Walking to hear the music

I recently went on what was for me a long walk in hilly Dorset – Hardy and Austen country.  The walk was led by John Jones of Oysterband, accompanied by the Reluctant Ramblers – musicians who support his solo work – and the rest of us, supporters and friends.  If you don’t already know them, Oysterband is a great band with amazing energy especially when performing live, and John’s more recent solo work is well worth discovering.
I surprised myself by completing the whole 16 -18 mile walk (hard to know how long it was, we lost our way a few times!)  We walked from Lyme Regis to Broadwindsor where John was performing in the village hall.
I usually walk alone or with one or two others, and have never been for a serious walk in a large group.  I am very independent, and in all honesty, I felt uncertain about walking in a group of mainly strangers, especially where there was the potential for seeing oneself as a kind of follower.  Still, I liked the idea of walking to a gig which felt like a more compelling destination than usual, and I was curious about what I might learn.  I was also intrigued by John’s passion for walking – he says ‘Walking is such a strange and intriguing mixture of what we internalise and experience on the outside. It has been all things to me at different times..my gym, my drug and my church’ – and particularly the way he has linked it with his music. 

I discovered the interacting energies of walking and music had a profound effect on me such that after only a day and a bit, I felt very different in myself.  And, whether by coincidence or cause and effect, I returned to the rest of my life in quite a changed state of being – changed for the better – and I think better able to meet some of the current challenges in the wider environments where I work. 
The day of the walk dawned misty with heavy rain threatening to obscure the promised Dorset views.  When we reached the walk’s high point at Pilsden Pen, not only the hills but we too were shrouded in mist as we touched the trig point, thanks to Colin’s compass, and congratulated each other on our achievement. 
Here’s a picture of some of us reaching the trig point, courtesy of Else who came all the way from Denmark for the walk:  
I was in this 2nd division group, who finished a little later than some of the others (minutes not hours) – but we finished!
For those of you non-British readers or non-walkers, here’s some background on trig-points (there are approximately 6,500 in Britain):
‘The process of placing trig points on top of prominent hills and mountains began in 1935 to assist in the accurate re-mapping of Great Britain by triangulation directed by the cartographer and mathematician Martin Hotine. In low lying or flat areas some trig points may be only a few metres above sea-level. When all the trig points were in place, it was possible, in clear weather, to see at least two other trig points from any one trig point. Careful measurements of the angles between the lines-of-sight of the other trig points then allowed the construction of a system of triangles which could then be referenced back to a single baseline to construct a highly accurate measurement system that covered the entire country.  Trig points are truncated square concrete pyramids tapering towards the top. On the top a brass plate with three arms and a central depression is fixed. A plaque on the side provides the reference number of the trig point and the letters O S B M (“Ordnance Survey Bench Mark”).’
What did I learn?  Well, talking at intervals does in fact speed the walking.  Miles were covered effortlessly when on flat ground, and it was a luxury to have confidence in those leading the walk such that it wasn’t necessary to worry about finding the next footpath.  Being independent isn’t always easy or necessary; and being dependent while on a walk provides a protected space, a kind of bubble, where you can just be in the present moment, in the changing landscape.  Time changes shape, and eight hours spent walking, with only a brief break for lunch, is a different day than most.
I also discovered I liked walking at the front of the group and setting a pace for myself.  A woman I crossed paths with earlier this year who was an experienced long-walker, advised me to keep a place at the front to sustain my stamina and commitment.  That made sense to me.  I knew it was unlikely I’d be able to do this for the whole walk but I thought I’d give it a go.   I managed it for the morning but after the lunch break when the pace quickened, I found myself drifting to the back.  Once I had clearly settled there, I was comfortable in my own space well behind the others, as long as I could keep at least one person in view.  I felt that I was now on my own personal journey. 
Happy at the front or the back, I was impatient and unsettled in the middle.  I felt trapped and uneasy – not enough space!  This gives me some insights into how I approach life and why being in the middle never really suits me.   Walking can teach us so much about life.  Those of you who were also on the walk, I’m wondering what your reflections are especially those of you who went on to complete the whole three days?  And if you weren’t there, it would be good to hear from you too.
I liked being part of this loosely connected group which was temporary in nature.  This gave a kind of freedom, the opportunity to interact without any obligation so you could just be yourself.  Some of us were there more for the music, others more for the walking, all for some mix of the two.  John led an informal session the night before in the hotel bar, which was both a kind of rehearsal for his gigs in the week to come and a chance for us all to get involved.  I liked it so much and the energy was so compelling, that just being in an audience will never be the same again.  There was a particularly memorable moment at the end where one of the hotel staff said ‘thank you for the music’ in a very genuine way which made the whole occasion even more worthwhile.
Another high point was Dil Davies’ innovative ‘upholstery drumming’ where Dil made use of all the furniture near where he was sitting in the hotel bar to create a percussionist accompaniment.  (The person sharing the sofa with him was perhaps less enthusiastic about this experience!)  Dil – also of Oysterband –  has written a fascinating piece on his blog which has transformed my appreciation of drumming.  I recommend it, especially if you’ve never been very interested in the drums!  And what he says makes me think again of walking and the landscape (substitute ‘walk’ for ‘set’ or ‘song’):
‘Each song has its own dynamic shape and ideal weight…..Tempo is crucial here, as is intent.  Some songs need to be leaned into to create strong driving forward momentum (without speeding up), and some need to feel almost lazy and deliberate (without dragging or slowing down)….Also, the set (or sets) has its/their own overall dynamic shape and weight.  I visualise individual songs and whole sets as undulating curves with peaks and troughs.  The key is to start a song and a set with the correct intent which delivers the message of where the song and gig is going, but without over or understating.  Creating tension and release is critical, as is knowing when and how to peak.  Ideally, the band and audience is built up over the whole show to the final climax, which should in my opinion be quite edgy, and at a power level which would have been unacceptable earlier in the evening.  Judging the correct weight of this maximum level is delicate!  Then of course, to follow this you need something even more powerful, so you can go the other way and be VERY quiet.  The impact is just as strong.’ 
On reflection I think a long walk can end up having a similar shape to it, and this walk did so for me.  The eager pace of the morning was followed by a more dawdling meander after lunch (for me anyway!) which gave way to excitement as we reached the walk’s peak, and then subsided to a gentle descent (or even trudge) to our final destination, Broadwindsor.
The walk went on for two more days (with greater mileage on each), but I had to leave.  It was a toe-in-the-water experience, and I’m still digesting – but it’s inspired me to do longer walking and I know I’ll be back for more.
This entry was posted in music, walking. Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Walking to hear the music

