Monday, 21 October 2019

THE DEATH OF THE SALESMAN

“When you're lying awake with a dismal headache
And repose is taboo'd by anxiety……
For your brain is on fire, the bed-clothes conspire
Of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counter-pane goes, and uncovers your toes,
And your sheet slips demurely from under you.”


This was me– the song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’ filled my head plus a ‘new’ line
“and self-loathing corrodes your judgement”

This is unusual for me. My nights are normally full of enjoyable slumber and dreams in which I perform impossible missions with sang froid and daring.... but not on Saturday morning at 3am when I woke cursing, writhing and perspiring.


I was suffering as so many are with a nasty dose of acute brexitis and this was made much worse by an attack of gulliblonia as I suspected I’d been duped the previous day by a fast-talking, persistent salesman on the phone and I’d failed to say “no” or been dismissive to him. When I got out of bed my worst fears were confirmed. My broadband contract with BT was being cancelled and replaced with a cheaper deal with EE (their sister company with whom they’d merged) and I had, suspiciously, only one day‘s cooling-off period.

There are two rules I follow.
i) Never buy anything at the door or on the phone or from any cold call salesman.
ii) And always take your time. “Sign now or the offer goes” is the sales ploy of a desperado.

On this occasion with the lame excuse of not feeling very well I’d failed on both rules. Hence that self-loathing.


So I phoned BT. Mo is in India at one of those call centres and is a star. Brilliant English and a sense of humour. She told me not to worry. BT and EE were the same company and I’d been sold a perfectly reasonable deal. What, she wondered, was my problem? I explained the high pressured sales-spiel and the short cooling-off period irked me and that I knew something was wrong. She giggled when I talked about the sales patter and conceded those “sales guys” were really motivated to hit targets.


“So this deal is OK with a better router and half the price and it includes the BT TV deal as well?” It appeared not. That was the flaw. I told her my wife would be very unhappy if our TV went down whilst I was in the office chortling at cheap super-high-speed broadband. She giggled again and said she was totally with my wife.

So I cancelled the deal.

At the back of my mind I recalled a radio phone-in where a guy changed his mobile-phone provider to save money in response to a cold-call and it went horribly wrong. No reception and a lost/cancelled phone-number which he explained was on all his literature and his fleet of vans.


So if it sounds like a salesman on the phone terminate the call. Always.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom. And definitely not a scam.




Monday, 14 October 2019

WHY RIOTS FAIL

Only an idiot would refute scientific evidence about global warming. Their issue, the deniers say, is we’ve had such cycles of change before in the world’s history. Maybe but not so pronounced nor that correlate so closely with global industrial activity.


So what are we doing about it? Sir David Attenborough has done more than most to open our eyes and minds and, quietly in the UK, we’re doing quite a lot - rather more than anyone else. Nothing to be smug about though. However we represent about 1% of the world’s population and just 0.2% of the world’s landmass so, whilst we can set an example, we can’t make a real difference.
It was nostalgic watching ‘Extinction Rebellion’ doing their thing last week. It brought back memories of the ‘Ban the Bomb’ marches in the 1960s, the miners’ strike riots of 1984, the Poll Tax riots of 1990 and the London riots of 2011. The voice of the people getting louder, increasingly intolerant (but as ever rather ineffective.)


The argument for exhorting urgent action is strong.  But when the extinction rebels get going with their japes they make me dislike their cause.  They’re simply so annoying that they neutralise my conscience. They are as idiotic as those denying their cause. What a pity that they get it, and so many of us, wrong. And how ironic that those schoolchildren taking time from school to wave their “Save the Planet” banners meet in their thousands and then depart leaving, would you believe, mountains of litter and plastic bottles.

Extreme language and thoughtlessness is the stuff of social media. It has a strangely shouty quality about it. Enoch Powell’s notorious “rivers of blood” speech in 1968 produced howls of execration. Now threats of killing them, to those who disagree with other people seem almost commonplace.


When Andrew Neil interviewed an extinction rebel on TV last week she said banning the use of gas for cooking, driving cars and flying by 2025 were an acceptable trade-off in trying to reverse climate change . This extreme position, leading as it probably would to our becoming a mediaeval country again, would be impossible to enact.

There are certain uncomfortable truths, in addition to those Al Gore talked about, that early apostle of describing the perils of climate change, not least the fact that this world is healthier, wealthier and more content overall than it has ever been. We have made so much progress. But, yes, we have become far too greedy for growth and swung that dial too far.


The climate change rebels are presenting their case so badly as to make it noisily inaudible. Most politicians today go over the top – Donald Trump lives in a racing, spluttering first gear. Our own Parliament is full of rage.

But words matter. Calm, thoughtful argument matters. Riots, vituperation and violence aren’t the right tools for a balanced discussion.


The rebels have a strong story but super-gluing themselves to planes obscures that story.


“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.


Monday, 7 October 2019

VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR...

This single by the Buggles went to the top of 11 international charts including the UK in 1979. The lyrics concluded as follows:
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
In my mind and in my car
We can't rewind we've gone too far


I was thinking about it last Thursday as our book on start-ups was launched and Co-Author Rachel Bell and I sat in a sound recording studio in Hammersmith doing a series of Radio interviews.

Radio wasn’t of course killed by technology, which this curiously elegiac pop song suggested. Radio’s listening profile is remarkably consistent remaining at just under 50 million weekly individual listeners throughout the current decade.

Have you ever done it? Headphones on, red light showing you’re on air, a tiny studio the soundproofing in which gives you illusion of being deaf.  And then you’re nearly on air…


“I’m Fiona, Terry’s producer you’ll be speaking to him in just 20 seconds”
You hear a long forgotten pop song blaring through your headphones  - Video killed the Radio star…ooh ah – which fades
“We have with us today Rachel Bell and Richard Hall who’ve written this book ‘Start-ups, Divots and Prop Ups’ – I got that wrong didn’t I – sorry guys - well what’s it all about?”


Just for a moment you have no idea. Your mind blanks. You are not sure you’ve ever written a book. You recall Jeremy Paxman who had a walk on part in The Edge of Reason, the Bridget Jones film and who found it utterly terrifying, literally struggling to walk and talk at the same time.

Or there was the time a taxi driver called (say) Ted Davies waiting in BBC reception hearing a bossy PA calling  “is Professor Davis here?” He raised a tentative hand and was rushed into a studio to be interviewed by someone like Martha Kearney about a recently published  report on something esoteric like black holes in space and earnestly trying his confused best:
“That Wapping High Street can be a black hole in the rush hour”…

The mind is a funny thing. You hear a voice – not your own surely – higher, rougher, slightly aggressive with a nasty sardonic chuckle. It’s talking very fast and quoting people you’ve never come across. You sound rather pleased with yourself. It’s all rather ghastly.
“Thanks Rachel and Richard that was great”…”Thanks Fiona” you croak.

 

I have a recurring nightmare of finals at Oxford and discovering I can answer nothing, have read all the wrong books and am staring dry mouthed in horror. This happened to one candidate I heard about who taking things into his own hands shouted “you bastards” and ran up the Examination Hall to attack one of the examiners.

The reality was all the radio stations were very professional and slick. The interviewers were charming, helpful, mentioned the right title of the book and got the best out of us.

Video killed the Radio Star? Not last Thursday it didn’t.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October 3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.