Thursday, 20 June 2013

Do You 'Think Before You Speak'?

I went to Balwearie High School in Kirkcaldy, Fife in the 1970s and to get there from my home six miles away in Burntisland I got a school bus. 

This journey took me past the King Alexander III (r1249 – 1286) monument which, to be honest, I never really paid much attention to. 

I knew it was in memory to a King of Scots and did wonder why it was never mentioned at History lessons at school. So, I guess you could say in more ways than one I had no more than a 'passing' interest...

 Alexander III Monument

History bored me at school; it seemed to be simply about writing down dates and never seemed to be remotely relevant to life then as it was. 

Of course, perhaps another reason was that History consisted of the Tudors, Sir Francis Drake, Battle of Trafalgar, Henry VIII, the Elizabethans with some World War I and World War II thrown in. 

I don’t remember ever getting any Scottish history; we got ‘British’ history which inevitably was ‘English’ history. 

As I say, it bored me. It is something I would love to be able to go back in time to remedy; I didn’t know it then but there was a tiny ‘history flame’ struggling to ignite into something more powerful and my even noticing the Alexander III monument was possibly the start.

British History

Many moons later I looked more into King Alexander III and was amazed this important king had escaped the history agenda almost completely. There are two occasions in his life which particularly impressed me. 

Perhaps I am impressed because as a youngster I was often prone to ‘speaking first and thinking later’.

Alexander  was seven years old when he was inaugurated as King of Scots on 13th July 1249; his father had died a week earlier.

Magnus Magnusson Book - Highly Recommended

According to Magnus Magnusson in his book Scotland: The Story of a Nation – 

In December 1251, at the age of ten, the boy-king was taken by his court to York to be knighted by Henry III before being married to Henry’s daughter Margaret. It gave the English king an immediate opportunity to raise the dormant question of Scotland’s subjugation to England: according to the contemporary St Albans Chronicle, Alexander was then asked to do homage for the kingdom of Scotland…the boy replied gravely that he had come to marry, not to answer so difficult a question.

Alexander III  King of Scots

At age 36 I was still unable to always ‘think things through’; I could still be impetuous; I would still react rather than respond. King Alexander III seemed to have no such problem.


In October 1278 Alexander III was again careful with his reply when Edward I pressed for homage. According to Marion Campbell in her superb book Alexander III: King of Scots – 

‘I become your man for lands which I hold of you in the realm of England for which I owe you homage, reserving my kingdom’. Then the Bishop of Norwich said, ‘And let it be reserved to the King of England, if he should have right to your homage for the kingdom’. The King answered him publicly at once, saying, ‘Nobody but God Himself has the right to homage for my realm of Scotland, and I hold it of nobody but God Himself’.  

Marion Campbell's Book on Alexander III - Highly Recommended

King Alexander III grasped the basics of diplomacy and assertiveness from an early age and displayed courage in his dealings with other rulers and kings throughout his reign.

I'm happy to say that nowadays I have managed to overcome the 'feet first' approach. I am now able to think, think, think and then respond. However, I’m afraid I would never have managed to reign in such a mature way as Alexander III even with a plethora of advisors. How about you?

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Perils of a Homemade Commercial

There are some fantastic commercials out there, old and new; indeed some are like mini movies.

Others have spawned directors who have gone on to actual movie success.

One such director is Jonathan Glazer. He directed the excellent movie Sexy Beast in 2000 starring Ray Winstone and Sir Ben Kingsley and was at the helm of the multi award-winning 'Surfer' ad in 1999 for  Guinness Draught. I was working for Diageo at Park Royal Brewery, London at that time and when it was first shown to employees it received tumultuous applause. It blew me away, and in fairness I always believed the Guinness Draught commercials were some of the best. 

'Surfer', however seemed to be extra special and I suppose vindication of this is that it was voted 'Best Ad of All Time' in a combined Channel 4/Sunday Times poll.

For those that haven't seen it or can't quite remember (Really? How could you forget?) here it is...

Excellent eh? Professionally done. And that is the poor self-published author's problem you see.
I certainly can't afford to have a professional commercial done for my book(s) so I thought I would make one myself. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? I have an artistic bent. An ideas man. And...I live by the beach so have a perfect location for a commercial.

My first attempt took about 40 minutes of preparation; I waited for the Edinburgh train to pass (clever thinking), I lay posters down on the sand every eight feet or so from the waterline up to the sand dunes. I had some props: a longbow (which I strung), a miniature copy of the St Margaret stained glass window at Edinburgh Castle, a pile of leaflets advertising 'Death of a King' which I spread atop a sand dune and finally the piece de la resistance - my tall banner which I had to spend some time on weighing it down and tying it up so it didn't blow over in the wind. I made sure there was no litter or any modern 'stuff' on show. Realism is what I want. All done in bare feet. I woudn't want to have any nasty boot-prints in the sand would I? That would be so un-medieval.

Finally, I was ready. Starting at the surfs edge I stooped to film the water before moving slowly up the beach filming the sand as I went and look! a poster, then another one snuggling in the sand with the odd sea-shell strategically placed. Then, the longbow, the little framed St Margaret 'window' and finally up the little dune to reveal leaflets and the wonderful banner.

My plan was to then talk through the book 'blurb' (the bit on the back) but then there was something my meticulous planning had missed. I had spent so long doing all this that as I started to speak I found I could barely speak. I was out of breath, gasping for air and stuttering on some of the words as I read from the banner. I gave up.

For the next attempt I would forgo all the posters and the gliding up the beach. I would start up on the dune by the banner. I would make it short and sweet. 

And then something happened...

So, I certainly ain't no 'Jonathan Glazer' and my homemade commercial attempt ain't no 'Surfer'.