respective newspapers were largely tired cliched attempts which Edward would have expected from an industry run by powerful proud puerile men.  One radio presenter who interviewed me asked a question that was so long and convoluted I realised she was embodying one of the criticisms De Bono levelled at presenters/journalists - namely limited comprehension of the subject matter, and one who revelled in the sound and syllable of her own voice and rehearsed perception of projected fact.  And then I did BBC Radio Four which was great. So there are the exceptions. 

He did not like, trust or respect journalists and especially editors, acknowledging well intentioned journalists would often write copy which the editor would then change or headline differently to sell a story, never letting what he actually said get in the way of the word count and editorial agenda. He once told me editors and owners of media may appear to have political and social ideologies but their default is always to make money at all and any cost.  The more I researched his dealings with the media, I realised why and how he came to take this view, although this did not stop him from attempting to high light how media may be instrumental in teaching the reader/view/listener how to think, rather than what to think and feel.  Or even more insidiously telling them what they think and feel. 

In Edward's 1990 book I am Right You Are Wrong,(surely a mantra for any PPP man)  he comments ‘The sheer ability of journalists to comprehend different fields is usually limited so they have to fall back on three basics: the human angle; some gimmick aspect: attack.  The prime purpose is not exposition of the subject but journalistic ‘interest’.  He called this ludecy - something which exists for no value other than to maintain its own existence. Bureaucracy in all its forms is ludecy but he told me, media like politics has emerged as the embodiment of Ludecy.    ‘Clash and controversy are intrinsically more interesting than agreement, so disagreements have to be played up and emphasised. Scandals are fun, so personalities rate more than substance.’   (P266).   De Bono’s book was written in 1990 and is full of wisdoms about not only journalists, but politicians - who play into this short term, puerile nature of editors who write the headline to sell the story rather than tell the story.  Politicians are there to win for the short term, just as the media are there to sell the story for the short term.  Their throw away comments are designed to be thrown away, replaced by other thrown away comments, merged with a heady mix of soundbites and platitudes, playing to and nurturing the fickle forgetfulness of the consumer and voter. 

Edward was aware of the relationship between politicians and the media, which over the years has been transparent - Boris Johnson saying his boss is the Telegraph only last year, and other little known facts that Rupert Murdoch has been a regular visitor to Number Ten over the past few months, and that Ministers regularly comment they need to spend more time on PR than they do on actually doing their ‘jobs’.  Someone like Edward, who had the ability to stand back and distinguish between the fluency of style over the integrity of thinking of the politician and editor alike, must have annoyed them immensely. Not only that he was substantial in character as well as in his thinking.  He was academically brilliant, understood how to apply that academic excellence to the 'real' world (as academia intriguingly calls everything outside academia), highly proficient at sport, handsome, and what a lot of PPP men are not, tall.    Edward would often tell me fluency of style was always mistaken for integrity of thinking, which is why so many charming shallow men - and occasionally women - make it to the top of ‘their game’ and create a system to ensure only those with the same ideologies are able to rise through the ranks as well.   No man - and it is men - likes to be seen through, especially ones who are insecure enough to hold onto power at any cost and have no concept of enough, common and consistent traits in all men at the top of commercial and non commercial establishment.   Edward commented on the shouting at Prime Ministers Question Time and how it is a boorish playground of little boys pretending to be men, not ‘like’ but ‘is’, and how the role of journalists is to challenge the thinking rather than the person, but that it is difficult for someone to challenge the thinking of others when you do not know how to think yourself. 

How perception effects our thinking has been played with by Hollywood.  The films including Matrix, Inception, Arrival, Lucy, and perhaps with more zeitgeist relevance Wag the Dog, all challenge how humans are so open to being manipulated into thinking or rather not thinking and allowing the experts, philosophers, scientists, politicians, columnists to do it for them, allowing them to seek out the ‘truth’ even if all truth is only based on perception, and if there is a truth, it is only, what Edward called a ‘proto-truth’ only ’true’ for one moment in time.  There is no fake news, or news, there is just pictures and conversation, which as Alice in her Wonderland commented, made something worth reading. 

Docudramas and reality TV rather than blurring the lines between fiction and non fiction, have emphasised how events need to be photoshopped to keep the attention of the viewer/reader/listener, and how anything and everything we read, listen to or view, is subjective perspective, designed to, as De Bono eloquently puts it, focus on the ‘clash and controversy’ of life, making even the banal and inane appear extraordinary, and I so doing make the extraordinary everyday.   Media is increasingly designed to trigger fear not perspective. 

