Monday, 31 December 2012


The wettest year since records began. The sound of a coalition splintering. America heading towards the edge of that fiscal cliff. Syrian cataclysm. Youth unemployment. Austerity. Woe. A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year.

When TS Eliot wrote the Journey of the Magi from which I quote in that last sentence he was feeling depressed. Yet when I read it I am uplifted and excited.

As I am about 2013.

Dawn French whose appetite for life is irrepressible said on Desert Island Discs that her positivism was begotten of saying “I am the sort of person who…” Try it. It has an amazing effect on your psyche – better than Obama’s “yes we can”.

So I am the sort of person who believes nothing is impossible and that as Stevie Wonder put it:-

“It isn’t about talent it’s about what you do with it.”

And it’s about how you make your audience feel.

When we won all those gold medals at the Olympics not least Andy Murray’s brilliant display at Wimbledon. Or when Ian Poulter transformed himself from good to great to Superman in the Ryder Cup. Or when we won the series against India thanks to the example of Alistair Cook. Or when Mr Wiggins won the Tour de France, I believed anything was possible. It was a year in which we all celebrated winning and I was inspired.

We may think we have too little inspiration in today’s world but 2012 was the exception.
It was more than sport. We had the Man Booker prize going deservedly to a breath taking novel, Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up The Bodies” and we had Boris. Even those who hate him have to confess to his indomitable spirit and brilliant clownishness. 

Karl Lagerfeld, the fashion designer (Chanel and Fendi et al) enthusing about luxury brands said
“It’s about people buying things they don’t really need because they really want them”

The smell of expensive fragrance, the touch of fine fabric, packaging so brilliantly made that the top hisses as you pull it off the box, the taste of a brilliant culinary creation or the sight of people smiling help define our times.

Time to enjoy, to believe in ourselves and have some fun. Work hard for sure but stop being so gloomy about this wonderful world. 

Morecambe and Wise were brought out of the archives to do just that this Christmas.

“Bring me sunshine in your smile
Bring me laughter all the while
In this world where we live
There should be more happiness “

It’s not a bad anthem.

And remember – you are the sort of person who can do whatever you set your mind to.

Happy New Year.

Monday, 24 December 2012


Woodrow Wilson, one time US President, said looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes produced innovation. This time of year….the end of one with all the sloughing off of the old and the start of another with resolutions to transform one’s life, achieves another kind of renewal.

An American President and two well known Africans

But a fresh pair of eyes is what I had when I recently heard the eminent Nigerian, Professor Ibrahim Gambari when he spoke at the Africa Centre. Jeremy Clarkson wrote this weekend of how in a world of information overload how little is accurate. So when the Professor talking about the African Union, founded in 2002 with 54 members said 75% of the funding came from five countries, South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt and Libya I sat up. 

I’d thought the last three are part of that Arab Spring that had swept east a couple of years ago – nothing to do with Africa. And when he spoke warmly of Gadaffi’s contribution to the cause of African unity I was spellbound. 

There was once a political party in America called the “Know Nothings”. I want to join. And yet we are all know-alls to the point of not needing law courts now. Anyone accused is presumed guilty. Andrew Mitchell guilty as reported (but now read the Sunday Times for possible vindication). Lord Patten is the next to go under the hammer in the same paper and because it’s all such good sport we smile at the headline “the survival of the fattest” and  Ron Liddle’s:-

“Hark the Herald Angel’s sang
glory to the Fatty Pang”

Lord Patten practising karate

But the press are out to get him…and then the police. Vengeance is mine says the press.
But it’s Christmas and so here are some things that have made me think positively and anew. 

Downton Abbey is also popular

I loved BBC2’s series on Westminster Abbey, charmingly anachronistic and full of mahogany values.
Shopping in Waitrose at 8am four days before Christmas, seeing trolleys crammed with kumquats, Lindt Truffle Balls and Heston’s Christmas puddings. I said to one woman “Have you taken leave of your senses?” She burst out laughing and said “these are the things I forgot first time round…it’s mad isn’t it?” All around people were smiling in sheer self-deriding bonhommie.

