The other morning while trawling TV channels looking for some cogent news to inform me about the state of the world, I happened upon a presenter interviewing an author about his new book. As a writer, I’m interested in interviews with authors, so I turned up the volume, sat back, sipped my coffee and prepared to listen.

I was appalled by his, apparent, premise that if we’re going to survive as humanity we need to behave like pirates and ‘break the rules’. To ensure I don’t provide this nob with more publicity than necessary to make my point, I’ll not give you his name or the title of his book (if you’re interested, you can probably find him, and it, with a little search effort. I refuse to purchase one myself; the blurb and the interview gave me everything I need).

Pirates, particularly those of the Caribbean, have always fascinated me although I certainly don’t claim to be an expert. Suffice to say they were not lovable rogues interested in thinking outside the box and building a better world, they were nothing more than, usually cruel, sea-going muggers (maybe that the few who escaped the hangman’s noose, death in battle or the pox, and ended up wealthy and living peaceful, land-dwelling lives is, for him, enough to drive his metaphor).

Let’s look at some rule-breaking in the context of life in the twenty-first century (this list could be almost endless. Please feel free to add to it from your own life experience).

I wonder if he would be happy if:

  1. the surgeon performing heart surgery on his daughter had some difficulty passing his theory exams so he paid somebody to sit them for him;
  2. the airline pilot flying his wife and him off on holiday did very well on her theory exams but struggled with her flying competencies so she paid somebody to do her check flights;
  3. the drug company executives developing a new cancer treatment for his mother concluded they didn’t have enough time or money to complete comprehensive trials and examine potentially damaging side-effects, so they decided to short-circuit this process and rush it to market;
  4. the software developers creating programs for his new driverless car noticed glitches in their code, but only a couple of minor ones, so they decided to roll it out anyway;
  5. the housing association responsible for refurbishment of the tower block where his grandparents live decided ignoring fire regulations could save them loads of money so they wrapped their buildings in cheaper, flammable plastic cladding;
  6. his son’s football coach decided his lifestyle included having sex with eleven-year-old boys, and
  7. he decided since he was late for an important meeting it was okay to speed through a 20mph school zone at 9:00am one weekday morning at 40mph while texting his colleagues he would be arriving soon (this one is problematic but only if he were arrested for driving at twice the posted limit or ran over somebody’s kid)?

This entity we call ‘society’ works because most people obey most of the rules most of the time. Our culture is robust enough to sustain the presence of a few rule-breakers but if we’re going to survive at all let alone advance, whatever that means, we need to work to a set of agreed rules.

The blazingly apparent irony here is this proponent of rule-breaking would probably respond that, well, no, the rules I’ve cited here aren’t the ones he’s suggesting we break; he’s talking about other ones. But this raises the metaphysical question of who, exactly, decides which rules are okay to break and which are not? I submit his response will likely be he, but not me, is somehow qualified (how he arrives at this decision is beyond me. I believe Plato and Machiavelli, and later others such as Kissinger and Thatcher had something to say about it).

Yes, our rules change over time, and, yes, we need to push the envelope, but I find the suggestion disturbing that gangs of violent muggers cruising the seas three-hundred years ago provide us with suitable societal role models.


Malapropism noun, M19. Ludicrous misuse of words, esp. in mistaking a word for another resembling it; an instance of this. (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, sixth edition 2007)

Here is an example of a Malapropism: ‘Ft. Knox is the site of the United States gold bullion suppository.’

These are not to be confused with mixed metaphors they sometimes resemble, they are nothing more than mistaken words.

Over the past year I have observed news presenters, editorial writers, politicians and other commenters on events of the day describing somebody, typically a politician presently in power, when deferring or refusing to decide on a matter of importance to us as ‘prevaricating’. And I have heard this often enough to arouse my ire.

Surely they mean ‘procrastinating’.

I have consulted my dictionaries; I have queried my friends skilled in use of the English language as it is currently spoken; I have pondered this for many an evening. Under no circumstances can I understand the use of ‘prevarication’ in the context of someone’s putting off deciding or acting on anything.

Or might it have to do with our feeling when politicians procrastinate, they often simultaneously prevaricate?

This might be, but I doubt it. No, rather I think it is these are simply ‘ludicrous misuses of words’.

Come on, folks, sign up for some journalism classes at your local school, college, university or drop-in centre. Get it right, for goodness’ sake. I know a woman who completed a three-year journalism apprenticeship with a well-known national newspaper many years ago. Does this happen anymore? Likely not. Spellcheckers and grammarcheckers won’t do the job. Get out there and learn the things you need to know to hone your craft to the highest standard.

We expect more of those we read and listen to to help us understand what is happening in the world around us. We deserve it.



An excerpt from Injured or Seriously Killed

Copyright © 2018 Riis Marshall and Turfhill Court Press

Bardwell said: ‘And you say you know nothing about him except his name?’

George said: ‘Nothing. Absolutely nothing.’

‘And his name is –?’

