My Right to Speak My Mind

All this week there has been a rumbling furore in the British press around comments made by former British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson about wearing face-covering garments such as the burka in public places. For example, Labour MP David Lammy has accused him of fanning the flames of Islamophobia for political advantage.

Unlike the people of Denmark who have recently banned anyone wearing the burka in public (following the lead of France, Germany, Austria and Belgium) Johnston said Muslim women should be free to wear face-covering garments.

This is a liberal stance but it was tempered with personal opinion.

“If you tell me that the burka is oppressive, then I am with you. If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree – and I would add that I can find no scriptural authority for the practice in the Koran.

I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes, and I thoroughly dislike any attempt by any – invariably male – government to encourage such demonstrations of ‘modesty’.”

It is this last paragraph that has caused the outcry.

There are many possible reasons why the Press and politicos are on Johnston’s back and not least because it is all about internal, Brexit driven politics.

However, what worries me most is that now no one can say anything that may upset or even offend without calls for a resignation. That is what has happened to Boris. At least, most say that he should apologise and many, including Muslim leaders, say he should be thrown out of the Conservative party.

I hold many opinions, many of which will upset a proportion of the population.

For example.

I think organised religions are the biggest source of world disorder and I want to have nothing to do with them.

I think that the paraphernalia of the Catholic Church is bizarre and their attitude to modern day problems including abortion and child sex scandals baffling.

How a population in Ireland and a handful of other countries can be divided by religion is, to me, inexplicable.

At the same time, I don’t understand why so many are so upset by nudity or complain that there is too much sport on the television. If men want to dress as women down at the local pub then let them.

I want addictions treated as both a social and medical problem and under this regime would legalise the sale and use of many drugs.

You may disagree with me.  I may not understand why you hold your alternate views, but I respect that you have the right to have them. That is your right but it is also how a civilised society works. We discuss, debate, compromise and agree on how to move forward.

But I am not offended by the views of others and this is the point about Boris Johnson’s article.

It happens in this instance that I agree with him.

I have worked in Africa and my boss was a great Malawian, Frank Mvula. I worked in Dubai for Arab bosses who were Muslims. I didn’t mind and when Ramadan came around I followed the routine and enjoyed the end of day Iftar meals. I am not racist nor Islamophobic and nor do I think is Boris Johnson.

If they want, I think that anyone could wear a burka but, as Johnson suggests, why would you want that? It is beyond me.

I don’t know what motivated Boris and what drove him to write that piece in the Daily Telegraph but remember that he was proposing a liberal view peppered with personal observations.

Detractors may argue that this goes beyond free speech and the right to proffer an alternative perspective is instead, inciting public disorder. That will only happen if those that read his words have become totally intolerant to any belief that isn’t their own. What we have seen over this last week is mass hysteria and insensitivity, which is perverse as these are the very same characteristics flung at Boris as an accusation for his article.

The right to say what you think, to explain a belief is crucial for any functioning society. As was said of Voltaire, I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Make Time for Patience

Patience is a subject I’ve touched on before and I hope that you haven’t become too wound up waiting for me to readdress the topic.

As the first of the summer cricket test matches start this week the art of patience is again at the front of my mind. I am sure that I don’t need to remind anyone that a test match can last up to five days and so winning is as much a game of discipline and patience as it is technical skills.

While cricket may not be everyone’s cup of tea there are many lessons for life and business it can teach, particularly about the power of patience.

And, in business, patience also means refection.

Exercising patience is more difficult than it was a generation ago. Communication technology has improved so much that it is difficult to be out of contact and buy a moment or two to reflect. It may difficult for many of you to remember the days before email, smartphones, messaging and WhatsApp but there was such a time.

Then, when you left the office that was your day done until the next morning when you were back at your desk. Hardly anyone kept staff home phone numbers and when a letter arrived (remember the Royal Mail?) you could take a day or week to respond, not least because it took at least a couple of days to get a hand-written letter typed in the pool.

All those delays put reflection and patience into a system which is missing today. Today’s problem is all about how you find this buffer and find time when time is stacked against you.

I know it is not easy and so much harder for anyone brought up exclusively in the world of new technology.

If you don’t have a plan and don’t take control, you will be overcome by technology-induced pace and your life will become uncomfortable and almost unmanageable.

Yes, without control, you will always be checking your phone for messages and everyone will know, because Viber and WhatsApp show that a message has been read, that now, at least, you have been tagged.  Probably, also, you will be expected to respond, immediately. There are people in my life who give me about 6 hours before the follow up is sent.

The problem is that the new technologies are taking away your opportunity to demonstrate patience.

When I started work there were many role models but one I remember specifically in this context was Vic Luck who finished his career at PwC as a global partner. Vic managed his time better than anyone else I have met. He was always in the office early and worked fast and accurately to clear his desk. Meetings were also early and precise. This left him plenty of time to address and deal with his management issues.

More importantly, Vic was also very clear to his staff about the deadline to finish a task, so he could fit its review into his schedule. He organised his time more successfully than anyone else I ever met. Doing this he set the agenda.

Even though it was in a pre-smartphone era, there is a lesson that can be learnt.

There has been much discussion on the oncoming impact of AI and just as with the smartphone revolution you must take control of the technology and not become its servant, and that has always been the way to manage technology.

But we have failed with the smartphone.

You know the trend without seeing the statistics but, today, the telecoms regulator Ofcom, released data showing 78% of all UK adults now own a smartphone, up from 17% 10 years ago and on average, people check them once every 12 minutes during their waking hours.

The average daily time spent on a smartphone is two hours 28 minutes, and 7 in 10 commuters use their smartphones on their journey to work.

We have let technology take control of us. How wrong is that?

If you set the agenda, it shouldn’t matter that you inundated with emails, messages and WhatsApp requests. If you manage the technology, manage time and create the chance to exercise patience, you will find the time to reflect and make better decisions.

There is an adage in cricket that you can’t win the game in the first two sessions, but you can certainly lose it. Technology can help you win in business, but you can be rushed by it, and then you can certainly lose.

Liars, Cheats and Thieves

I was with a friend yesterday and he told me this story. He has a friend who was once senior in the CIA. One night, over a beer, they were talking and, in the conversation, the American said that the world divided into two. There are those who are liars, cheats and thieves who, once identified in that category, are always there and then there are the rest.

I can’t talk much about cheats and thieves, but I have met my fair share of liars.

We all lie a little and before I get into big lies we can start with the small, teeny-weeny lies. We all lie a little bit and that is OK. These are known as white lies. A white lie is good, isn’t it? Not always.

I was amused by Marc Chernoff in his blog Marc & Angel Hack Life who gave us 15 of his best white lies, and here is a small selection.

It wasn’t me! – Because some things just aren’t worth taking credit for.

The table will be ready in 5 minutes. – Because it sounds a lot better than 15 minutes.

No, officer… I have no idea how fast I was going. – Because claiming ignorance is sometimes better than admitting to insubordination.

Yeah, I’ll start working on that ASAP! – Because telling you I have 10 things to do first would just irritate you.

I thought I already sent that email out.  I’m sure I did. – Because telling you that it was a low priority and I forgot would probably hurt our relationship.

But are they white lies? I know someday soon there will be a broken toy or vase and young Bertie will look up at me and tell me that it wasn’t him.

Psychologists have looked at white lies and their effect on relationships. In 2014, Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford University, pointed out that, trying to cover up a misdeed or just to get your way isn’t likely to improve your relationships. This type of deception is known as antisocial lying. It is destructive and weakens the bonds between two people. On the other hand, lies told to help another person or to protect someone’s feelings tend to be good for relationships. Psychologists call this pro-social lying,

It seems to me that all of Marc’s examples seem to be drifting into that first category of antisocial lying. There is no clear-cut line, but the truth is fundamental to a well-functioning society.

Stretching the truth is a natural component of human instinct because it’s the easy way out.  We all do it, so there is no reason to deny it.

Politicians and businessmen share a perception that the truth is a moving feast under the pretence that their on-going success is more important to the world than the precise truth. This brings us to today and the world of alternative truths and fake news.

If those that we allow to lead us can no longer differentiate the truth from a lie what do I tell my young grandson, Bertie, as he grows up?

There is only one way forward and that is, to tell the truth, always.

To finish, let me turn to Curtis Jackson and what he said, I hate a liar more than I hate a thief. A thief is only after my salary a liar is after my reality.

Pain in the Proverbial

I like to write one of these pieces every day, but until today I have missed two in a row. As an excuse, I could use the ultra-hot weather which has left everyone a little dozy and off the pace. I might even suggest that I have been revelling in the adulation from my performance at Author Craft on Tuesday evening. I won’t take you through all the detail other than to say that it went very well apart, that is from one big problem.

It is a problem that has persisted.

On Tuesday morning I went to the gym and while on the weights I leant forward. I wasn’t holding a weight but going to pick one up. It was a casual movement but I felt it go. I had tweaked a muscle in my lower back and I was almost locked in a bent over crouch.

It eased a little in the sauna, but not a lot.

I own an old car, but it is a sports car and even with a totally flexible back, not the easiest to get in and out of. Fortunately, no one was parked too close so that I couldn’t open the door fully. I needed every inch of space to sit and swing myself into position.

At home, around about Tuesday lunchtime, I was flat on my back wondering if I could even make it to the conference. The sofa was comfortable but getting upright caused the problems. I rolled to the edge and hoped my feet touched the ground first to break the fall.

Walking and moving was always more comfortable than sitting and so during the conference, I paced the back of the hall probably exuding nervousness rather than my attempt to stay loose. Anyway, we made it through and all was good until an hour sitting on the train stiffened up every sinew in my back. Changing for bed I had to kick off my shoes like a recalcitrant teenager. I couldn’t reach my feet at ground level.

It has been like this all week although with some slight improvement. At least now I am able to get out of bed in the morning which on Wednesday was a whole new gym exercise.

If you want to know about knees smashed up by rugby then I am your man. I can tell you all about ACLs and cartridges, but backache is new. I know nothing. A trip to the internet was needed and I wish I hadn’t.

In summary, among the causes of back pain are: an osteoporotic vertebra has collapsed; lung, breast, or prostate cancer; a kidney infection; kidney stones; encroachment upon spinal nerves; diseased arteries; or a lumbar disk protrusion that has entered the spinal canal.

Fortunately, none of these applies to me as I felt the muscle as it cramped or tore slightly, but what a list of possible concerns.

According to the ONS, an estimated 137 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK in 2016. This was equivalent to 4.3 days per worker, the lowest recorded rate since the series began in 1993 when the number was 7.2 days per worker. Musculoskeletal problems, including back pain, neck and upper limb problems, at 30.8 million days (22.4%) was the second most common reason after minor coughs and flu.

In the past, I have not been over sympathetic to back pain excuses but after struggling from the horizontal to sit to write this I now understand. A bad pain in the back really is a pain in the proverbial.

An Evening with the Media

I am going to an Author Craft event this evening at the IOD, in London. Normally it is relaxing but today I have been volunteered to take part in one of the sessions as the subject of media training. The format is simple. In front of everyone, I am asked a difficult question. First, I answer it badly, then we go through the training steps and I return with brilliance.

My advantage over the audience is that I have been thinking about this for a couple of days and working on my answers. The second and brilliant answer is easier but trying to be bad is far more difficult. As I said to Michael Dodd, the tutor for this session, mediocrity is always far easier.

In the session, we are looking at the book, Alexandra which as you know is a collection of over 60 female sensuous fantasies pulled together by Sasha’s friend, Ukrainian psychologist, Alexandra.

A writer’s hardest task is to find the characters and the start. Then it gets easier as he can watch them get up to all sorts of mischief in his fictional playground. For me, anyway, all I have to do is watch what happens and write it down.

But with Alexandra more than half the task had been taken away. I was given all the places and the characters, and my role was to pull them together into a cohesive and entertaining story. That means giving all these women a personality and voice. This is what Michael picked up on very quickly asking the both simple yet terrifyingly difficult question: As a man, how can you write with an authentic female voice?

The first thing to say is that I have not acquired those mythical skills blessed on Mel Gibson in the film, What Women Want, where he can read women’s minds and craft perfect advertising campaigns.

When we kicked off this project there were big logistical problems but as it progressed we came to recognise the subtlety of this issue. It started when I tried to exclude a fantasy saying that a man, however much he loved her, would never do that for a woman,

My friends in Kiev reminded me that these weren’t my fantasies but a woman’s and in her fantasies a man would do exactly as he is told!

As the book took shape the voice and feelings of the character became important and there was an informal reading group of Sasha’s and Alexandra’s friends who would meet at the Carpaccio restaurant on the right bank in Kiev. They gave me feedback when I had the wrong emphasis.

It won’t be right all the time, but we are aware of this problem and have done our very best.

Over the weekend I wrote to Alexandra telling her about this event and asking for comments. Her view? Even if I had been replaced by a female writer the same problem would have arisen. Just as I can’t speak for women, so another female writer can’t speak for all women.

Finally, the proof of this collaboration will come from the readers. Women will quickly tell us if they recognise themselves and men will say if they understand the needs of their partners any better.

I doubt we have caught all my male prejudices, but we understand the problem and have done the best we can.

Thank you for staying with me as I rehearse for this evening and as always time will tell, and I will see if it is accepted by an always critical audience.

That is the thing about the media. It is not what you have done but it is how the argument is presented. But, that is why we have training!

The Art of Juggling

One of the first directors I worked for at Coopers & Lybrand, Peter Burnham had many attributes, but time management was never one of them. I remember his secretary, Vivien, telling me that a 9:15 meeting was going to be delayed because Peter was already running an hour late. How he managed to lose an hour so early in the morning I didn’t understand nor did I have the energy to ask how.

Peter’s problems with time management did help me improve other consulting skills.

One day Vivien asked me to stand in for Peter because, as always, he was delayed on something else and overrunning. She said I was to go to the Ministry of Defence and stand in for him at a meeting with an Under Secretary.

There were obvious questions to ask such as, what were we meeting about, what were the expectations of the meeting, was Peter going to join us later, and what authority did I have to commit to anything?

‘No idea,’ she said. ‘he just gave me a name, an address and a time. Now off you go.’

She shuffled me out onto Gresham Street, where the taxi she had booked was waiting for me, making sure I had my pad, pen in pocket and the address. Fear was already growing. I can’t remember the outcome, but I survived, and I learnt the lesson of flexibility and phlegm. Thereafter, the prospect of very few client meetings has phased me.

I can’t be sure if it was these experiences but throughout my working career not being late has become important. Simply, it is just impolite to be late for anything, I would much rather be early and wait than be late. If I  had planned my time sensibly and all went to plan, I could use the unneeded contingency as extra time for research or go and have a coffee.

Sometimes even contingency doesn’t help. If I am going to be late, I try and phone in my apologies as early as possible to give the other party a chance to reorganise their time and even cancel the meeting.

I am not as manic in my planning as brilliant Scottish comedienne, Susan Calman, who will rehearse a journey a day early by making it. Although catching the bus the day before may be pushing planning, she has a good point. A mental rehearsal doesn’t just improve planning and performance but also time management.

The art of management, I was once told is like the circus skill of juggling. The skill is to quickly throw all the tasks back from where they came, but each time higher and higher. Sadly, what no one ever tells you is that the further and higher they go, the faster they come back.

More so than ever, juggling is a key and essential life skill.

I was thinking about this today as I faced the numerous projects that I have underway. There is this essay to write, two books to edit, one to finish, a final book of children’s poems to get illustrated and a letter to Sasha. There may be enough hours in the day but not enough creative energy.

However, my task list is nothing compared to that of many especially those working mothers who have to juggle complex home and work schedules. It is one of the male stereotypes that we can’t multitask and when I hear what some women have to manage I can understand how right that may be.

This is not one of those pieces that reveal the top ten life hacks to manage your time better. Those are all over the internet and you can waste your own time finding them.

On the other hand, let me give you one thought.

A computer is said to be thrashing when the memory becomes so overloaded that it is paging all the time. It brings applications into memory and then immediately moves them out without doing anything. It spends its time preparing to work and never doing any. Computer performance collapses.

Sound familiar?

There are times in our life when the to-do list becomes so overwhelming and there is so much to do that we end up doing nothing. Don’t recast your list but just sit down and do something. There are always times when something is better than nothing.

Time to Shed All Your Stuff?

When I was in Dubai 6 years ago it was not easy to rent a furnished flat and so I ended up owning half an IKEA store and around me were sofas, bookshelves, beds, televisions and a well-equipped kitchen. I had all the stuff and gadgets anyone could want.

It was all mine and the colours, layout and style defined my identity. Come to my apartment and you could see who I was or more likely how I wanted you to see me.

I left Dubai in difficult circumstances and in the weeks before leaving everything went on sale. Slowly the apartment was emptied. That was it. The only things left for me were two suitcases of clothes and that is how I arrived back in the UK.

Regular readers will know of the catastrophic changes that took place in that year before I left. I don’t use the adjective catastrophic to mean shattering or calamitous but in the mathematical usage of a discontinuity, moving from one state to the other. I arrived as a classic materialist and left with a much-reduced need to own stuff.

To my surprise, I didn’t feel bad and instead, I was liberated. To use the new and faddy word, my life had been totally uncluttered.

There is a lot of psychology in the need to own things. It starts young, very young and modifies through adolescence into maturity and old age. However, the things we own and the way we show them off is core at the definition of ourselves.

The designer bag is a flag to the world of our status. The oil painting in the living room is as much a reminder to ourselves as it is to any visitor, of our success.

Hoarding and owning may seem natural, but there is a thought that the millennials are starting to buck the trend.

In the days of vinyl, I can remember the first record I bought. It is too embarrassing to give it a shout out here, but can you remember the first tune you streamed on Spotify? If you don’t want to cook or don’t own an oven you can have your evening meal, in any ethnic flavour, delivered to your door.  On the other hand, if you want to cook, you can get the precise ingredients for the meal on your doorstep, in a neat box. I doubt you have recently bought a box set and instead now subscribe and watch everything on Netflix. Owning a car was everything but with Uber is it really a necessity?

We, or at least the millennials, are heading to a subscription lifestyle and away from ownership. According to a recent survey by McKinsey of US consumers, they found that of those that shopped online 15% had signed up to a recurring purchase of some kind.

But don’t be conned. It is a false dawn.

The need to own hasn’t changed it is just that the stuff we want to own has moved on. The mementoes of my past have been replaced by Instagram and Facebook accounts where we store our lives and stories.

The old and tatty pot I picked up on a holiday to Greece has been replaced by a photo of it on social media. Threaten to delete these accounts and the new generation will feel the same sense of loss as their parents losing a treasured teenage, first love letter.

I have found my new lifestyle liberating and don’t miss the burden of not owning. All that I have added since I left Dubai are a few more clothes, but that is all. There are no possessions I have to manage.

The truth, however, this is not about assets and stuff but more it is an attitude about living in the present moment, uncluttered by the past. There is freedom knowing that all that constrains me is my own ambition. This approach is right for me.

I am not going to try and change the world. I will leave that to others but in an article in 2013 in The Psychologist reports:

The prevailing view in psychology is that materialism is bad for our well-being.

