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?