And my favourite music.

 I’m not alone in having wanted a Christmas carol at my wedding. But the stories of children (and adults) simply getting the words wrong are legend.  Here are some of my favourites:
“Angels we have heard get high” 
"Hark the hairy angels sing”
“We three kings of porridge and tar”
“Most highly flavoured gravy” (instead of “most highly favoured lady”)

Happy Christmas. 

Monday, 17 December 2012


I live in Godless Brighton where in the 2011 Census we ranked right up there with the worst place in the UK as the fastest declining in believing in Christianity and containing the fewest believers in anything.

So …. away with your mangers and your cribs and with any wise men.
This is going to be the most secular of blogs.
First of all sex - David Cameron seems to have it on his mind when he talked this week about tantric policy making – “the longer you wait the better it is when it comes”.

Dave’s gone potty. Zero for creativity. High marks for being rude.

Secondly – the closure of police stations. When Mr Plod is stationless he must have somewhere to pee, to sit and take statements. Options discussed as police-venues are coffee bars and churches. I favour churches. This could provide much needed income to this suffering group. It would also bring a whole new dimension to religion….”hallo, hallo, hallo God”…and when Jesus overturned the tables in the Temple we were there saying “right son, you’re nicked”… brilliant. It brings church into the centre of the world and keeps the doors open – shut doors in churches always seem to me a disgrace.

Thirdly - “Doctor you’re in trouble” – blame Sir Bruce Keogh leading cardiac surgeon, medical director of the new NHS Commissioning Board. He says like Tesco, GPs should be open for business at the weekend. Of course….and about time too.

Fourthly storytelling – the Hoxton experiment in which the Ministry of Stories has been set up to help young people write creatively. Founded by Nick Hornby it’s coming to Brighton. Really effective creativity teaching for the young – brilliant.  

Fifthly the good side of Christmas – the music, the celebration and through all this a strange sense of bonhomie and the realisation that a whole sector of society  is beaten up and isolated….providing just half a chance we’ll begin do develop a bit of “caritas” – love, kindness and old-fashioned charity.

Finally community – our ability to touch, know and celebrate Christmas with those in our tribe, our family or our team.

I’d been talking to an old friend about Malcolm Gladwell who in “Tipping Point” said an effective team peaked at around 120 as the optimum size using WL Gore as an example. Interestingly this is the rough size of an Army company.

At my 4 year old Godson’s Christmas show I engaged with those around me on this. The view was quite simply this was the sort of number you could keep in touch with. And maybe that’s simply it.
The number with whom you could share stuff be it good, be it ill but especially – whatever -  at Christmas.

It’s a large party but it’s still a party….and one with rich potential.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


Happy Christmas from me and from Tintoretto that 16th century Venetian genius of big canvasses, dark shadows and characters with attitude.

Here are the Adoration of the Shepherds, cowpats, straw bales and all 

and of the Magi, venerable and wise with lots of angelic interference. 

Take a harder look. They’re rich in life and Christmas.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


Not just because I’m getting on a bit (but as I sit with my peers I still feel absurdly young) but much more because a few things have happened recently that have persuaded me we’ve lost touch with the new realities of our social demographics. You see it’s a fact that 35% of the children born now in the UK will live to be over 100.

What the hell are they going do in the last 40 years of their lives? Or put another way what proper use will the State make of their talents because we have a tendency to regard people over 65 (or younger even) as having passed their sell-by date.

And then Mick Jagger and friends strutted their stuff at the O2 Stadium. Extraordinary.

Mick, let’s face it, is going to be 70 next year and although his face has a leathery, lived-in look to it his movements were the fluent ones of someone 20 years or more younger. I looked at Stone’s performances of “Let’s spend the night together” on You Tube from 1965 to current times and they’ve got better even if the probable invitation seems likely to be more mundane now… .”Let’s spend the night together, now I need my sleep more than ever.”