‘Doran – Oswald Doran.’

‘Likely not a problem. I can put some people on it. These days between joined up electronic surveillance – mobile phones, the internet, email, credit card transactions, CCTV, etcetera, it’s usually possible to find somebody even starting with nothing more than a name. Even if your mystery man is using an alias we’re still likely to be able to find him. You see, we’re working with a new computer program – something called Orwell. Ultra, ultra top secret, if there is such a designation – hush, hush – nobody’s supposed to know anything about it, even our friends whose agency names begin with “MI”, you know – that sort of thing. Actually it’s not our software: we’re beta testing it for the Chartered Institute for Management of Human Resources.’

Orwell? Intriguing name for a program –’

‘Well, that’s neither here nor there. Important thing is we need enter nothing more than a name and this thing trawls the World Wide Web looking for any information on our subject.’

‘Don’t think I understand why this is helpful, Bardy. I have a man on my staff who is quite good at this sort of thing. Why can’t he do it just as well?’

‘Good question, Uther. I’m not supposed to say too much about it – I’m not supposed to say anything about it – but what I can say is this program is far, far more sophisticated than any software your man has access to – something to do with artificial intelligence – whatever that means. Point is it can go much deeper than you can.’

‘Fair enough. I appreciate anything you can do for me. Please come back when it’s convenient for you.’


Os said: ‘Yeah – something like that. Anyhow, Brian, didn’t we once talk about that computer program called Orwell that could find all kinds of tenuous links between people?’

Orwell yeah Ossie we talked about Orwell interesting you should mention that because now I can get into Orwell and –’

‘So – tell me all about it.’

‘Well you remember I told you Orwell was developed by the Chartered Institute for Management of Human Resources that’s CIMHR for short anyhow they developed it but they couldn’t run it because it takes loads and loads of memory and hard drive capacity so they gave it to the California Institute for Primal Scream Therapy and Neuro-Linguistic Programming that’s CIPSTNeLP for short for beta testing because they have a Cray Titan computer that has all the capacity they need.’

‘So, two questions, my friend. First why would the CIMHR need or want a program like that and, second, I know you’re a world class hacker but how the heck’d you get into it? I’d have thought it would have been very well protected.’

‘Good questions oh inscrutable one good questions first let me tell you what it does you know how Google has these spiders some people call them ‘bots that crawl all over all the pages on the internet?’

‘Well, of course. Doesn’t everybody?’

‘Yep well they that is the Orwell guys have other ‘bots that crawl all over all the other places like the DVLA data bases and the NHS data bases and the HMRC data bases and the credit card companies’ data bases and telephone call logs and CCTV footage and police databases and –’

‘Yeah – I get the idea but let me ask you a question – isn’t that illegal?’

‘Well of course it’s illegal Ossie but who cares about that I mean if you have a car crash and some solicitors’ outfit calls you up out of the blue where do you think they got your phone number that’s what we might call a rhetorical question because we all know they got your number from the DVLA or the police because they sold it to them and heck everybody knows that it’s no secret even if some people think it’s illegal.’

‘So you’re telling me that Orwell works pretty much like Goggle except that where Google only crawls all the pages on the internet, Orwell crawls all the pages on all these other data bases and therefore it has almost all, if not all, information that’s out there on you.’

‘Spot on oh impenetrable one spot on it can even and this is really clever use of AI let’s say you’re doing a query and it highlights some cash withdrawals from a hole in the wall then it can automatically link directly to CCTV footage I don’t know why we still call it “footage” cause now it’s all on DVD well most of it anyhow except for some of the older systems that still use video tape but –’

‘Slow down, my friend, slow down. What about this CCTV link?’

‘As I was saying if it spots a cash withdrawal it can take you directly to CCTV data and then to a facial recognition application and that links you to other things like oh let’s say you used the cash to buy some fertilizer at your local fertilizer store cause you’re gonna try to make a bomb or something and now you have an audit trail from one CCTV system to the next and –’

Os interrupted this lesson on pushing the envelope of modern information science and technology when Brian—finally—stopped to breathe: ‘Wow! That’s impressive. But still doesn’t answer my question about why the human resource guys need something like that?’

‘Well heck isn’t it obvious I mean it’s obvious to me it saves a lot of time for the human resource guys because now nobody needs CVs or interviews or anything like that if a job is advertised all you have to do to apply is email them your name and they key it into Orwell and voila you know French people actually say that I heard one at the ferry terminal at Calais say it once anyhow so in a couple of minutes Orwell prints out your entire life history so they don’t have to read your CV or interview you or anything they can just reject your application on the spot and it saves them loads of time and –’

‘I think I understand. But let me ask you another question. If this program saves them all this time, what do they do all day?’

‘Well now they have loads of time to do everything human resource people and personnel persons are really supposed to be doing like creating more complex organisations charts for your organisation with more layers of management and developing career progression programmes for all your employees and coaching and mentoring programmes and psychometric testing tests to see if everybody’s in the wrong job and inventing really great rôle play games like Cave Rescue for their teambuilding weekends at posh country hotels and stuff like that.’

