Monday, 28 June 2021

REGAINING OUR SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE

One consequence of this extended lockdown is to make us lose our perspective. We’re like someone in the Truman Show (the 1998 film about a TV reality show) or, worse, we’re in Ambridge and part of the Archers – “an everyday story of country folk” as it was cosily described.

Being stuck in the same place with nothing to disrupt one’s sense of time, space or thought makes us very short-sighted. Giles Coren, restaurant critic and columnist, for once got it right when he described his strange feeling of being out-of-sorts with a return to freedom. 

We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, undergoing Stockholm Syndrome – becoming  enamoured of our captors and place of captivity. Hence the high percentage of voters who want the lockdown to continue and why Frau Obergruppenf├╝hrer Sturgeon has her subdued subjects daily enthralled in Scotland.

Our world has shrunk. Shrunk through Brexit. Shrunk through a lack of travel, of novelty and through the media we consume. The lack of perspective extends to a tendency to embrace conspiracy theories.

A friend told me, Britain was becoming like the Third Reich in 1933 -progressively eliminating all opposition and creating nationalist symbols – like a new Royal Yacht and a new school song. 

(By the way here are the lyrics of that song:

“We are Britain and we have one dream.
To unite all people in one great team.
Strong Britain. Great Nation. Strong Britain. Great Nation.” 

Dear heavens. This must be a joke foisted on us by the Daily Express.)


But the biggest joke happened on Friday with that picture of the Handcock snog in the Sun. How did the Sun get the picture, how much money changed hands and what sort of security exists in government following the Cummings exposures and now this? Do I care about the intemperate, hypocritical Matt’s behaviour? Since he broke his own rules on social distancing, yes. Henry Kissinger said “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac” Hancock proves that point I guess.  He’s in company with Lloyd George, John Profumo, John Major, David Mellor, John Prescott and many others. Resign? Yes, he should have resigned immediately instead of prevaricating. He was a distraction. But is no more. Let’s move on and regain a sense of perspective.

I read this misquote from Mark Twain in Patrick Kidd’s piece in the Times (most of Mark Twain’s sayings are made up apparently) that politicians were like nappies. They should be changed frequently and for the same reason.

Our perspective on one big issue has been changed by Covid. Many people have got closer to nature, to birdsong and to the green of our country. The climate change agenda has moved on hugely over the past year or so.

But the big issues we now face are what our strategy should be post-Brexit. Surely not to act as playground bully or try to be master of the universe – because we’re not. We’re moderately important economically but it’s time we became the voice of reason and perspective not playing gunboat diplomacy in the Black Sea.

Restoring proper conversation, listening and thinking and being considered and courteous sits more happily than sabre rattling. Good relations with China, especially China and the EU, America and Russia are what we should be concentrating on. 

I’ve heard lots of nonsense over the past weeks from politicians who should know better. We have a bigger role to play than the Sun, Express or social media – what a pernicious force for mischief that is. Let’s be civilised, sensible, kind and try to gain a real sense of perspective.



Monday, 21 June 2021

GOAL!!!

I feel out of touch. We’re in the middle of the Euros and I don’t feel engaged. Worse…whenever I hear the word I think of “Uros” or Urology, the branch of medicine that focuses on surgical and medical diseases of the male and female urinary-tract.

What’s wrong with me? What’s not to like about this tribal, passionate game that evokes such spirit, creativity and wealth with 50 world players estimated to be worth more than £50 million? Why don’t I warm to their chants:

Two of these to the tune of “Lord of the Dance” 

“Park , Park wherever you may be, you eat dogs in your home country. It could be worse, you could be scouse and eat rats in your council house”

(About Ji-Sung Park, the Korean player at Manchester United)

The fans followed this up with 

“He shoots, he scores, he’ll eat all your Labradors”

The second, some time ago, was Chelsea fans singing about John Terry after his affair with his fellow player Wayne Bridges’ girlfriend:

“Chelsea, wherever you may be, keep your wife from John Terry”

And because I live in Brighton – whose team (my team, I suppose) managed to remain in the Premier League this year:

“You’re practically French, You’re practically French, you’re so far southern you’re practically French” (Hull fans at Brighton)

And from Arsenal fans trading on the reputation Brighton has for having a large proportion of gays in its city: 

“We can see you, we can see you, we can see you holding hands”.

