Monday, November 25, 2013

Ah, Meccano!

When I was growing up I had Meccano, and I loved it. My first set came at Christmas one year when I was probably around 6 or 8. It was the old red and green stuff as I recall. The first few projects mainly involved me sitting watching my Dad put models together. He was engrossed in what he was doing, I was "helping" but mostly wondering who had got Meccano for Christmas, me or him!

My father did make me a wooden tray with a sliding lid in which to keep my construction kit, and when it was added to another year, I was allowed to make things myself. My favourite project was a large crane with a roll-out bogey on s swivel platform that I could use to raise and lower things from the landing over the stairs. 

Eventually the Meccano was packed away and passed on in later years to another member of the family. Sadly not all of it came back, and the disappointment I felt even as an adult was palpable. I don't think I realised just how much this simple construction kit meant to me. It was more than a toy, it was a world of creativity. Even now I can hardly bear thinking about opening the box in which I have what's left of my original sets, knowing what I'll find. My Meccano was probably the only thing I ever put away completely when I'd finished with it. I could account for every item, it was that important to me to have all the parts exactly where they should be.

Well, it's obviously been a long time since it saw the light of day, but I have been thinking, rather wistfully I have to say, about the possibility of reinvesting in this wonderful engineering toy. Maybe I'm just daft, but perhaps it might be fun to build that crane, or something similar once again. I know I don't have all the parts, and I don't even have the books (they were lost too) so I can't even write a list of what's missing and try to replace it all. But I have seen a great set and maybe I could argue that it's just in case I ever become a grandparent!! After, what grandchild of mine wouldn't want to sit for hours watching me put together a model crane!

An Equitable Society

I have, among my list of posts, a number of "draft" pieces that I've never quite figured out how to finish or what to do with them. This is one I started a while ago after a report on the news one morning. It's far from a complete, even thoughtful exploration of an idea, but it's an emerging theme that I want to think about in more depth. It concerns the growing divide between the wealthy and the poor and everyone else in-between. Theologically, it is the starting point for thinking about what the gospel has to say about economics and issues around greed, power, and wealth. 

Am I getting old or is the world actually becoming a less equitable society? I choose the word carefully because I'm not advocating equality, an equalised distribution of wealth and resources. I have no problem with there being a degree of differentiation, but the current state of economics leaves me wondering if the first world economic dream can be anything but unrealistic  and inequitable.

This morning the news carried the story of the referendum in Switzerland to limit executive pay to 12 times that of the lowest paid worker. It will probably fail. Vested interests will make sure of that. Apparently businesses will leave the country in droves should it pass, or at least that's what we are told. For years we've been fed the half-truth that you have to pay high salaries to chief executives if we want the best, but as we all know those people we thought were the best turned out to less than capable of leading the way anywhere except into a financial meltdown.

And whoever came up with the idea that the performance of a business is based solely on the performance of the person at the top? Good as they may be, they rely on the performance of those lower down the ladder for the success of the company. I'm not sure at what point along the way we lose sight of this simple truth. Is it when we reach a position of authority where we have more to lose financially, or is it just a matter of personal greed?

So, apart from being just a rant about executive pay in the top 100 companies going up by 14% while most workers have lost money, hours or jobs, what am I trying to say? I'm not sure. I just know that something must change. A new model is needed if we are going to dismantle the growing divide between rich and poor and replace it with something that reflects an understanding of society that doesn't concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the few. The issue isn't that some people are rich while others are poor, it's that the difference continues to grow wider and deeper.

Perhaps, if the top 100 companies took a longer term look at themselves they would invest across the workforce and encourage their senior executives to see themselves as part of the package and not the icing on the cake. There are examples of this, executives who don't pay themselves excessively, but they are probably too few and too far between.

Maybe if we stopped measuring our value in terms of what we own or what we can buy, then that too might just make a move in the direction of a more equitable society.

Perhaps this is all just tilting at windmills, but while the divide grows, so too it seems does a presumption that the poor are poor because of something they have done. It's their fault. While we buy into such an argument, we will never ask the truly tough questions about our first world greed and the kind of model we are exporting to the rest of the world. Concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the few cannot be good for society as a whole.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Where was I in '63?

I was six years old when John Kennedy was assassinated. I remember, vaguely, the events and the news, but I can't say I belong to the club that remembers where they were the day it all happened. I guess as a six year old in the UK, it actually wasn't that high on my list of important events that day.

I have clearer memories of the events of 1968, when in April Martin Luther King, and then in June Bobby Kennedy where both assassinated. By then I was a more mature ten, going on eleven. I was getting ready to go up to secondary school. I managed to pass my 11+ and secure a place at a Grammar School, starting in September 1969. Most of that year, '68-'69, was focussed on this transition and getting used to the idea that I was meant to feel both privileged and grateful for achieving this goal. Needless to say I felt neither, and wondered more about what I'd done. After all it was me who passed the exam!

On the other hand, there was something about the three political murders that nagged away at the back of my young mind, but chemistry, maths and biology, along with cricket and rugby soon occupied rather more of my thinking than political changes and the under current of conspiracy theories.

As the '60's turned into the '70's I was probably still too young to to either fully understand or appreciate the nuances of the political world, but things were changing. I started to read about the political events that lead up to the Vietnam war, I became more interested in what society was like and what it meant to choose a political ideology. Naive I might have been, but brainless I certainly wasn't!

Although I was later to discover that John Kennedy wasn't quite the hero he was portrayed to be, there were aspects of his life that were far from ideal, I guess his death did have some impact on me even though I was sonly six. Somewhere deep in my subconscious questions-political, social, moral, ethical questions-took up residence, and they shaped the way I began to think about the world.

The assassination of the Kennedy's, Martin Luther King and many more are acts of evil. Looking for the positives in them cannot diminish that truth. Perhaps, because of their untimely end, we can still aspire to something bigger, something ultimately less selfish because we have their examples. History is less kind to the memory of such individuals than popular culture.

Had Kennedy lived on and served out his time as President, then as one historian put it on the news this morning, he'd probably have been blamed for many of the social and political ills America endured in the latter part of the 1960's. Because he didn't we have an enduring image of a young president who looked forward to a better world and sought to challenge his generation to do something about it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Doing workshops

So, here's an interesting turn of events. I've been asked to run a workshop for dance students on the subjects of nutrition and physiology as it relates to stretching and movement etc. Quite a challenge, but one I'm really keen to explore.

I don't pretend to be an expert, but this is a great opportunity for me both to share some of the things I've learnt over the last two years, and to reinforce some of that learning by reviewing it and passing it on. I've sketched out a rough idea of what I could cover, and as usual there's way too much for the time allowed, but I'll get it better organised. I'd also have too much to cover than not enough. I'll work out a plan of what is top of the list and what could be left for another time.

The workshops will be in January, but I'll need to have it planned in the next few weeks.