Memorial Conference for Les Fishman, Management Centre, Keele University,15 October 2008

Professor Peter Lawrence (who had been my P2 economics tutor) got in touch with me about this conference and I was delighted to make space for it.

Firstly, I had very fond memories of Les Fishman, Peter Lawrence and indeed other tutors from the economics department at Keele.

Secondly, with the 2008 recession having just kicked off big time and no-one knowing what was going on, it seemed a good opportunity to find out what my alma mater’s economists thought about it all.

Thirdly, with only a month or less to go until my Gresham lecture on Commercial Ethics, I thought some clear head time in the rarefied atmosphere of the Keele Hill might do me some good for that project too.

Peter Lawrence offered to put me up, but I explained what a terrible house guest I am, so checked in to the Crewe Arms in Madeley Heath.  I don’t think we ate there that night – I think Peter picked me up from there and took me to a gathering elsewhere. Several of the other academics and visitors were there that night, including Keith Tribe and I think also Shirley Dex.

Here is the programme from the Wednesday conference:

progmem(1)-5

I also was sent a copy of Les Fishman’s seminal paper about the effect of the Vietnam War on the US economy: vietnampaper-1 and also a paper by Norman Flynn about the economic impact of the Iraq War econwar.

The conference was very interesting. I especially remember David Leece (who was my P1 tutor) explaining how relevant the work of Hyman Minsky was becoming in the light of this particular recession – spot on.

Fun networking with several of my former tutors/lecturers, a few other former students (Paul Smith I recall), several delightful members of the Fishman family and others too.

One strange unintended consequence was meeting Leonore Fishman who (with a bit of encouragement from her dad, David) subsequently asked me for a job and ended up working for Z/Yen for a few years.

Stuff happens.

 

Cambridge Weekend with Charlie, 26 to 28 January 2008

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We wanted to visit Charlie in Cambridge before she finished her law degree at Girton. January of her final year was leaving it almost as late as would be feasible. We had a pretty full itinerary of short trips March/April and Charlie had finals to start thinking about.

We booked the Felix for the last weekend of January, went and had a good time. The photo album on Flickr is pictures of drinks and dinners; on Saturday night in Cambridge itself, then at the Felix on the Sunday evening. We went with Charlie and some of her friends to a comedy show after dinner on Saturday. Sub-Footlights, had its moments. But for some reason no photos from that bit. Oh well.

My First Flame, c. December 1994

7 May 2017 – I read the Facebook posting linked here, written by Justin Sutton, an old mate of mine from school, about the song Africa by Toto, which brought to the front of my mind the peculiar story of my first flame.

I don’t mean “my first flame” in the romance sense. Good heavens no. I was over 20 when Africa was released as a single, just about to start my third year at Keele.

No, no, no, I mean my first internet flame.

I started using the internet in the second half of 1994, while setting up Z/Yen, primarily because I/we expected it eventually to be useful for business.

But there wasn’t much going on commercially on the net in those days, so, to get into the swing of using the net, I used it quite extensively for my personal interests. Not least, at that time, subscribing to some Usenet groups that I thought would help me with my development of comedy lyrics, including one where people simply discussed the lyrics of songs.

One correspondent on that lyrics group stated that Africa by Toto was their favourite lyric of all time. That posting made me recall the autumn of 1982 and the way that my flatmate, The Great Yorkshire Pudding and I would mimic the line

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti,

which at the time we thought might be the most pretentious lyrical line ever, not least because it barely rhymes with “solitary company” and also barely scans the beat of the song. You sort of need to rush through that line like a broadside balladeer or a calypso singer with too much to say and not enough beats in which to say it.

I made these points about Africa by Toto on that Usenet group and then went about my business for the next 12 or perhaps even 24 hours, as was the dial-up method in those days.

When I returned to the group, I had been comprehensively flamed by the Africa-lover. Their beef was only partly a disagreement with my feelings about the lyric, which was understandable. It was primarily a character assassination suggesting that I was not qualified to discuss that lyric, on the basis that I had failed correctly to transcribe the line in question.

That line actually reads, “as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like a lepress above the Serengeti”,

explained the angry song-lover.

