Sharing things

Transcript for 1.7 Geoff and David

Transcript for Sharing things episode 1.7 Geoff and David.

Amalie: You're listening to Sharing things, a new University of Edinburgh podcast from the Alumni Relations team about the University community, which we want to get to know a little better.

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Amalie: Hi, I'm Amalie, I'm a fourth-year student and I'm the host of this podcast. In Sharing things I talk to alumni, staff and students about their stories. Guests have all been asked to bring an object as a starting point for discussion and the object can be anything important or significant. It can represent an event, person, decision, experience or it can just remind them of something. Let's see where this takes us.

Amalie: In this episode you will meet Sir Geoff Palmer and David Gray. Geoff is a brewing pioneer and a human rights activist. He was awarded a knighthood in 2014 for his contributions to science, charity and human rights.

David works at the World Bank. He graduated from Edinburgh with degrees in geography and geographic information systems before applying his expertise to international development.

We talk about Scottish-Caribbean relations, beer, a changing Edinburgh and more.

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Amalie: Welcome to Sharing things Geoff and David. So, I'm going to start by asking the question, what have you brought to the studio and why?

Geoff: Well I've brought three little pieces and they are linked in terms of my own life. I've brought a little carving, in fact I bought it in Jamaica on one of my trips. A man was selling these and we had a little chat. I bought one from him and then he sort of asked me what my name was and I told him and he carved it on it, so it's sort of personal.

Amalie: Yeah.

Geoff: And it has a big Jamaica under the, the bottom of it and it has my name so that's one item. The other one is the Jamaica telephone directory, which I will link in with my little carving of a young boy sitting under a coconut tree, drinking a coconut, and I will link that with a man who is working in a maltings and that maltings is in Scotland. And it was given to me when I retired in 2005 and it says 1964-2005 GHP. And, of course, he's a maltster and my expertise is malting.

Amalie: Yeah, it is.

Geoff: So, from drinking some coconut water under a coconut tree to professor of brewing and distilling with an expertise of malting.

Amalie: What does it mean to you?

Geoff: Well it means that when people look at Caribbean people, especially in Scotland, they don't always have an idea that there is a historical, a very strong historical link, between Scotland and the Caribbean which goes back, you know, over 200 years and when people talk to me they can't imagine that I would have anything to do with, not only that history, that I would not have anything to do with one of their primary industries, which is to do with making of alcoholic beverages, whether it's whisky or beer. So, these items, I think, are very powerful because they demonstrate to not only my family, some of whom are Scottish, but also demonstrate to my students that, you know, we're all different but fundamentally we're the same.

David: OK so I brought three objects but they're all very, very related. There are two books. One of them is called The Living World of Science in Colour, it's from 1962. The other one is Newnes Pictorial Knowledge Atlas from around the same time, slightly older, and the third one is a slice of a geode, which is a special kind of rock, a polished rock. I wouldn't be here without these three objects. I got really excited about, as most young boys do around the world, when I was a kid and these were actually the same books I read - I just found of them on my mother's bookshelf like half an hour ago, they're still there, she doesn't clean the house very much.

But the good news is when I open them, I still get excited about science, about the world, about how the world was formed, really that's why I went to university here and I did geography and geology and things like that and 30, 40 years later I'm still as an excited little boy as I was then around the world, the change of the world. So, for me these are symbolic of the understanding we have of the world and the fact that it continues to change and our knowledge changes. If you read these books you discover, even in 1962, how little they understood of the world, that things you would take for granted as a 22-year-old are completely wrong. Plate tectonics, which you would think would be understood way back, they didn't understand it, it's not in these books. They were trying to explain the plates and the world but they couldn't explain it in 1962. Isn't that startling?  And then you read other things, they got it wrong, and if you're ever excited about that kind of stuff, you know, get the old National Geographic's and realise that they didn't understand the world and they didn't understand people and interrelations of people and say economies and they really still don't.