Bob Charles the left handed New Zealand golfer had a glittering career and was British Open Champion in 1963. This year he was 76 and did something really amazing. He shot a 66 in a Seniors’ event – no one has ever beaten their age by 10 shots before.

Moira Bennett is over 80, lives in Brighton and has just written “Making Musicians” - the History of the Britten-Pears Music School at Snape in Norfolk.
Her career in musical management and development includes spells at the Barbican and with the LSO. She has the mahogany feel of someone with insight and perspective. A while back she took up smoking saying “it won’t kill me now”.  Wisdom too, plus style.

Talent ripens, it doesn’t wither. What changes is a belief that our stamina declines. Not true in Kenya where their elite runners seem to get better as they get older.

Tom Wolfe is 81 and still writing like a Rolex.

Lord Leveson is 63 and isn’t. (You can’t win them all.)

The best model is in Japan where they leverage the wisdom of age and the energy of youth in the “sempai” – mentor, “kohai” – pupil relationship. As you get older you’ll find a seniority- based social structure increasingly appealing.

Someone (no one knows who) said “don’t regret growing older; it’s a privilege denied to many”.
No regrets. You get to help the next generations avoid the mistakes you laughingly made.

Monday, 3 December 2012


It was the rush hour at Victoria. I saw this guy with a huge case, struggling down the stairs. Now the double bass, because that’s what it was, has always struck me as absurdly cumbersome.

A few minutes later I was standing in the tube and saw this poem by John Fuller that I loved. The description of a player wrestling with the awkward instrument are splendidly described for sure  but it’s the description of the sound of a double bass that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

I’m still thinking of the “growth of tree roots” – deep, deep below ground.

Concerto for Double Bass

He is a drunk leaning companionably
Around a lamp post or doing up
With intermittent concentration
Another drunk's coat.

He is a polite but devoted Valentino,
Cheek to cheek, forgetting the next step.
He is feeling the pulse of the fat lady
Or cutting her in half.

But close your eyes and it is sunset
At the edge of the world. It is the language
Of dolphins, the growth of tree-roots,
The heart-beat slowing down.

Now is it me or is it winter that spreads intimations of mortality with the icy sound of the violin in the Winter section of Vivaldi’s  Four Seasons?

Then I discover there’s a new exhibition in London. It’s called “ Death: A Self-Portrait” at the Wellcome Foundation….a bit unsettling to find a trust devoted to medical science being so morbid but there you are.
Frans Francken the younger’s “Young Death playing the violin” is shown. As my mother aged 93 when dying and finding the process dispiriting said in feisty tones:

“Well if this is dying you can keep it.”

I felt the same about Frans’ picture.

What is that rich merchant saying …words to the effect of “oh bugger” I imagine.

And, finally, a moment of insanity owing to a piano last week.

I was at a charity dinner sitting near someone who leaned across his voice competing with the pianist. He engaged me in conversation about the evening which he said he was enjoying. I could barely hear him but then he said:

“Normally of course I hate masturbating”

I looked at him in mystification…why on earth was he saying this?

I suddenly realised he was talking about mass catering not masturbating…..

I think I’ll stick to TV dinners and Vanhal’s concerto in D major, in future. Try it – it’s like sunset at the edge of the world.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


Sometimes people try to think too complicatedly answering when you rebuke them that things just aren’t that simple.

Rowan Williams is one such although the morning after that synod vote on women priests he delivered as blunt and monosyllabic a scolding as I’ve heard.

I’ve always thought asking people to think outside the box was an invitation to not answer the brief. I like working within the confines of that box which is usually there for a reason. Like only in the box is acceptable.

OK pussy?

Monday, 19 November 2012


We are in strange and uncharted times when virtually every institution on which we’d counted is under attack or rotting to death.

