Saturday, 31 December 2011


The Laytham Gazette today records the following as awarded the Order of the Berry Empire (OBE), dated today, 31.12.11. in recognition of acheivements across the year.

AL SUWAILEM, Faisal, for services to international leadership.
ASTILL, Lady Sonia, M.Sc. for services to the Samaritans Listening helpline.
BARNETT, Robert, 1st Baronet , for services to higher education.
BLAMEY, Dame Difna Maria Bernadette O Leary, for services to mental health and international development and cooperation.
BRADSHAW, Professor Simon, Master Mariner, for services to navigation.
BRATCHER, Paul B.Sc. DSLR, for services to photography and digital art.
BRUCE, Lady Amanda, for services to mental health.
BYRNE, Jo. For services to photography.
CASSIDY, Right Rev Matthew, DD, for Church services.
COMPTON, John Montepulciano, for services to online literary community.
DEAZLE, Adrian PhD., for services to international development.
DESFORGES, Gerard Stancomb Wills LLB, for services to the development of an intuitive literary recommendations system.
DESFORGES, Ursula St Honore, services to spiritual tourism.
DUNFORD, Daniel, B.Sc. for services to aviation.
ECCLES, The Marquess, for services to digital and film media production.
FENNELL, Paul Kendal Mintcake, BA, Services to art and flavoured vodka.
GILBERTSON, Prof David for outstanding scientific inquiry into the nature of gravity.
GOVIER, The Hon John, services to leadership.
GRAINGER, Keith Merckx for services to the Lycra industry.
HAMBLETON-GRAY the Hon. Catherine, for services to ethical business practice.
HIBBERT, Andrew, for services to leadership.
JONES, Dr Robert Stalin PhD, for services to the liqueurs industry.
MACINNES, Commander Ron McSpinnaker, Joint Founder, The Charm Points Foundation, for services to marine cost efficiency.
MOREL, Kevin Risotto, for services to hospitality.
MORRISON, Neil, M.A., Author, for services to literature.
PAGE, David, for services to polysomnography.
PAVEL, Michelle, for services to arctic exploration.
SHOEBRIDGE, Captain Charles, Algernon, Half Timbered, Poinsettia, M.A., LL.B, MC, DSO for services to the counter intelligence community and real ale.
WALES, Jimmy Donal for provision of encyclopaedic knowledge.
WARD, Professor Sir Christopher, services to the development of text messaging.
WELSTEAD, Justin, MA, for services to sports journalism.

Sunday, 25 December 2011


Suicide statistics soar at Christmas. I can see why. We may have forgotten what we are supposed to be celebrating at Christmas, but advertisers have not. You, my friend, are meant to be celebrating a consumerist fantasy of happy families, grinning through extravagant consumption.
So life hasn't yielded you the frictionless nuclear idyll? The bombardment of messages about its desirability at this time of year makes you - what - a pariah?
I don't know of a family which does not have lurking not far beneath its surface deep fracture lines. Perhaps such families exist and I just haven't seen them. I do, however, know of many, many lonely people who live lonely lives within the frameworks of such supposedly whole and untarnished networks, just as I know of lonely people who live beyond them. And believe me, satisfying the consumerist dream by spending, or even having the means to spend, makes precious little difference to one's isolation within or without the Ladybird Book of Family Christmas.
This blog piece is dedicated to you - you who are honest enough to see "this is broken and I don't know how to fix it."
So what have we got? Advice from Mr high and bloody mighty life coach?
Alas, my life is as fractured as anyone else's.
So what can one do?
See the societal messages for what they are, perhaps. In some instances, commercial tools, nicely targeted at the emotions. In some instances, the genuine expressions of friends and family - wishes that life - your life perhaps - were not as fractured and broken as it is.
Breathe. Celebrate the life that is in you, through you and beyond you everywhere you look, whether it is December 25th, June 4th or any other date.
Have a glass or two of something, and toast through gritted teeth. This really is as good as it gets.
Be alert. Listen to the choir. Life is always singing, even when the song is a sad one.
And I, just like anyone else, will try and do the same.
May you, in your heart and mind, with all your heart and mind, have a truly happy Christmas.

Friday, 23 December 2011


This amazing piece, in watercolour, was painted by my good friend Paul - one of this country's preeminent botanical artists. You can see why he is.
Apart from the appeal of its prodigious skill, the image sums up in my warped little mind all the putrefaction as well as the abundance of Christmas and what the modern world has made of it, and is for me the very essence of what I think of the "festive season". At a time when Brussels is in crisis, its tower of power is an apter than ever visual pun.
A very merry Christmas to all our readers.


Ecce completa sunt omnia, quae dicta sunt per Angelum de Virgine Maria.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011



Shakespeare 10st 9 lbs
Dickens 11st 2 lbs
Waugh 15st 6 lbs
Lawrence, TE 9st 1 lbs
Lawrence, DH 12st 0 lbs
Thomas, Dylan 14st 12lbs
Wilde 13st 2lbs
Blake 11st 4lbs
Keats 7st 2lbs


Sunday, 11 December 2011


Saturday, 10 December 2011


Big Madam is away in Zurich / Berne, teaching Swiss people how to do things.
Little madam and I are left to fend for ourselves. Fending brings with it normally disallowed pleasures:

  • sleeping in alpine sleeping bags

  • avoiding totally all acts of washing and bathing

  • leaving teeth uncleaned

  • Warburton's white bread

  • everything fried

  • farting without apology

  • as much tv as you can handle

  • pies

  • chocolate for breakfast

  • a complete ban on vitamins

But big madam returns tonight. And we have missed her. Our straight and narrow can only be deserted for so long before the pleasure of straying palls. Normal service will be resumed imminently.

Friday, 9 December 2011


I've got a new middle name to add to my already lengthy list.



Thursday, 8 December 2011


Once, I went on a walk with my most beloved partner in crime. It was in the Welsh hills. We walked along, in companiionable silence.
Looking at the valley, I said, "Do you know what that reminds me of?"
"The 39 Steps?"
"How on EARTH did you guess that?"
I was gobsmacked. Our walk continued without further guessing games.
Later, in the same walk, towards evening, we looked across at a distant evening vista, hill upon misty hill.
"OK smartarse," I said, "you'll never guess what that reminds me of?"
"I don't bloody believe it!"


I am sad.
There. Said it.
There is no particular cause.
The gift of today is as bountiful as any other day. Grey. Cold. Very very windy, I grant you. But there is nothing wrong with it. Nothing adverse has happened.
But I feel sad. Not sad for a reason. Just sad. Not depressed - no, I know that old enemy well, and it's different, especially its favoured kidology of "this won't ever pass." I know this will pass.
To know sadness is a wonderful thing. It attunes you towards compassion. And it offers a great and honest relaxation, if you can admit to yourself what society, media and even those who care most for you so often censor away.
It is not especially often that I do feel sad. On the whole I'm more inclined to cheery. Or at least, grumpy, with a good dash of ironic humour. But sad it is today.
I wonder about trans generational sadness. My Father had his first family blown to bits in the war. In a sense, that catastrophe was my causing. I wouldn't be here without it. Yet, like many men of his generation, my Father never spoke of his war, or of the terrible things it brought him. He must have had a sadness so terrible I have never known anything like it, and certainly do not today. Yet I never remember him showing that. He was a dry, humorous and unfailingly kind and gentle man. Perhaps emotional concealment was ineffective, and the gauze of history let it all through to me, despite that. I don't know. It needs no cure. And, like all things, it will pass.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Let me invent a product for you.

