Our Creative Director, Jesse Kingsley, used to be a pool attendant in the 90s. He talks fondly of the position; halcyon days, simpler times, all sprayed with chlorinated water and discount confectionary from the pool kiosk.
The other day, I was having lunch at my desk, when Jesse came up to me and said: “Gary Sweet was my swimming teacher”. I lifted my head up from an exquisitely baked chicken pie and told him that I once had a parking altercation with the lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners. A weird stalemate developed where neither of us knew which story was better. That’s when our Head of Business Development chimed in with a story about dating Sting’s cousin’s daughter.
Later that day, Jesse wondered if Gary would remember him if they ever met on the street. I asked Jesse if he’d done anything out of the ordinary during the swimming lessons, and he said no, he hadn’t. But then he smiled and said: “Yes he would remember me! Because back then, my last name was Beaver!”
Brian Cho sits behind me at work, and calls himself The Brian. He’s the kind of person who strolls into meetings he’s not invited to and contributes like he’s organised the meeting, while everyone else sits there, too polite to say anything.
The other day, I was having lunch at my desk, when The Brian swivelled around on his chair and said: “Callum, I got your email about looking at your friend’s website and I wanted to know more about your relationship with her. What does she mean to you?” I told him she’s one of my closest friends on the planet. To this, The Brian replied: “Then I will make sure I give it my complete attention”.
When I gave my friend The Brian’s feedback, I told her what he’d said, and she teared up and said: “What a lovely man, he must be great to work with”. I nodded, took a sip of my drink and ordered a tin of sardines.
was bat shit crazy
his wife was a jehovah’s witness
loud, white haired: thief beater
me one question:
‘what’s in the bag?’
and his wife,
at night the cabin boy hid in the shadows
they told me
was going to a school for
where there were
sat on the edge
of single figures
no chocolate biscuits?
no fizzy drinks?
this was my first deal breaker
put down the
went to bed.
I had captain pugwash wallpaper to look at
hill primary blues
as the bad Andrew
in the other class
bad person/boy/pestiferous fumarole
spit on another boy’s back
he grew up to be
with good taste
Good eLearning is about as rare as good poetry. We’re led to believe that if it’s interactive and gamified, then it’s both contemporary and cutting edge. But what happened to substance? It’s all very well having a stylish looking module, equipped with all the bells and whistles money can buy but does it adequately communicate a message? Basically, is anybody actually learning anything?
Substance comes from knowledge and knowledge comes from thorough research. A good eLearning module is not unlike an essay that conveys a central contention. Every central contention is built upon a solid research platform that endeavours to build an argument.
So, what’s the difference between an argument and an opinion? Well, an argument is based on research, and an opinion is not. Simple as that. Good eLearning modules should never be regarded as opinions, otherwise, the learner will, and shouldn’t, have any faith in the product.
Substance is easy to spot. It’s the sentence that’s packed with watertight ideas, garnished with a modest sense of confidence.
I think that these sentences have been lost in the drive to make eLearning modules look ‘pretty’. Now, I’m not against bells and whistles, in fact, I extol their shiny virtues. However, they’re often used to mask the fact that the central contention of the module has no soul, and is devoid of any research.
It’s a bit like the story about the Emperor’s New Clothes, a tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a couple of cowboy weavers who promise the Emperor a new suit of invisible clothes but who are incompetent and bestow upon him an invisible suit. They assure him that it’s the height of fashion and he’s so vain that he believes them and parades through the town completely naked. This is what we call a logical fallacy; faulty reasoning in the construction of an argument.
We’re told that these bells and whistles in a module are ‘state of the art’, the way forward in eLearning but more often than not they mask the fact that the soul of the module, the argument, is missing, or incomplete.
Education is regarded as one of the pinnacles of so-called civilization. However, it’s merely become another product we take to market, and so many of these modules we churn out are actually naked, logical fallacies walking down the main street like the vain Emperor, unaware of the mocking crowd.
Ps. We don’t build modules like that…
If you’d like to learn more about what I do at BSI Learning, check out our website:
They buried John yesterday. He was my first friend and not the last. In my memories, he was the man with the wooden spoon, dancing into his own fresh oblivion.
You only meet one or two great people in your life; fighters for decency, advocates of morality and people who don’t care what you think of them because they believe in themselves. Now, that’s a rarity.
John loved music and music loved John. He was my first friend. I remember the time that my mother told me that John wasn’t like the rest of us. That John was different, an unusual man with a heart of a lion but the brain of a child.
