Friday, November 30, 2018

Enter The Dragon

Yesterday I was invited to be a dragon for the third time. You know, the Dragon’s Pen  thing where unpublished writers do a pitch to  a panel for a specific – very specific – period of time and then  the Dragon’s quiz them,  comment, tell them what to steer clear of and what was great about their          pitch and its subject novel.
There were  three dragons;  Me. Mr Douglas Skelton the ‘mastermind behind Carry On Sleuthing’ as he was described, author of the Davy McColl series and the Dominic Quest series.  And an MIE guest blogger. The third Dragon was supposed to be Pat Young, Author of Till the Dust Settles plus other books, also a MIE guest blogger. But she was going to be involved at a later stage of pitching  so couldn’t be in the room to hear it all this time round. So was Michael Malone, he was banished to the coffee shop as he might be hearing our ‘winner’ at the  Scottish Writers  Association annual extravaganza, and prior knowledge is not permitted.
The SAW are very organised. And very well behaved.
 I am   not a member. Did that surprise you?
The middle seat was then taken by a lovely lady called Sheila Grant, a reviewer and article writer, mostly for Highland Magazine and their ilk. Interesting to have a ‘professional  reader’ on the panel  rather than three writers. Would her opinion be very different to ours?  And she knew the writers who were speaking.  Would she have her favourites?  Would she show any favouritism? Were any of them really annoying? Would she tell us?  ( She didn’t!)
And it was a dreadful night weatherwise. Ayr is right on the coast, Burns Country,  the wind was gale force, so strong that the hotel had a pile of chairs against the front doors to stop them blowing open and we had to go down a back alley to get in. The rain was horizontal, then it  bounced off the pavement to have another go. I got totally soaked.  It was bitter, bitter cold.
No change there then.   
It wasn’t the first time I had dragoned,  but it was interesting because in this one we had to choose a ‘winner’. So we secretly marked each pitcher out of ten. And what do you think happened? Considering the  judges really came from different corners  of the crime writing fraternity; an ex journalist, a reader and a mad woman who had to sit through the whole thing with wet pants!
The answer?  An incredible uniformity in our scoring.  The winner was the only one that scored straight 8’s across the board. And it wasn’t a book that any of us would have read, not being in our particular interest but there was a complete world forged, humour, adventure, touches of emotion and  a short conversation on the number twelve bus going through Glasgow city entre ( just to ground the narrative a little)
It was followed by a question and answer session where I exploded with multiple Glaswegian expletives when asked a question about the plot generators available on the internet.
‘She doesn’t like them.’ translated Douglas for the sake of the audience.
Our dragons got three minutes. I  don’t recall what they got at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival were my agent, Jane Gregory,  was on the panel. They had buzzers  to stop the pitcher if they had already heard too much. ‘My novel is set in the world of intergalactic vampire lesbian vegan superheroes who travel the universe on fluffy kitten…’ would get buzzed straight away.
I did witness Jane eliminating  one poor pitcher.
The quivering lady stood at the lectern, calmed herself, ruffled her notes a little and said ‘My novel is set in the thrilling world of accounting.’
Jane buzzed. ’There is no such thing as the interesting world of accounting. Next!’
Wait a minute….. vegans flying around the universe on fluffy kittens….  Could be a goer..

 Exit the dragon.!
Caro Ramsay

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Therapy through golf and art

 Stanley - Thursday

I love golf! Theoretically, it is an easy game. Unlike most ball sports, the ball is stationary when you hit it. How hard can that be? And when you reach the green, the hole is on a well manicured surface where the ball rolls smoothly. All you have to do is hit the ball from the tee, where you are allowed to place the ball on a peg to lift it off the ground, play in the direction of the green, and when you get there, roll the ball into the hole. Simple. Then do this eighteen times.

So, why is it so appealing and so frustrating?

I love the fact that in order to score well you have to be consistent over about 4 hours and around 80 swings at the ball. A mistake in course management or an errant swing results in you having to have even more swings at the ball. And suddenly your score has risen to 90. My course management is pretty good, but my consistency is pretty bad. Perhaps because I start thinking of how to murder someone halfway through a round. Or how to catch a witch doctor.

