synthetic authentic


Wrote this the other day to a friend to mark his 58th birthday:

‘Here’s a happy thought for you, courtesy of British screenwriter and TV producer Russell T. Davies: “The world turns under the march of the feet of nice people”. I like that sentiment, true or not. And I’m learning to honour the weight of the word ‘nice’, overused and underappreciated. And of course I count you in the regiment of nice people I know.

Blessings on your birthday. Eat cake with your morning coffee!’

On reflection I think it is a true sentiment.  Nice is variously defined as virtuous, subtle, fine, agreeable, and polite.  All elements that need defending in a time when crude, unscrupulous, self-aggrandizing rascals find widespread admiration.  Life would be intolerable without the company of Nice people.


Every now and again I come across something that stops me in my tracks and causes me to go back to read or listen again and again, and then a few times more.  In January 2020 my wife Anne put me onto episode 117 of the podcast Hidden Forces that did just that.  I listened to it twice in rapid succession and I have been back to the trough several more times since.  

In this episode of the podcast, host Demetris Kofinas interviews writer David Epstein about his newish book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.  Since this blog is for my children’s edification (though they don’t yet really know it exists), let me cut to the chase and offer the insights I gleaned in point form:

  • Reflection – this is the key trait of “successful” people – only when we review what we have experienced and ask questions such as “Did I suck at <insert an activity> because of something I did, or am I just really bad at it?” that we can gain the insight we need to decide whether to keep working on it or to move on.
  • Good Learning always involves struggle.  If we find something easy (e.g. we know more than 50% about a new skill or subject) then it’s probably not the best learning experience for us.
  • Innovation – the best innovation happens in a crisis.  We are forced to figure out what other people in our organization know, and then to collaborate with them to figure “it” out.  When the crisis passes we revert to protecting our turf and innovation wilts.
  • Broad Based Learning – when we start a project we need to keep our scope broad and to read and research widely.  By definition we don’t know what our project truly entails until we have done the work to “feel out” the edges – only then can we work our way into the centre and focus.  This always feels inefficient, but it pays dividends in the long run.
  • Good Match Quality – Be willing to take the time to sample broadly and try many things because this allows us to achieve a better match between our interests / strengths and our work.  Bear in mind that this is likely a life-long process so don’t assume that it’s once and done.  Beware shortcuts (e.g. articles that promise “Top 5 Life Hacks”) because there’s no way we can find self-knowledge without putting in the work.  Don’t be distracted by “head starts” other people appear to have over us because that way of thinking assumes that we are on a stable trajectory all through our lives.  This is almost never the case.  “Late bloomers” often prevail because they took the time to work things out early in their careers.

Anyone want to buy me the book for my birthday?


New Year’s Day: Church Bells

by Malcolm Guite


Not the bleak speak of mobile messages,

The soft chime of synthesized reminders,

Not texts, not pagers, data packages,

Not satnav or locators ever find us

As surely, soundly, deeply as these bells

That sound and find and call us all at once

‘Ears of my ears’ can hear, my body feels

This call to prayer that is itself a dance.

So ring them out in joy and jubilation,

Sound them in sorrow tolling for the lost,

O let them wake the church and rouse the nation.

A sleeping lion stirred to life at last

Begin again they sing, again begin,

A ring and rhythm answered from within.


Sounding the Seasons, by Malcolm Guite


“Regret is a major component of the lived life. You have to look back. My regrets are like the stars, they are numberless and all the more beautiful because of their distance from me. I suppose that if you don’t regret things in life it means they haven’t touched you in some way.”

Heidi Thomas, Screenwriter

The year is winding to a close and soon enough I will be reflecting on 2019 and no doubt I will find a bushel or more of regrets lurking close to the surface. Thinking of them as celestial beings receding into time and space is comforting, but they will still be there winking at me causing the occasional physical twitch. I need to remember them as part of a lived life. Better to have lived and lost/failed/disappointed than not to have lived at all?

P.S. Mr Record Keeper – you say that I already been here, but that was Regrets and it was in September 2012, so I’m allowed.


