Maverick Nick Child in a reverie after he opened our big University of Edinburgh TEDx in February 2017.
In present student TEDx company here, I guess I’m a bit old. Really, quite old … I mean, I remember when we used log-tables not computers. All phones were tethered with a lead and cord. Typewriter keys jammed. Only secretaries touch-typed with no need for predictive Tippex. My ears were among the first ever to hear the thrill of a new raw world with each new Beatles and Stones release. Digital meant using your fingers. Recording your own playlist was a real fiddle — reel to reel. The full student grant of £120 — in LSD then — was enough for a penny-pinching ten weeks plus an expensive radio or a guitar at the end of term. The social medium was the pub. You used your thumb to hitchhike not to Airbnb. You took care with each photo you snapped because you only had 24 on the film in your camera. You sent postcards when you were on holiday. The most impersonal informal communication you had was with someone you actually knew through a written letter, not a message say-ed and sprayed in seconds across the whole world’s wild wide web.
So, you see, old.
But I don’t feel any older inside. I’ve done all the usual grown-up things since then. I’ve surfed the miraculous new. I didn’t see why aging had to be boring. So I thought I’d do things I hadn’t yet. Like I started partner-dancing 20 yrs ago — even then older than the rest of the room. I surprised myself — I’m quite good. Women of all ages come up to ask me for a dance. I couldn’t keep up all the partner dances, so I specialised in salsa — it was challenging and fun. I learnt all the salsa styles and music so I could dance the whole time. I can do 10pm bedtimes. I can do 4am ones too … early-with or later-disturbing only my wife, in case you were wondering. I ran a monthly Cuban salsa club. I was the DJ. I choreographed a blend of Cuban and Scottish circle dances to melting cha cha cha music. I went to Fiesta Latina—in the same Men’s Union hall as the Saturday night hop that I was way too shy to go to when I was a student.
And, now in my youthfully active dotage, I’ve got most of the way through the 90 things I listed to do when I ‘retired’ early from a career in child psychiatry in the NHS. Still a way to go. But the last on the list is to return to University to rehabilitate neglected philosopher John Macmurray. Or maybe something else, who knows. I imagine sitting in the main library with my laptop among all the young brains whirring beside me — or whatever young brains do nowadays. And go for coffee in the Middle Meadow Walk bistros.
And then, out of the blue, as a kind of precursor to this dream … I get a wonderful how-can-I-refuse-it recruitment email from a TEDx UoE committee member who works where I work as a family therapist. She’d spotted that I might have something to say for myself and would know how to say it.
Like dreams, it’s kinda hard to put into words what kind of roller-coaster it’s been on the way to my TEDx talk on being a maverick (21st Feb 2017).
Especially since mavericks expect to get left out, it’s been great to choose something of my own that I’m passionate about. And then happily spend hours and hours making and memorising 15 mins that pack in all the main bits of a whole life and career. And then, with the guidance and coaching they offer, to shape it and deliver it like a pro a couple of months later to a huge hall and packed audience — and the e-world to come — from that iconic stage you share with a small round red carpet and the giant TEDx letters all red and light.
But that’s not what has made the experience a dream. The words-fail-me quality of the experience has been in the quiet strong teaming-up with the friendly skilled supportive straight-talking egalitarian company of a group of bright young people like ones I really don’t remember there being anything like in our old days.
The world is so much more complicated now. How come they’re not?
The organisers, the committee, their culture of support, guiding, training and encouragement, the flash-mob of volunteers, the organising, the other talkers, other acts and the big sell-out event. And then to discover more … the burgeoning interest and courses they run through the year for themselves on how to talk like a TED. They use the same teachers and coaches we, the outside speakers, got huge benefit from ourselves. One of their coaches lives locally and has interviewed me for a podcast on what it’s like doing a TEDx talk pre- the local TEDx we have in Portobello. I’m not sure about going viral, but a little local sneezing is nice!
There’s no need to find the answer to this lovely puzzle of coming back to my starting place and finding it so different yet also to know the place for the first time. Why analyse at all when they’ve got it going as smoothly as an ocean liner and as beautifully as a dream? … Relax and float downstream as some band once sang.