Is it so surprising in our increasingly open society in which the speed of communication is instant, transparency is the norm and there’s an absence of certain things being sacred anymore that one after another the old order is disappearing?

We’re seeing the equivalent of Chalara fraxinea cutting a swathe though, banking, the police, the church, parliament, the BBC, old fashioned media, big tax dodging companies and the offshore rich whose hidden wealth disaffected bankers keep revealing.

If we don’t all of us believe in the power of the people to put the boot in without any fear of reprisal, think again.

An old favourite of mine who in his heyday usually seemed a step ahead, Chris Patten, now seems unable to hold a catch.

The church is bankrupt financially and morally and it’s with concern we even wonder if Justin Welby mightn’t end up like George Entwhistle some 55 days into his archbishopric. (Just don’t let him go on the Today programme – ever).

As the ill attended vote for police commissioners was held we find a lot of old Chief Constables under arrest or being investigated and a bunch of officers in Kent charged with rigging crime figures.

When you can’t trust the police or priests it’s a bit sad. Actually the “trust what they say” figure in the Ipsos Mori Veracity Index 1983 – 2011 shows the clergy have plummeted from 85% believing in their truthfulness to 68% - below doctors (who come top with 88%), teachers, professors, judges and scientists. The police at 63% come next. Vicars used to be way out in front.

And according to You Gov the decline in belief of the BBC journalists to tell the truth fell 13% points in the past fortnight.

Unsurprisingly but depressingly 80% of the public actually expect politicians to lie.

The time has come a bit, like a mugger sidling out of the shadows, when we are all being asked what our values really are.

The God we worship can’t just be profit, votes or share of audience. Over the next few months Google, Amazon, Apple, Starbucks and the rest are going to be hammered. And whistleblowers will make a symphony of sound to rival Eric Whitacre.

Watch that Ipsos Mori Veracity Index – it’s the one that really matters.


Wednesday, 14 November 2012


The Pope’s become an Anglican, Ducks are walking around in high heeled shoes and, strangest of all,  Giles Coren has given up drinking.

His father Alan Coren, the funniest columnist I’ve ever read, would be distraught.

Here are some reasons I loved this man apart from that very lived–in face, things he wrote:-

On the Dutch:
“Apart from cheese and tulips, the main product of the country is advocaat, a drink made from lawyers”

On an Italian about to say “no”
“A long, soft sigh, one of those very Italian sighs that express so much, that say "Ah, signor, if only this world were an ideal world, what would I not give to be able to do as you ask, we should sit together in the Tuscan sunshine, you and I, just two men together, and we should drink a bottle of the good red wine, and we should sing, ah, how we should sing."

On Dennis and Margaret Thatcher and those poor landmines
“Does not even the most sexually democratic of us, among which number I unquestionably count myself, not choke back the tiniest sob at the sight of poor old Denis stumbling along behind, struggling pitifully to hold his trilby on, as the PM strides across Goose Green with the wind managing only to make her hair look more Medusan, and the very mines praying she will not crush them under-heel?”

And on dying
“In the days when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, I know one boy who won't be sweating. I intend to raise my coffin-lid briskly, throw a few things into an overnight bag, and, whistling something appropriate, prepare to meet my Maker.”

And share a glass of this stuff whilst Giles sips a glass of Hildon water. How sad.

Monday, 12 November 2012


Taxi drivers in Brighton are different to the ones in London because so many of them seem to do it as an eccentric hobby. One said to me, his CD player playing Verdi very loudly “if you don’t like opera you can bugger off.” Another was doing GCSE Spanish to keep her daughter company.

The distinctive Brighton cabs proving the concept of safety in numbers

The other day I came across one who talked about oxymorons. The local Council are introducing radical and expensive traffic calming measures at a local roundabout with seven roads leading on to it. This cab driver and I discussed it, me with the theory that anywhere so palpably tricky called for great care and good manners. However this seems a minority view. The driver leaned across looking over his left shoulder as they do and said ‘whenever they say “road improvements” you know to means traffic jams or worse’. And so it was we began talking about oxymorons.

