Monday, 28 March 2016


I have spent the past week feeling refreshed.

Originally the word “Easter” comes from the Saxon ‘Eostre’, the pagan Goddess of Spring which in turn came from the Germanic ‘Austro’ - the Goddess of Dawn. From its outset Easter was always magical. The Christian story of the risen Christ made it much more so.

Something magical still happens every year. Welcome to spring flowers; to plucky battalions of daffodils; to some experimental bursts of sunshine and lambs gambolling.  In April we put on walking shoes to go on pilgrimage like Chaucer.

Change is in the air and, of course, more sunlight makes life easier. This and a degree of gastronomic restraint as opposed to the mandatory, bloated excess of Christmas means this season of celebration leaves us feeling ready to get going.

So, yes, I feel terrific and my good humour even extends to the bunch of jokers who’d been making me rather grumpy recently.

What do this lot have in common? Trump; Putin; Farage; Johnson.

And of course you’re right.

Extravagant egos; wrong people to run anything; irresolute yet dictatorial; will do/say anything to get their own way. They make Kevin Spacey acting the part of Frank Underwood in “House of Cards” look very electable.  They have all pandered or are currently pandering to a vision of the present and future forged entirely out of a nostalgic image of former glory. But to be fair they have the capacity to entertain us as well as baffle.

Hence my good humour. I suddenly realised I was taking what they said much too seriously. The best way to debunk is to deflate with laughter. And anyway the premise of an argument solely based on rationality will inevitably fail. As that supple brained Ad Man Rory Sutherland recently noted, on issues like the EU or the America Presidency or which house to buy or whom to marry, emotion rightly plays a large part.

When I turn on the news or I read the paper I often find I’m reduced to frothing rage.
But then when I see a front cover of Private Eye like this one….

….or I see the cartoon of Paul Daniels’ funeral at which someone is sawing his coffin in half saying “it was how he’d have wanted it” , I feel much better.

So a diet of roast lamb, minted potatoes and Cote de Beaune plus walking in bluebell woods (soon) plus a lot of good old fashioned, squirm provoking and sharp satire plus a resolution to be much nicer to people will do me well enough.

We live in uncertain times said billionaire Warren Buffett. Well yes, but what fun that uncertainty creates. Every day is a cliff-hanger. And the great thing about spring is it signifies the end of a winter of discontent

So I’ve resolved to start listening more and laughing a lot more.

Join me - a very happy spring and Easter to everyone.

Monday, 21 March 2016


On Friday we went to Guildford for lunch with a friend with whom I shared my three years at Balliol College, Oxford. We sat looking over the Surrey countryside. It was all very pastoral. And it would have been perfectly in order for me to have been humming Parry’s “Jesusalem” especially as my friend’s a vicar.

But we spoke only briefly of the past. He asked if I regretted anything about my University days. I declared like Piaf “Je ne regretted rien…” But I did regret one thing.

I regretted not having worked harder. Not to have got a better degree but because today I have so much more energy than I did when I was 20 - ½ century ago - and I regret not having read more, thought more and squeezed more juice from the fruit I’d been given. I had a great time, made some great friends, learnt a lot but the Nutribullet that I called my brain was in idle.

Those were pleasant times…we had the Beatles, That Was the Week That Was, films like Zulu, the first Habitat … but they were sleepier times . Donald Campbell reached 276mph to break the land speed record.

Today it’s 763mph.

Instead of pleasant reminiscing my friend and I talked about now, the future and about what’s going to happen next. He’s unwell and being made worse by tooth-sucking doctors - I call them “pessimedics”. If only they’d say “Well done, you’re making great progress” the effect would be more beneficial. Advice to doctors: don’t give people pills. Inspire them to feel a bit better. Look forwards. As we both did.

The world we talked about is certainly more dynamic than the past. And more fun. How extraordinary to hear my grandsons talk about their favourite football teams (we can take Brighton & Hove Albion who are second in the Championship as a given):

Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona

At 7 and 9 years old they are people who think beyond these shores. Wonderful.

I am currently writing a book on Marketing and whilst my grumpy nostalgic side threatens to surface when I encounter the debate on social media and “the need for an authentic interactive platform” it’s suppressed. Because give or take a bit of linguistic embroidery what’s new? Just an abundance of bright, shiny toys for lucky marketers to play with.

I wish, I really wish I were back in marketing; it seems to be so tricky now, yet so full of change and such fun.  A cornucopia is what we have. Great shops. Great food. Great wine. Great entertainment. Great memories - yes of course but keep these in perspective.

I feel the urge to use that quotation from 1957 from Prime Minister Harold MacMillan who predicted:
“a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime - nor indeed in the history of this country”

Yes. We’ve never had it so good.