I work for the World Bank now in Washington and I understand you have to keep asking questions, keep challenging authority, keep challenging knowledge, keep challenging the status quo and the fact everything is very interlinked. That those are still things which have kept me going and kept me excited from then on so these are very important to me. I need to mention this wasn't just about the books. These were given to me by my grandmother and my mother who were obviously Scottish women, very, very strong Scottish women, and I didn't realise at the time how strong they were and how unique they were. My grandmother was a geologist before they even had geologists and she's one of the first women to ever be a geologist and she started as a domestic servant, serving in the big houses of Scotland. She was a very poor orphan but she became a geologist and a tourist guide, and then my mother was the first female science graduate, and then I came along and spoiled her life as a child and she's never let me forget that. She then became a housewife and she still is but she never let me forget that I ruined her life. So, these aren't just objects, they tie back to real humans who changed the way I am.

Amalie: Yeah. What would you both say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt from these objects?

Geoff: Well as I said, you know, I've got the Jamaica telephone directory with me and a lot of people would say, "Well, what's the point of having a telephone directory?" But in 2007, the 200th commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007, when I noticed that if you look at the books which are written about the history of the slavery and the slave trade, I could not find any real evidence of the significance of the contribution that the slaves made to the Scottish economy. I couldn't find any evidence of what I call the cultural and genetic relations between the Caribbean and Scotland, in fact, people were talking about Scottish diaspora and the Scottish diaspora was really all white - you're talking about Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand - and I find that rather worrying because I knew in my instinct that the Caribbean in terms of the culture I saw there as a boy and I could see that there but I spoke to Scottish people when I came here in '64 and nobody seemed to know that very well. And just to share intuition, I sent for the Jamaica telephone directory and when it arrived in 2007 I was very surprised about 70 per cent of the surnames in it are Scottish, you know there are 2,500 Campbells in the Jamaica telephone directory, and when you think these are only people who could afford telephones, and when I looked at the Edinburgh and Lothian telephone directory it had just about half as many Scottish surnames and this is now become an important part of the history of this historical link and I did my DNA just for fun and I found that, you know, I'm about five per cent Shetland/Viking Finland so there is that link.

Amalie: Yeah, we're all interconnected.

Geoff: Yeah where you got a black guy who is part of the Shetland Finland history and the Shetland people would have been in Jamaica, so I find that is extremely important. It shows that, you know, we have a relationship. I mean we can't change the past but we can change the consequences and I think if people are made aware of these historical links then people are mature enough to think about it and say "Well I have some responsibility here." And one Scottish university has just admitted that it received over £200 million legacy from slavery and have set up scholarships for Afro-Caribbean students to come to Scotland and I think this is the kind of development, this is the kind of reconsideration, which the world needs and I think if we want to reduce racism as we see it today, then one of the most powerful means is through education and making people aware of the past. You know they say, "Well I wasn't there so what's it got to do with me?". I think what the past tells us is that we share a common humanity and that we then have a responsibility to try and do what we can even though we can't change what's happened.

David: I mean it seems to me that we're still very early days on kind of the awareness raising of this. I   mean a lot of Scotland was built on the back of this trade, right? Slavery, tobacco, sugar, I mean...

Geoff: Coffee.

David: Coffee, yeah, it's going to be a huge amount of owning up to things and then you know the obviously the fear everyone has, that everyone's grandparents are discredited blah, blah, blah. So how do we deal with the reconciliation of this? And then I guess a follow-on question would be, how is it viewed in Jamaica and the other Caribbean states?

Geoff: I think we take about say the grandparent, you know how do the Scottish people are going to take this, in fact there is a book out which is called ‘It Wisnae Us’ and it is the idea that, you know, it really was but we've managed to fudge it for so long. However, I found that many Scottish people when you relate this history to them the response is almost the same all over the country, "Why hasn't anybody told us this before?". So somehow there is a sense of feeling that the system, what you could call it, there is the educational system or the political system, that somehow has devised over the years a strategy of not informing the people about their history.

