Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation

Recommending: Growing your own vegetables

Imagination: JK Rowling

Excerpts II: “…[Imagination] is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise…

…Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality…

…But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better…”

JK Rowling: Harvard Commencement

Worth reading her Harvard Commencement address on failure and imagination.

Click here. 

“… What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure…
However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life….”

Theatre Critic watching darts.

One for Theatre Critic watchers: Michael Billington watching darts.

The image is not appearing properly so click through here if you to see it…

And his review:

Driving down the M4 on a bank holiday Monday in pelting rain to watch a darts tournament in Cardiff, I wonder if I am being punished in some way, either by God or the Guardian. As a darts virgin, I imagine watching sweating, beer-bellied arrowmen playing to a few hundred spectators. What I discover is that Premier League darts is a mixture of showmanship, skill and big business played to more than 4,000 people, who pack every inch of the Cardiff International Arena. “Darts,” I am told by Sky Sports commentator Sid Waddell, “is working-class theatre.”

I get to talk to Waddell in his presentation box and soon realise why he is as much a legend as the players he describes. In the course of doing his vocal warm-ups, this genial Oxford-educated Geordie talks to me knowledgeably about the original Pitmen Painters (recently dramatised by Lee Hall in his play about the Ashington miners, now at the Cottesloe) and quotes Wittgenstein’s remark that trying to define sport is like trying to define language. But he has none of the pretentiousness of Keith Talent, the anti-hero of Martin Amis’s novel London Fields, which I have been reading by way of preparation. Talent talks of “the address of the board” and “the sincerity of the dart”. Waddell gives me shrewd tips about the players, the punters, the phenomenal popularity of darts and, on air, displays a manic fervour that produces off-the-cuff lines such as “he could play a ukelele and make it sound like a Stradivarius”.

The event itself – consisting of two play-off semis and a final – is a mixture of razzmatazz and expertise. The players, flanked by glamorous female acolytes, enter down a red carpet, like championship boxers. The crowd chant, shout, sing, roar on their favourites, hold up placards (“Kids, has the babysitter turned up yet?” reads one) but fall appreciatively silent for each “leg” of the contest. What soon becomes clear, however, is that we are here to watch the coronation of a darts genius: Phil “The Power” Taylor, who has won the three previous Premier League finals and is about to sweep to a triumphant fourth.

“Taylor is to darts,” I was told by Waddell, “what Bradman is to cricket or Pele to football: he has set a standard which we know will never be matched.” But in sport, as in theatre, there is always a hidden story just beneath the surface. In the second semi the 47-year-old Taylor defeats the 23-year-old Adrian Lewis with contemptuous ease: only later do I learn that both hail from Stoke and that Taylor is a professional mentor to the visibly crestfallen Lewis. And, although in the final Taylor beats the 25-year-old James Wade with a run of remarkable trebles, the steely, bespectacled Wade periodically unsettles the champ. Are we, I wonder, seeing the darts equivalent of drama’s peripateia: a crucial turning-point in which the reigning king has to acknowledge a rival to the throne?

But, for now, the rotund, unflappable Taylor displays the perfect hand-to-eye co-ordination and muscle memory of the great sportsman. His only mistake, in picking up the £100,000 prize, is to say that “it’s been a great year for English sport” momentarily forgetting that he is addressing a crowd of raucous, partisan, tanked-up Welshmen. Darts may be a display of sporting skill. But, as one of Waddell’s Sky colleagues said to me as I was about to quit the noisy arena: “You can take darts out of the pub, but you can never entirely take the pub out of darts.”

5 things

1. What was I doing 10 years ago? I had directed the Crucible at Cambridge and now with summer I’d be heading towards exams in Natural Sciences and then my first May Ball.

2. What are 5 things on my to-do list for today?

- Assess the benefits of GLP-1s in diabetes, make sure I mention the Gila monster.
- Think about writing
- Make sure A. does not stress out too much
- Think and write about planning applications
- Figure out how to keep the cats from pooing in the garden especially on my beans.

3. Snacks I enjoy: Kinder surprise, chocolate buttons, home made crispy pork scratchings, Tortas de Aceite de Ines Rosales. I like all yummy food, snacks included! Can I have Jamon Serrano or culatello as a snack?

4. Things I would do if I were a billionaire: Amongst other things, I’d kick start some creative hub or industry; with theatre but probably other arts as well. Some great arts centre maybe like the ICA but with more resourced sections for various artists.

5. Places I have lived: London, Ham, Cambridge, Cambridge, Mass.

  • About me

    I'm a playwright and investment analyst. I have a broad range of interests: food, gardening, innovation & intellectual property, sustainability, architecture & design, writing and the arts. I sit on the board of Talawa Theatre Company and advise a CIS investment trust on socially responsible investments.

  • Recent Work

    Recent plays include, for theatre: Nakamitsu, Yellow Gentlemen, Lost in Peru, Lemon Love. For radio: Places in Between (R4), Patent Breaking Life Saving (WS).

  • Nakamitsu

  • Yellow Gentlemen