Archive for October, 2016

The Sun is probably smarter than you think

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016


On the day that The Sun’s highest paid journalist is sentenced to a jail term for perverting the course of justice the paper decides to attack one of Britain’s National Treasures – Gary Lineker.

What heinous offence did Gary commit that trumps the reporting of one of its own journalists being sentenced to a jail term for perverting the course of justice?

All that Gary did was express an opinion on his private Twitter account. He wanted to show some compassion for the refugees fleeing the war in Syria. To most people, this would be considered normal and decent and in keeping with someone being considered as a National Treasure.

The Sun however had a different agenda and needed to hide the fact that its highest paid journalist had been found guilty of perverting the course of justice. To any rival newspaper, this would be sensational front-page news requiring the journalists to dig out a copy of the Thesaurus to fully express the evil of the perpetrator and his employer.

The Sun needed a metaphorical dead cat to throw onto the table during the conversation and what better pet of the British public to murder and toss casually onto the polished wood than the cuddly Gary Lineker. The move would provoke outrage on the part of decent folk everywhere but also strengthen the relationship between the prejudiced sector of the population and the newspaper.

This is where it gets clever though.

The Sun’s power emanates from its wealth. Its wealth derives from its circulation which is enormous. Advertisers are attracted to the huge circulation and pay big money to access it. The company always sees any furore that attracts eyeballs to The Sun’s content as welcome traffic as it simply convinces advertisers to spend their advertising budget there.

The Sun is currently sponsoring a poll to discover who is the favourite presenter on TV. It invites the public to vote. I’ve seen tweets that encourage people to go to the site and vote for Lineker.

If Lineker wins, this may seem like one in the eye for the media company but the upshot is this; The Sun gets more coverage from this apparent backlash and also acquires legitimacy for the poll it is sponsoring. It wouldn’t even surprise me if it were The Sun itself that came up with the idea of getting people to vote for Lineker.

Liverpool has demonstrated that it can hurt The Sun. It has done this by effectively banning the sale of it in the city. This equates to millions of pounds of lost revenue for the company.

Don’t buy the Sun but don’t acknowledge it either. The thing it hates the most is being ignored*.

*I realise I’m writing about The Sun but I only do so to remind people that its highest paid journalist has recently been sentenced to a jail term for perverting the course of justice and that not engaging with it in any form ultimately destroys it.

Stepping into the unknown

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016


I recently gave an illustrated talk at a pop-up arts venue in York. The building they had commandeered was an old fire station complete with pole through the ceiling. To my astonishment the organiser announced that if anyone wanted to have a slide on the pole they were welcome to. I say ‘astonishment’ because as an event organiser myself, the insurance implications of such an activity sent my liability calculations zooming into orbit.

As the evening wore on, I watched lots of people take up the invitation – undeterred by any risk – and slide down the pole with joyful abandon. I said to my sister who was with me at the event that ever since I was a schoolboy and our class had visited a fire station where the use of the pole had been demonstrated by one of the firemen I’d always wanted to have a go on one.

“Well, now’s your chance” she said and rummaged in her handbag for her phone to take a video of the stunt. She held the phone and looked at me expectantly. I could see that a significant moment had arrived. I turned for the stairs.

As I climbed the echoing steps to the top floor I passed through various empty rooms that had been stripped of their furnishings. The crumbling plasterwork and general dilapidation of the building reminded me of my own advancing years and how my reflexes and suppleness weren’t as good as they used to be.

I arrived at the vestibule where you launch yourself onto the pole and I studied the scene. The pole was within easy reach but I made the mistake of looking down through the hole to where the pole was bolted to the floor of the fire station. Lord! It was a good ten metres down and I began to weigh up all the possible outcomes of the stunt. The one that loomed the largest was the one where I miscalculate the slipiness of the pole and I go whizzing uncontrollably down it to crash awkwardly onto the concrete floor and break a few bones in my feet incapacitating me for months to come. As a self-employed man the risk was simply too great and cautiously I backed away from the orifice slightly shame faced and greatly disappointed.

Back in the event room I told my sister it was higher than I had anticipated and I simply balked at the risk of something going wrong.

Later in the evening I got talking to a member of the audience and he asked me if I had been down the pole. I answered truthfully and explained to him all the reasons why I thought it was a bad idea for a man of my age.

“You’re over-thinking it,” he said. “Come on, let me show you how easy it is” and with that he encouraged me to follow him as he walked towards the staircase door. Another significant moment arrived: do I politely decline or trust this stranger with my life?

I followed him.

Once again I stood by the vestibule with the stranger in front of me. He stood poised to launch himself when he turned to me and said “Don’t look down, just grab the pole and commit fully to the slide” and then he effortlessly reached out for the pole and was gone.

I stood alone looking at the pole. I was calculating the physics of -

I jumped.

I knew if I stood there any longer I would go through the same looped thinking process that would talk me out of reaching for the pole and so before I did I launched myself.

To my astonishment I had near total control of my descent (my logical mind immediately understood why the pole was approximately 5 inches in diameter – it greatly increased the coefficient of friction) and I could have stopped mid-slide if I’d wanted to.

Safely on the floor of the fire station I turned to my mentor and we high-fived the little achievement. I was genuinely grateful to him for pushing me out of my comfort zone and then he exited out of my life, possibly for good.

As I walked back to where my sister was sitting I couldn’t help thinking of the famous quote “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

My sister missed the photo opportunity because I acted impulsively and didn’t let her know. Sometimes it’s better to trust your gut than your head.

Great lessons can be learned from small incidents; I was honest with people about my failure, they offered to help, I welcomed their help and together we achieved success.

After waiting many decades, the fire station pole is now off my list.