Charity Shopper #4

Charity shopper is a weekly blog post. The rules are that I have to visit a charity shop every week and purchase something from it. I cannot leave the shop without making a purchase and I must use the purchase at least once. I will report every week on what I buy.

It’s more fun if you play at home: this week you have the opportunity to win all of the items I purchased. This is partly to spread the word about the Charity Shopper blog and partly because my wife has threatened divorce if I bring anymore stuff home from charity shops.  To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is contact me on twitter @TmhoLudek or email: themagichappinessof@gmail.com and I’ll enter you into the prize draw. If your name is pulled out of the hat then you win: Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton, Once upon a Potty by Alana Frankel and The Husband, A Ladybird Book by J. A. Hazely and J. P. Morris.

Last week’s winner was the unfathomably talented @RebekaLord. You should definitely check out her website: www.rebekalord.com and if you are in West Yorkshire over the next few weeks pop along to see her paintings as part of the Turps Correspond Exhibition at the Artworks 1830 Gallery between February 21st and March 20th.

Date: Mon 19.02.2016 

Shop: Dove House Hospice, 7 High St, Market Weighton, East Yorkshire YO43 3AQ

Purchase: Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton, Once upon a Potty by Alona Frankel and The Husband, A Ladybird Book by J. A. Hazely and J. P. Morris.

Cost: £1.48

You’ve been quiet this week. A bit tardy with this post, it normally comes out on a Sunday!

I’ve been busy reading.

So I see. A book about potty training?

Once Upon a Potty is a book by Alona Frankel to help parents introduce the potty to their youngsters.

I see. Sounds…

Well, admittedly it’s not exactly…

No, I suppose not. Is it any good?

Erm well, it’s maybe not in the same category as some of Dostoevsky’s stuff but you know. It’s… different…

How so?

Well it’s got this picture in it:

A bottom for sitting and in it a little hole for making Poo - Poo. Once upon a Potty by Alana Fra
A bottom for sitting and in it a little hole for making Poo – Poo. Once upon a Potty by Alana Frankel

Oh! I see what you mean. That’s a little awkward.

The book is regarded as a classic by some and you can buy it on Amazon. For $50.

Say what?

That’s right. Original hardback copies from the 1980s change hands for $50 or more. There are 3 on sale at Amazon.com at the moment. Here’s another odd picture. Is it just me or does the poo look like angel delight?

Later on she made Wee-Wee and Poo-Poo but not exactly into the potty.
Later on she made Wee-Wee and Poo-Poo but not exactly into the potty.

This reviewer from Goodreads.com won’t be buying it though:

“The ugliest, nastiest potty book ever written. What moronic parent would actually WANT to read this one to a kid. “Wee-Wee” and “Poo-Poo”? FEH!
(And please don’t tell me it trained your kid […]. Your kid trained because they were READY!)

There are TONS of good potty books if you insist on reading them to your kids. But don’t expect them to magically train your child–it ain’t gonna happen. Better still, relax and stop obsessing over potty training. Is it going to get them into college someday?”

Oh dear. Alright shouty! Well, it might be a bit difficult to survive at college if you haven’t learnt to use the toilet by that stage. Surely you’re potty trained though?

It’s not for me. I’ve been potty training my daughter.

Our daughter.

Sorry?

Our daughter. Because I am you and you are me. You’re interviewing yourself, remember?

Oh yes.

Why is that?

What?

That you’re interviewing yourself?

Erm… well I don’t know really. I don’t really have any friends to talk to about this stuff… Why do you ask? Do you think I need more friends?

Do you think you need more friends?

Umm, well I’m married and I have children. Do  I still need friends? None of my friends seem to have friends. Well I mean, Rob has lots of friends. He’s divorced though. Lots of his friends come from a website that he’s on… does that count? Rob seems to be very happy.

Why do you think that?

He gets to go to the pub a fair bit and sometimes he rings me up during the early hours of the morning after he’s been to the pub to tell me about how happy he is. I don’t know if I’m as happy as Rob. I feel a bit worried about that. Do you think I should get divorced?

Perhaps you should read the ‘How it works’ book from Ladybird about The Husband before you make and rash decisions.

Ah yes, this is one of those  Ladybird books for adults. I remember reading these as a child…

Ladybird for adults books: How it works - The Husband A Ladybird book.
Ladybird for adults books: How it works – The Husband A Ladybird book.