John had Down’s Syndrome. When I was a kid I didn’t see the syndrome, I just saw my brilliant Uncle and his vivid imagination. He was the inventor of games, the keeper of strange yet brilliant insights into a world I’ll never understand.
I loved and continue to love John. When I heard that he had Alzheimer’s Disease I thought there must be no God. And I’m right. What decent Prime Mover could do that to such a decent man? The word ‘fair’ means nothing to me now. I believe in people and people have nothing to do with God, or the conception of such an entity. We are flesh and blood and what we do is paramount to our sense of fulfillment.
John loved being John. Who the fuck can match that? Nobody. Why? Because we’re all wrapped up in our perception of ourselves. John didn’t care about that. John heard the music, picked up his wooden spoon and danced, immersed in the music of his body. He was the maker of music and the DJ that gladdens the ears.
I can see his face now. He’s up on a dance floor beyond our ken, dancing, not caring and bewildered by the reactions to his death.
He lived a good life. A righteous life. The kind of life that I can’t match.
I can see you John. You’re dancing in Newton Villa, wooden spoon in hand and wondering why the rest of us can’t be as happy as you are. Now, that must be confusing. Being happy in the face of a so-called disability must be awe inspiring.
John. You’re loved. You’re the DJ of decency. You’re in my heart forever brother.
Dance on my friend. Be happy.
I don’t hate Christmas because I’m a miserable bastard, I hate it because it’s surplus to requirement. It’s an opportunity to max out your credit card, fight with family, eat unhealthy food, guzzle alcohol and pretend to like the crap presents people give you because they have no fucking idea who you are.
Some people even embrace Christmas as the perfect time to commit suicide. However, I’d like to reflect on all the disastrous Christmases I’ve had over the years. And there have been many. Let me tell you about some of the times I’ve been accused of ruining Christmas.
My first Christmas memory is of being around five years old and standing about two metres away from the Christmas tree scratching my balls. My old man came into the room, saw that my hands were down the front of my Magic Roundabout jim jams and said, “Don’t ruin Christmas Callum”. I have no idea what I got/learned that Christmas but I still enjoy scratching my balls.
With the introduction of alcohol to Christmas, the prospect of ruining the day increased exponentially. One year my old man and my wee brother helped me to ruin Christmas. We all got so drunk before Christmas lunch that all three of us passed out at the dining table. The next year alcohol was banned and we had a merry, yet boring Christmas.
I spent Christmas 1999 in Marrakech, where I got so drunk on the roof of the hotel that I had to be assisted to my room by strangers. I spent most of the day passed out on the bed farting, while my girlfriend sat on a rickety chair crying and gagging on the methane. The next morning over a lamb tagine, she announced that I had ruined Christmas.
Moving swiftly beyond the Millennium, ruining Christmas became a certainty. However, Christmas 2001 was spent in Brighton with the same methane suffering GF of Marrakesh fame. That year we hosted an orphans’ Christmas and we had a ball. My wee brother was staying with us and I invited loads of mates from around the traps. We all took hash cookies. It was a truly great Christmas. My wee brother passed out on the couch and the rest of us crumbled Jaffa Cakes into his bum crack. He was rather embarrassed by this but conceded that I had not ruined Christmas.
Jumping five years and a continent, I ended up spending Christmas with another girlfriend at her parents’ house. On this occasion, I really did ruin Christmas and to this day I feel guilty about my behaviour. Life wasn’t going well for me down under and I was a couple of hot dinners away from flying home to the mess I’d left there.
Christmas morning started with champagne and moved swiftly onto red wine (my Achilles heel). By around 8pm I was wild eyed and scary drunk. For those of you who know me, this is an unpleasant experience. A good friend of mine once described it as like being trapped in a broom cupboard with a high functioning zombie. Needless to say, when I stripped off my shirt and threw an antique stool against the wall, I had officially ruined Christmas and any chance of being invited back. That was not only a low point in my life but a low point in ruining Christmas.
After that I got on the straight and narrow and decided that I should devote my life to making Christmas better. It was a failed experiment but at least I stopped ruining Christmas. A few Christmases passed by uneventfully and I thought I was moving away from my Christmas shenanigans. However, I hit the festive wall by getting drunk by the coast one Christmas and I guzzled all of Christmas dinner, leaving nothing for my girlfriend. She loves scallops. I ate all 75 in one sitting and then passed out on the couch. When I rose from my slumber she accused me of ruining Christmas but revoked the accusation after we found naked photos of her Dad’s girlfriend doing unsavoury things to herself.
