Monday, 15 August 2022

OUR DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK

I have always been impressed by the inventiveness of the young when lying. Our 8 year old granddaughter demonstrated a surprising sophistication when slightly late in returning home. I suggested excuses: 

“we could say there was a sinkhole in the road which was vast and several cars had already fallen down it – the screams of the people down there were blood curdling”. She shook her head. “too much stuff grandpa let’s just say there was a big hole in the road that meant we had to take a long way back…” She has all the makings of a Tory politician, that girl.

I remember one chap who realised that dog had had its day and said “our parrot shredded my homework…” He was shredded himself for that.

Angry Parrot - Openclipart

But nowadays we are protecting our young from books that might cause them stress. A number of Universities have triggered “beware” notices on or banned several books and plays. Amongst others “A Midsummer night’s Dream” – for classism; Strindberg’s most famous play “Miss Julie”contains discussions on suicide; works of Jane Austen, Chaucer, Charles Dickens and several others.

Introduction to A Midsummer Night's Dream | SkyMinds.Net

To return to our inventive young, we are handing them the ammunition to avoid work.

“I couldn’t read King Lear…ageist,  violent and sad” 

“I’m not doing any more maths as a professor in New York said ‘the equation 2+2=4 reeks of white supremacist patriarchy’.”

“I can’t do history as I’ve read the old historians we’re asked to read were narrow-minded white men who delighted to write about other white men”

“The Fairie Queen is potentially homophobic – I can’t read that.”

“Oliver Twist is about pederasty, criminality and violence towards women – why was it published?”

Why aren't students choosing to study English and the arts at A-Level?:  Part one - FFT Education Datalab

The continued decline this year in the number of young people taking English Literature ’A’ Level and the removal of it from some University syllabuses should allay concerns we have about the stress-inducing literature.

I read English at Oxford and if I’d had access to this branch of stress-sourcing I’d have slammed the ghastly Beowulf straight on to that list of “banned texts”. Why? Animal abuse, misogyny, classism and more. Indeed I’d have led a crusade against anything Anglo Saxon on the basis that this was a beastly, cruel period study of which should be avoided. Like Covid it should be locked down.

Beowulf Anglo-Saxon Poem || Origin, Summary and Analysis

Yet those providing the reference points for such censorship of literature and other subjects like Latin (“Latin is a dead language – studying it equates to necrophilia”) come from a bunch of radical thinking post-graduate Tutors who have created the anti-establishment wokeism that can infuriate or divert.

For me increasingly it is diverting but it suggests the study of the humanities at University may be becoming increasingly controversial and expendable. The very idea of a University education being essential has been contradicted by the legacy of punitive debts such an education creates.

Yet, as you’ll previously have gathered, my view about today’s youth or indeed youth at any point of history is that they were/are in general optimistic, good humoured and enterprising.

Cool loos you can use: Top 10 public toilets worth talking about -  Cheapflights

Three tiny lavatorial examples of this:

Years ago before Oxford Colleges were unisex a woman’s college installed a urinal for visiting men. Above it a woman had written. 

“Who is Armitage and what is shanking?” 

In an American college someone had inscribed over a washbasin “Think.” Sometime later someone added an arrow from “think” to where soap was dispensed and it said “Thoap.” 

Finally In a pub urinal the immortal “The penis mightier than the sword”

So long as we encourage such laughter, irreverence and freedom of speech all will be OK.


Monday, 8 August 2022

"CRISIS. WHAT CRISIS?"

This is what appeared on the front page of the Sun referring to the then Prime Minister, the laconic Jim Callaghan, during the so called Winter of Discontent in 1978.

Misery Monday: Then was the winter of our discontent | Shropshire Star

44 years later we’re back again to the “C” word. Friday’s Times headline was ”Britain slides into Crisis.” Note, not Crashes, not Plunges but Slides. There’s a  graceful inevitability to sliding but there’s only one direction to slide…down. And in the context of economic recession there’s a subtext…a slide isn’t sudden it’s a progressive state often caused by inattention. 

