It’s the day after the European election results. Politicians are, depending on the colours of their allegiance, either weeping into their espresso or taking a pull on another celebratory pint of bitter. In France, Marine Le Pen’s Front National has topped a nationwide poll for the first time ever. The UK front pages nearly all carry photos of Nigel Farage with a grin as wide as the channel tunnel. The political establishment has had its arse very firmly kicked.
David Cameron has said that voters are “disillusioned” with the EU. A Lib Dem commentator has said that Nick Clegg needs to quit because voters are no longer prepared to listen to him.
I fear they’re deluding themselves. This isn’t about the EU or Cleggy, this is about people’s view of politics and politicians. It’s also, fundamentally, about who’s talking and who’s listening.
Who’s talking? Who’s listening?
The 36% UK turnout tells its own story. People are giving up on conventional democracy because ticking a box once every few years doesn’t really constitute a conversation between equals. And that’s what they get in most other areas of their lives. Only the way they’re governed (and, less so, the way they’re employed) is still so autocratic.
Politicians aren’t talking about what voters are interested in and voters aren’t interested in what politicians are talking about. And when people do talk, politicians don’t listen. Letters get batted back with delegated, form answers and the real questions unanswered. The results of consultations seem pre-decided. Protests are increasingly ignored.
Traditional politicians are becoming an irrelevance
As a consequence, politicians are becoming an irrelevance. We don’t really need elected representatives. We are now better informed, educated and connected thanks to the internet. Direct local democracy is possible and indeed, becoming more common. People can contact their local representatives, take part in consultations and lobby as never before. But their participation is still very much for form’s sake and, because of that, only a minority take part. Worse, most politicians seem to either fear or ignore this participation.
We’ve moved on in so many other areas. We choose our own direct, fragmented media, the news we read, the subjects we engage with, the style of reporting we want. Why shouldn’t we do the same with politics? Labour, LibDems, Conservatives – even UKIP – are becoming as irrelevant and archaic as just four channels of terrestrial television.
Pre-internet politics in a post-internet world
Democracy still consists of a pre-internet model where a few groups of people give pre-determined answers to a set of vague, general questions and ask people to elect them on that basis. Doesn’t it make more sense to ask the people the real, live questions directly and let them answer?
If we don’t begin to do this and educate the electorate (that’s all of us) to do so, ‘four channel’ party politics will continue down its slope to irrelevance.
If people believed their vote might actually affect their lives, we’d start to see people becoming engaged in politics. Wouldn’t it be splendid to see Pericles’ quote turned around – “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
The more you ride an old bike, the more its quirks and wrinkles become normal. I realised this today after spending most of it tinkering with the Ural. Urals are possibly the exemplar of quirks and wrinkles.
I went to retrieve it from its new garage on the other side of the village and, of course, cleaned out the carb float bowls. That’s because they have a nasty habit of filling with water when the bike’s left outside for a while. Easy job. Takes less than five minutes now to have both bowls off, clean them out, replace the gaskets and nip up the screws.
Then, of course, it wouldn’t start. Turn key – click. Turn key again – click. Check the lights – yep, battery’s fine. Must be a stuck starter. Open boot, extract biggest spanner in the tool roll. This is the sort of spanner that Ural’s Russian makers would have nicked from one of the USSR’s tank regiments. I whack the starter casing, put the spanner back in the roll confidently and thumb the button again. Clacka-clacka-clacka – the wonderful, ‘biscuit tin full of old bolts’ sound that is a healthy Ural. Easy job.
Then I ride it home, realising that the left carb is over-fuelling. So I lean down and straighten the control cable. Engine happy again. More clacka-clacka-clacka. Easy job.
A few happy hours of cleaning, including removing the exhaust system (glad I copper-slipped the threads) and by the time it’s time to start again it’s dark. I start the bike and casually flick the light switch. Nothing. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth and gross darkness the people. Must be No.1 fuse. So, fusebox cover off, give the fuse a twiddle and replace the cover. Yep, lights working now. Easy job.
