“He seems to want to do what he can”
[End of term report from a bemused tutor at Eton College, ca. 1953]

When James was a boy, his mentors were vexed
by uncertainty as to just what he'd do next.
One tutor announced: "He does not fit our plan,
but he seems to want to do what he can".

The passage of time shows our hero exploring
the skies, foreign climes, some adventurous touring,
while in '60s London he helped to give birth
to a wave of pop-music that circled the earth.
The reply to: "Just what is the aim of this man?"
Was: "He seems to want to do what he can."

Knitwear and properties entered his life,
  but he took off for France with his sons and his wife
for research into secrets of energy, soil
and the ways to reduce our dependence on oil,
the wonder of wine, the transcendence of trees,
the nurture of nature, the business of bees.
Friends said: "He's succeeded in getting a tan
and he does seem to want to do what he can!"

Aged 45 he first took up his pen
to wind down the Cold War, which up until then
he had sought to defuse by improving relations
through sport aviation between all the nations.
He'd sat on committees with Russians and Poles
to prove we could banish the fear from our souls,
could cease the ridiculous arms-race and find
a more sensible way to achieve peace of mind.
All agreed he worked well. There was many a fan
said: "He sure seems to want to do what he can!"

Then, sensing the moment for action had come
he started to write the definitive tome
to reveal to humanity where it now stood
and how to move on to the great and the good,
to avoid the disaster that threatened to start
the next decade. He called it "The State Of The Art"
or SOTA for short. The sheer size of the task
caused a typewriter crash. Telephoning to ask
what a new one might cost he was shocked to be told:
"They're not made any more!" He felt suddenly old.
"You will need a word-processor sir" said the man.
"Whatever. I just want to write what I can!"

Olivetti supplied the machine, and explained
all the functions and how, if the user was trained,
it could link to the telephone line and thus send
all the text through a modem. If he had a friend
with a similar setup they could correspond.
Now of such letter writing he'd never been fond
when it meant pen and paper, licked envelopes, stamps,
he found the mere thought of it gave him the cramps.
But this was a different game and, what's more
it could be the breakthrough he was looking for
in his ambitious theory of how we could move
to a 'super-society'. Now he would prove
that linking our minds is the way to achieve
wiser councils through empathy, thus to relieve
the distrust born of ignorance. Here was a plan!
He thought: "Yes, now at last I will do what I can."

Within a short time he had hacked his way through
to conference systems at the OU,
pioneers in New Jersey, in Germany, France,
California, then came a meeting by chance
on a system in Paris with someone who said
they were writing from Moscow! It needs to be said
at this point such a contact was hard to believe
as the Cold War was freezing. He tried to conceive
how to build on this breakthrough, deciding the way
was a fearless exchange from the very first day
to establish identities, knowledge, positions,
agreement on history, current conditions
in Russia, America, Europe, UK
the Far East. In a short time they got quite some way
in removing restrictions that clogged up the wires
between Europe’s’ citizens. Lighting the fires
of political dialogue which up till then
had been the preserve of professional men
whose business was clear: to defend their position,
not ruminate on the poor planet’s condition.

They chose  Global Dialog   then as the name
of the organisation they built on the frame
of their packet-switched systems, with GeoNet  hosts
In Moscow, Marseille, making possible posts
of opinion and news way ahead of the press
and the Broadcasting systems. I must also stress
that a great many others were building the means
which our team were assembling to link their machines.
To be a team player was all that our man
had envisaged “I just want to do what I can”
was his motto as ever. To be there when needed
was ever the principle that he most heeded.

For modest financing of hardware, his house
was the long planned collateral, but  his dear spouse
then rebelled and refused to allow him to raise
a three percent loan on the home which in days
of misplaced optimism he’d put in joint names.
It is probably time to admit now that James
had a habit of giving a copious supply
of rope just to see whether others could try
not to hang themselves. After a great many years
he established the rule to observe with his peers
was to give them the time and the help and the hope
  yet take care just before they manoeuvred the rope
not to hang their dear selves but make their escape
with his property, name or his superman cape.

So being remarried (1983)
and with two lovely daughters he'd hoped there would be
some domestic stability so he could cope
with the workload – but no chance, alas, forlorn hope.
For now he was stymied, the things he most cared for:
his children, the world that he hoped to prepare for
  a possible future had cruelly been taken
as hostage by one who was sadly mistaken
on everything. No need to dwell here on what
this miserable woman did next, but she got
what she claimed she had suffered already and so
(just in case, my dear reader, you wanted to know)
  a justice of sorts was poetically served
and your man though admittedly somewhat unnerved
was to brighten the lives of a number of men
who had fallen on terrible times.  It was then
that he knew he could handle the future OK
on his own terms regardless of those who’d betray
him. This came as a welcome relief as he knew
all along, from his earliest years, what was due
to be asked, ‘ere his story was done, from a man
who is really expected to do what he can.

Throughout the next decade James studied the world
as events he’d foreseen were each duly unfurled;
he explored at the coal-face a number of critical
areas, social, domestic, political,
keeping an eye on the milit’ry mind,
the globalization of every kind
of market and trade now made possible by
Information Technology. Earth, sea and sky
became part of the net and the web that we wove
on the strands that were fashioned with care and with love
by the pioneers: Reeves, Davies, Cerf, Berners-Lee
and the others who built what was destined to be.

The problems that face us are biblical now
yet the means to resolve them are here too, so how
to regain some stability should be our quest
if we wish to avoid being put to the test
that Nature reserves for all those who refuse
to learn from the lessons or crack from the clues.
But don’t get downhearted, for here stands a man
Who as ever is ready to do what he can.

JCB August 2003