Growing inflation and recession have been inevitable for most of this year so there are no surprises here. It’s not just Britain that has its problems, Europe is struggling towards recession too with Italian debt the highest on record and France and Germany both struggling to cope. Most worrying of all is the Chinese economic slump and especially the issues with a mortgage-repayment- revolution. It smells a bit of 2008.

The Fire of the Dragon

Read Ian Williams – “The Fire of the Dragon” which is just out. A reviewer for the Daily Mail called it “a devastating exposé.” Chinese ambition for global domination mixed with internal discontent and an economy in trouble is a caustic cocktail.

So what can we do? Apart from being worried, frightened or just angry.

Boris Johnson 'does not have a nap' during the day, Downing Street says |  Politics News | Sky News

Our own slide into crisis is an acceleration owing to sleepy, eye-off-the-ball government plus the pandemic, Ukraine and Brexit. The global picture isn’t our concern  right now. That blaze down the road can be sorted out when the fire in our own home’s been extinguished.

I recently helped in a recruitment process of young, recently graduated Financial Analysts. The candidates were well qualified, gifted, high-achievers with positive attitudes to life. They were impressive. I was uplifted.

The biggest lessons they discussed were the resilience of human beings and the positive outcomes that crises like the pandemic, brought out in general and, specifically, in the ability of specialists to achieve in months what would normally have taken years. They didn’t talk much about government but instead about the inspirational impact people could have who had the will and capability to change things.

Kate Bingham - SV Health Investors

The heroes of the pandemic were  Kate Bingham who drove the vaccination programme and the team at Oxford who got so much of the Astra Zeneca programme to happen so quickly.

One of these clever young people I met said, crisis, more often than not, accelerated creative solutions and that, in general left to their own devices to work things out, people came up with good solutions or, at the very worst, muddled their way through.

These candidates’ faith in human ingenuity, reliance and energy has been missing in the media and in many people I speak to.  A more accurate Times headline would have better described the mood if it had read “Britain slides into depression.” But these clever, single golf handicap, accomplished musicians, county standard chess playing, A* gathering, 1st class degree (of course) young people were clear-sightedly confident “it” – this crisis- could be fixed. And fixed quickly.

Their refreshing view of life and their own obvious ability to juggle as well as excel cheered me and made me want to make sure we keep them rather than lose them in the brain drains that happened in previous economic difficulties.

The Soho House Privateclub is Opening in Brighton! - Brighton Journal

Later that day walking along Brighton Seafront I saw what just 20 years ago had been scruffy, grotty quality stalls and caffs but was now transformed to a smart – could have been the South of France – resort of the middle class. This uplifted me further. So again:

Crisis? What crisis?


Monday, 1 August 2022

CHEER UP!

Imagine a news flash over 50 years ago “Today the pound hit a new low against the dollar” followed by the tuneful

“Woke up this morning feeling fine
I've got something special on my mind” 

That’s actually what  happened in 1964 with that Herman’s Hermits hit, I’m into Something Good

Herman's Hermits | Discography | Discogs

Herman’s Hermits had loads of UK hits and 18 top 40 hits in the USA selling over 80 million records. Lead singer Peter Noone described their name as being a huge disadvantage – The Beatles, Stones, Animals or Who all had names allowing them a breadth of repertoire and were all hard-core, genre-changing bands. In contrast Herman’s Hermits sounded a just a bit silly and they only produced hits about young love but most of all were feel-good. 

Isn’t “feel-good” what we all desperately need now? Hence I suspect one of the problems the BBC has. Their interviewers are really good at being nasty and gloomy. 

BBC political editor's threat to kill noisy cockerel outside holiday home 

On Times Radio recently an interviewer of a Labour Shadow Frontbencher failed to get a straight answer to any of her polite questions. Afterwards she lamented her performance saying she’d tried her best. Her crestfallen humility was in pleasant contrast to most of her peers.

It's hard for us to compare 1964 with today. In almost every respect today is better in terms of health, wealth, education, opportunities and our general infrastructure. We’re spoilt for choice with hundreds of TV channels  and free music and everything shows we have it better now than we did then. 