Research by Tim Kasser (at Knox College) and others have revealed an association between holding materialist values and being more depressed and selfish and having poorer relationships.

Kasser has previously called for a revolution in Western culture, shifting us from a thing-centered to a person-centred society.

Other research by Leaf Van Boven, Thomas Gilovich and colleagues has shown that the purchase of experiences leaves people happier than buying material products. In another study of theirs, materialistic people were liked less than people who appeared more interested in experiences.

In the film Fight Club, the troubled Tyler Durden sees the burning of his flat as liberating. He says It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.

A thought worthy of reflection.

Inspirational Leaders: Ian MacGregor and Andrew Davis

The heroes and inspirational leaders of this story are both or either Andrew Davis or Ian Macgregor. I will leave you to decide but I only met one and he tells the story for us.

Andrew had previously been managing director at WalkerSteel which is only of relevance because its owner Jack Walker used his wealth to support Blackburn Rovers to win what was then the equivalent of the Premier League with Alan Shearer. With the World Cup just finished I needed a football reference.

After Walkers amalgamated with British Steel, Andrew later became Managing Director of the combined business, British Steel Distribution. This is where I met him in the 1980s.

I was working with him to design a new information system for the senior executives and my way to start was, as always, to have long and wide-ranging interviews. A good information system is not just about the data but as much about the personality of its primary user. This was when he told me a personal story.

Earlier in his career, Andrew was running a steel distribution business in Aberdeen supporting the growing Scottish oil industry and he told me of the day when one of his projects was seriously at risk. In short, the promises Andrew had made to the customer weren’t being delivered by the suppliers and steelmakers. He was in the middle and in a hard place.

He was feeling low and his mood was not improved when he heard that his Chairman, Ian MacGregor, a mix of Scot and Canadian, was on his way to visit him. MacGregor had built up a reputation as a tough and aggressive leader after his provocative role in the UK miner’s strike of the 1980s.

Andrew assumed the Chairman was going to fire him and he told me that already he was mentally packing his home and wondering where he would work next.

‘He sat in my office clearly happy to be back to be in Scotland if only for a day, and he listened carefully as I told him why things were going bad. Ian said very little until I finished and then he asked me for a precise and full list of what was needed to get the project back on track. He made it clear it had to be everything. So, while he went to lunch I sat writing out what support, help and product was necessary,’ Andrew said.

‘When Ian got back he looked over the list and his only question, yet again, was if this was everything.’

‘Give me an office, a phone and 2 hours,’ Ian said.

‘We reconvened just before 5 pm when Ian called me back into my office,’ Andrew said, ‘because of course, I had given him mine and I was perched on the corner of a desk in the main office.’

Andrew said it was Ian that spoke, ‘I have been through the list and everything you asked for has now been arranged and fixed. Now, Andrew, you have everything you want. Now you have no excuses left, and with that, he stood, left and got the train back to London.’

Andrew told me that of course, not everything had been sorted but now with the Chairman behind him and his own skills, the project progressed and was a success.

And that became the rule for the information system we designed and built. Andrew wanted real clarity on each individual’s accountabilities.

As Andrew said, ‘I remember what Ian did for me. He cleared out the problems and removed all the excuses so that he could test me as a manager.’

That is a lesson I have not forgotten.

Why Bother Going To Work?

You know the feeling. It’s been a rough week at work. Emails have backed up. The to-do list is getting longer and not shorter. The weather is too hot, and trains don’t have air conditioning and once more you are missing your children’s birthdays and school sport’s day. Again, and not for the first time this year you ask the same question: Why Bother Going To Work?

As Maslow, in his hierarchy of needs asks, once the universal need to earn enough money to support you and your family is addressed, what next?

Last year YouGov, the UK survey firm asked the question: Would you rather have a job you hate that pays well or a job you love that pays poorly?  (https://yougov.co.uk/news/2017/08/03/love-wage-balance-how-many-brits-their-job-and-the/ ). Quoting from their results they say:

Overwhelmingly the British plumped for passion over pay, with approaching two thirds (64%) saying they’d rather have a poorly paid job they loved compared to just 18% who’d prefer a well-paid job they hated.

Given that we spend so much of our lives earning a living, it is good to see that the majority of British workers feel positive about their employment. Close to half (45%) say that they like their job, while a lucky 17% have found jobs that they love. A further one in five (20%) neither like nor dislike their job.

As for the original conundrum, it turns out only 5% of Brits find themselves in one of the two scenarios: 3% are in poorly paid jobs the love, while 2% are in well-paid jobs they hate.

That’s encouraging but doesn’t fit with my experience as a coach and mentor of senior executives. Maybe I was working with a self-selecting group that needed support. Maybe they were already concerned about the balance in their life which was why they sought external support, but there are a significant number of well paid senior executives who are questioning why they do it.

We know that for many lower-paid the very direct link between work and survival persists. However, others have much more than they need and the surplus is used to own, enjoy and consume a better life.

A frequent observation I heard in mentoring meetings was that it is was great having the money but there was never any time to spend it as a family. So, do senior executives, normally by definition the higher paid in our society have time to spend this extra and surplus income?

A recent study outlined in the Harvard Business Review (reported by Forbes) uncovered how key executives handle their time to remain productive and efficient. The researchers, Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria, tracked 27 CEOs over a three-month period.

According to the report, on average CEOs worked an average of 9.7 hours per weekday and put in an additional four hours per weekend day. Even on vacation days, the leaders worked nearly two and a half hours per day. In total, they worked an average of 62.5 hours per week.

However, a close look at the YouGov data shows a slightly different perspective. 30% of the very well or fairly well paid were also in the group who were ambivalent to hating their jobs. This is the group I am most interested in as I suspect it includes many senior staff.

The more senior we become in an organisation, so the responsibilities add up. Most of those I have met take their responsibilities to shareholders and staff very seriously often to the detriment of their personal lives. It is often the responsibility that drives them on and not their remuneration or job satisfaction.

In my last essay, I described the issues and concerns I had when I gave up my job, and therefore income to do something that I not only enjoyed but believed in. That was my experience and the circumstances are hugely complex and unique for everybody.

However, it is a question that you should all ask yourself: why do you carry on going to work?

Trust your Lover, Trust your Customers

Should you trust anyone? This thought has always divided opinion. Shakespeare told us to, love all, trust a few. As children we naturally trust, yet we are always wary of the fear of being disappointed. Society is never constant and over many years attitudes have developed, changed and moved.

A society without trust breaks down losing its essential cohesiveness. Trust is at the centre of our lives. It seems so obvious yet in the 1980s it was being eroded.

Then Margaret Thatcher was leading a drive for smaller government telling us to take personal responsibility for our lives. We were told that we needed to look after ourselves and not rely on anyone else. It was winner take all and all losers were simply losers.

Business translated this feeling into competition was everything and you didn’t trust anyone. Trust someone and soon they will double cross you. It was not a great set of social values.

Thankfully, as we moved through the Millennium society and business moved away from its extremes, and the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility became understood. Today there is a growing awareness of gender pay equality, the important role of business to take care of the environment and the need to support and build communities.

I remember earlier times when accountants, bank managers, politicians and other professionals were trusted explicitly. Those times have long gone as each has eroded the trust we place in them. Bank managers have become salesmen, accountants have sided with big business rather than honesty, and worst of all politicians have been exposed as cheats, liars and self-centred narcissists.

While the big picture changes, individuals try to fit in and work with their own values. For me, not-trusting, never came naturally.

It was not just that I had been brought up in a loving and trusting family, but I played sport where trust in your teammates is paramount. When you line up right in the middle of a rugby scrum, a place for the darkest of dark arts, suspended with arms locked around your props, you learn quickly that survival and victory are based on an absolute trust in all those around you.

It was also around the same time, with Annie we were just starting our own family. Little children have a natural trust in their parents who are the source of all security.

My natural inclination and my default setting have always been to trust first and, as Ernest Hemingway said, the best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. It was not always easy and as you expect there were moments when my trust was cruelly tested.

The biggest change in my own approach came when, in 2012, I was alone in Dubai and reflecting on the whys of life and concluded that I didn’t like the businesses which, as a consultant, I was supposed to be supporting. They were still far too rapacious than I could take. I would never change them, but I could change. This was the trigger that changed my life.

I stopped consulting and took up writing, full time. I stopped propping up and supporting businesses that didn’t meet my new standards. I accept now I was probably too idealistic and harsh in execution but I needed to make a statement.

Equally, I was as hard on all those business acquaintances I called friends. Unless I saw sincerity and concern, I just stopped speaking to them. Generally, I judged it right because as I drifted away, hardly any called. Of course, they may have thought of me then as high maintenance!

Business training tells us to keep our business and personal lives separate. The talk is all about work-life balance. In those Dubai days, I realised this is all rubbish. You can’t be a different person at work and home and no more so than with how you trust and love.

The Scottish author, George McDonald got it right: To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved. Love and trust are inexorably linked and are two sides of the same coin. You can’t truly love without deeply trusting your partner.

I say this as someone who has been in a loving, long distant relationship for the last five years. Sasha is beautiful and far away. I could drive myself mad with unfounded jealousy thinking about what she might be doing, but I am calm. I have as much trust as I have love.

Once I would have thought differently. Trust and love are intertwined with jealousy. Songwriters and poets understand Remember the song? I wonder who’s kissing her now. Wonder who’s teaching her how. Wonder who’s looking into her eyes. I wonder who’s buying the wine. For lips that I used to call mine. I wonder who’s kissing her now.

Of course, there are days when I am tested and my insecurity can surface and when it does I can still hear Harry Nielsen singing this song and wonder but …. trust is the basis of love. When I have those moments, I reach down and reset my resolve first and foremost to trust. Nietzsche said it best: I won’t be upset that you lied to me but upset that from now on I can’t believe you.

But those are for days that will never come. Sasha and I have total trust before we have love.

This does have a business context. Work-life balance is a fiction and romantic love is not an emotion that can be carried into a working life. But, trust is very much part of work and there are parallels you can draw to the way you treat your employees and customers.

Not only aren’t they the enemy but you can treat them as part of your family and trust them. If you can love them for being who they are, trust them, then the love and trust will be reciprocated. Treat everyone well and for once disagree with Shakespeare and love all, trust all (at least to start with).

Trust those you work with, trust your customers and trust those you love.

In 30 years the Cost of Medicine will Fall

Today the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday. It is a wonderful, special and remarkable institution, but according to many working in the NHS, as well as external observers, it is in a perilous state. The problem is money. The government has agreed to increase its funding but there is never enough.

The general wisdom is that this is how it will always be. You have heard the argument. We are living longer and require more medical intervention and the increasing hi-tech interventions are much more expensive.

But is that right?

It is probably right over 20 to 30 years but beyond that, the technology may actually reduce the costs as we have seen developments that may buck the high costs trend.

For example, surgical techniques are changing. Have you heard of nano-surgery? These are tiny scalpels which could be injected into the body and then manipulated into position by the huge magnets of CT scanners. In position, they can remove whatever needs removing. If it sounds a little like science fiction, then I must tell you that it is here now.

In 2015 Kings Hospital in London announced it was using NanoKnives for the treatment of liver and pancreatic tumours. The needles are moved into position and then a large electric current is passed between them to kill a tumour. It requires less time in hospital, is far less invasive and overall cheaper.

And, on the topic of robots increasingly they are being used by surgeons who sit in the side of the operating theatre looking at a screen as if they are indolently playing a computer game. It won’t be long before they aren’t even in the same country.

But the biggest saver will be the use of big data linked with Artificial Intelligence (AI). The last time you might have heard of big data was with the Cambridge Analytica debacle a few months ago. Put all that to one side. This is a good use of the technology.

Let’s start with the diagnosis. There are many news stories about the diagnostic use of AI, such as the one below. This just happens to be the latest from the BBC website.

In the last week, it was reported that an artificial intelligence system recorded a 2-0 victory against elite physicians in two rounds of a competition in Beijing to diagnose brain tumours and predict the expansion of brain hematomas, or bruises.

BioMind, developed by researchers from the AI Research Centre for Neurological Disorders and Capital Medical University, made correct diagnoses in 87% of 225 cases in about 15 minutes. A team of 15 doctors from top hospitals across China achieved 66% accuracy in 30 minutes. The AI system also made correct predictions in 83% of brain hematoma expansion cases, outperforming the physicians, who had only 63% accuracy.

In the UK an AI system recently passed its doctor’s exams scoring a very good result at 87%

That’s the AI bit now add big data. Soon we will all wear devices which measure a range of vital functions. Think of a better and more comprehensive Fitbit. It may even be implanted soon after birth. This device will continually send our medical performance to a large database and AI machine. The state of the system we call our bodies will be monitored real-time, just like a mechanical system.

Aircraft engines are continually monitored so that they can be repaired before catastrophic failure. And, just like the engine soon, our physical state will also be measured constantly. When something untoward is seen the AI system will step in and tell us to see a physician. If we do need surgery it will be easier, not least because we have found the problem earlier.

And, if there is major system failure there are significant developments in personalised medication based on our genome which are more effective than generics. Failing that soon we will be saving cells as we are born so that we can grow new organs later in life. No more waiting for a donor for a deteriorating organ.

Doctors are always telling us that prevention is the best cure and that is exactly where we are heading. The focus of medicine will, at best, be prevention or at worst, early detection. We will never prevent all illnesses, but hospital visits will become more focused and the pressure on the NHS reduced.

I love the NHS and happy 70th birthday. Your future may be very different to all that the naysayers would have you believe.

Land of Hope and Glory

Over this last two weeks, I have tried very hard to avoid writing about the FIFA World Cup.  As the tournament started I wrote about FIFA and the corruption of money in its ranks including a prediction for its eventual winner. For what it is worth my prediction can still happen.

Otherwise, I have been silent on football, but last night’s events, however, have caused a change in plan.

For those that don’t live in England or have absolutely no interest in Football, England won a game of football. It was a tense affair. England were in the lead and Columbia equalised 3 minutes into injury time. Extra time. Another 30 minutes and the scores are still equal. A penalty shoot-out. England missed first immediately followed by a Columbian before the English goalkeeper saved one, and we had won.

Over these last few weeks, there is a growing belief among xenophobic supporters that England may even get to the Final. Thanks to early exits of Germany and Argentina, they are now the highest ranked team in their half of the draw. I am not being a football nerd with these statistics. Every Englishman knows this because World Cup fever has gripped the country.

England didn’t win the final or even the semi-final but a match in the last 16, yet still, 24 million watched on TV; the largest audience since the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. All over the internet are pictures of fans celebrating, almost wildly. These aren’t the fans who treck around the country on a Saturday following a local team. It is everybody.

The main radio news programme, The World At One is leading on the result with a promise of the ‘lowdown on the side England next play, Sweden’. This is not a sports channel but Radio 4, the most serious of the BBC channels.

It is not that other sports haven’t had global success, but football is different. One way or another, it is the sport that all kids play. Their heroes are footballers and they have been deprived of global success. Older fathers and grandfathers tell mystical tales of 1966, the zenith of our global achievement.

As in 1966, the current success of the national side in a global tournament pulls the country together like nothing else reminding us, as another radio programme said, of the unity and togetherness of the second world war.

We are a nation that loves its sports. We invented many of the now global sports. We revelled in the Olympic Games in 2012 and this is just the same. This is nationalism at its best.

And as in 2012, again we are seeing the power of sport to unite a nation. Everything seems better. You can’t tell anyone that it is just a game. It is the English game. We invented it and it is not a coincidence that the Number 1 today in the music charts is, Three Lions – Football’s Coming Home, the 1996 anthem of the English game.

The final is on Sunday 15th and if by chance England are playing, or even win there will be a level of rejoicing and exhilaration like nothing before. There will be calls for immediate knighthoods and national holidays. But more, much, much more, the country will feel good about its self. It won’t be just good, but the country will be better than it has been for a long time.

At that point, Prime Minister May will launch an audacious bid for a hard and unyielding Brexit telling the House of Commons, to a background of MPs humming Queen’s, We are the Champions, we don’t need them, we don’t need the Europeans.  We are British. We are the champions.

Sexist and Politically Incorrect

I am becoming fed up and bored with aspects of the political correctness of gender equality. Don’t get me wrong. Generally, I am 100% behind gender equality and everything #MeToo but, parts of the campaign are misguided.

There are areas of life and work where we can and must educate all generations that equality is important and gender discrimination is wrong. Examples are obvious. Gender has nothing to do with the quality of a lawyer.  The male power politics of a Harvey Weinstein and others are more than just misguided. They are illegal.

Thankfully, Spanish prosecutors are to appeal against the verdict in the case of five men who were cleared of the gang rape of a woman during the running of the bulls festival in Pamplona and convicted of the lesser offence of sexual abuse.

But, you knew there was going to be a but somewhere soon, not everything in life is equal. What has got my goat today, is the push by campaigners to make music festivals more gender equal. There is a call for more female headline acts.

When it is entertainment a promoter aims to maximise ticket sales by booking the bands people want to hear. We need to be clear. If a festival promoter thought that a female cast list would increase sales and profits, then believe me there would be an all-female festival. Promoters at festivals may have a passionate love of music but first, they are in it for business.

To say that I prefer hearing male singers over female singers is not sexist. It is not politically incorrect to hold that opinion. It is a preference developed out of years of listening to music.

I enjoy watching the England women’s football and cricket teams, both of who are among the best in the world, but if the TV schedules pitted a woman’s international against a man’s then I, like many others, both men and women, would watch the men’s games.

There are times when bias and historical prejudice need a nudge and I fully understand why there is a push for single-sex lists to increase the number of female MPs. I agree that there should be more women on the boards of companies and there should be equal pay for equal work.

There are many areas of life where we do need to educate and make changes to improve equality but entertainment, music or sport, is not one.

When it is entertainment the performer’s remuneration should reflect consumer demand. Wimbledon tennis has just started, and the perennial debate has been about equal prize money for men and women. Women have demanded and got equality, but the truth is that the men’s game is more popular, and women should be paid less.

We are confusing equal opportunity with entertainment value. We must strive to make the opportunity equal for both men and women to achieve in sport or entertainment, but we cannot legislate and dictate to the public what they enjoy and what they will pay to see.

Probably, I would have let this pass me by if it wasn’t for another news article on a related theme.

In another aspect of the feminist, equality dialogue, and despite many feminist protests, Sheffield council renewed the licence of a lap dancing club in the town centre. The objection is that striptease demeans and objectifies women.

It probably does but at the same time women, around the world spend billions on clothes to feel and look more beautiful. Until Sasha, and most other women I know, tell me that they would prefer that I didn’t open doors, not care how they look or expect them to go Dutch at every meal, I will not support them closing strip clubs. To be honest, at my age I would enjoy the opportunity to be objectified as a sex object.

I know this is not the same as the gender equality argument, but they are on the same agenda, and both make me wonder if the fear of being politically incorrect and being seen as a neanderthal and not a modern man is restricting discussion and debate.

Who is going to tell me that I am wrong?

