Tuesday, 30 October 2018


Of course we‘ve no intention of moving but every so often I scan “Right Move” wondering what it would be like to live in Rye, Lewes or Salisbury (near that cathedral which is on every Russian’s must-see list…’spire reaching up 123 metres’). The appeal of cathedral music is huge. Like living next to a free Wigmore Hall.

So when I saw a picture of a rather nice house close to Chichester Cathedral I thought “what fun”. When we were next in Chichester I went to have a look.  Facing the loading bay of the House of Frazer – lorries,  dustbins and mournful signs (“store closing down  January 2019) it didn’t look promising. Nor did it smell good - unmistakably of urine. Sadly the house was next door neighbour to a large and extremely popular public lavatory.

Nothing is quite what it seems. I‘d dreamt of potentially being a neighbour to the incense filled cathedral. The reality was smell of a different kind. Time to stop cropping the picture  and missing an essential feature.

This reminded me of the film called  “The Impossible”. In it a family is caught up in the nightmare of a tsunami in Thailand. One image vividly stuck with me. The mother sees her sons playing in the sea  with the tsunami behind them in the distance. She runs towards them waving frantically in warning. Uncomprehending they wave back in play and salutation.

In a week in which the increasingly strange Donald Trump infuriated his liberal critics by again insisting there are only two colours in an argument - black and white ….only two, only two…there’re no others. In a week in which nuance therefore takes another beating I realise that a bit like the public lavatory in Chichester the elephant in the room is ignored – “what elephant? Fake elephant. I see no elephant.”

We are all guilty of conspiring against balanced arguments. We read newspapers that simplify information. So this week, for instance, there was a headline in the Times on page1 which claimed “Eating organic food makes you 25% less likely to die young”. They’ll  doubtless be one next week saying “Science shows organic food is bad for old people”. It’s the cropping of information that makes the photograph lie. Thus the response of Guy Singh-Watson, who owns Riverford Foods, the organic farm and  veg box delivery company, to the blanket condemnation of plastic saying in some situations plastic wrapping is the best way.

Two of the most potent words in disputing a categoric claim are “not necessarily” . But in this black and white world the response to most offences would be that of Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts “off with their heads.”

Whilst the Chinese as we learnt this week seem keen on mass re-education it’s us who could with some ourselves. It’s time to see the whole picture not just the bit that fits our argument.
To the side of every piece of scenery lurks a metaphorical public lavatory.

Monday, 22 October 2018


Over the last ten days two of my best and closest friends have died. It’s a sign of our imminent mortality.  When the wonderful Roger Lewis died on October 9th it was sad and horrible but not wholly unexpected because Roger was very ill. I spent the last week or so remembering how delightful he’d been and how I wished I’d spent more time with him. Like a half drunk bottle of Chateau Petrus it seemed such a waste.

But on Tuesday 16th  the gloom deepened. The glorious James Arnold-Baker died pretty much out of the blue. He’d tripped gathering fuel for a wood burner, fell,  hurt his back,  grinned ruefully at his stupidity and was dead 48 hours later.

I listed my best friends, friends for whom I’d  lay down my own  life. Yet at a stroke two of the key players from my novel “The Immortals of the ‘60s”.  have been written out. There’s a real sense of
my band being broken up.

Who’s next?

I sneezed this morning. Is this serious? Ironic that this very week my wife and I re-wrote our wills. Coincidence or premonition? Yet I’m unable even in facing the Valley of Death to be doom laden and drenched in misery. Most of all I recall the lives of two tremendously talented, kind and deeply nice people whom I loved more than I’d realised.

I also examined some of the odder expressions for dying:-

- Sticking your spoon in the wall (German and Afrikaans)
- Handing in your dinner pail (Woodhouse)
- Wearing wooden pyjamas (Portuguese)
- Swallowing one’s birth certificate (French)
- Joining the choir invisible (George Eliot)
- Riding the pale horse (Revelations 6.8)
- Climbing the six foot ladder (1950 H&S warning)

Unsurprisingly I didn’t find myself laughing that much as none capture the sense of bleak  loss, lack of completing a  mission and its utter finality. Just the End. We need to have a whole new set of expressions – to get God’s Red Card; to finish the book before the last chapter; to suffer a fatal coding error; to miss the last train.

