Monday, 18 December 2017


Outside it’s 0 Centigrade. What my brother used to call ‘bracing’ and my wife calls ‘freezing and horrible’. As I sip mulled wine in front of a roaring log fire, enacting my own form of hygge, I am thinking about the homeless.

They’re not high on the government’s agenda. It’s claimed that numbers are falling but not in Brighton where they’ve doubled. The strategy here is to drive them off the streets. This weather obviously helps with mortality rates rising. A flu epidemic would work even greater wonders. Or we could herd them up and put them into old container ships in Shoreham Harbour. Anything we can do to remove them and their unsightly bundles from our shop fronts would be welcome to the sensitive amongst us who describe such people as ne’er-do-wells. The Council allegedly set about those miserable bundles of possessions and blankets last winter by seizing and destroying them.

Council branded inhumane for kicking rough sleepers out of their tents.
(Report Jan 1, 2017 - denied by the Council)

Some time ago I was in a meeting with someone who’d been made a Lord by Margaret Thatcher - she made all sorts of people Lords and Dames for agreeing with what she said. He said words to the effect that these ‘ne’er-do-wells’ were raking in more than he was in a year, that they kept a Mercedes around the corner from their pitch and were not paying tax.

Not those in Brighton mate. They have corrugated boxes if they’re lucky.

The £20 a day or whatever I give to these chaps maybe helps them a little and sometimes I even make them smile in conversation but it’s no kind of answer, nor does further emptying our bank account to redistribute to them worthy as they are. The problem is systemic. So long as we regard the homeless as human graffiti who are there on the freezing streets through their own life choices we are compromised as a civilised society.

We aren’t all intolerant like that. On Saturday we had our grandsons to stay. They are 9 and 11. We went out to buy some Cheerio’s for their breakfast early in the morning. It was bracing…no it was freezing and horrible. A bearded chap was sitting shivering in a doorway. The 9 year up went up to him and gave him his last 50p piece. The 11 year old asked if he could borrow some money from me and gave £2 to the homeless chap. His face lit up in a toothless grin as the two boys gave him the money and he gave them the thumbs up. 

Shortly afterwards the boys found a lot of coins on the ground dropped perhaps by a drunken reveller the night before, gathered them up with whoops and rushed back to our ne’er-do-well who was now doing just a bit better.

Wordsworth said the child is father of the man. Let’s hope so. We need to be kinder and more caring. On Saturday it was cold but it turned out to be a rather lovely morning after all. 

Monday, 11 December 2017


That tyrant Sam Goldwyn, the film tycoon, who flourished in a Hollywood age prior to its sexual harassment scandals said this: “It’s difficult to make predictions especially about the future.” Yet we must try because we live in a world of storytelling where ‘narrative-drive’ is all and business leaders regard themselves as born-again Aaron Sorkins.

Recently a friend asked with the urgency of a character in the TV series, ‘Victoria’ when parliament was in the midst of the Corn Law crisis: “Richard. Do you think the government will fall next week?”

I paused and thought … I don’t know and I don’t care because the malevolent hand that’s writing our script has lost its touch. There are too many cliff-hanger dramas, there’s too much noise, just too much …

In a week when the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Defence Secretary tussled, almost coming to blows (more East Enders than West Enders) and in a world where Trump’s finger inches further towards the nuclear button you tell me what’s next?

Predicting the future is difficult? Even for computers it would seem. In Australia the hitherto faultless Umpire Decision Review System in Test Cricket has been seriously questioned by many cricket commentators. Here the question is where a cricket ball would have gone in the next 3 or 4 feet of travel. Even that isn’t that easy.

I see with gloom that the market is awash with new alcohol free products, gin, whisky, beer and cider - Seedlip, Teetotal, St Peters, Kopparbeg and so on. And that’s just for starters. (Happy Christmas everyone.) Cars are beginning to look like Victorian horses - on the verge of redundancy.

So the future is a carless society, free of alcohol and one where smoke of any kind - tobacco, coal or bonfire will be illegal. New political parties will form….and evaporate. Labour will purify itself of what they call “Blairite Zombies” - that is centrists - and become the darling of a reducing but passionate minority. The Tories will implode (again). Europe will disintegrate and we’ll be glad we left. Then it will reintegrate and we’ll be sad we left. The political landscape will just become more of a mess.  That pendulum will swing to and fro increasingly erratically and the fickle finger of fate will stop and point where least expected.

