Tuesday, 26 April 2016

WE ALL NEED A BIT OF DRAMA


Recently the UK has been in thrall to the Archer’s story of Helen being emotionally manipulated by her ghastly husband Rob. This story of bullying has raised around £100,000 for the Helen Titchener Rescue Fund on JustGiving. When it was Helen rather than Rob who snapped into physical violence in the recent climax a lot of people got very angry accusing the show’s producers of ”irresponsibility” and of treating the situation as just a soap opera. The story had become so real it had crossed the line of reality.

We live in a post-comfort zone world where we need drama. Young people relish the squirming effect of a stressful situation and of sharing their discomfort with others. Stories are the diet of our times. Some companies, seizing on this, actually appoint Chief Storytellers who emulating  Anglo Saxon bards create concepts like the “corporate camp fire” urging executives to “gather round and attend the tale of the Persil (or whatever) launch.” We are all players in a highly charged narrative. You don’t go to work, you go to theatre.


Stories are changing with the relatively new quotient of  increasing unpredictability … long running dramas like Game of Thrones and House of Cards where anything can happen and even (no especially) the good and virtuous, although there aren’t many of those, get brutally and unexpectedly done away with. The punchline “and they all lived happily ever after” is for the birds.

Today “the hero was unjustly accused, gruesomely killed and the villain went off with his wife whom he first turned mad before throwing her to his crazed poodles and going off to receive his knighthood from King Harry unexpectedly sitting on the throne after that terrible train crash in 2018 did away with the other heirs.”

This is the Elizabethan world of John Webster not the cosy world of Jane Austen. It’s a world of power, violence and politics. The lurid world of Westminster has reached Ambridge and beyond. Conspiracy theory abounds. The line gets crossed again when in the BBC2 Drama Line of Duty a photograph of police and politician in a child abuse investigation is shown with Jimmy Savile in the background.


Dramatic and unpredictable narrative has become addictive.  Andrew Stanton the writer of Pixar’s “Toy Story” describes drama as “anticipation mingled with uncertainty.” The punchline to a story could nowadays be anything but we live in constant hope of horrid surprise.

If Lord of the Rings were rewritten Sam would meet a grisly end, Frodo would secrete the ring and give a chilling grin to the camera in the last scene.

Stat Trek hit the point with their immortal “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” That’s the journey but now it needs more …. “and unjustly suffers an unexpected fate.”

“But the new Persil shrunk all the clothes so the people thought they’d got fat and committed suicide and their zombie-ghosts came for the Persil Board.”

Ha, ha …….



Monday, 18 April 2016

MAROONED BY THE MARATHON

On Sunday it was the Brighton Marathon. This meant we were cut off from the outside world as the

Marathon looped round where we live. Some of us watched as the Half Marathon went by first - a depressing parade of people who were medically unfit to walk let alone run. It was torture watching. “Ah! Bless ‘em” said the person next to me.


But like bad art it shouldn’t have been happening. Then, thankfully, came the real thing. The marathon proper led by a dozen lithe, loping Kenyans whose grace like Ronaldo I could have watched all day.

The trouble with today’s world where anyone can join in is the content and performance is so often dreadful. All the media is full of exhausted prose. But over the last week or so there were three exceptions. Caitlin Moran whom I love deeply and who makes me laugh more than any writer since Alan Coren, had a rant about the referendum.


She was eloquent saying that apart from a few conservatives who’ve been obsessed about Europe (like a mum going on and on about a guy down the road whose porch extension she doesn’t like) most of the people in the UK really don’t get fussed about Europe…it just doesn’t interfere with their lives. Until now…
Russia and the Islamic State must be high fiving that the energy of the most prosperous, but currently shaky, union in the world is being diverted by the UK having a drama-queen hissy fit over a quarter of a pint of f***-all

And, she adds, “right at the start of the picnic season.”

Next up David Miliband.


Remember him waving a banana around and losing in the Labour leadership election to his dreadful little brother. Dave went off in a huff to New York to become CEO of the charity the International Rescue Committee (IRC). He is now a great success. Fortune Magazine has called him one of the World's Greatest Leaders in 2016.

And here’s what he says:

 "No nation in human peacetime history, never mind Britain, has voluntarily given up as much political power as we are being invited to throw away on 23 June. For what?  A cold, hard lesson in the demon of hubris, born of delusion that the world owes us a break….a tragic miscalculation which weakens ourselves, our friends and the international order on which we depend."