David: Well I think it also may be how the story's told, going back to history books, the heroes we all had were up to their necks in this stuff and that I think is part of the problem. I mean, I went to George Heriot's, well you know, need I say more? All these merchants were making their fortunes on the back of slaves.

Geoff: Yes.

David: And of course, at the time thought it was quite the way to go.

Geoff: Self-interest.

David: Complete self-interest but so, I don't know, if the reconciliation it will have a long, long way to run, I think.

Geoff: Yeah, I think the thing about the Scots which I have found endearing in that sense is that once you tell them something which they seem to believe is true, then it's easy, and to me if you tell the story of Henry Dundas, you know that rather large statue we have in the middle of Edinburgh, you know 150 feet high, and people horrified, you know, a little boy in Linlithgow when I told him what he had done he said, "Well why do we put up a statue that big to such a bad guy?" And to me that reflects the views of adults in that you have a man standing in the middle of Edinburgh whom said that, you know, if a black person was in Scotland he's free but if a black person is in Jamaica he's a slave because the air in Jamaica produces slaves and the air in Scotland doesn't and on the basis of that, hundreds and thousands of people were enslaved, so the Scottish link is not only at the merchant level, it's the very highest political level. So, we have that legacy, a little story, sounds very poignant but it illustrates it, that in Penicuik where I live I was in a supermarket and two little boys were standing there, a year or two ago, and when I walked by the little young one said, using the n-word, he said, "There is a..." And his brother smacked him on the head and said, "It's rude to point." And to me that story illustrates it - the power of education. I was accorded the respect of an adult- you don't point at an adult - but nobody had told him that he shouldn't call me that and that it was not acceptable. It's not in the educational system. Some of the most racist views came out of the Enlightenment and we have the most horrific slavery was active during the Enlightenment. So, when people are being just intellectual about something then we've got to be very careful because as I said some of the prejudice, the most horrific prejudice we have today about black people and even class, those of the white working class, came out of the Enlightenment because you have somebody like Kant or Dundas...

David: Adam Smith...

Geoff: ...or Adam Smith or you’re getting Hume, statue's up the road, Hume said black people were inferior to white people, he made no bones about it.

Amalie: That's horrendous.

Geoff: Mondobbo [sic]...what his name is, he was around at this time, a senior judge. He actually said, you know, that black people were inferior to white people, you know, and just above an ape and thus therefore that it gave the green light that if people are inferior you can enslave them and therefore what we've had since then it's in the subconscious of our education and the way we treat people by not including them is in the minds of the ordinary person that this must be OK. And therefore, we have a prejudice against a group of people which came from so-called some of the best minds. I mean I went up to Inverness and gave a talk to a school and the kids, they were ten years old, and I said who has ever heard of the n-word and 90 per cent of the hands went up. That means at ten they're aware of the negativity, just that little boy who called me that name already, and therefore is how do we change that.

David: Well I have to ask, when are you doing your hip hop musical? Because that is flippant but it's also how people are starting to learn a little bit about the stuff. That's only how my kids would ever have learned about it is through singing those songs.

Geoff: Well you know they did ask me, the kids, you know they said well, "Why is that black guys use the n-word?" And I said well they use it, it's like if somebody says you're, you know, you're too tall then you make jokes about tall people so you then remove the negativity by using that. So that these black musicians are using it on the basis that if I call myself that there's no point in them calling me that.

Amalie: It's not for them to use.

Geoff: Yeah, it doesn't solve the problem there. I think what will solve the problem is in a primary school you point out that Mr Dundas did what he did, you point out that Jamaica Street has been there from 1763 because it was the commercial street trading in sugar and coffee. And you point out that slaves lived for seven years because the field slave was being worked, you know, most of the day and Jamaica was providing over 50 per cent of the income. So that, if taught, I think will have a greater impact in changing of attitudes than somebody saying "You must be nice to black people."

