Earlier in the year I featured 3 of my favourite instances of Jeff Kacirk’s Forgotten English calendar, a daily rip-off page devoted to ancient and obscure words. I thought it a good time to revisit them with another 3-part series.

Today’s choice is from 1st October: a come-off

It means an escape or evasion, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard it used that way. It dates from early twentieth century American English.

The calendar not only features a word or phrase, it also ties it to something historical that happened on this day. A Jewish chap called Niels Bohr was helped away on the 1st of October 1943 from Denmark to Sweden and the plan was supposed to be that he would then go to America to help the atomic weapons effort. He dug his heels in since Sweden wouldn’t take Jewish refugees, until the country relented.

As a rather touching postscript, when Sweden’s refugees returned to Copenhagen after the war, they found that their neighbours had looked after their homes. And the rest is history, specifically atomic history in Herr Bohr’s case.

We live in a world where scarcity prevails. There’s not enough resources to go round. There’s not enough time in the day. We don’t have enough money to do everything we want to do. Fact.

So it is with how we organise our own time, how we prioritise, and how we marshal our own resources. We can’t get to everything, not even close.

This is how I deal with everyday questions and how I approach a lot of things, in life and in work. I ask myself, does it matter? If it matters, do it, if it doesn’t, chances are you don’t need to bother with it.

I’ll give you a mundane example: cooking. You find a recipe you like, but it lists a lot of ingredients, and one or two of them you don’t have or can’t get. Ask yourself if it matters that you don’t have coriander, but you have some oregano. Probably not. What if it calls for 350g of this and 150ml of that. Does it matter if you’ve not used the exact amount the recipe calls for? Probably not, it’s near enough ‘as makes no odds’ as my northern English pals would say. Now, with something like baking, or so I’m told, it does benefit you to use the exact ingredients and the exact measurements, in which case, yes it does matter.

When it comes to navigating the resources and time at my disposal, and the myriad tiny questions that might crop up in the course of the day, I use ‘does it matter?’ as my guide. Quicker decisions, less agonising, mental paralysis and hand-wringing.

Brexit could be all done by the time you read this post, though as I write it couldn’t be more finely balanced.

There’s a tremendous amount of international shadow-boxing going on at the moment, as the UK government looks to brace itself against the punches of blame that might come its way from within. Stories have been ‘leaked’ and senior government officials are expressing their frustration that the EU doesn’t understand the UK position.

It’s clear to me that there is not a single marketer in the UK government. No-one has stopped for a moment and said, ‘hang on a moment, the EU is effectively a customer, or at the very least a partner. We should treat this as a commercial arrangement. Let’s try and put ourselves in their shoes, figure out what’s important to them and proceed accordingly.’ I think the EU has done this, and the thinking UK person has too. The unthinking person on both slides of the political divide probably hasn’t.

‘Let’s make it about them, and stop acting like it’s about us.’

Simplistic I know, but sometimes it suits to go back to basics before FUD fogs everything. A lasting, long-term negotiated agreement has to be a win-win, otherwise it won’t last.

A bit of humility and thoughtfulness rather than the usual dose of haughtiness and arrogance, please.

The Glastonbury Ghost

The Glastonbury Ghost

I’m a late convert to festivals. Music festivals, arts festivals, family-focused, eco-focused: there are now so many to choose from, from May to September every year, and no shortage of acts to perform at what are now for them highly lucrative sources of revenue.

I’ve probably been to about a dozen festivals, all but one in Ireland. For a number of years I’ve tried to get tickets to the Glastonbury festival, the Daddy of them all, for my good lady and her friend. I’m not that keen myself, I like the creature comforts at my festivals.

So for the last few years, having registered Mrs D’s details, and Mrs G’s too, I’ve got my notification email and stood ready at my laptop at a few minutes to 9am on the day of ticket release. That’s as far as I’ve ever got. A few minutes before 9 and you get the holding webpage. 8:59am onwards and the page hangs, then returns a time out error. You repeat this process for maybe a hundred times until you get to a holding pages about half an hour later that tells you tickets have sold out.

You see, I think Glastonbury tickets are now the preserve of IT people, people who know the back routes into booking servers, or how to pool resources into multiple simultaneous requests until someone gets through and orders the maximum amount for their cohort.

For the rest of us, the event is like a ghost. You’re met with platitudinous messages about being really sorry but supply has so far outstripped demand blah blah blah. It’s getting like the Wimbledon tennis lottery.

From a marketing point of view, this is the dream, because it’s all about scarcity. There’s not enough to go round, and the excess demand drives the price.

You see it on TV and you know it does happen. At least, you think it happens, you’ve never seen one.

I was having lunch with my mother the other day. We were catching up on plans. ‘Apart from mine in Ireland, are you going anywhere else for a break?’ ‘I’m going to see Irene, remember?’ ‘No, I mean abroad.’ ‘No, I can’t get reasonable travel insurance now I’m over 80, it’s too expensive.’

OK, so I understand the underlying business model behind insurance. Anyone elderly is at a higher risk of needing expensive healthcare services compared with someone younger, it’s simple statistics. Throw in a medical condition and the risk increases even more sharply.

That said, does it not appear to you to suck big time that you can’t get to a certain age, when you have time, freedom and money to travel, without having to pay as much as your holiday in travel insurance?