I remember when my pal Tarka rode down from Liverpool to teach me to ride a combo, four years ago now. We were out practicing when the bike suddenly started running rough and bogging down. Without a comment, he climbed off, toolkit out, and drained the carb float bowls – just as I did this morning. At the time I was terrified. I thought I’d spent a fortune on a lemon. To Tarks, a simple job like this was just part of owning a bike with a bit of character, so why comment when you can twirl a screwdriver and fix it?
The more you ride an old bike, the more its quirks and wrinkles become normal. I realised this today after spending most of it tinkering with the Ural. Urals are possibly the best example of quirks and wrinkles.
Now I realise that Urals just need a bit of love and care. And the sense of satisfaction from knowing all those little quirks and wrinkles is immense. You don’t get that on a Honda.
I want to teach you how to fail.
And I want to suggest that you welcome – rather than fear – failure. In fact, even more than that, I want you to learn to harness failure and make it work for you. I’m going to explain the Three Rules of Intelligent Failure.
Notice I didn’t say you should BE a failure. That’s because there’s no such thing – no matter what the media would have you believe – as a failure. There is never a point in your life at which a celestial being drops from above and presents you with your Certificate of Failure, a Failure badge, your ceremonial tramp’s plastic bag and straggly beard.
But people – particularly if they’ve had a few failures sometimes start thinking they ARE failures. If this is you – stop it. You are no more a failure than you are a cat, a chair or a postbox. You have huge potential – whether you’re in with the in-crowd or on the fringes. Your past results – or lack of them – don’t indicate your potential to succeed in life. They don’t matter.
You just need to fail intelligently.
There is a big difference between intelligent failure and just plain failing. For example, if you get sacked because you couldn’t be bothered to do any work, that’s not intelligent failure. That’s stupid.
Here’s how to fail intelligently…
Rule 1 – have a goal
Rule 1 of intelligent failure – have a goal. Yup, you’ve heard it before. But without a goal you don’t know if you’ve succeeded. Of course, not having a goal makes things easier. No need to face up to failure, no embarrassing moments, no need for hard work. Instead, just that nasty, nagging feeling of drifting and not really achieving much. Nice scenery…
Setting goals is hard. It’s difficult for most people to choose what they want in the first place, let alone start out to achieve it. But without a goal you’ll do something worse than fail – you’ll never even try. Life has a knack of keeping you very occupied and very busy – ‘occupied’ and ‘busy’ are not goals, they’re diversions.
So sit down, think what you want your obituary to say about your life and get on with it. Have a goal.
Rule 2 – if it doesn’t work, change something
Rule 2 of intelligent failure – if it doesn’t work, change something. Oh it’s sooo easy to keep doing the same thing. That’s because, even though it gets you nowhere, it’s comfortable. You know how to do it, you can probably do it quickly and you get a sense of satisfaction from actually, well, Doing. Even if you’re failing.
“Doing” is not determination
You might even dress up Doing as ‘determination’. You have grit and can stick at it – yeah, look at you. But determinedly doing something that keeps failing is stupid. And banging your head against a brick wall hurts and won’t move the wall. So don’t keep doing exactly the same thing if it keeps failing. Change things. Change a little at a time and find out what works – what gets you a better result. And about that wall? Try dynamite, not your head.
Rule 3 – keep going
Rule 3 of intelligent failure – keep going. Keep going when everything is against you, when your friends are laughing, when people (even including your mother) are telling you to do something else. If you’ve started a business, ignore those kind friends who waft the lovely smell of regular salaried income, paid holidays and a company car at you. Stick. At. It.
Dealing with the emotional mugging
Now, all that sounds like Rule 3 is a complete contradiction of Rule 2. But it’s not. And that’s why success is so bloody hard. Because you have to constantly endure the emotional mugging of failing, changing something, believing it’ll succeed and then watching it fall out of the sky like a brick. Again. And then picking up the brick and wondering how the hell you’re going to get it to stay up there.
It’s not like the movies. You KNOW the hero will win in the end. In life, you don’t. You simply have to keep at it and believe.
