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On reflection

It has been refreshing not to blog for a month. It is easier to reflect. 

Had it become compulsive? A necessity to post whether I had something to say or note?

Now qualified with a Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education am I inclined to be more circumspect and scholarly?

Is this ‘jazz writing’ as I call it resistance to or an alternative to ‘proper’ writing, whether academic or storytelling.

I miss what I have missed and the need to catch up. I have been busy with a trip to walk in and out of the old line along the Western Front at Ypres. I have read copiously and widely on psychology, neuroscience, e-learning and history. I have seen a movie a day.

On reflection I am better off WITH rather than without the regular habit of capturing thoughts and ideas as they are experienced. I gain from the e-portfolio, the aide memoire, if nothing else.

Stumbling upon the work of Baroness Susan Greenfield, for example, prompted by a radio talk has had me reading her take on neuroscience.




How to tell the tragedy of two love stories – the power and construction of memorable narrative

Fig.1.Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria-Hungary – Only son of the Emperor Franz Josef

You are one of the wealthiest and privileged men in the world and likely, by all accounts, to be one of the most powerful men too some day soon, but you are deeply unhappy and married as protocol requires to another European royal.

You are Crown Prince Rudolph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – wanting for nothing and everything. Your are also crushingly unhappy – the privilege a burden.

Then you fall in love and like royals before you the woman becomes your mistress – two years of bliss are doomed when your father the Emperor demands that it ends. Rather than give each other up you commit suicide, shooting first your 17 year old mistress, then turning the gun on yourself.

Love for a girl and hate for the Empire could only be resolved through violence. The year is 1889.

Fig.2. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, wife the Duchess Sophie of Hohenberg and their children  Sophie 13, Max 10 and Ernst 8 c 1914.

Some two decades later your nephew, the heir presumptive since your own death, appears to have it all – a compromise had been found when he refused to give up the woman he wished to marry in 1890. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, stunningly wealthy, happily married to the Countess Sophie Chotek – the woman he loves, with three healthy children, and trained up through his military career to rule would expect to become the next emperor soon – his grandfather the Emperor Franz Josef is now in his 80s.

Then, on the morning of Sunday 28th June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s misplaced ‘love’ for his subjects and his unquestioning love for his wife puts them both in an open top tourer on a formal visit to the Austro-Hungarian provincial capital of Sarajevo.

Hate looms in the form of the 19 year old Gravilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist, desperately poor, principled, prepared and determined. Under instructions and guidance from the leaders of the radical Serbian terrorist group ‘The Black Hand’ he finds himself positioned on the route the Archduke will take back and forth through Sarajevo with six others – armed and eager to kill.

In their different ways both Franz Ferdinand and Gravilo Princip disliked what the Austro-Hungarian Empire represented and how it behaved – both had ideas of how the problem could be fixed – Franz through compromise and accommodation – he tabled a federation of Austro-Hungarian states in 1906 -while both Count Rudolph at one end of the scale and Princip at the other, both felt that two bullets from a revolver were the pill that wold fix everything when others controlled your life in a way that you found intolerable.

Two world wars later, nearly 50 million dead and conflict only recently resolved in the Balkans and if there is a one word lesson to take from the 20th century it is ‘Diplomacy’.

(Born Aug 24, 1855, died Feb 12, 1944)

My goal is to find a way into this story – my quest might be over.

I’m doing this as an exercise

I’m taking known facts rather than fiction and using the 1939 book ‘Story Writing’ by Edith Ronald Mirrieless as my guide. Narrative is a powerful tool, but compare a factual account, say of the sinking of the Titanic, with the move. Compare too some botched attempts at the telling of the 1914 Sarajevo assassinations where students recall above all else that Gravilo Princip apparently went into a cafe to buy a sandwich when he say the Archduke’s car outside. There is invention and accuracy, but also responsibility to ensure that the facts that matter and can be corroborated are in the story.

The story I tell will be told by the Infant Marie Theresa of Portugal who married Archduke Karl Ludwig a month before her 18th birthday at Kleinheubach on 23 July 1873.

She would have been 32 when Crown Prince Count Rudolph killed himself. Maria Theresa then stood in for the Empress who retired from court life after her son’s death. She carried out honours at the Hofburg Imperial Palace with the Emperor until 1896 and was instrumental in helping her step-son Franz Ferdinand  fulfill his desire to marry the Countess Sophie Chotek which he achieved in July 1990.

The following details I sourced from various places and will verify and alter in due course. 

It was then Marie Theresa who broke the news of the couple’s death to their children Sophie, Maximilian and Ernst. She also managed to ensure the children’s financial security after telling the Emperor that if he did not grant them a yearly income, she would resign the allowance which she drew as a widow in their favour. (The majority of Franz Ferdinand’s property went to his nephew the Archduke Charles)

When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed following its defeat in the First World War. After his abdication, Maria Theresa accompanied Karl and his wife Zita into exile in Madeira, but eventually returned to Vienna where she spent the rest of her life.

