Monday, 30 January 2012


I recommended the power of lunch a few weeks ago. I didn’t mention dinner.

Over dinners during the past week I’ve had two altercations which have slightly surprised me. Not the altercations but their demonstration of the glue which binds Britain fast and makes progress so hard. The first was at an event where in a Tory stronghold I knew certain views would be cherished but where my own brand of optimism about the future was decried as a betrayal of the past. The second was with someone who despite his middle class background has an old Labour slant on life – “don’t knock unambitious mediocrity son, it’s got us where we are today.”  Here my own brand of optimism about the future was decried as a betrayal of the past.

The past should never be forgotten and it can teach us lessons and give us a perspective on life. Companies that ignore their roots often amputate their most precious brand assets. But the words of Henry Ford ring in my ears:- “We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history that we make today.” I love change. I love progress. I love experiments. I relish thoughts of the future. The changing face of high-rise London is I think wonderful and old London can take it. What it can’t take (no more can any other city) are slums, decay and sink estates.

Given free reign I’d modernise great chunks of Britain – “you mean gentrification” says the man on my left; “you mean popularisation” says the man on my right. The revolver itches in my revolutionary pocket but we live in a democracy so I have, I suppose, to listen. This is not a story about our own generation, I try to explain, eventually. If we want to sprawl on a deckchair or a sofa and dream of 42 inch TVs or St. Tropez that honestly is fine.

Me? I want to dream of glass and diversity and quality and children being taught to work harder and better and clean, new buildings and beauty. Bloody fascist! Bloody social engineer! Yes guys I hear you but louder still I hear the voices of those who want a better life and a better way.

And it doesn’t lie in hunting country or a sink estate.

Monday, 23 January 2012


What the Leveson hearing should be mentioning is not just the hacking which is very naughty but the pall of gloom journalists have been trained to exude as this is criminal. Like Death Eaters they are none of them capable of raising a smile or a flicker of joy. But isn’t joy for chic flicks or romantic novels? Did any of the great military commanders of history feel joy? Isn’t rage, ambition and determination what matters? Would Churchill have talked about joy? (Actually yes.) That simple little word most brilliantly distinguishes the truly human from the oppressed or cynical. When Juliet says “I joy in thee” in Romeo and Juliet she reaches a higher plane by far than love or fancy; a simple unfettered emotion of unconditional delight. CS Lewis’ Autobiography of his early years is called “Surprised by Joy” which vividly describes the emotions of children on their voyages of discovery. Joy is what’s missing in most jobs, most cities, most countries and most people. Without joy we shall never find the capacity to create and unite. Our joy in living should be like the emotions unleashed by the feel-good movies of the 80’s and 90’s (Pretty Woman, Four Weddings and so on). Joy like oil keeps human machinery working. I was talking to Jason Brooks, an Associate of Leaders Quest, who identified China’s need to discover joy as well as success. Joy would engage their souls not just their minds. I heard this on Radio 4 on Saturday. Jo Wilding created something called Circus2Iraq and took her troupe of clowns to occupied Iraq to bring joy to children. A similar group has gone now to Palestine and Beirut. Her book is called “Don’t Shoot the Clowns”.
That is active joy, an inspirational strategy to change (for a while) the way people see and think about things. They made play of it which was apparently a let-down but who needs a play when the real thing is so great? My own joy was in hearing the story. Initiatives like Carmel McConnel’s Magic Breakfast (providing breakfast at schools for children in poverty), The Big Lunch - getting communities to get together and have lunches of friendship and joy and the Clowns in the Middle East are creative ways of promoting the legitimacy of unalloyed joy. A lot of reasons to be cheerful.

Monday, 16 January 2012


This week I was on a train to Brighton that braked sharply at Gatwick where we sat waiting for 45 minutes with no announcement. Eventually the driver said: “I’m so sorry about the delay. The reason is someone forced open a carriage door on the wrong side of the train and then ran off. We had to fix the door. We’ve done so now and we’ll leave very shortly. Thanks for your patience.” A guy behind me said “he’s lying”. I asked why he thought that and he replied he’d been on Twitter and “someone” had tweeted that a person had opened the door on the “right side” and run off down the platform. “So there you are. The driver is a liar”. Let me get this straight. The driver (who also wanted to get home) told his story - credentials? A trained, experienced employee into whose hands we’d trusted our lives. But he was worsted by someone we don’t know and can’t see yet whose credibility is he tweets and claims to be an eye-witness. Imagine if Twitter had existed when Kennedy was shot or when Princess Diana’s car crashed. Caroline Flint MP said recently that she “lived on Twitter.” Why would you? What makes Twitter better than real people and real conversation? In a week where Dianne Abbott was incautious and nearly lost her job by tweeting with a “racial bias”….what a palaver that was….and in which Ed Miliband who on Twitter (a bit like a mini-Tesco at present because Ed can’t put a foot right) described the late Bob Holness’ show as “Blackbusters” we need to examine what this medium is doing to us all. Ed says he’s on it to show people the “real Ed”. The trouble is it makes him look a bit boring, trivial and self-obsessed. It would be far better for him to spend the time on his presentational skills instead. We live in a strange world where the use of e-mail is rapidly reducing, where I’ve seen it claimed that “no-one reads anymore” and where Waterstone’s (for whom such an assertion is bad news) changes its name to Waterstones because “in a digital world of URLs and e-mail addresses, a more versatile and practical spelling (is needed)” … viz. no apostrophe.
In fact it’s, anyway, a long hard word which could be better abbreviated to WastoBosto – ie. Waterstone’s Book Stores. I must tweet someone about that and say James Daunt (CEO) is seriously thinking of doing this. After all, everyone would believe me, the tweeter, and not him, the man in charge, and his denials.

Monday, 9 January 2012


Answer – none because it’s changing so fast without any help from us. The Christmas “break” with all the connotations that has of disintegration allows us to lounge about, get colds, put on weight, see some old films and read a bit more. It was whilst doing the latter I rediscovered that great line about the unreliability of market research by David Ogilvy, he who said of research “most people use it much as a drunken man uses a lamp post – more for support than illumination”. Here’s his other quote: “Consumers don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say”. This explains in part the increasing popularity of neuro-marketing, the application of neuroscience to determining what’s really going on inside people’s heads. But what neuro-marketing can’t do is understand the profoundly changing context in which people feel, think and talk. We live in a world where most of us assume things will (always) get back to normal….and they never do because normal is history. So, back to old films, well actually not so old. First from 1998 “You’ve got Mail” with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. The story of a cyber-relationship created via e-mail in parallel with the story of chain store Fox Books driving an independent bookstore out of business. E-mail seemed like a black art 13 years ago and book stores seemed like big business. In little over a decade e-mails are normal and books are out of business. So this film seemed more out of touch than “Casablanca” which I saw a few days later. And then (cold kicking in and mental faculties barely able to cope) I watched Harry Potter “The Philosopher’s Stone” from 2000, featuring some children (Radcliffe, Watson and Grint) who are now relatively mature adults. Some 4000 days gone in a flash. And, finally, from 2008, “Mamma Mia”. Oddest of all in a way because it was filmed on a Greek island when Greece was still an OK place rather than the disreputable gambler of an idle cousin it now seems. This was the Greece of laughing holidays rather than the place described around Christmas as “somewhere that feels carpet bombed”. This is a world where we’ve gone from the magic of e-mail to the banality of a tweet in a flicker and where good old ordinary normal has gone forever. Maybe films will be the only way we’ll be able to feel the scale of change in the future. Imagine seeing “Minority Report” or “Avatar” in a few years and thinking….is that all?