Sunday, 3 June 2012

I Can't Whistle Either

Boredom warning:  This post will contain an average of the use of the personal pronoun 'I' more than once a line.

A few days ago on Eagleton Notes I posted about the mediocrity of many of my achievements.  One of the one's I didn't mention but which is the one that most often reminds me of my lack of ability is my inability to whistle.  Not, I hasten to add, for lack of trying nor lack of other people trying to teach me.  I have stood (or sat) on many occasions trying to work out a way to fold my tongue or put two fingers into my mouth and emit that piercing sound that would alert the very souls in Hades to my presence.  But all to no avail.

I was, I have to confess, touched and amused at the comments on my previous post.  As the comments came in I and I re-read what I had written I realised that it might have looked as though I was either being falsely modest (definitely not, I am very proud of my modesty) or fishing for compliments (which I was not, truly). 

After doing well enough in the Eleven Plus to get to my first choice at one of the most sought after Grammar Schools in Liverpool, I suddenly realised that I didn't take after my Mother who both loved academia and excelled at it.  I disliked school and I definitely didn't excel academically.  I have absolutely no ability to perform in exams - for example I was first (or thereabouts) in class in English Literature throughout school but I fluffed the GCE in the subject (but that's an entire topic on its own).  I never got less than alpha or alpha plus for my written work at Uni (except occasionally in Economics I seem to recall)  but I only managed the most mediocre of degrees.  It was the same when I did post-grad. 

Why am I telling you this?  I'm not quite sure but it started out because readers' comments on my original post made me realise that I believe that I really do understand my own worth.  I realised many years ago that I am by no means stupid but neither am I particularly bright academically.  Apart from anything else to achieve in academe one needs two qualities (at least): a reasonably analytical mind and a good memory.  I have the former but I lack the latter.  

Had I completed my law degree and pursued my Bar studies I would have made a perfectly acceptable living as a hack barrister on the Northern Circuit.  I have met too many Queen's Counsel in my career to realise that there are many brains far sharper than mine and for some reason in that field (as in the field of music when I realised early on that I would never be able to play the piano well enough to satisfy my own targets) I decided that if I could not be amongst the best then I would rather choose to do something else.

I could go on but by now I'm sure you will have been able to fill in the blanks on the canvas.

So I really was not being falsely modest when I said what I did.  I really do not mind being average and had I used that word instead of mediocre I suspect not a single person would have felt the need to comment and yet mediocre is only a more derogatory form of that word when applied in the context in which I used it.

Of course academic and material achievement is not everything in this life and different people measure success by different criteria.  
If, for example, one believes that the ultimate goal in life is happiness then my achievements are above average.  It may have taken me most of my life to get here but I suspect that I'm luckier than many.

For that I am very thankful.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

On Being A Public Servant - Part 1

La Mujer Libre writes an interesting Blog.  She has recently been posting on incidents from her time on a Prison Visiting Committee and mentioned Ken Murray.  

I commented that, having been part of The System, I have an enormous respect for those such as Ken Murray who have the courage to buck it when they have the conviction and ability and that one of the reasons that I retired at 50 was that government service had changed so dramatically that I no longer felt in tune with it.  I was one of the fortunate ones.   Having spent a couple of years working on one of the biggest public planning inquiries Scotland had seen (after Dounreay) I decided that I wanted to take early retirement after the Inquiry finished.   The Council was happy to get rid of expensive senior staff and so, soon after it finished, my application was granted and I retired on my full pension.

I was fortunate because my wife and I had a business which I could go into - a manufacturing pottery.  But more than that I wanted to leave a service that bore no relation to the service I had joined all those years previously. 

I joined Liverpool Corporation as a 16 year old junior clerk in the same job and sitting in the same chair at the same desk that Stanley Holmes (subsequently Sir Stanley and Chief Executive of Merseyside) had sat in when he started his career.