Brings back happy memories doesn’t it?

Ha ha, yes it does.

Kind of.

Feels and looks exactly like the originals, just funnier…

This is what the inside of Tim's head looks like.
This is what the inside of Tim’s head looks like.
Adrian's wife sometimes cries herself to sleep
The husband likes things to be in order.

 

That’s because the authors, Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris, have taken the original Ladybird pictures and put satirical little barbs with them to fit the images.

I’m not sure it’s helping with my anxious feeling though. All the women in the book seem fairly unhappy. So do the men too.

If you’re feeling anxious then maybe you need to read Alain de Boton’s Status Anxiety.

I have been. That’s what made me feel anxious. Having read his incisive study of modern social mores I realise that not having any friends means I lack social status – the world doesn’t love me in the same way that it loves Beyonce and… and… Joe Pasquale. Do you think I should tell my friends about how I’m feeling?

I wouldn’t if I were you.

You are me.

Don’t be facetious. That could be why you haven’t got any friends. You should definitely not mention how you’re feeling to your friends. 

Really?

Absolutely. De Botton says that you are craving the love and admiration of your friends and ‘the quest for love from the world is a […] secret and shameful tale.’

My head is hurting a bit…

De Boton says, ‘to feel that we are taken no notice of necessarily disappoints the most ardent desires of human nature.’

My most ardent desire is to be noticed.

Is that why you’re talking to yourself at the kitchen table at 1.00am and writing down what you say as though it’s an interview?

Umm, I think so…

I thought so too.

God this is confusing!

My head is hurting a bit.

 

The Charity Shopper returns on Monday. 

To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is contact me on twitter @TmhoLudek or email: themagichappinessof@gmail.com and I’ll enter you into the prize draw.

If you’ve enjoyed this week’s foray into secondhand land then check out the previous blog posts here:

Charity Shopper #1

Charity Shopper #2

Charity Shopper #3

Talking shop #1

Talking shop #2

Talking shop #3

Talking shop #4

 

The Organized Mind Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

Self Help: The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin

The Organized Mind Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin

Every week I try a different self – help guide’s life advice. This week I’m reading Daniel Levitin’s The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. In the first installment I reviewed Marie Kondo’s The Life – Changing Magic of Tidying. Last week I tackled Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be.

At the start of this post I’ve got to issue a disclaimer – it’s not that I’ve received this book gratis from the publisher (btw – just how do you get those free books to review?) or that I know the author or anything like that: it’s that I am by profession a Science teacher. This is a book, notionally at least, about neuroscience and so I must confess that I have a natural inclination to favour this book over the other two books that I’ve read so far: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying and It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be

Some of you have noted a faintly derisive tone in the last two reviews and it’s true, my Self – Help Binge is slightly tongue in cheek, but it started with the most serious of intentions and I have genuinely attempted to live by the teachings of Marie Kondo and Paul Arden (at least during the week in which I read their books). Marie Kondo’s writing was annoying but the effect on the tidiness of our home was dramatic. Conversely, Paul Arden had me talking like one of those daily inspiration Twitter accounts and turned me into a really quite annoying person. Daniel Levitin’s Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload seems at first glance to have more potential: Levitin attempts to bring his learning to bear on the problem of our fantastically complicated everyday lives. I feel I certainly fit the bill as someone who leads an overly complex life: I am a teacher, often working upwards of 60 hours in a week, I am father to two small children who attend a plethora of clubs and activities, my wife works full time and I edit themagichappinessof.com which takes up all my spare time; so I have plenty of everyday commitments to juggle.

Levitin identifies attention as the most precious of the brain’s resources. Knowing where best to put your attention is a skill harnessed by a group of people the author assigns the tag HSPs: Highly Successful Persons. These people are CEOs, business leaders, social media tycoons, musicians, presidents and prime ministers. In short, they have a lot on their plate. Levitin argues that the HSPs are where they are because they leverage their considerable mental faculties in the right areas rather than wasting their attention on posting cat photos to Twitter or clicking on pop – ups promising ’15 quick tips to boost your productivity’. The phrase ‘paying – attention’ is one that we give little thought to but the author demonstrates how it has a basis in the way the brain is wired up.