‘Right – enough about the CIMHR. So tell me how you were able to get into it.’

‘Well oh enigmatic one CIPSTNeLP is based in Los Gatos I think that means “the cat” in Spanish or maybe just “cats” it’s not too far from San Jose and you’d think being next to Silicone Valley where there are loads of really clever computer geeks they would have really great firewalls but they don’t their firewalls are like tissue paper even you could get in so hacking their Cray was a piece of cake at least it was for me.’

‘But don’t they have red lights that blink and warn them if anybody like you is messing around in their computers?’

‘Well you would think so but being in California they don’t think they need them so I can go in anytime I want and stay as long as I want and nobody notices so that’s about all there is to say about Orwell.’

‘That’s just fine, my friend. Can I buy you lunch?’



This is my genre; this is what I like to read and this is what I like to write.

Why do we read thrillers? The answer, certainly for me and likely for you, is we enjoy seeing the bad guys vanquished—bashed. And those of us who favour contemporary political thrillers particularly like bashing greedy bankers, duplicitous politicians, dodgy business executives, bent coppers, black ops goons and spooks that have gone over to the dark side—and all their lackeys, sycophants, fellow-travellers and those who choose to look the other way.

When I put one of my early scripts out to beta readers, one, after reading some of my work, kindly replied she liked the story but she ‘preferred whodunnits’. My story-telling is not about whodunnit, rather about what happens next. My readers know who the bad guys and the good guys are, but when I do my job well, they’ll have no idea what’s going to happen next and this keeps them entertained until the end—and hopefully entices them to buy my next book and the one after that, ad infinitum.

How is a great thriller created? First we need heroines or heroes whom we hope, and expect, will prevail in the end. They come in all sizes and shapes, as I suggest below in the last paragraph. To add tension, they must display vulnerability: a weakness, a tragic flaw that gets them into trouble—tied up, beaten, captured, sometimes tortured, stabbed, shot, their car run off the road in the dead of night, or otherwise abused. It would be a dull story, indeed, if the bad guys wreaked their havoc and mayhem on Page Sixteen and they were all destroyed by an invulnerable heroine or hero on Page Seventeen—The End.

Next we need a couple of faithful companions, a damsel in distress—or don in distress if the context demands—and probably a car chase or two. Faithful companions might include computer geeks who hack into innumerable secret government data bases; moles inside any of these agencies; techies who can provide exploding cigars, fake passports, car reg plates that fool CCTV systems and little black boxes that display codes needed to open secure doors, and fearless investigative reporters who tell the world about the dastardly deeds.

Damsels or dons in distress might or might not have rampant sex with our heroine or hero according to the story but at some point, they are captured and threatened with horrible abuse, and sometimes subject to a little of it but not too much. They are, however, saved in the nick of time. Whether the two get together at the end of the tale or one rides off into the sunset while the other stands sadly in the open doorway again depends on the story.

Car chases are optional but fun to write and fun to read. Here reality is often suspended or at least strained: clapped-out Minis outrun high-performance BMWs and Range Rovers; wings, bonnets and boots are left crumpled and dangling but neither tyres, radiators or gearboxes are damaged beyond their abilities to function; the driving skills of the pursued far outpace those of the pursuers; the pursued always seem to know street layouts much better than those pursuing, and although many market stalls and sidewalk cafés are destroyed, none of their attendants, cute little furry animals or people walking on nearby pavements are harmed.

In some authors’ works, dead bodies abound but in mine, I limit them to a few and seldom to the point they produce bad smells in the street. Spectacular fires and exploding buildings are not often seen. I prefer to make my antagonists’ downfalls more subtle; while they sometimes die, more often they lose their ill-gained fortunes, are ostracised from their comfortable positions in society and end up alone and destitute—deserted by friends and loved-ones, shunned by their former schoolmates and expelled from their clubs, lodges or political parties.

In my work I try to create believable characters behaving in believable ways with just enough literary license to help me tell a good story. I rely on the ‘Ian Mitchell Principle’. Professor Mitchell showed me how to read great literature and enjoy it. He asks: ‘If the situation is as described in the work, does the behaviour of the characters make sense?’ I hope, always, the behaviour of my characters makes sense—well maybe not quite during car chases but otherwise.

In my political thrillers I examine the behaviour of power players and their abilities to change the directions of organisations, large businesses and political parties, to suit their aims. Sometimes power corrupts them within my story and sometimes they are corrupted before the story began. Often initially incorrupt characters are caught up in events and end up behaving badly, offering the lame excuse: ‘I was just following orders.’ I ask readers to consider whether there are options to the way my antagonists behaved—might they have chosen different paths? My aim is to move my stories beyond cardboard characters and clichéd plots; to portray persons my readers can recognize: ‘Yep – looks just like a boss I had a few years ago. Shame she didn’t meet that sticky end!’