There have been a few more bumps along the yuletide highway, like last year when I started drinking whisky at 6am and cooked a dry shepherd’s pie for my guests, followed by a tearful monologue about how successful my year had been. But to be perfectly honest, I could do without it.
Christmas, like New Year’s Eve, is an example of forced fun. It’s not a time of reflection, it’s a consumerist hell hole that makes absolutely no sense to me at all. Why max out the credit card for one day? Why pour so much into one day, when the other 364 should be equally as important?
I’ve ruined my fair share of Christmases, so I’m officially retiring from non-secular holidays. They’re obviously not for me and vice versa. I should have done this years ago but people love to guilt trip you about not liking Christmas, like you’re some kind of negative vibe merchant.
So, this year I’m locking the door of the Treehouse and turning off my phone.
If you need me, wait ‘til Boxing Day. It’s better this way.
I’m 45 and single. If someone had told me that this is what was in store for me when I was 16, I’d have felt very, very afraid. In fact, I’d have regarded future Callum as a weirdo and failure. The kind of man who ended up as a janitor in a train station and had an unwholesome interest in used postage. However, I’m here to explain to young Callum that it isn’t that bad and that being single in your 40s is the ‘new single’ for the 21st Century.
When I was a kid, single people in their 40s tended to be cat ladies, janitors and closeted homosexuals who had ‘special friends’. The latter category tended to be met, by the adults, with a sense of confused wonder, garnished with unresolved sexual issues and a sprinkle of sympathy. I remember one woman in particular who terrified the other adults with her single status and lesbian den of sin in a place called Burrelton.
Anyway, these single people were a kind of a social anomaly and not what you aspired to. I remember having a teacher in secondary school that must have been around mid to late 30s and, rumour had it, liked entertaining the older students in her spinster flat. Total bullshit, but being over 25 and single was a fucking minefield of misinformation and myth making. In the absence of a relationship, people’s imaginations ran wild and we all know where that can lead to.
It’s now 2015 and I’m single, and I’m not a janitor or a stamp collector. I live alone because I like it that way. I’m not going to validate this because I don’t have to. I just do. Well, to be honest, living with me isn’t much fun. I do strange things in the middle of the night, like sleep eating and… but I’ve embraced being single because it’s actually not that bad.
For instance, in your 40s, you know where you’ve been and you know where you’re going, which is reassuring. This comes with an increase in confidence and the ability to navigate through life with greater success. Also, I don’t think young people are idiots, so I don’t feel middle-aged and alienated. This is the biggest mistake people over 35 make in life and it’s pointless, and stupid. Be nice to the people coming up because they’re the ones you’ll see when you’re coming down.
When it comes to the dating scene, so many 40 year olds lie about their age. Suddenly, on Tinder they’re 38 instead of 45. Stop being a fuckwit! People will find out and you’ll look like a massive dickhead! If people aren’t comfortable with your age, then fuck it. Find another medium or go out and actually meet people in the flesh. It can be done. Tinder is not the only fruit.
Now, I’m not against dating sites. They seem to be the modern arena for meeting new people and that’s fine by me. However, I’m old fashioned like that and it’s not for me. Plus my profile would make me look like Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. Interests: Drinking whisky while doing chin ups and watching violent films. Surely that would merit a call to the police or at least the Tinder police. I’m also not 6’ 3” with toned abs and painfully white teeth.
I’m a stocky middle-aged man with some bad habits and I’m going to the dentist this week to get a molar extracted. How would that look in a profile? Well, I couldn’t give a flying fuck because I’m 45 and I don’t aspire to the impossible heights of perfection. In fact, I laugh in the face of perfection because it’s a cruel joke told by other middle-aged men and women who look like used condoms that have been tarted-up to look like a Barbie doll’s arsehole.
The ‘new single’ for people in their 40s should be about dispensing with the fictional pretense and getting on with the reality of the situation. We’re not 25 anymore and that’s not a crime. There’s nothing wrong with a few wrinkles and a receding hairline, and there’s certainly nothing worse than pretending to be somebody that you’re not. I’m an intolerant prick and the idea of being ‘positive’ and ‘up beat’ or interested in arts and crafts fills me with vitriol. It’s been a long and winding road, and I’m not prepared to go backwards for the sake of people with impossible dreams. Plus, I’ll be retiring in 20 years, so I don’t have time for all that crap.
The ‘new single’ for people in their 40s should embrace the wrinkle and the missing molar, and shun the celluloid lies spun by creepy charlatans who think it’s okay to drench the world with their PR driven advice. They should me marched out and stripped of their plastic surgery and made to work in aged care facilities.
