Monday, 30 June 2014


The sun was shining in Brighton on Saturday. People were smiling. Street musicians  were strumming and singing. As a friend said me: “you’re just so lucky living here…what’s not to like?” Quite a lot (I thought) if you’re a follower of local party politics. Quite a lot as the “what’s-not-to-like-ness” of Brighton gets translated into a surprising level of backbiting and discontent. Quite a lot if you travel an hour or so west and encounter a contrasting upbeat optimism in Portsmouth where the future is in  sight and the upside of ceasing to be an industrial town is beginning to dawn on everyone.

Someone once said to me Brighton that is a bit adolescent - yes, I suppose in a kind of “whatever; yeah but it’s not fair… why me?” way. But, in fact, it more resembles a bunch of UKIP supporters dressed up as hippy Greens. In other words Brighton has an identity crisis.

Or it used to have one. Because on Saturday the sun was shining and I saw some self-confident innovation that I’d not seen before.

First there was the Flour Pot Bakery in Sydney Street. Open for just two weeks it looks and smells fabulous and the people working there look excited…here’s how they describe what they do: “We ‘re creating an energizing atmosphere for an authentic and modern boulangerie experience, using natural ingredients”.

What’s not to like?

Pen to Paper opposite - my favourite shop - they say “We hold one of the largest ranges of Moleskine journals in the UK, complemented by a wide selection of notebooks from Clairefontaine. We stock VergĂ© de France writing paper from Georges Lalo of Paris with its matching tissue-lined envelopes and from Italy we have picked the deckle-edged Fabriano blank cards and envelopes.”

What’s not to like?

And then 64 Degrees. The best restaurant I’ve been to for ages. It’s a blinding revelation of both taste and service.  They say “the philosophy is that the food rules, the kitchen is the heart of the restaurant”

The result is there’s a great deal to like.

Interestingly the chefs serve the food they’ve just cooked, they talk about it with passion and they seem to spend their lives trying out new ideas. This is a University of Food.

Finally on the seafront I found “Hire a Poet” - a creative looking guy sitting at a desk with a typewriter. He was there to compose your very own personalised haiku. Two roughnecks were talking to this increasingly uncomfortable wannabe Keats. “I’m a racist bastard mate - can you get that in your poem.”

I loved the products I’d seen and I found I loved Brighton. And if you love your product lots of good things flow from that. This is sometimes easy to forget in a world of marketing. Remember what the guys at 64 degrees said: “the philosophy is that the food rules, the kitchen is the heart of the restaurant.”

The sun was shining in Brighton on Saturday and I was smiling.

Monday, 23 June 2014


Bob Geldorf sang this in 1979 with Britain at its lowest ebb after a winter of strikes and 20% + inflation.

No - we didn’t much like going to work then.

Today a piece of research compiled for the National Citizen Service shows teenagers are the most driven to succeed that they’ve been for a century. Nearly 4 in 5 of them say their career is important and they are, as a cohort, showing more enterprise and energy than many who preceded them. They start working when still at school and the urge to succeed is much the same for girls and boys.

All the young people I talk to have a resentment-free attitude to zero hours contracts and short career horizons - if your contract runs out after six months you’ll find something else won’t you? So get over it. Their enthusiasm is not dimmed by the flux of today’s world.

But there’s one thing they strive for and, no, it isn’t money. It’s real job satisfaction. They yearn for a job which has a tribal intensity and zest for growth, things  that matter when over 40% of your awake week is spent working. You’d better like your peers, better be inspired by the project you do and better feel valued.

Most of all you expect to learn.

There’s never been a worse time to run a command and control business. Down the road in Brighton the Co-op staggers on and what angers young staff there the most? The bizarre fact that they’ve had 18 managers in the last three years.  In London some people in advertising tell me there’s is a dull sweat-shop (how can advertising be dull? It’s like saying sex is dull. It just isn’t).

Companies at their peak like Nike, Snapple, Ben and Jerry, Pixar, Patagonia and hundreds of others have been conceived in passion and driven with a committed and excited team. I should have added Apple to that list but their world is changing. The brilliant Lucy Kellaway tells us the company that used to even write legal documents with snappy prose and who had an “impressive way with words (almost certainly part of its success)” has reverted in its job advertising to stuff like this “the successful candidate must identify integration points with other teams and drive high-resolution of cross-functional issues”. Sell your Apple shares now.
The appetite to work with and help create the sort of liberated and creative business that would be the envy of your friends be it a law firm, accountancy business, advertising agency or a manufacturer of ready meals, has bitten deep.

And if the current crop of big companies go the way of Apple and start speaking droid as opposed to human the brightest young talent will leave and start something themselves. In fact my prediction is we are on the verge of an era of brilliant start-ups to rival those of the 1930s or 1960s.

Let’s create a generation of Monday-lovers….it’s time.

Monday, 16 June 2014


This miserable response to the question “hi, how are you?” invites an invitation to ask to know more… and more is what you usually get. A torrent of misery about health, injustice and ill fortune. The only responses to the hi-how-are-you question that are worse are “fine” which = fucked-up, insecure, neurotic and emotional. Or “could be worse - musn’t grumble”… but you are going to mate, aren’t you, aren’t you? … any second from now.