On my first day I was shown into the room of the then Principal Administrative Officer of the Town Clerk’s Department in which I was to forge my career.  (The Town Clerk's Department was the legal department and serviced the political machine ie the elected council.)  I can recall his words as if they had been uttered yesterday.  “You have joined The Town Clerk’s Department of Liverpool Corporation.  The Department will train you.  You will be sent to University.  You will receive promotions as befit your ability and application to the job.  You will have a job for life. In return you have to remember one thing and one thing only.  Your job is the same as the job of every one of the thirty thousand employees in the Corporation.   Your job is to serve the public.  Remember that above all else."  And he meant it.  Whatever else most people I worked with thought about their job most truly believed that they were serving the best interests of the public of Liverpool.

When I left local government many new appointments, particularly of senior staff, were being made on short term contracts.  For most staff there was no security of employment with cost cutting exercises taking place every year.  Services kept suffering as fewer people were there to do the jobs expected by the public.  Those that remained spent more and more time gathering statistics for government targets which were becoming harder and harder to achieve in the vicious circle.  The rest of the time they were ensuring that there was sufficient paperwork to protect themselves from the culture of blame and litigation sweeping in from the other side of the Atlantic. In short local government had ceased to be a place where all one had to remember was that one had to serve the public and get on with the job of doing that.  For many it had become a fight for survival.  It had become a place where one's first loyalty was to making sure that one could putting food into the mouths of one's family.

I believed that the public was worse off as a result.  It was not a place I wanted to be.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Why Don't I Have Photos?

A friend, Viv, stayed with me here in Eagleton just after I arrived back from New Zealand a few months ago.  Viv commented that I had no photos of Andrew on show in the house although I had photos of Gaz.  She wondered why.  The answer is actually quite simple.  We have very few contemporary photos of Andy.  The photo I used to have on the wall of him in his graduation robes was not a photo that he liked and was not one that I liked either.  So eventually I removed it.  Of course I have thousands (with no exaggeration) of him and of Gaz from their birth until they left the nest to go off into the big wide world.  Somehow every time I look at those photos I am overcome with a great sadness and I've never been able to  put them on display.  It doesn't stop me looking at them from time to time, though, as I have already scanned 2,500 photos (only another heaven knows how many tens of thousands still to sift through and scan).  

This evening as I sit in the Study watching the effect of the setting sun on the sea it is hard not to feel emotional and it occurs to me that it's about time I got a grip so here are a few photos of Andrew and of Andrew with Gareth.  Andrew is the elder (and taller!) of the two:

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Emotional Uncertainty

I've been pondering again.  I'm in that sort of mood this evening.  I'm in need of an outlet for the emotions I feel but can't find a way of expressing.  In fact I have no idea what the emotions are that are churning around inside me.  It's a huge combination of frustration with things unachieved, of the great happiness at the times I've had this week with friends and with Gaz, at not being able to find the words for a friend in Vermont going through a difficult patch and who's family had bad news this week, of a friend (who was once significantly more than that) who is about to re-marry and whom I somehow feel is unhappy,  of a friend also waiting to know if she is to be made redundant, of a friend who's upset by the circumstances of a patient and the unpleasantness of people, of friends in turmoil, of a friend who is not happy.  And so the list goes on.

I am conscious of the fact that I have absolutely no reason personally to be anything other than exceptionally happy with my life.  So why do I feel as I do?  A rhetorical question, of course but one that I ask myself nonetheless.  

So I am taking advantage of the fact that I live in a relatively isolated detached house with very thick walls and with not much time to go before midnight am searching for that piece of music that might give my emotions relief and am giving thanks for the fact that I have very good and generous hi-fi speakers.  At the moment I'm playing Dame Janet Baker singing Elgar's Sea Pictures - an amazing, full and mellow voice singing songs of almost unparalleled emotion outside opera.  When the silence comes I know that my head will hold the music for what will seem like an age.  It becomes like a drug and it needs feeding in a way I find impossible to explain.

I said to a friend tonight that I envied her ability to play an instrument and discovered that she feels music as a deep emotion and not just an exercise is tonal creation.  There is so much to discover.  So much to explore.  So much to feel.  So much to experience.  And I thought I'd passed that stage.

Why, I wonder, do I feel that I have to explain that I haven't been drinking - unless a glass of red with dinner counts.  In fact I'm in one of my 'don't feel like it' phases which may also go some way to explaining things.

Don't worry, I'll be OK in the morning.