For we are many…

I love Twitter.

Since those first nervous posts a few years ago I’ve gone on to be something of an addict. In that time I’ve made friends whom I now regard as significant in my life although we may only have met in person on a couple of occasions – some never at all. I’ve witnessed marriage proposals, several emerging author friends sign major book deals, Stephen Fry stuck in a lift, breaking stories reported before news crews could get there, and tragically a friend returning home to find his wife had passed away. Whoever thought that so much could be said in 140 characters?

It occurred to me this morning how subtly the micro-blogging service has actually infiltrated and altered modern society. Over a hearty (attacky) breakfast with a friend we discussed the appointment of the latest manager of the England football team. Many in the press had expected another chap to get the job and when he didn’t there was an outcry that the people’s choice had been overlooked. Twitter on the other hand gave the people the chance to represent themselves and many were quite happy with the new man. Whether that will remain the case once the team starts playing is another question entirely. What it brought out though was how media outlets have spoken on behalf of ‘the people’ for years, mostly without bothering to actually talk to any of them. Social media now allows us to call them on that, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they adapt to the new journalistic landscape.

It’s not just the news that is under pressure from the masses. Reviewers need to up their game too. Gizmodo ran a story this morning about how Amazon customer reviews appear more accurate than professional ones. It reported that a study conducted at Harvard found that, when taken as a whole, the scores given by customers in their reviews proved as reliable as those found in the major magazines and newspapers, but with customers being more lenient on new authors and less dazzled by award winners. Having worked in bookshops I know that publishers are very keen for prominence to be given to their established stars even when their work isn’t as good as it could be. Having also been part of a movement that supported new emerging talent I’ve also been party to talking up writers who are still young in their craft. For one I think encouraging new voices is preferable to cosseting older ones and it appears that I’m not alone. Good to know.

I think we stand at the crossroads now in terms of how we define the entertainment and arts that we want to experience. With more choice comes more noise, making the curated mass market a simpler place to navigate. But if we want more than demographically decided content then we need to work a bit harder to find it. Thankfully there are many voices that will help us along the way, most of which are trustworthy….

How has social media affected you? Let me know in the comments below.

The old enemy…

The World Cup has kicked off in South Africa this week and England started with their usual stumbling drunkard style of play that resulted in a 1-1 draw with the United States. Of course the nation is now convinced that the team will crash to a humiliating defeat against the first decent side they come up against, causing the pound to fail, the overthrow of the monarchy by Vikings (again!), and the immediate sinking of Britain – only for it to pass into mythical legend alongside Atlantis and Luxembourg (what do you mean it’s a real place?).

So here for all to see is the British psyche in all it’s fragile glory. The Americans were not expected to get a result by the bookmakers or pundits (and to be fair without our goalkeeper helpfully throwing the ball into the net they might not have done so) but I’ll happily place a bet that the American team certainly thought they would.

It's just not Cricket...

On paper it was a sure-thing. England’s players are some of the most lauded in the world, not to mention best paid, while the Americans boasted only really two truly impressive players (Donovan & Howard), but football – like life – is very rarely about individuals. As a team the US ran harder, harried the midfielders, marked our world-beater Rooney out of the game by players who can barely get games for their teams, and pretty much knocked the confidence out of our glass heroes.


Could this be the classic English trait of stoic and resigned defeat bubbling to the surface? The never-say-win attitude that has served us so well for so long. It really is depressingly predictable….and so wrong that it must be stopped immediately.

You see over the years we’ve created pretty much every sport that really matters (sorry US chums but in a global sense it’s true) – Football, Rugby, Cricket, Darts and Snooker (ok those last two don’t count), but now get regularly trounced by all those awful foreigners who have taken our beautiful games and turned them into ugly things that require skill and mental toughness. Long gone is the gentlemanly pursuit of honour bound sportsmanship, replete with a glass of Pimms and servants to do the running. Now each participant is expected to carry their own weight and exert themselves until they actually break a sweat – how undignified!

So, as we seem to now lack the baser nature of the Italians, Germans and Brazilians at football, Australians and Sri Lankans at Cricket, and the Australians (again) at Rugby I suggest that we call time on these sports for the great unwashed and instead turn our attention to something more befitting of our national characteristics.

Tiddlywinks anyone?

Don’t mention the war!

It doesn’t take much scratching at the surface of the British culture to uncover some kind of reference to the first, or more prominently, the second world war. In many ways it was the last great act of this nation played out on a global scale.

The ingredients were perfect. Europe was conquered by the Nazis, who embody everything that is thought of as evil in the world, and all that stood between England and this unstoppable force was a thin stretch of sea, a relative handful of troops, and a sense of community that refused to be broken by bombing and propaganda.

Obviously the entire war wasn’t won by the British. Our American allies joined ranks after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, and Hitler’s decision to invade Russia, thus splitting his forces (and being beaten by the harsh Russian winter that had already defeated Napoleon’s attempts to extend France’s kingdom), played a massive part in the eventual German surrender. But, for that brief time of 1939-1941 the nation stood alone against the forces of evil and declared ‘they shall not pass’.

Now, 65 years later, it seems the war has left a different kind of scar than those usually administered on the battlefield. It’s said that victims who’ve lost limbs sometimes feel iches where the arm or leg used to be, and I think that Brits have that same feeling, although it’s not a limb that’s missing but rather a sense of importance.

Imagine if you’d spent your childhood being taught that your country was the most powerful on the planet. That at one point in the not too distant past you had built an empire that was greater than any in history (Rome, Greece, Mongol – mere windowboxes in comparison) and which had lasted for over a century. That your tiny country effectively owned the world.

Then you read on, and a pattern emerges. Slowly the empire rebels against their unwanted rulers and piece by piece the markings on maps turn from pink (why did they choose pink to mark the British Empire? That’s just embarrassing! Did they think it made our colonisations look more friendly?) back to the chosen colour of the now free country.

In the end you’re left with a handful of willing commonwealth countries, proud of their association with us, but to whom it is nigh on impossible to emigrate to. All of a sudden England feels like what it is….an island.

Now it would be unpalatable to hark back to the days of empire, mainly because the countries involved were essentially slaves who we’d beaten into submission. But the War, now that’s different. Here we can revel in our strong military history and remind ourselves of the underdog (another strong British trait which we will explore in a later post) winning against the odds.

So we do. Frequently.

It appears in our sports headlines where any football game of importance with the Germans is always surrounded by some kind of war-like rhetoric, usually spouted by those too young to have had any involvement in the horrors themselves. In fact as we’ve managed to fight with almost every country in the world at some point (Argentina, France, Holland, America, Scotland, Ireland etc…) it can find its way into many national settings.

The problem is our stories have all gotten old. Rather than celebrate intellectual achievements in the fields of science, art, and literature which still occur today, we’d rather tub-thump about how we whopped the Krauts all those years ago. Sometimes we must sound like that old drunk in the bar that no-one wants to talk to because all he’ll do is tell you about how he boxed when he was young…and that he was good.

Thankfully there is hope. A new Britain is finally trying to emerge, one of incredible ethnic and ideological diversity that sees the future as an undiscovered land full of possibilities and is freeing itself from the clutches of its parents’ glory days. They’re not interested in owning the world, but rather contributing something to it. That kind of optimism and idealism will be needed to overcome the classic British pragmatism, but I have to say that I feel good about this. Maybe now we can emerge from the shadow of our past and become something new, more colourful, and…better?

I for one will be rolling up my sleeves and preparing for the hard graft ahead. I hope we do well and forge something, as Tolkien said, ‘Worthy of a song’.

Will you join us as we ride out to meet a new and brighter dawn? A new history awaits…