Saturday, March 31, 2007

Super Casinos

I was delighted when the House of Lords decided not to grant permission to the opening of the Super Casino in Manchester. However, I really can't understand why the government is promoting their expansion in the first place.

On the one hand the government talks about responsible parenting, looking after your health, giving up smoking, avoiding debt, etc...yet they're actively encouraging us to become a nation of gamblers. As ever, it will be the people who can least afford it who will be most affected.

I know that its all down to generating more government revenue, but surely there are more positive ways to do this. Encourage us to spend money at places and on things that are good for us instead. For example, they should promote the development of sports facilities such as tennis centres, swimming pools, footie pitches, etc. After all we are going to be hosting the Olympics in 2012 and we should all be encouraged to do more sport.

However, I'm sure Super Casinos will raise loads of easy money. Despite all the delays and debates they're bound to happen which is really disappointing.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Brand of the Week. Starbucks

Great brands polarise opinion and this is certainly the case with Starbucks. Do you think they've been the saviour of the High Street or are you sick of the sight of them?

I have to admit that I love coffee and I do like Starbucks. Before they came along, we used to think that great coffee was Nescafe Gold Blend. Also remember how difficult it used to be to find a decent cafe in London?

Starbucks is a great place to meet up, do some work or simply relax. They're very democratic. All kinds of people go there and everyone feels at ease. Being self employed I treat them as my mobile office.

Are they the very best at what they do? Probably not. The coffee is better at Caffe Nero, the food is better at Eat or Pret and of course there are much cooler cafes to hang out in such as Bar Italia. Of course, with familarity they are a bit samey and they've lost a bit of their charm.

Having said all that, they are consistently good and deliver what they promise. if you're not happy what they serve, you can customise the coffee to suit your taste. Whenever I'm in a place I don't know or arrive at an airport and I'm desperate for a coffee, they're always a reassuring sight. They're much better than the dreadful cafes and the fast food restaurants they've replaced.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Herne Hill Velodrome

On Tuesday evening I went cycling around the Herne Hill Velodrome and it was really enjoyable. If you've got a racing bike, a spare hour or so, its one of the nicest things you can do during the week and anyone can go along.

The Velodrome has an amazing history. It was used for the 1948 London Olympics and even today aspiring international cyclists train there regularly. Despite all the doom and gloom about British sport, cycling is something we're rather good at.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sunday Lunch

Went to a nice pub lunch on Sunday - the Cat's Back in Wandsworth. Small, quirky, slightly bohemian. Quite a mixed crowd and very relaxed. Tolerated 5 nosiy kids without batting an eyelid. Also right by the river so easy for a post afternoon stroll...and cappuccinno, vin santo and ice cream at Carluccio's in Putney. Recommended

Apparently they do a great Saturday brunch. Huge full English, coffee and a bloody Mary for a tenner. Sounds good.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

What's it like working for yourself?

Its been well over a year since I decided to go it alone and a number of people have asked me for some thoughts on what its like and what I've learnt, so here's goes:

1. Work out what kind of life you'd like to lead. How much you want to earn, what kind of work life balance you want to achieve. What else you want to do beyond your paid work.

2. Figure out what you're good at and what you enjoy. Hopefully these two things will coincide. Try and summarise this on an A4 sheet of paper.

3. Your network is your most important - and only - asset. Treat it with the upmost respect and continue to nurture it. There are 3 types of people. Those who can help you develop your business idea, those who can become partners and collaborators, those who provide you with work.

4. Tell people want you plan to do. People will always try and help you if they can. Equally, be generous when people ask you for your help and support. What goes around, comes around.

5. Stay humble. Never get cocky, not matter how well you're doing. Remember who helped you out at your moment of need. Never take anything for granted. Keep delivering for every job.

6. Take responsibility for your own state of mind and stress levels. If you're too busy say no. If you need more work - look for it. There's no else to blame.

7. Keep reading and searching for advice and inspiration. Books I find helpful are:

Soloing by Hariett Rubin
The Beermat Entrepreneur by Mike Sothon and Chris West
The Elephant and The Flea by Charles Handy
How to Be Free by Tom Hodkinson

Is it better working for yourself? For me - definitely. I do work I enjoy with people I like. I'm fitter and healthier. I find time to do stuff I enjoy. I'm earning a living. (But I'm not taking it for granted - see 5. above!)