Switching attention between several tasks actually incurs a neural ‘cost’ and the more times we switch between activities the more of a cost we incur. This leads to us becoming tired and tiredness affects our ability to make judgments. I was happy to learn that multi – tasking, something my wife claims to be expert at, is nothing of the sort. During writing this article I have checked Twitter 15 times so far (no one has mentioned me in a tweet, liked or re-tweeted anything of mine in that time scale), checked Facebook 22 times (no new notifications), checked my blog stats three or four times, checked Tumblr and my Google+ account a similar amount of times. All for no yield. This isn’t multi – tasking. This is just switching my attention from Twitter to Facebook to my blog to Google+ and round and round again. ‘Attention is a limited capacity resource’ says Levitin, ‘there are definite limits to the number of things we can attend to at once.’ He gives the example of driving along a street looking for a turning whilst listening to the radio or trying to hold a conversation. Most of us recognise that we tend to turn the radio down or pause the conversation whilst we scan for the correct street to turn down.

It is the same with all those social media accounts: if you are trying to write a book review then write a book review. Turn off Twitter, mute the updates alert on your phone, close the Facebook tab and focus your attention on the book review. All sounds eminently sensible and dare I say it, common sense, so far. The problem is, we are distractable beings. Indeed, we evolved 200, 000 years ago in an environment where things were fairly static. If something changed in your environment then it was a novelty and novelty meant potential danger. The human brain has evolved to attend to novelty. When your phone pings to tell you that you have a new Twitter notification your brain switches it’s focus to that. It takes willpower to ignore the update and focus on what you’re supposed to be doing. But this willpower incurs a cost. Levitin quotes a study by Glenn Wilson of Gresham College, London who found that having knowledge of an unread email in your inbox whilst you are trying to concentrate on a task can reduce you effective IQ by 10 points. That’s just knowing that the email is there, whether you intend to do anything about it or not.

A lot of Levitin’s advice might seem common sense: write everything down that you need to remember, turn off your phone whilst you’re trying to concentrate on a task, stop posting cat photos, organize your contacts, answer emails during a defined period of time each day, get enough sleep. It’s all stuff that you’ve heard elsewhere on productivity blogs or in lifestyle supplements. Where Levitin’s book sets itself apart is in showing the reader how all of this is routed in sound neuroscience.

It’s not easy to adopt new routines though. I’ve tried one strategy from the book which is something that I remember reading about as a teenager in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. ‘Zen and…’  is a strange book and when I read it as a youngster I completely missed it’s function as a self – help book and read it mainly as a novel of ideas.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Prisig

The protagonist uses the idea of writing down his to – do list on a series of index cards. This is something that appealed to me. Each item on your to – do list is written on a separate card and then these cards are shuffled so that the item that is uppermost on your list of priorities sits on top. Once I have completed that task I rip the card up and throw it away. This is much more rewarding than crossing it off an enormous long to – do list. The reward element of completing a task should not be neglected. In a recent review of So you’ve been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson I discussed how social media is designed to hijack our attention systems by offering us a neurological reward – a quick release of dopamine, the hormone associated with our brain’s pleasure pathways – every time we complete a task.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed Jon Ronson

Gaining an extra follower on Twitter or a share on Facebook, responding to a tweet or answering a query in an email counts as completing a task and so generates that little kick of dopamine that keeps you going back for more.

Now these ‘tasks’ are not really tasks of any significance at all. I might spend 15 minutes checking my emails, then 5 minutes going through my Twitter notifications and a further 5 minutes checking my Facebook notifications and responding to inbox messages. None of these little ‘tasks’ is really achieving anything significant but they all bring with them the feeling that I’m being busy. My brain is certainly busy switching from one thing to another constantly and I’m generating the little addictive reward of a kick of dopamine every time I complete a task but I’m not really achieving anything. And whilst doing all this insignificant ‘work’ I am neglecting significant things that need attending to like setting up a new savings account or securing some dental insurance at a reasonable price.

The index cards method of sorting my priorities worked out fine for me for the first two days. I assiduously wrote down every new thing that I needed to attend to and indexed it in my to – do pile. I sorted the pile at regular intervals and when the pile seemed to be getting too thick I whittled it down by actually doing some of the things in the pile. Great. Except keeping on top of the pile required self – control and motivation.

