Communicating beyond the written/spoken word


A wander through through things that unite people in the context of the World Cup and some recent things I’ve experienced

I’m typing this having just watched the Rio in Rio documentary by the former Manchester United and England defender. The documentary shows Rio Ferdinand as being a much more deeper thinker than what we normally see in the media – especially when you look at previous programmes he’s made. It also got me thinking about ‘academic stereotypes’ – in particular around charity and development fields – & empathy. Given Rio’s childhood growing up in Peckham, there seemed to be an instinctive connection between what people in the favella he visited with what was his childhood borough. That plus the footballing route out that he took along with musical, artistic and ‘being on the receiving end of the wealthy & powerful elites’ were common across continents.

A connection through football

When I was at primary school, we had a couple of children from Brazil who joined our class for a term (in the late 1980s). Such was the lack of support they got that I don’t know how much English they actually learnt. It was only when we had a PE lesson that involved football that one of them really came out of his shell. I still recall one of my friends at the time running up to me and saying: “Have you seen Dimas play football? He’s brilliant!” And he was. Then I thought (and I must have been about nine years old) “He’s from Brazil so that doesn’t surprise me”. Even though verbally we could hardly communicate, when given a football it was a completely different story. At a time when my school had relatively few children from other countries and cultures, football was a great unifier. In the late 1980s when Careca (Brazil) and Michael Laudrup (Denmark) were at their peaks, it made sense to us nine-year-old football fans that two of the best football players in our year group were from each of those countries.

In the ‘Rio in Rio’ documentary, it was clear Ferdinand was more comfortable playing street football than doing pieces to camera. That said, you got a sense of Rio’s sense of “That ain’t right!” when he was told about people being made homeless as a result of development for the 2016 Olympics, also in Brazil. As Rio said himself in the documentary, doing pieces to camera is not easy – as I’ve found out myself.

During the England vs Italy match in the World Cup, there were a number of occasions where players on one side going down with cramp were helped by players on the other before the physios came on. It was then that one of my Twitter friends says that many of the players knew each other and liked each other – therefore were not interested in being nasty to each other despite it being the World Cup. They may not have a common fluent spoken language, but they have the common bond of playing football at the highest level under a global media spotlight.

A connection through dance

I was watching a documentary about Brazilian ballet on BBC4 and remember a quotation about people who ‘could not speak a word of English’ being able to understand each other through the language of dance – in the context of international ballet. It reminded me of a couple of times I went ballroom dancing in German-speaking continental Europe. My German wasn’t particularly good and neither was the English of a couple of the people I danced with. Yet the instinctive connection we had as dancers was something that far exceeded our linguistic abilities.

Take a dance like the waltz – with the assumption that both sides know something of the basic steps. The choices you have when trying out a new series of steps is to try and explain it to your dance partner, or dance with them through them. If you don’t have a common spoken language, dancing with them through it far easier & far more enjoyable.

Football and dance in the words of Dr Socrates

This interview fascinates me – not least because I missed the opportunity to meet him in London before he died (I chose to go home straight from work because I was shattered – a decision I’ll regret forever), but also because it reflects both the talents and the flaws of this unique human being.

“Footballer, intellectual, doctor and democrat”

This from his obituary on the BBC (click on the link in the quotation). It’s his flaws that for me make him human too. The toll that cigarettes and alcohol took on his body are all to visible in the youtube clip earlier. This blogpost by Tony Seed has more on his legacy.

It works in politics too

The friendship between Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy first hit the political mainstream when both were finance ministers of their respective countries. Even though neither had a common language, they still got on. Not long after the latter became President of France, the media on both sides of The Channel made hay with his private life. Commentators were saying how ‘distinctly unpresidential’ this seemed. Within weeks, Gordon Brown (who had become Prime Minister) pulled out the stops to arrange a state visit to the UK for Sarkozy with all the trappings (eg an address to both houses of Parliament, state banquet and major business conference) that go with such occasions. Because the UK convention is that a head of state from a foreign country is allowed one state visit and one official visit during their term of office, a state visit from the President of France is a big deal. The photo opportunities (such as these) as far as Sarkozy’s political team were concerned must have felt like gold dust. Wall-to-wall coverage of a president being presidential in one of the most influential capital cities of the world.

…and even in music…

Think the friendship between Italian footballer Alessandro Del Piero and Noel Gallagher of Oasis – Del Piero’s side here, and Gallagher’s side here. (I saw Oasis live at Earls Court back in 1997).

