Monday, 30 May 2011


Anyone who knows me thinks I’m an optimist maybe, sometimes, too much of one. A colleague in advertising suggested I’d enthuse over old turnips to win the account for Old Turnip Growers. So when I say that because Brighton’s population has a greater % of people with degrees than anywhere else in the UK, you need a 2.1 to get a job at Pizza Express, everyone would assume I was being flippant.

Which I was. But now I’m not so sure.

All I hear anyone talk about now is education. I see people doing jobs they hate, working themselves to death and suffering rotten lifestyles to fund their children’s education or lying sleepless in bed in case the dice falls the wrong way when they allocate primary school places. Fortunately it fell the right way for my grandson. Great excitement and relief; even pride. Grandson aged 4, asked if he had anything to say, replied (and I love the brightness of this):

“Yes. Can you stop going on about it. It’s only a school.”

It’s only a school. Right on son and it can help but not substitute for your innate smartness and appetite for life.

This week I heard of a brilliant young talent in childcare who wouldn’t (couldn’t) do his exams so now he’s out of childcare and into…whatever (or nothing). Imagine if they discover Wayne Rooney had insufficient GCSEs and was being fired by Man United. Or if you were told the meal you’d just enjoyed in a restaurant had been cooked by a degree-free chef. Imagine the rising sense of nausea. Not even an HND?

Exams trap people rather than liberate their talent. I want to know what people show a liking and talent for. And that talent being encouraged and becoming great and amazing.

Degrees are not qualifications. They comprise a pretty easy exam at the end of a pretty enjoyable three years talking, listening, drinking and learning. Which is good in its own right..

But education is not about ramming stuff into kids, it is…Balliol. Oxford? Literally, from educere (latin) – to lead out, draw forth.

So more of this drawing out, please. And the next time I hear someone given a job based on the exams they’ve passed rather than their energy, enthusiasm and appetite for life remind me to be optimistic if I can.

Turnips indeed!

Monday, 23 May 2011


And before we go on further can I say I am obviously unable to comment on those allegations in Twitter that I have served a superinjunction so can we move on please?

I love books. We even have a small but beautifully fitted out 2500 book library at home. I spend more money on books than anything else. Barely an evening passes without me buying a book on Amazon and barely a week passes that I don’t go into Waterstones and come out of it  grumpy. And yet I used to love the place.
And today, Saturday, I see the Russian oligarch Alexander Mamut has bought it from HMV (no surprise that…it’s been well trailed for ages) and put in James Daunt to run it (huge surprise that.) Daunts Books (there are seven branches but I only know the one in Marylebone High Street) is the delicatessen, the very Dean and Deluca of books. I always find books in there that I’ve never heard of but desperately want to read, books that I feel I really need.

Will James succeed with big W – the place that has become the shame of the High Street…the place where a friend was told a recent publication was not in stock and given the friendly advice by their staff “why don’t you try a real bookshop mate, like Foyles?”

The omens are not good. Book sales were down by 3% or so last year. Luke Johnson, owner of failed Borders and Books etc said book retailing was finished and his involvement had been a stupid error. Amazon say e-books now outsell paper books. Barnes and Noble are being kept alive by their e-commerce division the Nook and are currently considering a $1 billion bid by Liberty Media, the QVC shopping channel people.
And yet…and yet. Shops that sell great brands and give great service thrive. Farmers Markets burgeon. Organic and quality food blooms. New restaurants keep on opening. Literary Festivals flourish. And nothing beats a comfortable chair, good light, a glass of wine and the feel of a real book, the smell of fresh print and beautiful paper, the clunk of a hard cover and that certainty that it’s all there in your hands, typeset in Dutch 801 by MacGuru and printed by Clays in Bungay, Suffolk.

Our Kindle gathers dust from neglect. Our library just gathers dust, the dust of knowledge and turned pages, that fragrant dust of words.

I love books. I need books. Good luck James. Turn back the pages.

Monday, 16 May 2011


and go for it

What brought this on?

Here I am in lazy Brighton in the best weather we’ve had for ages. The birds are singing, the deck chairs are out and the roses are exploding symphonically into bloom. Maybe it’s the glorious Aegean blue skies early in the morning or maybe it’s the people I’m meeting and what they are saying that’s provoked it but I think it’s time for us all to wake up.

Let’s start with the Brighton Festival.

A huge success in 2010, aiming for better things in 2011, the number of Friends hugely increased and with Aung San Suu Kyi as guest director in the year that seems to mark the nadir for dictators. Magic. “We can really take on Edinburgh now,“ I said. No, I was told, this is little Brighton, little sister of London… Edinburgh has the clout, the history and the gravitas. And the Scottish B&Bs and the weather and the distance and the smugness.  Go for it Brighton. What’s wrong with you?