Golf is really a game of the mind. Certainly, you have to hit the ball consistently; certainly you have to walk three or four miles (unless you are young, when it seems you have to use a cart); certainly you have to know how to adjust your swing in windy conditions. But what influences your score the most is your mind. My mind often does me in because it wanders and loses focus. But for many people, a bad shot results in frustration, and several bad shots can cause anger and, in occasional cases, the throwing of the club. I love playing against people like that because I can often beat them even if they are better hitters of the ball. I don't lose my temper. I am resigned to occasional awful shots.

The other interesting thing about golf is that even though you are playing against yourself, it is very easy to let your opponent's play influence you. Opponent hits a great shot a metre from the hole, and suddenly adrenaline courses through your body tempting you to play a shot that you shouldn't. Strokes added. Hole lost.

Unlike many golfers, I play a round, enjoy it, and put it behind me. I never sit at the bar afterwards replaying each shot - 'If I'd only . . .' or 'My second at the fifth . . .'

For the most part, golf is my therapy.

If I can't get onto a golf course when I'm going through a rough patch, I use my art works to help me through. Generally the more abstract the piece, the more it settles me. I've wondered a lot about why that is. Why doesn't a Bosschaert or a Monet have a more profound impact on me than, say, a Picasso or a Songe kifwebe mask?

Ambrosius Bosschaert - not in Trollip collection!

Claude Monet - not in Trollip collection!

Pablo Picasso - not in Trollip collection! I wish!

Songe kifwebe mask - Trollip collection!
And why does a three-dimensional art work - a mask or figure - impact me more than a two-dimensional one? Certainly, the tactile element of a sculpture is part of the reason, but I don't really know the answer. I just know it is true.

Mkonde spirit sculpture - Trollip collection!
Shona sun sculpture - Trollip collection!
My favourite lion - Trollip collection!
Recently I found the ultimate therapy for my down days! An artistic golf course!

The Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis, next to the Walker Art Centre, has installed a miniature golf course with each hole designed and created by a Minnesota artist. It is funky, colourful, and challenging. And the cherry on the top is that the 'green' fees go to help a good cause.

Here is my therapist's couch.

Sculpture Garden

Sculpture Garden

Iconic sculpture


Mette doesn't need therapy! 

Thanks, Doc.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Disrupting Governance: Democracy and leadership in a digital world

Leye - Every other Wednesday 

I was invited to deliver a lecture at University of Cumbria's Institute for leadership and sustainability. Note: institute for leadership and sustainability. Leadership. The relevance of this will shortly become clear. The programme is part of the Open Lecture series in which interesting people are invited to give talks on a wide range of subjects. I was to be November’s interesting person, an accolade I was too humble to reject. Also, how can one turn down a trip to the Lake District?

I was going to be talking to MBA students from across the globe. Mature, very well educated, sharpened minds. It was daunting, considering that for most people, yours truly included, the fear of public speaking ranks above almost all other fears, including the fear of dying.

I was asked to come up with a topic I’d like to talk about. I could have chosen anything, but what do I come up with? “Disrupting Governance: Democracy and leadership in a digital world.”

Ok. I had a topic. It was approved. Next I had to come up with the lecture. Talk time: one hour. Sixty minutes to engage my audience, make my point, hope my jokes don’t fall flat (which they did), and brace for the questions that would follow – or the dreaded awkward silence when not one person in the audience has a question. This, it turned out, I shouldn’t have been worried about.

Without boring you with the minutiae of the lecture, here’s the gist of it:

First, I noted that it was the 6th of November, the day on which the America was having its midterm elections. I noted that a lot of campaigning had preceded the day: The Obama’s had been campaigning. Even Oprah Winfrey had been campaigning for her favourite candidates, and Trump… Well, Trump never stopped campaigning.

I noted that on social media, people had been vigorously supporting their favourite candidates by sharing information, viral posts, quotes, statistics, memes, you name in. Anything to strengthen their candidate’s chances or weaken the opposition. Everyone had been at it, everyone who had a twitter or a Facebook accounts. Everyone including Russia. And at this point I put forward my first argument: namely that elections in the digital age are flawed. What with Cambridge Analytica and foreign governments spreading targeted fake news to sway the way we vote. And when I say targeted, I mean targeted. They know how you are likely to vote or not vote at all, and they know the exact words to use in your very own custom made fake news delivered to your social media feed on your mobile phone to influence your decision. And they are damn good at it. And this is a great threat to democracy. In fact, it is my argument that this makes elections and referendum ineffectual tools of democracy.

