Monday, 27 July 2015

WHEN HELP DOESN'T HELP AT ALL

We’ve moved house and so had to register with a new GP. As I used to have high cholesterol I take statins and had to renew my prescription. The conversation with the new Doctor went well enough until referring to my medical notes he started talking about “my heart disease.”  “What heart disease? They once thought I had it but after an angiogram they found I didn’t” “Oh yes; you do have it …it says so here”…and he read something extremely fast that was both news to me and incomprehensible.


I went home and sat down. Evidently I wasn’t very well. In just a few minutes I’d aged 20 years. I wondered if my funeral would be before or after the Ashes series was over.

I went to bed.

I want to talk about “iatrogenics”. The term was unfamiliar to me before reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb (author of ‘The Black Swan’ and ‘Antifragile’).  From the Greek "brought forth by the healer" it refers to any effect on a person resulting from a Doctor’s treatment which rather than being helpful has the opposite effect.
Effects include anxiety about or annoyance with the Doctor. So bingo…. I was a victim of “iatrogenics.”
I’d felt less well immediately…as though I’d been poisoned. Later on I recalled completing a form on my alcohol consumption from the NHS. I’d said it was on average 24 units a week. I then got a text asking if I needed to discuss reducing my consumption levels. It made me feel like an inebriate. (Stop looking at me like that! Anyway I’m off to New Zealand.)


Melissa Kite the journalist wrote recently about being denied HRT patches because of NHS guidelines about its dangers (allegedly small). Eventually in despair and not sleeping,  she snarled at her Doctor: “Give them to me I’m a danger to the public otherwise”.

Is the NHS is ignoring the simple strategy of encouraging people to feel well? Better surely to have a slightly shorter, happier life than live to be an old valetudinarian.

Stanley Holloway was renowned for his monologues like “My word you do look queer” about a guy who recovering from being ill is told by everyone how dreadful he looks. It has immortal lines like

“Oh, dear! You look dreadful: you've had a near shave, 
You look like a man with one foot in the grave…….    
I heard you were bad, well I heard you were gone. 
You look like a corpse with an overcoat on.” 

Eventually someone says ….
“You're looking fine and in the pink!'
I shouted, 'Am I? ... Come and have a drink!” 

So is the NHS spending too much time worrying about tactics and changing the rules (what for instance, is the “5 a day” Campaign but an invention by the Californian Fruit Marketing Company?) rather than improving morale?

Let’s relax a bit more… overall we’ve never been healthier…

“Are we really?”

“Yes”.

“Come and have a drink.”

And let’s beware of iatrogenics.



Monday, 20 July 2015

GET AWAY

David Cameron is being criticised for having too long a holiday. He’s planning to take most of August off first in Cornwall and then Portugal; swanning off when there’s Greece, an ISIS crisis and increasing problems with the SNP. Clearly he should be at number 10 worrying and having Civil Servants bouncing around like Duracell bunnies giving him advice.  Surely he’s meant to be Prime Minister not Sometime Prime Minister.


Some think - wrongly - holidays are for wimps.

Years ago I knew a football manager called Brian Clough. He ran Nottingham Forest between 1977 and 1993. He was Manager of the Year in 1977-78 won the league title twice , the FA Cup four  times and the European Cup twice. He was a legend.


He once said to me “I’m in trouble with my Board, young man - I just took off for Spain for a week - because I felt tired and needed to think and sleep - they want me there every day - well they can get stuffed”. And they did because in 1978 no-one argued with King Brian. Watch him filleting the hapless football commentator John Motsom in that year- wonderful stuff. The stuff of a relaxed man.

Brian understood the need to rest, to, as he put it, “be a bit daft” and using a change of scene and regimen can do that.

To be as good as you can be you need to stay in shape.

You need to invest in your support system, your wife, husband, children, grandchildren and your friends. Research proves (well we know it proves very little but I just love starting sentences like that occasionally). Research proves human beings make better decisions than computers and when they don’t it’s because they decide to behave like computers, whirring away 24/7.

Do we really get the need for sabbaticals, being like Yvon Chouinard CEO of Patagonia the apparel manufacturer?  Here he is in the office:


We live in an austere world and it’s one the brilliant educationalist Sir Ken Robinson analyses devastatingly when he laments the absence of creativity in modern education.