When the colourful index cards were fresh out of the packet they were a novelty and I attended to using them as one attends to a new pet. When I’d lived with the method for a couple of days I started forgetting to write out new cards when a task popped up or skipping it altogether, telling myself that it was too much hassle to fish the cards out and fill one out. Then I started to forget to check them altogether. I could remember what was written on the uppermost card but not the ones underneath.

I think the message from this book is that some of us are more organised than others but the key is that none of us evolved to be this way. Our brains are set up to handle  a much  less complicated world with less information to process and far fewer social contacts to keep track of. Feeling like we’re not on top of our everyday existence causes anxiety and can be stressful. We can teach ourselves to become organised though, but it takes training and practice, like mastering anything else. Oranisation is about embedding good habits into your day to day routine. The trick is to be consistent. Adopt a strategy and stick with it until it becomes a habit.

Next week I will post a review of my self – help progress so far; what’s worked, what’s gone wrong and what I’ve learnt so far. That will give me a bit of time to read the next book on my list which is Thrive by Arriana Huffington and was suggested by Its – Jme whose awesome blog you should check out.

If you’ve read any of the three books I’ve discussed so far I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you’d like to suggest a self – help title for me to try out then please comment below, tweet to @TmhoLudek or email themagichappinessof@gmail.com.

Charity Shopper #3

Charity shopper is a weekly blog post. The rules are that I have to visit a charity shop every week and purchase something from it. I cannot leave the shop without making a purchase and I must use the purchase at least once. I will report every week on what I buy.

It’s more fun if you play at home: this week you have the opportunity to win all of the items I purchased. This is partly to spread the word about the Charity Shopper blog and partly because my wife has threatened divorce if I bring anymore stuff home from charity shops.  To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is contact me on twitter @TmhoLudek or email: themagichappinessof@gmail.com and I’ll enter you into the prize draw. If your name is pulled out of the hat then you win: 3 vinyl records by the incomparably smooth Sacha Distel, a bizarre book about a nose by Nikolai Gogol and 2 lovely postcards that you can send to friends (if you have any) or turn into decorative features to stick on your bedroom wall. Or the fridge. Or anywhere else…

Date: Mon 15.02.2016 

Shop: Oxfam, Unit 3, 2 Railway Street, , Pocklington , YO42 2QZ

Purchase: 3 Vinyl Records by Sacha Distel, 2 postcards, 1 book – The Nose by Nikolai Gogol

Cost: £4.46

 

You brought home three records by someone called Sacha Distel. Some kind of German techno DJ?

Hmm, not quite.

Swedish house?

Erm…

Serbian trance?

Distel was one of France’s greatest cultural exports.

Along with Bridget Bardot and camembert…

He was an internationally recognised crooner in the Tony Bennet/Dean Martin mould. Interestingly Distel and Bridget Bardot were an item towards the end of the 1950s.

It didn’t work out?

He went on to marry a downhill skier.

Bardot was a bit piste off?

Hmm. She went on to…

Do you get what I did there?

Yes. She went on to…

Piste off! Ha ha ha. Because he married a skier…

Well, au contraire actually…

A little early for a drink isn’t it?

It means on the contrary. Distel apparently learned of their break up in a press release issued by Bardot in 1959, so if anyone was, ahem, piste off, it was him. Bardot has had a turbulent personal life: married four times and a string of public affairs with high profile celebrities. Says her biographer Marie-Dominique Lelièvre: “She is the first woman to have publicly displayed her sexual freedom. Before Bardot, a woman who changed lover at the slightest whim was called a bitch, a salope. After Bardot, such a woman was simply seen as libérée.’

They make a handsome couple…

Hmmm.Sacha Distel and Bridget Bardot

Hmmmm.

What?

Sorry… erm…

You were saying?

Weren’t we talking about Sacha Distel? What became of him?

Well he went on to score numerous international hits as well as a staring role in the West End stage production of Chicago but is probably most famous for his rendition of Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head, his cover of the song from the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Shall we talk about The Nose?

Do we have to?

Well you bought it. You didn’t enjoy it?

Erm… well, it will certainly stick in the memory…

How so?

To summarise the plot: a man wakes up without his nose and realises it has been cut off. His nose is at large around town (literally – it has grown to the same size as an adult human) and attains the status of a minor celebrity…

This sounds bonkers!