  • It serves a daily need. Cooking. So far so good.

  • It's about eight times more expensive than its nearest everyday competitor

  • It costs another £150 a year in servicing, which its normal competitors do not

  • It breaks down two or three times a year

  • If you are cooking for more than three people, the temperature will drop to a point where you cannot cook at all

  • If there is an R in the month, or the wind is from anywhere between north and south, or the runes dictate it, the temperature will drop to somewhere near clap cold

  • For five months of the year you can't use it at all

  • You can't adjust the temperature of its cooking surfaces

  • You can't practically own one unless you also own another, backup oven.

Yes. It's an Aga.

People swear by them.

Me too.

In your work, which do you vote for?

  • More time?

  • Speed?

  • Simplicity?

Friday, 2 December 2011


How many people are there without a sense of humour?
21,335 apparently.
That is, as of this morning, the number of complaints which the BBC has received over Jeremy Clarkson's comments on the One Show. Asked what he thought of the strikers, at first he responded "Fabulous. Fantastic." He went on to twist this, indicating that his enthusiasm was because he could now drive through empty streets and get a seat in empty restaurants. Then he said "as this is the BBC we'd better show some balance." The balance he gave was to suggest that all the strikers should be shot - and for good emphasis, he added "taken out and executed in front of their families."
Was it funny?
How do I know?
Because a lot of people in the studio audience were laughing.
That's the trouble with jokes, isn't it? They're almost always going to upset someone. They are by nature, unfair.
Clarkson is a joker. I don't think he would see himself any other way. He positions his joke persona within reactionary, nationalistic zeal. He's apologized for offence. Laugh. Get over it.
There's a deeper thing, though. To the left wing overlords of the Unions, who have threatened to explore legal action and to see if there is a case for "inciting hatred", your sense of humour failure betrays you. Your political religion is based on a whinging about fairness, a teenage sounding tone of voice, kicking against a parental projection of class, advantage, privilege, "fairness" or whatever else you are whinging about. I could love the equality doctrine within it, were it not for this unattractive tone of voice -a marked lack of relaxed good humour, nowhere more exemplified than in the humorless, sneaky, tiresome adolescent Ed Millipede. Though I have sympathy for anyone, anywhere in any sector whose pension is being cut, these proposals are in line with the review of public sector pensions headed by thee labour Lord, Lord Hutton, which identified the clear unsustainability of the existing arrangements.
Fairness? Get over that and you are on the way to a political maturity. Treating a joker as a joker would indicate you are on the path.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011


I just recalled that the other day I walked past Unite's offices in Euston Road, London.

In their entrance way was a solitary white plimsoll.


The public sector strikes have been branded a day of action. But more correctly isn't it a day of inaction?

Perhaps my pursed lip response to these events has had its due reward from inanimate things, in solidarity with the strikers. The wastewater pump in the kitchen has gone on strike.

I tell myself that these things happen only when the Missus is away. That way I can obliquely blame her absence for them. It makes me feel no better.

I would be a terrible solo anything. Truthfully, almost any calamity, minor or major is better experienced with a friend. And the only really memorable pleasures are those shared.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


You can't speak to me tomorrow. I'm on strike. My pension is fucked, same as anyone else's. Not that I've got one, mind you. And I'm not happy.
So I'm withdrawing my labour.
And I hope it hits my capitalist pig of an employer right where it hurts. In the goolies.
Then I think I'll feel a lot better.
I'm sure I will.
And certainly I shall have helped the matter.


"Are you coming in for a coffee?"

"I don't drink coffee."

"Good. Because I haven't got any."

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


I am not good with criticism. Overbearing, demanding and disciplinary parents took their toll on my psyche. More than once in my life I've been accused of being arrogant. The detractors had a point.
Yesterday I asked for some advice on a business venture from two people I very greatly respect. They gave it a mauling. Within that, there was a good deal of sound advice. It was hard for me to hear. I had to calm my childhood - formed sensitivities coming out of the meeting.
A calming routine of mine is to go all beatific. It works very well I've found at railway stations and shopping malls. The aim of the game is to bless all passers by. It only has one rule. No exceptions. It changes my energy greatly, and I often wonder if those who are unwittingly receiving blessings actually feel it, as the sense I get is that the blessing game is very reciprocal and that people who essentially have nothing to do with you are responding to you in a very different way. A fallacy? Perhaps.
But yesterday there was another piece of evidence that beatific energy bounces back towards you. For no good reason the American man singled me out for his enquiry. He was clearly extremely frazzled, panicking that he was about to miss the Eurostar.
"I - I - I've only got a few minutes" he said, "I haven't got a ticket. Help!"
He looked about him like a startled animal.
He had picked the right person. My beatific energy must have communicated itself in the calm reassurance I was able to offer him.
"Don't worry my friend. Go down there, past that shop" I indicated with my arm, "and you'll be OK I'm sure."
I watched him scurry off, luggage in disarray.
A deep calm descended on me. More good done. Another momentary saving of souls.
I turned away to continue my own journey, walked a few steps and saw in front of me the ticket office.
Oh yes.
The selfless act does you good.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


I have been the organiser of mass resignations on two occasions.

The first, acting as "Dream Bishops" (with regalia) to a team of HR people, I and my associates persuaded the entire HR department to resign. In fact, they wrote their resignation letters there and then. There was only one abstention. It was quite a large department. The HR Director had no idea what was happening. In fact he was away on holiday and returned to a pile of resignation letters on his desk. The deal was this. The HR Director and his senior team had concocted a vision for the department that its role was to make the business come ALIVE. As part of this work we had given each of the directors an ALIVEOMETER, made from sculpted and welded steel. In events with the HR team we allowed its members to explore what their role could be in "aliving" the business. At the end of the event we offered them all the opportunity to resign from their jobs and adopt new titles as the wizard of X, the Aliver of Y and so on. They all took the opportunity.

The second was less orchestrated, but perhaps more heartfelt. I was asked to lead a team event for a marketing team. In the preparatory work for this event, what became clear was that the morale of the team was at an all time low. There was a single reason. Though the Marketing Director, who was the immediate boss of the team, was well liked and respected, the Group Director, to whom he reported was all over the team with what can only be described as abusive behaviour. I made a recommendation that the real answer to this team's issues was in working with the Group Director. His ego, however, prevented this. Perhaps predictable. The Marketing Director asked me to help him, by creating an environment where the team could take, as he put it "an emotional and motivational shower". The Group Director was not physically present for the event, though his malign presence filtered into every discussion. Lets call him Dylan. It was Dylan this, Dylan that, Dylan the other. Realising that the team could not move on without really expressing its feelings, I adopted the empty chair approach, except I filled the chair by playing the part of Dylan. I remember I had a big sign saying DYLAN in front of me and I invited team members to approach me and say what they felt they really wanted to say.
They didn't need the sign. For the next - I'm guessing - hour or so, they each approached me with a level of hatred and anger which I would have thought impossible in a normal workplace.
"How dare you pick your feet in front of me."
"How dare you make rules for us, criticise us for breaking them but flagrantly break them yourself"
"How dare you shout and swear at me."
"You treat me with utter disrespect, you sad little fuck."
"You are a total fuckwit. I wish you were dead."

Within three months the entire team, including the Marketing Director, had resigned. The Company ignored this, and backed the golden boy - their Group Director. He went on no doubt to abuse another team.
Did I feel I had done a good job?
I've sometimes wondered. Complacency in my job is inappropriate.

Monday, 14 November 2011


OK I'm joining the WI.

But there is a great, unexpected pleasure in making new things.

Today it's yogurt.

I would never have even thought about making it myself but it is incredibly easy, and again one finds an excitement and pleasure in the construction of something new and magical.

Simmer milk. Let it cool till tepid. Add a bit of live yogurt (4 / 5 spoonfuls per litre). Leave on kitchen worktop overnight. It'll then be yogurt. Stick in the fridge and use across a week. When you want more yogurt, use your own yogurt and add to milk in the same way. Completely self sustaining system. Marvellous.

With nuts and honey, an absolute organic treat.

Sunday, 13 November 2011


If you come to Berry Towers you are unlikely to get served a curry. I don't know why. It doesn't somehow seem hospitable enough. But today, the Missus was in a curry sort of a mood, and we had friends coming for lunch who are well known curryholics. So I turned my mind to matters spicy.
I've never made Bombay potatoes before. I think I've probably never even eaten them. But I had a hunch that proper roasties Bombay stylee could prove a winner. I was right. I feel unreasonably chuffed with myself for the result. Here's how.
Take King Eds. Peel em. Par boil. Drain off water. Shake em in the pan, adding a spoon or two of flour and seasoning.
Put oil in a roasting pan. More than you think is decent. Heat it up for three or four minutes. Then add two or three spoonfuls of curry paste, mixing this into the oil. I used Patak's Tikka. Take the drained spuds. Turn each individually in the oil / curry mixture. Chop two onions roughly and chuck em in. Roast for about forty minutes. About five or six minutes from the end, chop coriander and mint and toss this across the top.
Serve with yoghurt. And a cold Becks.
Listen to mmmmms, oooohs and aaahs.
Encourage naughty scraping of the pan's delicious burned on crunchy / spicy bits.

Friday, 28 October 2011


The Occupy London protests which have created a tented city in St. Paul's Cathedral are of great interest to me. I find myself in some sympathy with the protesters. Not because I understand what they want. I can't say I do. But I can sympathise with a crie de coeur which simply proclaims that a system is broken, without being able to prescribe a fix.
I can also empathise with the Dean of St Pauls in offering sanctuary to the protesters.
But the Occupy London bunch have now outlived their welcome and are abusing well meant hospitality towards them.
Why the fuss?
Isn't the answer obvious?
And provided by the protest itself?
Simply occupy Occupy.

Monday, 24 October 2011


Deep in the troubled province of Helmand, in Lashkar Gar, a visionary British Officer has established, of all things, a garden. The Colonel has employed Afghani gardeners to assist in both its design, realization and maintenance. Fed from a bore hole, its irrigation is guaranteed, and it has become a shady refuge for HQ ISAF staff during the heat of an Afghan day.
Reading about this garden took me back to 1986. At that time, Africa was perhaps less tumultuous than since. It was possible then to visit countries now too dangerous. Algeria was open to the adventurous, who wished to visit the real Sahara. I had long held ambitions to do so, fuelled by reading books such as Geoffrey Moorhouse's The Fearful Void.
In fact, my desert crossing goal started with the aim of a crossing of the Nubian desert. A friend of mine agreed, in a fit of (probably drunken) bravado, to come with me. The plan was a simple one. Hitch all the way. If that now seems foolhardy, I should point out that in Sudan, hitching on trucks, riding on top of the load, is commonplace, and trucks crossing the desert are plentiful. But a coup in Sudan destabilized the political situation there and made the trip inadvisable.
I formed another plan, equally simple. Hitch along the trans Sahara highway in Algeria. My friend recovered his senses and chickened out. Ah well, I thought, alone it must be. But when I mentioned my plan to another friend, who was having a very hard time indeed recovering from a broken relationship, he said "that's just what I need." Further volunteers joined up. I found myself selling my beloved Golf GTI, and replacing it with a long wheelbase Landrover Safari and kitting it out for desert travel. The plan now became Tamanrasset or bust, in the Landrover. This plan we executed, without great problems.
The garden in Lashkar Gar set me thinking about the birthday of my broken hearted friend. The date fell in the middle of our Sahara trip. Amongst our supplies we had hidden a tinned Dundee cake, candles, cards and other birthday paraphernalia for him. We woke him from his sleeping bag in the open desert with a fanfare of party hooters, and a full cooked English breakfast. Then he had his cake. "What," we asked, "would you like to do on your birthday?" The options were, shall we say, limited. It was a surprise to hear him say "go swimming." But, mad though it seems, that is what we did. About 200 - 300 miles from where we were, we had passed a signpost saying 'swimming pool'. We dismissed it as a joke, but later heard from other travellers that it was not. On this birthday, we retraced our tracks, and revisited. Sure enough, after nine or ten hours driving, at Hassi Fahl, just to the east of the trans Saharan highway, amidst fragrant lemon groves, there was a swimming pool, where, for a small charge, we could all swim, and the owner brought us complimentary glasses of homemade lemonade. It was a magical, unbelievable thing.
Algeria has had terrible troubles since my visit there. Hundreds of thousands have been killed in successive civil wars. I wonder if the swimming pool, the lemon groves and the gentle proprietors have survived. I very much doubt it.
I hope the garden at Lashkar Gar has more luck.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


The problem pages of magazines are loaded with complaints to the effect that the correspondent cannot get laid, get laid enough, or get laid with the right person, or in the right way or with the right frequency.
I wonder if this issue cuts across species?
Other species have their mating season. Often, it's in late summer, so that progeny can be born in the next spring and be nourished through the greater part of their first year on nature's bounty, increasing their chances of survival.
In man, apparently, sunshine on the pituitary gland brings on the urge. For the same reason?
But it occurred to me that maybe the problem page obsessions are misplaced.
What if we're only meant to mate once a year?


We're mad about the weather in Britain. We've got plenty of it to be mad about. But then, I wouldn't want to live in constant sunshine. Too bland. Sometimes a few less extremes would be welcome though.
One thing which we get locally, in our big skies, is the God moment. You know the one, when shafts of light blaze through parted dark clouds. I've heard more than one person say "there's God".
So it is also I've found with moods. There you are, bumbling along in the dark clouds, seeing little but your own failures and shortcomings (to which we English are also peculiarly attached) when suddenly whoomf - everything becomes illuminated, and one can see with great clarity the lit up paths of right and wrong, who is hero and who is villain, who is abuser and who is abused, and the deep patterns of human behaviour, rolling like cloud formations ever onward, parted and illuminated only briefly with the light of recognition and forgiveness, otherwise clouded by the awful inescapable weather of living.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Top of the form.


Thursday, 6 October 2011

I can't decide if I am better off without looking at the news.

Is ignorance bliss?

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


Aren't we all on it?

Monday, 3 October 2011

E/I B.A.

Universities are packed with clever people running them. But are any of them really thinking about designing learning processes?
Just recently I have had a revelation.
At school I did well, very well. At the A level stage, especially. The learning model was broadly: read some stuff, talk about it, debate it, form an argument, defend it, sometimes write it down. Suited me down to a tee. I'm an extrovert. I get fired up by these exchanges. Result? Excellence (without blowing my own trumpet too hard).
Fast forward to University. Learning model? Go to lectures which are utterly without interaction. Go to seminars which are also mini lectures, without debate. Go to tutorials (which I thought were meant to embody a level of exchange, but disappointingly didn't). Stop going to all of above as they are a waste of time, especially for someone with my learning style. Spend time alone reading. Spend time alone thinking. Spend time, even in lectures, alone with the input of the lecturer. Spend time alone witing. Take part, in short, in a learning process designed by and suited for, introverts. Result? Mediocrity and disengagement.
Now I grant you that other delights than academic learning also played a part in my University career - pubs, girls, jumping out of planes, periods of sheer indolence. But I wonder about the learning design and its impact on my motivation.
Let's assume extroversion and introversion are relatively evenly distributed. Can it really be that University life can be so designed to frustrate approximately half of the population?
Perhaps things have changed in this respect in the thirty odd years since I attended. I really, really hope so. But I fear not.
If not, here is a view. The key predictor of degree class (especially in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences) will not be IQ, but extroversion or introversion measures. And the educational opportunity will be scandalously missed or compromised for about half the entire student population.

Sunday, 2 October 2011


The Missus and I have spent an enjoyable, stimulating and rewarding two days together. Unusually we've been working as a team on the same assignment - a coaching skills training programme with a very receptive, very charming and very skilled set of people. During the programme we set up a debate, asking the participants to name a single minded intention for coaching. Their responses were thoughtful as well as various, encompassing SUPPORT, BUILD, DEVELOP, UNDERSTAND, ACCEPT, AWARENESS, CONNECT, and EMPOWER as coaching intentions.
They were only allowed one word, in order to push the debate. It is, of course a cheap trick. No one word really captures the range of intentions in coaching, though the exercise bred very good thinking. I can't say any of the above are in any way wrong. One's character determines (I think) whether one is further towards the challenge or support end of the spectrum.
Inevitably they asked me for my word. I plumped for the understand / awareness area with appropriate "no one word gets it" caveats. On the way home from the event, though, I wondered if I'd flunked it, and thought more - was there one word? The word I came up with, which perhaps for me bridges the 'challenge, understand and support' spectrum was APPRECIATE.
Am I confident in it? No.
But it feels close, at least, to an authentic descriptor of my coaching behaviour.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


are useless.

But I did make a Tarte Tatin with them.

And it was bloody gorgeous.

Sunday, 25 September 2011


I saw a survey recently which suggested that women are more likely to be eco friendly, or interested in the eco friendly, than men.

I have a suggestion for all eco concerned ladies.

Stop using cosmetics.

At a stroke you can eliminate swathes of carbon emitting manufacturing processes. Your skin will benefit by not getting clogged up with all the shit you are puttiong on it now. And then you won't have to buy all the gunk to remove the previous slap you stuck on your face. You'll look nicer, more authentic and feel way cleaner. Your skin won't age as quickly (what an idea, that a part of your body could age slower or faster than any other bit) and you will retain in your purses huge amounts of money all of which you can give to the poor and needy or to eco causes.Not only that, your mental health will benefit as you will be moving to a more confident definition of your own aesthetic.

The only downside I can see to this suggestion would be the demise of Body Shop - a noble institution which we all know is saving the planet by a gigantic manufacturing and retail endeavour to sell stuff that no one needs.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

There are few things in life which are not cured by a couple of really well made Dry Martinis.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


Should it be a rabble, or a bridge?

Red Admirals.

We've got the full Spithead review of them, sunning themselves in the early autumn sun on the west wall, which, curiously for a weather wall, stays warmest longer.

It took me some time to work out the whys and wherefores of their presence, but a little mowing gave me the answer. The fallen pears, which we find pretty well useless, are their nectar. Down amongst the pear sludge there is a Red Admiral feeding frenzy going on.

My heart lifts as I see them there on the old brickwork.

And my loose intentions to buy a cider press, make perry and find at least some use for the pears, become looser still.

Monday, 12 September 2011


I've come all this way and never had one of these. Just recently, though I've got myself one, and can now recommend them for all households.

You'd be amazed in recent weeks how much stuff - people and things - have gone in there.

I can't quite believe how I've managed for so long without this particular mod con.

It's done a super job of tidying up.

And one feels a great sense of relief to be rid of clutter once and for all, or, at the very least till it may once again prove its usefulness.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Suppose you believe in empowering your kids.

They let you down.

Do you:

a) bale them out, step in and take control to keep them safe and out of further trouble?
b) empower them some more to sort things out in the best way they can and learn from it in the process?

I am firmly of the theory b persuasion.

But I may be wrong.....................

Sunday, 14 August 2011


When I was a boy I could never have dreamed that I would have a gage. I now have two in my orchard. Both seem to love it there. If anything, more than other trees I have planted. One is still a junior - no crop yet. The other has just had its first fruit reach readiness. I was almost the first to spot it. But no. The wasps got there first. But today has seen me claim what is rightfully mine and not theirs, the glorious green globes for which any man would feel a surge of desire. I have claimed probably all up nearly five or six sweet kilos - a hell of a haul. Mainly I've turned them into Reine Claude vodka, assisted by large amounts of sugar and a lot of horrid cheap vodka. In twelve months it will be something special. And I deserve it. Those wasps didn't give in without a fight. I was probably stung twenty or so times. And one especially stubborn little bastard embedded himself in the crook of my arm, where he stung me five or six times. I must admit I had to go running to Missus for some HC45 after that episode, and I was shiveriing for an hour. But the crop came in. And now it is in big Kilner jars, maturing nicely. I can't tell you how pleased I am.


HB point: sharp lines.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King!

Imagine that!

Get your megaphones.


Mate: I don't believe in biology.

Me: What about poo?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Monday, 8 August 2011


"You're Marmite, H. People either love you or hate you. But why? You challenge people to think. Some people will. They love you for it. Some people can't and some people won't. They hate you for it. That's why."

Friday, 5 August 2011

A dark, dark day indeed.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


= 5393 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Thunder. Power is lost.
So much rain, there are floods.
Trust. Calm after storm.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


PPS not any more/


PS - we're still waiting for that thunderstorm.


  • I go to Mr Laveracks

  • I buy a luvverly bit of filet.

  • I dig up spuds

  • I pick broad beans

  • I pick nasturtiums and young lettuce, making a vibrant salad with both leaves and flowers

  • I cook beans and spuds.

  • I sear filet in butter.

  • I season meat.

  • I roast meat at about 11 mins a pound.

  • I make mustard and mint dressing

  • I make large tray of tomato salad

  • I open Gran Riserva

  • I get everything ready for stated time

  • I apply contingency rule of 15 mins

  • Guests turn up 35 mins late despite agreeing time for meal to appear

  • One participant says I'm not eating that and raids fridge for alternative

  • Meat is delicious for all who partake

  • I have large row with Missus

  • Afternoon activities are suspended subject to forthcoming peace talks


I find X boring.
I find X false.
I find X trite.
I find X controlling, dressed up in insipid sweet.
I find in X's company time drags.
I feel drawn to avoid X.
But X seeks me out.
X invites me.

Do I:

Be grateful?
Call it as it is?
Be completely honest?

What is in X's best interest?
That I tell X of my reaction?
That I hide it, and thus conspire with X's own conspiracies?
Markets. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.


Breathing out seems more
important than breathing in.
Get both right; you're there.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


Dawn's red nails grab day,
The shepherd's warning ignored.
Can I seize it too?

Monday, 1 August 2011


An easel, grass
Close, paint – planning or regret?
Thoughts. Come back here now.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


I'm hitting the big time.

Last night in Cecconi's, Bill Nighy. Very lean. Very well tailored. Trademark thick glasses.

This morning in the lift at mint, the Hairy Bikers. Not very lean. Not at all tailored. Trademark hairiness.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


This breathing business!

Where will it get you?

Friday, 22 July 2011


When I was a boy, my cousin, who was in the Merchant Navy, was a romantic figure. He occasionally appeared in my young life, newly returned from some exotic place. Always he brought some new thing. Once, gold trinkets from Surinam. Another time, unheard of brands of sweets from the far east. Once, even, a wife, from Guyana.

Once, he brought me a pencil case from Montreal. It's lid was made of sealskin. On it, the word Montreal in gold letters on a leather plaque in the middle of the sealskin lid.

The sealskin was mesmeric and lives still - incongruously - in my memory. It was impossible not to touch it. It was much hairier than one would expect. But the grain went only one way. Stroke it one way and it felt smooth. Move your hand the other way, and it was bristly and harsh.

Culture shifting is like stroking the sealskin. The elements, the levers of culture - the people, the systems, the rewards, the ways of working, the myths, legends and narratives, and the goals can all be aligned. Then the feeling is as smooth as the grain of the sealskin.

Or they can be misaligned, and create an abrasive, disfunctional result.

It is the job of the culture shifters to sensitize themselves with the grain, and attune it to goals, gently stroking it the right way, adjusting it more and more to the required direction, attuning it always with and never against that grain.


When it comes to facilitation, the fool in Lear has it wrong.
The most important thing you can do as a facilitator is..... nothing.
In either coaching or facilitation settings you are dealing with the paradox that the less you do the greater the effect, and the more you intervene, the less empowerment, ownership, and effectiveness.
With this awareness, the aesthetics of intervention change, and process work becomes like writing poetry. Every word needs to be scrutinised and pared. Few are called. Many are spared.
I truly believe that if everything you say is beautiful, the result will be beautiful too. And what you are then doing is artistry.

Sunday, 17 July 2011


Thats ma boy!!!


Here's how you tell if your coach is any good.

Ask him / her if they are in the change business.

If they answer yes, then you know you are in the presence of a numbskull, liar or both.

Coaching is in the awareness business. Nothing more.

Coaching can produce awareness. It cannot produce change. That is in the hands of the client, fate, karma, chance, you name it.

Worse, though, if a coach is aiming at change he or she will always miss it, since the paradox of personal change is that pressure towards it very rarely produces it. Full acceptance and understanding, on the other hand, producing awareness, empowers the client to do whatever changing they are going to do, on their own initiative.

Saturday, 16 July 2011


CLIENT: I have a decision to make. I want your view.

ME: OK what's the decision?

CLIENT: I've been offered two jobs. One is full time in England. It pays £40,000 more than the second. The second is in Paris. It pays as I said less. But it's only four days a week. I can't decide which to take.

ME: You've already decided.


ME: Oh yes. If the English job was on the terms and conditions of the Parisian job there would be no contest. You'd take the Parisian job. You've already decided that, otherwise we wouldn't be having this discussion. Living and working in Paris is more attractive to you. Why not? All you need to ask yourself is if you prefer that experience enough to offset the £40000.


ME: I thought so.

CLIENT: Why has no one else looked at it in this way?

ME: I don't know.


I find myself pondering command and control cultures vs. engagement cultures for service organizations.

Here are some recently written thoughts.

Ask yourself this simple question.
If someone sits and talks at me with no regard for my input to the conversation, what do I think of them and how will it affect my cooperation with them?
Answering this alone will tell you much about the value of engagement.

When you engage:

You develop understanding
You build trust
You generate ideas
You encourage imagination and innovation
You develop a shared vision
You promote ingenuity
You head towards agreement
You spot and solve problems
You capture people’s hearts as well as their minds
You get the engagement of others

In short, you gain COMMITMENT.

When you use command and control, rather than engagement:

You insist only on your own understanding, ignoring that of others
You isolate your own view and position
You erode trust
You miss potentially valuable ideas
You discourage imagination and innovation
You impose your own vision
You fail to inspire ingenuity
You head towards division
You ignore potential problems and inhibit problem solving
You lose emotional engagement

In short, you gain COMPLIANCE

Monday, 27 June 2011


When I studied meteorology I learned all about the warm sector of an advancing depression. Unfortunately, that awareness has not made me immune from its effects.
It’s the pressure cooker, where everyone including me gets ratty.
It is hot. It is unbearably hot. Everything is too hot. Then it is humid too.
The cloud hangs heavy, sealing in all the heat. I can’t even bear anyone sitting next to me, as their body heat seems to radiate almost visibly.
On top of that the phone / internet wifi router thingy / phone filter thingy has packed in and we can only either have internet or phone, not both.
Not in a good mood.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


I've been trying to buy a yacht. Let's put it into context though, I'm not looking at anything to rival Roman Abramovitch; just a tiny sailboat.
It is proving surprisingly difficult to find any kind of quality at the restricted budget I am prepared to pay. In search of said elusive value, my youngest son, Jed, my nephew Matt and I went down to Gosport on a maritime wild goose chase. Matt amused us greatly as we arrived at the marina, by producing as his kit bag an Antler suitcase, vintage 1963. "Hey up," I said, "Miss Marples has arrived!"
The boat which promised to be "a nice, well cared for example" turned out to be something that Grimebusters would have paid to have a go at. A cross between a shed and an ashtray, with a couple of sails up top. More importantly, virtually everything on it needed either fixing or replacing. Truthfully, I could have gone home again as soon as I clapped eyes on her on the pontoon, but the boys had come for a sail and I did not want to disappoint. So, after a lengthy coughing and spluttering from the engine, and an even lengthier coughing and spluttering from the owner, we got under way.
Just out of Portsmouth Harbour, one of the supposedly salty owners was laid low puking and remained so whilst we flew westward. As his name was Mick, this provoked all the predictable Cockney rhyming slang gags. Then the engine failed to start twice - once rather spectacularly as we entered the very busy small boat channel back into Portsmouth Harbour. Won't be buying that one! Still, we had a nice sail down the Solent in her, and around the 250m exclusion zone which surrounds the truly awesome American aircraft carrier which was anchored mid Solent, on its way to bomb the fuck out of Mr Ghadaffi.
Jed proved once again that he is a natural helmsman. Matt wandered slightly in a Miss Marples style investigation of the depths, but through characteristic perseverance, came good. Our heartfelt solicitations after the green looking owner lasted only as far as the car park. After that, the imitations of heaving began in earnest.
Pass the bucket.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


  • Graffiti World

  • Manon des Sources

  • 100 Artist's manifestos

  • Luftwaffe Squadrons 1939 - 1945 (hilariously I actually received The Robbie Burns Songbook - which has some surprisingly raunchy numbers)

  • Hannah Montana The Movie

  • The East Coast Pilot

  • Historias Minimas (highly recommended)

  • Appetite

  • Larousse

  • Ringspun shorts

  • Reeds Almanac 2011

  • More shorts

  • Aluminium fly screen (a life changer)

  • Magnifying glass

  • Gypsy Boy (not recommended)

  • Double pinion hand drill (be glad of that when the electricity runs out)

  • Peace - Richard Bausch (independently verified as brilliant)

  • The West Wing (too revved up for me)

  • Generation Kill (recommended)

  • Troubleshooting Marine Diesel Engines

  • The English Hymnal- full music and words edition

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


I wish nothing of the sea
I have seen the edge of the sea and it scared me
I know of a tranquil pond
Still, bright and clean

Black water all around now

© CT


You once had one of many colours
And you had dreams.
Though agriculture wasn't your bag
You looked deep futurewise
Beyond the bends in the river,
The eels, the slimy things,
The mud left by the tide,
And out into a predictive sea.

Now I don't know of your oracular powers.
Your cloak has changed -
An invisibility,
And perhaps this means the powers are gone,
Or perhaps the greater power is in flow,
Blending with the river's changing hues
Going with the tide,
Ebbing, flowing.
Should I?

Shouldn't I?

Friday, 17 June 2011


Yesterday I did something I've never done before.

Yes. I played a harmonium.

My friend and I had gone on a cycle ride, and I said, "I'd like to visit that church."

We did.

It was a fine little church, still holding services to three or five communicants every third Sunday. Not much call for the harmonium. Still, when two or three are gathered together....

"What's your favourite hymn?" I asked.

"Immortal, invisible, God only wise.."

I turned to the page in the hymnal, pulled out a couple of stops, began pedalling, and gave him a few verses.

Not a bad sound, and I did a bit of Grand Wurlitzer-style lingering on some of the chords, to work the echoes and eddies of the acoustics.

"I'll have done twenty miles more than you," I said at one stage, struggling with coordinating my fingers and the pedalling you've got to do with one of these things.

We then sat in the church pews and had a long theological discussion, in which, loving man that he is, my friend accommodated my own stew pot of pagan, Zen, Catholic and downright weird.


Define God as the universal, positive, elemental and harmonious flow of life force which builds and binds the Universe constantly, and asking "do you believe in God?" becomes like asking "do you believe in hands?"

That little church did its business well yesterday, congregation or no. There we were, the two of us, for a few moments, united in consideration of the sublime. The old building held, harboured and perhaps even engendered our awed and respectful tones.

Now, all together for the next verse:

But of all thy rich graces, this grace, Lord, impart
Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart


The problem I have with socialists is I've never met one.

I meet a lot of middle class people who talk a lot of guff about equality, redistribution of wealth and other principles of socialism.

But I've never actually met one who practises what he preaches.

A test of this is as follows: do you cut your own income back to the national average and redistribute the rest?

No. I didn't think so.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Measure old age in judgements.
Only the good die young.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Verba mea auribus percipe Domine, intellige clamorem meum.
Intende voci orationis meæ, Rex meus et Deus meus.
Quoniam ad te orabo: Domine mane exaudies vocem meam.
Mane astabo tibi et videbo: quoniam non Deus volens iniquitatem tu es.
Neque habitabit iuxta te malignus: neque permanebunt iniusti ante oculos tuos.
Odisti omnes, qui operantur iniquitatem: perdes omnes, qui loquuntur mendacium. Virum sanguinum et dolosum abominabitur Dominus:
ego autem in multitudine misericordiæ tuæ. Introibo in domum tuam: adorabo ad templum sanctum tuum in timore tuo.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

A principle isn't a principle until it costs you something.

Friday, 11 March 2011



An ad from Oxfam.

Who thinks it's outrageously sexist?

Sunday, 6 March 2011


Breakfast Club
A large bill for the Range Rover.



Roasted aubergine, onion, new potatoes,and pine kernels with mint and feta. Very unctuous and nice, whilst still reasonably light. A good antidote to several very carnivorous days.

Beetroot, blood orange and balsamic salad.

A salad of rocket, lambs lettuce, black olives, celery, nuts and cucumber.

Chateau Musar 2002.

A key lime cheesecake.



Tuesday, 1 March 2011


I'm a fan of portraiture.
I came across this remarkable protrait recently, of George Bush, by Siegfried Woldhek. You can see more of his work at

Monday, 28 February 2011

There's an old joke: "Did you hear about the Chinaman seeking knowledge? Went to Norfolk."

Several of my coaching clients are grappling with the limitations of knowledge. That tussle comes along with being given a seat at the top table. Suddenly, knowledge is not enough. The skills which meant you were the guy or girl with the answer have to be dropped, as you become the guy or girl with the questions rather then the answers.

My Mum and Dad used to say, in an effort to get me to apply myself to my studies, "knowledge is power."

But how did they know since they never had any?

The truth is that the more power you have, the more you are reliant on the knowledge of others. And the more you need the intanigible skills of tapping it.

Saturday, 26 February 2011


I'm about to gush.

Sometimes one sees something so brilliant, it demands it.

The Missus and I have started dating again, a luxury enabled by doing the deal of all childcare deals. At my age a hot date isn't as hot as it used to be. A good deal less hot than a Range Rover's exploding coolant system. Still, amor vincit omnia.

Thus, we have made a couple of forays into the local art house cinema.

One was to see the King's Speech. Highly recommended, and a performance enough to convince me that Colin Firth is an actor after all, and not just a cardboard cutout.

But last night we went to see Never Let Me Go. It has shot on one viewing (the first of many, I think) to the top of my all time greatest film list. I've rarely seen such a densely packed piece of brilliance. It should be compulsory viewing for every English speaking person. Yes, Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and the other actors are great, but it's the screenplay based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel which is the real source of the brilliance. That, and the direction, locations and cinematography. What we end up with is a searing, shocking, devastating critique of western society inside a sad little love story. Layers, layers, more layers. A film to get you talking, arguing, and even reevaluating your own life.

Not often I'd say a film is life changing. But this is.

Go and see it.


Or else.

Friday, 25 February 2011


That's gonna cost.

Thursday, 24 February 2011



Sunday, 20 February 2011


You know the old Ealing Studios films, when there is a police search. The bobbies stalk in line abreast, and, obviously in black and white, looking for clues. One of them eventually finds something.

"Over 'ere, Sah!" he calls, in inevitably cockney tones.

Then, a couple of detectives look at whatever has been found and pass exchanges in clipped, Pathe news, RP.

Ealing Studios had relocated in time and place to the lawns on the east of the house this morning and had recruited woodpigeons to play the rozzers. In strict line abreast they patrolled, working the lawns from North to South, as organised as any rual constabulary.

And in another filmic moment, I was awakened by a mini Miss Havisham. Yesterday, as a special treat whilst on a shopping spree, the mini Princess was allowed to choose one present. Eeny meeny miny mo............. a bride's dress, complete with veil!! Now, in an ecstasy of romance, I am in demand as the bridegroom, despite my protestations.

"Dad, will you just marry me?"
"But I can't marry you. I'm your Dad."
"No. Dad. You just have to wait at the church here." (Somewhere in the hall).
"Can't you marry someone else?"
"What about the Connolly boys? Oscar? Alex? Finn?"
"NO. Dad. You've got to marry me."

Puzzling films, these two.
How did the pigeons organise?
What ARE the workings of an infant female mind?

I'll probably never be able to answer either.

Saturday, 19 February 2011


My TV screen is full of glum people telling me how dire are the consequences of climate change and how all our carbon emissions are causing it. Somewhere, in the funding cosmos, it is now written that, if you want to get lolly for a TV programme, this is the line that has to be taken. Academic friends of mine tell me it is also so for research budgets. Fine, if you're a climatologist or geographer. A bit more tricky if your research is into Wordsworth, or theology.
I am pretty sick of hearing about it to be honest.
And I have a simple suggestion to help reduce carbon emissions.
It culd easily be launched by all those furrow browed TV presenters.
Get people to turn their TVs off.
Job done.

Friday, 18 February 2011


It is appraisal time.
Here, in no particular order, are my appraisals of all the bosses I’ve ever had.

1. Stupid. Insulting. Had to tell you where to stick it.
2. Snobbish. Insulting. Had to tell you where to stick it.
3. You recruited me because I was a racing cyclist. A dubious strategy. But you were a delightful old buffer, who made mundane stuff fun.
4. You were a top bloke. You became a friend.
5. A spaniel in looks and habits. Bark, but no bite. You thought you might have a go at biting. Had to tell you where to stick it.
6. Intolerable bully. Had to tell you where to stick it.
7. Nice bloke. Shame you were on the fiddle.
8. A gentleman, in corduroys.
9. An ex RSM who terrified everyone, but somehow took me under your wing. For once in my life I was the golden boy and could do no wrong.
10. A piss taker with little or no management skill. Kind, though.
11. The best of all. Clear, empowering, kind.
12. A small minded, pompous twat. Had to tell you where to stick it.
13. A camp micro-manager with a mean streak. Had to tell you where to stick it.
14. A good bloke. Shame they sent you to prison.
15. Drunk in charge.
16. You thought you were God’s gift. God didn’t agree.
17. Intolerant politico. A nasty bit of work.
18. Nice guy. Liberating. Well, you fired me, at least.
19. Barely human. Even now my flesh creeps when I think of you.
20. A knob. But a charming one.
21. Too stressed to realise your obvious potential.
22. Self employed. The worst boss of all.


Our caring, sharing coalition government has dropped its proposals to sell off forestry commission lands, following a consultation process which showed this move to be almost universally unpopular. Hats off to them for listening.
Was I attracted by the "hands off our forests" campaign?
Not instantly.
I saw little real reason why access (which seemed to be the main objection) could not be maintained, or even enhanced under private ownership. Indeed, there is good money waiting to be made just by attracting more people into our forests, and by enhancing their interest with better facilities and information, never mind more imaginative, as yet untried ways of sweating the assets. There is a conservation argument, of course. But there again, vast swathes of forestry commission land are wildlife deserts, planted as they are with nothing but conifers. I wonder how many of the great and good who got behind this campaign actually do visit our forests. Fewer than protested, I suspect.
Now, I'm not saying that they should be privatised. I'm saying that I wouldn't automatically assume they shouldn't. In my own local forest, I was deeply irritated to see so many "Hands off our Forests" notices pinned to gates and of course trees ( I hope the protesters will remove them now), but I was not persuaded by a slogan alone to join the campaign.
The Forestry Commission does cost the taxpayer some £95 million a year. I think. I say "I think," because determining from the Forestry Commission Annual Report what exactly they do cost us is no easy task. It is an astonishing 142 pages long. A veritable forest of largely irrelevant information. Within it, to my untrained eye, it was next to impossible to sort - dare I say it - the wood from the trees. I am used to dealing with financial reporting which is a good deal crisper. To me, a report which is clear on the financials indicates a management team which is on top of things. In the Forestry Commission's reporting, you need a chainsaw to hack away and get to the facts. This makes me suspicious that the facts, if known, would not be very edifying. And it suggests to me a management team, which, extensive and well paid though it appears to be, hasn't got a Scooby. In particular, one statistic eluded me. I was interested to know how much revenue the Commission was generating from its vast assets. I'm still interested. Moreover, it is surprising, and damning to my mind, that the Forestry Commission can be sat on such huge assets, and not turn a profit from them for the public purse. But perhaps I'm just plain ignorant of the neccessary complexities of running woodland in the public interest. Or perhaps I just couldn't make head nor tail of the reporting. Not sure.
So. Woodland is still "ours".
But if I were in government, I'd be looking to fire up my chainsaw, and start hacking at the management of our beloved forests.

Thursday, 17 February 2011


  1. Listen to nobody. Most of them are idiots. Those that aren't idiots are trying to fleece you.
  2. Trust yourself.
  3. Measure risk as inattention.
  4. Develop an utter intolerance of loss.
  5. Aim high. Very high.
  6. 26% is needed to double in three years.
  7. Back your hunches.
  8. Focus on concentration rather than diffusion.
  9. Reinforce succeses heavily.
  10. Do not reinforce failures.
  11. Become a gardener. Nurture things which are growing in the right way. Weed regularly and ruthlessly.
  12. Develop an indifference to any emotional factors associated with the holding. They are nice / do good things has no place.
  13. Forget ethical investments. They are for wankers.
  14. Investments are always short term. Long termism is a way of cheating the ordinary man on the Clapham omnibus into handing his money over to sharp players who know this is not true.
  15. Volatilty = profit.
  16. Buy on ups.
  17. Sell on downs.
  18. Penny shares invariably have idiotic spreads, and prove illiquid when you try and sell them. Man, I've been burnt by this one.
  19. There is no substitute for sensible research.
  20. You do not need to be any kind of expert to do sensible research. Sensible research questions are:
  21. Is the trend up?
  22. Is it volatile?
  23. Are they making money?
  24. Are they big enough to be sound and small enough to grow?
  25. Are they adding net equity?
  26. Are they solvent?
  27. Is the P/E ludicrous?
  28. Do you understand how they make money?
  29. Does it seem like a growth market?
  30. Funds don't decrease risk, they increase it, as they build in inattention in their liquidity profile.
  31. Moreover, a lot of fund managers ARE long termers, and therefore miss the profit from volatilty. And they charge you a %, win or lose.
  32. Funds are useful to access markets otherwise unavailable.
  33. ETFs cover most of these better and cheaper.
  34. The past is not an indicator of future performance. Yeah, right. Just like if you were England manager, whether a player had scored in every single game, or had never played football before would never enter your head.
  35. To really make money, start with a lot of money.
  36. Enjoy the learning as well as the profits.
  37. Don't believe a word I say. Work it out for yourself.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Yesterday was Shackleton’s birthday.

He is a hero of mine, Old Shack. The Boss, as his men never failed to call him, organised the most audacious rescue attempt of his expedition party from Elephant Island on the Antarctic peninsula, via open boat journeys which would shake the most fearless. Anyone who has been at sea at all, seen at first hand their boat, the James Caird, and imagined the terrifying prospect of crossing the Drake Passage in her cannot fail to be moved by the achievement of Shackleton, Worsley, Crean, Vincent, McCarthy and McNish in navigating from Elephant Island to King Haakon Bay, South Georgia. The James Caird was an open boat of twenty one feet. McNish, the carpenter, had modified her, providing canvas decks, extra ballast, and a ketch rig, including a jib. But everything froze on the journey, the men included. The rigging froze so hard that the crew had to crawl out on the lethal icy decks, held at the ankles by their crewmates, and attack it with an ice axe. Everything, everything – rations, water, sleeping bags, clothing, got soaked then froze, meaning almost no respite for the crew. It was a good job McNish had rigged a jib, as without it, the James Caird would never have clawed to windward to clear Annekov island as they made landfall. As it was, it was the nearest of near misses. But somehow they made it, through the most desperate of voyages, only then to face a hitherto unattempted crossing of the unthinkably mountainous interior of South Georgia. This they also accomplished with crude, improvised equipment, but an unstoppable motivation to save their colleagues. When they were met at the door of the Manager’s house at Stromness whaling station, it is said that the Manager wept openly to see their pitiable state. Even after their privations, Shackleton was unceasing in his quest to rescue the rest of his men from Elephant Island. He finally did so. “All well?” he hailed them. "All well," they replied. And as they were all safely transferred to the rescue tug Yelcho, Worsley reported that “years dropped away from the Boss’s countenance”. All were brought off alive. Only one, Perce Blackborrow, had any serious injury. He got frost bite and needed a toe amputating. Ironically he was a stowaway on the expedition which had taken them to Antarctica.