Back to a real storyteller - Aaron Sorkin. In his series “The Newsroom” Jeff Daniels plays a news anchor who can't take the bullshit anymore about America being the greatest country in the world during a panel discussion and tells it like it is - a weakening, contradicting and failing country that’s lost its moral compass.

What’ll happen next is unknowable. So we must go with the flow, be kind, true to our beliefs and values. We shall be in a pickle if all we worry about is money, status and how others see us.
2018 will not be easy. That, at least, seems a safe prediction.

Monday, 4 December 2017


For many years I was in a world of strategic hyperbole called advertising. It was a colleague of mine who coined this concept of professional lying. At the time it seemed a bit naughty but not too harmful.

After all no one actually believed Heineken had unique powers in reaching the parts other beers couldn’t reach. We all pushed the letter of the law on behalf of our clients, creating what today could be called fake news. We created false alarms like an imminent salt shortage, very effective in immediately boosting salt sales, and one I was involved in with Energen, the low carbohydrate crispbread, sales of which were hampered because it didn’t taste that nice.

Here was the logic:
Too much starch makes you fat
Most crispbread has 70% starch
Energen only has 30% starch
If you want to lose weight reduce your starch intake
Ask a successful slimmer about Energen

The sales result was astounding.  Ryvita (I don’t blame them) were livid and our Joseph Rank was berated by the Associated British Foods’ Garfield Weston. When the Chairmen of competing companies scrapped that meant we knew we were winning “bigly” (as Donald Trump would say). We created false fears - thus an advertising campaign suggested chicken legs could easily puncture cooking foils not as strong as Bacofoil; that Hepworth’s was fashion that didn’t fall apart. Fashion tick; durable tick; other brands???

But that was then…when we were all in communication-jousts with each other. In advertising we were the human entertaining equivalent of corporate lawyers - we the professional strikers, they the professional referees.

When does satire or hyperbole become lying? When does a strongly presented emotional argument become fake news? At what shade of grey does black become a kind of white?

Pondering on this and other things I was driving last week with my wife over Ditchling Beacon near Brighton. We drove past a series of earth mounds several feet high. To understand what follows you should know my wife regards me as a terrible tease but who can’t stand being teased myself.

“What on earth caused those?” I mused
“Moles” she said
“Moles….they’re far too big for that that - they’d have to be enormous moles”
“No not enormous just quite big - about the size of polar bears”
“Crumbs! Why have I never heard about these “Polar Moles?”
“It hasn’t been widely publicised but it’s these moles that cause sink holes. Whenever you hear about a sink hole the chances are it’s a polar mole that’s caused it”
“These creatures sound dangerous. Are they carnivorous?”
“No but they sometimes drag someone underground because they want their company. Sadly in their affection they smother them.”

I had to stop because by now we were giggling too much to keep this going. The art of creating fake news is the art of storytelling. When we stop telling and enjoying stories and also asking questions we are in big trouble.

Monday, 27 November 2017


Someone asked me recently if Brexit was a “brand”. Too right I said. Wouldn’t you buy “Brexit Brain Drain Unblocker”or “Brexit Bleach” - formidable, strong killers of all liberal germs (germs have feelings too as that horrible commercial for Domestos suggests)? “Exit” itself became a verb when HR decided the idea of ‘exiting’ staff rather than firing them seemed less messy because ‘exiting’ is like keyhole-dismissal as opposed to open-heart dismissal.

But while we’re at it let’s ‘exit’ Christmas…. let’s stop the festival that creates more bankrupts than anything else.  Here are the arguments for stopping the event. It celebrates the birth of Christ - yet only 50% of the UK claims to be Christian, a quarter of those don’t believe in the resurrection and only 800,000 go to church on the average Sunday. Christmas now starts in October and runs through to the New Year punctuated by Halloween, Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It’s a long, it’s expensive and to many people it’s a meaningless event - it’s like celebrating your birthday on the wrong day (like Lewis Carroll’s brilliant idea of ‘un-birthdays’.)

