Monday, 30 May 2022


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


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

Monday, 16 May 2022


Anthony Seldon recently said we need historians in important positions in government to categorise, interpret and help us learn from what happened in the past. 

Anthony Seldon: why I changed my mind about Toby Young | Times Higher  Education (THE)

An executive steeped in the pharmaceutical industry said something similar to me about the absence of “corporate memory.” 

In both politics and in business, incoming regimes want to demolish their predecessor’s work and innovations. We live in a time of brooms zealously sweeping clean but losing lessons from which we might otherwise learn.

When I was in advertising we worked with Heinz. Their Tomato Ketchup is still without a challenger. 

Heinz | Tomato Ketchup

They were impressively demanding but also courteous in their demands;  the ideal client. They were heavy users of market research. 

In theory no one should have known more but as people retired or left, their library of research gathered dust and they started to forget what they’d known. One weekend we assembled a team to scour part of the library, summarising what was in it and what its key conclusions and insights were. We unearthed a treasure trove of material. I realised that sustaining a corporate memory required hard work. Also that the more valuable insights lay in either understanding why something had gone right or wrong or what over time were the unchanging values and attitudes .

In this, the Queen’s Platinum Anniversary, some of those intrinsic values, memories and recipes will be recreated, Coronation Chicken, Brown Windsor Soup (although to survive this will have to be radically  new and improved,) Meat Loaf, Prawn Cocktail, Chicken Kiev and winner of the recent Mary Berry inspired cookery competition for the Platinum Pudding , Jemma Melvin’s Lemon Swiss roll and amaretti trifle (we hear this tastes utterly amazing although it takes 5 hours to create from scratch). 

A picture containing cup, food, dessert

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But we all need a party after the traumas of Covid and this year we’ll have ‘nostalgia-thon’ and a series of street parties celebrating home cooking and old fashioned neighbourly values.

Feast are fine but how do we retain those lost memories and build a better sense of our history? And remembering too that history is not just about dates and documents but also about feelings, beliefs and prejudices.

I had a conversation with a centenarian who speaks of the learning from the Treaty of Versailles which was more punitive, indeed was so overly restrictive on Germany that after the 1930’s economic crises, its consequences led to the Second World War. 

A picture containing old, outdoor, smoke, weapon

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This was followed by a half century of global economic growth, globalisation of trade and some significant skirmishes or worse in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and  across borders from time to time. Overall though “peace in our times” seemed to have been achieved. Until Thursday 24th of February this year when Russia invaded Ukraine. 

She sighed and said how many more times in our history shall we say “that’s it. No more wars.”

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall | Waterstones

If more people had read Tim Marshall 7 years ago when he wrote “Prisoners of Geography” they wouldn’t have been so surprised. “Putin has not finished with Ukraine yet” he said. And to understand Putin “this student of history” read this:

“..the map that Ivan the Terrible confronted is the same one Vladimir Putin is faced with today.”

Few expected Ukraine to be so courageously enterprising (like mounting an undercover attack on Quad Bikes) or Russia to be so ponderous and inept. But why not? Remember Vietnam, remember Afghanistan, remember David and Goliath.

Let’s hope we have politicians studying the Treaty of Versailles to understand what we must not re-enact after this “war” grinds to a halt.

Monday, 9 May 2022


There was a review of the VW Taigo in the Sunday Times Magazine recently. It’s  a Brazilian model, basically a simplified, old fashioned Golf. No bad thing in a world where there’s a critical chip shortage leading to factory shutdowns and Toyota suffering a stalling of production. 

Volkswagen Taigo review | Car review | RAC Drive


Reviewer Nick Rufford rhapsodises: “it has a mechanical handbrake, a full sized gear shifter plus proper buttons you can operate by touch alone and which make a reassuring click.” He awards the car 5 stars saying it’s great to drive a car with no techno-fumbling; in short what originally made the Golf such a great car.

This isn’t going to be the rant of an old technophobe.  When Bill Gates said:

“The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don't really even notice it, so it's part of everyday life.”

Bill Gates: Elon Musk could make Twitter 'worse' on misinformation

I thought, that’s a nice idea Bill but we do notice it and actually whilst it’s mostly good it’s not always. Not when you’re working on your PC and a notice comes up saying Avast needs to do an update, or an advertisement for Mobility Scooters appears. It’s like being thoroughly engrossed in your office and having the door hammer open and a big, sweating Dennis crashing in saying “Let’s talk about the conference”. Being interrupted is always irritating. 

Let’s look at working from home. It’s reliant on technology. But a part of me is beginning to recognise its disadvantages in human terms. It’s excellent in small doses but it doesn’t begin to replace human contact, body language, laughter and gossip. 


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Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens suggests that Homo Sapiens overtook Neanderthal man, who on paper seemed more likely to succeed, because Homo Sapiens developed gossip. Quiet gossip keeps you up to date. (Gossip on social media is altogether different because it’s shouts rather than  whispers.) Zoom and Teams don’t hack it either although they’re still, occasionally quite useful.

We all need to simplify – or is it just me who wants reductio ad beatitudinem (reduction to happiness)? Do I want a computer in my hand when for day-to-day use I want a phone. Today we have an equivalent of an evolving technological tasting menu. Too much, too many.

Robochef is here with a taste of the future | News | The Times

Then I read about the Robochef that learns to 'taste' food at different stages of the chewing process to check whether it's salty enough. Why? I suppose to take human subjectivity out of the equation. But what a lot of nonsense. 


Me? I want hand-cooked food not techno-grub. I want to eat at old-fashioned Rules where they use egregious quantities of butter to make food taste amazing or at The Ritz with its  wonderful dining room. 


THE RITZ RESTAURANT, London - St. James's - Updated 2022 Restaurant  Reviews, Menu & Prices - Tripadvisor


Technology usually seems to make customer service worse. It shouldn’t but, frustratingly, it does. So technology shouldn’t be part of everyday life, Bill, unless it actually  makes everyday life better.


In my simple life I want a garden to wander around, a library so I can dip into books, and yes a big screen computer with a sensible IT guy (got both of those) occasional laughter-filled lunches, trips to the best of Europe’s cities whilst they’re still there and challenging projects from people I like who want my help. 


This makes me sound as though I’m old and fumbling when it comes to technology. Fair enough. But I can cope and choose what seems to matter. It’s just this urge to remove human contact that seems wrong.


We need to get back to simplicity in life and in work helped, not led, by technology. 


Bill, are you listening? 

Monday, 2 May 2022


Leadership’s been a hot topic recently. From Boris Johnson to Joe Root. The Ukrainian leader, Zelensky, from being ignored by EU leaders has become a global hero. Mr Bean to Superman in under a month. In contrast Putin has seemed remote and callous.  But I’m not sure that’s how most Russians would see him. To many of them, I suspect he's a strong, ruthless, very Russian leader – as leaders should be as opposed to that “decadent Zelensky.”

We’re short of leadership skills here in the West. How bad? This bad. 

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

Donald Trump on Talk TV, the new Piers Morgan channel, seemed more in touch with the nasty world we really live in. But remembering the clever advertisement the Kennedy’s ran to discredit Nixon, we can apply the same question to Trump (and to Boris) “would you buy a used car from this man?”  It’s a brilliantly pointed question about trustworthiness.

A yellow stuffed animal

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Rather than looking at today’s leaders I’ve reflected on leaders whom I’ve known in my working life. Some of them memorable for their sadistic or otherwise character flawed eccentricities. There was one who had a glove puppet who did his dirty work. “I’m terribly sorry but Sooty says you’re fired”. He was an insomniac who phoned his executives at midnight saying: “get over here now we need to talk”. Did it end badly for this fellow? No, I’m afraid he made tons of money and was hugely successful. Being nice isn’t always the answer then.

Another had a very short fuse. Following yet another row he left in such a rage that in a futile exit from the car-park he battered his car from wall to wall until it slumped clanking to the ground.

This Is The Aftermath Of The World's Most Expensive Car Crash | Nafterli's  Car World

Another had obviously read a book that said be aggressive and always interrupt and keep on prodding people until they give in. He liked holding court in ten hour meetings. Finally there was a genius who was also a megalomaniac who loved and loathed his people depending on whim. He ended up years later in prison having squandered his riches on addictions.

Many so-called leaders were in it just for themselves and let the idea of leadership go their heads enjoying the terror their presence struck in their employees.

But there were also great guys who said – when appropriate – “thank you.” People who cared about you and your family. People you liked.

Peter Mead leads tributes to David Abbott

Salute the guys who founded Britain’s most successful advertising agency Abbott Mead Vickers. Peter Mead wrote a book “When in doubt be Nice” – it worked for him and his partners. It was their creative head, Abbott, though, who crafted the culture based on being nice and being kind.  But it was also demanding and did excellent work. They were winners.

The idea of Level Five Leaders was created by Jim Collins in his seminal book “From Good to Great”. He described them as leaders who displayed  a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. Good stuff…. but leaders must be winners to survive. Winning comes first. Doing so with courtesy and thoughtfulness is a wonderful bonus.   

Perhaps the era of strong, autocratic leaders like Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt have come to an end. But “Mr/Ms Nice Guy” can’t simply replace them. We still need tough decision makers, leaders who demand excellence and set strong examples about succeeding and growing too. We need civilized winners and better role models.

Ruth Davidson - Building a stronger future for Britain
From The Eyelashes To The Cagoule, Plus The Anti-Government Anger:  Suddenly, We All Fancy Andy Burnham | British Vogue

So, what if pragmatic, credible leaders like Andy Burnham and Ruth Davidson were running the two main parties in the UK?

Ultimately, we deserve better people like them as well as better leaders.