In those days, there was no Google or YouTube or Wikipedia or on-line repository of lyrics to turn to. But I couldn’t even work out what a “lepress” might be. Nor why anything other than “Olympus”  might make sense as the simile in question. I even spent a few minutes looking through the dictionary to see if there was a word which had slipped my mind, the feminine form of which might be lepress and make sense in context. The only word I could think of that might take the feminine form “lepress” was “leper”, which didn’t make sense to me in context.

I made these points on the Usenet group and then went about my business for the next 12 or perhaps even 24 hours.

When I returned to the group, I had been even more comprehensively flamed by the Africa-lover.

You know ******* well that a lepress is a female leopard. Don’t be so ******* insulting.

The flamer had also acquired one or two supporters who joined in the flaming, mostly on the grounds that they like the song, a view which I find fair and with which I have some sympathy. I also sort-of like the song; it’s just that one line that has always grated on me and was the source of our 1982 mirth.

But also, by now, I had acquired quite a few supporters, some of whom were supporting the logic of my specific argument about the lyric, while others were simply arguing that I was entitled to my opinion and that the purpose of the group was, after all, to debate lyrics.

I also received a private message with a plea from one of the groups moderators, who told me that she felt that I had been unfairly flamed but asked me to post a conciliatory message to try to calm the group down. She was asking me to do this, because she sensed that I was the more likely of the combatants to acquiesce to her request.

I thought about the moderators conciliation request, while also consulting my English and American dictionaries, to try to work out what a female leopard might actually be called. “A leopardess”, since you asked. I also listened to Africa by Toto again, just to see if I could detect anything other than “Olympus” in that line.

So I did post a conciliatory note.

I apologised to the original poster for my not liking the Africa lyric as much as they did. I apologised to any females or lepers who had been offended by my attempt to define the mystery word “lepress”. I asserted that the female leopard is a leopardess in both English and American usage. I suggested a compromise lyric, with neither Olympus nor lepress, which might just make sense and satisfy everyone’s sensibilities:

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like a left breast above the Serengeti.

I dialed-in to that group a couple more times over the next day or so to watch the flaming discussion peter out. Then I unsubscribed from that group.

Anyway, here is Africa by Toto with the lyrics shown in all their glory and accuracy on the screen.

Minutes of a Strange Meeting From 10 June 1985, Typed Up 30 December 1985

I have published the hand-written version of these “minutes” under the date of the “meeting”.

Here is the typed up version, scanned from what I think must be carbon copies. Is there anyone else left on the planet who remembers what carbon copies were?

I guess I prepared these for our glorious return visit in January 1986 for the traditional UGM/AGM thingie.

10 June 1985 Spoof Minutes Side One10 June 1985 Spoof Minutes Side Two

An Order To Attend A University of Keele Students’ Union General Meeting, Letter From June Aitken, 13 December 1985

I might have some notes or other artefacts from the meeting itself which I’ll post separately if/when I find them. I know I did attend the meeting. I’m pretty sure several/most of us did. If June said you had to be there, you had to be there.

UKSU Letter 13 December 1985

University of Keele Students’ Union, Letter Requesting Help, 1 November 1985

I remember Nigel Dempster writing a whole load of factually inaccurate stuff about Keele Students’ Union generally and me in particular. I also remember writing a rebuttal, which the Daily Mail, surprisingly, published.

This letter request from June Aitken probably explains why I cannot find copies of the rebuttal and other materials – I suspect that I simply sent them to her without making further copies for myself. In 1985, photocopying/scanning was not the simple, almost automatic thing it is today.

Perhaps this letter from June is now all that remains of the Dempstergate debacle.

UKSU Letter 1 November 1985

 

A Letter From Keele, Professor Les Fishman, 2 September 1985

I have no idea what must have gone wrong with the earlier correspondence, unless it turns up in a pile I have not yet excavated. I got on well with Les, both in my capacity as a student and as a students’ union officer. He was, in my experience, a wonderful lecturer and steward of his undergraduate students. So my comment about the long-forgotten faux pas would have been tongue-in-cheek on my part, as would Les’s rebuttal have been on his part.