That’s putting it mildly. At various points in the book the narrator interrupts and during the closing paragraph admits that not even he/she (what do you call the omnipresent narrator in a book – it?) can make sense of what’s going on.

This chap’s first attempt at writing something was it?

Hardly. The Encyclopedia Britannica says ‘his part in Russian literature was enormous.[…] Gogol was among the first authors to have revealed Russia to itself.’ The Nose is a satirical work about… erm… something.

Sounds absurd. Why would anyone pay money for such clap – trap?

Well indeed. The narrator of The Nose ponders exactly the same point. Interestingly, the copy I bought from The Oxfam Shop in Pocklington had the corner of page 17 turned down, as though whoever owned it had got that far through the book and given up. The entire thing is only 35 very short pages long!

Gone for a lie down no doubt.

Perhaps.

And the postcards? 

They were just on the counter by the till so I bought them on a whim.

Shall we finish on a quote from The Nose?

‘Strangely enough, I mistook it for a gentleman at first. Fortunately I had my spectacles with me so I could see it was really a nose.’

I think that says all we need to know about that.

To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is contact me on twitter @TmhoLudek or email: themagichappinessof@gmail.com and I’ll enter you into the prize draw.

If you’ve enjoyed this week’s foray into secondhand land then check out the previous blog posts here:

Charity Shopper #1

Charity Shopper #2

Talking shop #1

Talking shop #2

 

Talking Shop #3

I work Saturdays in a shop on H____ Road in Hull. Let’s call the shop Oddbury’s. Every Saturday I write down the funny things I hear. These are real conversations with real people about the things they’re buying and what they mean to them. Names have been changed to protect people’s identities. Paul is my co – worker.

Saturday 13th February 2016, 11.12 a.m. Jim 62, works in a secondhand electricals shop, Jennifer 38, single mother and Paul 59, shop assistant

Paul alerts my attention to a car that has pulled up to the kerb opposite the shop. The driver is wearing a crash helmet! Jennifer gets out of the car and enters the shop, still wearing the crash helmet.

Jennifer: (muffled because she can’t be heard due to the helmet): do you sell sanitary towels?

Paul: Look out, it’s The Stig. Is this a robbery?

Jennifer: what? Oh this? (She wrestles the crash helmet off with some difficulty).

Jim: (to Paul) She could pull my helmet off.

Jennifer: I always wear a crash helmet in the car now since I got shunted up the back end last year.

Jim laughs at this and repeats: shunted up the back end!

Jennifer: Yes. It was at the roundabout near the Humber Bridge. I was waiting and then I set off to go and then I stopped and then… it just all went wrong. A Mercedes drove straight into me! Bang! Whiplash. And I cut my head open on the steering wheel. I was in hospital for a week.

Jim: my wife’s in hospital at the moment with a bad back.

Jennifer: Is she really? Oh the poor woman. Oh it’s a terrible place, honestly, it’s… the food is horrendous. But a bad back. That must be simply awful (makes sad face).

Paul: my ex wife was in hospital once with that – a bad back.

Jim: They call it sciatica. That’s what the doc says it is, sciatica.

Jennifer: Oh god! My Nan had that! She was really in quite a bad way and she got taken into hospital. I went to visit her on the ward but it was a very disturbing experience.

Jim: Oh?

Jennifer: Yes, one of the women on the ward was shouting out constantly. Just shouting and shouting, she was really distressed. And then she took her clothes off and bit one of the nurses!

Jim: A sciatica ward?

Paul: Are you sure that wasn’t a psychiatric ward?

Jennifer: Oh yes. That was it. A sciatictra ward.

Jennifer bought a pack of sanitary towels. Jennifer says: I know a lot of people think I’m slightly eccentric but I’m just me. I’m just a bit different and there’s nothing wrong with that. I was checking my make up the day that guy drove into the back of me so I suppose it was my fault but since the accident I’ve suffered with anxiety. I won’t drive anywhere without my helmet on now. I think it should be made mandatory. I honestly do. You wouldn’t be able to ride a motorbike without a crash helmet. A car’s no different. Apart from you’re inside the vehicle rather than sat on it.

If you liked this week’s you’ll love the last two in the series! You can read them here:

Talking shop #1

Talking shop #2

Talking shop - it's grin up north!