Columnists are paid to express their opinions, hired for their fluency of style over integrity of thinking and their ability to provoke rather than reason.   You are hard pressed to find articles where the use of emotive adjectives have been stripped from the copy.  All deaths are tragic.  All battles are catastrophic.   I noted even in one case accidents were being described as unexpected.  This is not the remit of the journalist or even the columnist but the editor who has the final say and often writes the headline.   I myself have been subject to the criticisms Edward levelled at journalists.  Six years ago, I offered to teach yoga at the House of Commons, in part to encourage the practice to be put on the national curriculum.  It has been proven to facilitate calm and focus and I realised this was a way in. So did a Minister.  The Mail were running a piece and asked to interview me. I said only if I could receive approval.  The feature was great. The headline read ‘Tax payer pays for MPs yoga’.   The minister was rightly annoyed and the yoga didn’t happen.  The fact they weren’t paying and I offered to hold the classes for free wouldn’t have mattered.  As one journalist colleague told me, in that case the headline would have read, ‘MPs abuse single mother yoga instructor’.   Clash and controversy as Edward put it.   Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story, even if the ‘good’ story is the truth. 

De Bono met many senior politicians and editors and owners of publishing houses, and was involved in many court cases, including that of the Oz Trail, which were misreported by these ‘usually limited’ journalists and the comments in many of his books; especially I Am Right You Are Wrong, indicate although he mixed with these people, he wasn’t of these people and thought their ideologies and vanities dangerous rather than just merely annoying or bullying.  

And as a writer who has been bylined as a journalist over the years, listening to the conversations on radio and watching the shouty presenters on TV, radio and print, headlining on social media, who are followed and liked, who the reader/listener/view is deemed to ‘know’, as they cast their inane comments on Brexit, pandemic and now World War, in the hope their voice and perception of the story becomes bigger than the story itself, I realise why Edward was so urgent in wanting to teach children how to think in schools and universities.    

For when you learn how to think, not only do you realise how all thinking is based on perception, but that there is no place for powerful puerile proud men in media or politics. All ideologies are dangerous no matter how well intentioned, but in these areas which have the power to influence the lives of others so directly, he realised the potential danger of not teaching children how to think.  For when you learn how to think there is no place for powerful puerile proud men.  In professional or personal life.  Which is probably why there are no thinking classes in schools and De Bono never received the formal recognition in life he deserved. 

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

The Alternatives Show . First stop - the art of trees.

7th September 2021, first show where I choose my own music.  And talk alternative travel, lifestyle, health, and ideas.   I will be putting the links onto social media and this blog for further information about all themes mentioned.  Its called The Alternatives Show but I want to call it The Full Catastrophe for some reason.   Got a ring to it..

In the first show, I talked about the Hampshire Arts Studio and painting and drawing trees with acclaimed artist Fiona McIntrye.   The full catastrophe of my experience is on https://www.arbuturian.com/lifestyle/theidler/the-art-of-trees

but here is a snippet 

McIntyre makes the two days fast and fun.  She’s engaging and accessible, showing more than telling, giving us all courage to ‘explore the trees’ – not just paint what we see, but paint what we feel.  The first morning is spent taking part in a sort of art version of speed dating. Ten of us on the course, circling the area like flower fairies, went outside with easels and graphite and were told we could spend sixty seconds drawing the trees – but could not look at our paper. Fiona had a stop watch, and on ‘go’, we all went for it. I looked at my first version. It looked like the sort of thing a psychologist would have a field day analysing.

I moved to the next easel as someone moved to mine, and had another go, managing not to peek at the paper (others cheated, ahem) and, this time, it looked more like three people at a party slightly swaying to ‘80s music the worse for wear. My leaves looked like smudged birds ready to fly off the page at any moment. Then the time was reduced to thirty seconds, then fifteen. Everyone agreed their fifteen second version was much more proficient than their sixty second version, as they went with the flow and had gained more courage. They key was not to take the graphite off the page and to scrawl quickly.

Music is good. Joe Satriani, Blue Dream; cover version of Maybe I'm Amazed, Norah Jones and Dave Grohl, Randy Scouse Git, the Monkeys; Mirror in the Bathroom, The Beat; Sunflowers, Wynton Marsalis; Extreme, More than Words.  

Next week, talking Canada and yoga, and all things Canadian (Rush, Joni, Crash Test Dummies). Mmmm

Monday, 1 March 2021

New Podcast for new term, thinking out of the book.

 Thinking Out of the Book podcasts from 20th March at Cambridge University Changemakers.   Five questions for those who like to think laterally. 

There are no boundaries to classrooms...