Bet you wish he was back. We need people like him whose command of language is so impressive and impassioned.


Which has had me wishing that our Prime Minister was like Justin Trudeau, Canadian PM. Insanely, Bobby-Kennedy-good-looking and charismatic he’s doubled the Canadian culture budget “because it matters.”  As impressively he astonished the audience at an event at the University of Waterloo, Ontario by his grasp of quantum computing. Witty, charming and graceful like those Kenyan runners who impressed me so much.

We need more smart and eloquent people like these around us and fewer intellectual fatties.

Monday, 11 April 2016

THE GRASS WAS GREENER YESTERDAY

Nick Robinson of the BBC Today programme discovered something that national treasure and hero Winston Churchill said:-
We cannot aim at anything less than the union of Europe as a whole, and we look forward with confidence to when that Union will be achieved


Looking back is seldom as rewarding as this. This week, for instance, I was at a stately home near Daventry called Fawsley Hall at an old friend’s birthday lunch. It was a cheerful and charming event. I sat opposite two young guys who’d been 6 and 9 when I’d first met them. They were reflecting on what they supposed was a better life before their own when our world was pure and simple and kids played in the street.


Yeah. When skylarks arose exultantly the whole time and butterflies danced on the corn as high as an elephant’s eye. I roundly disabused them saying life today was much better, that standards were higher and people were smarter and nicer.

They seemed rather surprised by my enthusiasm.

As I sat there I wondered how many people of my age and beyond feel. Because, you see, I don’t really identify with a lot of them, their thoughts and behaviour.

Between 55 and 75 men drink 12% more than other adult men.
Sexually transmitted diseases have doubled amongst 50 -90 year old in the past decade
The  average man in the South can expect to live to 82 ½
He’ll have spent 17 ½ years (longer if a senior civil servant) lounging about on cruises, getting drunk, having hip replacements and creative sex.
Voting SDP so long as his wife doesn’t find out


You’re right; many of our older citizens are a bit of disgrace.

Virtuously teetotal currently (because I’m writing a book) I‘ve been thinking about the world of marketing I used to occupy.

We are experiencing something of a revolution right now. By the way, beware when a marketing man talks about seismic shifts or revolutions - we all tend to exaggerate. But in this instance I think “revolution” is right … the old institutions are struggling to survive as new disruptive forces rewrite the rules - enterprises like Airbnb (biggest provider of bed nights in the world now - Intercontinental should be worried I guess). Uber and Deliveroo are setting the benchmark for change just as Amazon, Apple and Google have already done.

But it’s people who’re changing fastest….most of them. They work harder than ever before. They show more entrepreneurial spirit. They shop around promiscuously and concepts like brand loyalty are looking threadbare. They watch some of the greatest film ever produced from hundreds of different channels. They read more, sing more, talk more and have more friends with whom they’re in constant touch. They are much more serious about life, about values and about their community.

This is not the materialistic society that I grew up in.

This is the future and I applaud it.

Monday, 4 April 2016

THE WD40 EFFECT



We’ve had major domestic renovations here culminating in the installation of a new kitchen, the loss of cooking facilities and, thus, extensive experimentation with the improved 2016 food concept called Cup-a-Soup. I’ve lost weight but my wife is coughing badly from the dust clouds that come with building work. And something else has happened…all the doors in the house started creaking.
So I’ve been going round with my WD40 and the creaks just go with one spay. This is a magic product; invented in the mid 1950’s by the Rocket Development Company, California its formula is a trade secret. The name stands for Water Displacement, 40th formula. Mystery surrounds the magic.

On the can it says it, amongst other things:-
-          Stops squeaks
-          Frees sticky mechanisms
-          Shines stainless steel

This is a miracle multitasker we’d trust to do anything from curing constipation, headaches, pimples, debt, mathematical problems and so on. Would we trust a company called WD 40 Marketing Services, WD 40 Home Repairs or the WD 40 Bank? It’s quietly goes about its business and it never lets you down. It’s earned our trust by delivering….quietly.

Like hairdressers.


They’ve unobtrusively swept up the Ipsos Mori Veracity League Table 2015 to sit alongside vicars and judges. Business leaders languish down with Estate Agents and Bankers. The least trusted are politicians… (how would the WD 40 Party do?) As Jack Welch said: “Forget about technology – worry about who trusts you.