When you think about it, my thrillers are not much different, really, from classic westerns; moved eastward across the pond, horses eliminated in favour of Minis and Range Rovers, and updated with computers, facial-recognition technology and Glock 17s.

Whether our heroines and heroes are Aspberger’s syndrome–challenged profilers, barristers, computer geeks, crime writers, defrocked police detectives, equalisers, ex-military loners, genteel elderly ladies, government sanctioned black ops assassins, OCD-suffering forensic scientists, pathologists, police detectives on assignment, police detectives on extended leave because of bad behaviour, police detectives solving cases by disobeying direct orders and thereby being regularly denied promotion, police detectives threatened with divorce because they spend too much time at work, priests, private investigators, retired gung-ho generals or admirals, retired police detectives, solicitors, spies, spooks—currently employed, spooks—retired, surgeons, wannabe police detectives or lost souls trying to understand the meaning of life, the universe and everything, we love to see the good guys prevail in the end.



Chester I Barnard defines a formal organisation as a ‘system of consciously coordinated activities or forces of two or more persons,’ later as part of a ‘cooperative system,’ and finally a ‘complex of…components which are in a specific systematic relationship by reason of the cooperation of two or more persons for at least one definite end.’* In our reading or sitting in lectures most of us have likely seen or heard this stated as ‘two or more persons working together in a coordinated way to achieve a common objective,’ (or similar).

Key components of this are ‘two or more persons,’ ‘”coordinated way” or “cooperative system”’ and ‘common objective,’ and I believe my restatement accurately reflects Barnard’s intentions.

For many years this definition has raised questions for me, particularly when trying to understand why, so often, the behaviour of individuals within an organisation seems contrary to assumed or stated common objectives.

I’m comfortable with ‘two or more persons’ and ‘cooperative system’ but I’m not at all happy with ‘common objective’. In my experience although there usually is a stated common objective, this has little, and sometimes absolutely no, impact on the behaviour of individuals.

Consider this example: My son in law was quality assurance manager for an engineering firm manufacturing hydraulic components for the aerospace industry and companies making big yellow earth moving machines. He faced two serious problems: several large orders in production were behind schedule because of quality problems and customers with similar issues were rejecting components already shipped. He scheduled a meeting with his managing director. He entered the office carrying an armload of papers detailing his problems and placed these on the conference table while his MD sat across from him and spread out his own papers. We would have expected his MD to open the meeting with something like: ‘How bad is it, Pete, and how can I help?’ Instead his first question was: ‘Which of these BMWs do you think I should choose [for my next company car]?’

According to Barnard’s definition of ‘one definite end’ or ‘common objective’, both Pete and his boss should have been concerned about the profitability of their company as reflected in their products’ meeting quality standards and being shipped on schedule. Instead, Pete’s addressing a quality problem directly impacting profitability diverged remarkably from his boss whose objective had questionable impact on profitability.

Should you regard my example as trivial, examine your own experience and I’m confident you can recall many situations supporting my argument.

Accordingly, I propose a restatement of this definition as: ‘an organisation is two or more persons working together in a cooperative or coordinated way each to achieve an objective not achievable by not being a member of the organisation.’ Indeed, a person’s membership in an organisation often has nothing at all to do with common objectives.

Several observations follow, some obvious and some more subtle:

1. Working together in a cooperative way implies you expect to give something to get something. Most of us comply, most of the time, with the Highway Code: we keep to designated lanes, stop for red lights and use turn indicators. This we give. In return the something we get is a transportation system allowing us to drive about the country with impunity and relative convenience.

2. It’s reasonable you give the minimum needed to achieve your objective and nothing more. This makes perfect sense and is not, in my judgement, what some observers of the human condition describe as ‘selfish’. If the supermarket chain where we shop is experiencing a drop in profits, when we make a purchase, we’re not expected to pass our change back to the person on the till and say: ‘Keep the change; you need this more than I do.’

3. You give enough, you put enough into the organisation to ensure its viability and longevity (here viability and longevity relate to your achieving your objectives). Again, there is nothing selfish about this, indeed, it follows from my definition that as long as you continue expecting to get something you expect to continue to give something.

4. Your objectives are motivated by your particular needs. These are fully internal to you and have nothing to do with stated organisational objectives. An obvious exception is if you are the sole owner of a profit-making business it’s likely your personal objectives are fully consistent with stated organisational objectives but this is not the case for your employees.

5. An organisation evolves according to the personal objectives of those who put themselves forward for positions of power within the organisation. This is true for both the formal and informal elements within an organisation. This is such an important part of my thesis I want to discuss it in detail in this made-up case study (if you don’t play chess I’m confident you can relate this to one or more of your leisure activities).


Your Chess Club and Its Evolution

You enjoy playing chess and a group of eight consisting of you and seven of your workmates meet informally most Thursday evenings in one of your homes to play. You all play at about the same level so every week you play against a different opponent and eventually against all seven. Your host for the evening provides snacks and drinks, and over eight weeks each member is host. The process is informal: some are absent occasionally and sometimes the meeting is cancelled if too many are busy with other activities.

