No need to learn anything

‘Now there’s Google, learning things is obsolete.’

During several recent debates on Facebook and in the pub, that’s the usual counter-argument given to my position that knowing stuff is really useful and the more one knows the more useful it is.

The debates concerned British education policy, with Michael Gove, centre stage as the bogeyman/hero.  This topic is close to me, as my eldest daughter will be of primary school age next year.

Here’s why the above statement is not true.

Imagine all that you know is wiped clean from your memory. To be clear, you now know absolutely nothing. You are given a computer with Google open on it.

How well do you think you’ll get by? Not very well. For a start, you won’t even know what a computer is.

Without knowledge you’re going to struggle to Google your way to solutions for even the most basic issues you’ll encounter in your life - you won’t have any idea where to start!

Clearly, that’s a ridiculous and extreme example. My friends aren’t arguing for knowing nothing, are they.

So what’s the right level of knowledge? Where does knowledge stop providing a useful framework for understanding yourself, your fellows and the environment and start being a waste of brain space?

Never, is the answer. The less one knows, the harder one will be able to navigate life. The more one knows, the more ‘self-actualising’* one can be.

Keep learning. If someone says don’t, they’re wrong.

*I Googled it.




Pink Extremist

According to Jenny Willott, Lib Dem MP for Cardiff and the coalition government’s Consumer Affairs minister, my daughter’s fondness for pink is eroding her life chances. And it’s all my fault.

Let me tell you, Jenny Willott, because you’re bound to read this, I had nothing to do with it.

When the TV is on, I try to guide her towards the more interesting (to me) end of the entertainment spectrum, e.g. Toy Story, Kung Fu Panda, Cars, etc.

Is she interested? No, not really.

We bought her Disney’s Cinderella on DVD and the thing must be near to wearing out.

I bought her a plastic chicken on wheels when she was really young and showed her how it’s possible to make it jump over chasms and explode.

What’s not to like? Not interested.

I bought her a tub of plastic dinosaurs from the Natural History Museum and showed her the best way for them to attack each other, while making outlandish roars and agonised screams.

I saw her later making them kiss each other and hug.

She won’t ride her scooter.  She will wear her Little Mermaid outfit… all the time.

I’ve not done this and I’ve not seen my wife forcing her to conform to gender stereotypes either.

Pink is little girl catnip.

Return of the Native

In October last year, my family and I left our home on the outskirts of London and moved to Dorset.

Our eldest daughter (2 years old) was starting to form friendships with other children at nursery and we’d soon need to start thinking about settling her into a school. If we were ever to move, the time had come.

I grew up in Weymouth and remembered the things it offered me as a child. It’s a holiday town, with a holiday atmosphere. My wife, who’s originally from Chester, was game so here we are.

The town is better than it was. The economic blow suffered when the navy base closed is in the past. Though there still aren’t quite enough good jobs, it was ever thus and there is more employment now than there was, even when the base was open.  All the building and infrastructure developments have been successful, some fantastically so, e.g. the ‘Olympic legacy’ road to Dorchester.

OK, I don’t like the Sea Life Tower or the laser beams on the front (bring back the fairy lights, with LEDs to save costs).

Another grumble is that people don’t pick up after their dogs, like they do on pain of sanctimony in London.

In the main though, it’s all worked out better than we had dared to hope. Even the cats are cock-a-hoop.

You don’t blog very much

I read once that the definition of perfect is when you can’t take anything else away.

It transpires that nearly everything I want to say can be expressed in 140 characters or fewer on Twitter.

And all my friends and family hang out on Facebook. They’re not going to come here, no matter how funny or insightful I am.

LinkedIn is also pretty handy, if you need to see my CV.

Where does that leave this blog?

I don’t have a burning desire to be the world’s leading thought leader in, say, keeping ants or 1970s acryllic.  That’s the sort of thing most bloggers blog about.

I’ve a feeling that unless one really, really wants to be the centre of attention on a subject, the blog as a stand-alone category has come and gone.

Nevertheless, if you find the content on this site useful, I’m pleased for you. No, really, I am.

White water kayaking in Taiwan

Before I did what I do now, I did a lot of white water kayaking.

Quite a few people end up on this site by searching for information about white water kayaking in Taiwan, the destination of an expedition a few friends and I organised back in 2006.

This is the slide deck from the lecture series I gave when we got back. If you’re thinking of going, it will give you a flavour of what to expect:

(I tried to embed the slide deck in the screen, but couldn’t do it, for shame)

Dark arts turned against News International

So, in the same week that Murdoch’s BSkyB takeover plans approach the point of no return, information relating to actions of an unforgivable nature is leaked to a Guardian writer, Nick Davies (he of Flat Earth News).

Coincidence, of course not.

Whoever is the leaker, he has held the information relating to this activity in his back pocket, waiting to release it at the exact moment in the news cycle that will ensure public outrage will make government approval of the takeover unthinkable.

My comfort with this planned manipulation of the public response registers on a scale that includes the privacy intrusion activity itself at its top end.