So if you're thinking about working for yourself - give up your corporate trappings - and go for it. You've only got one life.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Brand of the Week. Virgin

A few years a go when I used to ask people in workshops what their favourite brand was, Virgin was always mentioned and RIchard Branson was described as a business hero. Now it hardly gets a mention at all and rightly so.

I've never been a fan. Its a brand that has tried to enter so many categories and it has rarely offered anything new and exciting. Why should anyone choose a Virgin Vodka, Cola above all the other great brands in the category?

It tries to position itself as the 'People's Champion' and anti-Establishment, but this lacks credibility, given Branson is a multi-millionaire. I also don't like the way they whinge when things don't go his way - for example over the Sky deal.

Because of the brand's history in music I think it could do an awful lot more here. There's lots of room for innovation but I think that the Radio Station is incredibly dull and mainstream. I also think it does have a great opportunity to sort out the UK rail network, although in my experience, Virgin Trains are really disappointing.

The brand only really comes alive in the form of Virgin Atlantic, where its offer is genuinely unique and inspiring where it demonstrates it really understands travellers' needs. Branson is a real fan of aviation and it shows. Virgin Upper Class is amazing: the Heathrow lounge, the on-flight services, the beds, the little human touches (packs of polos and pyjamas) make the experience a real joy. If only it could deliver the same across all its other businesses.

So for Virgin, I hope it does do something soon to justify its claim to be an innovative youthful brand rather than the ageing hippie that it is today.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


So, the Conversatives are now making the NHS their number 1 priorty and the Labour Party has just reduced the income tax rate. Is this some kind of Changing Rooms / Wifeswap style experiment? Is this part of Comic Relief?

Politics used to be easy. Conservatives were selfish and evil. Labour were scruffy and leftie. Your choice. Now there's no such thing as principles or idealogy. Its all down to what you think about Gordon Brown's accent or David Cameron's hairstyle.

My money's still on Gordon for next PM. Scottishness is more forgiveable than baldiness.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Back to My Roots

Got the chance to run a workshop in Nottingham yesterday, which meant that I had the opportunity to go back home to Derby for the first time in ages.

Caught the train from St Pancras on Sunday night and was struck by the scale of the work that's going on. I've always thought it was the most attractive station in London and its going to be very impressive when its finished. Eventually arrived in the familiar surroundings of Derby which is also being reconstructed.

I'm less confident about Derby becoming more attractive. Whenever they've tried to rebuild the centre its always been a disaster. Still, fingers crossed this time round. Need to be careful what I write. Can't be seen to criticise Derby - which by the way has now got its own 'Derbyshire Flag'.

Had a quick catch up with the family in Derby and of course had dinner at my mum and dads' which was great. Nice to actually see mum on Mothers Day. Everyone in a good mood especially as Derby are still top of the Championship. Major talking point - my 15 year old nephew's new earring. Very controversial. His mum's worried that he might start hanging out with girls from Chad - which really would be unforgiveable.

Took the train from Derby to Nottingham on Monday morning and had a really enjoyable day. The people in this part of the world are genuinely more relaxed and chatty than in London. I even got free biscuits on the train journey back.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

St Patrick's Day

Someone once told me that there were two types of people in the world. The Irish and those who wish they were Irish. Well yesterday the whole world turned Irish as we all gave thanks to St Patrick for getting rid of Ireland's terrible snake epidemic.

Faking Irishness is relatively easy. All you need to do is:

1. Wear something green
2. Hold a pint of Guinness
3. Jig around a bit with your arm around someone
4. Periodically slag off the English

For that extra touch of authenticity, learn a couple of Pogues songs. Don't for God's sake say 'to be sure, to be sure' and attempt an Irish accent. In fact, having a genuine Irish accent is an optional extra.

Yesterday was an extraordinary day for Irish sports fans. In fact, it will become an historic day that will be talked about (ad nauseam) for years to come. It was the day Ireland become worldbeaters at cricket.