Consider that no one votes rationally. No one. Ok, on average no one votes rationally. We do not scrutinise the manifestos of the various political parties vying for our votes, subjecting their claims and promises to diligent fact checking and critical thinking before making objective decisions on who to vote for. No. We vote left because we have always voted left. Right because in our family we vote right.  In fact, cognitive dissonance ensures that we actively seek out information that supports our biases and we automatically ignore information that challenges said biases (unless a foreign power has paid an unscrupulous company to manipulate our biases). In summary, we vote emotionally not rationally, and our emotions are so easily controlled especially in the digital world of targeted manipulation.  

If, in a world of social media, you cannot trust that your emotional decision on how to vote has not been influenced one way or the other by your own government or other foreign governments, how can you trust the outcome of the election? Why bother with elections in the first place?

That was the first of my arguments. My second argument was a challenge of the need for leadership in the first place. I made my case against the need for leaders. I said leaders were obsolete in the modern world. I said this while standing in front of students of the Leadership and sustainability school.

I argued that it does not make sense that one person, chosen through flawed election, makes decisions for millions of other people. I argued that when we did away with kings and queens because we realised that no one has the God given right to rule over the rest us, we simply replaced the kings and queens with elected monarchs to rule over us for a period. Our giant leap forward as a life form landed short of the realisation that we do not need leaders at all.

It strikes me as ludicrous that every few years or so, following a change in government, new politically appointed ministers are expected to ‘lead’ areas of the economy / society such as medicine (the NHS), the foreign office, immigration, prisons, the police, schools, etc. People with little or no relevant experience or even qualification other than being favoured members of the winning party, expected to lead thousands of expert civil servants. Madness. 

An interesting thing happened three years ago following Nigeria’s last presidential election. For six months after being sworn in, the president failed to appoint a cabinet. No minster for defence, no minister for education, no mister of health, no minister of anything. The interesting thing that happened is that the economy continued to function, even thrive. In those six months when the various ministries were free of the disruption of inexperienced, ill-prepared, politically motivated politicians, things got better. Then the cabinet was named and the economy went into recession. The economy is still in recession.

To fill the rest of the hour after the five minutes it took to establish my arguments, I talked about central banks and how we trust the qualified experts who work in them to make decisions on things like interest rates. Imagine for a second if the decision to raise of lower interest rates were entrusted to a politician? Or decided through referendum? I illustrated an alternative system of governance in which experts work collaboratively in ministries: experts with the required qualification and experience, with references that check out, and even with their outstanding CVs they will still need to pass rigorous interviews.

I ended my lecture by conceding space for elections in governance 2.0, as I called it. I proposed that we carry out X – Factor style talent shows in which we vote for who will represent us at international events like the UN world leaders photo-shoot. Like any other talent show, only that we are not electing someone to rule us or make decisions for the rest of us, just someone who has the best answer to the question ‘What will you do if you win this title?’

History is full of bad leaders, a lot of them elected (and a lot of them men). A lot of them, expected to lead their nations to prosperity, and a lot of them failing woefully at this one job. Why? Is it because we fail to elect the right leaders? I think not. I think it’s because we continue to expect that any one person can, or should rule over the rest of us. Every time I’ve expressed this thought, someone has pointed out to me that there have been good leaders (interpreted as leaders they like). I have learnt not to question their love for their great leader. On my part, I continue to question and to challenge the need for leaders in the modern world and I continue to stand by my belief that nations that prosper do so not because of their leaders, but despite their leaders.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Giacometti's atelier

Giacometti, second on the left, the Swiss sculptor and painter worked in an atelier in the 14th arrondissement. 
 It was below Montparnasse. I walked by the building years ago. It was a jumble of artists ateliers and owned privately.  Rumors were Giacometti's atelier and contents were intact and there was a push to buy the building and make it a museum.
 That didn't happen. But the Giacometti foundation found space in an amazing art nouveau building on the other side of the arrondissement. So they moved his intact atelier lock stock and barrel. Et voilà, the museum had just opened and I ran right over. It's kind of amazing and takes you into his process.
 Even his glasses.
Here's Giacometti in his studio with Jean Genet, the writer and ex-felon, who Sartre and de Beauvoir championed.
 Here's the new building - catch the art nouveau details and the guide's boots!

 Giacometti's drawing for his wife, Annette.

Highly recommended! Giacometti Institute, 5 rue Victor Schoelcher, 75014 - buy tickets online
Cara - Tuesday