I have been in a dangerous place this past week – down Memory Lane.
I blame Hugh Johnson’s beautifully-produced “On Wine – good bits from 55 years of scribbling” - picked up for a song in a remaindered Bucharest bookshop last week and whose format and sub-title has inspired me to start piecing together my own “collected writings”.
Johnson has, of course, been a wine correspondent – published not only in a variety of journals but in his own books – not least his famous annual wine pocket books.
I started well – founding a Local Government Research Unit in 1970 which, over a decade, produced quite a few papers (now lost) and even a couple of little books. And this led in turn to quite a few invitations to write in journals with titles such as “Local Government Studies”, “Social Work Today” and “Community Care” – and even to chapters in books such as “The Red Paper on Scotland” (ed Gordon Brown 1975); “Scotland; the Real Divide” (ed G Brown and R Cook 1983); and The Scottish Government Yearbook 1984.
The focus on my writing in the first 2 decades was on two subjects – the system of government in Scotland; and the massive change the Region was trying to make in its “Social Strategy for the Eighties” (then Nineties) in the roles and relationships of those who had and those who lacked power. This last was quite unique – no government unit in the UK had ever attempted such a thing.
And I have, after all these years, realised one odd thing. It attracted absolutely no pushback…no resistance. Not from the Conservative party, not from the Liberals, not from the Scottish Nationalists (then a mere handful of eccentrics) - let alone from the professional bodies representing our staff. I was often the guest at training sessions, for example, of police officers. Everyone’s response was an embarrassed acceptance.
Clearly this was by virtue of the way we had presented the issue – as emerging from the irrefutable evidence of a National Children’s Bureau statistical evidence on poverty and its scale in the West of Scotland…and something therefore that we had to deal with at our level…at least initially. Central government and its bodies were seen as allies – not enemies – and approached in a very different manner than that which characterised our English municipal colleagues. It is this material I must now track down…
The move to Europe in late 1990 and a new role as (EC-funded) consultant in capacity development since then has reduced my profile – although it gave me access to the EC publications network which I used with alacrity once it became obvious that they exercised absolutely no vetting on what I wrote – particularly in the project Final Reports I did between 2002 and 2012. My “Just Words – a sceptic’s glossary” was developed from such work
My travels took me to fascinating places in both central Europe and Asia about which I've already recorded short notes. Indeed I’m suddenly reminded of a wonderful book by a Dutch Journalist "In Europe - travels through the 20th Century" (an epub) about his visits to those parts of Europe which played a significant role in Europe during the past century. He does a marvellous job of weaving past and present together to give us a deep picture of Europe. I could do something similar in my “Collected Writings” which currently bears the draft title “Purposive Government”
One of my motivations is the disappointment I felt when I through my father's papers after his death...Here was a man who had slaved at his desk every Saturday evening as he compiled his weekly sermon for the "congregation" he following morning - and yet all I could find after his funeral were a few diaries of his camping holidays in the 1930s with his father; and the text of material he had prepared for some of the classes he ran. None of his own deep, personal thoughts.....
Of course - like most of us these narcissistic days - I go to the opposite extreme ....my only excuse is that, having enjoyed the company of many books, I feel I owe it to others to help guide them through the deluge of material which engulfs us.....
The wonders of the Word Processor have made it easier to retain copies of the material I have written in the past 22 years – material on floppy disks borders on the old-fashioned - and text in books and journals almost irretrievable except if I strike lucky in a second-hand bookshop or friend’s library.
Three years ago I compiled notes on my work of the past 50 years in No Man’s Land; journeys across disputed territories which I have now added to the list of E-books.