Sir James Dyson sums it up a lot better than I can:
“A lot of people give up when the world seems to be against them, but that’s the point when you should push a little harder. I use the analogy of running a race. It seems as though you can’t carry on, but if you just get through the pain barrier, you’ll see the end and be okay. Often, just around the corner is where the solution will happen.”
Ignore those false friends ‘passion’ and ‘wanting’. “I’ve got so much passion – I want to succeed so much!” Wanting gets you precisely nowhere – no matter how much you want. It’s action you need – and a lot of it. Success has a lot of failures in its way – you need to get over all of them. It doesn’t matter whether you leap or crawl or get helped over – it’s getting over each one that matters.
Thomas Edison – the man who invented the lightbulb after just 3,000 failures – knew a bit about what happens if you just want something but aren’t prepared to take any action and then keep going:
“Failure is really a matter of conceit. People don’t work hard because, in their conceit, they imagine they’ll succeed without ever making an effort. Most people believe that they’ll wake up some day and find themselves rich. Actually, they’ve got it half right, because eventually they do wake up.”
And that’s all there is to it. Three basic rules. It’s simple, isn’t it? But just because something is simple, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’m not saying that intelligent failure is easy – not for one minute. It’s tough.
Worthwhile things tend to be new, unexplored, untried – at least by you if not by others. That means you’re learning as you’re going. That means success often won’t be instant. You will probably fail – a lot. And it’s OK – as long as you fail intelligently you’re moving forward and learning.
So, the three rules for one last time:
1. Have a goal. Without it you’re drifting.
2. If something doesn’t work after you’ve given it your best shot – change it.
3. Keep going. Keep going when people laugh, tell you you’re wrong – just keep going.
You may not be academic – doesn’t matter. You may have a dead end job – doesn’t matter. You may be the shy one in the corner who people barely notice – doesn’t matter. You still have huge potential to succeed. And now you know how to fail intelligently, you know how to succeed too.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start failing. But do it intelligently.
A Formica-wood topped table, a plastic chair and one of the worst cups of coffee I’ve had in my life. But a view of the local dolmus station across the road from the bakery-cafe. Ancient white Renault 12s rattle past full of families, the back seats wedged with bodies. The short cough and whir of a moped starter motor and putt-putt-putt as it comes to life.
A sleek, black BMW cruises up, seal like, and stops. The local big man, I think. Instead, two flour-covered bakers climb out, grinning, and brandishing green plastic baskets of still fragrantly hot bread they carry to the cafe.
The reliable, regular chatter and loose clatter of a white diesel dolmus – a local minibus and the way almost everyone travels here. A white plastic plate in its windscreen, fixed with suction cups, says “Dalyan”. It slowly unloads its cargo of people, bags and parcels. Countryside commuters, two lost-looking tourists with hats and wheelie cases. Someone has hammered the end of the exhaust to attach a new, unrusted, end section. It just adds to the rattle.
A sun-faded red PX200 – Italian scooter aristocracy in the sea of Chinese urility mopeds – heels over as the rider flicks a turn. He smiles at my recognition as he catches the bike on the throttle and powers it upright.
The tourists scan the whiteboard, covered in marker pen destinations, still puzzled.
My coffee arrives, the young waiter apologising that most of it is in the saucer. “I’m sorry… Coffee…” And he mimes a fountain spraying and smiles broadly. He places a filo pastry tart, specked with black poppy seeds, beside the cup. He apologises again, pats me warmly on the shoulder with another grin and resumes propping up the counter and chatting up the local girls.
A British couple, their Lancashire accents as out of place in the sunshine as his grey socks, tuck their newly-bought loaf into a hessian Tesco bag. “We’ll be alright now, love,” she says as they walk off holding hands.
Another moped rasps past, its pilot tanned, tight white t-shirted and topped with a gold braided captain’s hat. John-Paul Gaultier on a Mobylette.