Back in the 1960s “mental health” was not a topic of general conversation but had it been I suspect casualties to it would have turned out to be just as great as they are today.

So where do we get our feel-good pick-me-ups today?

Fact: the commercial world for music has changed. Example: The Arctic Monkeys are going on tour soon – 59 gigs in 19 different countries in 4 ½ months. Ticket prices range from £140 to £300 and way beyond. They’ll be very tired and richer when they get home after Christmas.  Tunes will be the last thing on anyone’s minds. 

It's About Damn Time for a New Lizzo Video

Near to top of current best sellers: Lizzo and “About Damn Time”? Terrific song and video but not the pink-scrubbed-clean sound of a Herman ditty. Kate Bush is currently the third best-selling song with “Running Up That Hill.” But it’s 37 years old.  And it doesn’t have a catchy tune. Back in the day of Herman they used to say if you heard a milkman whistling your latest single that you had a hit on your hands.  I haven’t heard anyone whistle anything recently. It went out of vogue about the same time as smoking. 

But don’t we all need a tuneful song to ease the pressures of an overheated world.  An upbeat tune to remove the black-dog grumpiness in the news?  We used to have Herman and the Hermits, the Hollies and Joe Brown. Now we have videos and musical extravaganza.

By the way, talking of tunes and feel-good I see Joni Mitchell was persuaded to sing at the Newport Rhode Island Jazz Festival  - it was very emotional stuff. And it struck me she once had a “woke up” song too:

“Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning
And the first thing that I knew
There was milk and toast and honey
And a bowl of oranges, too
And the sun poured in like butterscotch
And stuck to all my senses

Oh, won't you stay, we'll put on the day
And we'll talk in present tenses”


Joni Mitchell Reclaims Her Voice at Newport - The New York Times

Ah. I feel so much better already.


Monday, 25 July 2022

BRILLIANT MARKETING IS ALL THEY NEED

In Britain we’re in the midst of a marketing battle. This is what the current Tory shoot-out is. If I were advising either candidate I’d be advising a no-holds-barred, go for the jugular approach. Winner takes all. The loser is probably finished as a politician so there’s nothing to lose.

Insurgent Liz Truss Vows To Abide By Controversial Ulster Law Despite EU  Legal Threats Nixolympia News

Currently Brand Truss (the only potential PM to have the same name as a medical implement) has a significant lead in the polls offering a package of tax cuts and optimism that would even make her erstwhile boosterish boss blush (only he never does that). She wants us to be the “Aspiration Nation”. She belongs to that school of thinking like advertising agency, Saatchi’s, “nothing is impossible.” It’s obviously a seductive proposition  originating from the“I’m going to be King of the World” aspirations of a Boris Johnson. 

Growth Stock Illustrations – 927,493 Growth Stock Illustrations, Vectors &  Clipart - Dreamstime

Brand Truss is a marketeer’s delight. Big budget confidence. A desire to break the mould. To grow. Here’s a quote she might like from Keller Williams, the American realty company coined:

“When you go from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset a new world of possibilities opens up.” 

But growth is not easy, not in the current world with war in Ukraine, global recession and a series of problems closer to home in Scotland, France and Italy. Since 1961 we’ve achieved ‘real’ growth, namely over 5% in only 5 years and we’ve had negative growth in 8 years. The Truss manifesto reminds me of Anthony Barber’s in 1972, when he was Chancellor of Exchequer in the Heath government. Barber initiated a 'dash for growth', a hugely ambitious budgetary policy aimed to deliver 10% growth over two years pushing  both the fiscal and monetary pedals to the floor in a confident and focused attempt to detonate growth. 

It failed.

Brand Sunak  is a teller of truth. The Doctor who says sympathetically but firmly “I’m afraid you haven’t got long”. 

Rishi Sunak is in his most difficult period as chancellor - and it could be  about to get worse | Politics News | Sky News

He quietly ridicules the fairy story of growth in a world where expert voices would prefer to see us stabilise and reduce debt. But his is not a great marketing story. He sat at Boris’ right hand and his legacy from his boss has been contempt and a damning reference (“do not hire this man”.) Rishi is a marketeer’s nightmare. “Sales are down. The budget’s reduced. I don’t want anything too creative.” 