On Women, Shoes and Shopping

It matters not a jot if you been coerced or volunteered every man knows the sinking feeling when you have agreed to go shopping with your wife, girlfriend or partner. You may be there to show your love; you may be there as a penance that allows you to watch a football match or have a night out with your mates, but shared clothes shopping is feared by every man. Every man knows what to expect and it is never great.

There can be fun in shared grocery shopping as I get to push the trolley, and can both drop in things I want to cook and remove the items I don’t like. If Sainsburys, Asda or the Kiev supermarkets wonder why there is a packet of pork pies resting among the washing powder, now they know.

When I shop, I know what I want, and I know where I will buy it. I used to drive into London for the New Year’s Day, Jermyn Street shirt sales. The whole trip could take less than two hours and I would have bought all the shirts I needed for the next year. That is efficient and financially effective shopping.

Men, as a generality, know what they want to buy and go to the one shop that sells it.

It is different for women but before continuing I need a variant of a common legal disclaimer. There it might read: Unless the context otherwise clearly indicates, words used in the singular include the plural, the plural includes the singular, and the neuter gender includes the masculine and the feminine.

Modified mine says: Unless the context otherwise clearly indicates, words used in the singular include all women and Sasha means Sasha, Annie, Lucinda and any woman I have known, and the neuter gender excludes the masculine.

Sasha knows I hate shopping. Don’t get me wrong, I love being with her, but I can’t stand walking aimlessly from shop to shop, standing there, often draped in her coat and handbag while she picks up and holds dresses and coats. I can’t explain why. Maybe it is the apparent aimlessness or the fear of the later discussion I will have to have with the bank.

I know it is perverse because being asked to be the arbiter, even if I am finally overlooked, between the red and the beige trousers is touching.

But, I am not alone, and I can see the look on the face of other men and occasionally we nod to each other in that knowing way before being pulled back to the reason Sasha has me there.

If shopping for clothes is painful it is nothing compared to shopping for shoes.

I have never understood the fascination women have for shoes. Imelda Marcos was reputed to have owned 3,000 pairs although she always said it was only 1,060. If you exclude trainers and rugby boots, which together comprise a significant part of my all-time shoe collection, I doubt I have ever owned more than 100 pairs of shoes.

There is no satisfaction any man can gain from shopping with a woman for shoes. All you can do is sit there dreaming of all the other places you could be. It is just a process of sitting,  nodding occasionally and find the credit card when demanded.

Never try saying anything like but you have a pair like that already. It doesn’t matter and won’t change anything but only lead to a public rebuke. There is never a distinction between AND or OR. It is always AND.

You may not remember this from 2012 when Daniel Shak, sued his ex-wife Beth, for 35 per cent of her $1 million collection of footwear comprising a gobsmacking 1,200 pairs – including 700 Christian Louboutins, with their distinctive red soles. (That last bit was in the article I read. I had no idea that any shoes had distinctive red soles.)

So, who will tell me what it is about women and shoes?

It is a universal desire and love affair that few men will ever understand. I was going to say that Sasha, Annie or Lucinda will no doubt tell me if I ask, but they won’t. As always, as if we were out shopping, I will get that disdainful look and be told to suffer it.

Love Island Narcissists

Annie and I speak often. Normally, she phones me, but I have noticed now she calls slightly earlier in the evening and the calls are stopped abruptly just before 9 pm. She had joined the viewer numbers of Love Island.

After the World Cup, Love Island has become the must-watch TV. With all the scheduling skills you would expect it is literally after the World Cup. Whether England wins or loses this evening, whatever mood we are in, Love Island will be there.

What is Love Island? Here is my quick summary. A dozen or so, twenty-somethings are pitched into a villa in sunny Spain, so we can watch if and how they pair off. The final couple receives a prize of £50k and general social media adulation. In this quest for love and money contestants are voted on or off by the viewers.

The villa is full of beautiful people. The men’s bodies are as ripped as the girls are endowed.

If you are also a Love Island novice and need a throwaway, water cooler line, just to let others know you are not a total dinosaur, just say it is Big Brother in the sun.

My fascination is why the contestants have applied and then why we watch.

There is no shortage of applicants. There were over 65,000 for the current series who wanted to have their bodies and lives exposed nightly on TV. Male or female you need to be sure, certain and confident of yourself and probably the right to have anyone you want. You probably have an Instagram account littered with selfies of shining teeth, confident poses, bared torsos, plunging necklines, tiny bikinis or designer swim shorts.

Anywhere else than Love Island they would be called narcissists, and that is also why we watch.

As a personality trait narcissists tend to be self-centred, vain, grandiose who need the admiration of others. At its extreme, it is considered a personality disorder alongside psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

Now, we need a little narcissism to survive the 21st Century and social media, where fame and wealth can be made (think Kardashians) from little more than capturing and publishing your reality life.

Dr Kostas Papageorgiou, from Queen’s University Belfast, is a researcher looking at narcissism and he says, if we could abandon conventional social morality – and just focus on what is successful, then narcissism can look like a very positive trait. If you are a narcissist you believe strongly that you are better than anyone else and that you deserve reward.

He says that because the research shows that narcissists are often socially successful and undeterred by rejection and their craving for attention can make them charming and highly motivated.

In short, narcissists overachieve.

They do better at school and work and have more partners. They’re quite charismatic. If you spend a lot of time trying to be charming and persuade other people, it might well make you more attractive.

While it may be a good modern surviving strategy the negatives persist. Because as Dr Papageorgiou says narcissists can be absolutely destructive for those around them.

We have all met and known the narcissist and know exactly how infuriating they can be. They have a certainty that can intimidate and a core belief in their own perfection beyond what is real. However, their need to be admired makes them charming. As always it is a balance.

And that is exactly why we watch Love Island.

Just as we can’t understand the Kardashians we are fascinated by them. So it is with Love Island. There is a nagging jealousy for these over-confident contestants while we are waiting for the inevitable car-crash as they try to be just like us.

They are fighting narcissism to create a perfect, loving, fairytale romance while we are fighting our humdrum to be just a little bit like them. It is television just right for our times.

Upsetting and Offensive

It’s a rare day when I find that having an opinion is easy. For what it is worth this is close to the 150th blog and to some degree or other, they all express a view and perspective. I normally start with a half-baked idea and then I have to read and then read some more before any judgement is formed.

It is much easier in the pub with mates. You can spout whatever you want and hold your corner. Once it was a game we played to argue a contrary opinion and stick to it. Logic, thought, and data were irrelevant. The silliest and also best arguments are, of course, about the team selection for a football match. It is all bias and reflected in the popularity of all the fantasy football manager games. You can be a manager, without the stress and pit your wits and favouritism against the world. In the real world, what you think doesn’t matter one iota.

But it is different in the world of business and politics. Whatever you think and how you behave have to be far more considered and based on data and not prejudice. What you think will impact and change other’s lives.

The Harvard Crimson is a student newspaper in, well obviously, Harvard and they have just released the results of a survey on their fellow scholars. The top 10 highlights were unsurprising. To me, it showed that Harvard students are little different from any other group of young people. They owned mostly iPhones, and they drank alcohol. More than 90% drink alcohol and most drink every week. More than 1 in 5 leave as a virgin with a similar number having little or no dating experiences. It all sounds normal.

However, on this top 10 list, there was one that caught my eye and I quote from the BBC website.

There were signs that students are self-censoring their views and not debating openly. About two-thirds of students had “at some point chosen not to an express an opinion in an academic setting out of fear it would offend others”. This was particularly the case for Republican supporters. But almost half of the students wanted to have “trigger warnings” if courses were going to include something that could be upsetting or offensive.

One of the great freedoms of the West is the right of free speech and the one place where all opinions should be expressed, debated and considered is in a university.

Universities or the student bodies should not restrict the right of anyone to hold a view and express it. We may not always agree with what is being said and it may even repulse us, but it should be heard. It is only by hearing contrary views that you can hold a strong, conflicting opinion.

We know the worst anecdotes are those that start, this wasn’t me but it happened to a friends’ friend. He was …. I want your experiences. I want an experience that starts with I.

I have always argued and practised, that you need to immerse yourself in an opposing opinion to really hold a valid alternative. For example, if you strongly disagree with prostitution and believe it should be legalised out of existence then before I will listen to you and what you have to say, I need to know that among your many and close friends are those who work in the profession.  I don’t want to hear you quoting what others have heard what others have said.

Worst of all are students protecting themselves from anything they think may be disturbing by sticking their fingers firmly into their ears. I had heard of these trigger warnings in UK universities but didn’t quite take in their import.

The idea that learning is built on the shoulders of giants goes back to the 12th Century and discovering truth by building on previous discoveries. But it is not always the giants that teach us. Sometimes it is those who have got it wrong. The giants will help us discover the fallacies and flaws.

This is a worrying trend. I want to hear of students willing to hear every argument. Understanding why an argument is upsetting and offensive is the beginning of the alternative.

Issues in Immigration

I woke today and thought I would write about internet dating when I learnt that in America (where else) a Democratic candidate was using Tinder to access voters, and hopefully persuade them to vote for him. He said he was following the lead of the Labour party in the UK who used this tactic at the last General Election. That was news to me and just a little too silly to reflect on.

I needed a topic with a bit more substance and as always President Trump and EC leadership gave me a way out.

After trying to arrest and repatriate illegal immigrants into the US, President Trump found he was splitting families and detaining minors. He recanted and is back now to something like the Obama policy. EC leaders have a meeting this weekend to get a European policy together with boats, loaded with would be immigrants lined up on the Libyan coast.

There is a very good reason why we should do something to promote immigration and that is compassion. Any immigrants escaping a war zone needs help. If you are a Syrian family or a Palestinian looking to survive you should be welcomed anywhere.

But, immigration is a hugely complex issue and there are at least 3 arguments used to justify restrictions.

First, there is the simple question if the recipient country can absorb more people. There is only so much land and there are limited resources. This is a real consideration in a society that is already stretched. Can the schools manage? Will the health service cope? However, history in the UK suggests that immigrants have in general been a net contributor to the economy. Certainly, there are sectors in the UK that rely on immigrant workers: the NHS and agriculture are two.

Secondly, there is the argument that an influx of immigrants dilutes national identity. Yesterday, I watched an interview with the Hungarian Foreign Minister defending his Government’s new policy to restrict immigration. He argued that Hungary would always be a country for Hungarians.  It is important that this argument is always refuted. National identities are forever changing, and the stereotypes modified. All national identities need to change, develop and grow. Appropriate immigration can be the right catalyst. On the other hand, I understand the concern that it doesn’t happen too quickly and is controlled. Over generations this very issue has started wars.

Third, there is the simple issue of racism. The argument, although rarely fully expounded because it is so repugnant, is that we don’t want immigrants because they are the wrong colour, have the wrong sexual orientation or are the wrong religion. I can have no truck with that and I hope you don’t feel I need to explain the awfulness of this white supremacist argument.

EU leaders are meeting this weekend to try and work out their unified policy, but an agreement is looking unlikely. Italy has elected a new government committed to clamping down on immigration. Hungary has built a huge wall on its Southern border and passed new harsh laws. We may not like what they are doing but Italy, like Greece and Hungary is at the front line and getting little support. Italy may have refused to let a ship of immigrants come into an Italian port but few reporting this news add that already this year over 16,000 migrants have landed by sea in Italy.

These arguments are important to me because towards the end of summer, with my move to Ukraine, I will be an immigrant. Ukrainian immigration laws mean that on a simple tourist visa I can stay with Sasha for any 90 days in 180. Simply, if I go there for 3 months I need to come back to the UK for the next three.

The alternative is to acquire a long-term resident’s visa. It is expensive but the only real option. The commitment will be real because the visa will be based on uniting me with my wife. That’s right. Before the visa is issued Sasha and I need to be married.

I have worked and lived overseas for much of my life and I hope each time I have contributed my own little bit to the recipient country. So, I am not going to draw to a conclusion on the wider issues facing Europe, USA and the UK. They have to reach their own decision and so long as there is nothing racist and the focus is on economic viability I will understand.

I hope Ukraine treat me just the same.

Inspirational Leaders: Bryan Richards

Goodbye, Mr Chips is a 1939 film about an inspirational teacher. Few of us had a Mr Chips in our lives but I was one of the lucky ones. Bryan Richards was my Mr Chips.

Bryan arrived at Dulwich College from a stellar rugby career and a degree from Cambridge. Even though he only won only one cap for Wales, he was recognised as a wizard of the playing fields. In any other era, he would have won many more caps, but then Wales had a factory turning out Number 10s and his path was blocked by one of the greatest of all times – Cliff Morgan.

Bryan arrived at Dulwich while I was in the junior teams and he quickly established us to have one of the best teams in the country. I was privileged to play for the first team for 3 years, the last as captain. During this period, we lost only 2 games.

He was an innovator with a deep understanding of the game. What is now commonplace he had thought through 20 years earlier.

He was also deeply competitive and we toured the country to beat all comers including a dark and wet afternoon in Wales when we beat Carwyn James’ then all-conquering Welsh team of Llandovery College.

To understand the importance of that for Bryan, a year later Carwyn coached the 1971 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, the only Lions side ever to win a series against the All Blacks. He was known as a visionary who proved adventurous, free-flowing rugby could be winning rugby. I still imagine the two of them sitting down after our game to plot the Blacks downfall.

My thoughts turned to Bryan last night as I read Gareth Southgate’s assessment of England’s football team’s performance at the World Cup. He is the English manager and his team had just beaten Panama 6-1. You would think he would be cock-a-hoop but all he said was that he didn’t particularly like his side’s performance.

After each weekend’s rugby game, we would meet at lunchtime in a classroom for an assessment of our performance. We had always won yet Bryan was never happy. He went from player to player with a short compliment and then a list of all the things we could have done better. Pleasing Bryan became as much a motivation as winning but it was not until the end of the season did he bestow any real or heartfelt compliments on us.

When you have just won a game as easily as England have the temptation is to believe all the hype and believe that all you have to do is turn up to win.

However unlikely it may be, England are in Russia to win the World Cup and one victory, even a 6-1 victory is just a milestone. It isn’t job done. Laugh, smile, sleep well, share an orange juice, joke with your teammates are natural reactions but Gareth has just delivered his Monday lunchtime message. Good result, six goals but you haven’t won anything yet.  I didn’t particularly like the side’s performance

Winning is never that easy. Winning consistently demands a continuing focus on hard work and hard miles. It means keeping focus.

It is a lesson taught to me by Bryan and one that has stayed forever. After every minor win, I always have my own Monday lunchtime meeting to remind myself that one victory is just another step to an unbeaten season.

Bryan lost his sight in 2000 but not his passion for competitive sport. For a proud Welshman came the unthinkable and he captained the English Blind Golf team against the Scots. Until his death a year or two ago he was still playing and scoring lower than his age.

Solve Your Problems at Source

Early in my career, I remember sitting in my London office when I received a call from a client in the north of England. There had been a complaint from a female member of the client against one of my consultants. This was well before #MeToo but the complaint was similar. My consultant had been just a little too forward and upset her.

Although we were over 200 miles away with different plans for the afternoon my business partner and I did exactly what we thought was right. We were in a car and driving north within 30 minutes. It was a long drive, we had nowhere to stay, but the problem had to be addressed.

By the time we arrived on site, the problem had almost gone. The consultant had apologised, and it had been accepted. The client had forgiven the incident which was not as serious as it had first seemed.

We logged into a hotel and in the evening over dinner reminded the full team of their responsibilities and the standards of behaviour that were expected of them. The next morning, unshaven and in the same clothes, we went to our client, again apologised and explained what we had done the previous evening.

A potentially significant problem had been diffused and we returned to London.

It was about two weeks later when we received the letter that asked us to bid for new work and extend the existing work. We won that work as well.

Speaking to the client he said that we had been chosen not just for the quality of our project but the speed and focus of the way we had addressed the problem.

It was a salutary lesson. Everyone makes mistakes and to deny otherwise is stupid. What is important is how you address and resolve problems and issues.

I thought about this as I read the awful story that over 450 older patients at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital in England whose lives had been shortened by excessive prescriptions of Morphine and Diamorphine. An inquiry found doctors at the hospital gave patients dangerous amounts of these powerful painkillers. Despite a long report, there will be more information as a criminal investigation is now underway.

After the sadness of the early loss of so many lives what is as depressing was that there were warnings from nurses and many others over a 20-year period. The families of the deceased had been complaining and making noises and regulators, health commissioners and even the police had been looking but doing nothing.

We can never condone the doctors at the heart of this tragedy. We must though reflect how these supervisors of our safety have conducted themselves. The quality of a system or institution is measured by how it responds when things go wrong.

Not only must the perpetrators been brought to account but so must the system and those in the system who failed to respond. The whole structure of the NHS has been found at fault.

The Japanese Way

I can’t claim to be a regular at music festivals, but I have seen the disaster that is left as they finish. Rubbish everywhere. There are mountains of drink cans, food wrappers and sundry debris. I have experience of working in a tourist attraction and it is no different. Even in a small attraction, we need one or two staff forever picking up the detritus of a crowd.

I have been to a great many rugby and soccer matches and it is no different. The terraces are littered with the grazing debris of the fans. Clearing up after the mob is the downside of organising any event.

However, my experience is predominately British and European, and it certainly isn’t Japanese. So, it was a great surprise to read that after their recent World Cup football match against Columbia, the Japanese fans cleaned their stands before leaving the ground.

They had brought large rubbish bags with them, and at the end of the game, marched through the rows of seats, filled the bags and left the stadium as neat and tidy as it was when they arrived. This is not the first time. They did just the same after their game against the Ivory Coast in the 2014 competition.

Clearly, this is cultural. I am no expert in Shinto, Japan’s native religion, but I understand that at its core is purity and cleanliness. Japanese children clean the classroom and halls at their schools. Cleanliness is in the Japanese psyche. As someone said it is respect for the community over the individual.

I hadn’t thought about before but in none of my images of the Japanese is anything out of place. Everything is organised. From the well-behaved commuters allowing themselves to be pushed on to a train, the line of faultlessly attired schoolchildren waiting for instruction and the perfectly dressed Geisha attending the tea ceremony, tidiness is the stereotype I have of the Japanese. Every image I have of Japan is neat and tidy.

It is no surprise then to find that most often quoted ‘decluttering’ (this is more than the annual Spring clean but a way of life) expert, Marie Kondo, is Japanese.

As she says on her website: Marie Kondo is a Japanese organising consultant and author. She has written four books on organizing. Her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising has been published in more than 30 countries. Not only can you read her book, but you can learn her methods and become a certified decluttering consultant: Developed by Marie Kondo, The KonMari Method™ is widely regarded as a new approach to decluttering based on Japanese values in order to surround yourself with items that spark joy.

I am always looking for new lines of work, but I doubt this is for me. I agree with her. Being neat and tidy is first and foremost deep within you and however hard I try I don’t have the clean and tidy gene. What hair I have is always slightly dishevelled. My clothes never quite fit or as fully coordinated as Sasha’s or even Ben’s.

But that doesn’t mean that I can’t tidy up a football stadium after I have littered it. I don’t throw rubbish out of my car and always look to put those used coke cans and coffee cups into bins.