A disreputable white Fiat parks carefully aross the “no parking” sign that gives the dolmuses space to wheel and turn. Its owner scurries in and out of the baker’s between buses as a grey-moustached man on another moped smilingly weaves his way past.
The two flour-covered bakers have stopped for tea and are holding court. The laughter is rich and warm in the sunlight, their work for today over.
Another family-filled Fiat stops, the young boy’s nose pressed against the glass as he watches the bikes flick past. A young couple, maybe 18 or 19, kiss goodbye. The boy makes a face.
Although all white and all carefully polished, no two dolmuses are alike. One pulls in, its bonnet emblazoned with the blue and red Ortaca Minibus Cooperative shield. Another older bus sports a cartoon Sylvester the cat in one of its side windows. Nearly all have q’uranic verses in Arabic script swinging from their driving mirrors. Each advertises its destination on a coloured, plastic board suckered to the windscreen. Dalyan-Ortaca-Iztuzu. Doors are open in the heat and the nasal thread of shawms underscored by drums, comes from each radio and blends with moped exhausts and horns.
The drivers lean against their buses, alternatively joshing each other and shouting their destinations to likely passengers. There is barely space for three buses on the hard standing, so others jostle and wheel, half on and off the pavement, for space.
At the centre of the chaos, marshalling, conducting and answering queries from locals and tourists as easily, is a white-haired man in his 70s. The drivers wear faded t-shirts, long trousers and well-used sandals. He wears a two-piece, immaculate pinstripe suit with a wide yellow tie and crowned with a sunbleached beaten leather cowboy hat. The suit is so shiny with age that it reflects the light and it is easily three sizes too large, but the air of authority it adds is unmistakeable. The man’s grin is easy and almost suggests that he realises his suit is of place, but he is enjoying the joke too.
A waiter from another cafe easily weaves his way through dolmuses, mopeds and bicycles, four glasses of apple tea poised on his tray. The suited Controller takes one, his grin even broader, and turns to answer another bus question from the gaggle of tourists that have appeared at his elbow. A man who clearly enjoys his job.
So, my month of self-imposed watch austerity is up. I’ve done it. No watch but the F has passed my wrist in the last 31 days. What have I achieved? Well, clearly absolutely nothing. This is first-world stuff. Wearing a £7 Casio is not deprivation in even the remotest sense. However, a glass of decent malt is clearly called for in celebration. Don’t mind if I do.
In the real world I may have achieved nowt, but I’ve learned a few things…
There’s an F-91 near you
First, these things are everywhere. I’d wager that, as you read this, you’re no more than 3 metres away from an F-91. Casio weren’t able to tell me how many they’ve precision-glued together since 1991, but it’s got to be a few million. They’re abandoned in office drawers, forgotten in bags, Blu-tacked to the dashboards of cars, on wrists and even (I saw it) on a string around someone’s neck.
Sitting in a local coffee shop, looking idly out of the window, I saw ten Fs in as many minutes. Is there a more ubiquitous watch? I doubt it. They’re just there, quietly getting on with the job with only an hourly ‘beep’ to remind you of their presence. And the fact you can’t work out how to turn it off.
The classless watch?
Sitting in a meeting last week with some of the board of a UK utility company, I spotted one under the cuff of one of the directors. He knew how to turn off the beep. On the same day, I picked up a parcel (yes, another watch) from the local Post Office. The postie behind the counter was wearing – you guessed it – an F-91 – on a battered and faded NATO. On that coffee shop visit I saw them on the wrists of super-trendy hipster types, the guy who emptied the street bins and the barista. It really is Everywatch.
They don’t give in – or give up
They’re near-as-dammit indestructible too. Who needs a G-Shock? I’ve worn mine on the Real Tennis court and it’s been belted with a heavy wooden racquet. It’s fine. It got dropped on the stone tile floor in the office. Not a mark. It’s survived the teeth-loosening, pneumatic-drill vibration of the flat-twin engine on my Ural 650 combo. Believe me, when someone hits the big red button there’ll be three things left: Nissan Micras, smiling, smug cockroaches and F-91s. And the F-91s will still be going ‘beep’ every hour.