Christmas is a frenzy of iffy commercials, inebriation, office parties, family-fret-togethers and tawdry lighting. I recently watched one of the many Christmas films (I wasn’t feeling very well at the time) called “Santa Who?” Imagine eating a large box of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk in one sitting…there’s only so much feel-good anyone can take.  More people get stressed, ill or suicidal over the long bleak Christmas holiday to be greeted in January by the tax man and as like as not another reorganisation at work. Let’s “cancel Christmas” as Alan Rickman immortally spat in ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’.

But, actually, let’s not do that. Let’s instead kill the Grinch in us.

Let’s embrace the corny. The smell of tangerines, Armagnac, mince pies, fir trees; the taste of turkey (whoever said it’s tasteless is eating the wrong kind of bird), stuffing, Brussel sprouts, parsnips, chocolate ginger, brandy cream; the hygge feel of that log fire; the sound of some of the best music ever composed - just listen to the Sussex Carol, Noel Nouvelet, Bethlehem Down and the sight of Christmas decorations, a general anticipation of happiness and 7.5 million or more going to church around Christmas. Very few things bring us together like this.

Read the American Nathaniel Hawthorne, the real inventor of Christmas as we know it. His book “The Old Christmas” romanticises the idea of “peer and peasant in harmony”, of log fires, food, fun and games. The wintry bleakness, he argues, induces us to look within to find our true, kind social selves.
In a world of fake news, fake politicians and fake emotions we’re being conditioned to stop believing in anything.

And that’s a pity.

It’s time to believe again, in goodness, in kindness and in the story of generosity of spirit - the story of Santa Claus. Because Christmas is the best party ever concocted.

Monday, 20 November 2017


Angry? That doesn’t begin to describe how most of us are feeling. We are not close to doing a deal with the EU - will probably fail to do so -  and we’re strategically at odds with each other as to what we even want Britain to be like. To help us we have a vile cocktail of brexiteers, remainers, alt-righters, Marxists, Liberals, pundits, EU bureaucrats, Merkel, Macron, the rest of the 27 - several of whom are imploding politically.

It’s like being on US Airways 1549 - no engines, too low, New York City below, and a crash landing in the Hudson our best option. But no one is flying the plane let alone our having a Sully on the flight deck.

We have to start by asking what we are, where we are, what we’re striving for, how we can achieve it, how long that will take and what legacy we want to leave. Let’s ignore (as a given) that this is a mess, a debacle and a cock-up. Like it or not the referendum gave us this hand of cards (like Northern Ireland being out of the World Cup through a mistaken penalty - everyone agrees it was an error - but they are out of the World Cup and we are out of the EU.)

Forget Lord Kerr, author of Article 50, who’s popped up 18 months after the referendum saying “it’s not irrevocable” making the remain-ideologues believe Kerr, prayer and procrastination may save us. They won’t; so move on.

How do we as an independent entity make our lives happy, lucrative and fun? Let’s focus on the long list of what we are great at: from innovation (world number 1 in patents) to the arts to finance to technology to tourism to lots more. Currently business is waiting for the politicians. It needs to be more pro-active. I am not advocating addlebrained Boris euphoria - “jolly good country Britain yeeha!” We need a dose of rational self-belief and a plan to make the most of where we excel.

In a world as messy and conflicted as this, working within the straitjackets of existing party “alliances”, behaving as though everything’s normal, is ridiculous. We need a new party, like they have in France, where the rules are re-written. The talent that will solve our problem does not sit on either front bench right now but sits everywhere. Imagine Ruth Davidson, Hillary Benn, David Miliband, Yvette Cooper, Jesse Norman, Tom Tugendhat and a few others working together and you get the idea of what good government might look like. Not like this…

Have I turned into a brexiteer? No but almost anything’s better than being a wait-and-see-er. We can’t go on like this; we can’t allow ourselves to drift into disaster; our political parties are past their sell-by date and our respect and confidence. Our grandchildren born and unborn deserve better.

Don’t just be angry; do something. E-mail your MP constantly. Write to no.10; be a nuisance.

Monday, 13 November 2017


I was somewhat surprised to be given a copy of the best writings of Henry Miller by a neighbour. Why me? Miller was the literary infant terrible of the 1950s and ‘60s. His description of sex makes “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” sound like Enid Blyton (‘Five Off for a Jolly Bonk’.) They are very rude indeed but rather sad too. His ability to have relationships as opposed to frequent and impulsive shags seems limited. Yet when he writes about Greece (especially Mycenae) or flying or food or having his car serviced (prosaic but riveting) this man is literary giant. When he gets obsessed with parts of the body his sense of humanity and humour goes. 

June (his second wife) and Henry Miller

And that’s because there’s not much joy in his sex. Sophocles said it first and was then quoted by Plato, Socrates and others ending with Russell Brand…“The male libido is like being chained to a maniac”… yeah, that’s Horrid Henry. Not just horrid but a bit boring too.

It was peculiar reading this high-class porn whilst MPs were being denounced for playing ‘handsy’ or
worse. I hope none of them gets caught with a copy. That would not be funny.

Unlike Caitlin Moran who’s very funny but also rather rude. Her recent book is called “Moranifesto” which “sets the world to rights”. The substance isn’t rude at all but the fucking language often is. She uses the “f” word not so much for effect as for emphatic punctuation and to show she’s one of us.

Caitlin is a genius. I use the word circumspectly. She understands manners and why they matter so much (there aren’t many good manners in politics) and despite her rebelliousness she belongs in kinder, more literary times than these. Unsurprisingly her style in influenced by writers like Dorothy
Parker and H.L. Mencken. She’s an almost Dickensian figure in her exuberance and in being larger-than-life when she says things like: “Why do people keep on talking about the sweet fragrance of women? We smell. Me? I smell of soup … onion soup.”

Things that need sorting out she says are as diverse as include cystitis, bacon (ugh?) and social media. How about this for a bullseye of observation?  “The internet is like a drunken toddler.” 

She thinks many things are wrong but that there are some things blindingly right. Like having joy in life, being kind to ourselves and to others and in not taking ourselves too seriously. How lucky we are, she says, to have friends, family, to be going out together, drinking wine (lots of it) and laughing. Never get angry. Being angry shows you’re scared. Try being polite instead.

I wish she’d met Henry. She’d have soon been put that gloomy old libertine in his place. And she’d have made him laugh too. And they might have focused on improving joy, good humour and manners in the world, Henry in his tsunami style, Caitlin by wit and insight. What a team.


Monday, 6 November 2017


These words from a well-known hymn describe how my enforced foot-up convalescence has changed the way I look at things. Because I can’t rush around I have to slow down and reflect. I once heard Melvyn Bragg talking about Isaac Newton’s remarkable ability to think, to sit and concentrate. For his part Melvyn said he spent his thinking-time making tea, polishing his desk, making a phone call...anything to avoid stopping and silently focusing.

Life is not a race where medals are awarded for speed. Too much of my life has been spent running faster elbowing my way to the front. Being more considered and thoughtful enables us to aim and concentrate our energy more accurately.

I’ve also learnt how to read again. It’s amazing how reading so much on a screen has turned me into a sloppy speed-reader. I’m going to move on to poetry next where every word counts. Reading is about so much more than imparting information. I’d forgotten that, I really had. And you need to read in two hour chunks not just 15 minutes before you go to sleep.

I’ve stopped multitasking and I’m getting more done. Not everything has equal urgency. Sometimes putting a task on one side means when you ultimately come to it you somehow do it better and faster than you would have otherwise done because your subconscious has, on the quiet, been figuring out how to do it best.

My hearing has improved. Seriously, because all that chatter that was going on in my too busy head has stopped. I can hear birdsong; I can hear the grass grow (as the Move back in the day sang) well no not that, but I’m noticing the fall of autumn more vividly than ever before. I’m noticing everything.
The rhythm of my life has changed too. Meals are more important punctuation points, reflective and delicious pauses. And something strange;  I’m sleeping better but around 3am I awaken and my mind becomes a pleasurable word processor creating or revising blogs, emails, books I’m about to write. It’s as though my mind is cheerfully working whilst my body snoozes.