In 1929, following a decline in her finances, Maria Theresa engaged two agents to sell the Napoleon Diamond Necklace, a piece inherited from her husband, in the United States.

After a series of botched sales attempts, the pair finally sold the necklace for $60,000 with the aid of the grand-nephew of Maria Theresa, the Archduke Leopold of Austria, but he claimed nearly 90% of the sale price as “expenses”. Maria Theresa appealed to the United States courts, ultimately resulting in the recovery of the necklace, the imprisonment of her grand-nephew, and the absconding of the two agents.

Maria Theresa died in Vienna during World War II.

How Storytelling in business (and politics) can turn ugly


Fig.1 Beware the ‘unhappy valley’ of storytelling

I was introduced to this concept at the Open University Business School Residential for ‘Creativity, Innovation & Change’. The thought is that in business – and I believe this applies to politics too – you can apply narrative but only take it so far. Case studies work, anecdotes and short stories too but take care about how far you apply it before you. call on professional input.

Producing narrative drama for training I will plan a treatment then take this to a professional writer – people with credits for drama series or serials. Anything less can sink you into this ‘unhappy valley’. This also applies to casting actors and using a director with a track record in drama. What you want is something creditable.

Several of my own productions are @JJ27VV on YouTube

How long should a video be? A bit like saying should a book have one page or a thousand?

Fig. 1. Fighting for his life – part of a corporate training series aimed at the emergency services and utility companies to create greater understanding of the need to report incidents as they occur.

Some times 10 seconds is too long for a video – while ten hours doesn’t even start to do justice to the speaker or theme.

I wouldn’t give extreme views the time of day, on the other hand, I would listen to everything Mandela had to say for hours. Horses for courses.

Stats lie – they certainly require interpretation.

Is a minute or ten minutes of video too much or too little? When do people turn off or tune in to a piece of AV, whether a movie, TV show, video or slide show mocked-up in PowerPoint? ‘Death by PowerPoint start for me in this first second.

Research from the Open University shows that people decide whether to continue watching a piece of video in under 35 seconds. This is not the same as a 45 minute lecture from an expert that is required as part of a formal course – though there should always be a transcript. Personally I work between the two and replay if there is something important.

Who needs the research? You can tell intuitively if what you are about to see is of interest or not?

My 35 seconds video? A party balloon is blown up by someone with breathing difficulties. The words on the balloon gradually appear – ‘The Cost of Asthma’ – the professionally composed and performed music tugs at the heart strings and a professional broadcaster says some pithy words.

My 35 hour video?

Interviews with some if the greatest thinkers alive in the planet today. Vitally, especially online, as producers we offer what is a smorgasbord – the viewer decides what to put in their plate and whether to eat it – and whether to stuff it down or take it in bite-sized pieces.

You had might was well ask ‘how many pages should there be in a book?’ or ‘how many posts in a blog?’ It depends on many things: context, budget, goal, resources, subject matter, audience, platform, shelf-life …

Teaching history using digital cameras and a good deal of imagination

We imagined they had a hoard of coins from the year 1066.

When put into a photo-booth they went back in time to that year. Each group ‘landed’ in a spot suitably located for each of a sequence of events, covering all three battles that year, the long march south and the coronation of Duke William in London.

Each group of two or three landed in a different location and time and witnessed the events first hand.

On their return they spoke into the camera of the Time-machine camera to give an account of what they saw.

Edited together these clips were shown in class at the end of this term-long project.

Six years on from doing this at a Primary School Google reveals all kinds of engagement relating to 1006 and the Battle of Hastings.

A visit to 1066 country offers the coast and the English Channel, a castle and abbey, the site of the battle and AV of the events.

They got far more history on the events of 1066 than they would have got much before A’ levels, what is more, five years on (I’d gone in as a parent volunteer) many who still see me come out with the line, ‘there wasn’t one battle in 1066, there were three. My love of history was developed as the only grandchild who would listen for hours to his grandfather’s adventures as a Machine-gunner in the First World War.

Transcripts of extensive interviews I conducted in his 93rd year can be found at http://getjackback.wordpress.com/

Anthony Burgess

‘In dust laden haphazard grocer’s boxes there are typescripts of films never made and TV series rejected; yellowing sets of first-pass galleys, a typescript of his long-neglected musical Cyrano.’

Will anyone take an interest in my files?

Everything I ever wrote? Will they find it on Amstrad discs, on Betamax tapes? Will they bother? Will it be burned? These papers depend on success elsewhere. I need a publishing success in order for everything else to receive the ‘hook of interest,’ that desire to delve into another man’s thinking. To expose the contents of my brain. Was it worth preserving?

‘Among the odd notes, never intended for publication, Burgess comes alive in a way he never did in his novels and autobiographical writings.’

‘Never intended for publication.’

Yet they have been. I can understand why an author or artist might destroy all their old work. I can understand why Picasso for example destroyed all the drawings he did as a child and teenagers – he didn’t like others to see that he was mortal, to understand that others had the potential to achieve what he did – the vanity of the successful artist who must maintain the image of a genius and so destroy anything that suggests otherwise.