David: Yeah but I do think that colonial history, I'm not sure what they get taught at schools not even now but it's a tough, it's a deep, deep lesson, tough lesson to teach. I'm betting they're still fudging it a lot.

Geoff: I wonder why you know? OK there is a sense of maybe guilt or whatever but I think that they've not asked the general public if the management of our society think the general public are children and they can't take the horror of their own history. I think they're wrong.

David: I mean it sounds very sort of Machiavellian but I kind of think also people aren't fully explaining how the system works to young people, right? I mean economics is another great case, right? I was struck the other day by the fact that the people in Sunderland voted for Brexit but the only people are going to get absolutely stuffed by it are going to be people in Sunderland, right.

Geoff: Of course.

David:  Now did someone explain it and is that too complex for somebody working in a car factory, who knows that the parts are coming from other parts of the world?

Geoff: I don't think so. I think the people in Sunderland were never told that if they vote in prejudicial reasons there will be consequences. The fact is that some people vote for Brexit on the basis that it was going to stop Europeans coming in and therefore that had nothing to do with their work. If we educate people in terms of the relationship that the people from the continent had a right to be here because we are part of Europe and therefore, you know, they're not really here to take your jobs or to or to do you any harm then in fact they would not have voted that way.

David: So basically, it was just the communications around the 2016 election were typically poor?

Geoff: Absolutely it was about selling prejudice against the people when in fact it was prejudgement, it was thinking it won't matter, and the people now who will suffer the consequences of this prejudice are the people who in fact voted in that way and they did it through ignorance rather than any deliberate act of hatred. And I think therefore the whole point of a university, this one and any other university, is we've got to teach people who are going to go out and teach and that we are going to in fact change attitudes through education.

David: But I also think the media are to blame. I mean the University can do so much. It has a... it’s dealing with largely, let's face it, the elite but getting the message out in general - why was it so difficult to get a message out to the people of Sunderland that what they do has consequences? I don't live here so I don't understand. To me it's baffling.

Geoff: I think because what you had was the various people going around saying, you know, you're going to get £300 million going back in the NHS if you vote that way. You didn't have a group of other people saying that's not true with the same vigour and I think that the poorer people in our society, when I've had the opportunity to lecture to them, I found that this is this great astonishment, that people see them as not being worth educating and I think that we are all responsible for Sunderland, we're all responsible for Windrush in a sense that black people who’ve worked for the country as slaves, were then being subjected to laws which in fact says you are not have anything to do with Britain, go back to where you come from. The point is that it is individuals, we the educated, who have made those mistakes and I think therefore universities have a role because the people manage our society, they are usually university graduates…

David: True.

Geoff: …who manage our society.

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Amalie: So, you mentioned earlier that you work with brewing?

Geoff: Mmhmm.

Amalie: I wanted to ask what's your favourite beer, David?

Geoff: [laughs]

David: Me?

Amalie: Yeah.

David: Well I've been deeply involved with the Professor's work for a long time, on the consumer side I would say.

Amalie: OK, OK [laughs].

David: Brewing's a great topic, I mean, to see what's happened, the explosion of craft brewing, even more so I think in the US than what's happening here. When I first moved there, I almost couldn't live there because it was Budweiser and you know what I mean, that's literally almost, you know, I just can't do it, it's impossible. But now it's remarkable every corner has a microbrewery and they compete and the quality is fantastic and the experimentation is fantastic.

Amalie: What gets your, you know, heart warm?

David: Well I mean obviously it's...IPA was the big...India Pale Ale. My goodness you can tie that back to slavery right there.

Geoff: It's a colonial...[laughs].

Amalie: [laughs] It's a colonial...