Dark arts are dark arts.

Tin foil hat on.

Vision for Maidenhead town centre is on wrong side of history (19 May 2011): “Proposals for the redevelopment of a key part of Maidenhead town centre have been unveiled …will see the area… transformed into a new …high-quality shopping destination.”

The new vision for Maidenhead correctly recognises the urgent need for change, but fundamentally misunderstands what makes a town successful and is also, undoubtedly, on the wrong side of history.

The redevelopment vision’s core focus is on creating a mainstream, mass market retail experience for the town. There are some words about cafés, restaurants and ’boutiques’ in ‘public spaces’, but these are clearly subordinate to the main event: shops.

I’ve a better idea.

What makes a town succesful?

To attract visitors, successful towns do not rely on retail alone. A town centre is not just a market, it’s a catchment area’s heart: it’s the cultural centre and the best place to socialise. It should serve to enrich lives not just empty wallets. And if one does want to just shop, then Reading, Windsor and High Wycombe offer as good a retail experience as this development will offer (let’s set aside London, 25 minutes East by train).

To serve the people of Maidenhead and surrounding areas into the future, the town centre needs to be more than about retail. At the moment, Carter’s Steam Fair happens in a field somewhere beyond a comfortable walk, ditto the fun fair that appears on a field near Ray Mead, and the town’s fireworks display is on the river, a twenty minute walk from the centre. I’m not convinced that a majority of people in the town know where Norden’s Farm arts centre even is (near the A404M, in case you were wondering).

Where are Maidenhead’s versions of The Bounty’s raft race (Bourne End)? Cookham Dean’s go-cart race? Cookham’s ‘Rock the Moor?’ Nowhere, that’s where. There’s nowhere for them to go other  than some far flung field that no one wants to go to. Fragmented: that’s the word for it.

Maidenhead town centre needs to invent a reason to visit other than a branch of Debenhams, and that reason needs to serve the people who live locally.

It needs a soul.

Mainstream retail, on a high street, are you sure?

You won’t get a Mothercare in our new town, will you? The nation’s leading baby-ware specialist has made it plain that town centre shopping is not where it wants to be. Arcadia group (Top Shop and Dorothy Perkins) has said the same thing: when its town centre leases expire, it is out of there. History has moved on. It’s simply easier to buy most stuff out of town or on the Internet.

And what’s the difference between your Boots and my Boots? Nothing, so I’ll go to mine, thanks. Towns that, against the odds, preserve some genuine localised retail diversity, what the word ’boutiques’ may have meant before it meant ‘expensive mass market’, preserve another reason for people to visit – think Marlow, before the mobile phone shops.

Where does that leave Maidenhead’s vision of mainstream retail as the panacea for the town centre’s undoubted ills? With yet more empty shops and an even greater aspect of emptyness than it currently has.

So here it is.

Easier on the eye

First, Maidenhead town planners, stop letting people build anything they want. I’ve never seen such a collection of different architectural style and materials. Some of the new buildings are actually quite pleasant, but they don’t match any of the old ones or, indeed, any of the new ones. What a dispiriting eye-sore. Pick a style and material and stick to it. If potential investors in the town kick up a fuss, have the conviction to say no.

Personally, given the fairly even split between modern and Victorian architectures in the town, I think there are two options: 1. Henley-world, 2. Odeon-world.

Take the Thames riverside vernacular style (Henley, Marlow, Goring and Wallingford) and shamelessly ape it. It sort of worked for Prince Charles at Poundbury in Dorset. It could work better here with a bit more long term thought. Or, use the architecture and materials of the Odeon as a style guide for anything that gets built.

Creating soul

The cultural and social centre of the town needs to be in the physical centre, which, incidentally, is 100 yards from the Crossrail terminus. All the events listed above need to have a space created for them in the centre.

San Jose in Silicon Valley is an entirely new town, but it has soul. This is largely thanks to the large (football pitch size) open space right in the centre of town. It has been designed to allow for cultural events. Rock the Moor would be perfect there, if Rick Astley were available.  Carter’s Steam Fair would fit like a glove into it. All the public transport leads to it. It’s in the centre so no one is so far that they can’t walk to it (drive two minutes down the road in their case, but anyway). There are shops, cafes and cinemas surrounding it, but they complement it, rather than attempt to lead it.

San Jose, could have built a massive shopping mall on the park instead, but that probably would have been a bit short sighted, don’t you think, Maidenhead town planners?

For a glimpse of an almost Henley-world version, visit Fitzroy square in London – beautiful, uplifiting and surrounded by shops.

Diversity in retail

Is it really that difficult (or illegal) to give retailers with less than five outlets a tax break? We don’t need another Starbucks. No one makes a special trip for a Tesco Express (I hope). In addition to hosting festivals and concerts, our town’s central open space could also host markets. In fact it could do whatever we wanted it to do.

Ta da!

I would welcome all comments below, unless they disagree with my vision.

Freelance content marketing, PR and social media management. Copywriting to boldly go. Based in the UK, with international experience.


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