Is this leading to a prescription to undergo surgery to rediscover a better way of living?  Well obviously not. I’ve discovered, because this is not in any normal sense of the word a convalescence, as I am fit - it’s only my foot that’s not. My immobility has forced a complete retreat from my normal day-to-day world. This has profoundly changed the way I feel, think and behave.

So in future I’m going to go away regularly on a mind cleansing and stress removing few days …no phone, no wi-fi, no talking, just good food and nature. There’s this place in Italy I read about where the sound of silence is overwhelming. I need to go there.

Monday, 30 October 2017


We seem to have lost the art of and the will to compromise. And along with that, the ability to be patient and wait until the right solution comes to us. Sometimes the right place for a problem is the pending tray. Yes, inaction is sometimes the best strategy. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of America was not notable for his snappy one liners but he said this:

“If you see ten troubles coming along the road towards you can be sure nine will run into the ditch before they reach you”

But in this whack-a-mole modern world we are all on our feet whacking furiously away at all ten troublesome moles regardless of the peripheral damage and waste of energy. We are all constantly guilty of premature retaliation....because we can. No sooner has the e-mail pinged in than we are issuing an affronted and affronting riposte. And the faster the better.

My brother was once punished at school for hitting another boy. On being asked why he’d done it he said: “I had a funny feeling he might be going to hit me.” His was an early example of anti-social media syndrome. Yet we can’t just blame social media for all of us becoming so impetuous. Twitter has not made Donald Trump, Donald Trump has made Twitter what it always was, an offensive weapon where the unthinkable and un-thought-through can be fired off like bullets from a machine gun.

As Ken Dodd might have said “Twitter ye not”.

Much more concerning is the apparent impossibility of opposing parties’ ability to compromise anymore. We have all become children, hitting first and thinking afterwards. Without empathy, without the desire to reach a rapprochement and without an instinct that peace is better than war there is little hope for democracy. My biggest concern is for its uncertain future. Unless a sense of give-and-take returns we’ll have a continuing round of ill-tempered stand-offs. What happened to good humour? Dick Tuck was a mischievous Democrat who said ruefully after standing unsuccessfully for Congress:
“The people have spoken...the bastards.”

You lose some. It isn’t like dying. The bastards have a point of view too.

So what is a compromise? Here’s OED definition. “an agreement or settlement of a dispute by both parties making concessions.”

Nope. I can’t see the ‘brexiteers’ and ‘remainers’ getting to that point let alone anyone reaching a settlement with the EU. Forget democracy. This is all about bigots in deadlock. We are all to blame. We have created a soft entitlement society where young people desire for  ”safe spaces” insulates them from contrary opinion. Consider - would the Cambridge Union allow Trump to debate?

Yet whilst these sanitisers of opinion have been busy the simplistic and one-track thinkers have sown the seeds for future dictatorships. Without the good humour and tolerance to listen to the other side’s point of view we are doomed to standoffs, headlocks and unreconciled squabbles.

Life’s not about winning. It’s about getting on with each other.

Monday, 23 October 2017


I’ve nearly finished just one of the four volumes of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson. At 1000 pages it’s a marathon experience and because everything is described in such painstaking detail you feel as though you are really there on stage. Most notably you become increasingly conscious of the need to understand the numbers because in a democracy you rely on the votes not just the oratory.

It’s a world of smoke filled rooms, whisky, men and horse-trading. It feels horribly old fashioned with the Southern States intransigent in their position towards and deep rooted hatred of the black population. It’s hard to warm to the key players who with a few exceptions are unprincipled and unscrupulous. This hasn’t the warmth of a West Wing but it’s completely gripping.

LBJ is himself a conundrum. He’s a mixture of passion and pragmatism with pragmatism, the need to get the votes, always coming first. As politicians go he was regarded by Richard Nixon as alongside the two Roosevelts as the most accomplished politician of the 20th century - that’s tricky Dicky’s analysis.

Gripping it may be but these 1000 pages have tarnished my idealism. One by one the Liberals were driven to tears of frustration by the Senate voting against laws on lynching on the grounds it was illogical to legislate against a specific form of murder and by their refusing to allow a vote on civil rights. But I’ve also a grudging regard for the seriousness of the players. Their politics was all about the “art of the possible” with a scrupulous avoidance of the uncertain.

