Friday 7 December 2012

Some publicity from the OEB conference in Berlin last week...

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Farewell to a Great

Sad to have to say goodbye to Gore Vidal. His grand presence seems to have been there forever. Will miss the barbs, will miss the haughty commentaries, will miss the well honed one-liners and will miss the prose styled from a different age.

Thursday 17 May 2012

Off to Benin

With Terry Morris, I am off to Benin next week to run another cycle of our digital photography workshops for kids. Read about it here:

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Bordering on the Absurd aka Plane Stupid

I am a pretty regular user of Heathrow. On the majority of arrivals over the past six or so months there have been worse than normal queues in immigration, and that is in the EU Nationals lane. It is funny, in a painful sort of way, to watch the politicians denying, squirming and dissembling on the issue.

But what is painful, in a funny sort of way, is the "traffic management" (or some other piece of bureaucratspeak)  at Terminal 5. Let me start by saying that I think that T5 is a great British achievement. It is beautifully designed, practical rather than pompous and, until recently, it worked like a dream. You swished through. Some very clever people spent a bit of time thinking about what a terminal was for, which is simply to get people through as quickly and comfortably as possible. They turned that simple idea into concrete, steel and glass and it worked. But it doesn't always work now.

The problem...? Well the political embarrassment about immigration delays centres on two locations -- long queues in the immigration hall and people being held on aircraft. The bureaucrats have come up with a perfect solution -- they mess about with the bit in the middle. They obstruct passengers' journeys between the plane and the border control. Over the past couple of months I have experienced a number of unexplained delays on this journey -- shuttle trains reduced in frequency, perfectly good and working escalators roped off, lifts inexplicably stuck on the executive level of the terminal. The other night, coming back in quite late, all the escalators, which were running, were out of bounds. People and their luggage were herded towards the four lifts, two of which weren't operating. The crowds built up and built up. People got agitated trying to get in the remaining lifts. In the general run of things it wasn't outrageously uncomfortable or dangerous, but it was unpleasant and it took a long time.  I would rather have been in an orderly passport queue or sat in my seat on the plane.  
Of course when we finally got to show our passports the queues were still long but not unbearable. Most importantly our discomfort had saved the ministerial discomfort of a missed target that night.

What saddens and angers me is that the authorities are prepared to sabotage the smooth running T5, something UKplc spent a lot of time and money on, something we had got right and something we could be proud of. What a price for a minister's reputation.

Roll on the Olympics.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Shakespeare and Murdoch

In the week of Shakespeare's birthday and the Murdochs' summons to Leveson, I can't help spotting similarities between the stories of King Lear and King Rupert. In the 21st century version the Regan and Goneril roles are taken by James and Rebecca. Cordelia is of course Elisabeth. Perhaps this week's hearings will be the old king's storm raging. And the fool? Well now we have several -- the so called "leaders" who paid homage at court and danced to the old king's tunes.

Saturday 21 April 2012

Nation building in East Africa

I am off to Kenya next week for the Nation Media Group AGM and Q1 board meeting. It has been a good year for the Group, with 2011 turnover in excess of 11 billion KSh and healthy profits. The annual report is here, the eagle eyed among you can see a very small version of the Terry Morris "smart" portrait (that got a lot of hits on this blog) in the Directors' profiles.
I only write this because good news from Africa, especially about African business success, tends not to reach our media.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Bags for Life

Easter afforded me some time to review my collection of "Bags for Life". At a usage rate of one per day, I calculate that I have enough to last until I am 87. They may well see out my mortal span. I have bags for life.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

One to Catch

Sky Atlantic is showing Game Change, the HBO Sarah Palin film, soon. I saw it recently in the US and can highly recommend -- it's like a turbocharged version of The West Wing. Julianne Moore is uncanny in her portrayal and Woody Harrelson is brilliant. The scene where Moore watches Tina Fey's impersonation is hilarious.

The real Sarah Palin (if such a thing exists) has been slagging it off. She should be grateful. Moore adds a lot of empathy to the role and comes across as a 3-D human, something that Palin herself has so far failed to do despite all the exposure.

If you want drama, excitement and "jeopardy" forget  BBC One's abysmal The Voice and go for the story of the Palin meltdown.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Atlanta 2

The last time I was in Atlanta, about 12 years ago, I had the ignominious experience of being pelted with chimpanzee shit by said creatures. I was visiting the world famous primate research institute at the university where they study the intelligence and behaviour of our genetic near cousins. I guess the shit slinging just went to prove how bright they are, a display of boredom or protest at their incarceration.

Anyway this month's visit had no such scatalogical overtones - save perhaps my references to to Zabbleen pig ordure in the debate.

Atlanta may not be top of most European visitors' must-see list in the USA, but it is a friendly, well-run and unpretentious city, well worth exploring. As my time was limited I went first to the Georgia Aquarium -- the world's largest. It is an amazing place. The huge tanks are home to sea life that you would need to travel the world and dive to see any other way. Most impressive for me the family of whale sharks, living along with manta rays, sawfish and plenty of other warm water sharks.

My only complaint was with the Hollywood music blasted out to "enrich" the awesomness of it all.

The it was onto the High Gallery, an hidden gem of a place.

