Monday, 5 December 2022

WHERE DO YOU REALLY COME FROM?

 Where do you really come from?

This isn’t all about the unfortunate Lady Susan Hussey. She seemed to behave like an upper class Jeremy Paxman, the interviewer who demolished Michael Howard then Home Secretary, by asking him the same question twelve times. But that was in 2005. In 2022 you can’t behave like that. Least of all to Ngosi Fulani CEO of Sistah Space born in Britain and a British citizen. All was well at Buck House at a 300 person soirée until she claims she felt like a black gate-crasher when being repeatedly asked  where she came from by 83 year old Susan, daughter of an Earl and Lady in Waiting to the late Queen. No longer Waiting. She has gone. Retired hurt. Accused of racism.

Prince William's godmother Lady Susan Hussey resigns from palace duties  after asking black visitor 'where she came from' | UK News | Sky News

I mention her age because the spotlight shifted from racism to agism as, the day after the event, people asked why someone that old was allowed out and was in no position to understand the “real world”. Silly Susan and old Jo Biden. What a couple, the media laughed. But the problem wasn’t and isn’t age. It seems just rather surprising bad manners on her part. 

The Swimmers (2022) - IMDb

Enough. The big issue for me is refugees. It’s been a subject lurking in my mind which ignited recently when I watched the film The Swimmers. It’s the true story of two Syrian sisters who flee war-torn Syria.

They journey across Turkey, swim across the Aegean to Greece and then walk dangerously through Hungary to Germany. It concludes after their being coached as swimmers and qualifying for the Rio Olympics. 

Some reviews described it as dull. 

What idiots! That’s exactly what got to me. The hiding from police dogs, razor wire, crooked helpers stealing their cash, the squalor, the interminable waiting around, the bureaucracy, the ignominy of the question “where are you really from?” and the hideous sense of being displaced.

The Swimmers true story - where are Yusra and Sara Mardini now?

I began to empathise more vividly with refugees, with just what they must feel like. Nearly half of all refugees are women and children with nearly 1 in 10 being unaccompanied children. Crikey chaps, blockade the borders those kids are out to get us.

Before anyone starts getting cross about the unique immigrant problem in the UK ponder these numbers:

Applications for asylum in 2021:

UK                37,600

Germany   190,500

France       120,700

Which shows it’s less a problem for the UK than its neighbours if indeed it is a problem. We seem to be screaming political blue-murder over an immigration figure of less than half a percentage of our population. And we are short of skilled and unskilled labour from doctors to fruit pickers.

I like immigration. It enriches countries that encourage it. In the 16th century Venice’s population nearly doubled, its population became more diverse than anywhere else in the world and it became astoundingly rich in consequence. America’s population growth has been driven by its being seen as a land believed to be abounding in opportunities to succeed. 

California professors instructed not to say 'America is the land of  opportunity' | The College Fix

I’m beginning to make this sound like it’s all about money. Economic wealth is a side benefit to the moral issue.1% of the world’s been forced to flee from their homes in the past year. That’s bigger than the whole UK population.

It’s a pity it took a film to sharpen my vision. 

We need to open our hearts, wallets,  borders if we’re going to be a greater country. A history of immigration from the Romans, Vikings, French, Dutch and Germans  show none of us can be British true-bloods (sic) but all of us can be humane.

Where do we really come from? One world. 

Humanity. 

Diverse crowd cheering - Stock Image - F014/6764 - Science Photo Library



Monday, 28 November 2022

THE LOST ART OF FORGIVENESS

Alexander Pope in his Essay on Criticism wrote:

“To err is human to forgive divine”

Page:An Essay on Criticism - Pope (1711).pdf/11 - Wikisource, the free  online library

I knew a manager who quoted this to subordinates who’d made a mistake adding:

“You have erred. I forgive you.” 

I enjoyed the silliness of this but there’s an underlying issue about whether we aren’t losing that divine quality.

We live in hostile times – not just in the Ukraine, Burkina Faso , Afghanistan and other places but closer to home too.

We’ve become increasingly intolerant although it was heartening to hear that Keir Starmer had actually kissed a Tory in the past and numbered several conservatives as friends.

MP forced to withdraw attack 'doesn't know what he's talking about' |  Politics | News | Express.co.uk

It’s the screeching contempt for anyone who thinks differently from themselves like Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP for Kemp Town that concerns me. When all conservatives are called “Tory Scum” it’s difficult for an appropriate term of criticism to be found for those who are indeed egregious. You can’t get scummier than scum. 

