FOR SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS IN SCOTLAND
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18 August, 2017
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Prospero reflects on his retirement: ‘where every third thought shall be my grave’. While I don’t count the frequency – I too think of death every day – but not only in terror; sometimes there’s an intuition that accepting mortality would enrich my life. People are so uncomfortable with this subject that I’ve learned to restrain my ‘end of life’ reflections – but I notice a growing readership for such personal memoirs. Robert McCrum has written one called ‘Every Third Thought: on life, death, and the end game’. From years of his weekly synopses in the Observer (200 best fiction and non-fiction books of all time), I already consider McCrum the best-read person of all time. His new volume is short – which I like – an extended essay; his style is meandering – almost jaunty – but thoughtful; there are several interviews – and the expected copious quotations from his favourite writers – but it’s his personal stuff I like most – the insights from his own journey. ‘Learning how to die’, ultimately requires ‘acceptance’ of our transience; don’t think anyone can help us with this. But for the closing period, 'the remains of the day', McCrum offers some thoughts: Celebrate ‘nowness’, he says; be glad you are old; pass on to your loved ones a positive delight in the world. I remember a lovely poem by Elaine Feinstein: “We all approach the edge of the same blackness which, for me, is silent. Knowing as much, sharpens my delight in January freesia, hot coffee, winter sunlight.” - Read full bulletin

11 August, 2017
I was born in 1940 - just as a world war erupted; grew up in its aftermath, while Britain was laying the foundations of social democracy. Ours was a fortunate generation – familiar with concepts like ‘the common good’ – enjoying free healthcare and university education; secure jobs and available good housing; the beginnings of social mobility. But the pendulum had swung too far – Brits opted for Thatcher’s turbo capitalism – continued by Blair and Brown. Signs now that this is stalling; the pendulum swinging back.             ‘Secrets of Silicon Valley’ (Sunday BBC 2) helped me understand new technology's prevailing ‘philosophy of disruption’. How companies like Airbnb, Uber etc – don’t wait for the rules to be put in place – through negotiation and compromise – they just do it! – forcing the world to react; in this way, technology creates our world rather than vice versa. This ‘disruption’ leapfrogs politics and the democratic process; giving a handful of billionaires an unacceptable level of power.             I live with email and Google – what did we do before them? But without a mobile phone or the world of social media; they feel too intrusive to me - and solitude is a dear friend. Nor do I agree with the common view – that the present level of change is unprecedented in human history. The ‘tech’ revolution is driven by venture capitalists seeking maximum profit, while paying minimum tax - what's changed?  Rather than a brave new world, Silicon Valley is the same old story - of egos and empires. - Read full bulletin

04 August, 2017
Read this week that Edinburgh's Festival Fringe goes back to 1947 - when I was a schoolboy - and 'art' was Gordon Smith not William Shakespeare. But I can remember the Paperback bookshop, opened by Jim Haynes in 1959; the Penguin Lady Chatterley trial in 1960; the founding of the Traverse Theatre in 1962 by Haynes, John Calder and Richard Demarco – which quickly set standards for the Fringe.  What has become the world’s largest arts festival, owes much to the vision and boldness of some early pioneers.             Nowadays, 'the Fringe' comprises thousands of companies from around the world – sharing 300 venues.  In 1965, when less than 50 companies shared, maybe, two dozen venues – I had an 80 seater restaurant on the Royal Mile called ‘the Bothy’; the late Peter Mallan, with his fine baritone voice, used it to stage his successful show: ‘Loons, Lochs and Leprechauns’.  This experience – chatting to performers and audiences around the city – opened me to the creative potential of the Fringe as an annual gathering for dreamers, misfits, dissidents.             I’ve always felt a natural affinity with being ‘a fringe player'; not a fringe where timid people hide unnoticed – but where bold people can explore new ways of doing stuff – whither a new play by Tom Stoppard – or a new ploy for helping people with rubbish lives.  There will always be those who want to establish and enforce ‘rules’ – and those who want to make-them-up as they go along; we need both types.  But the new stuff – the innovation – is going to come from the outriders. - Read full bulletin

28 July, 2017
My cottage is full of the scent of sweet peas – beautiful pastel shades this year.  Once again, I’m taken aback by the sheer abundance of vegetation in my garden – flowering shrubs elbowing for space.  From nearby woods, a copse of Ash trees continually sends seedlings – which I uproot; but admiring their perseverance, I’ve allowed three to take root – now about four feet high.  The Common Ash is a full forest tree which grows up to forty metres – so my indulgence is not very sensible.  Life force.             We can bring plants to our gardens – or banish them; we can decide what goes where; we can enrich and water the soil – but we cannot know all the influences or conditions that are at work.  The ‘intelligence of life’, the pattern of growth, the weather – are all beyond our control; yet we play our part.  Like our work with people – we try to create the conditions for healthy life – knowing that outcomes are determined by factors we’ll never understand.             My bench in sunshine – butterflies in the Buddleia – I reflect on what it will feel like when I’m old; then, with a smile, I realise that I’m already old – this, now, is what it feels like.  Next year – perhaps the year after – I may not cultivate a garden – but the ‘intelligence of life’ will not notice; the Common Ash (fraxinus excelsior) will still be sending out its winged seeds.  There is consolation in the inexorable continuity of the life force: the Tao Te Ching: the Way and the power of the Way. - Read full bulletin

21 July, 2017
Watching the film ‘To Sir with Love’ on Sunday – I was surprised how much it affected me.  Made in 1967, it’s about Sidney Poitier as a temporary teacher in a rough London East End school; most of the kids, already switched off from education, amuse themselves tormenting staff.  Poitier’s calm respectful manner – the dignity he offers and expects from his class, gradually wins them over.  While it wouldn’t stand serious critique, the film made me cry; 50 years ago it probably influenced where I chose to work.             In my twenties I became a detached youth worker with an exciting group of young men in notorious street gangs; they were violent, unstable and frankly scary – I don’t know what I was supposed to be doing.  I was freelance, untrained and unsupervised; it was a stupid and reckless thing to do and I got what I deserved – a rude awakening. Some 'sair' memories from that period, but there were things I needed to learn - and some of us can only learn the hard way.             'To Sir with Love' is a beautifully acted story about an extraordinary individual - an idealised hero; that's what I wanted to be - a famous champion on behalf of disadvantaged young people. But in real life, heroic do-gooders tend to be self-absorbed - take themselves too seriously; lack of accountability and burnout are problems. Genuine social progress happens through millions of daily acts of goodwill, by ordinary people - boring, mundane, consistent. Beware the fevered exploits of would-be heroes. - Read full bulletin


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