  1. Goodness — I never put so much thought into walking. I enjoy it, but where I’m standing within a group means nothing to me. I’m far more interested in the scenery or the destination or the company. I love going it alone, listening to music, or chatting with folks.

    Lately though I’m more into jogging, which is generally a solitary event.

    I would love to hike a mountain, providing that it’s safe. Again, though, it’d be for the scenery, not the walking itself.

    This was interesting — seeing how you view the activity. I like to hear others’ perspectives. I’ve never walked for eight hours, unless you count work. 🙂

    Best to you!

    – Corra

  2. Karin says:

    Hi Corra, I never realised where I was standing in a group while walking would mean much to me either – being aware of it is a different experience. There’s also the whole issue of different paces – those who rush (subjective judgment of course) and those who dawdle (again subjective). Interesting to see whose pace matches your own. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Chris says:

    My thoughts are nearer to Corra’s than to Karin’s.

    My heart sank when I saw the new subject. I don’t do long walks – my back and joints are too painful for such activities these days.

    And music has never featured in my life. Some country and western songs, mainly for the words, and maybe something with a heavy rhythmic beat, so drums might just sneak in. I’m pleased I’ve never become famous enough to be invited on to Desert Island Discs as I would have to say “Anything by Dolly Parton or Willy Nelson” and leave it at that.

    But things conspire don’t they?

    I went to the supermarket and bumped into an acquaintance who had recently taken part in a charity hike (12 or 14 miles) round our local island (Mersea off the Essex coast) never having done anything like that before. He said he’d enjoyed the company, the sense of achievement, the views, but the best sight of all was the pub at the end. He did not appear to have been as thoughtful about the whole process as Karin!

    Then I read the paper and there in The Times Obituaries was the band leader Jack Parnell, who had been, I learnt, a jazz drummer before he formed his own band. And he was quoted as saying ” The heart of the band is really the drummer, and the heart of the time for an orchestra, is the conductor. In conducting, it’s a sense of finding the tempo, the time that makes the music sound at its best. It’s precisely the same thing with a drummer – finding the point in time to play on, to demonstrate where the time is, that makes the music sound at its best.” That seemed to me chime with what Karin had been discussing with her drummer although I’m not sure I have understood what either was saying.

    A long walk to hear some music? Not for me. But I’ll be very interested to hear what others would make of it.

  4. Karin says:

    Hi Chris, my heart sank too when I started to read your comment, oh oh – a dissatisfied reader!…but then it leapt as I read on. I really love the way your day seemed to chime in with the long walk and the drumming. Synchronicity at its best! Also with regard to the sight of the pub at the end of the walk – we had one in the middle and at the end and yes, there is certainly a sense of relief when sighted! Thanks for this.

  5. Stephen says:

    I’ve never thought too much about walking until now. I’m concerned there might be a risk of over analysing the activity and thereby detract from it. I’m certainly not thinking about music when I go for a hike because I’m too busy looking at the views, listening to the wildlife, and the sound of my own heart beat and breathing when it’s a bit steep or heavy going – suppose that’s a drumbeat but not one I equate to music. It’s more the rhythm used by the romans as the galley slaves rowed or the rhythm of machinery working hard.
    I think I’ve probably pigeon holed music and I’m quite happy where it sits in my life – unrelated to walking.

    Karin – I like your reference to Trig Points and the important role they had in mapping the UK. We don’t appreciate enough the wonderful Ordnance Survey service – we probably have the best maps in the world. Google Earth is still catching up.

  6. Karin says:

    Hi Steve, I know exactly what you mean about hearing your heart pounding as you go up a steep hill. Living in such a flat landscape means I’m really not used to that, despite having generally good stamina from other exercise. Music of course doesn’t need to be related to walking and can be pigeon-holed if that works for you. I can well recommend walking with a concert as your destination, and the two actually interact really well if they are both things you love and enjoy. There are wonderful songs about the landscape and a beautiful view can certainly make your heart sing. I’ll stop there!

  7. Dody says:

    I received the notice of your new post a few days ago, but I was having SUCH A WEEK at work, I made the decision to wait until I had a quiet moment to comment. I am so glad I did!

    As an avid reader of British authors, I have long admired the English hobby of what you have described as long walking. There are many novels which employ characters who engage in this activity – in particular, off the top of my head – Robert Goddard comes to mind. One of his books (I can’t remember which one) has a walker involved in some sort of mystery. At any rate, I have always stopped to muse about this when I come across a reference to this uniquely British pastime. I do believe Goddard described in an off hand sense (but I may be mis-remembering – it has been awhile since I read the book) the trig point stone and your full explanation will inform my reading if I should ever come across a reference again. I would love to become a walker of this sort and perhaps I should google it, but I can’t think of any such group nearby. Running seems to be the thing here in America and that serves as a useful comparison between the two countries. The British have long been perceived as calm and methodical while Americans are seemingly always in a hurry!

    I suppose if I were very wealthy, I would look for a walking activity in the UK annually and wander over – if wishes were horses…

    Walking to music, live music, would be a true delight. Naturally, I walk with earbuds and my chosen playlist ringing in my ears, but having the music mingle with the sounds of nature sounds delightful.

    Thank you, Karin, for a truly delightful post and for sharing this experience – especially pointing out that this was Hardy and Austen country – you know my weakness for such references!

  8. Karin says:

    It was great to read your comments, Dody, and I’m really glad you enjoyed the post – though I need to correct one aspect since there wasn’t any music while we were walking. The music was at the end of the walk, and the night before. However, reflecting on some of the other comments, I’ve been thinking about the tradition of troubadours and the connection of music and walking that is rooted in history and still continues today – see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/countryside/5159811/The-modern-troubadours-who-sing-for-their-supper.html

    It is very interesting the way different nationalities acquire characteristics. Certainly some British people can be in as much of a rush as all Americans are thought to be; and on our walk we had the faster-paced walkers (aka ‘the maniacs’!) and ‘the more sensible group’. And yes, I was thinking of you when I put in the literary references!

    I don’t know if you have come across John Jones’ music but if not then I think, from some of our shared tastes, that you might like it. I suggest you look for his cd ‘Rising Road’.

  9. Michael Reid says:

    Picture the scene. You are in the pub trying to concentrate/have a conversation/have a quiet moment. Someone you know shoves a piece of paper in front of you with many entries in different hands and coloured inks.

    ”Its for Charity” I’m walking for twenty miles”

    ”oh ?” – [You think -Why don’t you go and get on with it them?]

    ”Well will you sponsor me ?”

    [ This means give money to a charity you vaguely dissapprove of for the supplicant completely wasting their time doing something fairly undemanding for a few hours].

    You say ”yes of course” . You think however ”Why ? ” -what is all this paperwork for? -why not just give her the money -many do. Alternatively you will have to give her a lecture about her feeble efforts doing more harm than good and fuelling war in Africa and ending up in despots’ Swiss Bank accounts. You decide against this because she is wearing sandals.

    ”Would you like to gift aid it ?”

    ”What ? [this means you provide your name and address so it will end of on a charity’s data base -and you will then be pursued by endless mail shots of photographs of dying children and ill treated animals. And only the English clerkish mentality could provide for a form to recover tax of a few pounds based on scrappy bits of illegible paper covered in rings from beer glasses-the idea that any HMRC officer is actually going to follow this up is at best laughable and at worst terrifying].

    ”The charity will get more if you do gift aid it ”

    You think – ”well why didn’t you give me the option of offering less at the outset and making the balance up from the tax relief then ?” -but you don’t say it.

    ”Here you are” you write down a figure in line with the upper quartile of offers but shy of the most generous, tick the gift aid box and add an address of someone you know and don’t much like.

    ”And here’s the tenner- you don’t want to chasing all this up after you have done the walk. Hope the weather holds for you”

    ”Thanks” And sandals goes off to find the next victim.

    A little while later sandals is observed buying a round of drinks with what looks suspiciously like your tenner.

    Walk for charity ? Don’t bother -just send the name and address of the arms dealer and we can credit their account straight away.

  10. Thanks for living up to expectations, Michael. What was that word Steve used – obliquity? Not fully sure of the link here, but it certainly isn’t ‘nice’! and it made me smile (I think). Look forward to more.

  11. Michael says:

    It is raining. Raining in August. Not the warm rain of a tropical summer but the chill rain of an English summer. I sudder but duty must be done.

    Charlie couldn’t care less about the rain. Charlie knows that every day , raining or not, he will go out for a walk through the woods and fields for between one and two hours. I will cover between three and six miles Charlie will do double that hunting down rabbits, hares and pheasants-and looking surprised when they elude him (mostly).

    (When it rains Charlie gets very wet and muddy and will require washing down before being allowed in the house).

    His job is sentry duty-his wages are his walks. His perfect day is a six mile walk interspersed with some swimming in the lakes or the river. (How do labradors know how to swim when no one teaches them ? Is it inherited from their history in the fishing on those northern Canadian shores ?).

    Sometimes we will walk through Killwick wood and then emerge above the valley and I will sit on my rock looking across to Weston Underwood and Olney two miles away. We are near where Cowper sat under his Oak (now gone) and wrote ”The Task” while fighting his demons- and in the distance we can see the spire of Olney Church where Newton preached against slavery and wrote ”Amazing Grace”.

    To the left the land is owned by John Reynolds, straight ahead by the Goss family and to the right the Armstrongs farm the land. Behind us stretch Lord Northampton’s deer forests. Charlie is well known to them all. We are two miles from a road in any direction-almost the last really peaceful bit of England. A place where everyone knows each other – proving ,as ever, that thinly populated places are friendlier than crowded places.

    He wags his tail – can we go now ? More things to find, more birds to put up. We get up – which way to go ? Charlie suggests a direction and then waits for affirmation-he is a very good dog. Mostly I will agree but sometimes not, just to let him know he isn’t running the show. But as soon as we set off he bounds away and disappears reappearing half a mile ahead saying ”hurry up”.

    Behind this story there is a small miracle . Three years ago when Charlie was two he could barely walk. The Vets x rayed him and said he was seriously arthritic so he was put onto painkillers. Every day he insisted on walking but he could barely run and after an hour or two he would be limping home. Then one day, two years ago now,he hurt himself some more by slipping down a bank. So off again to Dog Hospital – no waiting lists there- and he has to have a full anaesthetic so they can find the problem. They take lots of x rays of all his joints pulled in different directions.

    As he sleeps off the anasthetic we look at these x rays with the vet. The Vets sucks his teeth as they do when they are wondering how many noughts to put on your bill.

    Then Charlie wakes up, snuffles and walks- no limp.

    The next day he is a bit groggy still, but no limp.

    The next day he is bounding around like a puppy, The manipulation pulling him about under sedation has put back into place whatever was wrong.

    He is a little walking miracle.

    • Karin says:

      Love the story Michael and I know Chris will too. Two stories in a day – and such different styles…hope it continues, most enjoyable. Many thanks. (Hope this isn’t too nice!)

      • Chris says:

        Michael, Karin’s right – I did love the story. And I loved the words and the writing too. So evocative. I closed my eyes and could imagine being there with you. We’ve got (among others) two black Labs – an old boy and a youngster. I am told that the old one used to love the water when he was younger but they frequently go on the beach in Norfolk and so far neither of them has shown any interest in doing anything more than getting their toes wet running along at the edge of the water. Just as well – we have friends with a Lab/Springer cross who went in deeper, met some seals, started playing with them and being enticed further and further out. He was finally picked up three miles from shore by a fishing boat alerted by the Coastguard service. One very lucky dog!

  12. estragon007 says:


    John Kay’s work on Obliquity was recommended by Taleb (Black Swan etc) which is encouraging and by Mervyn King (hardly a recommendation).

  13. Karin says:

    Being ignorant of Taleb and black swan theory prior to your comment, I’ve just done a brief internet search and it’s fascinating! Thanks and will follow up. I also like the source quotation – ‘a good man is as rare as a black swan’.

  14. Karin says:

    Will look it out – I also recommend these references to Alan if he reads these comments as possibly relevant to his own blog on why complex societies fail.

    • Stephen says:

      Not just complex societies – I suggest that all complex “things” fail. Complex software, ideas, gadgets, cars – the list is endless. Keep it simple stupid or the KISS principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KISS_principle) should never be forgotten. From my observations Michael/Estrago007 applied this rule to all of his leadership and management so he is closer to it than most of us.
      I don’t know too much about black swan theory but of course the rules don’t apply in Australia.
      There’s now so much on the blog I’m struggling to read it all…

      • estragon007 says:

        Modern society is not at all complex. It is based on greed and lust. And very unnattractive it is.

        Older societies were more subtle and complex than this one.

        Society even 50 years ago had far greater pressures to be honourable and self sacrificing for the greater good, the cause or whatever.

        Today’s society is unlikely to last very long at all in its current form. It is morally and literally bankrupt.

        Which modern Chinese leader was it (Zou en Lai?) when asked whether he thought the French Revolution had been succesful said ”too early to tell”.

  15. Karin says:

    I strongly agree with the sentiments in your comment about our society’s moral and other bankruptcy. I’m always hesitant about saying things were better in the past though as I think there are enduring traits in human nature – good and bad – and people and societies go through development phases, rises and falls. But maybe you’re right, it’s certainly tempting to say so.

    On another note entirely, I find it ironic and intriguing that this blog entry was written about the walk led by John Jones – though almost no one has commented on the original content! – and his views on society are in some ways not dissimilar, though I doubt Michael would share his or Oysterband’s politics in full. (I might be wrong.) John’s current comments on his blog written this week resonate with where we’ve got to in this discussion. So I guess we inadvertently are on topic!

  16. JOHN NEILSON says:

    What do we mean by ‘complex’? One definition relates to the number of degrees of freedom in play.

    People in our society today surely have far more freedom than ever before? In terms of access to information, education, social mobility? We are globally connected – in contrast to the small hierarchical rural societies of yesteryear. Surely this is complex?

    There is no single unifying set of values in play – we are multi-racial for example, with a plethora of religions and quasi-religions.

    This inter-connertedness and diversity is surely a strenth and a cause for optimism in the future. It may lead to a vast number of superficial relationships, as contrasted with fewer,deeper relationships of the past … maybe another defintion of complexity?

    We are all part of soicety – we all have choices and free will to nudge change in different directions. We are all capable of, inter alia, great things, mean spiritedness, nostalgia and hard nosed rationality – as contributions on this blog demonstrate

    Societies and civilisations continually develop – by the way I have recently watched again the TV series “Civilisation” by Kenneth Clark – he reckons civilisations fail for three principal reasons – fear, of invasion, war; fear of change leading to loss of self confidence; and exhaustion.

    • estragon007 says:

      Of course one man’s mean spiritedness is another’s hard nosed realism.

      Just as one man’s gentleness is another’s lack of necessary firmness.

      Pass the axe please….

  17. estragon007 says:

    To understand why civilisations fail we need to look at how they are formed.

    The great civilisations -Rome, Greece, Moghul,Ming, Pax Brittanica all had ideals upon which they were founded. Those ideals sustained them and gave a purpose. They were more than about material wealth.

    Some, a small number of civilisations, were heavily driven by religion- notably Islamic learning .

    Other so called civilisations more recently have been almost entirely driven by material self interest. These have tended to be extremely careless of human life and a doomed to last only a short time.

    Anything based on greed has only a few years to live.

    • Karin says:

      I am, once again, temperamentally sympathetic with your comments, Michael. If our society is stuck in a greed mentality, where do we go from here?

      • estragon007 says:

        A complicated question but one which Aristotle -as he sat under his tree- would have understood.

        I have real problem with democracy. In the western societies being elected confers legitimacy upon those who stand for office. But the very act of standing ,competitively, for office, renders the candidate unfit for office; the paradox of ambition.

        Sometimes a Ghandi or a Churchill is called upon – by acclamation almost-but generally democracy produces leaders who have feet of clay. Those who would be honourable are not interested. Those who are interested are not honourable.

        Then construct an economy heavily interested in technology and arms. Just how much money do we think an arms manufacturer would consider paying to a retired president or prime minister who had started a really big war for them to sell into ?

        As an arms manufacturer you could buy a war far cheaper than the cost of all the sales and market effort you have to put into persuading someone to choose your products in time of peace when defence budgets are tight.

        We then move to the dangers of economic growth. Simplistic argument links economic growth with human advancement, implying one is dependent upon the other. That is not the case. It is quite possible to improve health, education, crime, housing etc by a reordering of priorities without covering the land in concrete or coating Cormorants in crude.

        The problem is we pay people more for ruining the planet than we do for sustaining it. When the head of BP gets less than a professor of environmental sciences we will know that government is serious about protecting ecology.

        Why do we do this ? Much of it is driven by television. TV sends images of wealth and consumption way beyond the reach of most normal working people. This is no accident. They are paid by suppliers to create greed and envy. How else do shops keep selling things we barely need ? It is because the subliminal message is buy this and you will feel fulfilled. You do buy it- and you don’t feel fulfilled-they lied- twas ever thus. Aristotle understood that- sitting under his tree.

        You ask how you change things. I suggest the first step is to understand the true enemy of civilisation. When television tells you that having good friends and a happy family is better than being paid as much as Jonathon Ross- that will be human progress.

  18. Karin says:

    Hello John, good to see you here again with your proven ability to embrace so many perspectives and raise so many questions and possibilities…..

    I am most intrigued about where you would locate the mean-spiritedness on this blog. Evidence please!

    • JOHN NEILSON says:

      Hullo Karin – You have the same evidence as I; you and others may read it differently,of course.

      • Stephen says:

        John, you of all people should know that what we read and what we understand are two very different things. As you say there is a great variety of contributions and this supports your point that diversity is a good thing.
        I don’t agree that we have complete free will to make decisions – on the face of it we do but all of our decisions are made as part of our life programming.

  19. Karin says:

    Hmmm, I had forgotten how inscrutably Sphinx-like or, if you prefer, oracle-like your oblique references can be. I have my hunches but I wouldn’t wish to be wrong-footed on such an excursion as this. Some things are best left unspoken.

  20. estragon007 says:

    I met a young man last night – full of life and hope. A hearty cheerful sporty type. Today he said, was to be first day in his new career.

    ”Spendid. And what field will that be in ?”

    ”Accountancy, well I need a job ” he said apologetically

    And the world went flat and grey……….

  21. Karin says:

    We will have to see what our accountant friends have to say about this…..

  22. Chris says:

    I’m no accountant but for some years I’ve thought that if I had my time again I’d maybe look into it as a possible alternative career. At bean-counter level it is, I would guess, a bit flat and grey but once up the ladder it must give a unique view of the very bones of organisations and how they work. It always seemed to me that accountants had an unfair amount of attention and respect given to their opinions by those who wielded power and I could live with that after my first life’s career experience.

    • Michael Reid says:

      Hmmm. I am an Accountant- (with a fellowship in it even).

      Accountants ruin good businesses. They enumerate the soul out of them. They make nothing. Putting an accountant in charge of a business is rather like asking your cricket club’s scorer to play opening bat. There will be a perfect record of why you lost.

      There are worse professions- ones that even more certainly ruin good businesses -but not many.

      • Chris says:

        I’d never put an accountant in charge of a business for the reasons you state. But the top person must surely have access to a detailed understanding of the financial stresses and possibilities and without good information he’s never going to do that. And it must to some extent depend on the accountant – some I’ve known were great data analysers whilst others had an excellent feel for what the numbers represented in the real world – if you can ever call business the real world!

    • Stephen says:

      We’re at risk of talking about accountants and businesses when we should be thinking about customers. I’m sure Henry Ford wasn’t an accountant and of course if he’d asked his customers what they wanted they would have said faster horses.
      I feel successful business leaders understand the society they live in and anticipate what will be beneficial, then they make it, market it and profit from it.
      Just look at what Steve Jobs was doing with Apple – he isn’t an accountant!

  23. Michael Reid says:

    I was saying to Steve this morning about the difference between the private and public sectors. In the private sector we mostly talked about rugby, wine and pleasing customers. We thought pleasing customers was a good wheeze-they tended to give us more business when we did that.

    In the public sector the conversation was largely about money. No one (well not many) talked much about customers or the services. But they were very worried about spending two pence too much or two pence improperly.

    I suspect the accountancy profession is singlehandedly responsible for the failings of our health service which employs 1.3m people, spends £110bn and kills more people than all the road accidents p.a. in the UK- from C Diff and MRSA hospital infections alone.

    But at least they have counted all these things. Don’t fix it – count it. Counting it suggests they are managing it.

    The smart accountant counts the figures of his own operation and lays them against those of a best performer. If -for example- the NHS accountants laid our figures against those of most developed European health services -instead of against their own bizarre methods of counting- they would result in most health trust CEOs being asked some very hard questions. But accountants don’t get to be FD’s in that sector by rocking the boat.

    They keep the real questions out of the public gaze. That is why they have failed us.

    • Stephen says:

      I was dreading this thread heading in the direction of bashing accountants because I’m normally at the head of the queue. Of course accountants don’t create anything either wealth, a better health service or better local government but if we know that why do we let them dictate the direction of travel? Surely that’s a fault of the senior management!
      I would never allow an accountant to get in the way of a “good” idea although it has to be recognised that it’s almost impossible to change anything without investment which means getting the cooperation of the financiers (accountants). It’s a tricky path to tread and one that requires innovative thinking and very good intuition.
      Apologies for straying completely off the point but I just wanted to write this somewhere before getting on with my day.

      • Chris says:

        You need accountants to offer up the data which the business men turn into information to support (or not) their entrepreneurial ideas or to put a figure on the risks they may be contemplating taking. Satisfying customers is such a given that I didn’t even mention it before – whether you are satisfying what they say they need or what your business intuition tells you they might delight in if you offered it. As with everything else its the judicious mix of the skills and the authority/power levels that gets good results.

        And I bet Steve Jobs has a few accountants tucked away in the background at Apple.

  24. JOHN NEILSON says:


    The world is never grey with you in it! You are the living proof that some accountants at least avoid the negative traits you appear to see in the profession!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s