Trust is at its most vulnerable when we encounter major change. In writing my book on marketing I’m coming to realise the changes we saw a few years are accelerating. We are in marketing literally witnessing a revolution.

When we ordered bathroom items from John Lewis online at 10pm and they arrived at 9.30am the next day we could see that Amazon is no longer the only game in town.

When Guinness launched their new commercial (they call this their “champion creative”) on Instagram rather than mainstream TV some of us blinked before thinking – “how wonderfully novel”.

Those who worry most about all this change tend to be concerned that we now live in a world where figuratively speaking Chateau Petrus is available to everyone at affordable prices.

On Saturday I compered a Celebrity Cricketers’ Question Time Session in Brighton with ex County Cricketers reflecting on current developments, most notably the World Cup being played in India. They and the audience all expressed anguished concern about the threat to Five Day cricket by this “Fast Food” version of the game.


Sadly for this mostly retired audience the concept of five day Test Cricket seems to belong to a different world to the fast moving one we live in where people are too busy to take lots of days off in the sun. Technology changes everything…more powerful bats, day-night cricket under cover, computerised umpiring and it only takes a long as a film.

We are in a new world where nothing squeaks.

WD 40. It’s the future.

Monday, 28 March 2016

WHY I LIKE SPRING AND EASTER SO MUCH

I have spent the past week feeling refreshed.

Originally the word “Easter” comes from the Saxon ‘Eostre’, the pagan Goddess of Spring which in turn came from the Germanic ‘Austro’ - the Goddess of Dawn. From its outset Easter was always magical. The Christian story of the risen Christ made it much more so.


Something magical still happens every year. Welcome to spring flowers; to plucky battalions of daffodils; to some experimental bursts of sunshine and lambs gambolling.  In April we put on walking shoes to go on pilgrimage like Chaucer.

Change is in the air and, of course, more sunlight makes life easier. This and a degree of gastronomic restraint as opposed to the mandatory, bloated excess of Christmas means this season of celebration leaves us feeling ready to get going.

So, yes, I feel terrific and my good humour even extends to the bunch of jokers who’d been making me rather grumpy recently.

What do this lot have in common? Trump; Putin; Farage; Johnson.

And of course you’re right.

Extravagant egos; wrong people to run anything; irresolute yet dictatorial; will do/say anything to get their own way. They make Kevin Spacey acting the part of Frank Underwood in “House of Cards” look very electable.  They have all pandered or are currently pandering to a vision of the present and future forged entirely out of a nostalgic image of former glory. But to be fair they have the capacity to entertain us as well as baffle.

Hence my good humour. I suddenly realised I was taking what they said much too seriously. The best way to debunk is to deflate with laughter. And anyway the premise of an argument solely based on rationality will inevitably fail. As that supple brained Ad Man Rory Sutherland recently noted, on issues like the EU or the America Presidency or which house to buy or whom to marry, emotion rightly plays a large part.

When I turn on the news or I read the paper I often find I’m reduced to frothing rage.
But then when I see a front cover of Private Eye like this one….


….or I see the cartoon of Paul Daniels’ funeral at which someone is sawing his coffin in half saying “it was how he’d have wanted it” , I feel much better.

So a diet of roast lamb, minted potatoes and Cote de Beaune plus walking in bluebell woods (soon) plus a lot of good old fashioned, squirm provoking and sharp satire plus a resolution to be much nicer to people will do me well enough.


We live in uncertain times said billionaire Warren Buffett. Well yes, but what fun that uncertainty creates. Every day is a cliff-hanger. And the great thing about spring is it signifies the end of a winter of discontent

So I’ve resolved to start listening more and laughing a lot more.

Join me - a very happy spring and Easter to everyone.

Monday, 21 March 2016

NOSTALGIA ISN'T QUITE WHAT IT WAS

On Friday we went to Guildford for lunch with a friend with whom I shared my three years at Balliol College, Oxford. We sat looking over the Surrey countryside. It was all very pastoral. And it would have been perfectly in order for me to have been humming Parry’s “Jesusalem” especially as my friend’s a vicar.


But we spoke only briefly of the past. He asked if I regretted anything about my University days. I declared like Piaf “Je ne regretted rien…” But I did regret one thing.