I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life and I’m single. And this isn’t a blog about justifying being single, like so many single people do these days. This is a blog about knowing where you’ve been and knowing where you’re going, and embracing it. Yes, there are times when I wake up and think it would be nice to have somebody here with me and sometimes that does get me down. However, most of the time, I wake up, make myself a coffee and go out to my roof terrace (weather permitting) feeling very content.
That’s life. Highs and lows and all the bits in between. If you’re in your 40s, single and reading this blog, cut yourself some slack – there’s great things in store for people who embrace a situation and turn it to their advantage. Being 40 and single is empowering as long as you own it and are not insecure about it all.
One of the sexiest characteristics in the world is the ability to be bold, to assert yourself and attain that greatness through success. Regardless of age.
I am not gluten free. Far from it. I’m watching a show about a cross-dressing family man, eating white fish, and breathing in Saturday air. I make no plans for the weekends because plans get in the way of doing nothing.
When I was a kid, I had very red cheeks. There’s a photograph on the lounge window sill of me sitting on my mother’s knee with an exceptionally red face.
Some people think I was born old and intolerant, a five year old with the disposition of a jaded London taxi driver. I wasn’t like that when I was a kid, I was an adventurer, the buccaneer of the River Ericht, crashing through rain covered cobwebs on my way to the gorge.
What happened to that spirit? When did I get bogged down in having a career and doing nothing at the weekend? Sometimes I’d like to resurrect that little fucker and get him to take me on an adventure somewhere, anywhere. We’d spend the weekend diving for pearls, create complicated games out of Lego, and finish up tired on Sunday, tunneling through the biggest Shepherd’s Pie ever baked.
“We can only eat fish fingers on dull days”, is what I said to my Grandfather, standing in a Swedish kitchen in 1977. Elvis died that day.
But now it’s windy in Brunswick and the Bloody Marys are cascading down the walls. My feet smell like funky corn chips and I wish I’d at least tried pearl diving as a career. However, regret is one of life’s greatest fallacies and I’m not a kid anymore but I’ve never wanted to be anyone else, and oblivion is sewn into the fabric of morality.
Exit, pursued by a bear.
In 2014 I fell in love with plants. It all started when I moved into the ‘Treehouse’, my new and now beloved flat on Brunswick Road. Prior to the Treehouse, I lived in Ye Olde Lodge and I didn’t have an outdoor area. Now I have a roof terrace where, after raising myself from sweat soaked dreams, I begin each day watching the sun rise over the Republic of Moreland.
One afternoon, me and Lil’G, went to Bunnings and bought a load of plants for my terrace because it looked sparse, and was begging for some greenery. A man’s home is a window into his mind. I bought a dwarf lime tree, scallions, basil, chili, coriander, and a respectful tray of parsley.
In the absence of pets, plants fill a certain gap in my domestic life. They need me and that makes me feel good. Quickly, my plant count began to rise and, before I knew it, my life was awash with photosynthesis and better air quality in my 3rd floor life of tranquillity.
It was about this time when Lazarus came into my life; a plant with white flowers that now sits on the window sill of my kitchen. Lil’G saved him from a trade show, and if she hadn’t picked him up and carted him back to the Treehouse, he’d have been dumped, just like Super Ted.
I’m in love with Lazarus. He’s brought abundant joy into my life. He makes me feel like a better man. And like me, he’s been through the blood spattered wringer of life. When I look into the pollen soaked mire of his white petals, I go weak at the knees and pray to the God of Botany, who’s a mixture between David Attenborough and David Bellamy. I guess you could say my love for Lazarus, is all about the David’s.
About a month ago I was recovering from a particularly intense drinking session with Jay Donovan and was enforcing an Alcohol Free Day (AFD). On these days, I always get a bit jittery and superstitious. I’m not a religious man but I’m superstitious, and I regard this trait as being the repository of my creativity. Being irrational is exhilarating. If I wasn’t irrational, I’d get incredibly bored and probably rob a bank or something like that. Irrationality has saved me from long term incarceration.
Anyway, I’d had the kitchen window open all day because it was hot in Melbourne and the moths were rising from the cracks, and destroying my knitwear. I was having frequent cold showers to alleviate my acute withdrawals from good times and, after one excellent shower, my Dad called me to discuss a financial matter. So, I took myself out onto the terrace to talk to the man who made the Vauxhall Viva HC estate look cool.