I’ve no idea what this means but I think we should pepper Britain with them to encourage people

Like “military intelligence”, “school food”, “National Health”, “tough love” (a way of justifying being beastly like that antiquated lie “this will hurt me more than it hurts you.”).

But there are three that are currently in constant use that worry me more.

“Business Plan” –or works of self-deluding fiction as I call them yet a lot of people spend a lot of time doing them very carefully.

Depressing? Yes and very, very boring. 

“Creative Workshop” – Dickens and Picasso would have loved these (not). In truth creativity and conferences of executives are by very definition at odds.

“Negative Profits”- which I love because it’s so obviously a lie. Here’s tough love again, here’s any phase which sounds positive but contains a problem. Like “stock adjustment” which means “we’ve run out.”

And finally “sell by date” which demands the response “not necessarily”. This is the single, greatest cause of food waste in the world.

But none of these quite evoke my ire like T-Mobile. My wife uses them. She pays her bills always and on time. Her latest cheque has been banked by them but they are saying it hasn’t been and are hounding her. This is made worse whilst they are asking her to check it and provide proof of payment.

Good brand name, shame about the disconnect.

“Life’s for sharing” says their website – which is not so much oxymoronic as moronic from people who seem to think they are right and their customers are wrong.

And as my taxi driver said “don’t get me on to customer service. Just don’t”.

Thursday, 8 November 2012


The enclosed intrigued me. The sheer economic pressures of what Martin Luther King called “the fierce intensity of now” takes smiles off faces and puts steel into behaviour. Today I got a request (well nearly, very nearly a demand) for £215 from Barnado’s to identify and rescue a child vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

The latter days of Obama campaign plus Sandy plus a lot of money concluded the affair.
Moral: get the money in….then get them out….get them voting (however reluctantly)…

Before the election – “we need your money ….now!”

"Friend --

In a few hours, I'm walking into a budget meeting with the rest of the campaign management team.

By the time we walk out of that room, we'll have decided exactly what kinds of resources we can get to organizers on the ground and which attacks we can beat back in the last three days of this election.

This is seriously your last chance to help decide what that looks like. Your donation will determine which attacks get a response -- and which don't.
According to our records associated with this email address, you haven't chipped in to this campaign yet. So this is it, the very last call. If you care about the outcome of this election, now is the time to show it.

Please give $5 or more, and help while you still can:

Please hear me when I say this is serious, and the decisions we're making are very concrete -- and final.

Give what you can, and let's make sure we win.

Thank you.

Ann Marie

Ann Marie Habershaw
Chief Operating Officer
Obama for America

After the election – phew!!!

Friend –
I'm about to go speak to the crowd here in Chicago, but I wanted to thank you first.

I want you to know that this wasn't fate, and it wasn't an accident. You made this happen.

You organized yourselves block by block. You took ownership of this campaign five and ten dollars at a time. And when it wasn't easy, you pressed forward.

I will spend the rest of my presidency honoring your support, and doing what I can to finish what we started.

But I want you to take real pride, as I do, in how we got the chance in the first place.

Today is the clearest proof yet that, against the odds, ordinary Americans can overcome powerful interests.

There's a lot more work to do.

But for right now: Thank you.


Monday, 5 November 2012


”Did you hear the one about the Mormon underpants?”

I’ve been watching the US Presidential Election in fascination. It started (it seemed) as Sonny Liston against Cassius Clay and then Cassius began to show feet of clay and a kind of sterile aloofness.  David Clark who used to advise Robin Cook in the late 1990s put it well:-

“I still care about the election result, but not in the way I used to. A decade ago….decisions taken in the White House were life-changing…. but all of that is now for the history books, because …America is now a country in decline…. the most important world-changing events today are happening in spite of America, not because of it.”