Am I about to give up my collection, ditch the vintage and declare unending loyalty to my F? Well, no. But there is a rather freeing simplicity to an F-91. It does the job of telling the time, waking me up, timing my run all without fuss, bother or drama. In fact, it does it so simply and effectively that I’m going to open the wormcan and say it’s firmly A Classic.
The ultimate cheap classic?
I’ll stick my neck out here. In my view, it does the whole ‘form and function’ thing just as well as any other classic watch. It’s the best kind of classic too – a democratic one that pretty much anyone can afford and enjoy. No waiting lists, no buzz-to-enter heavy-carpeted boutiques, no sniffy watch salesmen. Just nip on line and your F will be beeping happily from a box on your doormat the next day.
And, if it gets trashed in the process of everyday life (unlikely as that is), you can just shrug and buy another with the change in your car’s ashtray. You can’t say that about a Nomos a Breitling or a Rolex.
So what started out as a bit of a joke has been great fun. It’s started conversations with new watchie friends, made me think and reminded me that a watch doesn’t have to cost the GDP of a small central European country to be engaging. But it certainly does say something for my affection for the F that it’s on my wrist as I write this. And it’ll be there, every so often, for a long time to come. I’ve come not just to admire, but like, the F-91 hugely. Beep.
By the way, in that parcel was a cal.1620 Omega LCD Speedmaster from 1977. Yup, they made digital Speedies. But that’s a whole other story…
A little over a week ago, I decided to lock my watchbox and forsake my usual vintage mechanical, and high-end quartz serious tickers for just one watch. And not any old watch at that – I chose, from Amazon, a £7, resin-cased Casio F-91W, the cheapest of the cheap. A watch for less than the price of two pints of London Pride, a couple of Starbucks coffees (although I’d argue S’bucks has little to do with coffee) or a 3 minute parking ticket in central Oxford. The plan? To wear this single watch for a month. No changes, no backsliding into Breitlingdom or Rolex City, not even for an evening.
It’s been fascinating watching watchie people’s reactions to my ‘one watch for a month’ experiment. It’s been almost as fascinating watching the complete non-reaction of normal (i.e. non watchie) people.
Watchland reaction has ranged from the horrified to the puzzled. You see, to most watchies, quartz is what powers Satan’s nastiest wristwatch. But even he wouldn’t allow a digital quartz into the seventh circle. Digitals are no watchie’s friend. Apart from a very select few of us who either obstinately believe function matters as much as form or are just plain contrarian.
Normal people simply don’t care. Let’s face it, apart from muggers, no-one is really fussed what you’re wearing on your wrist. Unless, perhaps, it’s so truly hideous that people can’t help spot it. Or it’s a Rolex day-date or Sub. If you wear one of the more obvious Rolexes (Rolexi?), you will spend some time answering the “is it real?” question from observers, never very satisfactorily and always with a slight blush of embarrassment.
No, the F-91W is a stealth watch. Not so much Sub as subfusc, it quietly and efficiently gets on with telling you the time (the date, the day and a few other useful things like when you need to wake up) without fuss. That’s what most people want a watch for.
But, as utility-based as it is, I think I chose the wrong watch for my (admittedly lighthearted) experiment.
I’ve discovered, the F-91W, despite its unashamed utility background (or maybe because of it), achieves rather more than just timekeeping status. It seems to have that indefinable thing that marks a watch out as remarkable. It may even be (pace fellow watchnerds) a bit of a classic.
I’d wanted a sort of antiwatch. A watch that ticked all the opposite boxes from the usual contents of my watchbox. But the Casio isn’t it. An antiwatch, under my definition, would have been a watch that pretended to be something it isn’t. A plastic gold Armani thing would have been a better trial. Or maybe even a fake. But the Casio makes just as much of a statement as an IWC Ingenieur. It is what it is. Plain, no messing, no pretence. It’s not – as I suggested – a sort of horological Toyota Pious. No, the Pious is a car for people who have principles, but not enough of them to get a bicycle instead. The F-91 is a watch for people who want something that tells the time as simply, cheaply and clearly as possible. It makes a statement by completely not giving a tuppeny toss about making a statement.
