Friday, 9 December 2011

Three Wise Men

Whilst heads of other educational or world establishments may choose to utilize their December blogs for Christmas messages, this blogger feels it may be more apt to exploit the conjoining of the festive season and my technological responsibilities to greater social purpose. Therefore, I would humbly offer you the following words to ponder. I hope they bring nothing more than a smile and some warmth to you and to yours, and if they do little more than fill the void between reruns of Christmas specials, I may finally have served some purpose on this earth.

In coming up with this idea, I wish to apologise in advance for any offence my ideas may cause. I once wrote a Christmas play for children called “Rats amazing” in which the characters of the nativity each arrived with rats and other vermin, and the usual plot unraveled to end with a nativity scene. I thought it was okay. The governors at the Church of England school had sanctioned it. However, the Christians in the audience (all three of them) complained bitterly, and I therefore frontload this offering with the sincere message that no offence is intended.

Every year schools seem to have the same discussions: who will be Mary? How many camels shall we have? Where’s the baby gone from the 1970s style crib, and why did they have 1970s style school furniture 2000 years before? I was once party (again, in a Church of England school) to a discussion about how many kings we should have – 5 or 6?. Forgive me, but I always thought it was three on the day, with one arriving late.

This in turn, if you’re irritating like me, leads to the whole “well, were they kings?” discussion. Were they Magi, astrologers, the proverbial wise men? I would (once again, with no offence intended whatsoever) go further – were they diplomats, sent to represent civilization at a key turning point? Were they politicians, seeking to act on the behalf of others for good? Or, Heaven forfend, for ill? Were they simply lucky, arriving as they did at that place at that time? Were they merchants, peddling gold and precious objects around Judea?

Let’s stick with the idea of wise men. For this blog, I’d like to offer you up and alternative set of wise men, thinking about their lasting impact on a 21st century landscape. If they were truly wise men all those years ago, how did they use their immaculate experience to benefit others, and what might we learn? The enduring story still perplexes, mystifies and humbles, but a sideways think around it may present some brainfood.

For wise man number one, the leader, the spokesman, the negotiator, I would offer up a certain Mr Charles Dickens. “A Christmas Carol!” I hear you all cry. Well, no, not entirely. In fact, that only serves as the literary representation of why I’m electing to imbue old Charlie with Wisdom status.

So why is he here if not for the Carol? Allow me to point out one or two things. Dickens, who spent time in his childhood in a Union workhouse, was determined to be successful. He worked laboriously on his writing, acting and public speaking. He was an advocate of the poor and needy, and a champion of justice. Furthermore, he was a believer in redemption. He thought that with hard work, dedication, a bit of luck, a man could become leader of his own destiny. Many of his characters have to overcome adversity to fulfill their recognized potential – think it through, you’ve all seen Oliver. That is what the carol is all about, and some of his lesser known works; The Chimes is also a ghost story just like Christmas Carol, which takes place during the midnight bells of New Year’s Eve, and sees a horrible character becoming good.

Above all, Dickens believed in the power of light and kindness as a human power for good. He believed that tenderness, compassion, love and joy were the key triggers to success for the human race, and he tried to tell everyone. Imagine how powerful that message would have been in the 1800s, or 2000 years ago, or even in Brussels this week.

And that’s where we get to the Christmas Carol. Whether you fall down on the side of Alistair Sim, or the side of Kermit the frog, everyone knows at least one catchphrase from this story – usually “Bah, humbug!” The point is this: A Christmas Carol is simply a moral tale on how the human race can change for the better. It’s about having the courage to stand up and say “I was wrong!” and then having the courage to put it right. It’s about accepting that there are things on this planet which are unacceptable, and stepping up to the plate which reads “Making a difference”. Yes, it’s got the ghosts, and the graveyards, and the tears, and the jokes, but then, every Dickens book has them (except Great Expectations – graveyards galore but short on the gags). Dickens was using these, as ever, as his vehicle to tell a ripping yarn laden with moral values.

