A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

You would have had to be living under a stone this past week, not to have been exposed to an ear-bashing from good old ‘Sir’ Bob Geldof, imploring you once again to download the latest version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ in aid of tackling the latest health scare to hit the world, the Ebola outbreak. Yes Band Aid 30 is upon us and it’s the 2014 incarnation of the charity supergroup re-uniting one more time for their thirtieth anniversary. And as I write this, the record is currently at number one in the UK, and a good sum of money has already been raised, but something just doesn’t feel right about it this time round.

I say ‘this time’, because I’m old enough to remember the first version of the song, recorded in aid of famine victims back in 1984. Back then, the idea of a charity record was relatively new and the people behind it were young and not particularly wealthy. Fast forward 30 years, and Geldof, yes our old mate Bob (net worth £32 Million according to The Sunday Times) seemed to have come out of that gig extremely wealthily. He and his band were disappearing into obscurity back in the eighties and now he’s worth a small fortune. It seems Band Aid has been more beneficial to him than any person or country the money was being raised for. But even after all that, Bob is a comparative pauper next to the other prime mover, Bono (what I particularly admire about Bono is his ability to keep a straight face telling others to reduce their global footprint as he flies round the world preaching his gospel), whose net worth is now thought to exceed £400m.

Both have made a secondary career out of haranguing both the UK government and UK public into giving more money to worthy causes, but here’s the thing that gets me ... despite their huge wealth, neither man pays any tax in the UK and both enjoy non-dom status. Do they pay tax at all – anywhere? Do they give any of their own money to charities? Well nobody really knows, but Geldof recently flew into a rage when questioned on the subject by a journalist from a National UK newspaper and suggested that simply ‘giving his time’ was a tax. I really must try that one the next time I get a brown envelope from the governing tax officials.

And I’m probably the last person to question how someone spends their own money.

I think if you’ve earned it, it’s nobody’s business but yours how you spend it (legally of course). Nor do I think you should be obliged to pay any more tax than is required by law. But… and this is a big but (no not Kim Kardashian’s, but more on her later) … it just doesn’t seem right to me that extremely wealthy individuals attempt to shame governments into giving money to worthy causes when they have decided not to contribute to the pot from which that money comes. Nor is it right that they implore ordinary folk to give the little money they have while hanging on to their own. And these two things are inextricably related.

When Geldof or Bono ask the UK government to give more money to their pet cause, they are asking you and me to give more money, just as surely as if they ask us to download their latest charity single. The government doesn’t have any money other than that which it raises from taxes. It’s only a finite pot of money, and one to which neither Geldof nor Bono contributes.

Geldof and Bono aren’t alone in this of course, and this latest campaign is typical of a society in which wealthy show business and sports personalities ‘give their time’ to persuade poor people to hand over their cash to charity… charity records… Children in Need… Comic Relief… Sports Relief… the list goes on and on. Meanwhile, those ‘giving their time’ freely, benefit financially from the valuable exposure their participation brings.

You could easily argue that it’s a win-win situation, (and I’d have some sympathy with that) but l I’ve got a much better idea. Let’s just cut out the middle man. Instead of ‘giving your time’, use that time to do what you’re good at and give your hard currency instead. One Direction (one of the main attractions on the latest single) earned £47 Million last year. Just one week of their earnings would go a long way on its own. But how much of the money being raised actually hits the ground anyway?

Even the cause is flawed this time round. Up until recently in the US more people had been married to Kim Kardashian than had been diagnosed with Ebola. And in the UK, there have been more cases of people marrying Katy Price (aka Jordan) than catching Ebola. So my argument here is that it looks like celebrities are even worse for your health than Ebola! They’re certainly more contagious. But that’s Celebrity for you isn’t it? They think they are bigger and better than the people who put them there in the first place. I personally have no interest in Celebrity culture and the hyper inflated ego’s that that adorn it, especially those of the non tax-paying preachers variety I refer to here.

This is exactly what’s wrong with this world at present. These tax dodgers and our capitalist system are the prime causes of why this world is in such a mess, and then these people who are well and truly part of it stand on their soapboxes and tell us, the little people who are the victims of it, that we should be putting our hands in our pockets, when we are the ones who are already paying our taxes and being further heavily penalised to make this whole mess right again!! 

These people need to put their own money where their mouths are 
and prove they are doing it for a change.