Over time, however, the organisation begins to change in two ways—assuming, of course, you all maintain your interest in playing chess. First, more workmates want to join in and, second, as some members become more proficient, they want to be challenged by their being paired with other, also more proficient, members.

Now you decide to make the organisation more formal. You create a constitution and a set of by-laws, you introduce an annual subscription, and you ordain a Committee consisting of Chair, Deputy Chair, Secretary, Treasurer and Adjudicator. In additional to your weekly play sessions, you schedule a monthly business meeting—at least for the Committee. And since your membership has grown well beyond the original eight, you now meet in the village hall. You purchase boards, chess sets and clocks using funds generated by subscriptions. You divide members into classes: novice, junior, senior, master.

This evolution might occur over a few months or several years. At some point you’ll probably add an Activities Coordinator to the Committee.

As your membership grows, personal objectives of members begin to emerge: from a group of eight who just want to play a little chess, something else begins to be seen. Some highly competitive members insist on their being paired with equally competitive and equally competent opponents (and some highly competitive individuals only want to play against those they can beat). Some want to set up elimination tournaments where each year one member is crowned club champion—complete with second and third place medals and an impressive cup, naturally. Others want to travel to other clubs and engage in tournaments. Some want to arrange meetings where classic games are re-enacted. Some want to organise workshops. A couple play mediocre chess but are keenly interested in the formality of the organisation. At least one plays little chess but has an impressive collection of chess sets. And a few wonder what all the fuss is about: ‘What’s wrong with just meeting every week and enjoying playing chess?’

Over time the club will evolve in one of these directions. My thesis is the organisation will evolve, the objectives of the organisation will shift, in directions to meet the personal objectives of those who move into positions of power, who put themselves forward as candidates for Committee membership or who assertively, and often vociferously, argue from within the informal organisation for change (in larger organisations these changes may result in movement in several directions addressing the objectives of different coteries of members but this does not obviate my argument).


The most visible evidence of this for all of us today, I think, is the directions in which political parties trend. The Conservative Party came to reflect the personal objectives of Margaret Thatcher; Labour, those of Tony Blair. Labour now is clearly moving, albeit with significant resistance, in the direction Jeremy Corbin wants it to move and this movement is based on his personal objectives; May, Gove and Johnson have shifted the Conservative Party towards something unrecognizable to Thatcher. Again, look to your own experience for examples.

One may ask whether the leader of a political party, for example, is truly supporting personal objectives having moved into that position of power when heard to make statements directly contradicting earlier statements. I argue here the quest for power is the overriding personal need and others have been subsumed under this. When queried about such contradictions, politicians respond in one of three ways—but never that they have changed direction or made a U-turn: they were quoted out of context, the interviewer misquoted or misunderstood the original statement or, quite simply, they never said it.

* Barnard, C.I. (1968) The Functions of the Executive, 30th anniversary edn. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
† We can ignore distinctions ordinarily made between entities we describe as ‘organisations’ and others we characterize as ‘groups’. For purposes of this essay, structural and functional differences between the two need not concern us. Nor am I interested here in referring to what is usually described as organisational dynamics.
‡ I don’t want to discuss needs, a subject much too broad for a mere blog post—or even a lifetime enquiry. If you’re interested, start with: Maslow, A.H. (1954) Motivation and Personality, New York: Harper & Brothers, and go from there.


‘Isaac Newton decided he could never hope to [understand how the world works] and he was satisfied by (1) being in the world, (2) by being alive and (3) by putting words on paper to describe what happens (but never to explain it).’*

Particularly his third objective, ‘to describe what happens’, articulates succinctly my assertion a theory is not some sort of fundamental truth about the universe but rather an arbitrary explanation of the way something works (for now please ignore distinctions between statements we describe as ‘hypotheses’, ‘theories’ or ‘laws’ and treat ‘models’ as generic. The differences, as I hope you will see, are not relevant to this essay).

This initial observation arose twenty-five years ago during my extensive reading while drafting Tactical Management, a book I published in 1999. One of my enquiries was into theories of leadership. Without exaggeration, the books on the shelf behind the chair in my study offered me twelve distinct theories of leadership, many contradicting at least one but usually most of the others. How could this be? Critical consideration of these led me to a conclusion: if there were such a thing as a theory of leadership, or a theory of anything else for that matter, and this expresses a fundamental truth then there must be one and only one—twelve contradictory theories to describe a single phenomenon make no sense.

My thesis is a model stands in relation to the phenomenon it seeks to explain in precisely the same way a map stands in relation to the portion of the earth it seeks to describe.

And just as every map includes limitations about the area it describes—streams in the real world are not blue, forests are not uniformly green and mountains don’t have brown lines snaking around them—it works for us as long as we are mindful of these limitations.

