Monday, 4 July 2022

LET'S STICK TO BASICS

 Let’s stick to basics

After endlessly talking about geopolitics with stand-offs between soft liberals and the extreme right, I’ve concluded we need to focus on what we know most about, calmly and thoughtfully. For me, this is mainly advertising, marketing and fmcg (fast-moving-consumer-goods).

Let’s ignore the increasing trend towards marches and protests so often bad tempered although a Gay Pride march down Oxford Street last week was cheerful with a diverse bunch representing various facets of sexuality having a good time.

Gay Pride NYC 2022: Events, Parades and Dates to Celebrate

It made a change because cheerful is not how the media is describing our economy . We are going to be very cold, very hungry and very depressed this winter they predict. 

We’re regularly told by pollsters that the ‘cost of living crisis’ is the most important issue on people’s minds, ahead of Party-gate, Ukraine, Climate Change and corrupt, drunk or libidinous  politicians. Of course it is. Did you need to go to University to acquire the mental equipment to discover that? 

Fact: issues really close to home are the ones that always matter most to people. The amount of money they have and what they can buy with it.

The UK's cost of living crisis is about to get a whole lot worse - Bywire  Blockchain News - The home of independent & alternative news

 

Government is panicking  as they often do. There’s talk of  an upcoming campaign calling on businesses to divert marketing spend into cutting prices.  Silly story. Daft idea. And one which shows how little this government understands marketing or people.

Here’s a real marketing story. There’s a battle currently between Tesco and Heinz. It’s being staged as a classic Mohammad Ali v George Foreman, “rumble in the jungle”, or, in this case “knock-out at the check-out.” Two giants. One supporting the poor people, the other the poor food industry. How many customers will Tesco lose if they don’t stock Heinz Baked Beans and Heinz Tomato Ketchup? How many cases of the above will Heinz lose in sales by being destocked by their biggest UK customer? This is high drama and a great story.  And I bet sales go up for both of them.

Popular Heinz products from Baked Beans to Ketchup missing from Tesco  shelves | Irvine Times

The price increase of food in the UK since January has gone up 11% (source: IGD) and Reuters are predicting 15% increase running into 2023. Apparently the average household spend on food including take-homes and restaurants is around £4,000 – around 20% of total spend.  

McGuigan Black Label Red 2020

I can empathise. I too was once in that hand-to-mouth, month-on-month world of balancing nice-to-have versus necessity. 

In that battle healthy eating was beaten by a full tummy. Chicken nuggets became luxury food and McGuigan tasted like Lafite (almost). What was different back then was the world was less intense in terms of competition, in terms of marketers pushing prices back down or finding clever alternatives. 

We now have Aldi and Lidl highly competitive and growing rapidly, taking £1 in every £6 grocery pounds spent, and about to take more. They’re no longer the mere “German discounters” as Tesco once disparagingly described them. Go there and be impressed by price and quality.

Aldi and Lidl step up battle with US grocers | Financial Times

Since one of the biggest issues right now is food  and our alleged inability to recruit able pickers. This smells of a PR campaign. There are plenty of people who’d be happy to work outside in our glorious weather if only we pay them enough.

We used to be creative. Let’s get creative about issues like this. Let’s find new sources of “pickers”, let’s create more delicious low-cost recipes and let’s stop getting depressed because we can’t always afford to buy what we don’t really like, want or even need.

Let’s go shopping again, being choosy as opposed to just buying and hurrying on. Let’s, in short, get back to basics.


Monday, 27 June 2022

WE CAN'T BLAME THE TORIES FOR EVERYTHING

I’ve been having terrible, unsettling dreams. One was about some clients in Scotland not paying their bill so I’m on my way up there to kill them, another was about beating down a warehouse door to recover goods of mine being held by a company in administration and saying “it’s just an abrupt form of retention of title.” That sounds extreme but extreme describes the world in which we live. It also sounds old fashioned. It’s time we got a new scriptwriter.

Troubled Macron / Sad Macron | Know Your Meme

So, France is technically “ungouvernable” with Macron left straddled between the Far Right and the Far Left. Will he be able to achieve coalitions with Le Pen or Melenchon? I don’t think so. Like Johnson Macron seems bewilderingly to have lost his grip. But the difference is no one is calling Macron a “liar” merely “arrogant.” Still it’s an extreme crisis and a reminder of France in the 1970s.

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The storm in America is over the reversal of the Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973 by the US Supreme Court that protected a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. The Republican v. Democrat antagonism grows more extreme by the day as is their dispute over gun laws yet I’m told that gun violence has killed at least 18,823 people in the US this year so far. 

Even in Norway (the 2nd happiest country in the world, for heaven’s sake) two were left dead and 14 were wounded in a gay nightclub shooting on Friday. 

Intriguingly in Colombia Gustavo Petro is the first left wing President to be elected there. More interestingly in his youth he was a member of the guerrilla group the 19th of April Movement.  And to add to the extreme excitement Francia Márquez is Colombia’s first black Vice President.

Colombia candidate Petro says 'human' campaign will carry him to victory |  Reuters

And I’m not even going to  talk about Putin, Ukraine and the global economic crisis. So, instead, let me talk about “Happiness.” Every year a Happiness Index is produced. It’s compiled by an Independent Organisation applying a long questionnaire which all the countries complete.

In the 2021 survey the top ten are:

1. Finland
2. Denmark
3. Norway
4. Iceland
5. Netherlands
6. Switzerland
7. Sweden
8. New Zealand
9. Canada
10. Australia  

What’s remarkable is the high ranking, in this and every year, of the four Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands.

Also remarkable is that 50% of the Prime Ministers of these “happy” countries are women.

Sanna Marin | Biography & Facts | Britannica

Finnish Prime Minister -Sanna Marin

Looking at them they have some remarkable economic success stories: Lego, Ikea, Nokia, Heineken, Lorna Jane, the All Blacks, Maluka Honey, Godiva, Lululemon Athletica, Rolex, 66 Degrees North.

Add these countries together and they’re sensible, hardworking, look after their poor, are peaceful, unobtrusive yet all of them punch above their weight. Most of their people speak accent-free perfect English. What an alliance the Northern Europeans would make and would have made if the Vikings rather than William of Normandy had conquered England in the 11th century. Another story, another time…..

Britain came 16th in the Happiness Index , by the way, ahead of France, Italy , Spain and the USA and with Rwanda third from bottom.

The impact of all this feel-good information makes me wonder why it is we, and so many countries like us, have such a wretched track record. No, we can’t blame the Tories for everything. But we can lament their woeful  performance.

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As Lord Chris Patten ex Conservative Party Chairman said:

“ They must lose the next election for their own good. This isn’t the Conservative Party it’s the English National Party.”

Unhappily he’s right.


Monday, 20 June 2022

FIGHTING THE FITNESS URGE

I’ve spent most of my life convinced that my lifestyle meant I was doomed and destined for a premature handing in of my dinner pail. In 2018 a study determined that any alcoholic drink at all was very, very bad for you. Occasionally, so convinced was I of this, I had a “dry” month and felt exceedingly virtuous but was very grumpy  and restless.

Drunk and Disorderly (Short 2015) - IMDb

Doctors seemed united and thin lipped about this. These cheerless cynics bleakly asserted that when it came to alcohol nil by mouth was what we should aspire to.  Yet if we really had to drink then 14 units a week (disapproving sniff) was the absolute limit; exceeding this would be akin to committing suicide. Despite this a 2019 BMJ Open study of 417 NHS doctors found that 44% of them resorted to binge drinking themselves.

So what the hell was going on? 

Earlier this month a new study came up with a differing account. Here’s the story:

“The European Society of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care will be presented with this study from the University Hospital Bonn in Germany.

628 adults took part with an average age of 72 who were undergoing elective surgery.

The 186 adults in the "medium to hazardous alcohol consumption group" were significantly less likely to be obese or overweight than those who did not drink or drank only occasionally.

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The high-drinking group also reported better overall health, less pain and found it easier to perform activities such as getting dressed and seeing family.

Vera Guttenthaler, the study's author, said: "One explanation may be that higher alcohol consumption may lead to elevated mood, enhanced sociability and reduced stress.

"The results may lead to the conclusion that alcohol consumption ... might support older patients to experience a better quality of life before and after elective surgery."

Vera Guttenthaler’s conclusion that alcohol might give you a better quality of life was encouraging to those of us who enjoy drinking. Cheers Vera.

How to Toast in 11 Countries Across the Globe | Going Places

But having established  drinking may, after all, be quite good for you what other lifestyle issues need to be re-examined. Let’s start with exercise. I’m afraid I belong to the Billy Butlin view:

“Whenever I feel the urge to take exercise I sit down until it passes away”. 

But seeing all the rest of my family power-walking, jogging, doing Pilates and generally turning their bodies into objects of well-muscled tautness prompted me to start the restorative process.

I bought a pedometer and now  unless I get in my 10,000 steps a day I feel very uneasy. My wife has watched in alarm as I rush up and down the stairs – 59 of them from top to bottom of the house - or walk round and round the sitting room. I ache all over . But soon I’ll resemble Joe Wicks rather than Mr Blobby.

Say hello to a real game changer / The Body Coach

Next it’s brain exercises. The daily Wordle which I do with my wife honing a series of strategies which have produced a “streak” (that’s a winning run) of over a hundred. 

I might learn a foreign language although that sounds like an  awesome task or write that book I’ve been talking about for ages. Meanwhile I’m trying to fathom the strategy underlying our government’s chaotic activities. Now that’s real brain exercise.

Finally food. My body is a temple – it must be appropriately worshipped. No more pies, no meat, no dairy, nothing that tastes nice. Yeah, well, I’ve tried this before and I doesn’t work. Vegan food just makes me flatulent.

It’s very simple. Let’s listen to Epicurus:- 

“Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”

Epicurus - The School Of Life

 


Monday, 13 June 2022

HOW DO I HATE THEE? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS

This is a misquotation of one of the greatest love poems ever by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:-

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

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I’ve used it because the level of hatred that’s invaded our lives is peculiarly visceral not just here but in America too. There seems no middle position to be taken between Trump and Biden or Johnson and almost anyone. But where did well-mannered debate go? Down the plughole, I guess, with De Bono and his book “I am Right and You are Wrong,” which in the current climate should be retitled: “I am totally right and you are an utter scumbag.”

5 Science-Based Ways to Break the Cycle of Rage Attacks | Psychology Today  United Kingdom

I had some hope restored to me when I saw that Save the Children had conducted a decent sized survey (with some 5,000 8-14 year old children) and that 78% had declared a desire to help the disadvantaged and do good. (Well of course they did.) The Junior Week Magazine turned this into a crusading slogan “It’s Cool to be Kind.”

Why can’t we think about and listen to what others say? Why can’t we be kind? Because, here’s rage: “there’s no point in listening; I know what you’re going to say and it’s garbage.” I once said that to an utter scumbag (sorry, to someone with whom I had a slight difference of opinion) but I’ve matured since then. I even listened carefully to Piers Morgan’s interview with Donald Trump on the recently launched Talk TV. Trump was not unimpressive but there was something missing. No empathy; to him no-one else matters; he knew he was right and anyone who disagreed with him was stupid. He was a grumpy know-all yet still  admired by a lot of Americans. 

Watch: Did Donald Trump really walk out of explosive interview with Piers  Morgan? Here's the truth - World News

He described saying to Putin that if Vladimir put a foot wrong he, Trump, had a very big button which he wouldn’t think twice about pressing . Allegedly Putin said “really?” and Trump said “Yes. Really”. It was just a strongman show.

I wanted to pursue briefly this strange world of disillusion, repulsion and hatred and how it influences behaviour. 

Social media has, of course, made it worse. There’s a new vocabulary of hatred spawned from that. We have trolling, ghosting, cancelling, gaslighting and hate-speech. We live in a tumultuous world of hyperbole. Agreement is “Hund p” (or 100%) never any reflective nuance. It’s hate or love. Yes or No. Never a hint of “maybe.”

The Psychology Of Twitter Rage: Why So Much Hate?

This trend grew stronger with cantankerous interviewers on the BBC Today programme. I now listen to Asmir Mir and Stig Abell on Times Radio who are pleasant but somehow still seem to extract the truth. With a smile not a snarl. 

Here’s that Browning poem in full. I hope it proves an antidote to what, chances are, will be another bad-tempered week.

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace

I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death. 


Beautiful Sunset, Painting by Aisha Haider | Artmajeur

 


Monday, 6 June 2022

WHERE ON EARTH ARE WE GOING?

I’m increasingly confused. We’ve a government with a big majority who said Brexit would benefit us. To be fair we expected neither a pandemic or a war in Europe but I’m sitting here today wondering if anyone has (or had) a clue as to how to manage our affairs. I also wonder if they really care. No strategy. No values. Not a clue. And that is the problem with the insularity of Britain right now.

Sirhan Sirhan killing Robert Kennedy was a crime against America


One of the greatest US Presidents might have been Robert Kennedy – he was assassinated in 1968 so we never found out. He said:

“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.”

 

I don’t think  our current Prime Minister capable of such thoughts. 

Carrie Johnson Carries & Other Stories To Trooping The Color Nixolympia News


As I watched the Trooping the Colour spectacle on TV the camera picked out a forlorn couple - Carrie and her husband in the crowd. That was a surprise because the nationalistic oom-pah-pah  - and that sense of “aren’t we in Britain good at this?” should have surely thrilled them. Perhaps they were reflecting that their escapade would soon be over and this soured their day.

 

No one has a clue because there is no plan and never was just a strategy apart from “Get Brexit Done”. I’m beginning to wonder if in the cold light of 2022 the inevitability of this mightn’t be beginning to untangle. In five years’ time the  4 ½ million of 11 – 16 olds will all have the vote added to the 5 ½ million of 17 to 24 year olds and we then have a very different looking electorate. It doesn’t feel like the Conservatives have much chance when that happens.

 

Evidence. In Australia the right wing Liberals have just lost an election turfed out by a coalition of what’s called the Teal vote (“teal” from the colour blueish green – Conservative fiscal policies plus a vigorous green agenda and many of the candidates are women). It’s a new start.

Federal election live blog 2022: Australia to choose between Scott Morrison  or Anthony Albanese in tight poll | Harvey Waroona Reporter


We are in an era of real change – figures like Putin, Trump and Johnson seem weirdly out of step with the new younger voters who are largely liberally minded, cosmopolitan, experimental, friends of change and very opinionated. They feel in the UK, and elsewhere, as remote  from the Brexit campaign and the Jubilee celebrations as anyone could be. 

Robert Kennedy, again, and wasn’t he terrific?

“There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed.

The Go-between By L. P. Hartley


The past is another country as LP Hartley wrote in his novel “The Go-Between”, interesting but not always instructive. The world now is full of people in America, France, Spain, Germany, China, India and Australia with whom I feel I have more in common with than, say, almost anyone in the current cabinet. 

Johnson Cabinet A Who's Who Of Amoral & Incompetent Bastards – Waterford  Whispers News


I like my country – the climate, the architecture, our sense of humour and the food. The food? So much better than it used to be because of much greater foreign influence. 

 

So where are we going? If we follow the instincts of the younger generation I suspect we’ll end up as a better, more civilised, more tolerant place. A country with open borders again. A country that enjoys itself more and stops looking over its shoulder at the threat from foreigners.

 

Back to Kennedy again:

“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.”

 

Yes. I’ll buy that.

Monday, 30 May 2022

HOW MUCH WORSE CAN IT GET?

Relax. This is just the beginning; but it’ll be all right in the end.

“Well, how do you feel? How’s your mental health?”

I worry that by asking that question too often, we can create morbid-introspectives. An easy thing to be, as with Party-gate, Putin-gate, Trump-gate and Recession-gate we’re being bombarded with torrents of ghastly news.

Carelessness and contempt are at the root of every Boris Johnson crisis |  Financial Times

But it’s been like this before. Try 1968.

I’d recently finished at University, cast into the world of work, in those days of very light work. It was a world of fried breakfasts, elevenses (cheese rolls or Danish pastries), a large canteen lunch and a snoozy afternoon.

Vietnam War | National Archives

But all was not well. We had war in Vietnam with the Americans, like the Russians now, losing ground and credibility; the Russian brutal take-over of Czechoslovakia; the assassination of Robert Kennedy; Student riots in Paris; UK inflation rising from 4% through to 16% a few years later; the devaluation of the £.

Whilst compared to the 1950s life was better with supermarkets, restaurants and great music, there were big problems. Apart from the film Bullitt the thing I most recall from 1968 was Demis Roussos and Aphrodite’s Child and “Rain and Tears.” It was more a dirge  than a song but it caught the mood of that strange year poignantly – more than Yellow Submarine.

Rain and tears

Both I shun

For in my heart there’ll never be a sun. 

Vangelis and Aphrodite's Child lyrics: Rain and tears, Don't try to catch a  river, Plastics nevermore, The other people lyrics

A lament to counterbalance the saccharine of some 60s songs about teenage love. 


54 years ago there was another difference to now. Political talent. Big beasts like Healey, Jenkins, Crosland, and Castle in government. And shadowing them Macleod, Hogg, Thatcher and Carrington.


These were very formidable thinkers – like them or not. We lack such breadth of thinking in today’s front benches.


But against this backcloth of me saying “we’ve been here before” what justifies me being so optimistic and believing  we’ll survive stronger and sunnier? 


There are four reasons:


1. Youth. Forget the talk about woke youth. In my own experience these are the brightest and most engaged generation I’ve ever seen. A majority of them want a better, kinder, more successful world. I love their brightness and ability to conquer obstacles. On a personal level:  at 13 one grandson strides on stage with dominant presence and charm. At 15 another does his homework diligently and as a wing back terrorises opposition footballers from his lofty 6 foot. Our 8 year old granddaughter has a wisdom and sense of observation that astounds me. Great nieces 16 and 13 are respectively, the elder, artistic and a comedian, the younger, hardworking, clever and  someone who will rule her world.

What the Statistics Say About Generation Z - The Annie E. Casey Foundation



2. Age. If we few survivors of 1968 do what we should, we’ll help Generation Z become a “Superstar Generation.” It’s my mission. 

3. We have the wealth and resources lacking and not dreamt about in 1968. Global GDP was $2.5 trillion then. Today it’s $85 trillion.

4.We are (Brexit apart) a global entity generally co-operating. Our Generation Z Superstars get that, talk to contemporaries worldwide and are daily discovering just how much they all have in common.


Think about it. There’s more to be optimistic about. David beats Goliath again, he always does. Politicians have feet of clay. And we have a new generation of impressive people who’ll show up in due course and then remove the deadwood.

Rainbow - Wikipedia


I think there’s a more appropriate song for 2022. Weeknd’s “Save your Tears”. But don’t despair. The sun will come out again. 

Just believe in our youth, our experience and our talent.

And ignore those politicians.


Monday, 23 May 2022

APOCALYPSE SOON!

The governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, speaking to the House Treasury Committee said: “I’m afraid the one I’m going to sound, I guess, rather apocalyptic about, is food.”

Morning Bid: Apocalypse now? | Reuters

I was apoplectic when I read this. Governors of the Bank of England have in the past been more circumspect. The word “Apocalypse” describes the “complete final destruction of the world as described in the Bible Book of Revelation.” And we’re not there Andrew, not even close.

We seem to have lost the art of balanced argument and nuance.

Try this for Prime Ministerial understatement - Harold MacMillan in 1958 following the resignation of his Chancellor of the Exchequer and several others in the Treasury team just before his leaving on a Commonwealth tour, said“I thought the best thing to do was to settle up these little local difficulties, and then turn to the wider vision of the Commonwealth.” 

First of 27 new trains starts running on Gatwick Express route - BBC News

Last week we decided to abandon “apocalyptic Covid caution”.

So we went to London, visited Home House drank a refreshing few glasses of vino verde, strolled up Marylebone High Street bought some books in the delicious Daunt’s and ambled home on a busy train; then celebrating the Brighton Festival we made visits to the theatre and two amazing concerts in swift succession plus supper at Bills. There was barely a mask in sight anywhere; people hugging each other; smiles, laughter and sunshine.

No pandemic? Well actually there have been 239 cases in the past week in Brighton and Hove and in total a cumulative 96,000 (out of a population of 280,000). We are well on the way to achieving, if not herd immunity, pandemic saturation. But now 2 ½ years into this virus we know more but still not enough. The WHO data suggests that all European countries and the USA performed similarly in terms of “excess mortality” (that’s how this abnormality is measured. It’s the number of deaths – from all causes – that occur during a crisis that’s beyond what would be expected in typical times.) 

Director James Sunshine on His Pandemic Movie 'Safer at Home' – The  Hollywood Reporter

Some of the precautions taken like paranoid hand watching and surface disinfecting have been shown to be futile as preventative measures. Most importantly carrying on pretty much as normal like Sweden did seems to have been more effective than the more restrictive lockdowns in Germany. How did we do? The UK did averagely well or badly, depending how you look at it, although Scotland seems to have performed rather worse despite Nicola Sturgeon’s insistence on sustained tougher restrictions.

Taking a balanced view it seems fair to suggest that getting on with life, going to work, going to the theatre, cinema, restaurants and so on is the way forward. “Circumspect normality” we’ll call it.

A group of people in white clothing walking down a street

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So what about China and their “Zero Covid” strategy? The “big whites” (the Covid Inspectors dressed all in white with huge powers) have become very unpopular although infection rates have recently dropped. But so too is their economy. Bloomberg (gloomy Bloomberg) expect the Chinese economy to grow by only 2% this year compared to the USA at 2.8%. If so, this would be the first time China has lagged behind the US growth rate since 1976 and this despite a $5 trillion stimulus.

Possibly it’s a short-term correction but it’s also a lesson. Your economy will slow if you lock everything down.

How To Support Local British Farms This Easter And Be Sustainable

Back to the Governor: another lesson is our overdependence on food imports. We’ve failed to focus on and have faith in domestic food. In 2020, the UK imported over 46% of its food. That’s got to change to avoid future supply difficulties.

Spoiler alert: But no apocalypse