Japanese football fans may have gone further than most and have set everyone an example we could follow. I hope their football team go far and keep winning. We need their fan’s example deep into the World Cup.

Going to Pot

A 12-year-old boy, suffering from debilitating epilepsy has inadvertently thrown the country into total confusion over its policy towards cannabis. Billy Caldwell’s illness is so bad that he can have 100s of fits a day and he is often in hospital with what for him is a life-threatening illness. The only relief he can get is a treatment with cannabis oil, a prohibited and banned substance in the UK. It was confiscated when his mother, Charlotte, tried to bring it into the country last weekend, from Canada.

In the UK Cannabis is a Class B substance and possession can lead to 5 years in jail. Dealing can be a 12-year stretch. Medicinal cannabis is just one of the concerns but over recent years Governments have resisted changing any of the cannabis laws as, Canute like, they refuse to respond to the real world.

The Home Office’s own estimates put cannabis usage at 6% of the UK adult population or nearly 2 million people.

The outcry over little Billy has covered the political spectrum and there are cries from every corner to do something to stop his suffering. To address this specific case the Home Office has introduced a clinical panel to look at each case, and there are many others, on its medical merits. This may be the start of the approval for the more widespread use of medicinal cannabis.

Well, that’s it, isn’t it? Well, no. Ex-Tory Leader and now Lord Hague has pitched in with an article in today’s Daily Telegraph, the Conservative party’s house newspaper. He said the fact that cannabis was both illegal and widely available and so effectively permitted ‘the worst of all worlds’. He means that although it is illegal to have personal amounts of cannabis the police hardly ever prosecute.

The overall result is the rise of a multi-billion pound black market for an unregulated and increasingly potent product, creating more addiction and mental health problems but without any enforceable policy to do something about it.

‘The only beneficiaries are organised crime gangs. It is absolutely unacceptable to allow this situation to continue.’

‘As far as marijuana, or cannabis, is concerned, any war has been comprehensively and irreversibly lost. It is like asking the army to recover the Empire. This battle is effectively over’.

At last, some realism from a politician but unfortunately not from a Minister or the Government. In fact, quite the reverse. A Home Office spokesman said: ‘Any debate within government about the efficacy and therapeutic use of cannabis-based medicines emphatically does not extend to any review regarding the classification of cannabis and the penalties for the illicit possession, cultivation and trafficking of cannabis will remain the same.’

I am not one of the 6% but like every politician, I own up to smoking some weed while at Uni, but not since. There is no vested interest on my part.

We know about the ‘coffee shops’ in Holland that sell cannabis and Canada is moving in the same direction. State control of the industry has multiple benefits and it is about time the UK started to lead and governments recognise the real world.

There are different strengths of cannabis and we need to help users understand what they are buying. This can be accomplished by a regulated industry. More importantly, it removes the dealer and possibly, therefore, the temptation for users to be pushed on to dependency and harder drugs. Finally, at a time when we are concerned about more money for the NHS, it is a revenue source.

The once very traditional and conformist majority is disappearing. Political expediency no longer requires the old harsh stance on cannabis. The UK should be near the head of those States who adopt an enlightened and liberal stance to cannabis and take the revenue of up to a £1 billion a year.

Happy Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday and there was no great celebration, just a few cards and text messages and a chat with the kids.

The only birthday party I have been to this year was Bertie’s and as he was only one year old so, of course, it was neither raucous nor boozy. In a year from now, Bertie won’t remember it which may be his ambition from a birthday party when he gets into his twenties.

The importance of birthdays for young kids I understand. They change so much year to year it seems right to celebrate and not least it marks the sleepless nights and early morning effort of parents.

You may think that we have always been marking birthdays but not so.

The Romans started the practice but then only for men. The modern idea of a birthday celebration was a German idea bringing in both birthday cakes and candles; one for each year lived and another to symbolise the idea that you would live for another. They called it Kinderfeste and for once it wasn’t the Victorians, but earlier around the turn of the 19th century.

Anyway, move back 24 hours and I was in Lucinda’s kitchen and she and a bemused Bertie sang Happy Birthday. The chance is that almost certainly you will know both the tune and words. I can say that with some confidence because in 1988 the Guinness Book of Records claimed it to be the most recognised song in the English language. As it has also been translated into at least 18 other languages its appeal is much broader.

Although open to discussion the consensus is that it is based on a song written in 1893 by sisters Patty and Mildred Hill. Their little ditty, Morning to All, was meant to be sung by students before the start of school. Its words got modified and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s an interesting little song and you may be surprised to find that it appears in a special list that includes, White Christmas by Irving Berlin, Yesterday from Lennon and McCartney, Sting’s Every Breath You Take and Oh Pretty Woman written by Roy Orbison.

They are all among the top 10 royalty earning songs of all time and top of the list, the number one earning song is, drum roll please, Happy Birthday.

You may not even have realised that it was covered by copyright. The ownership of the song has changed hands a few times throughout the years. In 1990, Warner Chappell bought the rights for $15 million and overall it has brought in an estimated $50 million.

I doubt this worried Marilyn Monroe when she sang it to President Kennedy but the cost of using the song in a movie or on TV was up to $25,000. That explains, maybe, why you haven’t heard it too often in the movies

If you think you have never broken the law, then now is the time to recant. It was actually against the law to sing Happy Birthday in a large group of unrelated people such as at an office party.

I use the past tense because the copyright expired in the European Union on January 1, 2017. In the United States, a federal court ruled in 2016 that Warner/Chappell’s copyright claim was invalid and there was no other claim to copyright. Happy Birthday has joined For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow in the realm of public domain.

Anyway, to those who have sent me congratulatory messages I appreciate them all and feel free to break into song. At least you now know there is no royalty you have to pay.

Men on Steroids

Tongue in cheek, earlier this week, I wrote about my lack of a beach-ready body which was my motivation yesterday to wheeze and pant through an exercise routine in the gym. Unusually, I had left my earphones at home which allowed me more space to pay more than normal attention to the other gym users.

Going to the gym can be intimidating for the first-time user. I have been a gym bunny for many years and so somewhat immune from the pressures of body shaming. As a daytime user, there is always a group of middle-aged and older women sharing the space. However, they are always slim and trim and seem to be able to run or row forever without the stresses I feel.

Whatever ambitions I have I know that I am there simply to prolong my life. Staying a little bit fit is a good first line of defence against the ravages and illnesses of time.

There is always another group that can intimidate. They are younger, both men and women, who eschew the cardio machines to pump weights. And the weights they use are, by my expectations, prodigious.

My leg strength is quite good, and, on the leg press, I set the machine at 80kg which is in the middle of the range of options. Say it myself, but I was impressed. I was followed onto the machine by another, maybe younger, but leaner user. I sneaked back afterwards to see how much weight he was pushing. 150kg. How the f*** did he do that?

We need to digress for a moment. Earlier today I clicked on an article in a spam email from Men’s Health, titled Researchers Suggest That Half Of Men Are Shaving Their Legs.

It was an amusing little piece meant to attract attention, and it did. For what its worth the trend started with swimmers and cyclists and is now seen as an aesthetic enhancement. While half of men may be doing it, there is an equal number of women who think it is something between silly to gross.

What then caught my attention was a video on the same page about the UK use of steroids. Official statistics in the UK suggest that there could be around 60,000 UK users. Unofficially there may be up to a million who inject themselves. That would be one in thirty men who use steroids.

Clearly, these are not professional athletes. They would be banned immediately. The video suggested that steroids are easily bought on the internet. I tried. They are right. there are thousands of sites selling online steroids. I was confused by the range and testimonials. Many men must be buying these steroids without any medical understanding.

I suppose I knew what was going on, but I had no idea that it was so prevalent. There are always people at the extremes of behaviour, but this is no longer at the extreme. It is now mainstream.

I think that it says something about how men now perceive themselves and here we are again with self-perception issues.

Rightly, women have a new and strong voice for equality. There may not yet be gender equality but there is an irreversible trend in that direction. While some of us have been educating our daughters to believe that they have the same rights and opportunities, it has an implication for our sons we didn’t see. We have not helped them understand their new role.

From a historical position of dominance and control, many a man is now feeling subservient and unable to understand their role in society. They are confused. Maybe, pumping up with steroids is a symptom of men trying to find a place in a world which is changing around them faster than they can react.

Maybe, even thinking about a beach-ready body shows I am just as insecure.

The World’s Favourite Game

Half the world will groan, and half will cheer. We will not be divided by gender, age or even continent. Starting today and for the next four and half weeks, there will 64 football matches to find the FIFA World Champions.

You have to be a fairly hardened football fan to want to watch all the games which start today with a match between the hosts Russia and the lowest ranked side, Saudi Arabia. It is not the most glamorous of matches.

Newspapers and websites have spent much of the build-up trying to predict the winners and what is clear that few of the this final 32 stand a chance. So, we must ask why are there even 32 teams and their fans crisscrossing Russia?

The answer, of course, is the same as always – money. FIFA, the world governing body makes money out of the World Cup. In 2014 was $4.8 billion. The bigger the spectacle the more the money which explains why by 2026 there will be 48 teams taking part in the finals. That is nearly 25% of the total football playing countries.

Money, scandal and football have been close bedfellows for many years. When his spending promises grew and grew Prime Minister May once had to remind the Labour leader that there is no such thing as a magic money tree. But, May was wrong. Football is that tree.

Football is flush with money and therefore also personal greed. FIFA boss Sepp Blatter and other senior officials were arrested for lining their own pockets. It is strongly rumoured that both Russia and Qatar, host in 2022 won their bids with judicious bribery and sundry corruption.

Other than winning by foul means, and I suppose that is a rather big other, I have no problem with Russia and Qatar hosting the finals. For many years I have made clear my admiration for Russian people alongside my sadness that they are being led into a democratic abyss by Putin. I love Doha as a city. I have been there many times and I like all the Qatari people I have met, but is bribery the way to decide where the Cup should be played?

If we are going to have a final of 48 teams I wonder if ever again one small country, and I include England, should host the global game?

In 2014, the finals were hosted in Brazil. After years of unnecessary construction and countless protests, Brazil was found to be in a worse state than before. It caused damage to their environment, society and did not produce anything like the profit that was initially projected. The total cost was estimated to be around $15 billion. That money could have been allocated more effectively elsewhere in the country

The 2020 UEFA European Football Championship will be held in 12 cities in 12 different European countries. They talk about it being a ‘one-off’ to celebrate the 60th birthday of the competition but it should be the norm. The 2026 World Cup has just been awarded to a joint bid of Canada, USA and Mexico. It is a sign that we are moving in the right direction. We should spread the cost and the fun.

But for the next 4 weeks, we have Russia and it is time for predictions.

  1. It will take something quite spectacular for home players to win. It is more likely that they will fail to get out of their group of four.
  2. There will be more than one incident of extreme Russian hooliganism including racism and LGBT abuse. It will take the headlines from the football for more than a week.
  3. Belgium will win the tournament answering the famous quiz question: name a famous Belgium.
  4. And for a bit of jingoistic romance, they will beat England in a tense and low scoring match reversing the result from the Group game.

Have a happy World Cup.

Me and My Beach Ready Body

There is supposed to be an age when one, or let’s be honest, I should accept what I am, act my age, behave and head quietly out to the pastures. The problem is that I don’t like cocoa or early nights and have this general feeling that I will live forever. I don’t think I have even started the transition from middle-aged to old.

I still have the ambition to run a marathon, I will always hanker after world travel, I understand social media, and I have a beautiful, young fiancée. Great, you might say, but this youthful attitude makes me susceptible to advertising targeted at the properly young.

Show me an open road and Harley and I am tempted and will buy anything that goes along with it.

Go back to 2015 and Protein World was advertising weight loss products with a huge poster on London Underground of a young and well-proportioned woman in a small yellow bikini against a sunshine yellow background. It was the banner words and not the picture that caused controversy: Are You Beach Body Ready?

It was banned because of concerns over its weight loss claims and in the following furore, our awareness of beach readiness was launched.

Beach ready is all about self-perception.

When I was in my early 20s I was reading a book by R D Laing: it might have been The Divided Self. Anyway, I remember the opening chapter.

You are lying on the beach. It is a hot day and you need to cool down. Maybe also you need a pee! You need to make your way to the sea which is 20 or 30 yards away. Do you just walk to and into the sea, wait until it covers your nether regions, and then return to lie on the towel to absorb more of the sun’s rays?

Depending on your age, ego and nationality that is unlikely. It is more likely you will try and trot to the sea to show your vigour, and then lift your knees high to show feigned surprise that running in the sea is more difficult. When far enough in you will dive, dolphin-like and swim a few meters before dipping to the seabed just to show you could have swum as far as you wanted but decided that Spain to Morocco should be saved for another day.

If you had been watching yourself at the seaside would you recognise your intentions? How you present yourself to the world is often be very different from how the world perceives you.

But you can check. More than ever we are obsessed with how we look and how we are perceived.

Today, somewhere that stroll on the beach has been recorded. If not on Instagram or Twitter, then I am sure you can find your promenade on YouTube.

Selfies are not for me, but Sasha has a photo of every moment of her life. Sometimes, to my horror, I appear in them. She is not alone taking selfies and they are the core currency of social media. I wonder if all these people who take them have their perceptions reinforced?

The thought I might be snapped and turn up in one of her photos fuels the dread of not being beach ready and drives me daily to the gym. Finally, it is working, and the results of the effort are showing.

I am moving towards being beach ready.

The next time I might be near a beach is October and it will be with Sasha who, as a model is always beach ready. That just adds to my angst. But October gives me three and half months to tone the muscles, pull in the tummy, shed some kilo and get myself finally ready for the beach.

Sasha be ready for the bulging biceps and fighting pecs. I am taking up the challenge!

Singapore Sling

I am not a Trump fan. He is a misogynist, showman, bully, and a protectionist. Those are verifiable. There is worse I call him in private. I am never sure of his motives. Nor am I a Kim Jong-un fan. He, his father and grandfather have run a totalitarian society that has led to almost three million of his countrymen dying of starvation while their regime survives.

However, in Singapore, these two most unlikely leaders have met and done something today that is hard to take in. It may just have changed the world.

Jaw, Jaw is always better than War, War and the meeting of President Trump and North Korean leader Chairman Kim Jong-un should be seen as very special. If it carries on and leads to a new peace on the Korean peninsula then rightly it will be hailed as a great breakthrough and even miraculous. In many ways it is.

We need to remember where we have come from.

There is an hostility between the two countries going back over 65 years. The Americans dropped more bombs on North Korea than they did on Germany during WW2, and although a technicality, you could argue that the USA and North Korea are still at war. In 1953 Military commanders from North Korea and the US-led United Nations Command only signed an armistice agreement. The armistice was only ever intended as a temporary measure.

Take this meeting at face value and it is a great step forward in world peace. However, cynics will say there is nothing concrete. I agree. Nothing much has changed. North Korea still has nuclear weapons and there are still draconian sanctions. But the agreement document shows intent and a direction. Let’s take the glass half full stance and be positive.

We know it is the beginning of a long and difficult process. We know that Presidents Obama and Ford have got this far with initial agreements but what is different this time is that by meeting the President and Chairman have given peace a momentum not previously generated.

As I said I don’t like President Trump. I thought his behaviour and attitude at the G7 was crass and possibly a greater threat to world order than North Korea, but today I will give him credit.

If this initiative is successful then the unusual, disruptive management style of late-night tweets to ‘rocket man’ will have been more successful than the old, cold diplomacy of the past.

Yet, despite my muted admiration President Trump has again managed to wind me up. I thank the BBC for extracting the following from his last Singapore press conference.

On the need to check notes from his meeting: “I have one of the great memories of all time. I don’t have to do that.”

On apologising if things don’t go as planned: “I think he’s gonna do these things. I may be wrong. I may stand before you in six months and say, hey, I was wrong,” he said, before adding: “I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that. But I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”

On why he thinks experts are wrong about denuclearisation taking 15 years: “I think whoever wrote that is wrong… There will be a point at which when you are 20%  through you can’t go back. I had an uncle who was a great professor for, I believe, 40 years at MIT. And I used to discuss nuclear with him all the time. He was a great expert. He was a great brilliant genius.”

Oh, well, I guess we can’t have both peace and humility.

Back in the Groove

Although over these last two weeks I have missed writing, today, as I start again, it is proving difficult to get back into a routine. It’s the same with the gym. Instead, I found a thousand other things to do. I’m not yet back in the grove. I need to get myself back into those tram lines.

So much of our lives are controlled by habit it is sometimes difficult to change. Routine and habit are comfortable. We know what to expect. We feel organised and in control. Lucinda has put the mighty Bertie into a strict routine which has led to her having some of her life back as both know when he will sleep.

These thoughts have come about after two weeks of talking with Sasha about our future. If any of our plans come to fruition it will be a significant change for both of us. Along the way, there will be disruptions and dislocations to manage. It matters not one jot if we end up in Kiev or the UK, or even if we carry on this very long-distance relationship, our comfortable routines will change.

So, I put the phrase is routine good for us into the internet search engine and on the first two pages there were a series of articles extolling the virtues of early morning routines, work routines, tips of routines to sleep better and the ‘daily routines of 7 famous entrepreneurs’. The consensus of the advice is that routine is always good. It wasn’t a good omen for us.

There was only one article that seemed to question the alternative that maybe routines are confining as well as being comforting. I read that one. I can summarise it for you. It says that if they are good habits then they are good but if the routines support bad habits, like smoking or drug taking, they are bad routines.  So, it wasn’t really offering an alternative opinion.

It seems it is left to me to question the value of living by too many routines.

The principle argument that routines relieve you of minor decision making, freeing your brain for bigger issues is codswallop.

OK, I have an early, first thing in the morning, routine but that is purely to allow me time to take the pile of early morning drugs before I do something else. That will survive while Sasha does her yoga and meditation.

Even in those first tentative moments at the start of each day, without a routine, I can make decisions on what to wear. I can even decide what I want to eat. Those decisions do nothing to my ability to take in the world’s news and ‘bigger issues’.

I do tend to write at the same times and go to the gym in the afternoon but that is just planning, and I don’t get agitated if my schedule changes. In fact, some days I even enjoy the challenge of meeting deadlines on a different timetable.

But there are far more important reasons to avoid becoming routine bound.

Last year I wrote about being lucky and how you can change your own luck. Based on academic research one of the ways to be luckier is to vary your routine and going out of your way to do things differently. Changing your old routines could make you luckier.

I am sure we all know the quotes and its variations that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. There are too many people complaining that they are not lucky and not getting what they want out of their life. But, why should anything improve if they are still locked into old routines?

If Sasha and I continue to have a meaningful relationship, and I hope we do, the patterns in our lives must change. Being together more frequently, let alone living together, will drive change. All our own personal routines and practices will be disrupted and changed. We must make accommodating change our norm.

But there is nothing unique in our situation and it’s not really a big deal. I think of Lucinda and the mighty Bertie, and Sasha’s sister Ann and her husband Daniel with their new baby, Michael. Now, having a new baby in the family is a real change.

Nearly always the best and sadly also the worst times are a consequent of major change. So, there is one piece of advice, once given to me, that I would like to pass on. Whenever a friend, colleague or partner suggests a new idea makes saying yes, your first reaction. If you say no, you will never be asked again, but if you say yes, you will always have the chance to change your mind later.

We’re All Going on a Summer Holiday

It dates me, I know it does, but there is a generation who, at this time of the year, find themselves singing the Cliff Richard song from his 1963 film Summer Holiday. It’s now that time of the year:

We’re all going on a summer holiday

No more working for a week or two.

Fun and laughter on our summer holiday,

No more worries for me or you,

For a week or two.

Children, especially in the UK will be struggling over exams and the summer holiday is a chance to regroup and gather themselves before they return to school officially one year older. It’s a myth that the holiday was to release the children from school to go back to the fields to help with a harvest. The break was far too early.

Holidays have a much longer history.

Holidays derive from the ‘holy day’ and in the Middle Ages, where this story starts, whatever you might think the Church of England was always up for a party. There were nine Principal Feasts, three Principal Holy Days, and 26 Festivals –which is not too different from today’s annual leave allowances.

While the Middle Ages’ middle class may have gone on a pilgrimage to Walsingham to pray for fertility, the rich might drift off down to Rome or Jerusalem the forerunner of the Grand Tour which was the 18th century top of the range package tour.

Getting away is a key part of the Summer holiday. In the late 1950s, we would drive from London to Devon to stay in a farmhouse close to the sea. It would have been idyllic if only I had any interest in farm animals. One of the main beneficiaries of this urge to travel was the garage owner. My father’s car had to have a full service before this 600-mile round trip.

As the 1960s progressed, and Cliff was in full song, the lure of exotic foreign climes was urgent. The car was more reliable, and we headed off to France towing a caravan. It was in France’s Riviera, under the hot moon at the beach disco that my passion for foreign women first showed. If only I could remember her name I would give a shout out to that French girl who made my week as we danced to Percy Sledge’s When a Man Loves a Woman. It was more when a boy loves a girl.

Travel and the holiday have become ubiquitous. We all do them: teenage trips to Magaluf, a cultural cruise to Viking Fjord of Norway and still the Devon beaches. Getting away for those 14 summer days is deep in our culture.

Be prepared for co-workers to start complaining. ‘I haven’t been away yet and I need to get away. I need a break.’ will be the chat over mid-morning coffee.

I am ahead of you all. Paraphrasing the words of Willie John McBride, the captain of a British rugby team playing in South Africa who initiated a mass brawl, I am going to get my retaliation in first.

Summer has come early. Over the next two weeks, I will be with Lucinda and the Mighty Bertie before flying off to be with Sasha for a week.

I am going to put down my pen, refresh and attempt regeneration. I may find the temptation to write irresistible, but my plan is to return to this task around about June 11, saving you all the pressure of reading my thoughts. If I do resist the irresistible it will be no more than an odd, one-off post.

So, until then I wish you all a good two weeks and don’t feel too jealous of me. Your two weeks will come but, in the meantime, get to the shower, open up your vocal chords and join in the sing-a-long.

We’re going where the sun shines brightly

We’re going where the sea is blue.

We’ve all seen it on the movies,

Now let’s see if it’s true.

Everybody has a summer holiday

Doin’ things they always wanted to

So we’re going on a summer holiday,

To make our dreams come true

For me and you.

For me and you.

 

 

Come On Baby Drive My Car

I drive a very old car. In fact, it has a 21st  birthday soon. Partly, this was all I could afford but also I thought as an old car it might soon even start to appreciate. However, there are days when I would love to have a brand-new car with all the fancy new gizmos.

I would love to try automatic parking. I can reverse accurately but my car is never as close to the kerb as I want but better I imagine the day when I can sit in my car reading a book or admiring the scenery while racing down the motorway. I want an autonomous, self-driving car.

We all know that the technology is nearly there and have seen videos of Uber taxis driving autonomously.  It is close.

Now hold that thought while I turn the clock back a year and we remember the chaos caused when a hacker, an individual or State, temporarily brought the West to a halt. In the UK the National Health Service nearly stopped. Appointments were cancelled as records were scrambled.

Today I read that hackers are threatening the Champions League football final in Kiev. According to Ukrainian state security, The Russian government is preparing an enormous cyber-attack targeting the game on Saturday.

Sky News reports: Talos Intelligence – the security arm of computer networking firm Cisco, which detected the attack – said it was releasing the information before their investigations are complete because of the urgency in preventing the attack.

Cisco has warned that hackers have infected at least 500,000 internet routers and storage devices with sophisticated state-developed malware in dozens of countries, with a focus on Ukraine.

In a statement, the Ukrainian security service said its experts “believe that the infection of hardware on the territory of Ukraine is preparation for another act of cyber aggression by the Russian Federation, aimed at destabilising the situation during the Champions League final.”

For the moment I don’t care if that is true. The point I am trying to make is that the smartest of the hackers are a smart bunch. Don’t just imagine an anti-social 16-year-old sitting in his bedroom hacking into the CIA and FBI but add criminal gangs whose motives are far more nefarious.

Let’s bring these thoughts together. We have autonomous cars controlled by sophisticated IT and we have hackers and other bad guys. It sounds like a geeks playground, and so it is.

This just happens to be the latest of news items from the BBC. According to a study by a Chinese cyber-security lab, BMW’s car computer systems have been found to contain 14 separate flaws which, in theory at least, could let hackers take at least partial control of affected vehicles while in use.

You will be pleased to know that they are sharing their findings with BMW who is working on fixes.

An autonomous car needs to communicate with the outside world. It takes in GPS signals and depending on how the system works may communicate with other cars. It has Bluetooth and other communication technologies. It is very ‘hackable’.

We have used the incredible power of technology and expanded its inter-connectivity. The ‘internet of things’ means that our fridge can reorder our eggs directly from Sainsbury’s without us knowing.

But, we pay lip service to internet threats and assume that up to date AVG or McAfee will protect us from everything. It’s not true. Basic design flaws lead to vulnerabilities.

I don’t mind an extra dozen eggs arriving but I need to know that BMW, Tesla and every other car manufacturer is doing more than their best as they design autonomous cars.

I don’t want to be driving, if that is still the right word, watching the scenery and find that my car has decided to take me to Warrington instead of Wycombe.  Or worse, read that some hacking, deranged, high school teenager decides that a managed pile-up on the motorway better meets his needs than wielding a Kalashnikov around his classmates.

Home Sweet Home

Everything has been running a little late this morning as I work on the transfer of this blog onto my new website www.gerrycryer.com From today, that is where my daily posts will appear. It would be good if you go and have a look and let me have your comments. Better still would be if you would subscribe.

Today, I was wrapped up in a story from America which has a parallel from one earlier in the year.

Do you remember the mother in Taiwan who successfully sued her son for almost $1 million for raising him and funding his dentistry training? She had signed a contract with him when he was 20 and set off into dentistry. He hadn’t repaid anything and she went to the courts.

Well, not to be outdone we now have an American equivalent.

Parents of Michael Rotondo are suing their son in an effort to get him to leave home. This follows issuing eviction notices over the last few months. Mr and Mrs Rotondo filed their case with the Onondaga County Supreme Court, near Syracuse, New York, on 7 May, after months of unsuccessfully urging their son to leave.

The parent’s lawyer, Anthony Adorante, told Syracuse.com the couple did not know how else to get their adult son out of their house.  For what it is worth Michael, now aged 30, pays no rents nor does any chores around the house.

There must be many a set of parents around the world watching this case with interest and questioning if they should do the same.

There is obviously a lot going on in that family which we don’t know and on the limited facts, I won’t speculate, but it does make me think about that old saying that blood is thicker than water.

Parents love, care and protect children. Hopefully, they also ensure they are educated, but why is this a lifelong contract? While I think it is, I wonder what is the bond that keeps a family together when children are grown-up. And now more relevant to me with the Mighty Bertie ever ready to greet me with a high-five, what is the role of grandparents to the family?

Anthropologists give me a story about protecting my gene line. I find that idea sentimental. When I am dead and gone, that is it and the world belongs to everyone else. I am not so arrogant to be concerned that my name or genes carry-on into eternity.

In many other cultures, where the family unit is more revered, maintaining strong filial links has real economic benefits. Grandparents, no longer able to work productively to kill bison or earn wages, take on a caring role. A strong relationship between grandparents and children also ensures that tradition and values are passed down through generations. It is not so long ago that the stories grandparents told could have ensured survival.

Whatever the anthropological drivers and the changes over generations, the responsibility of a parent to young children will never change.  and that is to ensure that the child grows and is equipped to survive in the world. That means that good parenting is all about letting go and moving the child on.

We love our children but if they don’t move on and make their own new world we have failed as parents. If we do this properly then they invite us back for Christmas and even give us the chance to look after and play with our grandchildren.

Men in Skirts

When I was at University studying statistics, I was told that one point is a statistic but two is a trend. So it was today when I read that a Chinese University, Hunan Agricultural University, has lifted its ban on miniskirts and hotpants in the library after an outcry from students.

Hunan Agricultural University originally issued the restrictions when a male scholar complained his work was being disrupted and it posted a notice on the library doors restricting students from entering wearing dresses and shorts less than 50cm in length.

I thought I had seen this story before. I went back to the internet. I had and every summer since Mary Quant gave us the mini skirt this has been a stock story all over the world.

2015, Algeria:  a university banned a girl from taking her exam because her skirt was too short. The ban, which prevented an unnamed law student sitting her exam because her skirt finished above the knees, has incensed students in Algeria

2018, Colombia: men have been wearing skirts in public to protest against a university’s miniskirt ban. Pontifical Bolivarian University in Medellín advised female students to stop wearing short skirts on campus as they were distracting classmates and teachers.

And my favourite. 2013 Hungary: Students at a university have turned up to class in only their underwear, in protest at conservative new clothing rules banning miniskirts, flip-flops and low-cut dresses. Around 10 students and a professor at Kaposvar University in southwest Hungary attended classes on Thursday clad only in pants, or, in some cases, nothing more than strategically placed textbooks, in protest at the draconian new rules. The article was of course accompanied by a photo and video of the tutorial group dressed only in their books. So, nothing staged and pre-planned there.

I can’t understand why schools and universities try these tricks.

I am sure these guardians of our moral value believe they are imposing these bans for the right reasons but what those might be are baffling.

It should never be because male students are being distracted. I know times have changed and are very different from mine at university, but back in the early 1970s being distracted from my work by a naked, shapely leg was positively encouraged. Pretty girls, rugby training, the student bar all had a higher priority than study. I know it’s a dinosaur attitude, but I revert to an anthropologist university friend who said that male students are not at university to find a lifelong mate but to increase the opportunity of mating.

Whenever an administration (who are invariably older and male) becomes involved in setting fashion limits there will always be trouble.

University students (who are invariably young) are naturally rebellious and are looking for every opportunity to show their independence. Make a rule that says in mid-winter it is forbidden to be naked in the University and there will be one nude, protesting group who say otherwise.

And, what about these poor men being distracted by the wiles and guiles of these temptress women? Part of the role of University is to acquire some life skills. It is the transition from living with parents to independence and you know what, in the real-world women in short skirts is a problem every man faces every day.

In London, today, there will be many women walking around in short skirts and skimpy tops. They are not doing it in some coordinated, communist plot to bring the commercial world to a halt while the men are distracted. Nor are they wearing summer clothes in a feminist stunt. The weather is good, the temperature is rising and these clothes are comfortable. That’s the real world.

If students want to protest for a real cause then getting men out of trousers and jackets which are hot, restrictive and sweaty, would be much better.

Men in Skirts. That’s my new clarion call.

Critical Acclaim

I always encourage positive criticism and this weekend two readers contacted me with the same opinion. We really enjoy what you write, they said, but some days the pieces get too long. They don’t fit into the timeslot which maybe a sip of mid-morning coffee or gap between tasks. We love them but less is better.

The first reaction to criticism, even if you have asked for it – which I did, is to go defensive. If I had been given the chance I would say, they are as short as I can make them and as long as they need to be, but, I wasn’t given the chance. I took it on the chin. It was fair criticism because I am writing for my audience and my audience said they wanted less.

It is not just writers that ask for constructive criticism. Often, we ask for criticism when we know we have done a good job.  We are creating the space for praise. I know when I am doing it but I can’t stop myself.

Over these last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to sign copies of my books and, especially when they are my book of children’s poems, I ask the parents to write to me and tell me about the reaction and the impact they have had. I actively encourage criticism while deep down really wanting to know that I have entertained their little ones. I would be mortified if they ever came back with a long list of complaints.

But that has happened.

I remember with my first book my proud mother shared it with her friends accompanied again with that request for constructive comments and opinions. I couldn’t believe it when someone wrote saying that they didn’t like it. I mean, how couldn’t you like it?

There was a year of my life in that book but worse they found an error. It is only a small error of detail which had been missed by both myself and my editor and ever since then it has rankled. Someday I will publish a second edition if only to get rid of that one mistake.

Later books were criticised for too much sex. I defended myself as would an actress naked throughout a film. It was necessary for the plot with appropriate nudity and never gratuitous. I re-read the scenes and maybe I had lingered just a tad too long on perfectly formed breasts and erect nipples.

But that audience of my mother’s friends were provincial, ultra old age pensioners and maybe not my target audience except that there are lots of them and they have been brought up buying and reading books. If my Mum is not knitting then she always has a book on the go. That is not an audience that a writer should disregard.

These were private comments which I was able to balance with other voices. I could balance what to accept with those I rejected. I was fortunate. The criticism was posted straight to me and not published anonymously on a review site.

That is the most difficult criticism to accept. The audience of the professional critic is not the restaurant or theatre but the casual reader who wants to be entertained more than educated.  I think the same of Trip Advisor. I suspect the reason for many a visit is only to become a peeved reviewer.

Complaining and criticism have become a way of life but don’t let me stop you telling me what you think. I am thick skinned and I take it all with a pinch of salt remembering that the quality of advice I receive is proportional to the effort to produce it.

GDPR

A final postscript on GDPR which come into force on Friday

Your email inbox will have been full of sites asking you to subscribe and actively opt-in to meet the requirements of GDPR.

I have to do the same.

Current subscribers will soon be receiving my GDPR email but with a note that over the next month, the blog will be moving away from the Brovary publishing site to my personal site www.gerrycryer.com which will be activated later this week.

 Postscript

700 words!!

Mental Health Awareness Week

Last week I listened to a radio interview with Nigel Owens, the Welsh, international rugby referee. To be honest it was only because I was in the car driving and there was little else that interested me. Owens is not my favourite referee. He is that sort of chippy Welshman I don’t take to, but I am pleased I stuck with the long interview.

Owens talked about how he had attempted suicide, taken pills, was found and, according to doctors, 20 minutes away from death. He talked about the dark place that had driven him to the depths. For Owens, it was the realisation that he was gay and his inability to face it and come out.

Owens was asked if he thought about his family, in particular, his mother and father as he took the pills. Of course, he said that but in his dark place he believed that they would be better off without him. He knows now how wrong that was.

He then talked about being chased by publishers to write about the experience but always turned them down until later he learnt that his story had saved a young boy’s life.

The 16-year-old had become moody and withdrawn from his family. His parents were deeply worried. One day, with the normal truculence of a teenager the boy was sitting with a family friend around the kitchen table. The friend talked about Owens and with a casualness commented on his recent openness about being gay but more about how great a referee he was. The son left, went upstairs to be followed by his father and in those moments came out to his father. If Owens, a hero of rugby could be gay and yet still was accepted mostly as a first-class rugby man then maybe it was OK for the boy. The boy later owned up to his father that he was close to suicide.

Owens wrote his memoir to help others understand.

As I know very well mental health problems are common. Mind, the UK mental health charity report the following:

Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.

In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week

Yet, despite the frequency, there is still a stigma around mental health problems. We don’t want to talk about them and we don’t face up to them. Maybe it is because we can’t see the physicality of the illness in the way we see mumps, measles or a broken leg. Maybe it is because we think mad and Bedlam, but mental illness is not raving bonkers and always more likely to be subtle.

This is Mental Health Awareness Week and we need to focus particularly on the awareness. We need to recognise that with an almost certainty someday, some week in your near future you will feel and suffer, at the very least, mild symptoms. It may be more severe.

If you enter that dark place you need to talk to friends and doctors. If you see a friend or family member heading, there get advice. The worst you can do is nothing. I know that from personal experience.

7 years ago, I spent a year of my life spiralling down. I was alone in Dubai. I wouldn’t go out when during the day and the little food shopping I did was in the middle of the night at a 24-hour shop just outside my apartment. I slept when it was light and woke at night. I lost over 15kg. I cleared and sorted my life for what I thought was an inevitability and if it wasn’t for the thought of Ben, Lucinda and Maddie, and the legacy I would have left them, I might have taken the same option as Owens. Unlike Owens, I knew I wouldn’t be found.

I poured my waking life into writing my first book and that is why it has a special sentimental value to me. I remember when a character I thought would be there at the end, died. It had to happen. That was where the story went.

It wasn’t an easy night and I cried at her loss and that was probably the turning point to my recovery. It was the moment when again I felt an emotion stronger than my own dark place.

I still have the scars from that year. Possibly many of my current physical problems were exacerbated. It has taken time and empathy from those close to me to understand the cause was not that I didn’t love them or care for them. It was the opposite. It was the strength of my love for them that pulled me through.

And then there is Sasha. She doesn’t realise quite how important she has been in my recovery and I feel blessed that she came into my life. I know I would love her without my past but because of my past finding, someone who loves me unconditionally is even more special.

Mental Health problems can be invisible, but they can be treated.  Someone you know needs your help. They are not mad, they are unwell. They can be helped and treated. Be aware and show your love.

Who cares if we’re late?

The banner across the front page of a major consumer advice website in the UK reads:

Whether you were travelling for leisure or work, you have the right to a refund or compensation for a train delay or cancellation experienced on your journey.

The British are used to their trains being late and we have set up elaborate compensation schemes. Compare this to the apology in Japan where the operator said the “great inconvenience we placed upon our customers was truly inexcusable”. That’s right not everything goes well in Japan and if the details are anything to go by, customers are faced with slipping standards. A train last November left 20 seconds early while this time it was a full 25 seconds premature. This is how it was described by the BBC.

According to Japan Today, the train conductor thought his train was scheduled to leave Notogawa Station at 07:11 instead of the actual scheduled time of 07:12. After closing the doors to the commuter train one minute early he realised his mistake and still could have averted the looming embarrassment. But as he couldn’t spot any waiting passengers on the platform, he decided to go ahead and leave early – rolling out of the station 25 seconds ahead of time. Japanese trains have a reputation for extreme punctuality, and it turned out that there were indeed still people hoping to get onboard. Left on the platform, they complained to the rail operator and an official apology was issued shortly afterwards.

Every rail company, anywhere in the world, would love to run their trains like the Japanese with perfect punctuality but they don’t. They reflect their customer’s attitudes towards lateness. There are national differences and generally, inhabitants of the Western, industrial world are far more concerned with punctuality than those of the less industrialised third world.

Just 200 years this would not have concerned anyone. Then,  time was a local issue and we need to remember that the concept of a single unified time is comparatively new.

In the UK Railway Time standardised the country and only by 1847 had most cities adopted London time. It was not until 1880 that the British legal system caught up with the rest of the country and Greenwich Mean Time was legally adopted throughout Great Britain.

Time is used to control and exert authority. Although geographically China spans 6 time zones since 1949 all of China has been run on one single standard time.

Whatever the clock says people are still divided into those that need to be early and those that can never manage it and are always late.

I am among the first group although not at an extreme. I would always rather be early and find something to do than arrive in a rush, full of apology which I would have to do. invariably I catch an early train and always build in too much contingency just in case there are road works or sheep in the road. When it comes to time I assume the worse.

In the other camp of perpetual lateness, Annie and Sasha, you can both step forward and take a bow.

Before I out them I want to make clear that I am not saying that being late is just a female trait. There is many a man I know who I can guarantee will be late, but my two life partners are arch exponents of the skill.

I remember when the family were going on a holiday which started with a ferry across the channel to France. While they sail frequently but still you need to book well in advance. Like a plane, you are booked on a particular ferry which has a check-in time.

I knew Annie would be late and told her that our booking was an hour earlier than it was. We may have been packed, luggage and children strapped into the car, but still, Annie had to make sure that the kitchen was clean. Had I been honest to Annie, we would have missed the ferry.

I am not complaining. Far from it. I knew her and I had a plan and everything always fell into place. I loved her dearly for her picadillo.

Sasha’s lateness is different and something I am still getting to grips with. When she says we will do something after lunch I assume that we will do it early afternoon. But no. It means exactly what she said, after lunch and there is a lot of a day left after lunch.

Whatever the basic national characteristics there is a broad and wide range of personal attitudes to timekeeping. However, each of us needs a reference point and there is nothing better than a train operator keeping to its timetable. There must be many a naturally tardy Japanese but at least they know when the train will be waiting for them but how galling it must have been to see the train leave 25 seconds early.

Alcohol, Antibiotics and Sex

I have Type 1 diabetes and I am supposed to measure and monitor my blood sugars every moment of every day. Of course, I don’t. With the passing years, I understand my body and can feel the symptoms well before I stick the needle into my finger, extract some blood for the machine and measure where I am. When I have reached this point and need to measure my blood sugar levels the answer is normally some food because I have forgotten to eat (sorry Annie and Maddie, it is just because I forget) or rarely another injection of the rapid-acting insulin.

Diabetes has other side effects which are less easily managed. For me, if my blood sugars have been wandering up and down, it is a tendency to mild gum infections. Nothing serious and normally it resolves quickly as I pull my diet back under control, but sometimes it would help if I had a short course of antibiotics.

When I tell that to the endocrinologist (diabetes doctor) at the hospital they nod and say something like, ‘not uncommon’. However, the problem is that my dentist doesn’t believe me and is always muttering and tutting saying that if it carries on a tooth will have to go. It normally heals up within a week.

That is where I am today. I have a mild toothache.

Now, this piece could go one of many ways. I could write about how a patient will often know more about themselves than the doctor or dentist. Unlike the dentist, my doctor listens to me when we have a discussion. That’s right, I discuss my health with my doctor and he listens to me when I say I think a problem is related to something else. We always end with an agreed holistic plan.

My dentist will only give me a prescription for antibiotics if I book an appointment first and the basic cost of that is £55. In the UK dentistry is not really covered by the National Health Service. Then there is the drug cost which can be another £25. I don’t feel good about spending £80 when I know the solution.

What happens? I go online, and self-prescribe Amoxycillin for no more than £15. I hate doing that. I might think I know more but I know that I know a lot less than someone who has been trained for 7 years. I like to keep the experts in line with what I am doing but if they disagree what am I supposed to do?

Perversely, just as I am explaining that I self-prescribe antibiotics, I could go on and on about their over-use. A virus will mutate and change so that over time antibiotics become less effective. We need to control their use, especially in animal feeds. Antibiotics will not cure a common cold. We need them to work and not be given out willy-nilly.

Antibiotics have had a short but interesting history and developing around them are a range of myths. But, before I start, there is some small print. I am not a doctor or trained pharmacologist so don’t take what I say as gospel. Do listen to your doctor and not what internet contributors say. Whatever I may rant about, doctors do know best.

One of the great myths about antibiotics is that you can’t mix them with alcohol. Although there are some exceptions, generally, that is not true. The antibiotic cephalosporin cefotetan slows alcohol breakdown, another antibiotic that comes with a specific warning not to be used alongside alcohol is metronidazole, although even that is questioned by Finnish research.

The myth is supposed to have arisen just after WW2 and there are two stories that are thought to be the source from that period.

Then, penicillin was in short supply and after it had been taken it was retrieved from a patient’s urine to be recycled. Recovering soldiers were allowed to drink beer but this increased the volume of urine making it harder to recover the drug. Therefore, beer was banned. That sounds unlikely, but you never know.

The other story is from the same period. Sexually transmitted diseases were on the increase with soldiers returning from war expecting more back home than just rest and recuperation, leading public health wanting to restrict what was becoming an epidemic. Effective treatment and control required not just consistent and regular taking of the antibiotics, but also carnal abstinence. But, on a brief break from war, it was believed that soldiers would go and drink, lose control, and have further amorous adventures, further spreading any diseases before they were cured.

To help self-restraint it was better if they didn’t drink. So, tell the soldiers that they couldn’t drink while taking penicillin and the STDs wouldn’t be spread. That sounds a far more probable tale.

I may return to these topics over the coming weeks but in the meantime, my tooth is feeling better. My blood sugars must again be under control.

The Palestine Israel Problem

I wish I understood more about the history and root causes of the situation in Palestine and Israel. It is a huge understatement to say it is complicated, but it is complicated. There are factions and interests both local and global. There is history and neither France nor the UK comes out well.

I am not going to give a history lesson. I can’t. I don’t understand it at all. There are plenty of articles and libraries you can go to if that is what you want.

Israel feels under threat and I understand that, but nor is an average stateless Palestinian well placed. When I was in Dubai I met many and over a shisha, they would try to explain their plight. I tried but could never fully understand what it felt like not to have a home country. I can travel on my British passport almost wherever I want. Try and do that when you only have Palestinian papers.

Yesterday 58 Palestinians were killed in Gaza while Israel says it was defending its borders, but you need two sides to fight a war and the PLA and Hezbollah, based in Lebanon are not without fault. They have fuelled the conflict.

Surveys suggest that there is support from the populations in both Israel and Palestine for a two-state solution. It seems obvious but as ever politicians are being held hostage by their own ambitions and fringe supporters.

There was a time when America might have been ‘an honest broker’ between the warring parties, but that is now past. The USA, in moving its Embassy to Jerusalem has shown bias and allegiance.

And there lies the problem. We walk on eggshells when we criticise Israel and run the risk of being labelled antisemitic. We have to get over that, but we can’t. Jerusalem is not just the centre of Israel but a global religious centre. It has importance for all faiths. Israel cannot be allowed to claim it for just the Jewish faith.

First and foremost, this is a humanitarian disaster of potentially epic proportions. With the increasing problem in Iraq and Iran, the focus of the Middle East wars will move away from Syria, widen and has all the signs of becoming global.

I am not going to take sides. Wherever you look there is fault. While I carry on in my cosy, insulated life, today, I feel sad.

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Too Much Expectation

It is Monday and after a weekend of work, I wanted to stay in bed late, and relax and write my way through the morning, but instead, I am awake at the crack of dawn. I have a meeting in London and this morning is all about finishing, grabbing the support of strong coffee, before racing off to catch the train.

Today, I have my first meeting with a publisher, Chris. Over the years I have written to many, many agents but with no luck. It’s no comfort to read that JK Rowling and others had over a dozen rejections before ultimate success. I am only concerned with my track record.

I took an alternative route and built my own publishing company but publishing is not an industry I know well, and so to get straight to a possible publisher is great news. Maybe this will be the breakthrough moment when everything changes. Now, if he was to take on the catalogue and then commission the Catchpole follow-up and children’s poems, all will be sorted.

Do you see what I have done?

I have built up expectation and anticipation but with no basis or foundation. Thankfully my feet are more firmly on the ground and although I am meeting Chris, who really is a publisher, I am getting ahead of everything to think about a deal. We have had one brief telephone chat which was enough for us to agree to meet to ‘talk publishing’.

Setting the wrong expectation leads to frustration and is very painful. Life needs colour and variety but self-induced ups and downs really don’t help.

Although its hard to remember back to my just post-teenage years I do recollect the totally disabling impact of uncontrolled ambition. I remember I set my ambitions of sporting and business success far higher than my abilities. Unrealistic ambition became all-consuming and I managed it badly and it was as destructive as jealousy. That was undoubtedly where I was. Ambition wasn’t driving me forward but holding me back.

The turning point was a game of rugby played against Durham City. I was playing against an ex-England international who was possibly twenty years older than me. In rugby terms, he was an OAP. That day he took me apart. It wasn’t just skill. I could always acquire that but it was simply a matter of anatomy. I was the wrong shape. My legs were too short and body too long to play hooker.

That was an important day as I learnt that ambition always has to be tempered. I became more relaxed as the ambition to become an international rugby player was replaced by something far more reasonable and accessible. Later, in business, I became an advocate of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (Pronounced Bee-HAG). The goal has to be bold, brave but also achievable.

Another but shorter way of saying the same was the 1973 and therefore almost contemporary quote from Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force: A man’s got to know his limitations.

Over the years not much has changed. I still have to fight against setting my expectations too far ahead of myself. Of course, I would like more money and despite all my recent travails with agents, I expect and know that one day I will turn my words into a steady if not spectacular income. It is a certainty only possible with ambition and the work that encourages.

But ambition, expectation and hopes are not confined to business and making money. When it comes to the softer hopes in life for the happiness and success of family, and love, it turns out to be far more fraught. Just as parents have hopes for the future of their children so I am learning children have expectations of their parents.

Sasha and I are still learning about our shared expectations, and of course fears but that is one of the greatest excitements in a developing relationship.

Everyone has to find their own way through this minefield and I know it is not easy. Without ambition or an expectation that there is a different and better solution, nothing ever gets done. We need to have the dreams as an inspiration to work and achieve, but unattainable goals lead to frustration and alienation.

Later today I will be writing, as usual, to Sasha and no doubt again I will paint the picture of a perfect life together. Maybe I need to set her and my expectations more reasonably and balance every romantic beach scene with another day when we are both tired and tetchy.

But that is not human nature.

This morning though it is the business ambitions that are being addressed and I need to get myself off and away on the way to London. I must keep reminding myself it is just a chat but, Chris if you would like to take on my books, with a marketing budget and advance, I wouldn’t say no. My expectations are set high.

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Let me Die a Young Man’s Death

There is a BBC radio programme, Desert Island Discs. It is on the radio as I write. The format is very simple. A guest is interviewed about their life and during the interview, they choose 8 records they would want with them if they had been cast away on a desert Island. Originally presented by Roy Plomley since 2006 Kirsty Young has been asking the questions. It has longevity. It was first broadcast in 1942 and there have been over 3,000 episodes.

The Desert Island Disc game is a game that every radio enthusiast has played. What would be my 8 disks? Sometimes I think that I would choose my favourite pieces but could I ever get the list down to 8?

Most guests use the music to highlight key points in their life with an ‘I remember when I was stuck in a traffic jam in West Norwood, in my old mini when they started playing Bridge over Troubled Water. It was mind-blowing. I pulled in to the side of the road, closed the windows and turned up the radio to the loudest.’

That last bit is true but a traffic jam in West Norwood is not so monumentally important to be recounted on the radio, however, I would probably choose Bridge over Troubled Water

On other days I play them at their own game and choose music specifically for a desert island. Then I pick a selection of loud, inspiring music to make me smile and feel better. Sorry, Sasha. Lady in Red may help me think of you but I need the music to cheer me up and not remind me that I am alone. Then it would have to be a selection from the last night of the Prom Concerts with Land of Hope and Glory and the National Anthem.

It may read as though I am just filling space, and maybe I am, but there is purpose and those are thoughts of longevity. When we are young we think we live forever and as we get older we recognise our own mortality.

The adage says you are only as old as you feel. Of course, the genes make a difference but even these can be managed with exercise and diet. Let’s be clear. Age is an attitude.

Yesterday Mahathir Mohamad was elected Prime Minister of Malaysia. Nothing strange in that. He has a track record. He was prime minister between 1981 and 2003 and came out of retirement to take on his former protégé Najib Razak.

What makes this really interesting is that Mahathir is 92 and will become the world’s oldest leader. The previous holder of this record is our very own Queen Elizabeth but the difference is that she has grown old in the role and not elected to it.

I did some research and I found that there are many octagenarians who have stood for office and won. Tunisian’s 91-year-old President, Beji Caid took office in December 2014 and is nation’s first democratically elected head of state.

Not quite a head of state, but certainly matriarch of a family, my mother is another example of working late into life. In her 90s she is still President of the local Horticultural Society and berates the Committee to get going on the preparations of the annual show. She is threatening to take back responsibility.

I can’t equate longevity in a radio program with individual feats. Human longevity needs desire, drive and enthusiasm matched with a good dollop of genetic good fortune. Some people live their live’s to retire and adopt the cloak of old age while others measure the experience that comes with age as a reason for carrying on.

The Who may have pleaded for a generation when they sang I hope I die before I get old. Then I believed them.

Now I am older and I am with Roger McGough.

Let me die a Youngman’s death and not a clean and inbetween the sheets holywater death, not a famous-last-words, peaceful out of breath death.

He goes on to say,

Or when I’m 104, and banned from the Cavern, may my mistress, catching me in bed with her daughter and fearing for her son, cut me up into little pieces, and throw away every piece but one.

As they said when I was young, Rock On Roger!

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A Big Orange Stain

There is enough political commentary in the news you don’t need me to add to it with my observations, but love or loathe him you can’t keep Trump out of the news and I have to respond.

This might be old news, but I have only just found it.

The New York City Parks Department has banned a statue of Trump in the City with the press release, Our wardens have removed a naked statue of Donald Trump from Union Square. The NYCP stands firmly against any unpermitted erections, no matter how small.

I don’t know if Stormy Daniels has authenticated the realism of statue, but it is also being reported that Trump and Melania now live almost totally separate lives. Could this be one reason?

And, not content with recently saying that ‘everyone thinks I should get Nobel peace prize’ (no we don’t) I read that in another matter Trump he has now gone over the top and gone too far.

You need some background.

On Friday, July 13th he is planning to visit the UK. There is not much love for him and there is much speculation that he won’t visit London for fear of there being too many noisy demonstrations. Personally, I think he should come here so that he can see the strength of a real democracy.

I haven’t been to a demonstration for a very long time, but I might just take a day off work to express my disdain even though that gives me a philological problem. Do I show disdain by deliberately going to the pub and ignoring him and if I demonstrate am I showing something else? I have a couple of months to resolve that.

I think what Trump really wants is to ride in a big horse pulled, gold carriage sitting next to the Queen. It might be what he wants but it isn’t going to happen. Our Queen is very tolerant and a wonderful symbol of restraint and equanimity, but she is also old. There is only so much we can ask her to suffer.

If he wants a coach ride he should do up one of the carriages in Central Park and get Melania to wear a crown. Tell you what he can wear the crown if he wants.

If not to London, it is suggested instead that he will meet dignitaries in Scotland. That may be a good idea but I can’t see a Scotish reception being any kinder to him. The UK is not a very large country and for the dedicated protestor, Edinburgh really isn’t very far away. If you are already planning your trip from Derby or Nottingham heading North instead of South is no big deal.

But now we don’t have to rely on travelling protestors to show our feelings because Trump has managed to offend the Scots directly by attacking the very heart of their culture. Trump owns the Scottish resort and famous golf course at Turnberry and there, guests have been forbidden from drinking Irn-Bru.

For those that don’t know Irn-Bru is a bright orange coloured,  soft drink and is one of Scotland’s favourites. It is at the heart of all things Scotish. Turnberry’s concern, which has led to the ban, comes from their fears of its luminous orange colouring staining the carpets.

They may have expensive carpets. They say that replacing the one in the ballroom alone would cost a cool half million pounds, but come on, it can’t be that bad. Surely, even the Scots are more likely to spill wine or beer than Irn-Bru?

It’s a disturbing thought that in future the only luminous orange colouring staining the carpets of Turnberry is Trump’s fake tan.

Trump has gone too far and as one Twitter writer said, “The President of the United States has just declared war on Scotland.”. We can be sure now the reception in Scotland will be just as vocal as anything London could muster.

Trump can’t come to London, and now he can’t go to Scotland. His own orange tan is far too Protestant political for any Catholic to allow any visit to Northern Ireland. That only leaves Wales but as a proper democracy, they will follow the lead of 75% of the Union.

So that is it. The only orange stain we will tolerate in the UK is Irn-Bru on Turnberry’s carpets.

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The Great Dictator

One of the great joys of this job is having an excuse every day to search the internet for interesting and stimulating stories. Over the last 24 hours, I have read about exploding buses in Rome. Apparently, more than 22 caught fire last year and already this year another 7 have self-combusted. It is a rare city where a vehicle catching fire is shrugged off and the first reaction is not to call for an anti-terrorist squad. Thankfully no one has been hurt.

I have also read about Kendall Jenner, model and half-sister to the Kardashians, pushing assistants out of the way on a red-carpet event so that the photographers could get a better shot of her latest dress. Sadly, it wasn’t even the prettiest, most outrageous, or most transparent. It was generally described as a dress made of toilet roll paper. Ah well.

These are fluff and trivia. Of far more seriousness was the Victory Day parade in Red Square, Moscow. If you know me at all well, or better still read my first novel, The Masterful Manipulation of George Cove, you will also know that I have a long lasting and huge admiration for the people of Eastern Europe in all that they did defending us from Hitler.

I have written about this many times so I won’t ramble but just say that the Western allies had losses of 2 million while the combined Eastern Allies of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia lost 10 times that number with more than 20 million deaths. America didn’t win the war. The West didn’t defeat Hitler. It was the bravery and sacrifice of the Eastern allies that gave their lives to defeat tyranny.

Today’s Moscow parade of soldiers and arms may say as much about Putin as it is a reflection of the past. However, it does reflect the patriotism of a country and its people. Patriotism is at the core of the Brexit argument as it gives us the opportunity to control our own laws, or so it is said, but patriotism can be as much a  negative influence, particularly in our hyper-interconnected world.

President Trump has used the ‘Put America First’ slogan extensively over the last three years as an excuse for many a bad policy. Trade protectionism was the first issue and that will impact the global economy but now it has become far more dangerous.

President Trump has withdrawn America from the Iran Nuclear deal and that puts the whole world in crisis.

It may not be a great deal. It may not be the best of deals but it was the best that could be done at the time. It was never meant to be a zero-sum deal but a win-win. Both sides had to gain something. Yes, it has deficiencies and doesn’t cover what happens in 15 years when it runs out and maybe it could be stronger on ballistic missile development but it was a deal for the time.

Taking America out of the deal puts us all at greater risk and Trump did it unilaterally.

I remember when I was in Dubai I was deeply impressed by the leadership of  Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The UAE is not a democracy yet President Bush supported the UAE while simultaneously preaching a sermon that democracy was the only way forward. In fact, he used it as a basis for many of the disastrous, war-mongering, Middle East policies.

President Trump may have been properly elected (we can discuss that on another day) but he is now acting as a dictator. We do not know how much support he has in Congress for his actions but from the outside, it does look that he sits in the Oval Office making his own decisions. He is behaving just like the Chairman and CEO of a company where he owns 100% of the shares. In his company, he treats it like a fiefdom. Now he treats the United States of America just the same.

If this had been President Putin the world would have been talking tyrant or autocrat.

In the UK we are now going through Brexit and I am sure that Prime Minister May would like the same freedoms as Trump to decide and commit. She doesn’t.  She has the oversight of a Cabinet and Parliament. In a democracy, there are checks and balances on every corner.

We can and will argue about the route that President Trump has taken. I think it is wrong. Many others think it is wrong. In a real democracy, there would be a debate, discussion, and a vote. Not so in America.

Charlie Chaplin’s greatest film was possibly The Great Dictator. It was a satire and comedy. Oh, how I wish it was so now and in 90 minutes the popcorn would be done, the credits have rolled, it has all finished and it was time to go home with a smile.

The problem is that with this action from Trump everything may just finish in 90 minutes.

Nostalgia, It isn’t what it used to be

What is the worst thing that could happen to you? Serous illness, loss of a family member, losing a job will both be high on the list but after this first tier, a computer crash must be near the top. That is the problem I faced over the weekend.

It happened on Friday just as we headed into a long weekend with a public holiday. I pressed the start button and nothing happened. I unplugged it and plugged it again. I held the button down and counted to 15 but still, it sat there quietly staring back blankly.

I assumed it was the disk which I had been monitoring for a time and I had already started to fret, in a very low key way, as its active life headed up to 13,000 hours. But that had survived. The repairman said that it was the ‘motherboard’ on my old faithful Lenovo that had decided enough was enough. That was why it wouldn’t boot.

With a passable parody of the Monty Python, he went on to explain that the machine was no more, deceased, had fallen off its perch, stiff, bereft of life, kicked the bucket and finally shuffled off its mortal coil. In short, he said this is an ex-computer. and why it was meant for the scrap yard.

That was it. No salvation, no magic switch, no time to mourn and no time to do the research as I needed to buy a replacement and probably quickly. Normally, I might consider extensive research but an offer from one shop to do all the setup and data transfer clinched the HP deal. I got my machine back today and this is the first piece of typing anger.

My life is sad and shallow in that I spend hours with my computer. We have been together on trips and holidays to Thailand, Turkey, much of Europe, all around the UK and of course multiple trips to Kiev.

My life is almost literally on the computer, I have kept emails since before the turn of the century. I keep all my books in their many drafts. Multiple designs for book cover litter the files. There are intimate letters between Sasha and me which cover five years of hopes, dreams, and plans.

Some time ago I had worked out that the cost of losing all of that memorable information was high and made full use of Cloud storage. Everything, including all those old emails, was blasted up into the ether waiting for this day when everything would fail.

But not everything is quite right.

Most things are in the right place but as it stands I can’t access anything on the Cloud account that was changed in the last 6 months. Most importantly that includes six months of work on my latest novel. Don’t worry its just a mere 100,000 words.

I will stay positive until I speak to the software engineer later today. Then I might start pulling out what is left of my hair. But that brings me to a conversation I had over the weekend with a close friend.

We were talking about possessions and I was saying that when I left Dubai, six years ago, my life had resolved itself down to two suitcases, and of course my then faithful Sony. Everything else had been sold or given away. After 40 years of striving my whole life could be carried to the airport. I remember looking at the suitcases as they disappeared on the airport carousel and thinking that if they were lost I would only own the clothes I was standing in.

For a moment it was frightening and then quickly it became liberating as I realised that owning something isn’t important. Things may jog a good memory but they aren’t memory. The memory lives deep inside you and is always there.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many things I would much rather have than not have. There are days when I would like to hoard and not bother about clearing out the junk in my life but when it happens, believe me, there is no great loss. They are just nostalgia. They are the mementos of where you have been and not a signpost of where you are going.

This September I am moving to Kiev into an apartment given to us by Sasha’s father and she has asked me how much room I need for clothes as we design the fitting out. The simple answer is however much there is available. I will move with just my two cases, although I might top them up over time but whatever, I will not fret.

I will find out later if those missing files are locked in an eternal, unrecoverable heaven but I am not going to let it worry me.

I would much rather be with the real Sasha than brood over a missing photo, taken on a far away, beach when I hope she was thinking of me. The book was always going to be rewritten in the editing process so all I have done is change the process and not the thought.

As a little research, I did check the web and there were all the sites you would expect such as 50 Things Every Man Should Own.

I checked all the things I didn’t own and I don’t miss: a bottle opener I didn’t get for free at 2-for-1 night, a properly seasoned cast-iron skillet that’s seen its fair share of beef, a full-size umbrella without brand logos, a dopp kit for grooming on the go, or a pocket multi-tool for exploring the great outdoors.

If you really want to hurt me by depriving me of all that is important then take away my family, Sasha, friends, emotions, and memories. I will protect these with my life but don’t have any fear about that baggage consuming airport carousel.

Managers, Money and Meetings

It has been a very busy weekend and driving back home yesterday from a day out, sitting in a traffic jam,  I thought about today’s topic.

It became a toss-up between two.

The first was a reflection on great managers, whether in business or sport, of course, raised by the unfortunate and sudden illness of Sir Alex Ferguson the legendary ex-manager of Manchester United.

The second was a revelation from the world’s richest man (well he may be second right now but what is a few tens of billions between friends) Jeff Bezos who told a conference that Powerpoint has no place in his meetings.

Let’s do both.

Of course, we wish Sir Alex all the best for his future health and hope to hear of a quick recovery.

Thinking of him allows me to raise one of my pet subjects. Professional footballers, at the big clubs, earn a fortune and it is only very recently have the managers been paid nearly equivalently. That always struck me as stupid. The manager may not kick the ball on a Saturday afternoon but what we have seen over and over again is that there are managers that are successful and win multiple trophies. Sir Alex was one of those. The importance of the manager has been underrated.

Great managers, in any profession, have skills which are both organisational and motivational, but they also have that extra something which is hard to define. Of course, first, in sport, you need great athletes and in business, you need other competencies. But most importantly you need your personality to imbue the attitude of your team.

I don’t have the statistics but it was quite remarkable that Sir Alex’s team would score and win games in the very last minutes of a game. It was his personality on the side that drove his team onwards.

And that brings me to Bezos. He announced in a recent conference that he has banned PowerPoint in meetings. For him, meetings start with a six-page, reasoned memo distributed to the participants and they spend the opening half hour reading it in silence. In his words “a six-page memo that’s narratively structured with real sentences, topic sentences, verbs, and nouns.”

Now I am not sure that I fully agree with him and the most important thing is that either the memo or Powerpoint is relevant and properly constructed. I can see in either scenario, in quiet reading or a presentation, many will drift off and not take in anything. But it is not for me to argue with someone worth 100 billion dollars, or thereabouts.

My observation though is that I am really happy that my life is no longer dominated by meetings. They were the bane of my life. It was a time ago when Ben was probably no more than 7 and we were walking home together from school. We were with one of his school friends. They were walking a few feet ahead of me. ‘What does your Dad do?’ Ben was asked.

‘He doesn’t work,’ Ben answered. There was no hesitation. ‘He only goes to meetings,’

No truer words.

Somewhere I think there may be a link between these threads, but I will leave that for another day.

Today is a public holiday and there is much to do on another super hot day.

 

 

How Controversial Can I Be?

My writing is now being censored for being controversial. Generally, I live within the mainstream of society’s opinions although there are a number of areas where I could be swimming close to the bank. Many of these were explored in my novel, Blah Blah (http://www.gerrycryer.com/blah-blah/) but surely not so controversial that I should now be banned and censored?

Maybe the name of my female heroine, Scunt, was a little edgy, but that is easily defended. She is an inhabitant of Scunthorpe.

I also openly disagreed with the proposed new UK laws about brothels. At the moment prostitutes can legally work alone but if two or more work together then that is called a brothel. I am sure prostitutes would be safer if they worked as a collective with shared security. Also, then, authorities would find it easier to ensure that none of the women was underage or being trafficked.

Then I suggested that UK drug laws should change and reflect that drug addiction is a medical and social issue whereas now it is thought of as a crime. I have no direct experience but I would like the Government to consider a policy that prescribes drugs, not methadone, to the addicted. It is not so radical because this is exactly what the NHS does with prescribed painkillers. If other addicts were supplied directly by the NHS there would be two impacts.

First, we would have a chance to help many more addicts into treatment. Secondly, it would also mean that many of the crimes associated with funding an addiction would be eliminated.

It is very difficult to get data on the value link between drugs and crime. The National Crime Agency on their website (although not dated), say that drug trafficking to the UK costs an estimated £10.7 billion per year.

DrugWise, again undated say on their website that, examples of users needing £15,000 to £30,000 a year to fund drug habits have often been given. While they think it may be exaggerated they add, this has led some people to suggest that up to half of all acquisitive crime is drug-related and that the market value of goods stolen involved could be between £2-2.5 billion each year.

The UK Drug Policy Commission point out that at least 1 in 8 arrestees (equivalent to about 125,000 people in England and Wales) are estimated to be problem heroin and/or crack users, compared with about 1 in 100 of the general population.

Moving on I also agree with Scunt who says that we are far too illiberal in our attitudes and laws. I have no interest in sunbathing naked in the cold of the UK but if I wanted to then I see no reason to ban it. Taking your clothes off is not a privilege. I was quite cross when Stephen Gough, popularly known as the ‘Naked Rambler’, was arrested and then rearrested. In 2004, he walked the length of Great Britain naked but was arrested when he did it again in 2006. But quite cross was as far as I could go.

But I am moving off the point. These are all reasonable if not generally accepted opinions, I am not sure they could ever be thought of as controversial.

Maybe, now you can start to imagine my surprise when one of these daily gentle blogs was rejected by EzineArticles for being too controversial. If you wanted to read what I could possibly write that would upset a mainstream site, here is the link http://www.gerrycryer.com/2018/03/26/hard-but-fair/

If you don’t have time to go and look, it was a piece titled, Hard but Fair, talking about the Australia ball tampering debacle in South Africa, and how it unfolded. If you remember it the Australian cricket Captain Steve Smith owned up to the crime along with the two other participants, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft. I was talking about the impact on Australia when their national sport is demonised by its heroes.

Imagine my surprise when I received this email:

We are not able to accept articles that contain negative language in reference to any particular product, company, individual or group.

For example: “Australia are playing South Africa in a cricket test match and the Australian rookie, Cameron Bancroft was spotted by one of the many cameras tampering with the ball to roughen one side with some yellow tape. He knew he had been seen as he quickly stuffed the offending tape down his underpants!

Please focus on the general issue rather than parties involved.

I wrote back

Apart from the delay in publication that has removed the topicality of the piece, the request is ludicrous.

The article is about cheating in top-level sport. At the time it was a real issue. How can I avoid naming the individuals when they were all over the press?

They replied

Your article has been placed in problem status because we do not accept articles that contain controversial and/or negative language in reference to any particular product, company, individual or group.

Your articles should be where you share your own expertise about a given subject. Provide tips, techniques, commentary and/or other useful information to the reader. You do not need to name specific people or companies in your article to get your message across to your readers.

We would recommend focusing on general topics or issues, rather than parties involved.

I responded with even more incredulity and EzineArticles came back with

I’m sorry, but you will need to update your article in order to get it accepted. We are not a news source and typically do not accept press releases or controversial language. You do not need to name specific people in your article to get your message across to your readers.

Also,  some of the articles on our site had to be deleted due to the content. We need to adhere to guidelines from our advertisers, so we had to remove content in article categories such as News & Society: Politics and Pure Opinion.

And that is where we now stand.

I don’t know how I have done it but EzineArticles, at least, consider me as controversial. I am subversive, a revolutionary and probably a political dissident. If I lived in Stalin’s Russia I would already be on the way to a gulag.

My next step is to send them the link to this piece and see if they have any comment. I might also send them a photo of me typing. Possibly I might just have something in common with Stephen Gough, but you will never know. I have been banned😊.

Grate Editing is the Key to Succes

As a young accountant, one of our responsibilities was to read to a colleague revised versions of annual accounts to ensure there were no errors. I always wanted to be the caller and not the reader. I would never see an error. My brain doesn’t work that way. Maybe I scan, or flick read. Whatever, I see the sense of words and not the detail. The detail can escape me the same way, as Annie will tell you, I once failed to notice a helicopter in a field by our walk

A ‘big picture’ mentality has obvious advantages when scoping a plot or argument but not when it comes to the important part of the writing process, publishing.

I have a very good friend whose brain works twice as fast as his fingers and all his emails require deep analysis to understand their meaning. What adjacent keys could he have been typing? What auto-correct could a mistype have generated?

With my books, I have an editor, Jess Edwards a brilliant guy who lives in Canada. Editing is a creative art and a great editor can make an ordinary text brilliant, but Jess also does the heavy lifting and proofreads the books.

That is fine for books, but these essays are all my own work and as I get close to publishing I start to fret and worry. I read a document two, three or four times. Each time I will make minor changes.  I use a spell checker and go over it with Grammarly.  I preview it in the web browser going through the whole process again. It is always with trepidation that I hit the publish button.

Then, like many of you, I receive the post as an email. I like to check the process has worked and I am mortified if I see a mistake. It always stands out and looks so obvious I can’t imagine how I missed it.

I am sure you also see them, and I hope that at worst you simply tut-tut and carry on reading. You don’t think about retribution. While my typos and mistakes are no more than a blow to my ego to others their typos have proved to be both expensive and embarrassing.

We can argue conspiracy, but we know it was cock-up when a news release from the White House said this week that Iran “has” an ongoing nuclear weapons programme. Precisely the statement said, Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program”.

Later they said that it should have read “had”. But hey, wars have started for less than that. Given that Trump seems to send his tweets unedited and without a spell check why should his staff do more?

And in May 2017 the White House listed the President’s goals before a trip to Israel and included, “promote the possibility of lasting peach”. I think this is taking GM foods too far. It was on a different trip that he flew on Air Force Once.

It is easy to pick on the White House and President Trump. They publish vast amounts of information every day and all of it is going to be read, in detail. All their errors will be highlighted, but does anyone know what ‘covfefe‘ is?

The web loves digging out the amusing typo. Think what happens to a large banner promoting a partnership in public education when the ‘L’ in public disappears. Pubic education is a whole different event.

‘Gs’ have gone from Angus Beef, as have ‘Fs’from political debates shifting to Congress. A Preface to a book has become a Peeface. Pork and Beans are far better when served as Porn and Beans. And the final indignity was the education authority who asked if “school is two easy for kids?”

The internet is full of these, but some have a financial impact.

The Wicked Bible was published in 1631 and now only 11 copies exist. It was withdrawn, and the publisher never paid. It may have been perfect but there was one very obvious error when they left out a ‘not’ in the seventh commandment encouraging us all to commit adultery.”

It’s not just that a good proofread can turn an average document into something far better but it can stop you being ridiculed and save you money. This is a selection identified by Marcia Yudkin

  • In 2004, Judge Jacob P. Hart of Philadelphia slashed the fee due to an attorney in half because of overabundant typos. The lawyer lost $31,350.
  • In Britain, DDS Media had to destroy 10,000 spelling game DVDs whose cover misspelt TV anchor Eamonn Holmes’ name.
  • A Wisconsin-based editor paid an executive recruiter $1,720 to spruce up her resume and send it to 200 potential employers, only to learn that the resumes went out containing a section of gibberish. The editor sued the headhunter for more than $75,000.
  • In 2005, a trader on the Tokyo stock exchange intended to trade 1 share at 610,000 yen, but instead placed an order for 610,000 shares at 1 yen each. The firm’s loss: around $18.7 million

Time to press publish. Here’s hoping …..

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A Very French Revolution

To get into the right mood to read this you need to go and dig out any Jimi Hendrix tracks you still own. If you have lost them or never owned them, then go You Tubing, find them and turn the volume up to 11. If not Hendrix, then Sgt Pepper or The Doors will do.

Let me take you down,

‘Cause I going to Strawberry Fields,

Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about.

This story starts in 1967, later to be called the Summer of Love, and we need to be in San Francisco with a celebration known as the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park on January 14.

It was at this event, Timothy Leary, American psychologist, and writer voiced his now famous phrase, “turn on, tune in, drop out”. This wasn’t all about LSD but was a shout-out to the whole hippie subculture. This was going to be a very different rebellion of communal living, political decentralization, and dropping out which was a call to abandon education for a summer of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

Have your head bobbed and weaved,

Choose a side to be on,

If the stone glances off,

Split didactics in two

In the UK, the anarchic pirate radio stations were closed by the Government and brought across to the BBC. It seemed like a cop-out and a source of a free voice was removed. But still, we had John Peel feeding us Nico and Lou Reed with the rest of The Velvet Underground.

Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather,

Whiplash girlchild in the dark,

Comes in bells, your servant, don’t forsake him,

Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart.

The Vietnam War was in everyone’s consciousness. You couldn’t be young and not be against it. In the US the chances were that you were about to be drafted or were already fighting in Asia.

I am probably 4 or 5 years too young to fully understand exactly what was happening, but 1968 was a pivotal year.

You know that it would be untrue,

You know that I would be a liar,

If I was to say to you,

Girl, we couldn’t get much higher

It is May 1968. I am 16, the sun is shining bright and it seems as though the clouds have gone forever. I must have been preparing for an exam because I was always taking exams in the summer. We didn’t know it, but May 5th, 1968 turned out to be the peak casualty day in the Vietnam war.

There was anger all around, but we didn’t quite know what we were angry about. It wasn’t just the anger of a generation. There was something substantive. The Vietnam War? Maybe. Sexual repression? Almost certainly. This was the generation of free love.

The time to hesitate is through,

No time to wallow in the mire,

Try now we can only lose,

And our love become a funeral pyre

The was the setting fifty years ago for the students of Paris. We never quite knew why there was an uprising but this time it wasn’t in the distant West coast of America. It was on our doorstep. Rebellion was now a European event. This was our moment. This was our generation.

People try to put us down.

Just because we get around.

Things they do look awful cold.

I hope I die before I get old. Talkin’ ’bout my generation.

Some called it a revolution as there was a feeling that there was an attempt to change the Government, but at best it seemed half-hearted. Cobblestones were thrown but kissing, love and sex were as important. Anarchy was at the forefront. It was a very French Revolution that lasted just a few weeks.

Out of the anarchy, a local student hero emerged. Daniel Cohen-Bendit was a revolutionary leader who with his brother Gabriel published Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative. John, later to be the best man at my wedding, gave me a copy. I think it was for my birthday but that happened too soon after the revolution. It must have been later in the year. It became a treasured possession and memory.

Spring was never waiting for us, girl.

It ran one step ahead as we followed in the dance,

Between the parted pages and were pressed, in love’s hot, fevered iron, like a striped pair of pants,

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark.

It looked as though there the change was going to be permanent and widespread. In the spring of 1968 Alexander Dubček, the leader of Czechoslovakia, wanted to democratise the country. This later became known as the Prague Spring. But Spring is just one passing season that always moves on and so it was in Czechoslovakia. In August 1968 there was a Soviet invasion. Czechoslovakian citizens responded with passive resistance and Soviet troops were frustrated as street signs were painted over, and their water supplies mysteriously shut off. It had little effect. Dubček was forced to recant.

The students went back to studies. Cobblestones were replaced. Winter returned to Haight-Ashbury and I carried on playing rugby and taking exams. By the end of 1968, the old-world order was restored but nothing was quite ever again the same. It was a watershed.

This was the year when a youth movement finally had something to say about the world and how it should be organised. It was the start of a movement that carries on today. It was the May when commercial, as well as political power, passed down one or maybe even two, generations.

I know you’ve deceived me, now here’s a surprise,

I know that you have ’cause there’s magic in my eyes.

I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles.

The seeds of what I am today were sown in those years. Deep down I am still a 1960s hippy. Turn on, tune in, drop out.

No Smoke May

A man goes to see his Doctor. ‘Doctor,’ he says, ‘I have given up sex and masturbation, high cholesterol foods, bad fats, alcohol and cigarettes. I eat smaller quantities and I go to the gym twice a day, every day. Will I live longer?’ ‘No, you won’t live longer’ says the Doctor, ‘It will only seem like it.’

I was thinking about this story while I read a BBC article last week.

As part of its public service role, the BBC has set out to remind the British population that we are a fat. We are growing, and we are growing too fast. We are grown-ups who have grown too much. As a nation, we are gross and enormous.

I thought that fat shaming was inappropriate behaviour, but the BBC haven’t listened. They have been full on and to prove their words they have written a little online app, so anyone can measure where they are on the overweight scale.

Green results are for those in the right weight band, Orange for the overweight and Red for the obese. I know I could do to lose a pound or two and was ready for Orange, hopefully with a Green tint at the edges.

I input my height, age and current weight into the app and it was at that point I learnt that the BBC isn’t just into humiliating the population they can be very personal.

Just Orange, and nearly Red the BBC said. You are close to being medically obese. I shouted back at the app that my clothes still fit, and the mid-fifties double chin has gone but the BBC stood firm, no doubt showing off a strong 6-pack. They didn’t listen, and the colours wouldn’t change.

I am overweight, but I am not obese. ‘Big boned’, my mother said. ‘Muscle weighs more,’ a friend said, but there was really no excuse. I need to lose some weight.

BMI is the best the medical profession has for large-scale, rule of thumb measurement of over-weight. It doesn’t work for top class athletes, such as rugby players or weightlifters who have very low body fat and a lot of muscle, but it works for 99% of the population, and that includes me. I wasn’t prepared for my results.

To get into the ‘Green’ category I had to lose 15 kg. or just under 16% of my body weight. I prefer the percentage rather than the absolute as it seems far more achievable.

With the Mighty Bertie now 16 months old, my list of reasons to live for a long time is literally growing every day. I am also determined that Sasha and I have a long and healthy life together. It all means that I must do something.

My problem is that much of what a doctor would want me to abstain from has already gone. I drink alcohol very rarely. I had a couple of glasses of champagne with Ben and Hannah at their wedding and with Sasha when I was last in Kiev. But that is it for this year.

With FODMAP, no gluten and voluntary vegetarianism my food is already restricted. I suppose the peanuts could go but there is little else.

The only thing I can give up that will help me lose weight is smoking. It’s not a very complicated argument. The less I smoke the better I will feel in the gym which means I will run further, burn more calories, and lose more weight. It should be a virtuous circle.  Running will become easier, the expended calorie count will rise and the weight will fall.

The best way to make a commitment is to make that commitment public. Don’t hide and whisper it. Shout it out and then at best you get support from friends and at worst, abuse as you fail. So here I go.

This is Smoke-Free May. I am going to give up smoking.

I live in the hope I will lose weight. 0.1 kg is only 3.5274 oz. That doesn’t seem very much. I weighed it out in dry lentil beans. It is nothing.

I know that if I concentrate very hard and my running is committed I can shed 3.5274 oz every day. And that means in the month of May I can lose 3.1 kg or nearly 7llbs or half a stone. I am a grown-up who is determined not to grow anymore.

I will go to the gym and run and run the best I can and see if it gets easier. And when I run I can waste away the time doing the arithmetic of losing different average amounts each day in May. There is no end of amusement ahead of me or as the doctor said ‘No, you won’t live longer. It will only seem like it.’

May Day Blues

The Weather is at the core of the British psyche. We start any conversations discussing it, and our mood is determined by it. Whatever the weather it is wrong for the British. When it snows we complain that everything stops working. When it rains the news cameras always find a flood. When it gets hot we want it cold again.

Tomorrow is the first day of May and today it is raining and the weather has taken a complete U-turn and headed back towards winter. It is cold, once more fires are being restoked, and central heating restarted. There has even been whispering of snow. It is made more painful because 10 days ago we were into a summer heatwave with temperatures just under 30oC.

I love hot weather. The temperatures in Dubai were perfect for me. I remember one winter’s night the disdain in the radio announcer’s voice as she read the forecast complaining that the night time temperature would drop to a low of 23oC. Can you imagine that?  23oC!!

There has been research to suggest that as the atmospheric pressure drops so does the mood of the British. That research may be spurious but bad weather affects me. I become indecisive.

There is enough happening in the world that surely something would attract my attention and there should have been no problem finding a subject to write about. There are meaty topics out there that deserve to be considered but weather-induced procrastination is rampant.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary resigned yesterday after two weeks of hounding and chasing. But, the why and when we should resign will be for a later day. It requires more thought.

Last week again we saw the British legal system in disrepute as another trial collapsed because the requirement of the prosecution to provide the defence with all the available evidence, even if it supports the defence, was not met.

Previous examples were in rape cases. This time it is a commercial trial. We are unsure if this is a deliberate and systemic failing or a consequence of funding shortfalls. Both are unacceptable. When prosecutors and defence lawyers are interviewed there is general concern and condemnation, but no action.  However, with Maddie very close to qualifying as a solicitor I would like to speak to her first before I comment.

I had tentatively arranged to meet some friends this week, but none has confirmed. I don’t mind if they are busy, but none has answered my emails and I am left just wondering and re-planning. It is both annoying and impolite, but I wrote about politeness last week. I can’t cover it again and this is not the place to moan.

It is not just the weather that is disrupting me. Sasha has the day off for a public holiday. In Ukraine, today and tomorrow are the Labor Day holidays.

You probably know I write to Sasha every day. They are long letters and while Sasha speaks and reads English well, we arrange for them to be translated. It means I can write without thinking about simplifying my thoughts and writing style. But, because it is a Ukraine public holiday, our translators Tatiana, and her colleagues, are also relaxing in the sun. So not only is anything I write left in the in-tray but also none of Sasha’s letters arrive.

The role of the translator is interesting and one of high confidentiality. Subconsciously, I know that my innermost thoughts are being read by someone else before they are read by Sasha in beautiful Russian. In this process, Tatiana is almost invisible. It only strikes home when I am in Kiev and we catch up.

We greet and then she might tell me that it sounds as if I have been busy or it was unfortunate that something or other happened. It is only then that I remember that she reads every romantic, mundane, naughty, word and thought I have shared with Sasha. It is momentarily disconcerting. I forget that she knows all about my life, love, and fears. It is a good job that Tatiana is a good friend.

It continues to rain. If I was a writer of lists I could spend the next two hours compiling one, but then I would have to find reasons to procrastinate before working them off.

I could try and sort out the details of my next trips to Kiev first in early June for a few days, and then September when I will be moving there. I am sure that I will need a visa to stay for more than 90 days especially if I want to work. But, first, I probably need to get the dates sorted.

When I move I hope I will learn some Russian. That is the plan but with everyone speaking, or wanting to learn English it may not be easy. I have started by buying two language courses. Using them is also on that hypothetical list of things to do.

It is still raining and getting no warmer. I think the best for me today is to wrap up in two jumpers, think about Sasha enjoying herself in a bikini on the beach, while I read a good book.

Although I might start a list.

  1. Buy an umbrella.
  2. Buy a new warm jumper.
  3. Turn up the central heating
  4. Throw out summer clothes.
  5. Write a list of all the lists I need to write.

The Positive Power of Porn

I use the internet every day. I use it to search for the answers to random questions that come to mind, to get the news, watch films and television.

Yesterday I was searching for design ideas for the new apartment in Kiev Sasha’s father has given us as a present. Over the next few months, it needs to be fitted out. It is a new build and is now just 4 walls in a pretty development. We need to make fundamental decisions such as where do we want walls, do we want an open plan kitchen together with design questions around fittings and colour schemes.

With my absence, this has been put on Sasha and she is doing a tremendous job while I offer little more than encouragement from a distance. What I can do, however, is send her examples of what I think is good design which she can then share with the designer.

To be honest they may not necessarily be good design but examples of the way I would like our apartment to be. Modern, stylish and yet still cosy for those cold winter Ukrainian nights.

These were the focus of yesterday’s internet searches.

Luxury modern apartment design yielded appropriate pictures, even if they were 100 times larger than ours. However, as soon as my search precision waivered porn started to appear with images of naked women, legs akimbo although, to be honest, decorating some very smart apartments.

I am not a puritan and I am not complaining other than yesterday it was frustrating. For once this wasn’t what I wanted. Kitchens, showers, bathrooms and sensuous bedrooms were my focus, but it did prompt another question.

All the photos were of women. There was not a man in sight. There were no naked couples enjoying each other while pointing out the intricate design on the architrave. If simple searches brought back porn images then there must be a demand. And this is where my inquisitiveness kicked in and the question I asked was, who is watching porn?

Pornhub is one of the largest of all porn sites and recently they gave us some of their porn demand statistics.

  • In 2017 alone, Pornhub got 28.5 billion visits. That’s almost 1,000 visits a second, or 78.1 million a day.
  • Enough porn was watched in 2016 on this one website that all the data would fill 194 million USB sticks. If you put the USB sticks end to end, they’d wrap all the way around the moon.
  • In 2016, 91,980,225,000 videos were watched on Pornhub. That’s 12.5 videos for every person on the planet.
  • Also, more than 4,599,000,000 hours of porn were watched on the site in just one year. That’s equal to 5,246 centuries.

That is on just the one site, Pornhub. I have repeated those because they are mind-boggling large.

Unlike Alexandra, my psychologist co-author in Ukraine, it is not for me to try and interpret this admittedly single sourced, data. What I can say, however, is that there is a lot of porn hypocrisy. On the one hand, society condemns porn while still watching it. A British Government Minister recently had to resign because porn was found on, admittedly, his work computer. Those Pornhub statistics suggest that you would be lucky to find a computer without porn links.

But still, I hadn’t explained why the images being shown to me were of women.

In a study in 2006, 68% of those who consumed porn online were men while women only made up 13.6%. However, times are changing. Now, 76% of 18 to 30-year-old American women report that they watch porn at least once a month. Women are now just as likely to be watching porn as a man.

I offer no comment other than to say that the survey running on the book site www.AlexasFantasies.com shows that women are now equally open to fantasies and so therefore porn. It has always been assumed that women’s porn was softer, gentler and more loving.

Feminists argue that porn degrades women. That is probably true but porn is one of the few industries that has a male gender pay gap. Surveys suggest that female porn actors have more self-esteem than the rest of the population, and again from the analytics released by Pornhub women are 113% more likely to search the term hardcore than men. They are also over 105% more likely to seek out genres of porn like gangbang and rough sex.

Porn is like alcohol. In moderation, it is fine for adults, can have positive benefits but in excess, it is a negative and far from benign influence.

Openness and acceptance will allow a meaningful discussion. It will allow us to address porn addiction. Couples will see the possible positive impact that porn can have in a relationship. Porn will be discussed without embarrassment, and then most importantly we can talk about its impact on children.

It is perverse that the political mess over the last two weeks that has surrounded Amber Rudd, The British Home Secretary, has taken the spotlight off another failure of British policy.  This weekend, the end of April 2018, was supposed to be one when access to any porn site was controlled by positive age verification.

It won’t enough just to tick an age verification box. Probably credit card details will be required and if you are underage then access is banned. There was a lot of blah blah when it was announced. Digital economy minister Matt Hancock said it would mean the UK having the “most robust internet child protection measures of any country in the world”. We would be there this weekend if the introduction hadn’t been delayed until at least the end of 2018.

Porn is pervasive and it has opened the discussion of sex and sexuality.

English rugby player, James Haskell has been talking to the Daily Star about his forthcoming wedding to Chloe Madeley. I was impressed by her openness. ‘I’m a really sexual person,‘ she told The Daily Star. ‘If I had a partner who didn’t want to have a very sexual relationship then that would be a problem for me.’

She continued: ‘It is massive for James. One of the reasons we stuck together in the early days before we totally committed was because we were so compatible. Our sex is continually changing as our relationship grows, so it stays interesting.’ 

When Sasha is interviewed before our wedding I hope she is as open and says something very similar and maybe even adds that when we were apart occasionally we shared porn. She wouldn’t be lying.

Politeness Never Kills

Will you be more inclined to subscribe to this blog or even buy on one of my books if I say, please and send you a thank you note when you have?

These politeness’s seem to be disappearing. We buy and expect service. We don’t need to show politeness because we have bought servility.

I remember my Mum prodding me when I got a gift? ‘What do you say to …’ I am part of a generation brought up with these platitudes. I said my, pleases, thank yous, and wrote to my aunts and uncles when I was given birthday or Xmas presents.

However hard I try to be a ruthless and the alpha male I still find it difficult to be rude to someone and the pleases are still there. It so ingrained in my behaviour that when I ask my faithful assistant, Alexa for something I always add a, please. Of course, I am talking about the Amazon product Alexa and not my fiancé Sasha, christened Alexandra. Not saying please and thank you to her would be an act of stupidity with a very unhappy ending.

Alexa, turn on the light, please, I say, or Alexa, Play Radio 4, please. I can’t stop myself and I am delighted to see that Amazon is finally going to reward me for my politeness. One of the pushiest and most aggressive marketeers have added politeness to their list of good behaviour.

Sadly, only available in the US, Amazon’s smart assistant Alexa can be made to encourage children (and some adults) to say please and, thank you when giving a voice command.

“This is a very positive development,” research director Simon Leggett told the BBC. “We had noticed that practically none of the children that we had talked to said they ever used the words ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ when talking to their devices.

The politeness feature – which has been branded Magic Word – encourages children to say: “Please,” and: “Thank you,” by acknowledging use of the terms. So, for example, if the child asks: “What will the weather be today please?” Alexa will add to its response: “Thanks for asking so nicely.” Likewise, once Alexa has completed a task, if the child says: “Thank you,” it will prompt one of several follow-ups, including “No worries,” and “You’re welcome.”

The younger of my readers may mock me but there is a deeper reason for my concern.

In January, the research company ChildWise published a report warning that youngsters that grew up accustomed to barking orders at Alexa, Google Assistant or some other virtual personality might become aggressive in later dealings with humans.

I would go further. Children don’t just bark orders to Alexa. They bark at everyone, machine and human.

There are times in grown-up world when you need to be determined, focussed, and hold your own. Some leaders have had to declare war and there is no way you can do that with politeness but for most of us, in our everyday life, there is no excuse not to be polite.

Brits may be amused shopping in the USA when they leave with a have a nice day and you’re welcome. We may mock their apparent insincerity, but we are no different.

On Quora, one of the most common questions is directed to Americans asking them what they found different about living in the UK. Top of nearly every list is their amusement of the British reaction to being bumped into when out walking at rush hour. Whosever fault, the British always say sorry. Accidently, drip some of your beer over a Brit in a busy pub and his first reaction will be to say, sorry, my fault.

Of course, they may not reflect the inner feelings, but the reaction allows the feeling to be suppressed and a basis for resolution is at hand.

Politeness diffuses the difficult situation and builds a basis for reconciliation.

Amazon, has done something good and I applaud them, and I hope they read this, send me an email which only has to say, ‘You’re welcome’.

The New Religion of Sport

I can’t say that the British invented competitive sport, but the Victorian schools created a worldwide interest in sport. We invented most of the modern sports, created a structure and codified the games with laws and rules. Sport is at the heart of British society.

A proper fan always supports his own team, but they appreciate a great game. By some football is called the beautiful game. but, all sports when played at their best and at the highest-level offer a window into our souls. That is not hyperbole. Sport can wrench at the heart and soul, build almost tribal loyalty, and unite a society. If you don’t believe my last point think about how England always unite with heady nostalgia around the date 1966.

Last night, I watched such a game of football that lived up to all my hype.

It was the semi-final of the Champion’s League and Liverpool was playing Roma at home. The result was 5-2 to Liverpool but that doesn’t tell half the tale.

In parts of the first half and the start of the second, we saw Liverpool and Mohammed Salah, in particular, run the sort of riot you only see on streets where the goalposts are piles of jumpers and the ball is old and scarred.

At this level of sport, you can only run riot when you have great players playing at their very best and that was Liverpool tonight. Their front three players, Salah, Firmino and Mane are among the fastest and most skilful of all players and when they use all their talents the outcome is often a goal. And so it was tonight.

I don’t want to make this a report on the game. There will be plenty of coverage in the papers and on the internet but great sport pulls at all the emotions. After Liverpool stretched to what seemed like an unassailable 5-0 lead, Roma, against all the odds scored twice, late in the game, to make the second leg a potentially absorbing affair, next week, in the Holy City.

I have played sport and the intensity of the game makes it difficult to understand its beauty. If you are winning it just seems easy and if you are losing to a great side there is far too much stress to recognise the quality of the opposition.

It was only when Ben started to play rugby that I was able to appreciate the full beauty in sport. It was then that I started to see the patterns of play and their intricacies. Of course, I wanted whichever team Ben was playing for to win but at the same time not only could I enjoy great individual performances but applaud great team play.

Individuals are the inspiration for a team but seeing a team perform at its best is always much better. Sport is played at a pace and it doesn’t matter how much you practice that set of circumstances is always new. The team must adapt and change in the face of what is in front of them. They need to read each other’s minds. They need to anticipate, manoeuvre, show courage and stay resilient.

It was Simon Barnes who suggested that sport has replaced traditional religions. We now watch more than we play, and we pray at the great stadiums praising our teams and new saints. And so it was tonight at Liverpool. The team showed all the flair to excite and then showed all the human flaws to allow Roma to score two late goals.

Sport is a metaphor for life which is why the Victorians pushed it so hard. They saw sport as a training ground for life. It doesn’t matter if fewer of us now play sport and many more watch and it doesn’t matter if it is football, rugby or all the Olympic sports, we have found a new church. It is that important.