And he isn’t very visible yet. “Let my record speak itself” doesn’t play well when that record is to have been number two (however reluctantly) to a bloke called Boris who’s now stabbing him in the back of his very tight suit.

Still nearly all the smartest people think he’s clever, thoughtful, an excellent leader and a very hard worker. If I were advising him I’d say become a daily good-news story visiting farms, schools, businesses, petrol stations, hospitals, care homes creating stories about how caring and well prepared he is, never getting caught out on what the prices of a pint of milk or a loaf of Hovis are*.

1 Pint of Milk - Crumbs Food Co Catering Service In Reading

And every day say “Liz is a nice person for sure but her economic plans are wrong and will make our economy worse.”

His comms advisors have to be pumping stories about Anthony Barber and Liz Truss. Non-stop simple messaging that makes the “Sunak right. Truss wrong” rubric unmissable.

At present he’s invisible. Staying like that he’ll lose badly.

Meanwhile Boris uncta porcus+ is lying in wait. He’d probably beat either contestant now if he could stand and MPs are already beginning to ask  “what have we done?”

Animal Rights Protest Scrapped After Group Learns 'Greased Pig' Event Has  No Pigs – CBS Sacramento

 

*80p and £1.15

+ Boris the greased pig                                                                              


Monday, 18 July 2022

MAD DOGS AND CONSERVATIVES

It’s been a rather strange time for everyone. Our disgraced PM resigning. A bare-knuckle fight to choose his successor. At last summer holidays really beginning. But it’s getting too hot everywhere. 

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Air travel is chaotic. Rail travel is subject to industrial action. And the economy’s in turmoil. Meanwhile especially Sri Lanka and Italy and France are in various levels of political array. And the horror story in the Ukraine gets worse.  The world’s overheating in almost every respect.

Back to a more Enid Blyton world. 

Two Go on their Hols. We went on a brief holiday to Canterbury of which I remember little as I had Covid and managed marathon sleeps. If any of you has trouble sleeping Covid’s the solution. I also had a bizarre dream in which I was in a company which had a large cryptocurrency portfolio. I decided, unilaterally, to sell the lot putting hundreds of millions into the bank. Two days later the cryptocurrency crashed and the previously held portfolio would have been worthless. Nonetheless the Board were outraged and forced me to resign. I agreed but pointed out I’d saved the company. “That’s not the point” they shouted. I went into an even deeper sleep.

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Canterbury is beautiful and the Cathedral always an awe-inspiring sensation. They had a visiting choir, the King’s Counterpoint from South Carolina. 

They were astonishingly mellifluous and brought calm and harmony to those who on hearing South Carolina think of “Donald Trump.”

David Acres | The King's Counterpo

But harmony has not been the highlight of the Conservative Party election process. I think I’d prefer to have Covid again. Do the candidates and their respective supporters have any idea of what impression they leave on the electorate? Matthew Parris said that should Liz Truss win he’d dust down his Scottish credentials, move north of the border, get out of any sterling savings he had, vote for Scottish independence and had he any grandchildren (he hasn’t) he’d try to help them get Canadian citizenship. 

Conservative leadership race: Penny Mordaunt suffers first setback of  campaign as MPs attack her stance on trans issues | Politics News | Sky News

It must be the effects of Covid that caused this with me but initially I rather fancied Penny Mordaunt who resembled the sort of amply bosomed nurse I felt I needed. But we need a competent Prime Minister not a nurse. I think Boris Johnson might even win if he stood again. Isn’t it weird that this tawdry process has somehow slightly mitigated his disgrace? 

A lovely hot summer? Here’s the Guardian headline from Saturday:

“England braces for 40C temperatures as experts warn thousands could die” 

I’m going to attach “as experts warn thousands could die” to anything I feel like in future – so hysterical, so Guardian. It’s going to be as hot as it used to be when we went to Greece a long time ago…that’s what we went for. But that was before the current air travel chaos. And isn’t it ironic that of all the airlines in control and doing a proper job it’s Ryan Air and that old rascal Michael O’Leary who come top of the class for reliability?