 

I’ve Never Kissed Jacob Rees – Mogg

I’ve never kissed Jacob Rees – Mogg. This is a matter of public record. And as an avowed socialist (well, I like to socialise) and a heterosexual man, there’s no shame in that.

The reason I bring it to your attention is on account of a non – story that broke across media outlets yesterday. You may have seen pictures of this T – Shirt in the paper or on social media:

I hope if you did see it you were sensible enough to turn over the page to search out a proper news story about something that matters like a humanitarian crisis or a war. There are a few to choose from at the moment but if not then you would have been regaled with statistics from a recent YouGov poll.

It has unearthed  fascinating evidence that UK voters are becoming increasingly politically polarised. 28% of Labour supporters said they would be unhappy if their offspring were to marry a Conservative and the number who said they would be ‘very upset’ is up from 4% to 10% since 8 years ago.So that’s less than half. Presumably the rest couldn’t give a toss.

Similarly, 19% of Tories would be moved to despair if their child brought home someone with leftist sympathies and a further 6% would be again, very upset.

This raises several interesting questions for me:

  1. Where do these pollsters find their respondents? If someone turned up on my doorstep with a clip board wondering how I would react in 10 years time or so to the political leanings of my now 8 year old daughter’s imagined lover, I would struggle to find the words to answer. Particularly if it was during the daytime. I mean, if they interrupted Doctors or Homes Under the Hammer  I’d be livid.
  2. How do you define ‘very upset’? If I was very upset I would start to cry and surely the spectacle of a parent crying at your new BF’s mention of the junior doctor’s strike or HS2 would be awkward enough to ruin any potential romantic entanglement?
  3. We are British. No one is ever going to bring up politics at the dinner table. And anyway, the turn out for the last general election was only 66%. Even if you did air your views, a third of the people dining with you couldn’t give two shits whether you admire Jeremy Corbyn or not and the other two thirds would be too embarrassed at your transgression to say anything. Cue the awkward scuffle of cutlery on dinnerware and someone commenting on how good the beef is to disperse the tension.

Enter ‘The Mogg’ into the debate. Rees – Mogg was one of only two actual MPs who seem to have responded to requests for quotes about this ‘issue’.  The other was Labour’s Stephen Pound. I say only two. It could be more but in my ‘research’ for this blog post I’ve read two articles both with exactly the same quotes from the same MPs.

Rees – Mogg is a politician whose back story reads like that of a character from a PG Wodehouse novel. Educated at Eton he went on to Trinity College Oxford and then into finance. Almost immediately upon his entry into the Commons he earned the status of a cult figure.

Rees – Mogg would take a fairly sanguine line where his daughter to bring home a Labour supporter, saying: “My eldest is eight but if they were to grow up and marry a socialist I should be absolutely fine with that. Of course during dinner discussions it is very unlikely they would ever be right, but you might convert them.”

For whatever bizarre reason I cannot tell you but this made me imagine what it would be like if I took Rees – Mogg home to meet my parents. As I’ve already indicated, I’m not gay, but I will admit to having a small ‘man – crush’ on the MP for North East Somerset.There’s something about Jacob’s penchant for three – piece tweed suits and double breasted jackets that I just find ineffably stylish. It’s not that he looks good in them. If anything the way the Mogg’s jackets are cut makes him look a bit like he’s wearing a smock of some sort – it’s just that Jacob doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. He likes what he likes and if that’s a cut that was popular in the 1920s then so be it.

 

I found the picture below on his website.

 

 

Jacob Rees - Mogg and a chicken farmer
Jacob Rees – Mogg and a chicken farmer

 

I will admit to being a little bit jealous of the chicken farmer. So it’s not wholly inconceivable that I might invite him over to ours for a chicken dinner – Jacob Rees-Mogg that is, not the chicken farmer. But how would things go?

For one thing, there would be no ‘during dinner discussions’. Tea would be served on a tray in front of the telly and woe – betide the man who talks over Sarah Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare. Particularly if it’s to elucidate a finer point about European Parliamentary bureaucracy. I imagine Jacob crouching awkwardly on the edge of our shapeless sofa trying to balance a tray slopping over with gravy on his knee.