Emily Baker. Young. Singer. Songwriter. She appeared at an event called “Riding the Wave” organised by the local Chamber of Commerce. I spoke. She sang. We are bound together by virtual greasepaint. Will she make it? Conventional wisdom says she’ll struggle because she’s probably too good musically (eh?) and this is so crowded a field. But life is crowded and as BWW said “the fast always eat the slow.” So be fast Emily. Be newsy. Be ambitious, girl. I’m backing you to win.

Jess Wood. Designer. Very young. Running her own business. Just done a pack design job for Nestle. Great presence. Good work. Needs to rocket to a new level by being more daring, mould breaking and ambitious.  Be fast Jess. Dazzle us with your design-sprinting. I’m backing her too.

And Sussex CCC and Brighton and Hove Albion FC and the Olympics. Self- confident. Classy. Winners.
It’s time for the sceptics, cynics and naysayers to bow out or be ejected. It’s May 2011 and I want anyone reading this to repeat after me:

“Let’s be much more ambitious and take more risks. We have nothing to lose but our torpor”

….or our jobs?  In the case of the gloriously self-employed Emily and Jess not even that. And, anway, if that’s the price of renouncing boredom and despair, so be it.

Vote for ambition. Vote for innovation. Vote for freedom.

Monday, 9 May 2011


You’ll have heard of TED (Technology Entertainment Design) which is the 18 minute speech-bite business of the great, good and not-so-good sharing their ideas with an audience of millions. Biggest thing since pastrami. And more addictive. Check it out.

They came to London and together with the London Business School ran a day with 24 slots. The broad topic was disruption and now I’m knackered but inspired. Nine hours of iconoclasm has that effect. For the longer write-up watch this space. But just for now settle for Andy.

Andy Stefanovich. With a name like that you have an unfair start in life. His biog describes him thus:

“As Chief Curator and Provocateur at Prophet, Andy has earned a reputation as one of the most disruptive and effective advisors in business.”

Imagine a bespectacled, curly headed man of medium height seemingly on ecstasy, tequila and who’s been trained by Tom Peters to do it like him but louder, faster and without pause.

Andy spoke about business just being an excuse for him because it was his way of filling himself up with thoughts and inspiration much like people who go into a museum and in awe of what they see are transformed into a state of museum-mentality which is what we all aspire to since the admission fee to life is our life and with stakes that high not being inspired the whole time is crazy and this applies to holidays too which he takes with his family a month at a time in New York in a kind of erratical-sabbatical soaking up and distilling of that Soho energy and then getting back to disrupting lazy businesses with a storm of ideas and demolition and inspiring people to a better world which they’ll create by inspiring each other through delight demand and design and you try saying all this without taking one single breath no I swear not one and regarding the full stop like the condemned man regards a bullet namely to be at all costs if possible avoided thank you

Andy was brilliant.

Life is uncertain but too full of possibilities for us not to try and make it even better which means disrupting ourselves from comfort to new discoveries.

See. It’s catching.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


Nearly everyone I know is going around feeling tired. For sure, this is a busy world but is there more to this?

There is. It’s sleep deprivation that we’re all suffering from.

I’ve found a compelling study from the States which shows all the top athletes are now treating sleep as importantly as diet. The data is compelling. Sleep enough and your accuracy in tennis improves by up to 42%. Which, of course, is why that master tennis player, Roger Federer, sleeps 11 – 12 hours a night. Now that is serious teenage sleeping. That is, in fact, professional sleeping. And it’s also why the champion skier Lindsey Vonn says “I love to sleep”.

I’m with Lindsey. And I’m against all those alpha males telling me 4 hours a night is plenty. Being knackered isn’t macho, it’s crackers. I believe it may well be they’ll discover the financial crisis was brought about by crack bankers having too little sleep.

Two other myths to debunk.

Cigarette manufacturers telling us – do you recall the straight faces with which they did so? – that cigarette advertising made people change brands not want to take up smoking. Balloney. I was exposed to a raft of old ads at Sheffield Park Railway Station on the Bluebell line recently which is an authentic trip into the past and the romance of steam trains and the wonderfully blunt world of great poster advertising for Brasso, Camp Coffee (“the best”) and cigarettes. As someone who’d long given up I was struck by how suddenly and desperately I wanted a cigarette, Woodbine “the great little cigarette” or Players or Craven A….anything.

And finally the theory about “just in time” which I’ve always worried about as it seemed to me to be another way of saying “nearly too late” or as Honda are discovering “much too late.” They’ll run out of parts in the USA and UK in the next five weeks. Just in time makes sense only in a perfect world.

So tomorrow I’m going to stock up with essentials, smoke a few cigarettes and then get off to bed for a very long time.

Just like the old days.