Tuesday, 24 July 2012

In favour of a Big Brother Society

After a lot of careful thought and having spent the last few weeks in China, I have finally decided to come out in favour of a Big Brother society.

My Big Brother, Jim Stanfield, died on Sunday 22nd July 2012 following a short battle with cancer. I am heartbroken.

You might not have known that I had a Big Brother, but I did. Jim (actually "Jay" to me) was a brilliant man and lovely brother. He was my role model and teacher, often without even knowing it. Charming and confident, he was equally at home dancing in the fountain at Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve (when you could do that!) or dancing with Lords and Ladies at Oxford, where he was Chair of The Association of Senior Members of St Anne's College, Oxford.

Jim glided effortlessly across culture and society. His technology career took him across the world, from Atlanta to Beijing. He loved sports of all sorts, particularly rugby and golf and was a ferocious flanker in his day.

We grew up in Sunbury in the Sixties and had a wonderful time, playing football on the green at the end of our road, despite the "lady with the toy telephone" who used to shout at us and threaten to phone the police if we didn't clear off. Jim was the Captain of our team, of course. Being Captain is the job of a Big Brother. My job, being three years younger, was a run around excitedly and, when it was time for a throw in, stand still so that he could bounce the ball off my head. He was a great player, hence his little know nickname "Twinkle Toes". He taught me to play football, ride a bike and stand up to other little boys. Ahhh, there is nothing so reassuring when you are a six year old being bullied being able to say, through tears "I'm going to get my Big Brother on to you" and see the look of doubt and fear sweep across your tormentors faces.

We lived in Uganda, East Africa, ran around in our big Kampala Garden, swam around in the round hotel pool and went to Kitante Primary School. You have no fear being a new boy at a new school in a new country when your Big Brother joins the same school three years above you and immediately becomes friends with the big, cool kids. Ahhh, all you do is walk around smiling, pointing and saying "that's my Big Brother over there" and see the look of envy in your new, young friends faces. Jim loved visiting Africa and that's why he created and was a Trustee of the African Gifted Foundation with me. Mind you, his attempts at the famous Ugandan "wiggle bottom" dance was a sight to behold. Ahhh, well, even a Big Brother can't be brilliant at everything!

In the seventies, Jim taught me how to play rugby and how to love science. There is only one real reason why I decided to study science at University - because Jim studied science at University and I wanted to be like my Big Brother. Of course, I couldn't expect to go to as good a university as my Big Brother and rightly so. He went up to Oxford, breaking the unusual barrier of being amongst the first intake of men at the previously all-female college, St Anne's. I just hope the hundreds of glamorous, intelligent young women there didn't take undue advantage of my impressionable, sociable, hansom, blond haired, blue eyed Big Brother. He loved his time there (what a surprise) and once or twice I had the opportunity to go and sleep on the floor in his college rooms and bask in reflected glory. I was sooooooo proud.

As teenagers, we played rugby. Not together. He was three years bigger and harder and would have broken me in half. Although it did help to toughen me up by having him constantly wrestling me to the ground at home whilst mum shouted at us to stop it and get out of the way, saved only by our younger brother, Roland, jumping on his head from behind. I was never big enough to fill his boots, but I tried. Literally. He handed his rugby boots down to me when I needed a pair. Yes, my Big Brother's boots were too big for me to fill, but I found I could wear them if I stuffed newspaper in the ends. Okay, I looked a bit like a clown with my huge boots but I was so proud to wear my Big Brother's boots and try to tackle like he did. He loved looking for the biggest, hardest player in the opposition, throw caution to the wind and slam in to them like a rocket.

As adults we have grown up together, been blessed with wonderful families, lived minutes from each other, sometimes worked together, build businesses, raised money, hired and fired together and I have never stopped learning from him. Big things and little things. How to keep enjoying life .He certainly won't want me or anyone else mooching around in black. He'd tell us to shut up and get dancing. He would have a message for us. He will expect a proper celebration.

A couple of years ago, after years of going to posh dinners wearing clip on bow-ties I decided I had to grow up a learn how to tie a proper bow tie. But how do you learn to tie a bow tie? Well, I pity those of you without a Big Brother because for me it was easy. I rang him up and he sat me down and taught me how to tie it. Next time I went to Mansion House wearing a proper bow tie, properly tied I felt all "proper". I txt'd him proudly to tell him. "Very good. Well done" he replied, like Big Brothers do, whether you are four or forty four.

I spent the last two weeks on holiday in China. I desperately wanted to get back in time to see my Big Brother again but it was not to be. He passed away while I was on the plane. But it was okay. I had my Big Brother for fifty wonderful years and I have his guidance, lessons and example for as long as I live. So I will always have my Big Brother. But what will they do in China? With all its power and might, with all its money and millions, their policies have created a generation of only children, not one of whom has a Big Brother. Who do they turn to when life gets a bit tough? Who do they call and say "I'm a bit scared, what shall I do?" Who cuffs them round the top of the head, punches their arm, pushes them forward and says "Get on with it, fool. Of course you can do it"?

Give me a society with Big Brothers, any day. If you offer me Billions or a Big Brother, I'll take a Big Brother every time. In fact, I'll take my Big Brother, please. His full name is John James Stanfield and I'd like him back please. Really.