“Want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”
I think one of the most difficult things for many people to cope with at the moment is that apart from working out what we’re going to have for supper tonight or where we might go tomorrow for exercise where we’ll see the least number of people, we just can’t make plans for the future.
This really struck me this week as we moved into the second half of the year. Usually, once the summer solstice comes and goes you know that the countdown to the end of the year has started. From here on in the nights will get ever so slightly shorter day on day. After the weather we have had this week its hard to believe we will ever be cold again but even thought we won’t notice the shorter days for some weeks to come you still know that ‘winter is coming’.
In a normal year, people in my business would already be planning for their autumn tours and getting things in place for Pantomime season; but this is not a normal year.
It was last summer when I got my year planner out and mapped out the next 18 months. The plans on my sheet of paper started with writing and recording a new album, getting the artwork ready for the album cover and tour posters, manufacturing a new album, tour rehearsals and travel arrangements to get to venues right across the country.
For a while, things went to that plan. We managed to get the photographs taken in time to get the artwork designed and printed whilst I was able to organise a trip to Prague to record the orchestra for my album and mix it all together with weeks to spare.
In the meantime, I had done a deal with the publisher of a book I had written ‘Old Enough to Know Better’, to buy all the available stock so that I would have plenty of merchandise ready to sell on tour.
‘What could possibly go wrong?’
In doing all of these things I was following the guidance of one of the fathers of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”
For many years ‘winging it’ and ‘hoping for the best’ had probably been my attitude to life. The thing is I’d gotten away with it for so long; just enough last minute revision to pass the exams, just enough natural fitness to get me though a football game without needed to really train.
It was only through the painful experiences of failure that I learned that what Benjamin Franklin had said was probably true.
The most painful was a night at the Cambridge Union. As I had a record deal with Rocket Records at the time I had been invited to be the guest student contributor in a discussion on pop music. The panel included Radio 1 DJ Paul Gambaccini and at that time Pop Music Mogul Jonathan King. It was only as we tucked into a pre event dinner that I realised I hadn’t given any thought to what I would say in my allotted 15 minutes.
5 minutes into my speech even I knew I was rambling. Chastened by the silence and bored expressions on the faces of my audience I sat down to silence. Having said that, the night itself was a great success. Gambaccini and King shining filled the room with witty anecdotes and helpful advice. They shone whilst I disappeared into the shadows. No one wanted to ask me any questions at all and I couldn’t blame them.
At the end of the event I turned to Jonathan King and said ‘Well, there was no need for me to be here tonight’. I think I was looking for words of comfort, maybe reassurance. I can still see his face, his cold eyes and that strange crooked smile he used to have. ‘No’ he said, ‘we needed the amateur touch’.
“A fool learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from others”
If I’m honest I don’t think I have ever got over that comment from Jonathan King but in many ways I had to learn the hard way that if you don’t do the homework, put in the hard yards in practice then there is every chance that you will get caught out.
Maybe that’s why I and so many other people at the moment feel helpless. For years we have tried to insulate ourselves from disaster. We have taken out insurance, done our market research and planned well in advance. We have thought through all the scenarios that could lead to disaster and put in place systems to mitigate…and then came the COVID 19 Pandemic.
In our defence I suppose we have the right to expect there to be plans in place to deal with a once in a generation disaster which, though rare, can be expected. We need experts to shout loud enough to make sure we take heed of their warnings. The trouble is these days science and facts seem to be a matter of opinion.
For example, people know there will be a big earthquake in California. We have had small earthquakes, but the experts know that it is just a matter of time before the ‘Big One’. The government in California need to keep reminding people and putting in plans to cope with that disaster when it happens. If they don’t they are acting negligently.
The same is true of a pandemic. We might say no one could have been prepared for the scale of this emergency. It has been a Global Pandemic affecting every country in the world but to say we didn’t know it was coming is disingenuous to say the least.
Back in October 2016 all major Government departments, the NHS and local authorities across the country ‘war gamed’ a pandemic and found that as a country we were not prepared. Even though ‘Exercise Cygnus’ showed we needed to put plans in place it appears that we didn’t do everything we needed to do. It would seem Benjamin Franklin has been proved right yet again.
Human beings are incredibly resourceful, and we will get through this. We will probably come up with new mottos and quotations that capture the wisdom of the mistakes that have been made.
But I do hope we learn the lessons well. As Jonathan King said to me “we would have missed the amateur touch”, let’s hope we are all a little more professional in the future.