Monday, 28 May 2012


For some time I’ve been worrying about the absence of comic anger in the midst of a shaken world. Where, I lamented, was a Swift or Hogarth or a That Was the Week that Was? Thank heaven, to be sure, for Private Eye and Have I got News for you? But where’s the rage? Where’s the kind of filleting that Christopher Hitchens gave Tony Blair in their debate on religion?

This week that all changed.

I became aware of Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement in Italy.This comedian and political activist won just under 20% of the vote in local contests in Parma, and several smaller towns. Have a look at the story of his journey and his beliefs.  Like Alexis Tsipras in Greece he seems uncorrupted, focused and damn mad.

I confess (shamefacedly) not to have realised Beppe had been voted a European of the year by Time Magazine in 2005 on the back of his fantastic blog.

And then I saw Griff Rhys Jones on Question Time demolishing the other contributors including the, for once, tongue tied Caroline Lucas trying to defend wind power. He was angry and eloquent. I wanted to vote for him. Sitting opposite Lord (good Lord, how did that happen?) Prescott and two brains Willetts, he was so much more passionate and smart. And no, he doesn’t look funny in this clip does he?

And then there was the film “the Dictator”, Sacha Baron Cohen’s satire on despotism and the ludicrous postures of the Gadaffi’s of this world. Would that he were to do something similar about the Euro and the absurd politics of Brussels.

Version three: “I’m sane and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

What we need is more comic rage. More people like Bill Maher in the States and more like Ian Hislop over here. We need more contrarians everywhere. It’s the ability to undermine the person with whom you’re debating and use teasing humour to remind them of their frail arguments that is so telling. Hence the popularity and success of Boris.

Where we are today is so serious it calls for a deluge of laughter and ridicule. And one final example of that: the Eurovision song contest. Me? I’m putting my money on Saturday afternoon, as I write this, on “Aphrodisiac” – the Greek entry. 

That would be fun.

“Aphrodisiac? What’s that?”

Monday, 21 May 2012


Recently Professor George Christodoulakis from the Manchester Business School said of the Euro crisis: “We need a return to logic.” George is clearly very clever. He is also very, very stupid. His prescription is the same as saying to a dying patient “pull yourself together ….you’re going to die…get over it.”

Sorry George. Logic lost. It’s the time for emotion.

Death it struck me as I read many tortured attempts at economic metaphors is the nearest to describe what’s happening (Hugo Rifkink made fun of himself in last week’s Times trying them – “spend thrift nephew, Greece- and rich aunt, Fraulein Germany” – and none of them worked.)

Sadly I have been a spectator of lingering death for some of my life. What happens generally is the patient gets ill, then gets a bit better, then gets very ill and a mournful prognosis is sort of given…when I say “sort of” no one in the room as the surgeon woefully mumbles quite catches his meaning. At best this is not very good news. At worst…well, we are always deaf to the bad news. Simply and literally we don’t take it in.
What then happens is a long, slow deterioration. The patient loses weight, loses their looks, slightly loses their grasp on reality but all very slowly. Those closest to them a bit like Daily Express readers are grumbly about the slow progress towards improvement and blame someone else “personally I blame the Welsh” to nods of bemused agreement.

The end game is sudden, dramatic, bloody and bloody awful.

It only struck me as I discarded my copy of the Daily Express last week and binned the leeks that this is now where we are in Europe. There is no return to normality, there is no magic medicine and there is no surgery heroic enough not to also kill the patient whilst curing the disease.

This is not to say there isn’t life after death. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a new beginning. But it will take time, a long time. No one is prepared to really acknowledge this or to discard everything else to prepare for and deal with the European funeral.

Maybe having read this my reputation as an optimist will be tarnished somewhat. Maybe I’m too influenced by the comic book realities underlying “The Hunger Games” which as a zeitgeist follower I read this week.
It’s time to get emotional. The funeral will probably be on June 17th at the time of the next Greek elections but the patient could be in a coma by then.

Have a happy week and enjoy the Private Eye cover after 9/11. Had he actually said this, it would have been the smartest thing George – Bush in this case- ever said.

Monday, 14 May 2012


Is it just me or has something radical happened to my attention span? The Leveson enquiry is boring me to death just when it should be perking up with the pre Raphaelite Rebecca and the bruiser Coulson on the stand although he did come back the great laconic “Not really” to the ghastly Robert Jay’s “Well this was really the elephant in the room wasn’t it?”

Why do I loathe him?  Is it his smugness or the slow “we’ve got all the time in the world” way in which he behaves? But this is costing us all a fortune and do you know, I’ve stopped caring about hacking, Murdock, Neville and the rest of them. Lock them all up in Parkhurst (especially Robert Jay and the balding Leveson) not  for being venal, nasty and wicked but and most of all for being so dull.  Rant one.

Rant two is more in sorrow than in anger. For a long time I’ve been speaking up for women and saying stuff like “If it had been called Lehman Sisters it would still be in business”. Not so apparently. I find myself looking at the smiling face of Ina Drew head if the Investment Department  of JP Morgan that has been exceedingly naughty and has lost $2 billion. Here’s what Jamie Dimon CEO of the bank said: “flawed, complex, poorly executed, poorly monitored…egregious and self-inflicted.”

So he’s not very happy then.

And neither are the women of the world who it seems are as bad as men. Big sigh of relief from all the misogynists in the world’s board rooms.

The third thing was a moment of pure joy.  We were at a concert on Friday listening to two sacred pieces: - the World Premiere of Ivan Moody's  "Sub tuum praesidium" - in Latin, Greek and Slavonic - wonderful haunting stuff and then the 18th century Portuguese composer, António Teixeira's, "Te Deum" - very Baroque to the point of obfuscation (rather like a McKinsey document). I was sitting next to a very pretty young girl who was writing a review. I asked her what she did and she said she wrote, she sang and turning to me eyes shining she said laughingly

 “I have so many strings to my bow….life’s just so exciting”.

Monday, 7 May 2012



I spoke recently about creativity and talked about human ingenuity, the amazing ability that’s lurking in all of us, waiting as someone, rather graphically described it, “to seep out”. As Ken Robinson so engagingly said it’s there when we are children and they educate it out of us, they take the dancer from our body and instead make it a way of transporting our left brain from meeting to meeting.

We need to be creative in the same way as we need to be alert to danger. Indeed I think I’d argue that creativity is the equivalent of having an agile and effective sword arm in mediaeval times. In a world where so much is changing, where so much is unpredictable,  having our creative nerve pulsing away ready to find a new and a better way of doing things enables us to survive.

But can it do more than merely be a system of defence. My favourite quote is Maurice Saatchi’s “creativity is the last legal way to gain an unfair advantage”. Think about it. Imagine having the ingenuity of finding an unthinkable solution to an unspeakable problem; the imagination to see the problem through a new lens and the balls to try something brave and original. 

Put ten bright people in a room tickle their brains and start thinking positively and something amazing happens, something wonderful seeps out. Yes, creative ideas. The room becomes awash with “what ifs”, “why not’s?” and “yes, we could’s …”

And now the task is to let this permeate and shape the centre of your culture.

Tell people they can be creative.

Get them to talk about creativity and they become creative.

Creativity is infectious.

As the environment around us becomes more complex and competitive we need witty solutions that delight and amuse consumers, customers and clients alike. I know a few people who mistrust creativity and call it just a clever marketing idea. They also dislike jokes and laughter. Some of them are very rich. They don’t much like that either.

Think of one thing you love for its creativity and think about why it’s so great, why you love it and why you aren’t doing things in your life like this too.

Did you know the start button on the new Jaguar beats like a human heart as it waits to be pressed….now that puts creativity and the heart in the same place. It also makes a machine feel human. 


Tuesday, 1 May 2012


Recently I talked about an idea I liked – mental weather – after the storms, flood, hurricanes and other excitement this seems even more appropriate. The three events that have shaped my mental weather this week are these.

First I met Nick D’Aloisio. He invented an app. called “Summly” (an iPhone app which summarises and simplifies the content of web pages and search results) when he was aged 15 – attracted a chunk of investment – is probably a millionaire before doing his GCSEs and is totally unassuming and hopes to go to Oxford to read PPE. “I’d like to live a balanced life” he said and you know the oddest sensation was inside me there’s me, a 10 year old, peering out chatting to him and inside him there’s a  40 year old CEO peering out. He’s the biggest talent I’ve seen. If he has a crisis in his life like Steve Jobs had then I think he’ll be bigger than Steve. Chances are he’ll decline into comfort …or as a very young Tory MP. I hope not - he’s too good and too nice not to make a big difference to our lives.

Then I went to the new Portslade Aldridge Community Academy School in Brighton and Hove.  They were looking for mentors for all their 6th form and have a mission to inspire, advance and shape entrepreneurship. I suggested that this needed to be a highly selective process (which in modern state schools where competition has been smoothed away,  is an anathema) but what a great mission and  what a great idea. I’ll tell them that only A* mentors can apply and then we might sort this out.

Finally, a godmother whom I know sorts out her goddaughter’s  crisis, puts her up after she’s had a huge row with her dysfunctional parents at home and starts coaching her for GCSE.  She’s predicted to get an E in Physics and a D in Biology. In the first parts of her exams she gets a B and an A respectively only just missing the higher grades. “We danced round the kitchen singing the facts…we had cue cards…we made it fun…we all learned loads”.

Balance, mentors, fun….is there something about learning and achievement we’ve all forgotten?