Monday, July 23, 2012

A lesson from Sabadell

If I suggest that we give some thought to bankers and banking, would I lose your interest?

It's true that, over the past few years, this contentious subject has become associated with such unattractive qualities as greed, opportunism and arrogance.  But, take heart, this is a story about banking that will lift your spirits.  Not only that, it will (and this is a promise) get you smiling!
In fact, I will give the shortest possible preamble so as to speed up your enjoyment of the real treat which comes at the end.

Earlier this year, Banco Sabadell, based in the Catalonia region of Spain, celebrated its 130th anniversary.
It gave much thought as to how it would mark this prestigious occasion and came to an imaginative decision.  The bank would celebrate the anniversary by meeting its loyal customers at street level in the historic city that bore its name.
How?  By offering them music . . . the very finest music!

On the 13th May, together with the Valles Symphony Orchestra, the Lieder, Amics de l'Opera and Coral Belles Arts choirs, the bank moved out into the Placa de Sant Roc and serenaded its customers with Beethoven.

What a wonderful example to set to the bankers of the world.  What a wonderful example to set to all of us.  Not business men remote in their ivory towers, but musicians making music on the street.

Isn't this what banks and all forms of business should be about?  Co-operating, assisting, bringing pleasure . . . ?  Serving the community rather than attempting to rule it . . . ?  Isn't this what we should all aim for in whatever occupation we choose to pursue?

He may have lived in a different era, and Walmington-on-Sea is a long way from Sabadell, but, as a Bank Manager of integrity and social responsibility, I feel confident that Captain Mainwaring would have approved!

Now, that's more than enough from me, click on this link, sit back and enjoy . . .

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Divine Water

With all the rain we've had recently, water mightn't be your favourite subject.  But please bear with me . . . water is important.

This week I had reason to visit a local clinic.  Sitting in the waiting-room, my eye was captured by a large water container displayed prominently on a table, it was labelled 'Divine Water'.
Whilst agreeing that water, like everything else, has a divine source, this bottle seemed a little over-eager to establish its credentials.  On closer inspection, I noticed that it even boasted a 'trinity' of taps!

With time to spare, my imagination had a field day.
Why the red one . . . surely this was to quench any fires in the nether regions/  As for the blue one . . . perhaps this was intended to refresh the angels?  And the white tap?  Undoubtedly that was meant for mere colourless mortals like me!

On a more prosaic level, I expect the colouring of the taps denoted the heat of the water available.  But, thinking about this afterwards, it struck me that the three taps carried an additional, and far more serious, message.

As I write this letter, 'Re/Source 2012', a two-day conference in Oxford, has just come to an end.
The speakers included former US President Bill Clinton, Sir David Attenborough and Jonathan Dimbleby, along with the Chancellor of the University of Oxford and the Chairmen of such international companies as Coca-Cola and Nestle.  There has been very little publicity about this conference, but what there was stated that it had been convened 'to generate new ways of thinking about global issues'. Needless to say, one of these issues is the availability of water.

We may be experiencing a sodden summer in theUK, but, worldwide, water is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity.  Not only that, the developed world's tendency to lay down concrete and tarmac means that vital water is quickly lost.  Did you know that cotton may soon be a thing of the past?  Apparently the amount of water needed to flood the cotton fields could make the crop unsustainable.

We pollute our water sources with mining, industry and sewage . . . could that be the warning of the red tap?
By paving over our gardens to accommodate our cars, and by using non-porus tarmac on our roads, we are encouraging the rainfall to proceed straight to the sea, or to rise skywards as evaporation . . . could that be what the blue tap is trying to tell us?
And what of the white tap?  Could it be bearing the message that, on account of our activities, only a third of the water needed for a healthy planet is available for use?

I said that David Attenborough was attending the conference, which gives me the perfect excuse to offer you this delightful video.
'Re/Source 2012' may not have been given publicity, but I earnestly hope that future generations will have reason to be grateful for its long-term achievements.  Humankind cannot afford it to fail.

In the meantime . . . please join me in raising a glass to Divine Water!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wisdom in Words

May I share a growing interest with you?
No, it's stronger than an interest, let's call it a fascination . . . a growing fascination with words.  Not words strung together as phrases and sentences to convey information, but individual words.

Words, as I see it, exist on two levels.  They live on the level of basic communication, they also live on the level of hidden truth.  We are constantly trading them as basic communication, but how often do we delve deeper and discover the seams of wisdom hidden below the surface.