But there’s one I like. It’s been sung by various teams when they’re being trounced (like when Tottenham were 4-0 down to Liverpool)

“Let’s pretend. Let’s pretend. Let’s pretend we scored a goal” 

This is followed by rapturous applause. I like this because these fans appreciate the irony of their devastating defeat and are saying self-deprecatingly “it doesn’t matter….it’s only a game.”

The biggest news for me about the Euros/Uros (whatever) is the stand-off between the government and some 2,500 UEFA officials who are coming to the Semi-Finals and Finals at Wembley, who unless the latter are given a quarantine waiver are threatening to move these games to Hungary.

We’re not very popular anywhere right now are we? 

The USA gave us a detention (a seldom given “demarch├ę") before the G7 – it’s a formal bollocking in diplomatic circles indicating displeasure about our behaviour – namely our failure to sort out the Irish protocol.

The French hate us, our sausages, our fishermen and just about everything else about us. 

The Germans don’t trust Boris. So what? Who does?

Even those nice people in Chesham and Amersham don’t like our government, booting out a prospective Tory MP in a by-election who was nearly 10 feet tall and installing a Liberal instead in this rock-hard-safe Tory seat.

We have in footballing terms become the Millwall of politics:

“Nobody likes us we don’t care”

Actually I do care. I care about our values and how others see us. I feel patriotic but most of all that we need to be seen by all our colleagues across the world as reliable, trustworthy and civilised.

Politics and diplomacy are not like football not yet even after Donald Trump who set a certain adversarial tone that jarred. But we’ve acquired a “Chopper Harris” attitude to life - Ron Harris played for Chelsea and had what was euphemistically described as “a tough approach to tackling”

We need to get smarter not tougher but I can’t see that happening soon. And as far as the Euros go, frankly my dears I don’t give a damn.

Monday, 14 June 2021

A BLACK AND WHITE WORLD? NO THANKS

When 10 year old tweets by debutant English cricketer Ollie Robinson were revealed it was disappointing. But when Tom Harrison head of the ECB said “it had zero tolerance of racism and sexism” it was awkward. Zero tolerance like the frequently used “I agree with that 100%” boxes the speaker into a corner of intolerance and certainty. 

A young man, through retweeting feeble jokes about sex and Muslims when he was 18, may become history. But pity poor Tom Harrison who’s left himself open to criticism for being intemperate. In disregarding the mental health of poor Ollie (mental health of young cricketers is, after all, top of the list of concerns by the establishment).

Avoid that word “zero.” 

Are we aiming for a kind of unrealistic Utopia with “net zero carbon emissions” by 2030? Anyone who isn’t strongly aware of the perils of global warming is deluded but a quick reduction to net zero is probably unachievable and may have unexpected consequences.

And have you noticed medical attitudes and views on drinking alcohol. 

What was once a “use your common sense” view by doctors became a not-to-be-exceeded figure of 28 units per week apparently plucked from the air. More recently this has dropped to 14 units per week with the caveat that zero units per week is the real safe limit. 

Ironically researchers from University College London (UCL) and Birkbeck, University of London, found that over one in four doctors binge-drink and 5% meet the criteria for alcohol dependence. 

So with zero and 100% representing the poles of much thinking it’s unsurprising we have so much rancour and extremism in today’s world. When someone said to me recently “all Tories are the same – on the take and mendacious” I mildly reeled off a list of Tories who were not like that whilst conceding others were culpable. What happened then was we gradually agreed there were some terrible people in all the parties but that many occupied the middle ground of selflessly trying to do their best for society. Yes, we agreed about 50% with each other. 

We are apparently about to be subject to a trade war with the EU. Megaphone diplomacy at work. In the past such nonsense would have been dealt with quietly behind the scenes. Whilst the results, looking at history, were often disappointing, now negotiations are conducted through the media in public gaze. 