Les Fishman Letter 2 September 1985

In 2008 I went to the memorial mini-conference Professor Peter Lawrence and others held in Les’s honour. I ended up meeting and hiring Les’s grand-daughter, Leo, who thus worked at Z/Yen for a few happy years.

A Letter from Peter Held soon after I left Keele, 24 July 1985

I got to know Peter Held on several of the University committees; he was a prominent member of the University Council. I remember being pleasantly surprised when he invited me and Kate to a Lichfield Festival concert towards the end of our term of office, that summer. I’ll write up that concert in the fullness of time; I’m pretty sure I have the programme.

I would have written quite promptly to Peter to thank him for his (i.e. Marling Industries’) hospitality. This letter is his thanks for my thanks, with the offer of a little bit of employment insurance tucked in there, which I remember pleasing me when I first saw the letter.

Not that I can really imagine a career in industrial textiles, looking back, but who knows where life might have been taking me back then?

Marling Industries Letter 24 July 1985

 

After The Hackgrass Reveal…Later That Same Day…A Strange Sort of Committee Meeting, 10 June 1985

On top of my Hackgrass reveal antics on our last morning in office, it seems we held some sort of bogus committee meeting later in the afternoon. More a symposium than a mere meeting, by the looks of it.

It looks as though I completed the minutes that December, ahead of our January 1986 appearance at the UGM I shouldn’t wonder, so I’ll publish the typed version at that date. The hand-written version that follows must have been part-written on the day and then concluded later.

Looks as though my Daily Mail rebuttal might have been around the same time.

Experts at handwriting analysis forensics might be able to work out exactly what went on. John White – I suggest you might choose not to apply for this role, if your attempt at the Hackgrass cypher is anything to go by.

10 June 1985 Spoof Minutes Manuscript Page One10 June 1985 Spoof Minutes Manuscript Page Two10 June 1985 Spoof Minutes Manuscript Page Three10 June 1985 Spoof Minutes Manuscript Page Four

 

Hackgrass Reveal in Pub Circ, Keele, 10 June 1985

When signing out Hackgrass from Concourse in February 1985, I left my name hidden in a not very complex code of initials in the final sentence of that piece.

Most of my fellow committee members didn’t know that I was Hackgrass. Indeed the only person on the committee who did know was Pete Wild, as the only people still at Keele who did know my identity were my remaining former Barnes L54 flatmates (hence Pete), Petra Wilson and Annalisa de Mercur.

For the last day of our office as sabbaticals, I wrote a final Hackgrass one-pager and revealed myself to the lovely Pat Borsky in the print room. (As Hackgrass, I mean; please retain some decorum and concentrate, dear reader). Pat agreed to print the one-pager as a publicity circular (pub. circ.) special and the rest is history.

The one-pager caused more a bit of a stir that day in students’ union circles. I thought best to lie low in my office.

Soon enough, John White plonked himself in my office with pub. circ. and a copy of the February Concourse, saying that he wanted to break the code.

I said that I didn’t much care who Hackgrass was and that I wanted to finish off some work, as I was still very busy.

John laboured with the puzzle for some time in my office, concocting some highly convoluted theories such as:

a=1…z=26, reverse the number series and rework the letters

Once I got irritated enough, I suggested to John that whoever Hackgrass was, he or she probably wasn’t that sophisticated a cipher-wright, so John might be better off trying something really simple like the initial letters of the words in the sentence.

About 10 seconds later, I received an unrepeatable (indeed forgettable) stream of invective from John. I have forgiven him for the invective and I believe he has forgiven me for keeping my identity as Hackgrass a secret during our sabbatical year.

Post script – John White has left an extensive comment on the above few paragraphs, but for reasons known only to himself (perhaps cognitive dissonance between a need to vent his spleen in public while simultaneously hoping no-one will find and read the venting) has posted the comment on a different posting – click here to read both posting and comment.

In all the excitement, I don’t seem to have kept a copy of the printed pub. circ. itself, but I do have the original text, a scan of which follows.

Hackgrass Reveal Pub Circ June 1985