When flying cross country, glider pilots ordinarily use a ½ mil air chart (1:500,000 scale). This is a convenient size for the cramped confines of the cockpit. On this chart aerodromes are specified by small purple circles. This is absurd: in my experience aerodromes are neither round nor purple; certainly I’ve never known one. But as long as we recognize this, our chart works well for us. One of my gliding friends admitted he was not very good at chart reading: at looking at his chart then to the ground and confidently determining his location. He chose to use a ¼ mil chart (1:250,000 scale). On this chart aerodromes were still purple but specific runways were shown. When he looked out of his cockpit at a field he was approaching, he was confident of his location because he could compare what he read on his chart—his model, with what he saw on the ground—the world. He paid a price for this: he needed more space for his ¼ mil chart (and sometimes two charts if he were flying far). Here the ½ mil chart included a limitation he was not prepared to accept so he chose another model.

We could discuss this in more detail but two examples should suffice. On my air chart lines of longitude are parallel—lines of longitude in the real world are not parallel. The Earth is assumed to be flat—most of us accept the earth is not flat. Again, if we acknowledge these limitations we can navigate our glider cross country very nicely.

Isaac Newton proposed to explain certain phenomena in the world with the formula f = ma; Albert Einstein proposed to explain these with the formula e = mc2. Was Newton wrong or did Einstein ‘correct Newton’s errors’ as some writers suggest? I think not. What we see are two models with limitations and each works well when we acknowledge these limitations. Newton’s model works when we are playing snooker; Einstein’s model introduces complications we don’t need to get the job done. Newton’s model introduces some anomalies when we’re examining the path of a ray of light as it passes near a planet or star; Einstein’s model gives us a better result.

When we’re learning about the real number system, somewhere during week two we’re given the assignment to prove +1 x +1 = +1, -1 x +1 = -1 and -1 x -1 = +1, thus proving there can be no such thing as √-1. But then, likely during our second term when we’re learning about co-ordinate geometry, we find ourselves in the situation where to find the roots of a quadratic equation whose graph does not intersect or touch the x axis, we need to hypothesize the existence of √(b2 -4ac) where, using real values for a, b and c, we end up with a negative result, √(-1 x d) for some real, positive value d (if a, b and c are real then d must necessarily be real), clearly contradicting our proof in the second week of the previous term.

By the end of our second term we have learned three things: (1) from our first week in the first year that 0 x a = 0 for any real number a, (2) from our plane geometry that the area of any rectangle is l x w where l is the real value length and w is the width and (3) any real number added to ∞ is still ∞ and infinity is not a real number. Next when we study integral calculus, we face the absurd action of summing an infinite number of rectangles of various lengths and zero width and ending up with a real number result. I believe Newton, as one of the inventors of calculus—the other one’s being Leibnitz, understood this and I believe this an example of a situation reflected in his quotation at the beginning of this essay.

Confusion? Contradiction? Error? No, simply some adjustments to some of the models we use to predict the future: to design tall buildings which will not fall down in high winds, to build space stations where astronauts can live and work for a year, and to create magical machines which enable us to look inside our living brains. Soon we expect to see driverless cars on our roads and we assume these won’t crash into structures, people or other cars. These wonders of modern technology have all been created using models which include these contradictions.

These models work, and they work well—meaning they enable us to build things that work the way we predict or expect them to work.

Does the Higgs Boson exist? Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. I argue it doesn’t matter, what matters—the singular test—is whether it enables Professor Higgs et al. to describe what happens in the world.

It follows our definitions of ‘science’, ‘scientific method’ and ‘what scientists do’ might be modified to reflect this different approach to what the terms ‘hypotheses’, ‘theories’ and ‘laws’ mean. I expect, however, this is a step too far, especially with my complete lack of academic credentials.

Your comments are invited but please keep them as un-hysterical as possible and in reasonably good taste, particularly with respect to the marital state of my parents when I was born.

* As quoted by my good friend Christine Ogden.

† Here I do not propose we need to think about the meanings of ‘truth’ or ‘fundamental truth’ but simply accept these terms as undefined.


Please keep this in mind as you read this essay: I’m a writer—I write stuff.

A year ago I set up this website and blog to promote my writing. I write thrillers with contemporary political themes. The first has been published, the second is due out next year and the third is in preparation.

Throughout this year I have posted to my blog. Admittedly my posts have been few, mostly because I like to spend most of my time writing about the further adventures of Os Doran: close protection security consultant, righter of wrongs, rescuer of damsels in distress and saviour of the world. I also acknowledge my posts have not followed a theme; I have discussed some of my own adventures and topics of interest to me and, hopefully, to you.

What I wanted to happen was you nice folks out there would reply to my posts and we could start some interesting dialogues. This has not happened.