And I now ask you, did the money from the first record make any real difference anyway? If so there should now be far less starving families in far off lands needing charitable support and aid from various governments. My guess is things are now worse not better than they were all those years ago.

And then when one acts like a grown up and doesn’t take everything the media pumps out at face value, but checks out other (more verifiable) sources of information, it seems that yet again we have a well hyped up issue with the Ebola scare. This is probably infecting less people than many other diseases. And leading back to my first comment; if all the charitable money pumped into the 3rd world had been used effectively over the years, those inhabitants would by now have a much higher standard of living and therefore generally be healthier. I think this too, is not the case!

It seems that so much of the planet’s wealth has now been sucked into the hands of a relatively few elite families, celebrities and others by several dubious methods over the years and it is my opinion that these are the ones that should now be giving back to the poorest parts of the world, not us. They won’t though, because to them the more money they can retain the more power they wield to feed their greedy, selfish, egotistical lives ... and above all else, they are also the biggest hypocrites on the planet.

The time has long passed for the adults in this world to act with maturity; it’s not difficult to see through the endless scams, perpetrated by the powers that be, to suck even more of our hard earned wealth from our bank accounts. But there is so much else that needs our attention and wealth to help make changes for the better.

And finally to show it isn’t a pipe dream to believe the rich can take a greater part in things, check out a man by the name of Andrew Reynolds an ordinary guy who found a business formula that made him wealthy (Andrew Reynolds is a professional street skateboarder. He is a co-founder of Baker Skateboards and is the brand's owner; he is a part owner of Brigada Eyewear; a partner in Baker Boys Distribution, and head designer at Altamont Apparel). And what does he do? Well he spends some of that wealth by going out to a poor nation (can’t remember exactly where), where he identified a local group who were providing food for starving children and as far I know he is still sending currency to support the project... No registered charity required. No administration costs swallowing up the cash. Just honest to goodness benefits where they are needed most.

Just think, if everyone with more money than they actually needed did something like this, poverty would probably by now be a thing of the past!

Needless to say, I just checked it out and the latest charity single had sold 340,000 copies the first week at 99 pence each. Even if it eventually sells ten times that number, that probably still amounts to less than the people performing on the record would earn in a day.

So what the hell is the real point in inflicting another bloody version of that song on us BOB?

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Older readers from the UK will remember those blissful days before FM radio when evenings were spent trying to listen to chart music on a beloved Radio Luxembourg, as "All The Young Dudes" would fade in and out of the wall of static that was European broadcasting. That and those Peter Stuyvesant ads. Oh and anti-spot cream Clearasil... Hey Kids, don't let acne get you down: have another fag!

Anyway, if you do remember, you'll also recall the little fanfare identification signal from Tirana that would rise and fade morbidly in the background. A complete mystery to us teenagers, the signal was there purely to locate the Albanian National Radio Service whilst it was off the air, and to stop anyone using the wavelength in their absence.

I mention this purely because I feel that is what this post is about.

I have nothing to say tonight, but if I don't post anything people will give up looking, which would somewhat impair the moment when I DO have that shrewd insight, or inspired wit to impart with you, and no-one's looking.

Please keep this channel open; I'm sure SOMETHING will turn up.

And while on the subject of radio from the halcyon days, who can remember the good old Shipping Forecast? Even if you do not understand a word of it, not one jot, the shipping forecast was nearly always essential listening and had developed a loyal following of non-seafarers, many of whom found its hypnotic repetition and mysterious content somewhat kind of soothing. 

It had a serious function though; it was an invaluable source of information for those taking to, or already on, the seas and provides current weather information as well as a forecast of conditions to come. It is broadcast four times a day on Radio 4 LW, with two of those broadcasts(00:48 and 05:20 hours) also appearing on FM radio. 

A further appeal is the collection of names to describe the various sea areas, working pretty much the way counties or provinces do on land. These are, in order: Viking, North Utshire, South Utshire, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth, Biscay, FitzRoy, Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, Fair Isle, Faeroes, and Southeast Iceland. 

There is also an area known as Trafalgar, which is located off the coast of Spain, but this is only reported in the 00:48 broadcast. 

And due to the importance of clarity and timing, the announcers reading the shipping forecast have to follow a strict sequence and the entire forecast has never ever been more than 350 words long.

And there's not a lot of people know that!!

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Did you know that children's favourite Pingu the Penguin 
was originally named Mingus?

Mingus the Penguin wore sunglasses and a pork pie hat, and inhabited a pretty "cool pad" at the north pole, where he was seen to have "hung out" with a picaresque collection of beatniks, misfits and somewhat loose women.

Unfortunately the name Mingus was quickly dropped when the family of Jazz Trombonist Charley Mingus opposed the use of the brand. In their objections, they cited Mingus the Penguin's substance abuse, bohemian lifestyle and indifference towards social propriety.

"Let's face it," commented a spokesman "the portrayal was a clich├ęd interpretation of the jazz scene, and a frankly disturbing misrepresentation of the natural world, presenting both environments as feckless, hedonistic and degenerate!"

After ranting for some time, the spokesman concluded:

"actually, this isn't really anything to do with Charley's legacy. Let's face it, he's dead, and probably couldn't care less what this animal gets up to, but we feel that it's important to let the world know that penguins are a hard-working social species with little use for extravagant and hedonistic individualism. This show is nothing more than anthromophism gone mad!"

Anyway, the dispute continued for some years until the project was quietly dropped, only to be rediscovered by younger, trendier, up-and-coming TV execs inspired by the opportunity to broadcast low cost programming with little need for being creative themselves.

These days, the program is set in Antarctica and centres around penguin families who live and work in igloos. The main character, Pingu, belongs to one such family. He is frequently seen going on adventures with his little sister, Pinga, and often gets himself into mischief with his best friend, Robby the Seal.

One reason for Pingu's international success is his lack of real spoken language: nearly all dialogue is in an invented "penguin language" consisting of babbling, muttering and sporadic loud honking noises. This was initially retro-scripted by Carlo Bonomi, who created all the sound effects for the series. This feature allows people of different linguistic backgrounds to be able to follow the story without the need for a degree.

However, by the time the penguin scripts reached the filming stage, "Pingu" had not only been renamed, but divested of his louch accoutrements and sanitized for the modern day audience, with little more than an appetite for fish.

Pingu was also said to be the late Margaret Thatcher's favourite television programme. Really intellectual stuff then.

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I have a healthy contempt for pretty much all modern politicians, but occasionally, one may break with tradition and say something that makes perfect sense. And so it was this week, when one such policy maker suggested that entrepreneurship and enterprise should be taught and celebrated in schools.

The gist of his argument is that it’s through entrepreneurial effort that jobs and wealth are created – and I wouldn’t argue with that – but I think there’s another reason it’s important… one that is central to every one of us reaching our full potential. And it goes way beyond what being an entrepreneur normally means.

Much as it pains me to admit it, not everyone agrees with me all of the time. (in fact in my own household, nobody does – ever!) And even here, in the comparatively safe company of you people who read my blogs, I get the odd protest. “That’s all well and good” they say “but not everyone is an entrepreneur. Some of us have to work for someone else for a living.”

It’s a fair comment – much of what I write here and elsewhere IS written with fellow entrepreneurs in mind. So what about everyone else then? Well here’s the thing – I reckon employees should be entrepreneurs too… or to be more accurate, employees should at least think and behave like entrepreneurs. In fact there’s no other sensible option for running your life. Let me explain what I mean.

A typical employee mentality might be expressed something like this… 

“I’m an employee of this company, I work for them, and they pay my wages. I rely on them for my wages and financial welfare. It’s up to the company to look after me and ensure that I’m trained correctly to do the job. I get paid to do a job for them, and that’s what I try to do. No more and no less. If the company don’t need me any more at some point in the future, that will be a big problem for me... My income will disappear and I might find it difficult to get other work. There’s little I can do about that though, other than hope, I don’t have any other income, and this job is pretty much all I’m trained for. My financial destiny and lifestyle are in the company’s hands.”

An employee with an entrepreneurial thought process would
 look at the situation very differently though. 

“I’m managing director of my own company… Me Ltd. It only has one employee… yours truly. At the moment I have a contract to hire out my companies services to a larger company in return for a regular fixed fee. I’m always looking for ways to improve on the contract I have with them, and to get a better return from it. I know that if I provide better value, the contract will probably become more lucrative. I consistently try to find new ways to increase the value I offer. This one contract doesn’t define my business though. No company should ever rely on just one contract. I’m always open to the possibility of new projects and contracts to run alongside the existing one.

Like all businesses, mine has several departments and functions which need regular attention… finance, marketing, human resources, training to name but four. I need to keep on top of all of these if the business is to prosper. If I take my eye off any of these functions, I put the whole company at risk.

Because I only have the one employee, it’s particularly important that I manage his welfare well and train him up to be the best he can be. Without him being at his best - physically, mentally and intellectually – the business is going to suffer. It’s nobody else’s responsibility to ensure that this happens. It’s my business, and it’s up to me to manage it properly.”

Can you see the huge difference between the mindset of a typical employee, and that of one with an entrepreneurial approach? As a typical employee, you prostrate yourself at the feet of an employer and effectively say, “Do as you will… my fate rests with you”. As an employee with an entrepreneurial approach, you take full responsibility and control over your own destiny. And the good news is it takes little more than a change in mindset but the resultant effect on actions and outcomes is likely to be huge.

I now have a suggestion for you; take a sheet of A4 paper and write ‘Your Name’ Ltd at the top. Make a list of your assets and liabilities, just like a regular company. Draw up a profit and loss account. Write out an analysis of the opportunities and challenges the enterprise faces. Be honest about any shortcomings in your ‘workforce’, and resolve to take action to plug any gaps through development and training. Look at all the departments in turn… finance, marketing, human resources, training… to see where there may be room for improvement, and then make an agreement with yourself to have regular ‘board meetings’ where progress can be assessed and monitored.

You may think I’m taking the analogy too far, but you would be wrong. And I know one thing for sure… if you take this approach on board, you’ll work a lot harder and more effectively for ‘Your Name’ Ltd’ than you ever would for some third party employer. And when you do that, you’ll provide greater value all round, and the rewards will come harder and faster as a result.

Everyone wins in this scenario, but the biggest winner of all will be you.

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To get to a place in New South Wales called Newcastle from where I live, you have to travel along the Pacific Highway between Sydney and Brisbane. And as I discovered a couple of Friday mornings ago, this is almost certainly one of the most boring stretches of road in the whole of Australia. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, it has a fairly poor accident record too, and I think I know why... it’s extremely tempting to steer your vehicle into oncoming traffic just to relieve yourself from the the tedium of the hundreds of kilometres (that feel like thousands) you need to cross. My wife, who really should try lapsing into unconsciousness rather than driving from the back seat of our putt-putt on even the shortest journey while I’m driving, stayed resolutely awake on this one as per usual. Not because she had to tell me how to do things better, oh no not this time... This time, I’m sure she was genuinely terrified that I would fall asleep, such was the lack of any real sensory stimulation along the way.

Kilometre after kilometre after kilometre after kilometre of straight, flat tarmac stretches before you on the Pacific Highway, every inch of it bordered by hedgerow-starved fields. Most seeming to contain nothing…or what could be as much use as cauliflowers. The en-route ‘architecture’ too is a mix of what appears to be abandoned old farm buildings and crappy 1960’s style bungalows surrounded by unkempt gardens, scattered randomly across the landscape. There are a lot of bungalows out there and to be honest, I don’t think people in New South Wales have a head for heights. Or maybe it’s just not worth building a bedroom with a view when there’s nothing to actually see.

Occasionally you will come across a larger house surrounded by 40 foot leylandii. Where I’m not sure whether the owners are trying to block the view of the house from the road, or the view of the road from the house. The latter would definitely be a good idea though. At one point I even noticed a sorry-looking motel and marvelled at who might ever stay there…and why (we writers do that sort of thing). I came up with a short list that included breakdown victims, truckers, hookers and escaped prisoners holding hostages, but quickly ran out of any sane ideas after that.

Abandoned, rusty cars must be status symbols around these parts too, because everyone seems to have one in their front garden. The only other things of note are myriad discount retail emporia, heralded by signs that look like they’ve been written by a dyslexic hyperactive seven year old let loose with some paint. It’s sort of how you’d imagine the whole country might look about 20 years post-holocaust, when some signs of civilisation are starting to return, but you are still painfully aware that something awful must have happened.

Anyway, in an attempt to relieve the boredom, we embarked on a game of I Spy. It didn’t last long…

Her: “I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘f’.”

Me: “Is it ‘field’?”

Her: “Bugger!”

Eventually though, the road passes over a bridge traversing a muddy river and you end up in Coffs, which isn’t bad at all. The tarmac starts to turn, the landscape starts to roll, and trees which haven’t been purchased from a garden centre, solely for their fast-growing and eyesore-masking properties, start to emerge. We eventually arrived at the hotel we’d booked, which was excellent. It had some interesting elements to its pricing and customer services offering which I’ll come back to in a moment. But the only reason I got to thinking about that at all, was a chance encounter with celebrity during the next couple of days.