It’s hard to judge things from this distance although I recall driving across Massachusetts and Virginia in 1992 and hearing Ross Perot beating up Bush and Clinton on the radio and beginning to think (fantastically) that Ross could win. Being close to the trees doesn’t mean you see the wood.

Unelectable with those ears

It was in 1992 that James Carvill, Clinton’s campaign manager coined the campaign slogan, “the economy, stupid”. It turned out to be a winning thought. And I’ve been somewhat in a minority (actually the only person I’ve recently met) who though Romney really ought to win….so long as his focus was on the economy, jobs and reclaiming American pride.

He put it quite well when he said:-

“And this President wakes up every morning, looks out across America and is proud to announce, 'It could be worse.' It could be worse? Is that what it means to be an American? It could be worse? Of course not….. What defines us as Americans is our unwavering conviction that we know it must be better.”
In truth he – master of outsourcing at Bain – could plausibly claim to know his way around the jobs scene and be capable of being an equally adept master on insourcing which is precisely what the USA needs as unemployment remains at around 8%.

Worthy of Don Draper

Obama’s trouble is he’s too worldly and urbane for a lot of Americans. Strangely in a land where the Buffetts, Trumps and Gates are such formidable wealth accumulators Obama seems strangely unmoved by money and in this respect he’s very un-American. His faux pas – they happen on the campaign trail – is ironic because in a way he does think America has to move forward not back:-

"My friends, we live in the greatest nation in the history of the world.
I hope you'll join with me as we try to change it."

He’ll probably win, helped by a commanding storm-performance and because of what Nick Curtis of the Evening Standard discovered in his recent trip to America

“Everywhere we met voiced opinions more nuanced and thoughtful than anything uttered in the campaign.”

But I still have the funny feeling that “the economy stupid” could pull it off.

Here’s the real story about America

Monday, 29 October 2012


That jovial Martin Sorrel – sorry Sir Martin Sorrell – certainly has a way with words.

First he gave us the bath shaped recession, then “the US presidential election has resulted, yet again, in kicking the can down the road”. Now he’s warning us about grey swans (they’re one down from Mr Taleb’s famous black swans). Apparently there are four of them about to zap us. He explains that these are the birds that we know we know but we don’t know how beastly they’ll be. Hmmm…. In plain English Marty is warning us (in contradiction of Dave) that things out there look bleak. Given he has intimate first name relationships with the bosses of a lot of the world’s top companies he should know.

But I don’t much like swans. They weigh about 28lb, have wing spans of up to 8 feet and are remarkably bad tempered. And I see hope not gloom when I look around the real world rather than try diagnosing macro-economics. I see technicolour swans swanning about and proclaiming pockets of good news.

Giles Coren reviewed the Carshalton Boys’ Sports’ College canteen on Saturday. A brave headmaster arrives at a run-down school in a disadvantaged neighbourhood and re-launches it. He hires a well-paid professional chef, gets 80% of pupils to eat school meals (up from 20%), prices meals way below local fast food shops, offers breakfast too and free curry for those staying after 430 to do their homework. Exam results have been transformed.

“I’d pay £10.95 in a restaurant for this which, here, costs £1.65”

Carmel McConnell (social entrepreneur of the year 2008) founded and runs “The Magic Breakfast” supplying free breakfast to 6000 primary school children because BC (before Carmel) 25% of those kids arrived at school not having breakfasted too hungry to learn.

So Carshalton and Carmel are jointly doing something which buries grey swans, providing healthy fuel for learning. Jamie Oliver sits alongside these guys as ambassadors for good.

Colour and laughter shape this school

Schools can teach us other things too. I was at the open morning for grandparents at our grandson’s school, Aldrington Primary, Hove. As I walked around hearing happiness, seeing colour and love, watched 8 year olds creating Tudor seats and children reading in the library, older ones helping younger ones, I reflected that the best, most colourful, buzzy schools like these should be a template to creative businesses and new start-ups. Businesses like swans can be too grey.

Sunday – I’m upbeat and there’s roast swan for lunch. Yum!