But the point is also this. Lloyd may perfectly well be an agreeable chap whom I’ve taken against because he got very cross about something that happened and I can only see him through the prism of his exaggerated rage.

A good friend of mine in Scotland, successful, thoughtful and kind, and most of all effective, is finding the increasing intolerance of many SNP members so extreme and potentially violent as to make him think of moving somewhere “civilised” like Cambridge , Canterbury or Chichester – cathedral or university towns.

Remember that childhood game we played where we demanded to know whether someone was “friend or foe” before we let them play with us? It’s got like that. But if we cooled down we might at least hear the argument of the other party and whilst disagreeing with much of it acknowledge that there was something in what they felt and forgiving them.

I recently talked to a friend in America whose balanced and thoughtful views I’ve always admired. I remember thinking what a great and sensible Supreme Court Judge he’d have made. I asked him how I should understand Ron DeSantis who’d shot to global prominence following Storm Nigel in Florida, his state.

He reddened and spluttered “he’s a racist monster”.

When contempt and anger divide us like this we are in trouble even if, as I suspect, he might be right. 

Ron certainly has shifty eyes.

Florida Judge Rules That Residents Have a Right to a Smarter Governor | The  New Yorker

But Ronald Reagan, who with the perspective of history seems an increasingly genial figure, might have said on hearing me say this, as he did to Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Presidential debates…”there you go again”. This was one of the greatest put-downs of all time. (I guess over 40 years later we’d call it “passive aggressive.”) 

OK. I’m trying to call time on tin-eared intolerance. Those at the extremes of all political parties are beyond the redemption of accepting that they might not be entirely right or even that they might be slightly wrong. But the majority want rapprochement, accord and peace.

Which brings me to achieving peace and the possibility of unity in many fields. 

Matt Hancock defies expectations by surviving another I'm A Celebrity  public vote | Ents & Arts News | Sky News

First, trivially, we’ve just watched the “forgiveness” of Matt Hancock during his good natured ordeals in “I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here”. 

Then as the World Cup develops, the good natured wash of football  is beginning to dilute the grumpiness many feel about Qatar. And when Putin leaves, as he will,  there may be a surprisingly productive peace with Russia.

Forgiveness is the most important way we can become more civilised and make the world a rather better place. So let’s start practising. 


Monday, 21 November 2022

MAKING THE BEST OF IT

I’ve always been fascinated by presentations. I even wrote a book on the subject. I never believed, as some seem to, that how you delivered the message was all that mattered (content is king) but presenting persuasively is no bad thing.

Brilliant Presentation: What the best presenters know, do and say (Brilliant  Business) eBook : Hall, Richard: Amazon.co.uk: Books


So I watched Jeremy Hunt’s “Autumn Statement” keenly. Jeremy’s a spare, bony chap with tiny, shifty eyes who reminds me of Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar of whom Caesar said:

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.

In a little over an hour he made the best of a wonky story. And did so sotto voce. Quentin Letts, the Times Political Sketch writer described the scene perfectly:

Jeremy Hunt delivered his Autumn statement in a soothing murmur. Dentists go pretty quiet too when about to lance like maniacs.”

Official portrait for Jeremy Hunt - MPs and Lords - UK Parliament

Like a dentist he injected anaesthetic to ease the pain so I actually dozed off at one point. This was a masterclass of political hypnosis leading a leader writer to conclude it was a “sober and sensible budget”. I compared this assessment to my own demeanour for my wife to snort “you sober and sensible? That’ll be the day.” She’s right. I’m ebullient and theatrical and no Cassius either. 

Donald Trump - Latest News and Top Stories | NBC News

In contrast to Jeremy, Donald Trump’s announcement he was going to stand as presidential candidate in 2024 was a thing of tense drama…no snoozing here… as a speaker he uses no punctuation…ideas float from his lips as he thinks aloud, musing about his cause with phrases like “in order to make America great and glorious again…. it’s a beautiful thing…there’s love in this room…our campaign not my campaign…our country is being destroyed before our very eyes …. the massive corruption we’re up against.”

He mostly talks in iambic phrases and the whole effect is curiously poetic. He’s a latter day Mark Antony…”Friends, Romans and Countrymen lend me your ears.” In meditative mood, in the company of supporters, he’s hypnotic but rather still odd. 

But, says Rick Wilson, a from the Lincoln Project designed to oust Trump and Trump followers from the Republican Party, himself a life long Republic pre-Trump, the Donald is “feral who’ll eat chubby Ron De Santis and others for breakfast.”  So not just a poet but a master of the put-down.