Given all that, I shouldn’t really have been surprised by people’s affection for the watch. I’ve had a few emails from ex and serving soldiers. They remember their F-91s from their time in camo (or more likely No5 dress) and they remember them fondly. As one said, “Robust doesn’t do the F-91 justice.” Another one talked of how his F (see, the affection of an abbreviated nickname already) had done everything he’d asked of it through two tours in Afghanistan, all without failing once or even needing a new battery.
It’s currently doing something rather more domestic – timing one of Pip’s world-class culinary creations in the oven. And I shall be sad when my month with the F is up. It’s not only earned a place in the watchbox, but my affections too. I’ve actually grown fond of the damn thing’s sheer unassailable, unbustable, unapologetic functionality. It’s the watch equivalent of a mongrel terrier. It ain’t pretty, but by God it makes you smile and just plain works.
One thing is guaranteed to brighten up a standard, nose-to-desk sort of day. The arrival of a new watch. Our postman (for we still have such things in Burford as ‘our’ postie) handed over a package this morning, with his usual grin.
“Another five mill thinner and it’d have gone through the letterbox,” he said. “Shame you’re in today. I usually stamp on ‘em to make ‘em fit otherwise.”
Fortunately, I suspect my new arrival would have survived perfectly well. I’d have been a little less relaxed had a vintage Reverso been in the box. See, there are already advantages to F-91 ownership.
So, my first watch – ever – to arrive in an Amazon box. Downloadable wristwear. Whatever next?
Time to unwrap, clearly.
A new watch is always an exciting thing. I was interested to see if the usual frisson was there with my the F-91 Antiwatch. And it was. OK, so it’s not the sort of thrill that comes from a unpacking a vintage Explorer or an IWC MkXII, but it’s a thrill all the same. A sort of middle-of-the-road Muscat in comparison with Sauternes, maybe cheaper and less refined, but definitely worth a swig.
And I have to say, in spite of my usual watch snobbery that would make Margo Leadbetter (google it if you’re too young) start thinking fondly of low slung jeans and baseball caps, I’m impressed.
I like lots of things to read with my watches. I want instructions, guarantees, history, information, service bits and bobs. I like bumf. And the F-91 didn’t let me down.
The instruction leaflet was clearly designed by a particularly devious, wizened and ancient origami master at the very top of his game. Although it was tiny, it unfolded to the size of an OS map of Europe. Chaps, don’t bother with wallpaper – it’s cheaper to buy a crateful of F-91s and use the instruction leaflets. Two per wall should do you. I swear it’s even got a section in medieval Catalan.
There’s another leaflet – presumably also in Catalan – catchily entitled “Disposal of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment of Products for Household use (applicable in the European Union only)” Not quite sure I understand what that means, but I can see it catching on as bedtime reading at Mrs Flangespindler’s Home for the Criminally Insomniac. I couldn’t manage to read any more than the title though.
This too is printed on a piece of paper that makes a postage stamp look dangerously large, then folded by Origami San – clearly on a day where he really fancied a challenge.
The warranty card was probably in Linear B, but my electron microscope was out of battery by now. The lovely people at Casio clearly don’t believe in stinting watchbuyers who like a bit of bumf. And 3pt Sanskrit type too. Bit of history of Casio watches would have been good though.
But what about the watch? Well, it’s the Toyota Pious of the watchworld; a watch for people who don’t like watches but still need to tell the time. And it does it all beautifully simply. I had it set in under a minute and on my wrist. Once there, you might as well have strapped on a gnat – there’s no weight to its resin case at all. It makes my Timefactors Speedbird III feel like an Olympic discus.
There’s something rather pleasing about the digits. Clear, simple and, just like the watch, absolutely economical. In fact, the whole concept of something this cheap that’s this effective and well-designed is really rather attractive. I think we may get on…