Monday, 21 December 2015


It’s hard for us not to smile when hearing this carol. The line “most highly favoured lady” from the Basque carol “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” which on the lips of many choristers becomes “most highly flavoured gravy” has the same effect.  Christmas is a time of amusement, excess and fun. The pagans stuffed themselves in the hope that this would help get them through the vile chill of January. And looking at the old Brueghel paintings of typical Dutch weather one can see that need. Yet today in Amsterdam it’s 13C.

In this fast moving world, Christmas is a time for nostalgia, for remembering Christmases past. I recall three evocative smells from my own childhood Christmas: tangerines, the shiny pages of the Eagle Annual and the rich aroma of Macanudo Cigars. It was the only time of the year I recall seeing my father slightly pissed and being the comedian we never normally saw. I remember a brief sense of plenty and unlikely confections like Green Chartreuse. It was when people let their hair down and the Queen’s speech was a must-listen-to event.

As our doorbell rang today at 7am - Parcel Force with more Amazon parcels, I realised the brutal Christmas crushes in the shops were things of the past. Last week was like any other week in London thanks to e-commerce.  Meanwhile the Christmas Turkey has been getting a bad press. Johnny Ray of the Spectator described it as a” dire bird.”  Well ours is hand reared in Kent and was probably called Gwendolen. We’ll meet her in her glossy coffin - a neat box - on Wednesday. She had better not be dire.

Ours will be a family affair aged from 93 to 1 ½; it will be Christmas as it’s been for over 150 years. But what has changed, and it’s ironic in what I’ve already called this “fast moving world”, is that Christmas now lasts from December 18th to January 4th.  And we don’t really regard this as holiday so much as a time of “no one else is going to be in anyway.”

But are we this year just a little more imbued with Christmas bonhomie than in the recent past as a friend of mine tentatively suggested? I think we are. We are living in (for now) a reasonably stable country. London rocks, the Northern Powerhouse is more of a reality than ever - Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and the others are doing brilliantly. Ghastly events are happening elsewhere but for better or worse Britain has become a cosier place than I recall in the recent past.

Here’s Dickens on Christmas:

It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.

I love that idea of Christmas as a “noble adjustment of things.” Drink deeply, eat well and laugh a lot and Happy Christmas.

Monday, 14 December 2015


This was a book by Edward de Bono. Now that book has come grimly to life.

I had always realised of course that my parents were rather right wing. They approved of Franco (for heaven’s sake) but they’d lived for 15 years in Barcelona and my mother who, in retrospect, reminds me of Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey had a clear view about sorting things out:

If I had my way I’d line them up against a wall and shoot them
Tell them to go bowl a hoop

I adored my parents and took their right wing views with a pinch of salt and a smile. Their brand of thinking was prevalent a long time ago and we didn’t take it that seriously because neither did they.  It’s only now as we see the extraordinary wave of extreme right wing political success in Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Hungary, Finland, Austria, Greece, Spain and now the Pegida Movement in Germany that the red light is flashing.

It’s not just a wave. It’s becoming a tidal wave.

And I’m no longer smiling. What was maybe OK in the 1950s when many adults would have regarded Nigel Farage as a limp wristed liberal is distinctly not OK today.

In France the fog horn voiced Marine Le Pen is bludgeoning her way towards power. I have friends in France who think she’s OK but prefer her niece 26 year old Marion MarĂ©chal-Le Pen who’s even more right wing. Marine says having Muslims in France is “like the Nazi occupation” and she isn’t that keen on the EU.

The EU is deeply harmful, it is an anti-democratic monster.”

And then there’s Donald in the USA. He’s a bit like Jim Davidson going for leadership of the Conservative Party - laughable until the opinion polls come in. But the Guardian says don’t worry, frontrunners never win nominations. Yes he has got a 20% + lead but….

“A look at polls from the past three presidential elections offers little to excite the businessman: none of those leading in the polls this far ahead of the election ended up winning their party’s nomination”

So that’s all right.

Only of course it isn’t because the flavour of international politics is beginning to resemble that of the 1930s. The voices of the far right and the far left are beginning to be heard more and more loudly and more and more nastily.

The world we thought we were creating which was more comfortable, fairer, more ethical and more liberal is being assaulted by the Boots Boys in Norway,  the Veneto Fronte Skinheads in Italy and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. Let me tell you about Geert. He’s facing trial in Holland in 2016 for:
“inciting "discrimination and hatred" against Moroccans living in the Netherlands”

It’s time to start saying “You are Right and You are Wrong” if we want to create the kind of kinder world most of us want.

Monday, 7 December 2015


The American executive was talking fast and earnestly “zee-bee-bee is the only way” she intoned “only way to go”. As she went on about the rational positives of this initiative I recalled the child’s response to an unfair telling-off, acknowledging whilst there may have been a tinge of blame but at the same time pleading “can’t you catch a bit of slack?” That one word response is “yebbut.” And my own response to “zee-bee-bee” is “yebbut”.

The problem with zero-based-budgeting (geddit?) is it comes from a dreary, barren place called “failure”. Tom Peters the management pundit whom I’d assumed had disappeared in a gust of his own oratory said once: “You can’t shrink into greatness”. He also said something very spot-on about the world in which we live “if you aren’t confused you aren’t paying attention”.

I once tried zee-bee-bee at home. Christmas was approaching and I went through the items that could be zee-bee-beed. The Christmas tree; Christmas cards; flowers on the table - who needs them? Bowls of sweets; Christmas dinner…just a modest roast chicken would do; and presents….At this point my wife turned quite nasty and reflected that I was a Scrooge and a zero and could be finding myself redundant to requirements if I carried on like this.

The issue is zee-bee-bee has a corrosively negative effect on everyone and whilst it might work on a spreadsheet it imposes a drying up of whatever innovative and entrepreneurial spirit exists within an organisation. Businesses exist to do things, invent things and grow. When, as happens, they lose their way and falter the answer is seldom a let’s-reduce-to nothing approach. The cry that there are no sacred cars (no that isn’t a misprint) is seldom true. The guys at the top are protected from most of the mean spiritedness of the zee-bee-bee approach.

I’m not advocating a blind blunder into bankruptcy but if you reach the need to zee-bee-bee you probably need to do some more radical and exciting things like exiting marginal businesses and investing heavily in those with some promise. In some businesses I know cost has been cut, jobs have been slashed but the survivors have been given carte blanche to grow and thrive. In my own experience survival strategies that only comprise cost cutting hardly ever or probably never work.

I hear that one of the major grocers is investigating a major overhaul of their supply chain by turning their much smaller outlets into high street sites where there is only one of every item on the shelf and you walk briskly round clicking your easy-order-gismo and your groceries are delivered to your home just three hours later.

Genius” I thought “I wonder if the turnip head who thought of that ever visited Dean and Delucca in New York.

The trouble with cost reducers is that they are, to a person, destroyers of joy. Little by little they poison and they lay waste.

Better the savage prune than the snip-snip of mean-minded scissors.