As we head towards a “summer of discontent,” as experts warn thousands could die – sorry I couldn’t resist it – I watched RMT Union boss Mick Lynch and thought the unthinkable.

He’s a fantastic interviewee – a slayer of BBC upstarts – and he looks, compared to those Tory hopefuls, almost Prime Ministerial. 

Rail strikes to go ahead next week as talks to avert action fail -  Chronicle Live

He’s arguing calmly for a large but below inflation level wage rise for his and other workers. As companies like PWC give their people a 9% raise and their partners (all 900 odd of them in the UK) £1 million bonuses doesn’t anyone see the irony of the government saying: “we can’t afford it”? Maybe we can’t afford not to negotiate more positively.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka has inflation of around 55% and the economy has collapsed. In relation to that we are very rich.

Strange times? What’s new? But let’s hope we all regain our health, wealth, sanity and cool soon. Happy summertime everyone. 

Sunny Beautiful Summer View of the Sandy Beach with Greek Blue Sea with  Shallow Clean Water and Small Rocks, Halkidiki Greece Stock Photo - Image  of holiday, travel: 130751026



Monday, 4 July 2022

LET'S STICK TO BASICS

 Let’s stick to basics

After endlessly talking about geopolitics with stand-offs between soft liberals and the extreme right, I’ve concluded we need to focus on what we know most about, calmly and thoughtfully. For me, this is mainly advertising, marketing and fmcg (fast-moving-consumer-goods).

Let’s ignore the increasing trend towards marches and protests so often bad tempered although a Gay Pride march down Oxford Street last week was cheerful with a diverse bunch representing various facets of sexuality having a good time.

Gay Pride NYC 2022: Events, Parades and Dates to Celebrate

It made a change because cheerful is not how the media is describing our economy . We are going to be very cold, very hungry and very depressed this winter they predict. 

We’re regularly told by pollsters that the ‘cost of living crisis’ is the most important issue on people’s minds, ahead of Party-gate, Ukraine, Climate Change and corrupt, drunk or libidinous  politicians. Of course it is. Did you need to go to University to acquire the mental equipment to discover that? 

Fact: issues really close to home are the ones that always matter most to people. The amount of money they have and what they can buy with it.

The UK's cost of living crisis is about to get a whole lot worse - Bywire  Blockchain News - The home of independent & alternative news

 

Government is panicking  as they often do. There’s talk of  an upcoming campaign calling on businesses to divert marketing spend into cutting prices.  Silly story. Daft idea. And one which shows how little this government understands marketing or people.

Here’s a real marketing story. There’s a battle currently between Tesco and Heinz. It’s being staged as a classic Mohammad Ali v George Foreman, “rumble in the jungle”, or, in this case “knock-out at the check-out.” Two giants. One supporting the poor people, the other the poor food industry. How many customers will Tesco lose if they don’t stock Heinz Baked Beans and Heinz Tomato Ketchup? How many cases of the above will Heinz lose in sales by being destocked by their biggest UK customer? This is high drama and a great story.  And I bet sales go up for both of them.

Popular Heinz products from Baked Beans to Ketchup missing from Tesco  shelves | Irvine Times

The price increase of food in the UK since January has gone up 11% (source: IGD) and Reuters are predicting 15% increase running into 2023. Apparently the average household spend on food including take-homes and restaurants is around £4,000 – around 20% of total spend.  

McGuigan Black Label Red 2020

I can empathise. I too was once in that hand-to-mouth, month-on-month world of balancing nice-to-have versus necessity. 

In that battle healthy eating was beaten by a full tummy. Chicken nuggets became luxury food and McGuigan tasted like Lafite (almost). What was different back then was the world was less intense in terms of competition, in terms of marketers pushing prices back down or finding clever alternatives. 

We now have Aldi and Lidl highly competitive and growing rapidly, taking £1 in every £6 grocery pounds spent, and about to take more. They’re no longer the mere “German discounters” as Tesco once disparagingly described them. Go there and be impressed by price and quality.

