Monday, 27 December 2010


This is about laying the ghost of John Humphreys, icon of negativism and whingeing, a born-again Victor Meldrew, the dreary voice of constant dissatisfaction. Occasionally though, just occasionally, a letter of complaint cheers one up. Here’s an extract of one written to NTL – it went on in similar vein for pages:-

“British Telecom – w*****s though they are - shine like brilliant beacons of success, in the filthy puss-filled mire of your seemingly limitless inadequacy.”

It’s been the endless quest of the miserable, negative and of course the media to prove how limitlessly inadequate we in the UK are. Take the weather for example? Useless, hopeless, shameful compared with the continent. Hmmm!!

Here’s a letter from a Dutch lady in Tuesday’s Times describing her recent drive to Britain:

“The roads were appalling in Holland, pretty bad in Belgium- particularly the enormous potholes on the motorway – and not much better in France….. (arriving in Britain) I was pleasantly surprised to have a smooth journey on three motorways without a lane closure in sight. On the other hand my eldest son is stuck in a motel in Germany as conditions are impossible on the autobahn, and my husband spent four hours travelling 20 miles as the Dutch trains went, once again, into meltdown.”

A very Happy Christmas to everyone who thinks on balance everything in Britain is in pretty good nick from the NHS to the gritting system to the academic achievements of our young people to attitudes to work, life, family and friends. And a particularly stupendous New Year to all those actually looking forward to 2011.

To the rest of you and to you John Humphreys, especially, bah humbug and though it grieves me to say it….good luck in that puss filled mire.

Monday, 20 December 2010


The question is not me being gratuitously salacious …it’s what UBS, the Swiss bank that was recently bailed out to the tune of $60 billion, have included in their new internal dress code.

And, apparently, the right colour is flesh toned. So presumably this allows licence for whether you are Afro Caribbean, Indian, pale skinned, suntanned , feeling off colour (greenish), working too hard (grey) or with acne (spotted).

Knickers, of course, is what hit the headlines but management feeling they have to tell people to change their socks (black) daily and to use nourishing skin cream fills me with a powerful sense of foreboding. Not since the Third Reich or school have I encountered such paranoia about uniforms.

Big companies often seem to need this sense of control over their staff – what they look like, what they wear, what they do, what they think and even what they feel. They talk of being a “family” which, given the dysfunctionality of most families, is a bit worrying.

In Japan they have early morning company songs….now we only need to add things like detention and gating people to make the senior management happy. Yet why is it what their employees wear worries them so much – isn’t it how good they are, how customer attentive, how effective – “yes but however good if he had a flowery tie or – shudder – no tie at all?”

UBS has clearly scored an own goal and deserves to be teased were it not for the fact they are supposed to be grown ups, not anally retentive juveniles.

Life is not about making everything into equally sized black and white bricks. We live in a world of diversity, complexity, ambiguity and constant change. Rules are there to be broken. “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing” as Thomas Jefferson said.

What place creativity has in a world where all that management can think about is knickers heaven alone knows.

Although now I come to think of it knicker-elastic is a whole lot more creative than quantitative easing.

Friday, 17 December 2010

EAT THE RIGHT STUFF - It’s only that thick, deep, baritone taste of tomato that reaches your knees


Brrrr! Here it comes again.

White Friday December 17th.

I understand that maternal feeling about nurture because I had it, even as a man, I had it – a fortnight or so ago.

On White Tuesday, November 30th.

The world as we know it was totally cut off by blizzards, ice and snow. No trains or cars in or out.

And that atavistic need to feed my brood….wherever they were.

I wrapped up and in some bastard’s steps I trod unto yonder Co-op to buy “two for £5” best mince – 2lb. of the stuff -  an onion, a clove of garlic, two jars of stir-in Sacla sauce – tomato, one with mascarpone and one with garlic and a bottle of Barolo.

At home I settled for the men’s way of cooking and inspired by the weather crisis I heard myself intoning “we may be some time without proper food if all utilities go down.”

Two hours slow cooking in the oven – everything just bunged in after the onions had been gently fried to transparent– well half the Barolo plus an Oxo cube just in case.

It was that Bryn Terfel-tomato-aroma of “the sun will shine again” that made me relax, feel good and on the verge of laughter.