Secondly, Jacob would never be right. Neither am I ever right. Nor is my sister. My mother is seldom right either. The only person who is right in our house is my Dad. Dad is right about many subjects that he has no knowledge of: the wage structures of major sports clubs, the workings of all automobiles, women, how best to use social media (not at all), gardening, engineering – with a particular interest in large scale civil engineering projects, other cultures, foreign travel and of course politics.

Dad is the kind of man who would sport one of these T -Shirts:

Right wrong t shirt
Yorkshire Right. The rest of the country wrong.
the power of stupid people in large groups
Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.
Nye bevin quote
Nye Bevan rats quote
liberals_-_taking_part_-_yel_mens_4_1
The Liberals: it’s not the winning. It’s the taking part.
labour I prefer their early work
Labour: I prefer their early work

Tea at ours would be an intensely uncomfortable affair for Jacob Rees – Mogg. Thankfully, for both of us, it will never happen. We move in different circles and I don’t think we share any friends on Facebook. Still, if you’re reading Jacob, the offer’s always there…

 

Book Club… So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Discussing today: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Hi everyone and welcome to today’s Book Club on http://www.themagichappinessof.com. Today we’re discussing Jon Ronson’s ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’.

It is an uncomfortable truth but lots of people buying this book will have been guided by the same motivation that causes us to slow down at the scene of a car accident on the motorway. In the UK this behaviour is called ‘rubber – necking’. Though most of us would attest that we find it disagreeable to rubber – neck, the tailbacks on Britain’s roads every Friday night would suggest that plenty of us are morbidly curios enough to see what it looks like when a life spins out of control.

The modern phenomenon of Twitter shaming described in ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ ranks fairly highly amongst the things that can wake me up screaming in the middle of the night. Just how bad does it feel when 20 thousand or 50 thousand, or in the case of Justine Sacco, the PR executive who tweeted an ill advised joke, when over 1.2 million people focus their fury on you?

Ronson chronicles public shaming from it’s medieval role as a weapon of justice to some of the worst social media shamings of recent times. He travels the world interviewing the victims about their experiences before, during, and as they try to piece their lives back together, after the shaming. The case studies range from journalists caught fabricating stories to a learning support worker who defiled a national cemetery. In each case the spiral from basically happy, ordinary people, to central figures in the story of their own demise, is precipitously fast.

Social media presents a fascinating opportunity to study the dynamics of large populations. Never before in human history have we all been so interconnected. The theory that everyone is connected to everyone else in the world by just 6 degrees of separation was postulated by the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy in the 1920s but new research shows that the figure needs updating. Studies of Facebook reveal it’s more like half that number, and with the opportunity for complete strangers to follow you, I would imagine that Twitter returns an even smaller degree of separation.

The upshot of all this connectedness is that we’re dealing with a social landscape that we didn’t evolve to operate in. In his book The Organized Mind (incidentally also the subject of this week’s self help binge) Daniel Levitin gives and illuminating analogy,

Imagine you are living in the year 1200 […] You know a couple of hundred people, and you’ve known most of them all your life. Strangers are regarded with suspicion because it is so very unusual to encounter them. The number of people you’d encounter in a lifetime was fewer than the number of people you’d walk past during rush hour in present – day Manhattan.

Now the number of people we can reach in the click of a mouse button dwarfs the world population in the year 1200. Something humans are particularly bad at grasping is the scale and the reach of social media. Just why do otherwise normal, well – adjusted people descend into a vicious frenzy of denouncement when a target emerges on Twitter? Ronson investigates the theory of group madness as a possible explanation.

Published in 1895, Gustav Le Bon’s The Crowd, was the central text in the study of crowd dynamics. The work is referenced in Bill Buford’s superlative study of British football hooliganism in the 1980s. During the 80s displays mass social unrest could be witnessed in virtually every city centre in the country as rival hooligan ‘firms’ battled each other for supremacy on the terraces. The scale and brutality of the violence is staggering when regarded from a contemporary vantage point.

Buford addresses the question of why thousands of young men up and down the country would turn out every Saturday afternoon to gouge, kick, punch, stab, slash and burn their way up and down the country:

why do young males riot every Saturday? They do it for the same reason that another generation drank too much, or smoked dope, or took hallucinogenic drugs, or behaved badly or rebelliously. Violence is their antisocial kick, their mind-altering experience, an adrenaline-induced euphoria that might be all the more powerful because it is generated by the body itself, with, I was convinced, many of the same addictive qualities that characterize synthetically-produced drugs.