So my grandsons’ recent school reports interested me. They were very good although the forensic detail over many pages of closely typed pages worried me. The boys were 8 and just 6 in the school term in question. The detail was about the same as you’d apply to a senior marketer’s appraisal in a big corporation or an ‘A’ level student.

They should all lighten up. I think they need to be inspired not ground down by Gradgrinds.  I think they should do what a very successful friend of mine did. For family reasons he and his brothers took six months out of school when he was 8 and built the biggest, best, tree house ever. He said:  “It was then I learned more than I’ve ever done since.


Six months’ up a tree is better than a term of modern maths. Trust me.

Monday, 13 July 2015

WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE NOT BUSY MAKES THE DIFFERENCE

I was at a big celebratory dinner last week when the band started up. They were rather old; think of  the Kinks plus a few years in age minus a chunk of musicality and plus a load more noise. Is it just me that finds conversation virtually impossible in completion with “you really got me”?


Andy was quite a senior banker from Singapore, ex-Deutsche Bank and Lehman Brothers (when they were still cock of the walk) … he was interesting about ethics

You got me so I don’t know what I’m doin’ now

About the thrill of a deal when you outwitted the competition

You got me so I can’t sleep at night

About why he loved his current job for its collegiate spirit and  strong values (CEO’s a woman - excellent)

Oh yeah you really got me now

Finally about how the really classy performers improved themselves and their minds when they had those moments of downtime which nowadays occur more rarely but nonetheless do occur. (There was a lot of lip reading happening on my part but I think this was his point and it’s a good one.)


In Hiroshima at the Mazda plant where just in time is rigorously applied there are occasional hiccoughs in production (earthquakes, hurricanes etc.) What happens then?  “We take the opportunity to repaint the factory and tidy the place up.

Yet driven by the HR mentality of focusing on skillsets and competences we find ourselves as I once did at an appointments panel scouring CVs. The rest of the panel noticed I always went straight to the interests and pastimes section. They were mystified by what they regarded as eccentricity.

We want a worker not a player” one said.

In fact a player, a team player - someone who has interests beyond Six Sigma and spread sheets, is exactly what I want.


All the best people I know holiday with hunger and have a life full of curiosity about art, opera, books and, most of all, other people. They avoid being too busy to cope by being busy at not being busy. Sometimes it’s when you relax, wander through a garden or along a beach that insights imprisoned in the mausoleum of work are released.

Way back in time the corporate equivalent of Morecambe and Wise were possibly Robinson and Allen of Granada. The latter was an obsessed workaholic and the former a somewhat louche, allegedly lazy Irishman who charmed on his stroll through life. But what a duo and what a great example of Mr Nose-to-the-Grindstone and Mr Smell-them-lovely-Roses these two were.

Just relax more and build up a series of other interests. Work is just not enough but it also gets done better by people with refreshed minds.

I discovered something a few years ago. Quite simply I do my best work when asleep. So I plan on snoozing my way to wealth if that’s OK with you.

Right now.



Monday, 6 July 2015

HOW CAN HUMAN BEINGS BE SO UNKIND?

I was walking back from Waitrose festooned with bags of balsamic vinegar, olives, pretzels, hummus and wine - all those essentials in my life when a guy said “can you spare me some money?” I gestured at my hands trapped by the bags and he smiled and said “sure”. He was certainly civilised and on his uppers. At least I gave him eye contact, at least I tried but my failure to slip him a few quid has been  making me feel lousy ever since. Why are so many people down on those who are already down about as far as they can get?

I’ve heard people saying about the Syrian and Libyan refugees  that in their midst are terrorists using the cover of human misery to sneak to our shores and blow us up.  Most of the people fleeing are women and children with no credible other option than to make a risky and expensive sea crossing. Maybe surprisingly it was Jeremy Clarkson who compared the refugees with a neighbour whose house was on fire. Do you shrug and say “not my problem mate” or help put it out and put them up until things are sorted.

Which brings me to Greece.


The last time I took a view on Greece I was heavily criticised for being soft on debt and soft on the causes of debt. They must be punished. It’s the only thing they understand.