Are you still keeping up with this? I’m glad someone is!

When we booked the hotel, it was a very open and transparent process. The room wasn’t cheap, but the cost was clearly explained, as was the price of an upgrade and what benefits that would bring. When we arrived there were no nasty surprises – in fact quite the reverse. We were offered complementary newspapers, informed that all phone calls from the room would be free of charge, and were directed to a cupboard containing free drinks and home-made cookies. We actually got more for our money than we thought we were getting when we booked the room. Now compare that with a typical Ryanair experience.

The basic cost of the flight will be relatively low, but from there on it is only the most cautious and diligent passengers that emerge from the process having paid anything like what they expected. You need your wits about you. Take a bag that’s slightly too big or heavy, or fail to have all your paperwork in order, and you’ll face additional punitive charges which are out of all proportion to the original price, or the incremental cost of dealing with the transgression. This isn’t the sort of upsell process which American companies do so well, in which customers are coaxed into spending more than they intended, but rather a seemingly deliberate attempt to make things difficult so that customers unwittingly fall foul of the rules and become forced to pay extra. Add in the fact that anything beyond a basic seat on the plane incurs an additional charge, and the initial price quoted is unlikely to be a close indication of the final bill.

There’s nothing illegal about this of course, in fact Ryanair have ensured that they are watertight in this regard, but it does illustrate the opposite end of the spectrum from which companies can deal with pricing and managing customer expectations. At one end you have a hotel that quotes a price, sticks to it and even throws in some bonus’s after the contract is made. At the other you have an airline that quote an initial price, charge for every conceivable extra and then use the rest of the transaction fulfilment process to squeeze as much additional money out of the customer as they can.

Now I’m sure Ryanair would argue that the average customer still ends up paying less with them than their competitors, and that doing things this way benefits those who are ‘savvy’ and don’t want to pay for things they don’t really need. Both of these things are probably true, and the company is extremely successful. And just because I don’t happen to like the way they do business, and choose to spend my money elsewhere, certainly doesn’t mean we should reject the lessons of the business model wholesale. But all of this does raise an important question.

What would be the best pricing model for me and my business?

Is it one like the hotel, where everything is open, transparent and included – and where customers get more than they expect after the contract is under way. Or is it one like the budget airline, where you hook people in on a seemingly low price and then put systems and processes in place to extract as much additional revenue as possible from the transaction afterwards?

I think a lot will depend on personal ethics and what I feel most comfortable with. It’s proven that both approaches can work. Companies like Ryanair survive and prosper for a reason. A large part of any market is prepared to tolerate an awful lot of pain in pursuit of what they perceive to be a low price. The success of businesses offering transparent pricing and ‘beyond expectation’ service shows that there’s a significant market sector for whom price isn’t the primary consideration, and they’re prepared to pay more for better.

Choose the Ryanair route, and you may find yourself looking over your shoulder, struggling to retain customers and constantly fighting a customer service fire. Choose the spa hotel route, and you may find yourself frustrated as you see a large part of the potential market gravitate towards the cheap and cheerless, irrespective of the true value on offer. There are no right and wrong answers.

The reality of course, is that there is a continuum in place here, and there are numerous alternatives to consider between these two extremes. And I think you should consider them. You see, once you set out down one path it’s not easy to go back. Nobody is going to easily accept Ryanair as a born-again premium service provider any more than they are likely to accept Claridges Hotels as the epitome of cheap and cheerful accommodation. You become what you’re perceived to be and perceptions don’t tend to shift easily.

Anyway, as we headed back home at the end of our weekend gig, back down the Pacific Highway, a belligerent caravan tower reduced the entire carriageway to a 20kph crawl and then refused to pull over for about 7 kilometres. I discerned from the honking horns and hand gestures that this wasn’t very much appreciated, or indeed the ‘done thing’, but for once I was fairly relaxed. I realised that the driver probably lived locally, and having the power to irritate a couple of hundred motorists for 15 minutes had to be a very poor recompense for that.

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Ok guys I know it’s my job to write and yours to wander by without comment but I need your help with a conundrum. The answer, I would imagine, is to be found somewhere in economics, psychology or a mixture of the two. It concerns a situation and mode of behaviour, which to my mind, is illogical and irrational and yet almost without exception, everyone adheres to it and accepts it as normal.

