Monday, 26 July 2021


Let me take you back in time. It’s 1979. The Walkman was the hot, new product. Apple launched their first personal computer: it was agreed it would never catch on. Radio-Control toys were all the rage and there was a large, ghastly rubberised spider which lurched towards you and could only be stopped by shooting it between the eyes which caused it to shriek, flash red eyes and retreat.

The name of this unfortunate toy was “Stop Boris!” (I’m afraid I was the author.)

In a week of Cummings and the more balanced and lethal critique from Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Welcome Trust I wondered whether that “Stop-Boris” time was near. Yet in the polls last week the Tory lead over Labour has slightly increased since the 2019 election. Boris is an electoral magician, totally Marmite, loved and loathed but 10% points more lovers than loathers.

And yet. And yet.

As time passes a few realities are setting in. We can’t carry on believing this is a war that we can win. We can’t just send the virus packing. There are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet. We have a long way to go to omega before we run out of new mutants. Just suppose that this process of mutation carries on; just suppose that vaccines have to be developed and redeveloped; just suppose we are in this for say five more years or, worse, forever. Rhetoric won’t win and won’t help. Nor do those words “freedom” or “back to normal” make any sense.

We need to manage our lives, assess and take risks not avoid them. We need to live with viruses and work around them. At the moment we seem to think vaccination is king yet Britain the king of the vaccinations is still top of the infection league. We are Covid Island.

So what we know is that we know nothing. The data is contradictory, the models are fragile, the government uneasily veers from hurrah to boo-hoo. The Test and Trace App creating a  ping-demic seems a sledge hammer solution. As one pinged myself I wondered who and where I was at risk (I’d become a hermit – I seldom leave home) but I gather Bluetooth can work through walls so was it someone next door?

 Time to relax. Time to realise we can cope with disease, but it takes time and practical precautions.

What seems clear is we can’t blunder on ignoring the consequences of any of our behaviours. Climate change. Trolling on social media. Computer hacking. New viruses. A lot of tricky issues. If this pandemic does nothing else it’s forcing us to rethink everything.

The Future Laboratory have produced a paper called “Inter Covid Road Map” which considers this. I love their expression about the need for “retailainment” – retail theatre - and the need for brands to focus on sustainability and provenance. Technological developments of online meetings will soon make Zoom look like video in a world of streaming. A new concept, “neighbourhood nomads”, namely becoming real experts in your own locale will emerge.

McKinsey reckon we saw 5 years of digital development in the first 8 months of the pandemic – much more to come. Country is more exciting than cities (not sure about that). We are entering a post-growth era. Chaos in our new norm.

Back to Boris. He loves chaos and is self-confessedly chaotic. But is he right for now and next? I wonder if we shouldn’t be thinking about a National Government. 2021 -24 feels too important and tricky for one party and one maverick to cope with. 

Monday, 12 July 2021


We are about to take a break. It’s not a full-blown, duty free, “do I have enough books and suntan lotion?” holiday. But I still have that new-chapter-in-my-life feeling.

My stark realisation is the past months have disappeared in a mess of self-absorption. Nothing remarkable achieved, failed or celebrated. So the effect of a new place and a new challenge is refreshing and will make me take stock again.

I was talking to a friend who has been working at home, 15 hour days, since the first lockdown (“at least I see more of my wife”). His review of his team seen through the prism of Zoom, WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams is there are two sorts of people. Those who thrive in a world of change and those who wither. Those who are constantly “reaching out” and those who retreat in silence. By the way I normally hate that Americanism - “reaching out” – but it occurs to me the victim in Stevie Smith’s poem should have been reaching out. Those who don’t will drown in depression.

“I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.” 

So lesson one – keep in touch, talk and listen. You don’t need to be face-to-face. You do need to be mind-to-mind. 

Next make the most of what you have. Being in isolation didn’t stop you reading unread books, drinking better wine, cooking a new dish. In the past year a depressingly large number of my friends have died. I wish I’d reached out to them more. I have spent too long in the presence of death to slither into a puddle of woe. 

Lesson two – seize the joys of life. Love it. It could be you next.

Celebrate the good things. It’s too easy to get depressed. I was taken out by good friends to celebrate a birthday last week. I was taken to the Hélène Darroze restaurant in London. She’s got three restaurants, London, Paris and Moscow; she’s also got three Michelin Stars. One is unlikely to forget the event. No, not the food which was very nice but a bit fussy but the people, their bonhomie, generosity of spirit and energy. That’s what sticks in the memory like a flashing light.

Lesson three – celebrate with a big spirit (no, fool, not an Armagnac).

Your life is a script which you can edit as you reflect any which way you like. My 98 year old mother in law reminisces in a brilliantly optimistic way. Her life is essentially “98 Years of Joy and Success”. Bad memories fall on her cutting room floor. Recently I had a spell of insomnia and a film of my life flashed before me (in black and white - what else?) The film might have been called “Cock-Ups, Blunders and Regrets”.  I’ve burned it. There are too many good things and fantastic people in my life to think about missed goals.

Here’s what, according to writer Tom McTague, Boris Johnson once said:

“All romantics need the mortar of cynicism to hold themselves up.”

“Cheerful scepticism” would be a better phrase because just being an optimist is irritatingly mindless and a bit blundering . We must just never stop asking questions.

Lesson four – Never stop thinking and questioning. 

And never forget to refresh yourself. You are not a machine. 

I’ve recently been feeling weary, stale and unprofitable (thanks Shakespeare). A break, a period of relaxation and eating out is what I need.

Lesson Five - Be kind to yourself. Take your body and mind away on holiday more often.

Monday, 5 July 2021


“So this is Summer
And what have you done
Another year of Covid
And a new one just begun” …

My apologies to the late John Lennon and Yoko Ono for bowdlerising their Christmas song protesting against the Vietnam war; yet another story of governments getting it wrong and where heavy handed might was neither right nor successful.

This coronavirus is nothing like the horrors of carpet bombing and the lunacy of war. We just need to adapt and get used to a new infected world. This pandemic in various forms will be with us forever. Napalm is not the answer. We are prone to get ill occasionally from flu, colds and much more serious ailments like pneumonia, malaria and norovirus. The more we get out and about the better the immunity we’ll build.

Staying at home isn’t the best prescription. 

For a few more weeks we‘ll still have limited restrictions. Get out (masked), lunch (distanced), travel (only if necessary), shop (are you sure?). Anyway shopping now looks like an increasingly rather muted affair. No Debenhams, Top Shop, Miss Selfridge and so on.  A blighted high street. 

Another high street gap appears as Gap are going exclusively online, John Lewis and M&S are closing many high street outlets. Online is king for these big retailers. 

But, wait a minute; not just the big ones. The corner shop has suddenly been reborn as a series of local delivery operators are being created. These deliver in minutes. And they’re  full time legitimate employees (none of your Deliveroo gig economy). In Brighton ‘Beeliver’ has started – wine, cigarettes, last minute grocery necessities or supper party ingredients – all delivered within the hour.

 A brand called Dija (Dija Vu?) is being heavily backed by investors to be a ‘unicorn’ billion-pound brand. The Guardian, as so often and rather ironically a trailblazer in detecting capitalist trends, recently wrote an article describing this as “democratising the right to laziness.” But it might be better seen as “revolutionising convenience”.  Tesco Express and Sainsbury Local are likely to be the biggest losers. Too slow. Too inconvenient. These new, disruptive convenience-delivery operators also make working from home even easier.

This is yet another example of enterprise unleashed by disaster. Covid has as many winners as losers. And those losers are often architects of their own demise losing their way in terms of stock, style, pricing, customer service. Their failure has been accelerated not created by Covid. 

Despite the dreary weather during June the football has cheered some as has Wimbledon. Yet as we watch a half-full Wembley – it looked pretty packed to me – perhaps the spectators were just fatter – I wonder how this reconciles with government guidelines. I think government wonders too. Still, come what may, with gritted teeth and with fingers crossed the shackles are being removed in a fortnight and then we’ll mix, mingle and have fun again. The government seems finally to have realised lockdowns don’t work – look at Scotland.

Chances are some will party to stay up with the others but many will find their instincts are to stay at home and watch Netflix. Meanwhile BBC and ITV are looking like the Woolworths of broadcasting whilst the streaming services dazzle and shine.

One thing we’re learning is that if you aren’t good enough you are going to struggle to survive in this new cruel world.

Talking of ‘cruel worlds’, watch “Princess Weiyoung” on Netflix and you’ll agree Eastenders and the rest are lost causes. 

Chinese TV like Chinese food is delicious. As soon as you’ve finished watching one series you’ll want another.