If the ”they” are the ordinary population of Greece and not the oligarchy I couldn’t disagree more. The sheer unkindness of the EU, IMF and ECB has made me uneasy about the whole ethos of the EU. Do we really want to remain part of such a beastly cadre? All my strict attitudes about good governance and prudence are blown out of the water by a swift study of the Greek situation. It’s the sort of thing that Dickens would have written brilliantly about. We need that sort of passion now.

The reality is the debt mountain was not built by the average Greek. It was created by the “generosity” of the EU and the banks and the smiling corrupt barons at the top of Greece.

The trouble now is, as some are saying, “we might just as well vote “no” and preserve a bit of dignity; we have nothing left to lose except that now.

I feel as though I need to fly to a Greek island and throw a party for them. I love the Greeks and I have done since 1964 when I first went there. They are generous, good humoured and mischievous. I love the scenery, climate and the food. I love their swagger and sense of pride. I love their appetite for life.

I loathe what the Troika has done and we as passive spectators are doing in letting this being quenched.
Whatever they vote on Sunday we have a collective responsibility to be a lot kinder to them than we have been so far.


UPDATE:  60% + saying ”no”….amazing. Wish Greece well

Monday, 29 June 2015

HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU?

It’s been strange. We have a TV in our apartment in Venice and it’s remained silent and unused for two weeks. We haven’t seen a newspaper. We overhead an Englishman muttering “this Greece business looks bad”…..plus ḉa change…..but other than that we’ve been a news free zone.


First of all we feel free of that anxiety about English cricket, the EU and the latest tech company to tumble. Life is parochial, sunny and more orientated to lunch and supper than matters of state.  And here’s the question. Have we, through the 24/7 wonders of our uber-fast communications set up in today’s world, become wildly undiscriminating and lazy? Everything matters and nothing does. News comes non-stop in torrents of little gobbets like cicchetti.

What is remarkably obvious is freedom from the news for a while is incredibly relaxing. Although I must confess I sent an e-mail to my garage about a service but it seems it ended up in their “junk folder” and so it should. Next time we come here there’ll no phone or laptop either.

So what news do I have apart from my rant last week on art?

Just three things:

Customer service here in Venice is getting better and better from the highly personalised welcome from one restaurant, the Riviera - “Good evening…I own this restaurant and want you to have a really lovely time this evening…call me if there’s anything you want” (and I think he genuinely meant it)


to another at La Bitta where on giving me the bill the owner said  “I’ve taken €10 off as you’re friends” glaring at a German couple at the next table who clearly were not (but yes we do go to this restaurant a lot)


The centre of Venice around St Mark’s Square, the Riva degli Schiavoni and the Rialto are packed by bemused tourists but as now we know how to have a quiet restful time in Dorsiduro and around Santa Croce. Do not trust people who say it’s noisy, crowded and ruined any more than you’d say Brighton or London are.

Venice is good value. Yes honestly. It isn’t a rip-off joint. Take Alsquero, a little cicchetti bar which deservedly gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor. Think triple sized canapes costing just 80p each and a wonderful small glass of wine at less than £2. Lunch costs about £5…and this is not atypical.


The final point is to anyone and everyone in business. Every so often take off to a place like Venice which is alive and trading but restful too. Get an apartment - hotels are so claustrophobic and reminiscent of business. Read lots. Walk lots. Eat lots. Don’t take too many clothes. Wash out that dull, news filled dusty mind.
I only realise now how bad tempered, knackered and stressed I’d been. And I have a really easy life.
So “rilassarsi, divertirsi e cin, cin” and remember doing nothing is sometimes the best strategy.

Monday, 22 June 2015

'ART, WHEREFORE ART THOU?'

I’d like to claim these words came from the second merchant called Biennale in Shakespeare’s lesser known “Merchant of Venice 2” but I can’t and it doesn’t.

But neither it would seem, does art play much of a leading role in La Biennale di Venezia – the 56th International Art Exhibition. The critics have been cruel about it. Respectively the Guardian, Telegraph and Times:

More of a glum trudge than an exhilarating adventure

Hectoring and joyless

Why Venice should be allowed to drift slowly towards a dignified death

Not ringing praise then and to be fair the Biennale’s title “All the World’s Futures” deadens one’s expectations with its sententious pomposity.  Why is it artists speak in a language (which I call Sewellese) that is excluding, abstract and just weird?
The Czech and Slovak Republic Pavilion slogan…inspiring thought!