After suffering the disappointment of a record points victory against those brave Italians at rugby - very Irish - they only go and 'trash' the ex-world champions at the Cricket World Cup.

We were in an Irish gastropub in Marylebone getting periodic updates on Michael's blackberry when it became clear Ireland were going to beat Pakistan. Most people at our table didn't understand the rules of cricket, but they soon got the gist. As the Irish won, everyone cheered. A new national sport was born. Amazing.

And as our friend Neil kept saying: ' do you realise that Pakistan has a population of 165 803 560?' Look out for white sunburnt bodies in the crowds over the next few weeks.
Do Ryanair fly to the Caribbean? If they don't, I'm sure they'll be looking into it on Monday.

Friday, March 16, 2007


The British are the best queuers in the world. This morning I stood in a queue for about an hour an half outside the Chinese Embassy applying for visas for our holiday in April. Admittedly it was a beautiful morning but everyone was relaxed and moved quietly forward when they needed to. Nobody attempted to push in, nobody moaned or attempted to invade your personal space. They simply waited their turn.

As I left the Embassy the queue had grown to about 100 yards, but still everyone carried on happily. This wouldn't happen in Italy, France or any country in the world and should be something worth celebrating.

I guess its because the British have a strong sense of Fair Play and 'jumping the queue' is still regarded as one of the worst crimes in the world. Remember when David Blunkett tried to fast track a visa application for his lover's nanny and the hoo haa that caused. Also when Madonna adopted a boy from Malawi, the controversy was largely over whether she followed the right procedures ie whether she queue-jumped or not.

Anyway for what its worth, I wish the best of luck to Madonna, Angelina Jolie and anyone famous or otherwise for adopting an overseas child. Now that really is something worth celebrating.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Brian Ferry

Last night Karen saw Brian Ferry at the Albert Hall (her friend gave her a free ticket - she claims) and apparently he was rather good. There was quite an old crowd 'even older than me' with quite a few sharp dressed guys in the audience.

He interspersed Roxy Music classics 'The In Crowd' etc with quite a few Bob Dylan cover versions which sounds like an interesting combination. He can still sing, looks really good but doesn't move very much. Brian was never a good dancer, even in his early days.

A friend of mine who's a fashion stylist recently told me that she styled him for a Saga Magazine fashion shoot. Apparently he looked in good nick 'although you can tell he dyes his hair' and was charming throughout.

So well done Brian, good to see you've still got it.

Blue Petergate

When I heard on the radio yesterday that Blue Peter had faked the results of a competition I nearly crashed the car. I expect politicians and big businesses to lie and deceive the public but surely not Blue Peter. Its like finding out that Mother Theresa was a mass murderer (well not quite).

Even when I was a kid Blue Peter was goody goody and Magpie was the edgy rival. Magpie had sexier female presenters, the guys had long hair and of course they had that cool theme song. I had to admit I was more of a Blue Peter fan, but when I wanted a walk on the wild side I sometimes switched to Magpie.

It hasn't been a good week for Blue Peter. One of their presenters Zoe was on the Red Nose Fame Academy and I thought she was truly awful. She should stick to the day job.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sporting Injury

I love 5 a side football and I've recently got back into it by playing with the lads from my old agency . I tend to play quite a lot of time in goal trying to recreate the glory days of my University College London performances and because I'm so unfit. I can still remember some of the saves I made on the muddy pitches of north London. I can even remember when I used to play for St Thomas More school.

However, last night trying to sprint down the wing I pulled a hamstring muscle after about 10 minutes and this morning I can hardly walk.So frustrating. Now I know how Jonny Wilksinson feels - well sort of. Hopefully it won't keep me out of action too long. I'm still nervous about the big Italian bike ride I've committed to at the end of May and need to raise my game significantly.

Lessons learnt - warm up properly before any sporting activity.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Another Wedding

We've just come back from our second wedding of the year. The marriage of Helen and Cormac in the beautiful Cotswolds. We've known Helen for years and she used to be a flatmate of our friend Richard (Emmerdale Star) in East Dulwich.

It was the perfect wedding day. The sun was shining and the setting was fantastic. Sometimes you forget how beautiful the countryside is in England and it was less than 2 hours from London.