But here is the presentation “masterpiece” of…well what I’ve ever seen.

Vicky Ford

BEFORE

Just before the Autumn statement on live TV the Tory MP for Chelmsford – Vicky Ford –a one-time Minister of State for Development albeit in the Truss cabinet – claimed the UK’s growth record had been better than any country in the G7. It was a barefaced lie. A whopper. And delivered with a swagger. The TV presenter instantly stopped her and said she was wrong and to prove it showed a chart where the UK was shown not only bottom but the only country showing negative growth in the period since Covid. 

My advice to a presenter in this fix is to fake a heart attack or run down the corridor screaming “they have guns and knives”. The strategy is distract, bemuse and make the viewer forget what you’ve said. But not Vicky. Without a blush or a blink she switched to  saying the IMF showed her figures for growth were spot-on looking forward and it was time to stop being negative.

Vicky Ford

 

AFTER

 

Donald Trump would have been proud of her. In fact he should hire her. Please. Just so long as she leaves Britain soon.

 

I’ve seldom seen such egregious manipulation, audience hypnosis and sheer indifference to reality.

 

Unbelievable and almost comic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Monday, 14 November 2022

THE GROWTH MYTH

This is not going to be about the folly that occurred in the UK with Ms Truss last month or at least not much about that. 

Liz Truss blames 'anti-growth coalition' for UK's problems in conference  speech | NationalWorld

Instead it’s a reflection on the thinking that has driven business and the management of money over my lifetime. Increasingly in a world currently talking now about recession, growth seems rather irrelevant.  Yet I know few people in business, consultancy or finance who don’t still talk passionately about growth plans.

Last Tuesday the founder and owner of FTX, the high-growth crypto currency platform, Sam Bankman-Fried (hang on - read that name again. Who’s teasing whom?) sent out this message:

“I’m sorry. I fucked up”

The $26 billion rise and fall of FTX crypto king Sam Bankman-Fried -  MarketWatch

From a valuation of over $36 billion earlier this year to nothing today. Can I spell out that value in numbers? $36,000,000,000. Wow. That was impressive growth for a business founded in just May 2019.

At least Sam is honest in his admission but he represents in his quest for growth the underlying horrors that can accompany it. Here’s what he said in an interview:  

“Sometimes the only thing standing between what is and what could be is the will to get there, whatever it requires”

I agree with the thought that determination and ambition are necessary qualities for success in business but, hang on, “whatever it requires” absolutely terrifies the hell out of me.

The “growth thing”, as I’m inclined to call it, is strongly present in the USA. Over half a century ago J.F. Kennedy said: 

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”

10 Things You May Not Know About John F. Kennedy - HISTORY

But I’m beginning to wonder now whether it isn’t growth that’s the enemy, whether the determination to get bigger, to scale your business isn’t a kind of madness. Whether those seeking double digit growth or, in Sam’s case much more than that, haven’t created a nightmare of personal burn out and concomitant catastrophes socially, environmentally and politically.

Recently I was in a restaurant called Wild Flor with perhaps 36 covers. It started in 2019 and now it’s food gets better every time I’ve been there. It’s gradually moving from tasty to dreamily delicious.  But how should they grow? Wrong question. How could they improve? How do they gain even better reputation and become the best? Sam (poor Sam) said “Better is bigger”. No it’s not – not when I’m eating my lunch. 

Wild Flor Hove | Local reviews, interviews, menus and booking

 Growth is a new form of aggression thus the founder of the martial art Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba (1883 -1969) once said:

“If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.”

Like many great quotes it’s flawed and just plain wrong. If we merely seek to grow we’re doomed to disappoint ourselves and others because, sunshine, there’s much more to life than growth.

 

I may sometimes be rather unkind about Business Schools and MBAs. This has mainly been because of their use of historic and often misleading case studies like one called Royal Bank of Scotland, The: Masters of Integration” by: Nitin Nohria and James Weber of Harvard.

Harvard Business School - YouTube

As tech stocks dive and growth is hard to achieve maybe it’s time now to replan the gardens which represent our lives, dig up the failed plants, replenish nutrients in the earth and adopt a strategy of better not bigger. In 2022 things have moved on and that “growth thing” with it. The adulation  of the unicorn (billion dollar businesses are called this) seems yesterday’s fad. Time now to maximise customer contentment, product quality and producer skills not growth.

