Monday, 27 April 2020


There aren’t many reasons if you read the Guardian, the paper to read if you want to know what’s wrong with the world and why it’s a disgrace, and in which we read last week that we must steel ourselves against the likelihood that a vaccine will be discovered or the other gloom merchant who suggested this was all a rehearsal for “the big one” as in the Spanish Flu epidemic when the second spike in 1918 was much worse and much more deadly than the first one.

We are all doomed and if we don’t behave as though we are, we should be very ashamed. Pubs, clubs, churches are all closed and the sound of laughter is quelled. And we say we are following the science – as Matthew Parrish noted putting “the” in front institutionalizes it and gives it a phoney importance. The Law. The Church. The News. “The” makes anything it’s attached to more formidable hence “the wife” is more fearsome than “my wife”. Well the science is very different in three countries all with comparable death rates. In Sweden the science says ‘no lockdown’ and saunters off to the pub for a

In Belgium the science says ‘let’s stop the lockdown very soon’ and gets dressed up for a night out...roll out the barrel. In the UK the Scots and Welsh declare scientific independence because they want to show they can (their science) and England says the science says stay put and no giggling or having fun. But why can’t we be cheerful?

We ‘re having a record Spring ... forget Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers’ this is very bliss.

The birdsong is a harmony few of us have listened to before.  Consumption of alcohol has boomed by over 30% and according to the Sunday Times casual sex has peaked and Fifty Shades of Play has become a new norm amongst the young. Working from home has many unthought of benefits “Sorry Tom I’ll have to call you back I’m a bit tied up at the moment”.

Food is high on our agendas helped by the enterprising Mr Oliver, “rip it up, bung it in use a carrot or a tomato just use what you’ve got in the Fridge”. Just try his sausage, apple, onion and shaved parsnip melange – it’s scrumptious. Jamie makes the word caramelized sound so erotic.

As regards work I cannot believe command-and-control organisations with huge open-plan offices can survive.

Perhaps the most cheering thing has been to hear the O2 has been taken over and dressed up as a hospital in which 1800 people are being trained to be ready for work in the new Nightingale Hospital.

Inspiring I’m told.

Perhaps we truly are reaching towards a better world, one less travelled in which people are more respected. And of course if you’ve just lost someone or something dear to you I’m deeply sorry.
One thing’s for sure. Time doesn’t travel backwards so we cannot go back. Just forwards – positively.

Monday, 20 April 2020


I noticed something about four weeks ago. People whom I met would stop 10 feet away cock their head on one side and murmur “how are you dear?” And as I bellowed that I was tremendously well they’d shake their head pityingly and walk away saying “do take care”.

If you are over 70, you’re  going to die and probably quite soon. Grey hair is a giveaway like a facial rash of livid red spots once was. That’s why I’m thinking about buying a Harley Davidson. To make a point.

This iconic and successful brand in the early days thought its sales success was owing to hairy biker and ravers like Pete Townshend (the Who – now 74). But research showed the most important purchasers were middle-aged accountants who wanted to drive noisily through towns, crouched over the handlebars, frightening people.

The Government is thinking of easing the lockdown in cohorts ending with the 70+ and those who are very vulnerable until well, possibly Autumn 2021, when a vaccine may be available.
I’ve always deplored antisemitism (or racism of any kind). But I’m now a victim of ageism and I don’t like it. (“Don’t you dear? Sit down – you’ll feel better.”)

I particularly deplored an article by Philip Collins in the Times who advanced the argument roughly thus: we boomers had, through house price-inflation achieved extreme wealth  through doing nothing and should jolly well move out, give back the money and go into a care home.

Sorry Philip …I struggle for the right word . Not sure but I think it’s bollocks.

We are the same age as the US President, his likely opponent in the forthcoming Presidential election and the Pope. Warren Buffett for goodness sake  is 89 and he’s not exactly a slouch.

We must look at history to see what our lazy generation achieved.  In 1959 our Prime minister Harold MacMillan said “you’ve never had it so good”. But let’s face it the bar was very low.

We were pretty well bankrupt.
Top of the Hit Parade was a piano piece by Russ Conway called “Side Saddle”.
Our banking sector was fragmented and parochial.
Advertising was controlled by the Americans.
The money spent on house improvement, self-improvement, fashion and fitness was negligible.

But things changed. We spent wealth we earned on improving things. Here’s a glimpse of the growth post 1959 we achieved.

Output adjusted for inflation and measured in 2013 prices

World leaders in advertising,  creative writing, comedy and in  theatre,  (briefly) in fashion, world leaders in grocery retailing, European leaders in banking, global top capital city, top football league our Premier Division, four of the world’s top universities and in civilisation.

Don’t say we were lazy. The last half century has been the sweatiest and most creative in our history.
Today we are back, maybe nearer to 1959 than we’d like to believe. The new generation has to do what we did all over again.

Hopefully with our help - unless we’ve been put in care homes of course.

This could be an adventure. And we know how to do it…..because we’ve done it.

Monday, 13 April 2020


The current lockdown is creating problems. Government, and through them the police, have powers not seen since the Second World War. Sometimes this goes awry as when a police constable, surely not destined for early promotion, was recorded in York rebuking people for sitting in their own front garden and when park benches have been taped up.

My own recent experience in our private, communal garden has thrown up two, differing views. Most stridently, the need to rigorously enforce government guidance, limit the time people can spend outside and restrict the extent of children playing.