But I don’t feel in despair. We all know we’re going to die (sooner rather than later actuarially). We know the idea of living forever would be much worse than dying before our time. The cause for joy is that those of us who made the most of our lives have achieved something worthwhile and amazing.

So to those left standing take half an hour out today and write down the things you want to do and relish before you too die. Make them simple achievable and worth remembering as you breathe your last. Here are mine:-

i)   Lunch at the Colombe D’Or, near Nice
ii)  A glass of prosecco on the Zattere in Venice at sunset
iii)Watching county cricket at Lords

Cheer up. Yes, it will happen to you but probably not quite yet. You still have time to enjoy some memories.

Monday, 15 October 2018


No this is not about Tesco which is doing much better under Dave Lewis. Before he came along a better strapline might have been “Every dozy dinosaur needs a kick up the arse”. Having said that I have no idea why they’re targeting Aldi with their new Jack’s stores.

They are going down-and-dirty and as an occasional Aldi shopper I know it’s not down-and-dirty but just has lots of low cost, high quality products. Professor Mark Ritson in Marketing Week said Tesco should be trying to be a better Tesco and not trying to be like Aldi. Aldi is brilliant at being Aldi -  like a shark, ruthless and very efficient. This applies to Lidl too. Both examples of great retailing and high productivity.

But this blog’s not about Tesco it’s about the middle class darling Waitrose or as it’s now known Waitrose and Partners. Warning bell. An expensive rebranding exercise and  the worst profits for years. Does any connection spring to mind?

Let me confess two things. I like the partnership model and I like shopping at Waitrose. But for my loyalty to be maintained I need:
- It to stock what I want
- Its fruit and vegetables to be pristine – they charge enough to guarantee this surely?
- Its service to be exceptional

Recently little niggles have started to occur – rotten bananas, under-ripe avocados which ripen to black nastiness, constant stock-outs, no more Warburton’s bread that we like replaced by private label that we don’t like, slow service in the café, no more free coffee in the cafe on the Waitrose card, serve yourself coffee which runs out and is very messy.

It’s all very trivial, a series of little irritations but they combine to make me feel less loyal. And then it compounds…there are fewer staff around; where’s the presence of a jovial manager the sort who welcomes and is omnipresent; the rumour that you should stop using your Waitrose loyalty card because after a month the algorithm notices and the “lost customer” warning will kick in and you’ll start getting big discount vouchers to lure you back, much bigger than any “loyal” customer gets.

Little niggles build into monster gripes lead to customer loss. The “that’s typical” Victor Meldrew moments keep on happening. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do. I was told about a series of disasters at a hotel with an important customer. In desperation the manager offered a free meal with wonderful wine. All was wonderfully well until the sommelier spilt a glass of Lynch-Bages down the wife’s white dress.

We spend a lot of time talking about big pictures in business but big pictures can be ruined by a series of small smudges. Unless the process works brilliantly and consistently, unless that manager is leading from the front one thing can lead to another.

Every little cock-up leads to customers walking away – and who can blame them. Let’s not forget the maxim “the customer’s always right (even when they’re wrong”.)

Monday, 8 October 2018


The advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi said this in the 1970s. At the time it seemed an optimistic view of life but now it intrudes into counselling. To an overweight child:
“you could be an Olympic athlete if you tried hard enough … anything is possible” .
Only it isn’t. Except in a Japanese ad.

I was wondering if this made me a cynic recently when I got up early to catch a plane. As I put on the façade of “I’m awake …I like it…I’m invincible…anything is possible …ha! No it isn’t”  I heard on the radio – “and now a piece on AI”.