Monday, 14 March 2016


The Stones sang “We can’t always get what we want” and that gap between what we want and get in life is widening. Tell people anything is possible and they reply “OK then - where is it?

One student launched into a rant when Christakis Yale was rocked last November by a row between some undergraduates and the Master of Silliman College over their demands that frightening Halloween costumes be banned. The Master said he wanted to allow free speech but Jerelyn Luther (above) the most vociferous of the protesters told him “to shut the f*** up” and added: “Be quiet! In your position as master it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students that live in Silliman.

I checked Yale’s website but “comfort and home” don’t get a mention. This appears instead:  “Yale College provides a liberal arts education that fosters intellectual curiosity, independent thinking, and leadership skills.”

All the kerfuffle about free speech and “safe places” represents an expectation on the part of students that the Universities meet at their peril.

Driverless cars were in the news recently when a Google car had an accident with a bus. But the Wall Street Journal remains a fan of driverless because they tell us: “Taken together, the costs of automotive death and delay equal 2.6% of American GDP.”

My concern is going by this we’ll get bored. What’s next? A winter holiday skiing on autopilot, a book-free library - summaries of everything provided instead. I once saw the hilarious “Reduced Shakespeare Company,” three men preforming the whole Shakespeare canon in less than two hours. Is this the future?
Our expectations that technology will deliver a rich and leisure filled world are disappointed with more people working very hard.

Our expectations of the Arab Spring were, at its outset, generally high, as Palestinian businessman Munib Masri said in 2013: "I think the Arab Spring is the best thing that has happened in this part of the world and we need to give it time…

Yet now over 180,000 deaths and 6 million refugees later I don’t think these expectations have been met.  We are instead seeing, as Al Jazeera put it :- “the fallen leaves of the Arab Spring”. (Syrian Tammam Azzam is the artist.)

And finally those wanting to exit the EU also have great expectations. Here’s a typical view: -

 “We don’t need the EU draining away our self-confidence, stoic resilience and resources when we could do so much better as our forebears did, standing on our own two feet

I’ve tried to understand their argument but I can’t. I just don’t get it. When have we ever had so much collective wealth and created such amazing ideas?

Yet they have great expectations of the unknown. Perhaps they just hate foreigners? Perhaps they believe we could do better although history says not.

Paul Cook, the drummer of the Sex Pistols, got it about right when he said:-
Coming out would be like going back to little England.

Monday, 7 March 2016


I was thinking that we’ve all become a bit querulous. I blame the referendum. Rage is in the air. Chris Patten and I, as well as being Europhile, are at one on this. Here’s what he said:

"I think referendums are awful... Julian Critchley used to say that—not very surprisingly—they were the favourite form of plebiscitary democracy of Mussolini and Hitler.

I trudged (uncharacteristically for me) to the station on Friday - have you noticed by the way trudging and lumbering have become the default mode for walking in 2016 - whatever happened to sauntering? I got on the grubby train. I read the gloomy paper. I thought I’d have a grumpy snooze. And then (oh no not a busker!) an African with a guitar walked into the carriage and started singing an African song (think African Cat Stevens) and it was fabulous. He did another. We all applauded and everyone, yes everyone in the carriage gave him some money.

The sun had come out.

And it came out again when 71 year old Phyllida Barlow was appointed to represent Britain at the 2017 Venice Biennale. I loved her enthusiastic response to the news:

"I am astonished, thrilled and hugely excited …I cannot imagine a more invigorating and wonderful challenge… a unique and stimulating creative opportunity beyond my wildest dreams."

Adele singing “Hello” and scooping the Brits was another recent OK moment especially as she has a house in Brighton. Smart girl that Adele.

Am I just a cockeyed optimist? Am I mindlessly cheerful and unfair about the tight-lipped discontent I see?
I’ve reading Raymond Tallis’ “Reflections of a Metaphysical Flaneur” which as you might guess from its title is slightly heavy going. “Flaneur” means a man who saunters around looking at society. It originated as a term in 19th century Paris and defined the man of leisure who observed and thought about the city and how it and its people related to each other. “Flaneur” and “Dilettante” are lunch companions. At an alumni dinner I was once asked what I did. I was surrounded by eminent judges, senior civil servants, investment bankers, bishops and CEOs. I told them I was a “dilettante” and to a person they replied “wow! I should love to be a dilettante”. Yes. It is great.

As a blogger I am certainly a flaneur. And I do saunter; I do not lumber or trudge. I also passionately believe in the power of conversation and of “entente”. The more we talk and the more we listen the less likely we are to become bellicose and prickly.  Vladimir, can you hear me?

Here’s part of a poem by William Blake that Penny Hunt, a friend of mine, recalled -  “A Poison Tree”
I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow”.
Tweet this to those Brexit chaps. It’s really why the EU works.