Less stridently but just as insistently the need to apply common sense, respect for one another and to enjoy the weather and the beauty of Spring. Freedom first. Control second.

Everyone I know has applied social distancing, social isolation and caution. What’s impressed me most  is the speed with which a large number of retailers have adapted their businesses to home delivery services.
Points of view from Mark Ritson, a former professor of marketing and a writer for Marketing  Week, are usually insightful and useful. He consistently and punishingly puts social media in its place. He praises well-thought-through brand strategy. His weakness is he swears so much. Saying fuck a lot isn’t very professorial.

He’s written recently to say nothing will f**** ** change after coronavirus ends. We shall revert  – as ever –  “back to normal.” This is not an academic reflection it’s a self- opinionated thinker swotting a fly. Mark is the Nigel Farage of business thinking. Sometimes right, often wrong, always abrasive. But things will change – not for everyone, obviously -  but enough to create a seismic trend to society. Here are a few possibilities:
- The economy – the worst recession since 1930. Some say a “scale disaster.”
- Our attitude to the environment. A big bonus.
- Our shopping habits.
- Commuting behaviour and attitudes to working from home.

- A boom in start-up businesses (partly because of unemployment increases.)
- More businesses thinking the unthinkable and pivoting.
- Less marketing or as it’s now described “colouring in” (sorry again Mark).

I was recently asked if I thought the surprising surge in the FTSE might be caused by markets anticipating a postponement or cancellation of Brexit.

I said that I thought Brexit was irrelevant but, more importantly, so increasingly  was the EU. Rich and relatively Covid-free Germany is proving intransigent to the pleas from Italy, Spain and – increasingly – France to help their neighbours. As a one-time ‘remainer’ and Europhile I’m sad to see this. Unless the rich can help their struggling partners and act like part of  a  ‘Union’ the EU seems rather pointless.

Do I sound grumpy?

Tom Stoppard noted that social distancing legitimised the way he always wanted to live. Part of me agrees with that. But it’s been such a gorgeous Spring I’ve forgotten how awful it must be living in a city.

And isn’t Spring amazing?

It’s dem birdies.

Monday, 6 April 2020


Have you noticed how the words “not essential” have become popular with the police? The days of the Lord Chamberlain have crept back insidiously. Our lives are being censored by the boys in blue suggesting Easter eggs, your poor old mum and going for a long walk somewhere scenic are all inessential and self-indulgent.

Do you remember when East Germany was in its pomp and Erich Honeker its leader? The Stasi were its secret police. They kept files on about 5 ½ million people and had 90,000 full-time employees. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall these employees had to find work. Many became taxi drivers.

There was a joke that went as follows:
To a  Taxi Driver: “Can you take me to…?
Taxi Driver says “That’s OK Mr Hall I know exactly where you live.

A Police State is fabulous if you’re a policeman but for most of us it’s an anathema. Lord Jonathan Sumption, the former Supreme Court Justice described the Derbyshire police behaviour – using drones to identify and warn off walkers in the Peak District and staining a lake black to deter people – as “disgraceful.” He noted that public demands that “something must done” often leads to nonsense like this.

The language being used with relish by journalists and politicians – ‘serious, life-threatening, devastating, strict observance’ and so on have led to a frenzy of warnings and threats of banging up people.

So let’s talk (more positively) about what’s “essential” in life:

For me:
Hugs. Social distancing is like prohibition for me. (But I’m not going to hug – don’t worry.)

Family. My love for family always grows when it’s tough. I’m lucky to be surrounded at a distance by such lovely, smart people.

Wine. Yes! Have I got enough? Hmm

Community. Spend more time thinking ‘we’ not ’I’. And saying “hallo” and “how can I help you?” in other words “Love thy neighbour”.

Beautiful writing. It inspires, illuminates, simplifies.

Choral music. Holst Singers, the Cardinall’s Musick. Thomas Tallis makes anyone feel great. Precise. Uplifting. Clever.

Proper food. No modern sharing plates. Homemade soups. Cauliflower Cheese. Pie. Stews. Roasts and lots of fresh vegetables. Like Mum cooked. Like my wife cooks. Incomparable. Real food. Love food.

A garden. Spring flowers, neat beds, order and a constant  battleground with cats and slugs. All life and beauty is here.

Take any of those away from me and I’m as like as not going to grow a moustache, put on my Che Guevara outfit and start being very stroppy.

As regards work (remember that?) the list is shorter but essential:

Your people. Inspire them, look after them, treat them like your family. At times of stress be kind to them. Keep them on side.

Doubters.  People who are all doom and gloom. I can’t stand them. I suggest you shoot them. They spread the poison of timorousness and destroy self-belief.

No (that’s a bad word). No more ‘can’t’ or ‘don’t’. A lot more ‘please’, ‘well done’ and ‘thank you’.

Customers. Love them. They are hurting too so help them. Become customer therapists. Like elephants they’ll never forget being loved by you.

Pivot. Work out how to pivot and win. You may have to start a new business, break up your organisation into smaller units, merge with someone or discover the one thing you are uniquely qualified to do. Be creative and, by the way, creative is fun.

Targets don’t matter. The desire to win and the feeling of being in a winning team is all that matters. Targets are for bean counters. Winning is a buzz. And targets follow.

And essentially that’s what’s essential as I see it. Keep safe but keep sane too.