And when Johnson became President after the assassination of John Kennedy he introduced ground breaking Civil Rights legislation albeit against a backcloth in the previous years of implacable racial hatred.

So what’s changed?

Not as much as we’d like to think. We have the makings of Civil War in Spain, right wing resurgence in Austria, Germany and Italy and widespread corporate corruption. If this is modern civilisation you can keep it.

In America we have a President who remarkably makes George Bush (of blessed memory) look like an urbane liberal intellectual. Race riots are on the cards and “giving the knee” on the playing of the National Anthem is vividly descriptive of a torn nation.

What would LBJ have made of all this? He’d have wondered what on earth had happened to the Democrats, what had happened to democracy and how America could regain the respect of the rest of the world. He’d also I imagine be fancying his own chances of being the Democratic candidate in 2020 and of winning.

And what of the  “mother of parliaments?” Nicholas Hytner in Saturday’s Times excoriates the “frivolity, vanity and self-indulgence” of amateur mischief-makers like Boris and Gove in unleashing the forces of hell in Britain.

In the 1950s we had racism and intolerance everywhere but also an overwhelming caution about mischief-making and the unleashing of uncontrollable change.

We could learn from that.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017


There was a little article hidden away in the Sunday Times by Irwin Stelzer, an American economist, lamenting our negotiating performance with Brussels.

He noted our constant lapsing into that terrible fault of negotiating with ourselves. The EU says “that proposal is not good enough” so we come back with a second revised offer. Kindergarten mistake. We should be asking them what they propose. And whilst we wait and wonder the market hates us, blames us for uncertainty and shorts the £. Get the markets to blame them.

Just read “Adults in the Room” by the ex-Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, to see how these bastards operate. They play every gambit imaginable – Good Cop, Bad Cop; constantly saying we/Greece/anyone “hasn’t done their homework”; briefing against us even before we get into and whilst we are in a Press Conference; basically lying.

Well, we just have to lie better.

Here are a series of things we should do:

  • Say we’re going to remove all security/military co-operation unless they start playing ball.
  • Accuse them of being underprepared and lazy.
  • Deride their so called “homework” – they could do and must do better
  • Spend indecent sums on planting media leaks in the least pro Brussels countries in the EU.
  • Swamp social media with rumours and counter rumours
  • Have a stand up row with Barniers to create unrest and unease.
  • Rock their boat. 
There are enough economic reprisals we could take if we had to which would make them very worried. There are things the member states want – France want to sell food and wine, Germany cars and so on.

It’s time to divide. Maybe refuse to talk to Michel Barnier and go instead on a charm offensive to Spain, Austria, Holland, Denmark, Poland etc.

And you Michel, and you!

It’s time to get tough, devious and unpredictable.

Diplomacy isn’t about being nice. Smile and deceive. Divide and conquer. Most of all get angry.
 Remember Peter Finch in the film ‘Network’ when he said: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”.

Yes. That’s more like it.

As an ardent remainer but one who believes we can’t remain, I believe we need to get a bit nastier to leave well.


Monday, 16 October 2017


Dreams are funny things, sometimes so funny that I wake in the middle of the night laughing. I rarely have nightmares. My dreams instead fall somewhere between Lewis Carrol and Tom Stoppard

Last night I was asked to help a Roman Catholic Cardinal make a speech about a project that had gone wrong because the people in charge had ignored their brief and struck out on their own. This prelate was surrounded by advisors who were unable to help. I scribbled this down on a piece of paper as a starter: “It was disobedience that did it. Well disobedience is and was at the start of everything wasn’t it?”

The Cardinal smiled and nodded.

It’s the word “disobedience” that reminds me of the blind John Milton waking every morning and dictating the next stanzas of his epic poem “Paradise Lost” which contained over 10,000 lines of verse. He claimed the poem came to him in his dreams. Its first lines are:

“Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit 
  of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
  brought death into the world and all our woe”....

Some poem – some dream – some magic.

