Bernard Trafford: Bluffing a way through conference

An education conference in London next week will give Bernard Trafford the chance to try out some bluffing techniques

Labour leader Ed Miliband making his keynote speech to delegates during his Party's annual conference

I thought I’d arrived. Now I’m not so sure. I’ll explain.

Next week I’m in London at an education conference. Only a bunch of headmasters (note the gender-specific term) could pigheadedly meet every year concurrently with the Tory Party Conference.

We don’t compete for conference venues: it’s just that, if my educational bash comes up with any exciting stories, the Press will be too focused on covering that annual political blood-letting to devote column inches to our collective educational wisdom.

Some months ago I agreed to take part in a panel discussion at the event. It’s meant to give us heads a chance to hit back at the mainstream Press: on the panel with me will be the education editors of four national dailies plus one freelancer.

This is where my perplexity begins. In the conference blurb, the professional journalists are credited with the papers they write for.

By contrast I was initially described as “inside columnist”: a recent email changed my status to “maverick freelance”.

Maverick freelance? At first I rather fancied the description: it makes me sound a wild child, a bit edgy and dangerous. How ridiculous! When all’s said and done, I’m just a greying man in a greyer suit, in his 24th year of school headship.

I’m not even freelance: I have a full-time job and merely happen to write a column in The Journal (a fact of which no one at the overwhelmingly southern conference will be aware) and the odd piece for education magazines.

Worryingly, the audience of head teachers will expect me, the only one of their number on the panel, to bat for the profession and take on the journalists.

What? Confront five hard-bitten Fleet Street hacks, all on my own? It’s not a fair contest.

They’ll have a go at out-of-touch heads, lazy teachers, obese kids, dumbing down, lowering standards; all the headlines that sell their newspapers.

By contrast it’s my role to be balanced and calm. I’ll reply, “It’s not as simple as that. Education is a very complex business…” The journalists will scoff, the audience fall asleep. I’m panicking already.

Fortunately I received unexpected help last week from my fellow Journal columnist, Keith Hann, who sent me an inscribed copy of his brand-new book, “The Bluffer’s Guide to Opera”. Whether or not you’re an opera fan, I recommend you pay £6.99 for this excellent little book.

Keith’s Bluffer’s Guide, in common with the best of that series, is a small masterpiece. It gives would-be opera bluffers concise, hilarious nuggets of information to equip them for sounding as if they know what they are talking about, and guide them through potential conversations and pitfalls.

Of course, the whole point about Bluffer’s Guides is that, once you’ve mastered the thumbnail-sketch kind of overview they provide, you’re not really bluffing any more.

On page 100 of his pocket-sized book, Keith comes clean on the nature of bluffing: “What you do now with this information is up to you, but here’s a suggestion: be confident about your new-found knowledge, see how far it takes you, but above all have fun using it. You are now a bona fide expert in the art of bluffing about the world’s most arcane and enigmatic musical art form.”

Keith has a passion for his subject, insisting opera represents one of the highest pinnacles of human civilisation.

He argues: “Taking the opposite view is the first step on the road that leads to smashing stained glass windows, defacing icons or directing artillery at 1,500-year-old giant Buddhas”.

That’s his style: the man’s a genius.

So I’ve decided. I won’t attempt to be an expert with all those journalists next week: that would be boring for them and for the audience. I won’t be a maverick, either.

I’ll be a bluffer. Emulating Keith in bluffer mode, I’ll try to be funny, concise, knowledgeable, mischievous, coruscating: and bamboozle those journalists too.


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