When I walked back into the flat, I noticed that Lazarus was gone but the window was closed. I hunted around the flat looking for him, thinking that maybe in my sober funk that I’d decided to move him somewhere else. I looked and looked but still I couldn’t find him. That’s when I remembered my ghost.
My ghost is a phantasm from the past that follows me around the planet. Ghosts don’t need passports or luggage; they just need a reason to be. My ghost is a nice person because at this stage he/she has not turned into a poltergeist.
Anyway, I thought my ghost had pilfered Lazarus and hid him because I’d been neglectful. Sometimes I get drunk and talk to my ghost. It’s a one way conversation, but Lazarus was gone. However, in my moment of need I got practical and considered the possibility that Lazarus had fallen out of the window. Sometimes we do things unconsciously and I thought that I’d maybe closed the windows like Hal, from 2001 A Space Odyssey, in a fit of jealous rage, and I’d not noticed Lazarus’ absence. Life’s fraught with moments of inattention.
But it was dark and I didn’t want to go all the way downstairs only to discover that Lazarus wasn’t there, and that my ghost had gone rogue. So, I decided to pretend he was down there and that my ghost still loved me. Finding out that love is not reciprocated is like finding a misshapen lump on one of your testicles.
I did not sleep well. My dreams were wracked with anxiety about having to go back to school. School taught me nothing but I did learn that institutions breed contempt.
I rose at dawn, walked out onto the terrace and watched the light make that spectacular transition from darkness to Brunswick. I find light as intriguing as the flow of emotion I feel when an underdog wins the day.
Walking down the stairs, I felt my blood addle, until a voice in my head said, ‘fear not Big C, an exorcist will soothe your weathered soul’.
When I got to the land that exists below my unreliable window, I saw Lazarus lying in a bed of broken glass that had been discarded as part of the recent renovations in my building. His flowers had wilted and he wasn’t looking too perky but he was alive and I could feel my ghost laughing in the silent wings, pursued by a bear. I picked Lazarus up, dusted off the glass and took him upstairs like Richard Gere did to Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman, cue the late Joe Cocker.
It was a beautiful moment. One man and his plant. The fall would kill a person but not him. Not Lazarus, he’s not subject to the fall of man.
After some TLC, Lazarus was reborn; broken, tarnished, beautiful, soulful and green, just like the underdogs that we all love so much. And now, as I write this post, he’s photosynthesizing, and I can tell he loves life because my ghost is at peace, and the light on the terrace is brazen and alive.
Illustration by Angry Goat
Sometimes we forget the profound nature of simplicity. We get lost in the drive to complicate projects because there is a belief this makes them look more refined and intellectual. However, it was Charles Bukowski, who said,“Simplicity is always the secret, to a profound truth, to doing things, to writing, to painting. Life is profound in its simplicity.”
One of the greatest challenges when writing eLearning modules, is to maintain a level of simplicity, without falling into a mire of patronising statements. Keeping the writing simple in a module is paramount to the engagement of the learner. This can be as simple as substituting the word ‘paramount’ for ‘key’.
How often have you had a conversation with somebody who inserts huge pauses in the conversation because they’re desperately trying to think of a smart word to use? It’s unnecessary, annoying, and when they do eventually say ‘conflagration’ instead of ‘fire’ I find myself praying for a Taser.
Using simple words to populate simple sentences is an underappreciated art form, and we should all re-embrace the art of simple syntax. A sentence that is simple and direct will always win the day because it’s easy to grasp, and if it’s an instruction, it’s easy to act upon.
Once I’ve finished a first draft of a module, I trawl through it searching for complicated sentences that I can simplify. And by doing this, I refine the writing into a comprehensive whole that is easy to understand. Each sentence should only need to be read once. Having to re-read sentences is time consuming for the learner, and indicates that the module is not doing its job properly.
Think about some of the great opening sentences of books that are simple, yet profound. One of my favourites is the opening line of Naked Lunch by William Burroughs:
“I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves”
Or the opening line of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22:
“It was love at first sight.”
These simple sentences set a tone that no complicated sentence could do. They immediately convey a sense of voice, pace and atmosphere, without having to be verbose or bombastic. Ernest Hemingway called these ‘true sentences’ and by this, he did not mean they reflected a philosophical truth, but the sentence was true in the sense that it said exactly what it wanted to say. No more and no less.
So, when you write your next module think about the profound nature of simplicity and make sure you avoid the unnecessary clutter of sentences that distort meaning and interrupt the natural flow of syntax.
Making your point clearly the first time round is an invaluable skill in this life.