Beautiful new building housing some very fine American art and furniture and a rather second division collection of old European pictures. The great treat though was its hosting of the Picasso to Warhol show, very impressive. Also tucked away on the top floor a beautifully displayed collection of Anish Kapoor.

Well done Atlanta and particular praise to the city fathers for a great metro system -- clean, fast and cheap.  

Atlanta 1

Georgia Tech, home this year of the ICTD conference is every inch the modern higher education outfit. Smart and new, well behaved clean-cut students and its confident PR operation leaves no-one in any doubt that it is the pace to be. Well it was for the very enjoyable and slightly anarchic CTO special sessions on social media and democracy which I took part in.

The morning was devoted to a debate on the role of social media in recent democracy movements -- the middle east. I spoke against, along with Al Jazeera's Senior Washington Correspondent Alan Fisher. I am no social media luddite but I wanted to "hold on a bit". There were lots of factors at play -- demographics, the global economy, religion, and the political backgrounds of individual countries. To call what happened in Egypt, for example, the "Facebook Revolution" is to ignore all of these. After all revolutions are won by people not technology platforms. But it was a fun and lively debate, streamed and tweeted about with a worldwide audience.

In the afternoon I led a workshop that looked at other historical movements where an emerging technology may or may not have played a pivotal role -- Luther and the printing press, the Bolsheviks and trans-European railways, Nazis and the cinema. The group was truly international and all the perspectives were really enlightening.

Saturday 10 March 2012

Creative kids

Last week me and Terry Morris spent an exhausting but very rewarding three days with a bunch of street kids from Essaouira. As part of the Shore to Shore project we were there to run photography workshops with the kids. We gave each a simple Nikon digital camera and some very basic instruction -- although given that most of the children didn't speak a lot of French, it really was basic. But we didn't need to worry. Children love gadgets, and the Nikons were very intuitive to use. In a couple of minutes our young photographers were shooting decent pictures.

Over the three days we took them to a variety of locations in and around Essauoira. Actually having lived on the streets, they took us as much as we took them. They were a bit of a handful but charming and well behaved.

We worked for hours and hours and they never seemed to tire. I was amazed at the continual enthusiasm they showed, how they were always looking for opportunities and always experimenting with new angles and approaches.

The results, as I hope you agree, are stunning. Terry, an established successful professional, said he would be happy to call many of the images his own. The child's eye perspective is interesting and it proves that if you give kids the space and support their creativity flows. Evidence I think of the power of informal learning.

I am reminded of Picasso's words: "Every child is an artist. The trouble is how to remain an artist when we grow up."

Friday 9 March 2012

another new portrait

Another new Terry Morris portrait -- this time trying to look smart and business-like.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

new portrait

My new portrait taken by the brilliant photographer Terry Morris in Essaouira last week.

Thursday 23 February 2012

The Road to Morocco

The great Shore-to-Shore caravan starts its move today from the UK to Essaouira. This follows a very successful British leg over the past week that included Monday's acclaimed performances at St Marks in Regents Park.

Musicians, actors, dancers, cooks, historians, photographers will all be converging for performances and celebrations, first in Essaouira and then Marrakech. I will be joining them for a few days at the weekend.

Our Moroccan sufi hosts Boujemar and Abdou...

....have been working tirelessly setting things up at their end, they have even organised a dinner with the Governor.

I am particularly looking forward to the Street Life photo workshops which top celebrity photographer and artist, Terry Morris, is leading. Terry will be giving digital cameras and tuition to local kids and then encouraging them to portray their Essaouira rather than the tourist version. The culinary side should be fascinating as well. Caroline Yeldham, the food historian, and Andy Hook, the Newcastle chef, restaurateur and champion of Medieval food, will be exploring the gastronomic cross-currents between Britain and Morocco in the past, and -- I hope -- cooking up some treats with our chef friends in Morocco.

Of course the incomparable Passamezzo from the UK and the Ensemble Mogador Musique Soufi will be continuing their collaboration and playing hauntingly beautiful fusion music; and there will be performances of dance and English and Arabic texts from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Next week in Marrakech Shore-to-Shore will be taking part in the prestigious Arts in Marrakech Biennale as well as a Shakespeare symposium at Marrakech University.

Wow what a lot of links....

Keep watching this space for more details. 

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Festival of the senseless

I spent some time here in Tanzania with a good and wise friend. She is an entrepreneur who runs a successful small business on the mainland. She is also one of the most beautiful people I know. Sometimes when I see her she looks every inch the part of a successful businesswoman anywhere, other times she wears black and covers her head - admittedly very chic black, more Chanel perhaps than Kabul. Sometimes we joke about her clothes, I say perhaps her husband likes her to cover up so no-one else can see her. No she insists that it is always her choice.

This time, like many others in Africa, she has been seeing images of binge- drinking young Britons on the streets at Christmas. Do the men force the women to drink so much so that they can rape them, she asks. Not generally, I reply. The women enjoy drinking. She is bemused and tells me about pictures she has seen of young women unconscious in the gutter. They choose to do that? She won't believe it. Then she laughs and tugs at her scarf. She asks, which is the more controlling of women, a piece of fabric or a drug consumed in such quantity that it  renders them senseless on the streets?