You can’t please all the people…

Bill Bernbach

Reading one of Nick Cave’s excellent Red Hand Files reminded me of the Bill Bernbach quote that I shared on LinkedIn back in 2016.

Fast forward four years and – right now – being bold feels like a dangerous activity. Cave himself hits the nail on the head with this quote:

“…what songwriter could have predicted thirty years ago that the future would lose its sense of humour, its sense of playfulness, its sense of context, nuance and irony, and fall into the hands of a perpetually pissed off coterie of pearl-clutchers? How were we to know?”

Barely a day goes by without an example of public bear-baiting on social media – despite calls for restraint in the wake of Caroline Flack’s death.

The way people orchestrate something akin to a digital lynching when someone expresses an opinion that doesn’t appear to conform to the mean is reprehensible.

However, I have also seen remarkably reasonable debates on both Twitter and Facebook between people who completely disagree on an issue – one about Quentin Tarantino’s alleged misogyny manifesting itself in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood sticks in the mind.

But the world is built on people swapping stories and ideas, which more often that not come with a difference of opinion.

We are human. We think. We don’t all have the same opinions. We should be comfortable that sometimes people don’t agree with us.

What we must guard against is how (and possibly where) we choose to discuss and evaluate those ideas.

By and large, I have found myself unwilling to voice an opinion online. And if a straw poll among friends is anything to go by, I know I’m far from alone.

Meanwhile in the comfort of a group I know, I’m willing to put something potentially contentious out there, safe in the knowledge that I won’t become Public Enemy No.1.

I’ll leave the last word to Nick Cave again…

“I would rather be remembered for writing something that was discomforting or offensive, than to be forgotten for writing something bloodless and bland.”

Stop, unplug and listen

Eurasian blue tit
CC flickr image via hape662

The other morning I did something unusual. I left the house to walk to the train station without putting in my earphones.

For me, this is rare. My normal routine has me loading up a podcast within seconds of shutting the front door. I then listen to that for the first 30-odd minutes of my commute, before switching to music for the remainder.

On this particular day I had just minutes to reach the station, so decided not to plug in immediately. When I arrived, my rush was in vain: “Train cancelled”.

So I did something different. I sat on a bench on the platform and just listened without any other distraction. It’s no exaggeration to say it was a revelation.

Rather than the insulated world I’m used to, I truly stopped and paid attention to the world around me.

And the predominant sound I heard was the song of four or five different types of bird, beautifully chirruping and tweeting in harmony.

There was also the low murmur of the ticket attendant talking to a customer and the occasional beep of an electronic sensor, but I was overwhelmingly struck by the serenity and beauty of it all.

It’s so easy to stick your headphones on and block out the world around you – something many, if not most, of us are guilty of.

But changing routine occasionally and ‘noticing’ the world around us is something we should all do.

Try it and let me know how it goes.

Why ‘Call The Midwife’ continues its reign as the subversive heart of the BBC

Call The Midwife cast – 2020

The BBC is under attack from many sides in 2020.

With the arrival of a sizeable Conservative majority, rumours abound that the Government wants to do away with the public licence fee.

Meanwhile, in an effort to cut costs, redundancies and programme culling has been announced – the most high-profile being the Victoria Derbyshire Show.

There are also those (from both sides of the spectrum) who still harbour grudges about the supposedly-biassed news coverage of the December election campaign – understandably frustrated with their own party’s poor performance.

Enter Call The Midwife – a TV show that probably embodies Sunday-evening viewing at its best: seemingly parochial and anachronistic storylines, with a hint of jeopardy, but where everything always turns out OK in the end.

On the face of it, last Sunday’s episode would seem to be a classic of its ilk.


The wife of a cancer patient (played by the excellent Samantha Spiro) is loth to accept help, while she juggles looking after her dementia-suffering mum, plus her daughter with toddler and newborn.

Where’s the subversion, you may ask? Well (plot spoiler!), not only is Sam Spiro’s character a rare example on TV of a woman going through the menopause, while struggling to look after everyone else, but the outcome shines a light on the standard social services that used to exist for someone in her position after surgery (home help, respite care, for example).

In fact, the whole midwife movement is a shining example of something that is now almost non-existent within the NHS, but has been slowly dismantled in the name of centralisation and modernisation.

And this particular plotline is hardly asymptomatic. This series has examined attitudes to race and prostitution, while alcoholism, LGBT rights, cervical cancer, measles vaccinations and many other issues that continue to exist 70 years on, have been covered in previous series.

The topics may be wrapped within the warm embrace of London’s East End community in the 50s/60s, when everyone still had time for each other and we all knew our neighbours, but the parallels are clear.

At a time when the country feels so divided, Call The Midwife is an echo of when life appeared better – as long as you ignore unsanitary living conditions, overlook the fact that ‘differences’ were barely tolerated and forget that the pace and pressures of modern society barely impinged on life.

It may be a stretch to suggest that Call The Midwife – on its own – is enough to overthrow an established order (the dictionary definition of ‘subversion’), but it’s a gentle way for the BBC to demonstrate that looking at the successes and failures of the past is often a sensible way to plan for the future.