25 Aug 2013

Moto Guzzi and me

When I learnt to ride my Guzzi (the bad boys who taught me rhymed it with fuzzy) I had to know a few things even though it was basically a skill. Like how to turn it on, where the gears were, where the petrol tank was. Oh, and what the gear change does. This didn’t matter until it broke in Amsterdam and I had to find someone to replace it on a Sunday. I couldn’t, so rode it back to Suffolk in third gear. I also had to learn how to balance it and how not to drop it. Because if I’d dropped it, I wouldn’t have been able to pick it up. So that was top priority. As far as the Guzzi went, I needed knowledge and skills. Otherwise I was road-kill.

About the time I learnt to ride, I also started playing bridge. That’s because I like to learn things from scratch. As an utter newbie. So that I never forget what it is like to start at the bottom, know nothing and feel a bit of a numpty. While everyone around me is shining. Or at least riding off into the distance, while I’m stuck in third gear. Now there’s lots of stuff to know in bridge. Conventions, etiquette and rules. And you have to be able to count. Our bridge teacher taught us from the front, explaining the conventions, helping us to add up, use the rule of 20, that sort of thing. And then we would practise. Get it wrong, reflect on our mistakes, learn to disagree agreeably. And gradually, we got better. Now I can play bridge without stabilisers. But I’m still after those marginal gains which apparently made the British cycling team world class. And the beautiful thing is that the more I understand, the more I realise there are layers of complexity. And I’m still in awe of the old boys in my club who look at their hand and go straight to three no trumps. How do they do that?

I’m also beefing up my German after decades. Again, I’m having to get my ear in, learn some vocab, and eventually practise when I go out there at the end of the year. It feels as though the knowledge only becomes real and secure when I use it. So again, I’m wondering whether it is possible to separate them.

Now to my professional knowledge. I consider myself fairly well read, but I am staggered at the range of new knowledge and insights which have been made available since I started using twitter properly. Took a while to realise it wasn’t like facebook. The bank balance of ideas, ways of working, academic and practical resources has made me feel like a millionaire. But again, because I only learn stuff when I get my hands dirty, it’s only when I thrash these ideas out in my own head, debate them with others and use them in my own practice, that they become real. It’s as though the application of skills breathes life into the knowledge.

I was struggling for an elegant, witty metaphor to round this off. I couldn’t think of one. Then I wandered outside to watch my nieces and nephews mucking about on the lake where we are staying. They had got in the boat and were navigating the weeds and willows. So, my tentative conclusion at the end of this blog, is that they wouldn’t have had the chance to extend their horizons without the boat of knowledge. And they needed to use the oars of skills to get across the water. They didn’t get their bottoms wet. Pity…

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