Here’s the conundrum:

In a private transaction between two individuals, why is it always expected that the buyer of a product must relinquish control of his money before receiving the goods, rather than the other way around?

This was brought home to me again recently when I bought a used car privately. The car was privately owned but situated in a workshop where it was having some work done. The buyer was very clear that he must have the money in his bank account before he would authorise release of the car. I would have to trust him with my money, but he wasn’t prepared to trust me with his car.

Well as per usual, I was feeling a little mischievous that day, so I sent him the following email, which sums up my point pretty well..

“Do you think a seller is more trustworthy than a buyer? Neither do I. So why is it perfectly acceptable (expected even) that a buyer take a risk by giving money to a seller in advance of receiving anything, but it’s totally unacceptable for a buyer to release his goods until he has money? It makes no sense, in fact it’s contrary to logic. Take our deal. If I pay you in advance, I run the risk that you take my money and run. That money can disappear very easily and quickly. You can spend it anywhere. You give me your car before funds are cleared and I don’t pay? Well we’re in a pretty similar boat except I can’t do much with a car I don’t have legal ownership of. You wouldn’t want it to happen, but I can’t spend your car in the way you can spend my money. The point I’m making is that buyers are expected to take a greater risk which sellers are prepared to even consider. Given that they both have equal financial interest in the deal (otherwise there would be no deal) it makes no sense.”

He didn’t have an answer, and neither do I. But there’s little doubt that this is what’s universally expected. I’ve bought and sold a lot of stuff online – deals done with private individuals at a distance – and the expectation is always the same. The seller insists on seeing money in his bank account before he will send the gear through the post. So the buyer is expected to trust the seller, but the seller won’t trust the buyer.

This would only make some logical sense if the seller had more to lose than the buyer, but that can never be the case. To use wristwatches for a moment, if I’ve offered to buy your watch for £2,000 and you’ve accepted my offer, then we’re both agreed on the value of what we each stand to lose in the deal. It’s £2,000. The risk of you sending me the watch in advance of payment is exactly the same as the risk of me sending you the cash in advance of receiving the watch. And yet one is viewed as expected and the other as far too risky to contemplate.

So what the heck is going on here? I have my own theory, which doesn’t really answer it satisfactorily in my view, so I’ll keep it to myself for now. I don’t want to influence any ideas you might have... but... Oh what the hell... you guys don’t say much anyway.

If you consider a typical commercial transaction, done at a distance, the buyer is usually the one asked to bear some risk. He or she has to pay money to the seller before goods are despatched. So if you order something through Amazon, for example, you pay first and then they despatch the goods. They don’t send you the latest Celine Dion CD (You didn’t, did you?) and then ask you to pay if you’re satisfied. It’s not how it’s done, and there are good reasons for that.

To continue with the Amazon example for a moment, the company deals with tens of thousands of transactions every day. It would be impossible for them to chase up every customer who neglected to pay for whatever reason, and so they ask for payment first. Amazon is a company of prominent standing and so they are unlikely to renege on their side of the deal. If they did, they would be very easy track down and be brought to book. And so although their customers are expected to take a risk, it’s a minimal one.

Most commercial organisations doing business at a distance work like this, and by default, private individuals dealing with other private individuals follow the same model – despite the situation being totally different.

In a private transaction, there is just one buyer and one seller. The issues faced by Amazon (and yes, even little old me) are not present. The two parties to the deal are in exactly the same position, with exactly the same value to gain or lose and pretty much the same hassles and opportunities for redress if it goes wrong. But everyone behaves as though the seller is a high profile commercial organisation, and the buyer is a potentially unreliable customer who might disappear with the goods without paying.

So I believe the reason people behave the way they do in private transactions is that they simply mirror the relative positions of buyers and sellers in commercial transactions. They take a transaction model from one environment and dump it into an unrelated one – just as it is.

We have a phrase for this kind of thing around here… it’s called ‘chicken on the head thinking’. Why? Well it comes from a half-forgotten parable about a woman who sold cheese at the market. In order to transport the cheese and keep it cool, she wrapped it in muslin and carried it on her head. This was very successful and the product arrived at market cool and fresh. After a while, she decided to move out of cheese and into livestock. She now needed to transport chickens to market, and so encouraged by her previous success, she wrapped them in muslin and… well you get the idea. She took a solution that worked in one situation, and imported it wholesale into a situation with completely different issues and problems.