Every reply to my posts has been from spammers trying to sell me stuff. I have been told my blog lacks content and you could provide it for me, totally ignoring that I’m a writer and perfectly capable of generating my own content. I have been told you could boost my rankings in the search engines—read this as ‘Google’. If you do a search you’ll discover ‘Riis Marshall’ ranks nineteen out of the top twenty pages listed on Google, ‘Os Doran’ is first and ‘Nudge Nudge Wink Wink Die’ ranks eight out of the first nine. I have also been told I have too much duplicate content. I have no idea what this means.

Here is what I would like you to do: Read my posts and reply discussing their content. Tell me I’m the greatest writer since William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, tell me my stuff sucks and you totally disagree with everything I’ve said, tell me my grammar and punctuation stink, tell me my vocabulary and word usage are pedestrian, tell me you don’t believe anything I’ve said about my true life adventures—that I’ve made them all up.

Tell me anything other than you have a magic wand that will help me, following payment to you of a generous fee, sell millions of my books from my website and rocket me into an internationally recognized best selling author.

Or you could do this: Read my blog posts and offer to reply. I promise to moderate them and post them so long as they’re in reasonably good taste. Or buy my book, read it and offer to post a review. If your review is coherent and not too hysterical—five stars are encouraged but not necessary, I promise to post it and refund your full purchase price including postage.

Thanks for listening.



An excerpt from The Bureau of Happiness

Copyright © 2013 Riis Marshall and Turfhill Court Press

From the time he was old enough to start to think about the world he had been subject to an almost constant barrage from almost everybody in his life: grandparents, teachers, Sunday School teachers, neighbours—almost every grown-up in his young life except his parents—with a whole host of reasons why he should distrust and hate everybody he met who didn’t look and sound exactly like he did, who didn’t go to the same church as he did and who spelled their surnames in ways just a bit differently from the way he did. He didn’t understand it then and he didn’t understand it now.

If you were a little Jewish kid growing up on the wrong side of a street in the Bronx and every day on the way to school a bunch of Irish kids beat you up then it might be understandable if you hated Irish people. And if you were a little Irish kid growing up on the other wrong side of the same street in the Bronx and every day on the way to school a bunch of Jewish kids beat you up then it might be understandable if you hated Jewish people.

But why should a man in his mid-twenties from Sleaford in Lincolnshire travel to Belfast every year on the twelfth of July to march up and down banging a big drum proclaiming his hatred for Roman Catholics? Charlie doubted when this man was a child in Sleaford he was beaten up by a bunch of Catholic kids every day on the way to school. Sleaford! Hell’s fire there couldn’t be more that about eight Catholics in the whole of Sleaford, let alone enough to form a gang to go around beating up little Protestant kids. The question Charlie asked himself was: is there a need in the human psyche that can only be ameliorated by a hatred of other human beings who are somehow different from you regardless of whether they or their ancestors had ever done anything bad to you or your ancestors?

He recalled a conversation with one of his good friends during their university days about whether there were intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe and whether they had ever visited our world. Isaac Asimov suggested they had not because if they had expended the energy necessary to travel the vast distances between their planet and ours, we would have expected them to have introduced themselves to the leaders of large, powerful nations rather than limiting themselves to brief chats with a hermit in a cabin somewhere in the mountain forests of Maine and a farmer in a remote clearing in the Brazilian rainforest.

Charlie’s friend offered an optional explanation: Suppose there are all sorts of intelligent beings in the universe and those of more advanced civilizations routinely visit each other. During the 20th century people of the earth finally broke the barrier of gravitation and began to travel into space. Suppose of all the intelligent beings in the universe, people of the earth are the only ones endowed with a hate gene—only the people of earth are aggressive toward their fellow human beings? Maybe, Charlie’s friend hypothesised, these beings visit the earth regularly but only to keep an eye on us since only in the last century have we demonstrated the potential to export our aggression to other worlds.

Or maybe, he thought, it’s a matter of faith. Suppose you truly believe in a Supreme Being, you truly believe you are committed to behaving in a certain way within a relationship with this Supreme Being and you truly believe your commitment to this relationship determines how you order your life and whether following your death your soul ascends to a place of absolute eternal happiness or descends into a place of absolute endless damnation.  If your belief in this is total, if your faith is complete and unqualified, then it necessarily follows that all those who do not have your faith are somehow fundamentally different from you and depending on the precise nature of this belief you are bound by it to treat them in ways different from the way you treat other believers. If your faith is absolute then it must necessarily follow that those whose faith is not absolute cannot be one with you.

And maybe this leads inexorably to the universal, world-wide interest in secret societies. If your faith sets you apart from non-believers then it makes sense to strengthen the bond among true believers by bringing them together in quiet, secret places far away from the prying eyes of non-believers. Thus the universal interest in secret meetings in secret locations with passwords, handshakes, regalia, rituals and the absolute exclusion of non-believers. The anthropologist will tell us this interest in secret societies reaches back to the dawn of the human race when boys came of age and were taken from their mothers to become warriors and hunters, and this initiation was done in a secret place—far away from the prying eyes of women and children—and with rituals forbidden to the uninitiated.