Aldi and Lidl step up battle with US grocers | Financial Times

Since one of the biggest issues right now is food  and our alleged inability to recruit able pickers. This smells of a PR campaign. There are plenty of people who’d be happy to work outside in our glorious weather if only we pay them enough.

We used to be creative. Let’s get creative about issues like this. Let’s find new sources of “pickers”, let’s create more delicious low-cost recipes and let’s stop getting depressed because we can’t always afford to buy what we don’t really like, want or even need.

Let’s go shopping again, being choosy as opposed to just buying and hurrying on. Let’s, in short, get back to basics.


Monday, 27 June 2022

WE CAN'T BLAME THE TORIES FOR EVERYTHING

I’ve been having terrible, unsettling dreams. One was about some clients in Scotland not paying their bill so I’m on my way up there to kill them, another was about beating down a warehouse door to recover goods of mine being held by a company in administration and saying “it’s just an abrupt form of retention of title.” That sounds extreme but extreme describes the world in which we live. It also sounds old fashioned. It’s time we got a new scriptwriter.

Troubled Macron / Sad Macron | Know Your Meme

So, France is technically “ungouvernable” with Macron left straddled between the Far Right and the Far Left. Will he be able to achieve coalitions with Le Pen or Melenchon? I don’t think so. Like Johnson Macron seems bewilderingly to have lost his grip. But the difference is no one is calling Macron a “liar” merely “arrogant.” Still it’s an extreme crisis and a reminder of France in the 1970s.

A group of people holding signs

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The storm in America is over the reversal of the Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973 by the US Supreme Court that protected a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. The Republican v. Democrat antagonism grows more extreme by the day as is their dispute over gun laws yet I’m told that gun violence has killed at least 18,823 people in the US this year so far. 

Even in Norway (the 2nd happiest country in the world, for heaven’s sake) two were left dead and 14 were wounded in a gay nightclub shooting on Friday. 

Intriguingly in Colombia Gustavo Petro is the first left wing President to be elected there. More interestingly in his youth he was a member of the guerrilla group the 19th of April Movement.  And to add to the extreme excitement Francia Márquez is Colombia’s first black Vice President.

Colombia candidate Petro says 'human' campaign will carry him to victory |  Reuters

And I’m not even going to  talk about Putin, Ukraine and the global economic crisis. So, instead, let me talk about “Happiness.” Every year a Happiness Index is produced. It’s compiled by an Independent Organisation applying a long questionnaire which all the countries complete.

In the 2021 survey the top ten are:

1. Finland
2. Denmark
3. Norway
4. Iceland
5. Netherlands
6. Switzerland
7. Sweden
8. New Zealand
9. Canada
10. Australia  

What’s remarkable is the high ranking, in this and every year, of the four Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands.

Also remarkable is that 50% of the Prime Ministers of these “happy” countries are women.

Sanna Marin | Biography & Facts | Britannica

Finnish Prime Minister -Sanna Marin

Looking at them they have some remarkable economic success stories: Lego, Ikea, Nokia, Heineken, Lorna Jane, the All Blacks, Maluka Honey, Godiva, Lululemon Athletica, Rolex, 66 Degrees North.

Add these countries together and they’re sensible, hardworking, look after their poor, are peaceful, unobtrusive yet all of them punch above their weight. Most of their people speak accent-free perfect English. What an alliance the Northern Europeans would make and would have made if the Vikings rather than William of Normandy had conquered England in the 11th century. Another story, another time…..

Britain came 16th in the Happiness Index , by the way, ahead of France, Italy , Spain and the USA and with Rwanda third from bottom.

The impact of all this feel-good information makes me wonder why it is we, and so many countries like us, have such a wretched track record. No, we can’t blame the Tories for everything. But we can lament their woeful  performance.

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As Lord Chris Patten ex Conservative Party Chairman said:

“ They must lose the next election for their own good. This isn’t the Conservative Party it’s the English National Party.”

Unhappily he’s right.