That’s what I think is probably happening here, and it’s not really unusual. As human beings we’re pretty lazy, and so if we work out a solution to a problem, it’s very tempting to apply it to a different problem. And we do that without employing any critical thinking to determine whether the circumstances are the same or not. We have the perfect solution – but to the wrong problem.

This sort of thing happens more than you might think. For most of us, the biggest danger comes over time – just like our lady carrying a muslin wrapped chicken on her head. Circumstances change, but we don’t really recognise the fact. We have a solution that once worked, but we are now applying it in a different environment. It no longer works nearly so well, and we can’t figure out why.

So are you using solutions which have proved to work in other environments, but not working the same way for you? Are you using solutions which you’ve used successfully in the past, but they are no longer giving the same results? Maybe it’s worth considering whether… to use the terminology of the day… you’re applying commercial rules to private transactions, or using the transportation arrangements for cheese to move chickens!

One simple question will usually set you on the right track…”Why the hell do we do it like this?”

And now... Over to you!

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I’m always entertained by the results of so called ‘research’ reported in the so called national press. You know the kind of thing...

‘Children who eat seven whelks a day perform 48% better in GCSE maths than those who only eat crayfish’. Or…

‘People who own a home sauna suffer 72% fewer bouts of haemorrhoids than those who regularly use a Jacuzzi.’

Obviously it’s a junk science of the worst kind, and it's usually commissioned by whelk fishermen and owners of home sauna emporia. or cigarette companies (global warming)  or Monsanto (world starvation... but was that before or after they have had a go?).

Just this morning for example, I read the results of yet another survey, attempting to discover the best place to live in the UK. Allegedly it was carried out by online comparison site, Money Supermarket, but I suspect the Bristol tourist board had a hand in it too, because that was the city which came out top of the list. Of all the places you could live in the UK, Bristol is the best. (and for the sake of the lawyers... allegedly)

Now I’ve got nothing against Bristol – I’m sure it has its virtues – but I don’t ever recall it ever ever coming high on anyone’s list of… well… anything ever before. You might bring it to mind if asked to name a city with two dire football league teams, or one with a crude association with breasts, but apart from that, it doesn’t normally come to mind at all. And that wasn’t the only thing that was odd about this research.

Apparently, one of the best cities to live is Leeds, and the worst of the lot… Bradford. I’ve been to both. I’ve even been to both in the same day. In fact I’ve been to both in the same minute, because they’re right next to each other. I’m not sure at what point on the road between the two, it all turns from paradise to pathetic though, but I think we should be told. I mean, imagine not knowing, and then hitting the border. It must be like someone just switched out the lights.

The reality of course, is that the two cities share many characteristics and factors which underpin and determine their desirability as places to live. There are good (and not so good and even terrible) places to live within each. What’s really important in defining things though, is not so much your post code, but your personal circumstances. If there are ten rungs on the ladder, someone on rung nine living in Bradford is likely to be living in a much ‘better place’ than someone on rung six living in Leeds.

And I think this is something people fail to take into account when they attempt to improve their own environment or their circumstances. They over-attribute the impact of geography on their level of happiness or satisfaction. Yes, location is quite often the icing on the cake, but as any experienced baker knows, even good icing can’t salvage a badly made cake.

Many who emigrate (yes that includes me too), discover this to their cost (maybe not so much me). After the euphoria of being in a new place with a more agreeable climate has subsided, the same underlying problems, dissatisfactions and shortcomings persist. The cake is as it always was. They may have a nicer sun tan, but they are not living in a ‘better place’ as such, in any meaningful sense of things.

The uncomfortable truth is that you can’t really escape yourself (which is fine if you are me because I am awesome and I MAKE the sun shine wherever I go). Wherever you go, it’s the only thing you’re forced to take with you. You don’t have a choice in that. And paradoxically then, the one thing you have to take with you everywhere will determine whether you’re in a ‘great place’ or not – no matter what any map or survey might tell you.

So we can realistically say that geography solves nothing. It merely provides a backdrop for what really matters. And so the first stage of any realistic ‘escape’ plan is to work on yourself and your own situation first. Concern yourself with where you are, only when you’ve fully dealt with who you are, personally, psychologically and financially. (Just like me LOL).


In any event, I have to add that there are few locations so dire, that a couple of steps up the ladder won’t make things a lot better. I should know, I’m originally from Rawtenstall :)

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Its my own fault really, its all about what I see in the world, and how it all translates for me.

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