Monday, 1 December 2014


What I most regret in my life is not going and seeing things for myself. Someone who worked for me once told me he was going to Germany for the rest of the week because something was “kicking off” there around the Berlin wall. That weekend it came down and I felt that I was a loser.

I‘m always amazed that many people seem happy enough just with reports rather than experience of the real thing. Focus groups can’t do it, although talking over a meal or getting out into the world might.

It’s too easy via Twitter, TV News and articles, well written as they may be, to absorb opinions and situations at third or fourth hand. Take Russia. What’s going on there - really going on? Well I met someone just back. “Boom times”, he said, “supermarkets full of goodies, everyone expressing themselves fearlessly. Putin? Hell - just he’s just another politician; they neither like nor dislike him but he should stop lying about there being no Russian boots on the ground in the Ukraine.”

Everyone I talk to says their sales are growing in Russia. The people there have one concern:  the prospect of being cut off from Europe alarms them. Hear that and you feel the need to visit, smell and understand what is increasingly being misreported.

I spent a night in Hochheim just outside Frankfurt last week. My hotel shut its doors and service at 8pm. You had a code to get in. I had a brilliant room - quiet, not a murmur, not a rustle - a rapturously serene sleep followed by a wonderful breakfast and a drive to work. Germany rests. It all feels very effective. But if you don’t go there in person you’ll only hear about BMW and economic stasis.

The same with Dublin recently where that reportedly restored Celtic tiger came alive when the smiling taxi driver said things were back on track. I watched ladies at lunch one day at Clondarf Castle and thought relaxed shoulders tell you more than any analysis of GDP can.

We read restaurant reviews and vicariously imagine we too have eaten the food. Film reviews are the same; yet sitting listening to two friends, one of whom had loathed the Turner film and the other of whom had loved it, made me know I had to see it myself because what they thought was theirs not mine.

Someone suggested I wouldn’t enjoy Anselm Kiefer at the RA. “Too brutal and depressing” they said. Well that and more. Burned paper, dead sunflowers and destruction but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.  It lies heavy on my memory but it was extraordinary.  Yet I might have read it up on Wikipedia, looked at some images and have caught a whiff of the man’s work.

Whiffs aren’t enough. You have to smell it first hand to understand, feed your senses and know what you really think and feel.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post thank you, and I am enjoying and learning from your new book on thinking etc. I'm already a fan of Seth Godin and Jonathan Haidt, so any book which mentions them…
will be checking back into your blog because I really like your style and substance.

thanks again,
in Winchester, UK