What are the criteria for saying one is good as something? When I was at secondary school my best mate was called Dave Street (a friendship which had its prosaic origins in alphabetical seating). His mum was a very friendly woman who had that old working class habit of rushing off to make a big plate of sandwiches whenever anyone came round. But for some reason she always called me Malcolm.
For a while I tried subtly to correct her, saying things like ‘as my mum said to me this morning, Matthew, you’ll be late for school’, but when she persisted I assumed she had somewhat arbitrarily chosen it as a nick name.
Once Mrs and Mr Street came in when I was making Dave a cup of tea, so I offered them one. Then, a few days later, Dave’s mum said to me ‘ooh, make us a cuppa, me and Dave’s dad were saying what a great mug of tea you brew’. It will not surprise regular readers, well aware of my narcissistic fondness for self-deprecation, to hear there are not many things I am sure I do well. So, being middle class and therefore generally useless at anything practical, I was thrilled. Over the next few years I would take any opportunity to make tea at the Streets and smile with idiotic pride as Dave’s mum told me ‘Malcolm, you’re a wonder with that teapot’.
I seem to have lost my edge as a tea maker but there are some new additions to the short list of activities I undertake with confidence. As it happens, I am very good at flicking my underpants into the laundry basket with my feet (mind you, it hasn't been easy to perfect my technique), but this isn’t a skill for which I can expect to win many public plaudits. Running 10km in under 37 minutes is not bad at fifty years old, but whilst I am proud of my fitness it doesn’t really add to my market value.
But one skill which is related to my job and for which I have occasionally been paid is chairing events. I’m not sure quite why but I always enjoy it and usually get praised by my audience. So if anyone out there needs a moderately high profile chair and is willing to pay the going rate to the RSA, I’m your man.
It’s a service I performed this morning for a fascinating seminar about mediation. Although I was aware that mediation has grown as an industry over recent years and that the Government favours an expanding role for it in family and employment law, I learnt many new things. There are, for example, several different sectors of mediation running from often highly lucrative commercial mediation to the hand to mouth work of community mediators (many of whom are currently being axed by councils).
But the focus this morning ended up being on regulation and standard setting. Anyone can call themselves a mediator and often company managers and public service workers claim the status without following basic guidelines let alone having formal training.
There have been various attempts over the years to create stronger governance but many of the self-proclaimed regulatory bodies are compromised by being service providers. With mediators being asked to replace lawyers in many areas and with mediation being subject to the same cost cutting pressures as any other public service provider, there is an urgent need to create a framework to protect the public and start to raise the standing and standards of the sector.
There was a telling moment in the seminar when someone complained that no one, regardless of their previous experience, is allowed to become a family law mediator unless they have taken an accredited course. From the tone of the complaint and given the life changing importance of good mediation in family disputes, I assumed the course must be very intellectually demanding, time consuming and expensive, so I was more than a little gob smacked to hear it lasts five days.
‘My word’ I said to myself ‘it took me longer to conquer pant flicking’