Boris karate chops Macron at the G7 conference
Boris karate chops Macron

One of the most popular views amongst many is that we should have complete transparency in politics and at work. Isn’t this rather like preaching the benefits of complete nudity? Both can be rather embarrassing.  Seeking transparency is like insisting on seeing work in progress. Any artist will say this is not the way they work because too much transparency inhibits creativity.

We all have too much information to process, too many views and probably far too many blogs. What we need to become are better listeners and more considered thinkers. Before we act we should think and avoid making silly boxing-ourself-in-a-corner comments. 

At University we learnt to balance arguments and take an-on-the-one -hand and on-the-other-hand approach. For instance, before dismissing Donald Trump as an obnoxious buffoon we’d benefit by considering how it is and why it is that nearly 50% of Americans think he’s wonderful.

The lateral thinker Edward de Bono died recently. He above all thought the world was neither black nor white but a pleasant kind of pastel yellow – the colour of opportunities.

He also satirised certainty in his book “I Am Right You Are Wrong”.

I agree 100%.



Monday, 7 June 2021

ZIG WHEN THE OTHERS ZAG

Zig when the others zag was an expression often used in advertising by admen trying to persuade clients to separate themselves from squabbling competitors, all with similar products fighting for consumers’ attention.

As we edge out of lockdown and think about marketing again this approach seems relevant especially for banks.

Banks deservedly get a bad press. They mostly seem to dislike their customers and would much prefer to operate in the headier space of investment banking and stuff like collateral instruments and derivatives. To be fair NatWest, with whom I bank, seem to have their telephone banking act much more together now, maybe because their staff are working at home and not in call centres.

As others close their branches why not open a bunch of micro banks in those high street sites emptied by the impact of Covid? Become the friendly face of banking providing financial advice to the elderly, less well off and to the mystified young. Work with government in helping them talk to those difficult to reach with helpful advice. Be great at customer service. You’d be alone whilst others chase the big-dollar business. 

Not everything inevitably goes in one direction as Justin King, one time CEO of Sainsbury’s discovered when he said in 2012: "the high street is dead, out of town hypermarkets will take over". Think again about those soulless warehouses, Justin.  

The High Street is in a parlous state now for obvious reasons but in a world where we’re trying to reduce the use of the car and where local councils need the income from high street shopping to increase isn’t it time to be more creative? I’m irritated by the view that market forces matter most and by people saying “let the market decide.” The reality is the market (aka consumers/the general public) have little voice before landlords offload prime sites to betting shops, discounters and charity shops.

We need more bookshops like Daunts, more small upmarket cinemas like the Electric Cinema in Portobello – clean, with comfy chairs and no fast food and popcorn – I’ll never go to a filthy old Odeon again. 

We need more exciting pre-loved clothing outlets done well, more wine bars, more stationers, more examples of retail brilliance like Richer Sounds or delicatessens like relaunched Dean and Deluca and Wholefoods. We need more of those wonderful hardware stores which stock everything and specialist shops that sell board games, hats, gloves, shirts and bagels. We need more colour and fun. 

Which brings me to the king of online. Amazon. They’ve reshaped our expectations for speed which is great but maybe now it’s time to zig again. When you’re as good as they are any blemish shows up. Recently a few errors have happened with us. A food supplement normally available overnight isn’t available for two weeks. (We got next day delivery from another supplier.) Deliveries are occasionally abandoned on the doorstep. Amazon is beginning to smell big and lethargic rather like Woolworth did as it reached the crest of its growth.

A delivery service to match Amazon should be easily arranged on a local basis in places like Brighton, Chester, Tunbridge Wells and Marylebone in London where the spirit of enterprise thrives. But overall  has there ever been a better opportunity for all the high streets to come out of the restrictive lives we’ve led with a blaze of colour, a fanfare of excitement and the ability to display and, also, to deliver to your home?

What we most of all need is pizzazz. In the lockdown so many already have cracked logistics brilliantly.