 

Growth will come when it’s good and ready not because we seek it for its own sake. 

Monday, 7 November 2022

We gotta get out of this place...

It was 1965. The Animals.

We gotta get out of this place
If it's the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
'Cause girl, there's a better life for me and you

These are the words which became the theme song of the Vietnam War and are burnt into my brain.

Diagram

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Every time I get away for a break, note - not a positive thing like a “make” but a break, a destruction of something that works I resolve it’ll be the first of many. Never is. 

This one’s hardly a summer holiday. We’ve already had one of those but as I recall – a rather fuzzy memory -  I had Covid and spent most of the time asleep. No, this is a retreat to a quiet apartment overlooking a nature reserve and a stream.

In Canterbury for glorious choral music, Elizabethan architecture, lazy lunches and bison. Virtually extinct in Europe and pretty well unknown in Britain these creatures, the heaviest living wild land animals, are like powerful demolition machines. In a rewilding experiment  at Wilder Blean in Kent they are turning jungles into parks. And a baby bison has just been born so things are looking up.

Wilder Blean | Kent Wildlife Trust

And everyone else seems at it too. Good friends have just returned from a brilliant trip to and around India. It’s strange that when I was there a few years ago it seemed somehow familiar as though I’d lived there in a previous existence. It smelt wonderful and mysterious and was exciting in a way China, although fascinating too, somehow wasn’t. Poetry as opposed to prose.

Pantry Staples for the Exotic Kitchen – A Measured Life

And our daughter, son in law and grandchildren are in New York doing what we all do in the most thrilling city in the world. Walking. Walking. Walking. Walking through diversity. Chinatown. Harlem. The Financial District. Brownstone buildings. Central Park. The High Line. The Staten Ferry. Broadway diners where resting artists are now waitresses who suddenly burst into song. The biggest burgers ever. Whale sized Lobsters. And Walking. Walking. Walking.

A picture containing shore, dock

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What we missed through the drab days of lockdown was travel, experiences and change. In those same as, same as days of imprisonment that sixth sense of discovery and change was turned off which was tragic because ultimately it’s that sense which we need and which turns us on when we get weary.

So we are getting away because there’s a better life than Brighton great as Brighton is. But right now it feels like this dirty old part of the city where the sun refused to shine. Living in Brighton is like a never ending dish of scampi. Delicious but occasionally I need steak or – can this be me – tofu. 

I’m looking forward to rediscovering deep sleep and getting rid of mental cobwebs. I’m also looking forward to learning a few new things – I don’t know what yet but when I find out I’ll be sure to tell you.

Have a great week. Have fun. Plan your next adventure.

Why the first glass of champagne gets you drunker than the rest


Monday, 31 October 2022

So What's Next?

I was recently having a conversation with my Mother-in-Law about death. She’s 100 in a few days’ time. It wasn’t morbid but on her part there was just a genuine sense of curiosity. Her younger daughter had in a matter-of-fact way told her “when it’s over, you’re switched off then they bury you and you become old bones.”

A cemetery with a house in the background

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I told her it didn’t have to be like that. “Just imagine your best and most exciting event with you the star within it…imagine that’s what it’s like.” She pondered for a moment and asked “but what if it isn’t like that?” I told her not to worry because we’d never know. We don’t know one way or the other, of course not, but we can make our lives here much more cheerful with a happy prospect rather than darkness and nothing.

Just imagine as John Lennon put it – “it’s easy if you try.”

Imagine, new picture book inspired by John Lennon's song | Amnesty  International UK

Since that conversation with a game, old lady who’s still very much on the ball, I’ve been thinking about the power of our imagination and our ability to improve our mood just by dreaming. I told this to a very good friend who snorted “well that’s completely irrational.” I agreed with her because it is irrational but half of life is pretty irrational. Hard to argue that war is rational or falling in love is rational or playing cricket or baseball is rational.

PNC Park - Wikipedia

But imagine in your dream of waking after death to find you’re on strike at the PNC Park, Pittsburgh  playing against the New York Yankees and effortlessly smashing the ball deep into the crowd or hooking Michell Starc for six at Lords or writing a joke so funny it reduces an audience at the Stand in Edinburgh to uncontrolled hysteria.

Imagine the best ever lunch al fresco at La Colombe d’Or in St Paul De Vence surrounded by friends and happy people listening to laughter and birdsong and sipping a glass of Condrieu.