Shackleton epitomises for me the ideal that a leader should, quite simply, put his people first -something which one comes across in industrial and commercial leadership so, so rarely. He combined a hard, utter clarity and determination towards the goal with a deep, almost maternal (so his men said) care about his people.

Shackleton is buried at Grytviken cemetery on South Georgia. I hope one day to be able to pay my respects. Ideally I will have travelled there under sail. Ideally too, in rather more comfort than Shackleton’s men.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


In the deeply rural triangle of England which I call home, there are many unchanging elements. The landscape has been carved by generations of farmers, and mechanization has doubtless had a part in changing the land and its character. But looking at the deeds to my house, and its ancient attendant maps, there is not too much to indicate that so much has changed. The field patterns are the same - excepting one or two swathes which have been cleared of hedges by the so called "barley barons". Hedgerows remain, in summer full of yellowhammers, which, along with owls, seem to be a logo of the place. The ownership of land has changed greatly, though. My house in 1830 had with it 1760 acres. Now, 5. Across the timespan described by its deeds, one can see the gradual parcelling and sale of land. There are other changes too. As far as I can tell, it is only the last two generations of owners who have actually owned and lived in the house. Neither were farmers. Prior to that, the dwellers were tenants, working the land whose title was with gentrified owners, living in London and having little connection with it, other than the financial.

There are, of course, changes. The older residents speak of the increase in traffic along the lane. In the mornings and evenings, some drivers use one of the lanes as a shortcut on their way to and from work in York. Rush hour sees - ooh - six cars! We have 30 mph signs in the village now. With a growing population of young kids this is a good thing. Some time ago, the village was polled by the local council to establish whether the fourteen households here wanted street lighting. The answer was a resounding no. Too much enjoyment in an unpolluted night sky. And a sense of pride in the rural character of where we live.

One unchanging biannual feature of our life here is the visits of the gypsies, attracted to this small part of England in part by its own unchanged nature. It is the same family each time - a man, small, lean, weathered and Balkan looking, his woman, fat and inert, two silent daughters and twenty or so horses. Their possessions are few. They have one "modern" caravan, two bowtops, and a flat wagon. They own two or three bicycles, a couple of small dogs, one or two hens. They come once in winter, once in summer. They tether their horses at the side of the road and move them on to new grass periodically. They hang their clothes out to dry on the hedges. They make their camp at the junction of an old green lane, and one of the four tarmac lanes which connect the village to the "main" (B class) roads a couple of miles away in each of four directions. When they leave, there is little or no mess.

I am on good terms with Mr. Gypsy. He smiles, nods and waves at me as we pass. Occasionally I have brought his family small presents. I went through a pineapple phase. I figured that pineapple would not be a regular feature at the gypsy dinner table, and so, when I was at the shops, I would buy them one. They accepted these odd gifts with a quiet dignity. I don't really know if they were grateful. Bemused, perhaps. I worried that this gesture might be patronising. Perhaps I shall buy them mangos, guava, passion fruit. But then again, perhaps not. Who knows?

What I do know is that I feel positively disposed towards them. Here are the reasons. They represent to me a way of life which butts up against the fundamental assumptions which our society makes about how we should live. They own virtually nothing. They are not static. They fall outside our laws, and the assumptions our laws make. I doubt they have a bank account. I doubt they have much at all to do with money. The digital world is, I imagine, a closed book to them. Their kids seem not to go to school. And if they continue in this style of life, why would they need to? They have a deep connection with the land and the seasons which most of us lack. Theirs is a life of simplicity, and the deep boredom - or is it acceptance, which goes along with it. They have no TV or other media. Their world is theirs, enclosed in their own experience, untroubled by foreign irrelevancies. I doubt they vote or have any interest in politics. They consume little if anything of state services. I imagine they don't pay tax. There is a sameness, a regularity to their trudging life which is somehow to me deeply inspiring, conjuring as it does, notions of the basics of human survival, and questions of our purpose, so often forgotten, mislaid. It is as though they live in fog, engrossed in their own experience, everything else invisible. It is as though they have stepped out of the pages of my deeds, part of a time described by different assumptions about the land and the human role with and within it.

I don't envy them. A number of local people have sharp views on them. One told me to lock my doors. I haven't done so. I see no reason to fear them. If Mr. Gypsy needed something I hope he would ask me. They are, I imagine, frequently hassled by a society which does not seek to understand them, and which finds their assumptions about life difficult to accept.

One morning soon, I shall pass their camp and they will be gone. Gone as quietly as they came, disappearing in the same mist which brought them. I hope I shall see them again in the summer, when pineapple may once again grace their table.

Monday, 14 February 2011


Since David Cameron echoed Angela Merkel's sentiments that multiculturalism has failed, the great and the good have turned their considerable minds to this. When I hear great minds debating such things, I have at hand a kind of litmus paper to test their validity. If I can't understand what they are going on about, there's a chance they are going on about nothing. If that sounds arrogant, sorry. I do not consider myself a hyper intelligent mega being. But I do think I have an averagely good brain, capable of grasping the meaning in most things. Therefore, if I cannot grasp the meaning, there will be many like me. And it may well mean that there is no meaning really to grasp, but a bunch of pseuds sitting around bumping their gums, and emitting clever sounding horseshit.
Defining national culture is like netting dreams though, granted. It is a very difficult thing to pin down. That we should be debating it is, I suppose, encouraging in one sense. It marks the end of the Labour project of destroying national pride. This was important to New Labour, because so much of what has made Great Britain great is rooted in an elitist, politically incorrect past and because national pride naturally stood in the way of state enlargement to solve our pervasive "problems". Now the Big Society notion essentially asks us to solve our own problems like the adults we are, pride can once again grow. Whether the seed has been in suspended animation too long, we shall see.

Can one pin down national identity? I'm not nearly clever enough to be a Director of the Institute for Ideas (desperately, it seems to me, arguing my way back from cow towing to the last lot and into ingratiating the new lot, to secure my own funding). But, in my own sweet, simple way, maybe I can (along with you, dear readers) propose a number of things that are still great, about Great Britain. And that the debate now attracts lofty intellect to it raises my hopes that a celebration of what is good may begin to become a policy guide.

Simultaneously, I find myself repelled by my own thought. Nations are lines on maps, little more. There wasn't a war yet that was not predicated on notions of them and us. That our shores have emphasised these lines geographically does not suggest their legitimacy. Ask any Scot, Irishman or Welshman! One day, in a Utopian future, there will be no them.

In the meantime, when there is much which is plainly not great, here are some things which put the great into being British:

  • Tolerance, mainly
  • An intolerance of the boastful and a preference for the understated
  • A sense of fair play
  • A sense of decency
  • The outstanding British rural landscape
  • A proud military tradition
  • A cuisine which we all moan about, but which at its best is really great
  • Free speech
  • A vibrant democracy
  • Courtesy
  • Doggedness
  • A most wonderful language, and artists who have used it to the full
  • A softening of the heart towards the underdog
  • A treasuring of eccentricity
  • A suspicion of petty bureaucracy (which I believe will grow)
  • Schools and Universities which still have a commitment (which I believe will grow) towards encouraging thought rather than knowledge
  • An essentially gentle and humorous outlook
  • A decent pint
  • A width of architectural heritage which is enriching
  • Brainy, creative youth
  • Add your own, dear reader, if you will..................................


"A good hoggins clears the custard," said driver "Plunger" Bailey, his face like a dog's bum with a hat on.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Is money really the root of all evil?

Or is evil really the root of all money?