One night, at BMP, someone was moaning “Why do we have to work so late?”
John Webster said “You do it so you can produce the best work, then you get famous and you get promoted.
Then you win awards and you get a bigger salary.
Then eventually you make enough money to buy a little cottage in the Dordogne.
Then one day you can retire there and, in the evening, you sit outside with a chunk of bread and a lump of cheese and sip a glass of wine as you watch the sun set.”
We all went quiet.
Then John said “Or you could just be born a French peasant and skip the other bit.”
It got a big laugh of course.
And it’s a good joke, but it’s not true.
Because, in reality, a peasant might have what we want, but he doesn’t want it.
He wants what we’ve got.
A house or flat in a big town: buses, trains, or taxis whenever you want
Pleasant working conditions: warm and dry in winter, cool in summer.
Plenty of shops just a short walk away.
When you’ve lived your whole life in town, the country seems like a dream.
But when you’ve lived you whole life in the country, the town seems a dream.
What you see depends on where you’re looking from.
A couple of years ago I was talking to a Brazilian creative director.
He was telling me about an English teacher he had at school in Sao Paulo.
She made his whole class laugh with a story about a letter she wrote back home when she first got to Brazil.
In England, in those days, bananas were quite rare and expensive.
She wrote home to say that, as the ship pulled into Brazil, she saw people walking around with entire branches of bananas on their backs.
She wrote home saying everyone in this country must be very rich, to be carrying entire branches of bananas on their backs.
The creative director said his class laughed because in Brazil bananas grow everywhere.
Only poor people carry branches of them around on their backs.
This is how the same thing looks different down the opposite end of a telescope.
When I graduated from art school in New York, I worked on a freighter going down to South America.
At the port of Santos, Brazilian dockers started unloading the cargo.
They kept asking me if I had any machine-made shirts for sale.
In Brazil, in those days, everything was made by hand.
To have something machine-made was a sign of status, people would pay a premium for it.
It didn’t make sense to me because, where I came from, hand-made was a sign of status.
I heard Alison Moyet on Desert Island Discs the other day.
She said when she was young her parents made all their own food: pastry, cheese, bread, vegetables, livestock.
She grew up thinking only rich people ate food from tins.
The only time she saw tins was in adverts on TV, where middle class people ate that way, so she thought they must be more expensive.
Everything only looks the way it does because of where we’re looking at it from.
And we think the whole world sees everything the way we do.
The first step in knowledge is realising that we don’t know.
It used to be be the job of the planning department to educate us about that.
As Lao Tzu said “The wise man knows he doesn’t know, the fool doesn’t know he doesn’t know.’