La Colombe d'Or Restaurant, Côte d'Azur | Centurion Magazine

Imagine the dream of spending time with witty, happy, beautiful people just soaking up the atmosphere of unalloyed bonhomie. And hearing:- 

“the Booker Prize for 2023 goes to “A Deathly Silence by… (your name goes here)” 

Julian Barnes in his book The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters writes about finding himself in a perfect heaven in his short story The Dream. He concludes:-

“Heaven’s a very good idea, it’s a perfect idea you could say, but not for us. Not given the way we are…. after a while, getting what you want all the time is very close to not getting what you want all the time.”

 History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters

But the actual perfection of perfection is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how the prospect of perfection and extraordinary achievement could keep us going and make us good company. In a world full of nightmares, disappointments and ultimately death we can soften that blow, that finality by dreaming of a momentary afterlife and make the prospect of death less intimidating.

This isn’t the Christian view for sure. But as you lie there composing yourself just imagine there’s going to be a wonderful experience of your choosing about to happen.

It’s irrational. It’s eccentric. But it’s likely to make you feel a lot happier than thinking of earth and old bones or as Macbeth said:

    Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,

    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

    And then is heard no more. It is a tale

    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

    Signifying nothing.

 

Think optimistically. Not this.



Monday, 24 October 2022

Come back Monty Python

This TV show ran between 1969 and 1974. It was sometimes hilarious, sometimes dull but always nibbling at the edge of good taste, convention and conservatism. Python in its often ridiculous way captures the foolishness of authority.

Monty Python's Flying Circus (TV Series 1969–1974) - IMDb

In the recent cost of living crisis as the media has embarked on money saving food ideas, offal and fish heads have appeared on the menu and, of course, Spam. This square-shaped mash-up of pork, water, salt, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrate recently celebrated its 85th anniversary. One myth insists that its name is actually an acronym for "Scientifically Processed Animal Matter." Others that it stands for “Spiced Ham” or “Specially Processed American Meat.”

How Spam became one of the most iconic American brands of all time

It has sold over 8 million cans and in over 44 countries. It’s still one of the most famous food brands. It even has its own T-Shirt “I think therefore I Spam.”

But it was Monty Python that really brought Spam back to life 50 years ago in their lyrically complex musical tribute: 

Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!
Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam

Spa-a-a-a-a-a-a-am
Spa-a-a-a-a-a-a-am
Spa-a-a-a-a-a-a-am

Lovely Spam! (Lovely Spam!)!)
Lovely Spam!

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam!

 

And it struck me that some of their most famous sketches remain relevant today:

 

The Dead Parrot sketch which brilliantly encapsulates the issues we’ve just experienced with our departing  Prime Minister and her denial of her demise.

 

A person sitting at a podium

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The Four Yorkshireman who were affluent businessmen reminiscing about their deprived backgrounds. Their nostalgia becomes more livid and competitive reaching this absurdity:

 

“Right.. I used to get up in the morning at half-past-ten at night, half an hour before I went to bed, eat a lump of freezing cold poison, work 28 hours a day at mill, and pay da mill owner to let us work there. And when I went home our dad used to murder us in cold blood, each night, and dance about on our graves, singing hallelujah. Yah, you try an tell the young people of today that, and they won't believe you...”

I’ve been like that recently telling younger people about the Three Day Week in the 1970s and, as I say, you try telling young people of today that and they won’t believe you.

 

But when it comes to bureaucracy and the offices of government what can beat the Ministry of Silly Walks? This may be the best thing John Cleese ever did.

 

Ministry of Silly Walks 6 Postures - Etsy UK

 

The occasional shaft of absurdity or silliness can be highly effective satire. Monty Python could do that sometimes although – not unjustly - Morecambe and Wise criticised them saying the Python team could be annoying and unprofessional.

…there’s five or six minutes of utter boredom. And then there’s three minutes of very funny and then another eight minutes of boredom.” 

I used to get irritated by being told by friends  from abroad that leaving Brexit had made us a laughing stock but I accept now we’re reputationally diminished after the Truss farce and the possibility of Johnson standing again when he’s highly likely to be expelled from the Commons for lying to them - no I didn’t, yes you did…

Desperate Times by Peter Brookes | Waterstones

The past few months should have been enough to convince even the most right wing Tory member that we can’t go on like this, that the parrot is dead, that Boris is a bad man and own up to the fact that this government is damaging the country. I am not an especially political person and avoid ideological debates but it’s time for Monty Pythonesque ridicule to return.

In the meantime sit back and experience what might be one of the most loony weeks in our history.