Hiding your head in the fridge vs. Ubuntu

Apparently Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, decided last minute not to attend a Jeremy Vine Show interview today, and instead preferred to hide in a refrigerator. The segment of the BBC Radio 2 show took the opportunity to discuss the topic of why this might be, and the potential damage to Johnson’s reputation and/or political standing.

Having just finished reading The Organized Mind, in which author Daniel Levitin explains how we might better organise our time by better choosing who we spend our time with, I couldn’t help but appreciate that perhaps Boris had simply decided, or more accurately calculated, that he had better things to spend his time on, on indeed that spending a quiet half-hour in a refrigerator may be more beneficial to himself and his cause.

Perhaps he’d deemed that the Jeremy Vine Show listeners had likely already made up their minds regarding which political party they had voted for, and therefore he had nothing to gain or lose by trying to persuade them otherwise, or reassure them.

One called referred to Boris in the usual term of Buffoon, and perhaps indeed he is, he knows it, and therefore avoids where best he can, situations that might bring out the buffoonery in him, and therefore avoid doing his standing or reputation more harm than good, again the decision being calculated, perhaps by himself or his aids.

I had a similar consideration last week when I found myself having breakfast in a café full of politicians local MPs (as I came to assume that’s what they all were); I’d arrived on my bicycle to a carpark full of cars (a peculiar sight in itself). I cautiously stepped foot inside the usually quiet café to realise that yes, there was a lot of people in there. As I’d been reading also about Boosting my Self-Esteem by way of a Dummies book, I confidently located a table for myself and placed my order. There were lots of people standing around chatting and gradually, one by one, as they seemed to size me up, some of them approached me or made casual conversation. The first attempt was made by a woman who revealed further clues about who they were (as I was still trying to figure out what was going on), after passing some casual conversation back and forth for a short while she dove in and asked who I would be voting for and I confidently revealed that I wasn’t (even) registered to vote. Whether this was her intention, or perhaps someone else had called her attention I’m not sure, but my certainty is that she turned up her nose at me and walked away, like I was some lost cause and not worthy of her time. I chuckled quietly to myself at this perceived attitude. It seemed defeatist and not the first time I’ve encountered such a sudden change of attitude. Some years ago now, someone trying to subscribe residents on my street to monthly donations to the charity they were working for knocked on my door. They too began a friendly conversation with me but as soon as they got to the point about getting me to sign up and me making my point that I wasn’t prepared to part with any money or sign up to any such thing their demeanour instantly changed, they turned on their heels and walked away. This kind of attitude is, I think, borderline offensive, and I’m not easily offended, but it has taught me about what different people seek from us, what we seek from others, and how they/we behave when we don’t get what we want.

Once I’d finished my breakfast in the café, and experienced another (although more acceptable-fizzling-out of) polite conversation, along with the sense that someone behind me was actually hovering about trying to determine their tactical approach, I returned to my bike outside. Her I was confronted by not one individual person of political persuasion, and not two, but three who stood before me. It seemed they had combined their tactical resources with a polite onslaught of, well, how green they each were (even though they weren’t of the Green party). It seemed that of the things they had determined about me, namely that I had arrived by bicycle, that I was indeed a green person and would therefore find common-ground in a conversation about various green things, such as how many trees one of them had planted, the lack of grip another one’s new walking boots had, and what mountains of the world they had visited. This all amused me, in fact, for my hour-long journey thereafter I couldn’t help but place the situation, in my head, in a comical scene from Dickens’ Pickwick Papers which I read a few years ago.

Back to the news of Boris hiding in a fridge (it’s likely this didn’t actually happen they way it seems, more that it was some sort of planned photo opportunity), coupled with the book on Organizing our Mind and our world around us, I can appreciate more how we can be selective with our time and how much emotional thought, and ultimately energy we might put into things. Another example of this presented itself to me shortly after this radio topic in the form of a work-related conversation in which someone was picking my brain about a computer issue. With such things I’ve come to learn that getting to the point about a few key things is important to both myself and them, namely;

  • how much it’s going to cost
  • what’s involved
  • where they live
  • is it worth my time
  • is it worth their money

In such a situation I find myself listening to the person’s issue whist in my head figuring out what’s going to be involved in sorting things out, such as time and parts. I quickly calculated, in my head, that a couple of visits to their premises would be involved, along with the cost of a part. After listening to them explain the situation and having the opportunity to share my understanding (to assure them that indeed that I could confidently take on the work) I briefly outlined what would be involved, and an idea of cost. Giving them the outline seems important as this provides context for the cost – if I throw a cost at someone without context they may well think the price is too high because they don’t appreciate what is involved. This can also leave me feeling undervalued. Perhaps again through reading the Dummies Book on Self-Esteem, even though they did quickly decide the cost was too high/greater than they had appreciated it would be, I felt confident in my offer; the price quoted was based on the cost of my time which I have to place a value on in order to 1) earn a living, and 2) not under-value myself and the services I provide – I don’t owe anyone any favours. Part of me wishes I had gained this level of confidence early on in my work, but at the same time I don’t like being too hard-lined about things; money is the curse of the west, after all.

Now, what is the Ubuntu thing I mentioned in the title?

It has nothing to do with the Linux-based operating system of that name (although it is apparently why the name was chosen), but the final segment on the Jeremy Vine Show heard from Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the first black female bishop, talking about ‘What Makes Us Human’. She is of African-Caribbean descent and related the term Ubuntu – “we are who we are through other people”. It made me then consider that hiding away from other people, sticking our head in the sand, or finding refuge in a walk-in refrigerator might be one way to deal with life when confrontations are becoming too much, but realising and accepting that we are who we are through other people, whether it be the people we encounter, from long-term interaction with friends, family, work colleagues and clients, to brief interactions with strangers, the people we watch on TV, on Youtube, listen to on the radio, read about and learn from in books, these all influence us. In the case of politicians or MPs, this seems rightly so. They, we, may well need time and space to gather our thoughts, but for some at least, such as a Prime Minister, President, or Bishop, it is more important that what they do be about the people around them, the people they serve.


  1. Oh Brian! Not even registered to vote??? Woe, woe! And to think you could have played your part in kicking Boris Johnson permanently into the fridge (and yes, that was a real incident).

  2. Great segment on the cafe’. Too many words otherwise. I think you should seek out others around you and confront them on some subject and come back here and write about it, concisely, mind you (grin). Focus on them, not you and I think you’ll have a jolly fun time.

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