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.