And the flavour was sublime. Heinz Tomato Soup in many more and complex dimensions. Everything the great comfort foods provide; an amplitude of flavour-smell-rich, full and chill-busting.

Think marmite, peanut butter, buttered toast, Heinz Baked Beans, Bovril and the greatest Cottage Pie ever but with the light slippery promise of summer spaghetti too.

Big authentic taste deliverers are what make great food great.

Tomato; onion; garlic; cheeses; basil …..

These are all weatherproof, harmonious and loud enough foods to see off the cold.

Real weather-food for people like us. And today it’s started all over again…the white stuff.

So we need more of the awesome medicine and nourishment.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


The ghost of Christmas past stared at me gloomily, a Woodbine in one hand and glass of brown ale in the other. He was referring to the student riots, “them revolting students” he said coughing noisily “reminds me of the good times.”

Yes, it was a plus ça change week…

Charles and Camilla having a charge of the light brigade moment as they encountered some young people; Mr. Plod being wrong footed (again); students breaking the windows of….Top Shop – Top Shop? Makes you weep about their sense of irony; the Australian response to losing a test match – “we fielded like a bunch of Clydesdales” and that James Naughtie on-air spoonerism of the Culture Secretary’s name …and I bet Jeremy Hunt’s glad his parents didn’t call him Mike.

Good old times; it was a Private Eye kind of week.

But the ghost of Christmas future lives in the words of the 14 year old who solemnly told me “one day everything will be much better.” Thus, dreadful old pubs become super-gastro-zones (like a local bar in Brighton previously nicknamed the “Stabber"); WikiLeaks tries to make things better by causing a stir, telling us things we knew but about which we previously didn’t speak– “Prince Charles asked where the lavatory was and was gone a while” – A Chas-Bog-Shock story? No. Nothing new - just a leak.

Get used to it. Turmoil; even ambiguity and change but…life goes on….and it does usually get better.

The immortal comforts in life over this week? A warming Spaghetti Bolognese with a double jar of a rich tomato sauce, the impact of which reaches your knees, a glass of claret, a hardback novel, a few great carols (and I love it that “most highly favoured lady” has been transcribed by choirs everywhere to “most highly flavoured gravy”) and a prospect of a must-get-better-future despite, or even because of, student riots.

Most of all I love to see these students revolting …over “whatever”…. as they always have.  The bankers of tomorrow behaving like bankers today (that is – I think – a counter spoonerism.)

Happy days, says the ghost of Christmas future looking at Christmas present, and I think she’s right.

Monday, 6 December 2010


Such a question being addressed to me in the street by a stranger would not be worth commenting on were it not about the fifth time it’s happened to me this year. It has not so much ruffled my agnostic feathers as made me ponder deeply on perception – the magic tool of the marketer.

And talking of magic here’s what David Berglas, Former President of the Magic Circle, said on talking about Harry Houdini: “It’s not the trick, it’s the presentation that counts.” Not that Harry wasn’t a genius …no, but he was an especially brilliant actor.

Change can impact on perception. The weather has hit my perception of life. On Saturday when I awoke in Brighton which had just undergone unusually brutal Arctic weather to find all the snow melted I had this weird feeling that Christmas had just come and gone.

WikiLeaks has changed a few perceptions too – the Americans are good guys – a bit on the naïve side but nice and the Russians are rascals. Rascals because a Spaniard said so, said it was run by the Mafia – have you noticed how this opinion has in a flash become established fact?

And FIFA. England’s derisory vote has brought about a sphincter tightening sense of national isolationism not experienced since the Suez crisis. We are a bit like Millwall Football Club and their battle cry “nobody likes us and we don’t care”.

It’s not that they don’t like us just that they don’t rate us…little England v. Big New World Russia ….the past v. the future… Cameron v. Putin (even an absent Putin)….a huge deficit v. loadsamoney. A man from Mars would have chosen Russia purely on commercial grounds. Our perception of ourselves is awry.

Back to our priest – and who wouldn’t have wanted to be one if they could have become a bishop with a great hat like that? There was something curiously exciting to have been taken for something I was not. I left this encounter preening my feathers, as it were, and feeling remarkably cheerful. Looking back at this, a rich news week I thought “we just don’t do boring around here any more do we?”

At least that’s my perception.