If you really want to drill down into the Christmas in the Carol, look at the little speeches, such as his nephew saying “…although it’s never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I say Christmas has done me good and will do me good…”. If Dickens thought that his legacy was as the pensmith of a jolly old Christmas cartoon, he would have gone mental. Well, even more mental.

So that’s our leader of wise men: a champion of social justice, a fierce advocate of the poor and downtrodden, and the author of one of the world’s largest and finest collections of “How it should be done”s.

So, to our second wise man. Only a young man, and I only wish I could tell you his name. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, no-one actually knows it. Nor can I tell you his nationality. All we can guess is that he was a young man, a long way from home, serving people he would never have met. If Dickens was our leader, this wise man is our worker, our humility, our water carrier. This is the one you never notice, the one who cleans up after himself, the one who would never have brought anything showy like gold; he’d always bring something practical yet impressive, something thoughtful and kind, such as myrrh.

For my second wise man is courageous young man who made a decision that would change his life and the life of many more. My second wise man is the young soldier who decided, on Christmas day in 1914, that he wasn’t staying in his trench, and, in the midst of what would be the most terrible conflict ever, decided to go and offer the gift of friendship in the form of kicking a ball around.

No-one knows the truth about this apocryphal tale; it is right up there with the Angel of Mons in the “Woh, did that really happen?” stakes but the general consensus is that the football match on Christmas day 1914 actually happened. Stanley Weintraub’s excellent book Silent Night offers more insight than I might. However, think about this: someone had to start it. One person had to have the courage, or simply even the idea, to break out of the shackles of warfare.

It still makes me stop and think. In the middle of the most catastrophic act of man to hit the planet, men of many nations simply … stopped. Now that is a wise act.

Finally, our joker in the pack. Our mouthpiece. Our social animal. The one everyone will remember at parties. The one everyone will say “Wasn’t he funny?”. Every group needs its social manipulator, and here we have ours.

On a regular 1970s July Thursday, in the middle of an unseasonable heatwave, a man from Wolverhampton couldn’t believe his luck. There he was, having enjoyed very minor glam rock success in the UK and the US, suddenly meeting his idol. Not only that, he was in the apartment of his idol, playing a famous white piano synonymous with the idol.

When placed in this situation, many people might go to pieces. I met one of my heroes and became a jibbering wreck. Some may resort to silliness, some to shyness. Not our wise man, oh no, no, no. Whilst playing John Lennon’s white “Imagine” piano, our third wise man did none of these. He simply sat there, with one of his mates, and penned a now world famous anthem. Later that day, he recorded it. Yes, I offer as our third wise man Norbert Holder, better known as Noddy.

Are you having a laugh? You may cry. No, I’m not. For a very simple reason: every single year, Noddy Holder goes out of his way to remind people that he knows how lucky he was and is. He makes it no secret that he thought the record would be a flash in the pan, and that he would really rather remember playing John Lennon’s piano a little more fondly. He donates proceeds from re-releases to charity, time and time again, and makes it clear that his work of art is for everyone to share and enjoy, and that no-one should take it too seriously. When our world is becoming a serious and dark place, someone with a social conscience, and a little humour, will save the day.

There you have them. Our leader, our intellectual and our talker. Our water carrier and labourer who ensures the unpleasant things get done. Our social glue, the person who knows what it is to give, and what it is to laugh. Wisdom? A very special kind of it, yes, I think so…

I hope this little piece of self indulgence has made you think, or at least smile, once. I hope you will consider it merely a new reflection of an old theme. I hope it reveals how seriously I take the subject, and I sincerely pray it has caused no offence. I hope your Christmas is amazingly special, and that you and your loved ones enjoy it together. Above all, I hope that the wisdom of someone will relieve the world of its current struggles, but I think that’s a big hope.

Thank you all. That is all.

PS Next week I will reveal my fourth wise man. Simply, a brave father.