Social media certainly has it’s addictive properties. That adrenaline – induced euphoria that Buford talks about? Every re-tweet, new follower or like that you receive on Twitter creates a little release of dopamine – a hormone associated with the brain’s response to pleasurable stimuli. So social media has a measurable effect on the brain’s biochemistry.

Ronson discusses the feedback effect:

We express our opinion that Justine Sacco is a monster. We are instantly congratulated for this…

And so we are more likely to believe that it is true. He also notes that you are only likely to share information on Twitter that is likely to go down well with your circle of followers.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a difficult read in many ways. Not because of any defect in the writing which is lucid and intelligent, or the arguments which are backed by infallible reasoning. It is a difficult read because it holds up a mirror that shows a distorted reflection of society. A society viewed through the warped lens of social media. A social world where the voices of moderation and reason have been filtered out of the conversation leaving only the raging poles of opinion. Is 170 characters too short to sum up all the shades of meaning and nuances of language needed to communicate effectively? I think it probably is, and maybe the move to abolish the character limit for a Tweet might be a good thing.

Comment below or tweet me. Let me know what you thought if you’ve read this book or any of the others mentioned. Happy reading.

It's not how good you are, it's how good you want to be. By Paul Arden

One book to change your life? Could it be this one? The Magic Happiness of… thinks it could.

Every week I try a different self – help guide’s life advice. Last week I reviewed Marie Kondo’s The Life – Changing Magic of Tidying. This week I tackle Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be.

Sandwiched somewhere between a career’s advice lecture and an evangelical call to self – improvement for anyone with a creative bent, this little book is small enough to fit in the pocket and short enough to read in a matter of minutes. That’s not to say the ideas in it aren’t profound though.

Arden’s little book was a sensation when it was first published in 2003 and has entered the hearts and minds of many an ambitious, bright young thing since. Arden’s prose is direct and bossy, but his message is never less than engaging and thought provoking.

‘So how good do you want to be?’ he asks at the outset.

So how good do you want to be asks Paul Arden
So how good do you want to be?

Well, I don’t know, you think. Probably quite good. Fairly soon though you get the sense that this isn’t good enough for Paul Arden. ‘You can achieve the unachievable.’ he exhorts. By the third page in I’m feeling ecstatic.

Many of the messages are counter – intuitive: ‘It’s right to be wrong,’ ‘fail, fail again, fail better,’why do we strive for excellence when mediocrity is required?’ And Arden’s wisdom is delivered with such clear – eyed certainty that you get caught up in it. The layout of every page is delicious, the bold titles and large text allied with clean, monochrome images mean that it’s easy on the eye. You wouldn’t expect anything less from a former  Executive Creative Director at Saatchi and Saatchi though would you?

So I’ve been trying to apply the book’s message of ambition, self promotion and positive thinking to my life. I’ve been relentlessly chipper at work. Emma, my colleague, took me aside to ask me if everything was alright. ‘You keep talking to everyone like you’re reading from a leadership manual,’ she said worriedly. ‘Have you been getting enough sleep?’ ‘Without a goal it’s difficult to score,’ I replied, assertively.

I’ve designed myself some business cards. I’m a teacher so they say ‘Headteacher’ on them.

Design your own business card says Paul Arden. Impress people with a completely made up job title.
Get your own business cards. With a made up job title on them.

I handed them out in the staff room at work which went down well. People asked me if I’d gone mad and the real Headteacher said he wants a meeting with me. ‘Getting fired can be a positive career move,’ Arden assures me on page 70. Which is comforting to know.

It’s not How Good you Are…’ is not really a self – help book. You will find it in Waterstone’s in the grey area to the right of the self-help section headed ‘smart thinking’. I’m not sure how much of this book is smart thinking and how much has little thinking behind it. If you suspend your judgement then it’s freshness and energy is infectious.

And then sometimes you come across a picture of some pigeons on a plinth and you are a little baffled.

‘Don’t be afraid of silly ideas.’ (Page 58)

Next week I’m trying Daniel Levitin’s The Organised Mind. If you have read any of the books I’ve discussed on my blog or would like to suggest a favourite self – help book for me to try out then please comment, tweet @TmhoLudek, check out my Facebook or email themagichappinessof@gmail.com.

Look forward to hearing from you all.