But Charlie thought perhaps this represented something far more fundamental to the human condition. Maybe along with his hypothesised hate gene was a basic human need to meet in secret with fellow initiates to reinforce the bonds between them. If the were the case this would strengthen even more the propensity to treat the uninitiated differently.

This brought him to the question of the widespread paranoia among human beings about conspiracies. If you’re disposed to treat all those who are different from you—who haven’t committed to your faith, who aren’t members of your secret society—differently then it follows they almost necessarily represent a threat to your way of life, to your faith, to your secret society. And here was the profound contradiction that was at the core of Ramaker’s psyche: underlying his belief system was an overwhelming conviction that, as he hated everybody who was different from him in even the most prosaic of ways, so they must hate him—so he wished for their total annihilation, so they must wish for his.

When Charlie thought back over his life and the things he had been told when he was young, he began to understand why those who were most ardent in the pursuit of activities connected with their various secret societies were also those most concerned about conspirators of all kinds attacking them from all sides in efforts to destroy them and their ways of life. He recalled the Hollywood Blacklist: how could anybody with an IQ of more than about seventeen seriously believe people such as Jack Guilford, Burl Ives and Artie Shaw were actively trying to destroy the United States of America? Oh, yeah, and don’t forget about Orson Bean—Orson Bean for Christ’s sake—now there was a true danger to America!



Some time ago, on my way to looking up something else, I came across this review:

*’[He] has other peculiarities. For example, he hates the “he said” locution and avoids it as much as possible. Characters in [this book] seldom “say” anything. Instead, they cry, interject, interrupt, muse, state, counter, conclude, mumble, whisper ([he] is great on whispers), intone, roar, exclaim, fume, explode, mutter. There is one especially unforgettable tautology: “’I repeat,’ repeated Alex.”

‘The book may sell in the billions, but it’s still junk.’

Newgate Callender, The New York Times Book Review

The author is Robert Ludlum and the book is The Bourne Ultimatum.

Now let us think about those who might be happy with Ludlum’s style and voice, and those who might be unhappy. Happy must include Ludlum himself—I assume, his agent and publisher, most of his readers—although we can acknowledge perhaps a few are critical of this work (it was the 6th best selling novel in the US in 1990), Universal pictures—producers of the film, Paul Greengrass, Director, Matt Damon and his fellow actors, and the producers and any investors sharing out the $442,824,138 in earnings to date.

As far as I can tell, the only person unhappy with this is Mister Callender, and potentially Browne and King, should they be offered an opportunity to review or edit it.

I’m confused.

Personally, if my books were to sell in the billions, Mister Callender is free to say anything he likes about them; indeed, his criticisms are to be welcomed.

*As quoted by Brown, R. and King, D. (2004) Self Editing for Fiction Writers, 2nd edn. New York: HarperCollins.


Before reading this essay you need to ask yourself one simple question:
how badly do you want this degree?

You need a little help from Mum and Dad and this is they let you live at home rent free during the three years you spend at home while chasing your dream. But that’s okay; by now they’ve been doing it for eighteen years anyhow.

Here is what you need to do

Year One:

After finishing your secondary schooling and following acceptance at the university of your choice, defer enrolment for one year. During this year, live with Mum and Dad, rent and other amenities free, as discussed above.

You need paid work and you will likely need several jobs. Start walking down the street knocking, literally, on every business door until you land a job. You must accept any job on offer that pays the minimum wage or above and you must avoid zero-hours contracts. Ignore employment agencies.

Keep knocking on doors until you accumulate enough work to occupy a minimum of sixty (60) hours per week or a bit more.

Ideally, find work on the night shift in a food factory. Here, when you acquire a reputation as a dependable worker who never takes time off or calls in sick, you can probably work loads of overtime. Between your night shift premium and overtime you can potentially gross £600 to £800 per week.

Save most of your money.

Year Two:

Attend your first year at university paying for everything with the money you saved in Year One.

Year Three:

Arrange a gap year with your university and go back to work in the food factory.

Save most of your money.

Year Four:

Attend your second year at university, debt free.

Year Five:

Go back to work in the food factory and save more money.

Year Six:

Attend your third and final year at university, again, debt free. Receive your degree.


Some of the work you do will not be much fun. In particular, the night shift in a food factory is not a lot of laughs. However, if your work leads you ever closer to your goal, that’s what this is all about.

You don’t need an £800 phone; a £100 one will do; you don’t need an £800, all singing – all dancing iPad, a £279 laptop will do. You won’t spend too many nights in the pub with your mates or weekends in Warsaw or Prague on hen or stag do’s. This will save you money and you’ll be too tired after working 60 hours a week to enjoy these much anyhow. Glastonbury and Leads Festivals will have to wait until after graduation.

But realize when you walk out of your university with your debt free degree, the interest you’ll save on student loans alone will finance your deferred gap year trekking in the Himalayas and many Glastonburys to come.

So, how badly do you want this degree – truly?