As you can see, Helen looked fantastic and they were such a happy couple. Both made some really heartfelt speeches and I have to admit there were times I was reaching for my napkin. Cormac's from Dublin so there were lots of people over from Ireland who were all really chatty and friendly.

We stayed in Stow -on - the Wold and met up for lunch the next day which was great. It used to be really hard to find nice places to eat outside London, so its good to see that food's getting better everywhere.

Anyway - fantastic wedding. Great to catch up with old friends and I'm sure Helen and Cormac will have a fabulous honeymoon in Umbria.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Day 3 New York
This morning I got up at 5am and went for a jog. Was feeling wide awake and didn't want to waste any precious time. It was below freezing and there were snow flurries, but fortunately I had my DCFC bobble hat. Managed to cross a little bit of Central Park and ran down 5th Avenue, past Trump Towers and all the posh shops. I felt as if I was in one of those kids' books about Christmas in New York. It was so cold that I kept trying to run over those manhole covers with the steam coming out.

Still, felt very virtuous. Mustn't spoil it all by having a huge breakfast. Hard to resist.
Day 2 in New York

Had a very full-on day but really enjoyed it. Two things that I admire about Americans. Firstly, their self-confidence. They're not afraid to voice their opinions and express themselves which I find very refreshing. Secondly, their politeness. I've found that Amercians always do their best to be helpful and friendly. Even in Borat, they were never really rude to him despite his provocation.

Managed to squeeze in a bit of shopping this evening - don't have much free time. Ended up going to Niketown on the very posh 57th street where I bought Karen, Mae and Lia their Summer trainers. Hope they fit. Hope everyone likes them. Surprised to see a couple of Pret a Mangers near my hotel. Had no idea that they'd hit New York.

Caught a bit of American Idol on TV. Simon Cowell is clearly the star of the show. Plus a bit of House with Hugh Laurie. Hurrah for the Brits.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Arrived this evening via my Virgin Upper Class flight which was fantastic. Limos to drop you off and pick you up, drive through check in, cool lounge at Heathrow, fab entertainment and food on board, plus massage.

Saw The Departed on the flight. Classic Scorcese. Gratuitous violence, high body count. However best performance for years from Jack Nicholson, plus Ray WInston as hard man with US accent. Half an hour too long but v.good - though not as good as Goodfellas. Not sure it was the best film of the year. I prefered 'Little Miss Sunshine'.

The view from the car as the New York skyline comes into sight is amazing and it feels very exciting being here. Am staying in a smart cool hotel called The Alex, which is midtown on East 45th.

Within an hour, managed to see Grand Central Station - just around the corner and Time Square. New York's easy to walk around, but its very chilly so didn't stay out too late. Plus full day tomorrow.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Off to New York

Have just checked the weather forecast and its going to be really cold in New York. This will be the third consecutive trip where I'll witness snow and sub-zero temperatures. Still, going to New York will be very exciting and I'll try and do some shopping if I can. The classes I'll be running will take place at an ad agency on Madison Avenue which all sounds very swish.

Managed to squeeze in a few laps of Richmond Park on the bike this morning before it started raining. I then dropped Mae off at Streatham Ice Rink for a party. It was packed, which makes you wander why there aren't more ice rinks around.

Need to get an early night and get ready for my Virgin Atlantic limo to pick me up tomorrow morning. Mustn't forget my bobble hat.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Back on Top!

After a crushing 5-1 win at fortress Pride Park last night over footballing giants Colchester, Derby have been restored to their rightful position of Championship leaders after 2 unlucky defeats. Hurrah!

Its amazing how sporting results can effect your mood isn't it?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

If Microsoft Invented the iPod

I love this video

It really highlights the difference between Apple and Microsoft.

Older Women Are Sexier

Its official. We're in love with the older woman. Just look at the adulation heaped upon Helen Mirren after she won the Oscar. And there's loads of others: Charlotte Rampling, Sharon Stone, Catherine Deneuve, all really attractive.

When the Graduate was made in the 60s with Anne Bancroft playing the older seductress, she was 36. When it was recently re-made, Susan Sarendon played the role of Mrs Robinson and was 58.

Is the same true for men? Are older men seen as sexier nowadays? I'm not so sure.