To illustrate what I mean, let's take the word 'enthusiasm'.  We all know its meaning . . .   I'm demonstrating enthusiasm at the moment in wanting to share this subject with you.  But what gave birth to this word, and what is it telling us?

If we pull the word apart, and return to its Greek source, we find that embedded in its structure is the word 'theos', the Greek word for 'god'.  'Enthusiasm', it would appear, has a divine spark.  Little wonder that it bubbles with life and carries such potency.

To convince you further, let's look at another example.  There's the Latin root 'genere', meaning 'to create' or 'to give birth'.  Where do we find it?  Tucked away inside 'genius' and 'generate' and 'generous' - all words that are bursting with creativity and new life.

As a clinching argument, what is vital for new life to establish itself?  Wouldn't you agree that it must be breath?  Once again we find this concept embedded in our language.  The Latin root 'spirare', to breathe, has itself breathed life into 'inspire' and 'aspire'.  Who could deny the life force breathing through these two words - the vitality that empowers inspiration and aspiration.
As for the word 'vitality', this comes from the Latin 'vitalis', meaning 'life-giving'.  Yet more evidence of the original life-force still existing in our language.

Words, it would seem, were not merely coined to give objects a name or to enable us to express ourselves.  They are, in themselves, an embodiment of what they represent.  They vibrate with the frequency of their truth.

What has also struck me whilst writing this has been the power we are handling when using such words.  The dynamite, if you like, that we are unconsciously igniting.
In the beginning was the Word . . . and look what's transpired since then!

Perhaps that's my cue to draw this fascinating subject to a close.
Words are wise . . . words are  powerful.
If we'd aspire to their wisdom, perhaps we should handle them with more care?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The silence we've broken

I sometimes get a sense of living in a carefully constructed play.  There are cues, there are prompts, there are notes in the margin.  These prompts, or synchronicities, are like a blue pencil marking the script, and one such synchronicity occurred the other day.
May I share it with you?

The first sign of the blue pencil came when I read a quotation sent by a friend in an email.

"Let the words you speak," it said, "be worthy of the silence you've broken."

I was very taken by that statement.  In fact I decided to expand my thoughts in a letter to you:

"Do we," I wrote, "truly value the space that words occupy, the silence they come from?
As an experiment, could I ask you to pause in your reading for just a moment and say each of these two words aloud . . . slowly and reflectively.
Are you ready?
'Space' . . . 'Silence' . . .

Your experience may well have been completely different from mine.  But, for me, the word 'space', when spoken aloud, stretches out and almost literally pushes away the clutter in my mind, enabling me to pause and reflect.  
In much the same way, 'silence', when spoken aloud, first hangs in the air and then recedes leaving the quality of the silence behind . . . a silence that is not empty or dead, but full of content and potential.  Space and silence are powerful.  
Do we, I sometimes wonder, think that space is only for filling, and silence only for breaking?"

At that point in my musings the morning paper arrived.  Leaving the computer, I made myself a cup of coffee, then sat down to browse through 'The Times' and tackle my daily Sudoku.
Half-way through the paper I had a surprise, the blue pencil had struck again.  In an article entitled, 'Music isn't the food of life, so don't play on'. Giles Coren had written:

" . . . Time was, the only musical notes you heard in the Olympic arena were national anthems.  The bruising military triumphalism of the old Soviet marching song in eternal binary opposition to the unfettered silliness of 'The Star-Spangled Banner' . . . Not any more.  This year the Olympics will follow Champions League football,  Twenty 20 cricket, WWF Wrestling, 'Gladiators' and Spearmint Rhino by using loud pop music to "enhance" the action . . . The Olympics is about physical endeavour, human ideals, international politics and sporting excitement.  Why must there by music? . . . Music used to be rare and special.  You travelled long distances to hear it, spent money to buy it, relished it when it was there and missed it when it was gone.  Now you'd have to travel a million miles to get away from it;  it is free, it is rubbish, it is a ubiquitous low-resolution ear-carpet of horror . . . "

I get the feeling that Giles Coren doesn't consider the music chosen for the Olympics to be worthy of the silence it will be breaking.

I hope the cosmic script-writer won't see the need to prompt me again on this subject.  As proof that I've taken the message on board, I've a plan in mind.

When the streets of London are thronged with Olympic visitors, when the all-pervading music drowns the applause in the Olympic venues,  remind me to start each day with a few moments of gentle reflection.
And what better theme for that reflection than those two words we mentioned before . . .

'Space' . . . and . . . 'Silence'