‘No serious diarist, Burgess had a habit of starting a journal on January 1st and stopping a week later, giving the remaining pages over to working notes – plots for short stories, titles for books, titles for books, scraps of poetry, and odd memoranda, for example the precise symptoms of syphilis: “incubation … secondary … tertiary …” Or attempts at poetic conceit: “The clouds took the sun like a pill. It wouldn’t digest though.”

How many diarists online start in January only to give up soon afterwards? Only after thirty years have I started to keep an ‘Academic Diary.’ It feels more appropriate with school-age children;
our year ends with the Summer Holidays and begins with the New Academic Year in September. It is THIS year that dictates or routine: timetables, weekends, after school clubs, friends over, parties, Parent Teacher Association, School Events, the School Run, weekend activities, half-term, INSET days and sick days.

I have my lists. I have short stories.

Worked and reworked. I have a hard backed notebook in which there is a new title for a story on every page. I did this over a few weeks, trying to keep up, trying to write ideas out while generating new stories that were reduced to a title. The titles have since failed to stimulate the grey matter – I haven’t a clue what I intended. That’ll teach me, better to add some notes, to paste something in, to do a sketch – anything to act as a catalyst to get me back into the ‘instant story’ that can come to you at the most inopportune moment.

The income and expenditure for Anthony Burgess 1966.

I’ve worked out that a simple way to adjust these figures for 2005 is to multiply by ten. i.e. the gross income of Anthony Burgess in for the year end April1966 was close to the equivalent in 2005 of a quarter million pounds £250,000 and he spent £13,510 on travelling abroad and the equivalent of £2,600 on reference books!

Pounds, shillings and pence (in ‘old’ money)

(Were there 12 shillings to the pound and 12 pence to the shilling? Sixpence was half a shilling? A ‘ten bob’ note was half a pound. Were there twenty shillings to the pound? Confused. I am. I was taught this system age 5,6,7,8 only to have everything turn Decimal).

Gross Income £23,004 0s 7d

Less Expenses (Pounds, Shilling, Pence)

Agents Commission 1,574 2 5
Rates, lighting & heating 128 3 5
Postage & stationery 693 0 6
Telephone 162 15 5
Magazines & Newspapers 122 12 0
Tapes & Records 59 10 0
Reference Books 260 0 0
Travelling & Motor Expenses 575 17 3
Travelling Abroad 1,351 3 4
Professional Visits to
Theatres & Cinemas 250 0 0
Foreign Entertaining 450 0 0
Subscriptions 12 12 5
Research 548 17 6
Bank Charges 4 16 0
Legal Charges 77 9 6
Accountancy 367 10 0
Sundry expenses 7 2 6

TOTAL 6,660 18 2

Excess income over expenditure £16,343 2 5

Anthony Burgess earned before tax about ten times what a secondary schoolteacher could then earn in London.

Secondary school teachers are on about £20,000 today.

My father was earning as much as Anthony Burgess a few years later, by 1972, as I recently learnt. He was the Senior Partner of a Newcastle firm of solicitors and the Chairman and Chief Executive of Ferguson Industrial Holdings PLC. He successfully hid his wealth from my mother when they divorced, giving her the house, income in relation to the upkeep and schooling of each of his children and a modest income. He sold our holiday home, rented a house in Northumberland, bought a ski flat in the French Alps and moved into a flat in London with his girlfriend. Within two years he was living in a 16-bedroom 11th century castle with 32 acres of land, had a yacht in Brighton and a penthouse flat off Birdcage Walk in Central London. (He’d also remarried and divorced again by then).

Bitter. No. Not me.

I’m just the ten year old who was ‘introduced’ to his girlfriend on my first trip to London having not seen my father for a year. I was the 13 year old who this same woman, now my stepmother, told me she had just married my father for his money and had no intention of living with him. From two years of marriage, she got enough to buy a hotel in Scotland and ‘acquired’ a herd of Shetland Ponies my father was keeping on the land that went with Appleby Castle.

See how I get caught up in it.

See why I think there’s a story here. My father was ‘Flashman’ set in the later 20th century, a devious dandy businessman who had children because he thought ‘it was the right thing to do’, then flourished once he got away from us (and got away with it). He lacked self-control. He had to be adored, like a divine King. He was never at fault and couldn’t be questioned or criticised … as soon as a girlfriend or wife failed to do this they were ditched for a ‘fresh’ model. He had to be on a pedestal. Adored, loved and respected without question. He was a fraud. A sad man. A false man. A selfish egotist who hurt everyone who loved him and had been willing to follow him.

Back to Anthony Burgess

There was a period in the 1990s when my expenditure also included reference books, video hire, travel and cinema visits. I was writing, I was developing … I could justify it. On earnings of only £500? Little that I have done has borne fruit; I won’t let it. Better that it rots on the ground than I present it for scrutiny when it is most vulnerable, most tasty and fresh from the printer of my mind.

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