“There is nothing like a doorbell to precipitate the potential into the kinetic. When you stand outside a door and push the button, something has to happen.  Someone must respond; whatever is inside must be revealed. Questions will be answered, uncertainties or mysteries dispelled. A situation will be started on its way through unknown complications to an unpredictable conclusion.  The answer to your summons may be a rush of tearful welcome, a suspicious eye at the crack of the door, a shot through the hardwood, anything.”

Walter Stegner: Crossing to Safety

I don’t know how I was put onto Stegner who is no longer living, and this book in particular which he wrote in 1987 about an earlier time.  But it’s catapulted to very near the top of my all time favourites. The above quote is just one of a dozen that caused me to pause and to marvel.  It’s at once exciting and depressing.  Exciting to know that there are more authors to discover and books to read  Depressing that I don’t have much “reading” time left. 


If when we hear an argument we come across logical inconsistencies, poorly crafted premises or improbable conclusions, the principle of charity calls us neither to rubbish the argument nor to dismiss the person advancing the argument. Instead we are obliged to help re-frame the argument, disentangle its premises, seek out the unspoken assumptions, and then propose a conclusion which can be supported. In short, we must help the arguer re-frame his argument in the best possible light, even if we find both the argument and its proponent disagreeable.

Of course in our world today few would bother. It’s colossal hard work, and our motives are bound to be challenged. It would be way easier to keep quiet, assured that they are wrong and we are right. But wouldn’t we want to be corrected if we were wrong? And what about discovering truth through civilised public discourse? Right.


I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.


Malcolm Guite – O Sapienta An Advent Antiphon



I was at the Memorial Concert for George Harrison at the Royal Albert Hall. It had the great and the good of music there – Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr…but the song that was played right at the end of the concert in honour of George was sung by Joe Brown, “I’ll See You In My Dreams”.  Joe Brown is not the stellar name that perhaps Eric Clapton is or somebody like that but a much respected man of music.  He was the man that was chosen to close the concert because he was a great friend of George Harrison’s and it appeals to me because though I admire the people who are out in front and getting all the attention I always look on a film to see who the character actors are.  If it’s a band I’m looking at the drummer or the bass player or somebody like that.  The people who are not front and centre are of more interest to me than the people who are out front getting all the adulation.  And George Harrison was that person in the Beatles.  He was the quiet one. And Joe Brown was similarly not the “look at me, look at me” guy and I like that.

The people who don’t draw attention to themselves are the powerhouses.  Without the people doing the important work at the sides there wouldn’t be a whole.  So the stars are important but unless they have got people doing the work, playing the bass at the side and playing the drums at the back, being the doctor or the midwife or anything like that you wouldn’t have the story being told and you need these people and they need recognition.

I regard myself as being the jobbing broadcaster … and I think it is what I aspire to be, a jobbing broadcaster.  You put me in a broadcasting role and I will do it and all I am doing is the mid-morning show on Radio 2 and it is not the Breakfast Show.  The Breakfast Show is the star role.  I’m the star’s best friend.  I’m the best man at the wedding, as it were.  I’m very happy in the role.  I don’t wish to be in the spotlight I wish to be standing beside the man or woman in the spotlight saying: There you are.  Didn’t you do well?”

BBC Radio 4 – Inheritance Tracks, Ken Bruce on Sept 22, 2018

Well said Ken!  In all my years I have never heard a celebrity say something like that, and I love his clarity and honesty about who he is, and what he does.  It’s not that he has no aspirations, he is a successful radio host on British National Radio after all.  But he is a man who is comfortable in his own skin. He knows what he is good at, and how he is made up.  I hear contentment, appreciation, and a willingness to play the supporting role to get the job done.  That’s my kind of guy.

Remembrance 2018


DecayI have recently been caused to think about decay * and in so doing I have been reminded of my general preference for things that are slightly past their prime (with the exception of food – over-ripe fruit makes me gag).  In an age that is fixated on the new and “perfect”, the patina of age is under-appreciated.  I have come to realize that I rather like the weather-beaten, the well-worn, and the slightly crumpled.  Faded glory perhaps.

* admittedly a different train of thought, but very worthy of your next five minutes: