Saturday, 31 October 2015



A friend of mine went to a retreat, held at a Buddhist centre, in the countryside. He went there with his partner and his niece, 9 years old, who they thought might enjoy the calm, meditative environment and the nice grounds. It was one of those retreats where there is a big name guru – Kelsang this or that – and, at a point in the retreat, the attendees could have a personal audience with the guru. It was a lovely warm day, and the gardens were beautiful in the sunshine. When the time came for the personal audiences, the people were asked to queue for their turn in a corridor, until the guru was ready to receive them. It was a long queue and a long wait so the little girl went out to play in the grounds and enjoy the sunshine. After a long time waiting, my friend went to check on his niece. She was fine, playing happily under a tree with the guru.





I was sitting with some Buddhists and they had this book about attachment. Attachment, they were saying, is the cause of all suffering. In the book there was a kind of quiz – how attached are you? Or something like that. And there we were, rating ourselves. So I took the book, and got in my hand a dozen or so pages, and ripped them out, and then for good measure ripped them into pieces. It was delightful how quickly angry the Buddhists became. A lady called me a bastard and threatened to kick me in the bollocks. I felt it prudent under this threat to leave the room and go to another. So I went. Laughing.



Friday, 30 October 2015



I was following you
Had been all afternoon
As we walked
And you talked
And all I could do
Was the helpless act of listening
And we reached a gate
Darkened by laurel
A robin was singing
And I was thinking
God, if I were your therapist
I wouldn’t know where to start
And you turned to me
And said
“These talks.
These talks we have.
They do me so much good.”

Thursday, 29 October 2015


There was this guy
Not a bad boss, but fired me,
Kicked, propelled me,
Shook me from the corporate tree,
Without knowing
How grateful I was to fall,
How much opportunity
Then lifted above my horizon -
New dawns, new suns -
New ways of being me.
And truthfully I think
He’d been better firing himself
Which, eventually, he did,
Going out of offices,
Tripping way beyond those corporate walls
And into Andalucian hills
To a lake
Of his dawn’s finding,
Seeing on a branch
A dragonfly
Attacked by wasps
(Which, with his meditation beads,
He shooed)
Chanting, picking up that lifeless thing -
That still stick of blue green life
Apparently extinguished.
And, not knowing what to do,
Went on chanting
Till the wings chirred,
The dragonfly rose
Flew again to the lake
And like a victory roll made off
Into some new, blue future.
Like that guy found.
Like I, fired, found.
All three of us.

Sunday, 25 October 2015


I can hear my daughter in the room next door
And she is talking in voices
One doll to another
Names like Skipper and Chelsea
Rehearsing a fashionista life
On beaches, in big houses
Where a ready flow of labels
Is mixed with girl talk
And surfing
And then she runs in to say
Look dad. Look.
I can put my foot higher than my head.
And she can.
Standing on one leg.
And then she does a handstand
Just for the hell of it
Before returning to Barbie world
Seamlessly, without the slightest doubt
That both acts can be performed
With no shred of self consciousness
And I remember
My son dancing once
He danced often
But this time was different
It was a moving of his body
Without plan or design
Just moving
Moving utterly held by each note and beat
And was itself moving –
Moved me to tears
As this morning I feel close to them
Realising these pure things are gone for me
Too held by notions
Of what is right or wrong
What is appropriate, adult,
Too held by what looks or sounds good
Rather than just spilling
Whatever words come
Onto a page.

Saturday, 24 October 2015


Thursday, 22 October 2015


Time is money.

People say that.

Money is time.

People don't say that.

But it's true, in ways that change how people think about what they are doing.

One. You pay people to work for you. Wow. That seems ok. But it hides an insidious set of assumptions. That you have bought something less valuable for something more valuable.

But time isn't less valuable than money. Ask anyone diagnosed with a fatal illness. Ask anyone recently bereaved. Ask anyone with any sense.

Reverse the logic and you get something amazing. With a new respect for peoples' time, you hold the possibility of creating something special. By making the time of organizational life special, you cannot help making the experience of your organization special. By making the experience of your organization special, you will actually make more money. They don't teach you that at Harvard. Well, you don't need to go to Harvard to learn it, anyhow.

There's another linkage to time. Everyone is always selling time. They may not see it this way, but they are. Whether you sell goods or services, what you really sell is the quality of time a customer spends with them. Make that special, and you make your product special.

This thinking releases ideas. When asked to help British Airways revitalise their lounges, the trick was to stop thinking about them as physical spaces and start thinking about them as units of time - at that time, often blank meaningless pieces of time in a traveller's life. But waiting, just waiting, for ideas to add value to that time, to the benefit of people visiting them, and as a lever of brand preference.

This thinking about time has an individual consequence too. Spiritual, even. There are few jobs that cannot be defined as adding value to the time of others. Job is just a context for doing so. This is redemptive. Not only for the "others" but for the job holder. It is akin to the man with a broom, who, asked whether his job is the cleaner, replies, "No - I am building a cathedral!"

Saturday, 17 October 2015


I have had my dealings with blackthorn before. It is the plant equivalent of the mafia. Unforgiving, to say the least. I wrote about that on 13.03.2013.

I thought that maybe I had left it too late this year, but today I finally got round to picking the sloes. It turns out they are all the better for leaving. The blue, slightly powdery blush is upon them, and they are big and fat. They are soft, too, and that is  a great advantage in making sloe gin, as, instead of having to prick each individual fruit, you can squidge them between finger and thumb. Not without effort, but far less time consuming. You have to do this, or the fragrant juicy flesh will be unavailable to flavour the gin.

So later turned out to be better.

But there was something else. I don't know if it was my imagination but it was as though the sloes wanted to be picked. I used neither gloves nor goggles. And how many injuries did I pick up from the potentially lethal thorns? None. Could it be that, at the very right moment that the fruit needs to be picked, and thus the seed spread, the blackthorn lets its guard down? Its thorns soften and yield?

Perhaps it is fanciful. Perhaps, even, it is a trap.

But the mafia in the hedgerows let me pass unmolested.

And the illegal hooch trade is on.

Friday, 16 October 2015


If you say to me, how can I improve my hotel, make it more charming, I will give you a list. If you own a business and want ideas for it to be more customer friendly, again, a list shall follow your request. Banks, airlines, utility companies, retail chains, telecoms Companies, media organizations, industrial giants, financial services powerhouses - all of these and more, across the course of twenty odd years, have asked me for this kind of help. And the truth is, if you ask me for ideas, the only real question is, how many? I will keep generating them until you tell me to stop. I cannot stop myself. I do not run out. I just keep on finding more and more.


People say it is a rare talent. I don't believe that. I believe anyone can do it. Likewise, being a poet. Or an artist. Anyone can do it. Just be thick, be stupid, be outrageous, say whatever is on your mind, say whatever is in your heart, be it rude, be it idiotic, be it irrelevant, be it incorrect. I doesn't need to be "good". It just needs to be.

What is, perhaps, rare is the banishing of the censoring self which prevents it. For this reason, rebelliousness in kids is to be treasured. It is growing up, becoming adult, fitting in, worst of all being professional, which inhibit this ability. The ability is there, I think in all of us. But by believing we have to be things like smart, right, sensible, professional, moral, decent, honest and true, we censor away a world of ideas and possibility. These self definitions and their validation kill creativity. Ken Robinson alludes to how education erodes these abilities in his famous TED talk, viewed by something like 30 million people, many of whom, I can assure you, mourn the loss of their own creativity through the predominance of convergent, rather than divergent thought in our education and society.

In business, if you want divergent ideas - new ideas, get people on the job who know nothing about it. Get rid of the experts. They will be good at telling you what won't work. They'll be poor at coming up with new ideas. The whole history of invention proves this. Most breakthroughs are either accidents, or authored by amateurs.

Better still, disguise the real brief. Get people to find ideas about something different but analogous. That way, their prejudices about what does and does not fit won't apply. Just retro fit the ideas you get back to the original brief. It will amaze you how relevant they are.

I heard Lem Sissay, the poet, on the radio this morning, and his use of language was so startling to me, it acted as a personal alarm. The alarm was that, in listening, I realised that his language was so much more uncensored than mine, and that I, too, despite years of earning a living through my ideas and words, turn away in my daily thoughts, many of the simplest, the most innocent, the dumbest, the sweetest, the loveliest, the most useless / useful of connections. Like orphaning a child, my child. Abandoned. Hurt. Leaving that innocence bruised, grazed, ever so gradually broken. In the ignorant act, promoting the old lies - that to grow up is to lose the wonder of ideas and the magic of wide eyed, uncensored connection with the world around you.

The very essence of creativity.

Thursday, 15 October 2015


I was once asked to produce ideas for Eurostar. They wanted to attract business customers. Especially they wanted to get business people to try their route from central London to central Paris. My colleagues and I came up with a lot of ideas - that was our job. But the one that stood out for me, they didn't use.

I proposed that they buy all the available London to Paris business class airline tickets for a day or two. This would mean that there was no business class airline capacity on those days and so business people would have to try Eurostar, or fly economy. Since business class airline fares are fully refundable, the idea also had zero cost.

But they didn't run with it.

It was legal. It would have worked. It involved nothing immoral. It would have created more trial in the target market than all the other ideas. None were as strong. But the managers had their way. It was just too sharp. It went into the dustbin of history.

Shame. I thought it was one of my better ones.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Spreading butter is ludicrous.
Put on enough to cover the ground in the first place.



Morning has shown up
Wearing a dark coat
And when that’s removed
Little else;
The little being sheer
And trimmed with gold.
And it is more alluring than nothing.
A willingness toward surrender,
Against the fairytale norms,
A statement
That says I will enjoy this
And so will you.
And the hidden and the half concealed
(horizons in mist, nipples behind silk)
Are the more attractive for it,
Reminding me of a time
When my hands made a discovery:
You aren’t wearing underwear, I said,
Between kisses.
I didn’t think I’d need to, she replied.


Monday, 12 October 2015


My wide eyed infancy
Was written under Norfolk skies.
It's said it's flat there.
It's hillier than you'd think.

I was curious, left and climbed
Hills, mountains, crags -
Anywhere made thrilling by the chance of falls,
And views I thought lofty, heights worth defence.

Older but no wiser
I occupied a lower ground again,
Flat land, big sky.
A different kind of openness?

By comparison, a lack of views.
A return to boyhood skies
And possibilities?
A return, perhaps, to perhaps.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015


Causality is often unexpected.

As with Brian Eno's diagram - unintended consequences - desertification, which shows the unexpected and unintended result of digging village wells in the Sahel, as increased desertification and extended human suffering. A sobering view for aid workers.

I can't (yet) find the causality of what must have been a housing boom in the first twenty or thirty years of the 19th Century in rural East Yorkshire, resulting in so many farmhouses (including mine) being built about that time. Work in progress.

Meanwhile, prompted by a similar interest in vernacular architecture, my reading takes me to some new understandings.

Wool churches, across the East of England, were late medieval legacies of the wealth made from wool exports.

The wool exports were a result of increased emphasis on sheep farming rather than other forms of agriculture.

The increase in sheep farming was less labour intensive.

The change in emphasis was the result of decreased agricultural labour.

The decrease in labour was a result of the Black Death.

There's a Swedish detective series, BECK, which currently airs and captures my attention for similar reasons. The motives are unexpected. And often, people doing wrong things for right motives.

There's something humanising about this. If you walked in my shoes you would walk as I do.

Not a bad thought to take forward into daily encounters.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


We used to call them Firms.
They were firm.
Then we called them Companies.
Were they better company?
Now, organizations.
More refined. Classical etymology.
But more distant from the emotional connections of the previous two.
More scientific, perhaps? More in control of the lab rats?

Monday, 5 October 2015


The earth is laughing at the light -
The day crowing its fading longevity
Night gathers its winnings, and leaves,
Knowing the odds are shortening.
The sun that rose over John’s barn
(064 magnetic)
Now, like a sniper
Peering through masonry,
Aims its first shot south of east.
Dark knows it is darkening
Longer and colder,
Longer and colder.
The boilerman is coming
To cure the screeching valve.
Every night is longer at the table.


Friday, 2 October 2015


I don't shout at my kids. Not at sporting events, anyhow.

Once, at one of George's bouts, I caught myself shouting some idiocy. Then I realised, there's so many people yelling, he can't hear me anyway.

I confirmed this with him.

"I'm not going to shout any more", I told him, "but I am going to watch harder so that, if you want, we can go through it all together afterwards in a more thoughtful way".

Like me, he saw the usefulness of this.

I try not to want my kids to win. I try to be detached. I don't mind if they win. I don't mind if they don't.

But what if they haven't tried?

There, I find myself at odds with the throng of consoling, excuse making parents.

I am sure people read my silence as a Neo-Victorian censure.

Perhaps. To me, it's a matter of truth. A reluctance to say or endorse what is not true.

"Didn't your...... (insert name)..... do well?" says well meaning playground parent.

"No, they slacked in a shameful way," is what I want to say.

What I do say is, "well, .......(insert name)........ what did you make of it all?"


I met someone the other day. He is an airline pilot. Wow, you may say. A dream job. Once it was only a dream, a distant dream for him. As a boy, he ran down streets, his arms outstretched. Flying. He was flying. All his life he wanted to be an airline pilot.

For some years he was a happy airline pilot. But just recently, his airline has been run by money men, keen on staying competitive in times when people don't think flying is special any more, in times when they think it is the same as getting on a bus.

This change in status is hard for all who have to bear it. And when the airline is very hard nosed in the way it deals with its people, my pilot feels understandably angry and disappointed.

Hard to know what to say.

So mainly I listen.

Finally, as gently as I can, I remind him of that boy running down the streets, flying.

"Don't let them kill your dream," I say.


A couple of my favourite things are within this: