Thursday 19 May 2011

Well connected

I used to cycle to the office twice, sometimes even three times a week. A round trip of around 32 miles, but for some reason, the extra two miles added by moving to Loughton made the journey just too exhausting. It may have been the two enormous hills that were added to the route. Or perhaps I didn't have the incentive any more. So at best now, I do it once a week...splitting the journey so that I cycle in one day and cycle back he next - in between I catch the tube.

On my route, which takes me alongside the London canals for most of the way, (I still can't believe you can get to the middle of London without seeing a high rise office block or getting squashed by a big red bus) I go past what was the old Matchbox toy cars factory. Last year they knocked it down, and this year they're putting up a residential development. Developers like to give their creations names which conjure up an image which relates to the locality, or the history of the place. So it's pretty logical to call this Matchbox Wharf. But, who would want to live in a Matchbox reasoned the developers. We'll call it something else. They could have called it Lesney Wharf after the manufacturer, but no, we'll call it Matchmaker Wharf they decided. Matchmaker! Presumably this means this is a place where singletons can buy a flat and then get it together with their next door neighbour. Or if they're already married, perhaps they can shag the housekeeper a la Schwarzenegger. Or perhaps it implies that once upon a time matches were made here. They weren't. So at the whim of some two-bit developer (Telford look at their website), the entire historical context of the area has been given the 1984 treatment. A piece of British industrial history just whitewashed for the sake of a piece of marketing splurge. That's a shame. I always thought history was important.

And talking of important just how important do you think you are? On my desk is a book a bout the most powerful people in my industry (I'm not mentioned), and I guess most people have heard of the Times Rich list. And now Rupert Murdoch's lot have started The Social List. Not the list of the people who are movers and shakers in 'social circles', but the most important and influential users of social media. Any one can put their hat in the ring and see where they pop up. I did it and I'm in at 2121. Which is a nice number. But utterly meaningless. I have included my Facebook page, my LinkedIn profile and my business Twitter account. I haven't included (because it won't let me) this blog, nor the associated Twitter feed (because you can register only one Twitter feed). My betting is that if I could, that would make a big's where I spend most of my social media time. And I'm not an important blogger by any stretch of the imagination. The chances are that The Sunday Times Social Media List will become de facto the measure of social mediaites, and that's worrying because it's fundamentally flawed, and engineered to support the marketing of News International and its marketing agency. I suspect that in full flow, we will find that the most influential are scrawny fifteen year olds who can't hold a proper conversation unless it's about the newest Playstation game, or social media geeks who are entirely out of touch with the real world.

But more importantly.....WHO CARES? Why does it matter? Why must we measure everything? And why have we all become so obsessed with our place in this world? It's of no consequence to me whether I'm up top or down bottom (inspite of rumours to the contrary). The lists out there of who is better, richer, more powerful, and so are endless. I would hope that just being happy and content with our lives is more important than whether we are a step above or below our neighbours. Perhaps it is this endless pursuit of success, and ambition to achieve which has got the western world into the pickle that it's in. I went for a job interview about twenty years ago, and I was asked what my ambition was to which I replied 'I want to retire'...and never is that more true than now.

No doubt a more cheerful post tomorrow. Now just let me get on with tweeting this. And Facebooking it. And putting it on LinkedIn.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Even more embarrassment

Now this is embarrassing. And it's doubly embarrassing given that I wrote about being embarrassed only yesterday.

Last week I mentioned that George Foreman personally contacted me about National Grilling Week and wanted me to adopt a healthier way of eating. As a favour to an old friend, I agreed, and in return he has sent me one of his grills. Not only that, he also sent me some food to cook on some recipes.

Now the thing is, the ever-efficient Sainsbury's delivery service arrived with the food on Saturday morning, but the grill itself wasn't delivered until Tuesday afternoon. And as you all know we are a household of two teenagers. And if you have any experience of teenagers, you'll also know that food doesn't stay in the fridge for more than a few minutes. So the net result is that we have a shiny new grill and no food. Oops. George won't be pleased. At least, the steak was grilled, and the peppers roasted. But I suspect that George wants me to say how wonderful his grill is for cooking steak and peppers.

So I shall make a trip to Sainsbury's tonight to get some more food so that the teenagers can stuff their faces in a healthy way.

The Boy seized the grill when it was delivered, ripping open the packaging so he could see the wondrous gadget inside and spent some long time dancing round the house with it. I have a very strong suspicion that as far as he is concerned, it is his and his alone, so he will be finding all sorts of things to cook on it. So that's no bad thing. But no doubt I'll be left to clean it - George tells me its as easy as easy can be. And at least I won't have to worry when he goes off to university in a couple of year's time...I don't doubt it will go with him.

George is feeling generous enough that he says I can give one of these shiny new grills away in a competition too. I'm quite rubbish at thinking of competitions, so either send me an e-mail ( or leave a comment below suggesting a great competition idea, then you may just win it. That's the competition. Genius eh?

Oh and if you have a 'pod' (that's an ever-expanding stomach) like I have you can find out at the Q&A with Ian Marber, the Food Doctor tomorrow between 11-12- he’s going to be answering questions relating to diet and health from the George Foreman twitter handle @georgegrillsuk. All you need to do to submit a question is include #getgrilling somewhere in your tweet.