Sometime in the mists of last week I read an article about why presenting matters more than maths. Certainly in business no one is a catastrophic washout any more. Virtually everyone can get by. But getting by is being able to drive just going forwards and turning left. To survive in a competitive world you have to do three point turns, emergency stops and react to changing circumstances.

Our current and now ageing presentation tools like autocue and PowerPoint are like crutches to stop us falling over. But we can do better than that. We have to be a bit of a magician.  Maya Angelou said:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

Presenting an argument is like acting – getting people to suspend their disbelief – creating memorable thoughts in their heads not firing bullet points at them.

Theresa May should have surfed her misfortune – easy to say - by binning her speech and saying after a dramatic pause – “get me a bloody glass of whisky and then we’ll carry on”. Don’t carry on driving with a flat tyre which is what she did. She didn’t make the most of this little disaster; she got sympathy but not admiration. But what she inadvertently achieved was Maya Angelou’s last and most difficult learning - making people feel.

I’m reading Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Lyndon Johnson and the Senate in which he describes some of the historic speeches in defence of retaining the Union in America and, initially, averting Civil War. Great Speakers like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, people unafraid walking and talking and of making a passionate presentation; orators who persuaded, cajoled and seduced people into changing their minds.

Maths and mere facts pale next to such magic.

Monday, 9 October 2017


I’m not sure I’ve ever bought into the argument about our relationship with America being “special”. They’ve always taken an “America First” attitude towards us and others. America the world’s economic powerhouse has never just been a “nice guy”... they are tough like Jack Welch.

But more than anywhere else they’ve defined global civilisation and set the standard in democracy, in thinking and in film. Films like ‘High Noon’, ‘Twelve Just Men’, ‘The Magnificent Seven’, ‘Patton’, ‘Working Girl’, ‘Pretty Woman’, ‘The Big Country’ and ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ and many others - all had qualities that inspired us. They were imbued with will to win but within the rules, to do so with wit and style and to promote, most of all, a civilised point of view.

The West Wing series left many asking why Martin Sheen couldn’t be a credible presidential candidate. We sat engrossed watching good guys trying to do their best despite the human frailties we all have. Whatever else, the America I grew to love had a burning sense of justice and what was right and wrong. There was an American way.

With the Kennedys a real sense of idealism emerged that taught the world what was possible, especially with the wonderfully idealistic thoughts of Robert – what a great President he might have been. Here’s just one quote: “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not”

This has an elegance missing in Twitter.

More than anything else it’s been this American linguistic grandeur I miss most. Gone the prose of Harper Lee so fine that the meaning flies effortlessly from the page, gone the unerring straight-to-the-point razor sharpness of Norman Mailer and the lyrical sensuality of Tom Wolfe. But it’s John Steinbeck I’m reading now. What a giant he is. What a genius of writing.

But then there’s Twitter and our snide new world of the back street. “Sad” as Donald Trump says.

It’s not sad, it’s tragic. You can impeach your President. You can support him, oppose him, applaud him or decry him. He’s your president America but how dare you let him destroy centuries of civilised thinking and writing.

I’m astonished by the silence of the silent majority. As human catastrophes of indescribable anguish follow one from another, from a tirade of hurricanes to a grotesque massacre in Las Vegas, the words with which they are greeted by the most powerful man in the world are crude, brutal or banal. It was not always so.

Words matter. Words inspire. They change minds, they excite, they engage and they help people have dreams, impossible dreams.

America used to create pictures with words so unutterably vivid as to make one believe these dreams, like flying to the moon or walking in New York to the rhythm of the future.

Come back America. Restore that sense of reason, passion, optimism but, most of all, civilisation.

Monday, 2 October 2017


“Just a little prick” she said. No I’m not reporting a typical comment at a Party Conference

I was having blood taken before an operation on my foot and this was nurse with her hypodermic. She then gave me a cotton bud and asked for a “groin-swab” - that’s the private sector for you. My procedure’s a relatively trivial affair, (“procedure”s much less invasive than operation isn’t it?) for which, nonetheless, the surgeon would, if Afro-Caribbean, doing the same thing with a street knife, get a term inside. I am in short being set up for a legal assault. Privately.

The NHS is a great product but lacking in enough hygienic premises, charm and the money to keep going smoothly. Most out-patients departments are frankly grubby, grumpy and overloaded. In contrast private hospitals are carpeted, magazine-crammed and helpful. Patient service is high on the agenda. And they smile a lot.

It’ll be over in a day and then the recovery time, because it’s a load-bearing foot, is at least six weeks. My osteopath (I’m well served with medical people) said I’d be like a caged tiger by the end and asked if my wife was all right. “Nurse Hall is fine” I spat.

We shall see. Future blogs will either be self-pitying, morbid or non-existent. But I plan to read a lot. And write too, although with my leg having to be held above the level of my heart…yes I know, you try it…my writing output may be restricted. I shall regard it all as a holiday from life. A world of good meals on trays, glasses of wine, the random snooze, not well enough to do disagreeable things and having a pathetic small voice. And I’ll need a bell…and a role model.

And that of course is Mr Woodhouse in Jane Austen’s ‘Emma.’ Poor Henry Woodhouse was a “valetudinarian” - the only time I’ve ever seen the word. It means a person suffering from ill health (and being unduly anxious about it. I’m reminded of Spike Milligan’s immortal epitaph “I told you I was ill”.)

But it’s more serious than just a foot. It’s my mouth too.  I underwent an extraction - nearly an hour of yanking - and 1½ hours of intense root canal work. It was during the latter that bored to death I managed to go to sleep. Auto-anaesthesia is I gather uncommon. My dentist wanted to do what he could thereby maximising his fees in case I snuffed it in my foot operation. How can dentists be so jovial? Well as one in the past said to me “staring into mouths all day might be bad but imagine being a gynecologist.” 

I am well. But the health of this country is not so good. During my convalescence I shall think a lot.

There needs to be some serious surgery.

Bring back someone like Michael Foot! Apart from the pun (sorry) he was so much cleverer than Jeremy or Theresa.

Monday, 25 September 2017


Uber’s loss of its London licence is important because it signals new courage on the part of authorities in the UK to say “enough” to innovative businesses like Uber, Airbnb and the rest. Uber’s servile approach to London Mayor Sadiq Khan is a sign this company realises, at last, that it’s not above the law. My guess is they’ll kiss, make up and Uber will get a licence renewal. The outrage of Guy Hands, government Minister for London and of ½ million Londoners who’ve signed a petition supporting its return suggests that Uber is more than a cab company. It’s a flag bearer for the new world of innovation.

But Uber is a dodgy concept with a disgraced ex CEO, virtually no assets, no investment in its drivers, a global valuation which shrunk last week to under $50 billion and which paid just £400k in UK tax last year on a turnover in excess of £115million. It has a shocking history of ignoring regulations and is banned in countries like Denmark and Italy and in parts of Australia, Canada and America.

But what I hadn’t realised was that in a recent piece of research on transport-providers its reputation had recently dropped to just above Southern Rail. Uber has become the Jimmy Savile of transport; untouchable because it appeals to so many people yet recognised by an equally large number as being on the wrong sign of ethics. I can hear the cry “one million customers in London can’t be wrong” which has a whiff of “Jim’ll Fix It is too popular to criticise”.

I can also sense the schadenfreude slant to the story. Many of us like to see the self-important and successful brought down. Looking at a different market the recent demise of Bell Pottinger was profoundly appealing to many in the PR industry. Is Uber another Bell Pottinger? Is Uber a Coriolanus of a brand? Is Uber a sign of the frailty of the techno-innovators? Are we in for a round of “I-told-you-so’s”?

Maybe instead we should take a long hard look at our transport infrastructure with Uber being forced to revise its way of working. And what happens to those 40,000 Uber drivers? It seems an awful lot of drivers (mathematically there’s one driver per 25 customers). And they aren’t Uber drivers as such. There’s no contract, no employment rights. No they are just freelancers who happen to drive under the Uber umbrella. If everyone worked the Uber way we’d be in a big mess.

But Uber is very cheap. It doesn’t seem to worry those petitioners asking for their Uber back that it may be very cheap for a very good reason.

In the end of course there’ll be a pragmatic solution.

Like that suggested by a story I read about a man acquitted in court of a bank robbery charge. As he left the dock he asked the Judge:

“Does that mean I can keep the money?”