Excellent …in a world of rapid change AI and robots we need to better informed. Time to pay attention - even though it’s 5.30am. A calm voice spoke to me “We think AI is the answer. Now we’ve subdued him and as you can see I have hold of his penis. I’m inserting it into the plastic vagina and yes…we’re good to go. Great , wonderful. Yes we have enough semen there for between 200 and 2,000 impregnations.

Strange how slow on the uptake tiredness can make you.  It was ‘Farming Today’ and they were masturbating a bull on air in the interests of AI. Artificial Insemination. I decided to give breakfast a miss.

My week has been full of little surprises. The piece in the Times about an undergraduate doing work-experience for a broadcaster and being told as an intern she would of course be unpaid. Her research project? “Modern slavery and the suppression of women”. You couldn’t make it up.

Talking of which if you haven’t yet seen Matt Damon’s impression of Brett Kavanaugh On Saturday Night Live (it’s on You Tube) please do. My problem (there are many) with Brett is he seems so unsuitable a candidate, his dodgy youthful escapades apart. Brett when, as they surely will, they confirm you remember to say “anything is possible.”

Much of my past week has been involved in exploring issues around change and culture. Most of us are immune to the thrill of change and increasingly we see evidence of our wanting things to remain as they were. To many the thought of a revival in coal mining would be wonderful.

But not to 10 year olds who see progress and inventions as a joy. To them anything seems possible. In the rich and verdant world of their imaginations great things happen. I heard a solution to world famine from a Formby High School team of 10 year olds on a Summer School. The solution is easy. Issue a jelly bean everyday to everyone on the planet, a special jelly bean which contains all the basic nutrients, vitamins and minerals a human being needs.  I love the simplicity of the solution and the sense of its being, well, possible.

Not everything is possible but amazing things can happen. So why not be an optimist?  Call this the week that I became a believer.

Monday, 1 October 2018


I’m on one of my biannual diets. The time comes when my trousers don’t fit (correction- they seem to have shrunk) and I become a geography teacher, floppy corduroy and podgy. And I believe that I can still get away with it quaffing my pint of Harveys,  munching on my pork pie, and fattening up prudently to withstand a cold winter. More in curiosity than anything else I clambered on to one of those weighing machines in Boots that gives weight, height and  BMI. Well it says I’m borderline obese with an excessive BMI. I ask more questions online (being truthful about once being a heavy smoker and an enthusiastic drinker) and my life expectancy prediction says I died five years ago.

I am not prone to panic but it’s not good to learn you are probably a zombie.  So I go on the carb free, booze free, food free diet  - the one Tom Watson (the politician not golfer) went on and lost 7 stone. He now looks svelte, healthy and almost credible. See you at the gym Tom, I too am on a roll – not a bacon roll either.

As I embark on this incredible shrinking journey I reflect on food (I wish), no I reflect on why it is so many of us fail to do ourselves justice.  I am a presentation coach and spend a lot of time watching people let themselves down by being lazy; by spending too little time preparing; by failing to edit; by doing the equivalent of failing to comb their hair (only Boris can do that and even with him I’m not sure.)

Jeremy Corbyn belongs to this tribe of sloppy presenters doing so under the bogus umbrella of authenticity. Until Liverpool. In the General Election, whenever it comes, remember my words “Until Liverpool.”  Jeremy has been coached. It shows. He was concise, audience responsive and impressive. He looked up for a much bigger job. I should hate to be Teresa May at the best of times but, for her these are definitely not the best of times. She has a lot to live up to.  In Brighton Liberal leader Vince Cable ‘s speech was good in content but apologetically delivered and lacklustre. You have got to be slim, fit and sleek if you’re on stage. Ken Clarke would have been Prime Minister and probably a good one if he’d bothered to look better. A pity.

I have seen so many presentations where the content was great and the delivery deadpan dreadful. The ones where the content was mediocre but the delivery energetic were a bit better, not great just better at the time rather than in retrospect.

Maya Angelou said: “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

How you look and talk are the magic ingredients in making people feel great about you. People will never forget Steve’s presentation.