That seems to me to be a real poor reward for working a full career and wanting to enjoy it.

‘So what did you do for travel insurance last year when we all went to Spain then?’ ‘I think I just took the risk and went without insurance. I didn’t feel like I had the choice’

That’s coming from an ordinarily very risk-averse octogenarian. Something’s not right, but I’m not sure what the answer is.

I was visiting my mother the other day. She lives in a small town on the edge of Bristol in England, with a lovely high street of the usual shops and cafes you might expect to find.

At about 5pm on the Saturday I decided I would wander 5 or 10 minutes up to the high street to get a card and small gift. I know I was leaving it late, but I figured that they would close at 5:30 so I would be fine.

The shop I had my eye on closed at 5:15pm, according to the sign. What kind of shop closes at 5:15? It’s neither one thing nor the other. I reasoned that they probably said 5:15pm so they serve their straggling customers by 5:30 and close at the ‘normal’ time.

I tried the door. I was exactly 5:12pm on my phone. It was closed, and 2 prissy ladies were beavering away at the till. I knocked on the window. ‘Closed’, they signed. I pointed at my phone and their sign and walked off in disgust.

It drives me mad, that kind of thing. If you say you’re closing at 5:15, don’t close early. I went to my second choice shop, told them all about my experience – they closed at 5:30pm – spent my money there.

No wonder the high street is dying a slow death. Still focused on itself, and not us.

There are some excellent drivers around. A lot of drivers effectively do it for a living: couriers, reps, taxi drivers. Then again, a lot of us are really good drivers. Almost all of us are. We forget that we’ve been doing this for decades, some of us. Longer than any career many of us have.

One thing that amazes me about skilled drivers, in fact all drivers: the amount of journeys we negotiate with no trouble at all, no mishaps.

We’re all guiding extremely expensive killing machines, over a ton in weight, through busy rush hour traffic, often at high speeds on motorways, and we don’t even touch all the other cars milling around us like atoms, nor all the people, cyclists and other people using the same arteries as us. Amazing.

Most of us will only have a couple of accidents in our entire driving lives: thousands of hours behind the wheel with no more than a few seconds of difficulty among them.

So, the next time you think you’re not skilled anything, think abut your driving. You’re pretty adept at steering a dangerous piece of heavy machinery through a pretty complicated obstacle course, at speed.

One thing we can never really predict is the rate or pace that something or someone will mature. Whether it’s an idea, or a technology or a person, gauging both the acceleration and speed on an individual level is really hard to do.

Take people for instance. Occasionally we see examples of people leading the way in adult circles like politics or sport when they’ve barely taken a step into their teens. They look and behave like adults already. Then there are others who developing much later. And then you see the mass of people, in the main part of the bell curve, who mature at around the same time, the average time, though I dislike the use of the word average here.

When I think back to my own youth, although I earned the same legal rights as others when I became 18 years old, I was probably thirty before I really felt like I had life sussed and ‘got it’. Whether those of use who are later to things enjoy a longer, later period of being at the races before the inevitable decline towards completing the circle of life I don’t know, but probably not.

I think that the pace at which we mature is a function of both nature and nurture, but that doesn’t seem to make it any easier to predict who will mature faster. And then, when we come to the pace of maturity for things, ideas, technologies and so on, history and data can provide a guide, but a pretty unreliable one at that.

Who’s the most important stakeholder in any organisation? If you’re in the private sector is it your partners or your customers? If you’re in the public sector is it the people who use your services, like the general public, or is the local and national government entities? If you’re in the charity sector is it your funders, your donors, or your clients?

The answer for all three types of employer is the same: none of them.

You are the key stakeholder. You and your colleagues determine your organisation’s ethic, its culture, its brand. You are responsible for making people aware of your products and services, getting them to use them, delivering those products and services to them, sorting out problems for them.

Having the right staff in place, the good ones like you, will take care of your customers, clients, partners, suppliers, funders, donors, volunteers  Рall the other stakeholders that make up your industry or community.

When it comes to stakeholders – to adopt a well-known car-maker – you are job 1 .

Governing a city or country and having responsibilities for shared resources like the planet tend to vary between the generations. For example, the sentiment among many teenagers after the Brexit referendum in 2016 was ‘we don’t even have a vote yet, and we’re inheriting a mess that will last decades. You sold us down the river.’

So it is with the current environmental hand-wringing, where it takes a 16-year-old Swedish girl, speaking perfectly in her second language – or third for all I know – to agitate us adults of voting age and / or governing authority for genuine change.

You have this catch-22 situation. Older people have the power, authority and experience to govern and things like the environment are less of a concern for them because they’re not going to be around in 25-50 years time. Younger people are the ones who will shoulder the increasing burden throughout their lifetime, a burden which might not be recoverable, yet they’re not ready or given the chance to govern. People look after their own interests; it’s a natural, in-built, protective mechanism.

Plus, people in power need to see a return on their policies within their governing term, otherwise they won’t be in power much longer. They’re therefore less likely to enact change that will bear fruit for future generations, in half a century’s time.

I think this is why we’re starting to see the kind of language among younger people that incites civil disobedience. We’re approaching one of those inflexion points.