Either that or they distress themselves by the foulness of capitalism (and they do this in Venice the very origin of a rapacious love of money), of inequality, cruelty, war and so on. Life seems bad to the artists of today. Ironically all this sits alongside some of the most joyously uplifting works of previous centuries in the galleries in the heart of Venice like the Academia, Ca Pesaro, Ca D’Oro and the Correr.

The Swiss Salon on the Zattere proclaims:  “The World’s in a Hell of a Mess” (is it? Well look harder), New Zealand examines “Psychological Blocks of Perception” and throughout the city there are fragments of letters of complaint by victims of torture in Iraq. Any second I expect to see Ed Miliband walk round the corners and say “see what I mean?” Phrases like “Present Nearness” from Grenada (no me neither) leap out of posters. It’s like being trapped in Pseuds Corner.

The actual Giardini event is vast. Things to like – yes in a messy world let’s look on the brighter side at last.


The giant live, helmeted, masked fighter pilot’s head with breathing kit at the entrance to the Russian stand is dramatic.

The intricate vast spiders’ webs of keys hanging from the ceiling and their videos of tiny children from around the world talking about where babies come from (“I came out very fast….. vroom…”)  in the Japanese stand was memorable.


The US stand of which I’d heard good things was just dull.

If you like Spam, cigarettes and female orifices you’d love the UK stand….some said it was “funny”.


But Fiona Hal’s work and ideas on the Australian stand was three star Michelin art. In six or seven sections it was witty, beautiful and thought provoking. She’d engaged some Aborigine women to work as a team creating soft toy endangered animals out of military battle fatigues and military waste….it was extraordinary. One wall was covered in a display of driftwood from a river in New Zealand – strange and beautiful.


The Australian girls on the stand were serious and very articulate.

Australia and Fiona thank you. I believe in art and the Biennale again.

Monday, 15 June 2015

PUTTING MY AFFAIRS IN ORDER

No don’t worry I’m not about to hand in my dinner pail just yet so far as I know. It’s just that bizarre thing of going on holiday, which I should clearly do more often and feeling impelled to leave everything tidy (or as tidy as a house in upheaval through redecoration can be left.)

I feel quite smug. I’ve proof read my latest four books. Packed - well actually my wife has packed but I told her what to put in. I’ve downloaded a mass of books on to our Kindles, completed a couple of projects. Given books to charity and ticked off everything on “my to-do list”.

What is on my mind now?

I’m concerned about the way social media is going. No the internet is not the answer - I agree with Andrew Keen on this one. Twitter is in trouble - CEO Dick Costolo gone - investors angry. They were promised the moon and haven’t yet got much more than a piece of cheese. Apple is out to demolish Spotify. And this week I saw something weird - a poster which should have been a tweet.


Good punchy stuff but guys, guys…I’m driving and get the idea that Stella Export has just been launched. Damn. I nearly hit that cyclist trying to read the small print….and you mate and you.

Too many words - there are just too many words. At FCO the axiom was fewer words good - example Wimbledon Shoe from Nike “McEnroe swears by them”.

It’s too complex an idea - we are better than Stella - no didn’t get that first or second time - in fact “Why Stella is stellar” is a great ad for….sorry …Stella.

My point is a social media idea has been whacked onto a poster is the mistaken belief they work the same way. They just don’t.

And having mentioned Nike I recall talking about marketing to the Brighton Chamber of Commerce and being reviled for praising Nike. Down here in Caroline Lucas country where even Naomi “No Logo” Klein is regarded as too soft on brands like Coke and Nike, big US brands are capitalist and vile.


Small is beautiful.

Well  I thought they were crazy but you know the stories about Nike coming out of from the FIFA debacle , the story in the Daily Mail - yes I know-  “How Nike lured Mo Farah to work with coach Alberto Salazar in Oregon” and more recently the comments of Julie Strasser - wife of the late Rob Strasser, one of Nike founders -  about the value shift in the company  from attitude creator to money machine, well,  all of those begin to question my previous judgement about a favourite brand.

And FIFA?


I hear Hillaire Belloc’s words in my ears:-
And always keep ahold of nurse 
For fear of finding something worse.”

Rather like the Arab Spring I suspect the toppling of corrupt tyranny often leads to something much worse.