I regretted not having worked harder. Not to have got a better degree but because today I have so much more energy than I did when I was 20 - ½ century ago - and I regret not having read more, thought more and squeezed more juice from the fruit I’d been given. I had a great time, made some great friends, learnt a lot but the Nutribullet that I called my brain was in idle.

Those were pleasant times…we had the Beatles, That Was the Week That Was, films like Zulu, the first Habitat … but they were sleepier times . Donald Campbell reached 276mph to break the land speed record.


Today it’s 763mph.

Instead of pleasant reminiscing my friend and I talked about now, the future and about what’s going to happen next. He’s unwell and being made worse by tooth-sucking doctors - I call them “pessimedics”. If only they’d say “Well done, you’re making great progress” the effect would be more beneficial. Advice to doctors: don’t give people pills. Inspire them to feel a bit better. Look forwards. As we both did.

The world we talked about is certainly more dynamic than the past. And more fun. How extraordinary to hear my grandsons talk about their favourite football teams (we can take Brighton & Hove Albion who are second in the Championship as a given):

Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona


At 7 and 9 years old they are people who think beyond these shores. Wonderful.

I am currently writing a book on Marketing and whilst my grumpy nostalgic side threatens to surface when I encounter the debate on social media and “the need for an authentic interactive platform” it’s suppressed. Because give or take a bit of linguistic embroidery what’s new? Just an abundance of bright, shiny toys for lucky marketers to play with.

I wish, I really wish I were back in marketing; it seems to be so tricky now, yet so full of change and such fun.  A cornucopia is what we have. Great shops. Great food. Great wine. Great entertainment. Great memories - yes of course but keep these in perspective.

I feel the urge to use that quotation from 1957 from Prime Minister Harold MacMillan who predicted:
“a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime - nor indeed in the history of this country”

Yes. We’ve never had it so good.


Monday, 14 March 2016

SUCH GREAT EXPECTATIONS

The Stones sang “We can’t always get what we want” and that gap between what we want and get in life is widening. Tell people anything is possible and they reply “OK then - where is it?


One student launched into a rant when Christakis Yale was rocked last November by a row between some undergraduates and the Master of Silliman College over their demands that frightening Halloween costumes be banned. The Master said he wanted to allow free speech but Jerelyn Luther (above) the most vociferous of the protesters told him “to shut the f*** up” and added: “Be quiet! In your position as master it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students that live in Silliman.

I checked Yale’s website but “comfort and home” don’t get a mention. This appears instead:  “Yale College provides a liberal arts education that fosters intellectual curiosity, independent thinking, and leadership skills.”

All the kerfuffle about free speech and “safe places” represents an expectation on the part of students that the Universities meet at their peril.


Driverless cars were in the news recently when a Google car had an accident with a bus. But the Wall Street Journal remains a fan of driverless because they tell us: “Taken together, the costs of automotive death and delay equal 2.6% of American GDP.”

My concern is going by this we’ll get bored. What’s next? A winter holiday skiing on autopilot, a book-free library - summaries of everything provided instead. I once saw the hilarious “Reduced Shakespeare Company,” three men preforming the whole Shakespeare canon in less than two hours. Is this the future?
Our expectations that technology will deliver a rich and leisure filled world are disappointed with more people working very hard.

Our expectations of the Arab Spring were, at its outset, generally high, as Palestinian businessman Munib Masri said in 2013: "I think the Arab Spring is the best thing that has happened in this part of the world and we need to give it time…

Yet now over 180,000 deaths and 6 million refugees later I don’t think these expectations have been met.  We are instead seeing, as Al Jazeera put it :- “the fallen leaves of the Arab Spring”. (Syrian Tammam Azzam is the artist.)


And finally those wanting to exit the EU also have great expectations. Here’s a typical view: -

 “We don’t need the EU draining away our self-confidence, stoic resilience and resources when we could do so much better as our forebears did, standing on our own two feet

I’ve tried to understand their argument but I can’t. I just don’t get it. When have we ever had so much collective wealth and created such amazing ideas?

Yet they have great expectations of the unknown. Perhaps they just hate foreigners? Perhaps they believe we could do better although history says not.


Paul Cook, the drummer of the Sex Pistols, got it about right when he said:-
Coming out would be like going back to little England.