There we go, enough shameless commercialism for another day. I feel embarrassed.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Red in the face

It's started. And in the same way the Phoney War must have dragged on, so it has been in the Nota Bene household. But now hostilities have broken out and it is the end of waiting for the exams to start. Yesterday they had a tough English exam, and a tough French exam. I hope that's helpful in focusing their minds on the coming weeks and getting the results they've worked so hard for. Both seem to be in good spirits and will get every little bit of encouragement from us as we can muster.

Well it was my most embarrassing moment for a while. I've had plenty of embarrassing moments in my life. Some mentionable, some not. Generally I've a pretty thick skin...well you need it in my business. But here I was cruising up to the traffic lights on my bicycle in the middle of the rush hour forgetting until the last moment that my feet were clipped into the pedals. And when I tried to unclip, all I did was make myself topple over. Gracefully I'll admit. But there I was falling in slow motion in front of four very long lines of traffic on to the pavement. It didn't hurt, but I lost my dignity.

Not, of course in the same way that Max Moseley lost his dignity. He says that being awarded £60,000 is not enough to restore his dignity when his sexual predilections were exposed to everyone and anyone including his family. Many would argue, that he lost his dignity when he decided to cavort with prostitutes wearing military uniforms, rather than when his antics were exposed. It was probably right that the European court decided that newspapers don't have to contact someone before they write any salacious details of their private lives to enable them to get an injunction. On the other hand, I'm not sure why we should all be able to read about what legally goes on behind closed doors. It's a dilemma isn't it?

The latest reasons for superinjunctions being a useful legal tool is that they prevent blackmail. Evidently, that's all these floosies are doing...trying to extort money from famous married men. So I'm not sure where that leaves us in this privacy muddle. I guess, and I'm no expert, that it means that 'kiss and tell' stories will go on to feed the readership of the News of the World providing the newspaper doesn't contact the celebrity in question first. I'm sure they'll make doubly sure they get their facts checked and double checked. But I doubt they'll do it by tapping people's mobile phones.

So expect plenty of celebrity embarrassment. It must be embarrassing for Dominique Strauss-Kahn whose antics - alleged and true - are now being exposed in every newspaper across the world. Who knows what the truth is? The conspiracy theories have gained ground pretty fast, even in our household. So we will have to wait a while for his trial to find out the truth.

Fortunately The Boy and The Cat's trial by exam will be over by July.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Through the looking glass

Once upon a time not so long ago I used to go to plenty of gigs...too many in fact I think because in the last year of so, there's been hardly any. The Boy and I had really loved live music, his first gig being Turin Brakes at Somerset House...a memorable start for him. But I'd got into the habit of just going for the sake of it, so there were a few erm, err, not so fun ones. Poor Auntie Gwen was witness to some of the worst..the rump of Deacon Blue was one, the event most memorable for meeting my ex-fiance and her boyfriend who I had surprising met before. Just once. At The Boy's Mother's funeral. Another was Echo and the Bunnymen who sadly were a band best remembered rather than experienced. Many were envious when we got tickets for Kings of Leon last year, but really they shouldn't have been as I think it takes the crown for worst gig ever. So it was a little bit with trepidation that The Cat's Mother and I went off to see Everything Everything in Shepherds Bush on Thursday. It was my choice as they were the one band that seemed to be played incessantly when we went off to Iceland last year. And there's no doubt they played very well indeed...better than the critics had suggested. It's just that we didn't see them....we were crushed at the back surrounded by giants less than half our age. They played a short set befitting anyone who has only released one album, and very good they were too...I just wish we'd actually seen them. Did I say we didn't see them?

Meanwhile on Friday night we were sitting outside having dinner with 254 other people on a pontoon in the lake of someones very fabulous house and I felt something crawling up and around my leg. For a while at least I convinced myself it was just the fabric of my trousers being blown by the wind, but eventually I had to face facts and accept that there was indeed a beast on my calf. I reached down in the hope of somehow knocking it off and felt it was quite a large beast, and rather than brushing it away I started being rather more vigorous. In fact I looked like an idiot as my efforts got more extravagant and at the same time I started giggling hysterically. Eventually the beast fell from the bottom of my trouser was a large moth so wouldn't have harmed me; if only I had known. In the background the proper entertainment was almost as entertaining...on stage three queens, a king, a duchess, one half of a pair of twins, a hatter who was as mad as a March hare and a white rabbit. Not to mention a young girl called fact there were five Alices. We were doing a round trip of 200 miles to Dine with Alice - an event which is hard to describe but did indeed involve dining with Alice whilst surrounded by the characters from Wonderland. Each course was served at a table in the gardens of Elsing Hall. There were 256 tables - we know because for he first course we were taken by turbaned waiters to a table where we ate the first course...Mock Turtle Soup...alone before being taken to a new table for the second course...and so on. Eventually The Cat's Mother and I met up again whilst the characters continued to squabble in glorious tones around us. Over desert, where the moth made its unwelcome appearance we were serenaded by some wonderful Victorian music hall entertainment. My description of it does it no was a magical evening put on by Artichoke...the same folks who did the Sultans Elephant a few years back. if you ever get the chance, grab it with both hands!

It seems extravagant to do a 200 mile round trip to have dinner, but it was a great gig.