(The lion on the left has just asked that “hi how are you” question by the way.)

When life in Britain gets sunnier every day, when the weather is heading towards a possible heat wave, when wherever I walk I see vibrant street theatre, investment, new art and enterprise why do I detect the whiff of “fings aint wot they used to be” UKIPism? Well actually I don’t see it amongst the young so much as the middle aged and elderly bewailing the dismantlement of Old Britain. Overall the young seem pretty fine to me. For the first time in years I even like and appreciate some of their music and some of the recent advertising…Look at the current World Cup McDonald’s ad which is pure generous genius

And last week when Rik Mayall died and we all rushed to You Tube to watch the astonishing tour de force of his Lord Flashheart in Blackadder we appreciate the joy of “tour de force” rather than grumble and mutter. And what a tour de force this was. Deliciously we learn he didn’t do it quite like that in rehearsal so this is also a piece of glorious upstaging.

The tired old clichĂ© is that life isn’t a rehearsal either. Why Mayall and his various characters struck a chord is they weren’t careful, they weren’t sensible, they were just full of ranting life. Alan B’Stard was not admirable in any way bar one. He too was enormously full of life. Just like that old boy with his unforgotten football skills in the McDonald’s ad. Because this isn’t about age it’s about attitude.

Wake up, feel glad to be doing whatever you’ve got to do that day, do it with vitality, energy and laughter. The world really is a better place than it was and more than 50% of what happens is great (which means, if my arithmetic is right, that we’re winning). So what do we do about those whingers and grumblers - the “not too bad considerings”?

Do a Rick Mayall and say loudly “not too bad? … Bollocks….you are so, so lucky…the sun’s shining and life is great” and then laugh. They’ll think you’ve gone mad but you’ll have achieved an important thing. You’ll have communicated that how you feel depends on how you see things. There’s a phrase I hear more of now than the dreaded “whatever!”.

 “What’s not to like?”

Apart from that football result….but look on the bright side….we might be Spanish.

Monday, 9 June 2014


Jed Bartlett the President in West Wing, grief stricken and uncomprehending after the death of his long serving PA in a drink drive accident, stands alone in the empty cathedral after her funeral.

He looks up, berating God, calls him 'a feckless thug' and lights a cigarette then draws heavily before grinding it out on the floor. It is a profoundly disquieting moment of iconoclasm.

This week I watched the New Amsterdam, a ship of the Holland American line, all 12 stories of it and all 2000 or so passengers, bullying its way slowly into Venice. At the top of the Campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore we were pretty well eyeball to eyeball with the topmost passengers. The ship felt out of place - a feckless thug. It was a profoundly disquieting moment of iconoclasm.

What makes Bartlett's behaviour and that of Venice similar is that both in their actions betray their core principles. His belief in and love of God. Venice in renouncing their respect and reverence for the sea, ships and beauty, and respect most of all for their historic and fragile city.  It's a bit like discovering La Serenissima (as Venice was called) has been going out with Johnny Rotten all along.

The lesson for me is about what a person, place or institution's 'red thread' is. The point beyond which it would not go whatever the incentive.

Apart from the feckless nautical thugs Venice is beautiful and - surprising to many - has fewer people milling around than there would have been in 1500.

Then it was the centre of the world because it knew precisely what it stood for and what it was doing. Now it's in danger of just becoming a parking lot for obese pleasure boats.

Monday, 2 June 2014


Today I read that international agreements about global GDP calculations had changed whereby money earning occupations like prostitution and drug-dealing, hitherto ignored, should now be included in the calculations. This is exceedingly good news for Mexico, Colombia and Afghanistan. This probably means Mexico has overtaken France (mind you at the moment everyone is overtaking France….sorry that’s very, very mean of me.)

The consequence is some £10 billion is added to the UK’s GDP. £5.5 billion of this is from prostitution. The calculations go as follow: there are just under 61,000 prostitutes with on average 25 clients a week, charging on average £67.16. Hmm…. it doesn’t seem much. And what, the mind boggles it really does, is performed for 16p?

But if you find this all mildly shocking I find the next disclosure truly awful. For years I worked very hard doing an honest, creative sort of job, oiling the cogs of industry, helping the wheel of capitalism spin. I thought hard about how to titillate, persuade and convert. I was a missionary of branding. I worked in advertising.

Yet it appears the economic value of prostitution in the UK is actually greater than advertising. Martin Sorrell will be horrified or, being smart, may change his business model. WPP will change to Whips, Panders and Prostitution.

It somehow seems deliciously appropriate doesn’t it? One in the eye for that old fraud Scott Fitzgerald who said of advertising:

 “You cannot be honest without admitting that its constructive contribution to humanity is exactly minus zero."

Advertising like prostitution enlivens the world, gives it colour and sometimes at its best has a sense of humour. Hugely useful…like farming …which is I gather a similar size. Now that is shocking.

Enough of this…we are off to Venice for some sun, some art and some Italian food for ten days. In the 15th century when Venice was the powerhouse of the world, it was four times the size of London and 10% of the population were prostitutes. This means that if you extrapolated their GDP potential to the UK on a per capita basis that would be worth £ 640 billion which is - let’s face it - a pretty impressive thought.

Enjoy the sun.