April 1st

Ever since the BBC and Cliff Mitchelmore ran a piece on Panorama in 1957 about the poor spaghetti harvest in Switzerland and its impact on the eating habits of the locals (brilliantly funny), I have looked forward to April 1st.

In 1962 Swedish Television ran a piece about how to instantly convert a black and white TV into colour (all TV in Sweden was b&w at the time) by taking a nylon stocking and covering the screen with it – many fell for that prank.

In 1992 US National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation revealed that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His new campaign slogan was, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” Accompanying this announcement were audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. A few got angry.

In 1993 Burger King published a full-page advertisement in USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a “Left-Handed Whopper” specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans.

In 1977 The Guardian published a seven-page “special report” about San Serriffe, a small republic located in the Indian Ocean consisting of several semi-colon-shaped islands. A series of articles described the geography and culture of this obscure nation. The report generated a huge response. The Guardian’s phones rang all day as readers sought more information about the idyllic holiday spot. However, San Serriffe did not actually exist. The report was an elaborate joke — one with a typographical twist, since numerous details about the island (such as its name) alluded to printer’s terminology.

In 2005 Virgin Money of Australia announced the introduction of barbecue-scented scratch N sniff credit cards: “The scratched ‘aroma’ will embody the spirit of Australia, reminding owners of a freshly barbecued snag. Virgin Money expects the new card to be particularly popular amongst Aussies traveling overseas who are seeking a mouth-watering memento to remind them of home.”

And this year, 2017, my personal favourite is the launch of a new aircraft by Virgin Atlantic  – an aircraft where the wings flap like a bird so as to enable it to fly without any impact on the environment. See the short video of this great spoof here. I think this beats Paddy Power’s launch of betting on sea-horse racing or the news that Prince Harry secretly got married or that you can arrange to have a pizza delivered which will pop through your letterbox. My runner up is the Cornish Bakery: an Easter egg-shaped pasty, which founder Steve Grocutt says is for customers who “can’t bear to replace their daily pasty with chocolate this Easter”. I know what he means.

My day ended at a wonderful concert – New Orford String Quartet (who won a Juno for their Brahms SQ recording today), Cho Laing Ling (violin) and Orion Weiss (piano) played Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, the Debussy SQ and Chausson’s Concerto in D major for Violin, Piano and String Quartet, Op. 21 – luscious, clear and textual playing. The best playing of the Debussy I have ever heard (it’s my 9th time live and I have five recordings)…wonderful concert.

April 2nd

NH and I were talking about eccentrics and how good Britain is in producing them. The conversation was triggered by a short piece in The Idler about Quentin Crisp – a pioneer of gay rights, living a grand life and never once dusting his apartment in New York. The article includes a lovely little story. Quentin was walking down the street and was bumped into. He quickly said,”You can’t touch me, I am one of Britain’s stately homos”.

This reminded me of Peter O’Toole’s great line in the 1982 film My Favourite Year. Peter O’Toole is peeing in a sink in a ladies washroom. An elderly matron like lady comes in, sees him and says “this, sir, is for ladies!” (meaning the room). O’Toole responds “so is this, madam, but occasionally I have to pass water through it”.  His role in the film won him both an Oscar and a Golden Globe nomination.

Dennis Healey, the former Labour Chancellor under Wilson, was finance critic against Thatcher’s Sir Geoffrey Howe. Howe criticised him over some matter and he responded, with great gusto in the House of Commons, “being criticised by Geoffrey Howe is like being savaged by a dead sheep”.  Later, when Howe was briefly Foreign Secretary under Thatcher, Healey said ““and who is the Mephistopheles behind this shabby Faust Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe? To quote her own backbenchers, the Great She-elephant, She-who-must-be-obeyed, the Catherine the Great of Finchley, the Prime Minister herself”.

If you have a moment, look up British eccentrics – you will be well amused.

April 8th

In Banff amongst colleagues from around the world engaged in educational research and development – Pasi Sahlberg, Dennis Shirley, Dave King, Sam Sellar and many other old friends. Also meeting new ones.

The worry is that we are in the nexus of a tipping point (how’s that for tautology) between one dying version of neo-liberalism/populism and a new state, yet unknown. While everyone in the group I knock around in is against a lot of things (eg. global education reform movement) we have not developed the same clarity about the alternative narrative or a communication and language to represent this. One colleague labelled this the Peter Jackson problem (director, Lord of theRings) – he could portray the villain really well, but the good guys were not as well portrayed. We can articulate the problems/challenge better than we can articulate the opportunity. Quite the problem.

April 12th

The end of a major conference in Banff – school leaders from around the world (1,100 of them). It’s one of the best conferences in the world and it is also a chance to meet up with old friends. Great ideas, sharing, networking, drinking, laughter.

I presented at the conference (my slides are here) and had a full house and lots of very positive feedback. A place for inspiring conversations. Will be back next year.

April 29th

It has been a while since I entered anything in this diary – been busy, both with work and with exploring the idea of moving to Bowen Island, British Columbia.  Despite serious looking, still, have not found a property. Looking…

Vladimir Trumpkin has been President of the United States for 100 days. It seems like a thousand years. This numpkin – what Boris Johnson might call a “mutton headed old mugwump” (the term he used for the leader of the Labour Party in the UK) – has a thought process akin to that of a skunk been attacked by bees. He is the most unpopular President at this stage of the Presidency and the most ineffective in over 100 years. He couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery. As my grandmother would say, “all fur coat and no knickers!”.

Meantime, Britain is in the midst of an election called suddenly by the new iron lady (or is it “ironing lady”), Theresa May. She will win, of course, but the better question is how badly will Labour loose?  They are led by someone who most of his followers do not trust, like or support. Most importantly, many in the country no longer support the party. Even in Wales, once a largely impenetrable stronghold, Labour is loosing ground. I was campaigning with Niel Kinnock once and was told a story about the butcher near party HQ refusing to serve a meat pie to the Tory candidate, saying “we don’t serve people like you in ‘ere”.  When I ran a campaign in Cardiff North, we knew where we could count on votes and were within 2% of prediction in those areas. We lost to Ian Grist (Conservative), despite running a strong campaign.

I am preparing for a quick trip to Durban, South Africa – work. Helping a university think through its strategy for digitization. Should be interesting. Then, after a few days respite, on to Vernon for a keynote, then Llangollen and then France. May / June looks hectic.