Monday, 27 June 2011


Polar bears, organic vegetables, political correctness, liberal values, employee rights, health and safety. Somehow they’ve all got melded together in some kind of misguided and worthy gel. And all the good stuff that lay behind the causes they individually represented has been lost.

How can it be that I’ve leapt from a believer to a sceptic this fast?

Let’s look at organic food. How is it can I find myself applauding Matt Ridley saying that organic farming was sustainable for sure, sustainable insofar as it sustains famine and food shortage? Why? Because it’s so inefficient a method of production.  And I’ve just begun to discover something important: a lot of it doesn’t taste very good. And there’s the e-coli issue in Germany has made me question how safe it is. So if it costs more, tastes poor and makes me ill,  that seems a dodgy old marketing platform.

One after another, good liberal causes are being strangled by mendacity or hype. I suppose it’s the messengers rather than their messages that I’ve begun to distrust or think would say anything to prove their point. Life seems too short for this and the devil in me is muttering there’s nothing that a diet of Marlboro, pork pie, Tequila, chocolate and Jeremy Clarkson won’t solve.

My second thought this week relates to role models.  There’s probably nothing really wrong with Bob Diamond who runs Barclays or Sepp Blatter who runs FIFA or Bernie Ecclestone who runs Formula One or Jean-Marie Le Pen who runs the French National Front Party (potentially the next French President). They are rich, successful, utterly shameless and with feet of something clay like.

But Rory McIlroy, the wonder golfer, fills me with joy (especially in contrast to the charmless Tiger). As does John Hegarty ad man extraordinaire whose book is just out. As does Jamie Oliver. As does George Clooney. As do Sue Barker, Margaret Heffernan, Carolyn McCall, Stevie Spring ….

All nice guys.

As Margaret Heffernan put it “nice is the new mean.”

The nice guys who espoused the nice causes I talked about up front have screwed up because they’ve stopped being nice. The moment you forget your values and just focus on winning at all costs you lose your sense of fun, your reputation and your soul.

Monday, 20 June 2011


Jan Morris entertainingly described the history of Venice as a transition from power to luxury from luxury to flippancy and from flippancy to impotence. But the Venice of today, where I recently spent a week, is on the ascendancy again.

There are real craft shops doing great stuff, the Biennale is in in full swing and once you’ve overcome three shocks one has a deep sense of admiration that billions of dollars have been well spent on restoration
The shocks are economic -the pound/euro parity – so a couple of beers cost £15; iconoclastic - the cruise ships (Voyager of the Seas which has over 3,000 guests and is 14 stories high slid past on the Giudecca Canal and nearly gave me a heart attack because there are no skyscrapers in Venice except these) and finally commercial, the posters and African market traders of knock-off designer labels in St. Mark’s Square. The 96 sheet ad for Citroen was particularly nasty, the Louis Vuitton knock-off bags a close second.

Pseuds’ Corner would have a field day with the arty fliers. Here are just some of them:
“One of a thousand ways to defeat entropy”;
“The cloud of unknowing”;
“Permanently becoming and the architecture of seeing” (this one authored by Julian Schnabel, the US film maker and artist) and from the Canadian exhibit at the Biennale itself – (Canada clearly got out of bed the wrong side that day)
“Triumphant secretion sculpted in foul mist
Dehydrated spectral birth at war with false metals”

Even the local Casino got in on the act with this: “an infinity of emotion” – yes that’s what you get with your chips on the tables of Venice.

The city is glorious – learning, effortlessly reaching back a thousand years and forward to a world of art and experiment, of hand craftsmanship and of car-free and Vespa-less perfume. Venice feels quite modern and self-confident in some ways, a world apart from the wrinkled old lady I first saw over twenty years ago.

Look at Venice today and see how once great can be reborn as the capital of conferences, global art, fashion and opera. There’s the odd jolt and tacky moment but it felt young, experimental and fun; a place in which to learn rather than a place in which to decay or die.

And maybe it’s a place to use as a new paradigm – one of restoration and hope.

Monday, 13 June 2011


Richard Hall is happily on holiday and will post again around mid June, when there will be tales triggered by travel.

Monday, 6 June 2011


My favourite recent story was from Nigeria. The economy there is in a mess with frequent breakdowns in electricity. This means factories have to rely on expensive generators and this makes life hard.

The scene is a Lagos Stock Cube Factory in Lagos as electricity fails again.
BBC Interviewer: “How do you cope with this? It must make you very uncompetitive in cost terms.”
Stock Cube Company MD; “We just make as much as we can and hope for the best.”

The day a sophisticated CEO in the western world says “we hope for the best” which in a completely erratic world where you can’t control events is the right thing to think and do, is the day I’ll break into applause.

Herb Kelleher who used to be Chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines in America, one of America’s most admired and successful companies, said once when asked about strategy at his airline: “We have a strategy here. We call it doing things.

It’s that same action-packed attitude to life. Hurray for people who park their sceptical brains and get their hands dirty.

We are now off to Venice to what Mike Geoghegan ex CEO of HSBC described in a soulless way as
Once the greatest financial powerhouse in the world and now a mere water attraction

In that sentence we get to see what’s wrong with bankers.

As regards the weather, food, and aching feet we are going to follow our Nigerian’s advice and hope for the