I’ve blogged a fair amount about music, and the weekend just gone was the one of the World Cup Final. This was the first final on TV that I’ve missed since 1990. A milestone breaking the habit of a lifetime. But it was more than worth it – because I was performing as part of the Dowsing for Sound Collective in Bury St Edmunds. Here’s what the local press said about it. It was also the first time as an adult I found myself singing a solo bit on stage in front of hundreds of people in a public performance.

There was a bit of dancing on my side too!

Having listened to comments online and those from people in the audience that spoke to me after the shows, the two things that strike me are:

  1. Not only did people in the audience want to come back and see future shows, they wanted to join the collective (which is a ***massive*** achievement)
  2. For the much appreciated plaudits I got for my bit, music is a team game too

On 2), it was not a confident kid that joined Dowsing for Sound in spring 2014. Our musical director Andrea Cockerton has unleashed something positive in me that I did not think was possible. This is despite the fact that I’m not the easiest person to handle – even at the best of times. (A combination of personal character flaws, life history and mental health issues).

Yet having a supportive team of people who ‘want you to do well’ (& vice versa) makes a massive difference. I benefited from having Angela Jameson next to me on Alto as this stabilising ‘rock’ next to me on the main stage. Because for the first part of the first performance, I could feel myself all over the place. It seemed to take an age for my vocal chords to warm up. That plus whether I would remember the subtle differences between the first and second solo sections of my bit of the ‘octet’ of men performing a stomping electro-swing number by Disco-bob (a number that has vocal noises but no words). With my bit in the octet, I had to be on the front row of the main collective to get to and from the front microphones. When you’re on the front row, you can feel very alone and exposed. No one is in front of you, and I felt very self-conscious about looking in any direction other than at the audience. It was only when I looked around that I was reminded that there were about 100 other singers on the tiered stage behind me & Angela next to me.

‘Commanding’ an audience

To be honest without the feedback from the audience, I’d have had no idea as to whether as to whether they enjoyed our performance. But when you get people from pensioners to teenagers who you’ve never met coming up to you – as well as staff commenting positively on your part of the song, something went right. Not least because I completely messed up the sound check – my mind went blank for the second bit so I made it up. Hence the nerves. Then I thought: ‘Take inspiration from the lead singer of ‘Extreme’ at Wembley in 1992′.

Eyes, face language and body language. Let the band do the rest – they are the professionals. There was a bit of me that said: ‘Free the microphone’ that was in the stand. So I did. I also recall being angry with myself at something in the run up to the piece, so chose to channel that anger into the microphone for that piece.

Music: This one’s a team game

& I’m not just ‘saying’ that. Without the support & encouragement of the other seven soloists in the rehearsals (& the rest of the collective in our Friday and Sunday rehearsals) I wouldn’t have gotten near that concert hall. (Without Nicola giving me a lift to Bury St Edmunds and back, ditto!) Again, I recall a documentary on football, with Andy Cole reportedly telling new signing Fabien Barthez that at Manchester United they ‘win as a team and lose as a team’. It was an observation I wanted to make prior to the 2014 World Cup Final once it was clear it would be Argentina vs Germany. The pundits were saying Germany had the strongest team but Argentina has Messi. My take was that Argentina’s other high profile players (in particular those playing regularly in Spain, Italy & England) needed to step up & take the pressure off Messi.

My point is that we are all looking out for each other. A community: A group of people with something in common who also look out for each other? 

What’s even better for Cambridge is that the collective as a community is looking out for our wider community. All of the profits from the Dowsing’s performances go to the Dosoco Foundation. Sunday’s performances raised over £400 for it – helping fund projects across Cambridgeshire such as these announced earlier in 2014.

“Do we get to see videos?”

Hopefully – for we had a photographer there. I’ll see if I can get permission to post some photos, audio & video footage to share once it becomes available. In the meantime, have a listen to a clip of the music, and of what people thought of the 2013 Ely Cathedral performance.


Because even if you can’t always get what you want, you might get what you need!

Also, between the two performances a few dozen of us decamped to a restaurant for food – some in family groups, others in sort of singing parts. One of the waiters said to one of our number that if she could get the rest of us to sing a song ‘flashmob’ style, they’d give them a free dessert. Price of my drink? £2. Price of my food? £7.95. The look on the faces of the locals as we broke out into song? Priceless.

“Dowsing Sound Collective Concerts: More fun than every world cup final since 1990”

– And you can quote me on that one too. 🙂



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