Friday, 30 November 2012


“We’re stuck,” he said, “stuck in our ways, stuck in our inability to provide a wider vision of what our service to the organization and our customers could and should be.”
Now that was a brief I could work with. We took the team to an extremely remote shooting lodge. To get there, 4x4s were needed. They hired theirs. We took ours. After an apparently normal dinner, overnight stay and breakfast, unfortunately our clumsiest consultant got the 4x4 stuck to its axles in a notorious bog, just off one end of the landrover track. Why did he ever go in there?
The call for help came in at the shooting lodge, and it was all hands to the pump, or, in this case, shovels, tow ropes, winches etc. For a good few hours, the team laboured to release the vehicle. They were up to their knees, and sometimes deeper in the mud, struggling to get the vehicle out, oblivious to the metaphor being worked on them.
But in session afterwards, receiving feedback from the rest of the business on being “stuck in the mud” as a team, together with video and observational feedback of their physical labours led them to reflect on their own behaviours at their best and at their worst.
To this day, the client says he cannot work out whether we deliberately got that vehicle stuck, or not! There was a sequel.
One group member, who had spent a childhood in the countryside, said “you won’t get that out. You need a tractor.” He was right. But the group didn’t see it that way. They saw their mission as trying to get the thing out, as distinct from getting it out. That he would not join in what he saw as futile labours left him isolated. Some months later. I revisited the team, more cohesive than ever. The lone voice was no longer employed within it.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Thinking about death emlightens life.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


It was a very large office. Cream carpet, measured by the hectare. Impressive negative space of a desk. The man himself, the CEO, small, a bit mis-shapen, very quietly spoken with an impediment that he had cunningly developed to make people listen. Not a single paper on the huge desk. Just a small wooden plaque, facing the victim. For one felt like a victim, walking the long distance between door and your bidden place in front of the desk.
"We want to create an empowerment culture," he pronounced, quietly, so quietly you had to strain to hear him, "a culture where people feel empowered to do the right thing, take the right decision, make the right call. A culture where people are encouraged to take initiative, come up with good ideas. A culture where people are not asking permission all the time, which gets away from our old rule bound ways of doing things and fosters innovation. A culture empowering every employee to make the best of themselves and develop their ideas to mutual benefit. A culture where people don't wait to be told what to do, but get on with doing the right things. A culture which moves beyond command and control, and into, as I say, empowerment."
I was young.
I was awed.
I was listening.
But my brain was not quite lulled into the off mode.
As his body language signalled that the interview was at a close, and I was to leave, I said "sounds like a fascinating challenge." I almost added the word "sir", such was his developed aura of power.
And then, young as I was, it could not be resisted. I reached forward and turned the small wooden plaque around, so its message faced him, rather than me.
It said, simply:
The buck stops here.

Friday, 9 November 2012


I am occasional birdwatcher.
I find birds useful, amongst other things.
They can tell you a lot by their behaviour.
For example, you always know the wind direction by looking at which way birds come in to land.
That was on my mind when I saw the bird hovering over the flame coloured cherry trees. Ah. a southerly, I thought, dismissing the bird as "just another" kestrel.
But then I saw the tell tale V shape tail and instantly realised my error.
It was a red kite. A species on the increase again in Britain, but this is the first I've seen at Laytham.
My spirits soar with the bird. As high as a kite.

Monday, 5 November 2012


What's the worst pain you've ever experienced?
Formerly, I'd have said heartbreak.
The biggest heartbreak in my life saw me resort to a couple of bottles of Rioja and 40 Marlboro a night. I was saved from this undesirable anaesthetic by motorbiking. A bike magazine published a calendar which I put on my kitchen wall. Aware that I was drinking too much, I just began monitoring how many nights I was sober. The answer was none. That was a help. As, gradually, I continued the highlighter pen on the calendar, so matters improved, until, though the pain never went away fully, and truthfully probably still has its tendrils somewhere in my body, Messrs Berry Brothers and Rudd profited less from my distress.
My life hasn't had a lot of pain. I once caught a cricket ball in the bollocks without a guard. That was painful. I've been punched in the face a few times - actually surprisingly not very painful, I broke a thumb on a mainsheet block a long way offshore. The next couple of days I felt a bit sorry for myself. I broke a wrist skiing. That was painful. A couple of years ago I walked out from an estate agent's into the street, clean forgetting that there were two steps down. I broke my arm. Painful.
But yesterday, I was racing mini missus on wet grass, and stumbled, coming down hard on my shoulder. I lay for an hour or so afterwards, whimpering like a kid, sweating and nauseous in a just pre unconscious phase. When I got to A and E, they reckon I haven't even broken anything. I can move my left arm well from the elbow, but even a micron's movement in the shoulder leaves me gasping. The pain is, I estimate, eight times more than a broken bone. My mate Bobski reckons I've been short changed without an x ray, though the medic seemed very certain, not to mention incomprehensible in the anatomy lesson she gave me about the various muscle groups surrounding the shoulder.
We'll see what a diet of nurofen sandwiches can achieve over the next few days.
Watch this space.

Saturday, 3 November 2012


You won't find garlic in my kitchen. I've declared war on it. My war started probably twenty years ago. I was constantly wondering "what's that vile smell?" What it was was the garlic, hanging in a larder and polluting the air of the house.
I defy a man to enjoy kissing a woman who has done garlic in the last twelve hours. Ugh. You'd need to be desperate indeed.
Some years ago, when my sons used to come to me for weekends, they were packed off with a spaghetti Bolognese supper by my ex, so that embracing them was a struggle. A vindictive tactic, or a coincidence? Let's be magnanimous.
Garlic is everywhere these days, despite its vileness. It has colonised commercial cookery and ingredients. It's the universal  inclusion. When the Missus returns from a working week, her need for food on the go means unwittingly consuming the evil bulb. It's in soups, sandwiches, dressings, and you can't find a main course in London eateries without it. Its vile spores infect everything it touches or which touches it.
My objection is not only its stink. It is this. Garlic makes you a lazy cook. Stick some garlic in, and you think the flavouring job is done. It stops you having to think about the harmonies of flavour which in fact are at the heart of cooking artistry. Garlic dominance robs a dish of the forethought and design which are the essence, for me, of being in a kitchen.
Cooking is making stuff. Edible nice things. And to make them good, the habit of mind which is required is that of considering first what ingredients are available, then what things go with what, and what will create balance and harmony in colour, shape, taste, and  texture. Garlic takes one (and maybe even  more than one) of those factors away. It's a flavour fascist.
There is nothing much that garlic can do that a reasonably skilled cook can't do with onions and leeks. But there's many a cook who automatically includes garlic, prey to its orthodoxy of universal inclusion, and thus blinded to his rightful duty to consider the flavour he is trying to create. With garlic you can't create any flavour, except garlic.
What about garlic bread? It's a fair cop, I admit. I like it. Between consenting adults. And when a treaty has been signed that both parties will partake. Then garlic has been mutually chosen as THE flavour of culinary goings on, much as one might sanction a little light BDSM in the bedroom. Occasionally. And not as a drug of choice. Certainly not to the extent that one becomes in thrall to the habit.
It's not a bad analogy. Tied up on a universal garlic-rack, we're in danger of mistaking simple monochromatic objectified food sex for what should be a deeper, more complex, more lasting relationship with flavour.
Food, after all, is an expression of love.

Thursday, 1 November 2012


There is such a hullabaloo about Jimmy Savile in all sorts of public forums that the question I am dying to put to a panel, such as that in Question Time, is this:

Is Jimmy Savile innocent?