David: Like maybe you can explain why it was called's...that's the very popular one. I did my DNA recently as well and one of things they do is they test the traits and they said, "You'll really hate bitter things." And I went, "Actually completely wrong." I just love the bitter things.

Amalie: Do you like a good sour beer then?

David: Yeah, I really do but as one gets on one tries to cut back consumption. So now I go for quality not quantity.

Amalie: [laughs] So what's one that you like?

Geoff: Ah, you see I've been around so long I always give the same answer, "The one I get free."

Amalie: [laughing] Oh.

Geoff: That's the best beer in the world [laughs].

Amalie: I mean that is the best beer [laughing].

David: Probably quite a few of them given his job.

Amalie: Yes, free beer is the best beer.

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Amalie: You both went to Edinburgh, like quite a while ago, so I'm interested to know how it has changed?

David: I'm the President of the Alumni Club in Washington DC so I see a lot of students coming through who've just graduated and there's no questioning of our city's… had to change and it has changed. The one thing I always tell them is… all the students basically have the same conversation when you talk to them, “I have to get a job, I have to get a career and I'm kind of panicking about it because I've got to pay my rent." Right? Now's very normal but what's really stark is that the working world that they're moving into is totally different from our days. In our days the big dream was to get in a company and stay with that company and go up the promotion ladder until you became important and then you get a gold watch and work in the garden until you die, you know? That was largely the dream your parents sold you and it felt kind of annoying and preordained. But that's totally gone. And so now it's about managing your life and the career will change ten times, every few years you'll be able to jump and change job, maybe even change career, but start off as a geographer become a lawyer, start off as a this and end up a... how exciting. So as an opportunity - fantastic. The University I think probably needs to maybe do more to explain that to people on entry, that life isn't linear anymore and that's a good thing. So, I do, I do think it's making tremendous strides and Edinburgh in the world has an extraordinary reputation for innovation and the people that come from Edinburgh are uniquely talented in that regard. They're open minded, they're integrated thinkers which it comes back to my earlier point about seeing the world and beyond just a narrow discipline. The Scottish education system is much more generalist and that's what the world needs actually as much as anything else, is people who can see the whole problem and you talk about slavery and it's not just slavery, it's the economic system, it's behavioural stuff. If you start to see the broader picture you can be far more useful and it also helps you to change career because you have a more broad, a broad education. So I don't know I think it's doing great but the world is changing so fast it's tough for a big organisation to turn the ship as quickly as it needs to.

Amalie: Yeah. What about you? What do you think?

Geoff: Well as I said I came in '64 and I walked across the square there just in front of the McEwan building and I thought, “My God you know when I used to be a student there were three people walking across there.” [Laughs] On an afternoon like this there'd be three... You know the whole world is changed.

Amalie: Yeah. Just to bring it back to the objects, I'm going to ask one last question and that is, if you could associate your objects, plural, with one word what would it be?

Geoff: Meeting expectations. And again, it's that in society I find that what a lot of people do not understand is how to meet expectations, of our society. In a little book I produced once called The Enlightenment Abolished, that's the title, and in it I pointed out that...the word I used was ‘system consciousness’ and what I mean by that is knowing how to meet expectations and it's not being compliant or complicit with society, it's knowing their expectations so you know whether you want to meet them or not, or how to meet them. So meeting expectations is a very significant aspect of the way we live.

David: And I can do the one-word thing and that word is curiosity, right? And I think you...if you've got, you've got to go through life with curiosity and aside from...maybe even a sense of wonder and keep asking questions and sometimes you just see people who don't and I'm really sorry for them. I think you've got to keep asking questions and challenging your own beliefs and challenging other people's stuff too. And Edinburgh I think did a very good job of putting that mentality into your head but it's so critical that the day you find yourself not asking questions, you don't learn, and you're dead. So, I hope that's what people do more of. Just be curious.

Amalie: Thank you, both of you, for being on Sharing things.

David: Thanks very much.

Geoff: OK, thank you.

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