Remembrance Day

poppyEarlier this year I attended the funeral of my uncle Rennie – or Reninghelst ­– as he was never ever known in my lifetime.

Rennie was my favourite uncle of all my uncles because he was an unstoppable force. He was a fantastic footballer – I think he trialled for a First Division side once – and his skill on the ball was evidential as he revealed his box of tricks in garden kickabouts. He taught me how to ‘dummy’, but little did I know that this would later be referred to as the ‘stepover’ in modern footballing parlance. My father was a pretty good footballer as well, playing left-half for Middlesex County Boys, but Rennie was in a different league. The ball stuck to his feet as he dribbled his way around myself and my dad. We were easy meat.

A lovable rogue, Rennie took it upon himself to help my gran with odd jobs – you know, building walls, garages, sheds, and totally reshaping my gran’s back yard with a combination of brute force, theft and haphazard landscaping. Short of material to construct these exterior masterpieces, he would help himself, with our wheelbarrow, to the sand from local school’s long-jump pit and appropriate cement from a nearby building site. He took the water from my gran’s tap, however.

Rennie was one of six Harris brothers: Billy, Les, Miah (Nehemiah), Albert and Doug were the others, in order of age, alongside my gran, Edna – the only girl – from Grancha and Nan.

Grancha named Rennie for a specific reason. In the First World War, while sitting in a muddy Belgian trench waiting for the whistle to order them to ‘go over the top’, the Germans lobbed a gas cannister only feet away from where Grancha was positioned. Struggling to get his mask on, Grancha almost lost his life. He was taken away to a hospital in Reninghelst, where medical staff ensured that he lived and that he ultimately produced a daughter called Edna. Such was the care he received, it was only fitting that one of his sons would take the name of the village that saved him.

I’ve been watching a BBC documentary – inbetween child care duties and shopping errands – called WW1: The Last Tommies. Of course, the horrors of World War One are well documented, but this series takes first-hand accounts of 27 people who fought in, or were affected by, this bloody awful conflict that claimed the lives of millions of people.

Vivid descriptions of survivors detailing the sheer lunacy of running down a muddy field alongside your compatriots waiting for a German bullet to cut you down, tells me that a) I was born lucky and b) I must never forget those who fought for my freedom.

Of course, I am preaching to the converted. Pretty much everyone I know agrees with this sentiment, but literally, I would not be here had it not been for the people of Reninghelst. They have ensured that generations live on, that I get to enjoy the joys of fatherhood and that one day I might be able to teach my son to do a ‘stepover’.

Tags: Uncategorized

Remembering dad

Roger Bowdler 1934-1986

Roger Bowdler 1934-1987

Below is a short article I wrote for my church’s magazine. Of course, it feels somewhat incongruous in the context of this blogsite, but, as an act of pure self-indulgence, I felt I couldn’t let an important anniversary go unmentioned…

This part of the magazine is reserved for a bit of levity, where a bit of light-hearted humour is required.

So, here goes.

On April 1 1987 my dad died. I was 21 years old and, as the 30th anniversary of his passing approaches, it still remains the saddest day of my life.

The irony of that date is not lost on me. April Fools’ Day combined with my surpassing of the supposed Age of Maturity, tells me there’s a joke in there somewhere. I have yet to find it.

My dad was awful at telling jokes. I remember joining him with his friends on a golf day and he attempted to tell a standard set-up-then-punchline gag. Even at the age of 13, with my sense of humour still developing, I realised he was fundamentally pants as a comedian.

He did, however, have a glint in his eye and cheeky outlook. Whenever a seemingly daily malaprop popped from mother’s lips, a glance in my direction was enough to put us both in fits of laughter. He was, and is, the most disarming human being I have ever met.

Preposterously handsome, preposterously charming and preposterously unaware that he possessed both, he pottered through life as a gifted mathematician, artist and sportsman. He excelled in all.

A socialist, he positively couldn’t understand racism. His mantra was ‘all men are equal’, as it should be. When my Welsh grandmother told me ‘The Indians’ had moved in next door to her home, I had no frame of reference. As yet unexposed to multiculturalism as a 70s child, I expected to see a tepee and a smokestack in the neighbour’s garden.

So where’s God in all this? This is a church magazine after all, and so in a ridiculously clunky segue, I can tell you that my dad happened to be the conduit for my first real exposure to Christianity.

I had joined the Boys Brigade at Bushey Baptist Church. With this membership I was given the opportunity to blow a bugle, march in time, play games, go on camps, wear a paramilitary uniform (what the hell is a haversack for?) and attend Church Parade.

Church Parade I reasoned quite rightly, was too boring for the likes of me to attend, but my father, the devout atheist, said that if I were to enjoy the undoubted benefits of this organisation, I must also embrace the bits that I did not like. This was the deal. No church parade, no Boys Brigade. Grin and bear it.

So I grinned and bore it, and boring it was. Every fourth Sunday I was forced to sit in a back-breaking, buttock-hardening pew for an hour while a bloke in a funny black shirt told me about a man called Jesus. This was a man, I was told, who loved us, cared for us and, more importantly, died for us.

I can’t tell you whether any of this sank in, but I did get chosen to represent my ‘Battalion’ for a Bible-reading competition that resulted in disastrous, embarrassing consequences that still makes me cringe to this very day.

Ultimately, as a teenager I was desperate to carve my own way and when I became a Christian at 18 years old, my family was appalled: not really surprising since I spent most of my time battering them into submission with my lofty, self-righteous piety.

It got better though. I soon softened and shortly before my dad died, I remember him observing my Christianity with a wonderfully parental fascination. One summer’s evening, as I prepared to go out, he just said to me: ‘Tim, I really like the way you lead your life.’ It was a heartening acknowledgement that he approved of a faith that maybe he was just starting to understand himself.

Tags: Uncategorized

The EU aftermath

Flag_of_Europe.svgOn Friday morning I woke and was unhinged by a metaphorical broadside that I hadn’t expected. Our country had voted to leave the EU and the sickness in my stomach and the fear of what the future might bring was overwhelming. I hadn’t really had that feeling since my father died and that was almost 30 years ago.

The blanket coverage included a map of the regional splits of the voting patterns and, as I scanned the UK, it was a wake-up-and-smell- the-coffee moment. In my poncey middle-class metropolitan home in West London, with ambitions of bi-folding patio doors and kitchen islands, I realised that I had forgotten about those in the poverty-stricken council estates, the marginalised, the disenfranchised and those with little hope and, more importantly, little cash to splash around. They had nothing to lose, they made their point and, suddenly, idiots like me with retirement plans and a tax-efficient Audi were going to pay. I had built a protective fence around my comfortable lifestyle while people in these areas were watching immigrants, prepared to work for peanuts, drive wages into the floor and, really, none of my stupid centre-left politics and compassionate words had helped.

I might blather on about social justice and generosity to my fellow man, but what have I done about it? Well, bugger all (apart from a bit of volunteering for meals for the homeless – yay, go me!) and the thing is I am a self-professed Christian, and the worst kind; loaded with hypocrisy and eloquent words, so completely at odds with the Jesus I choose to follow. This is the man who stopped the establishment stoning adulterers, who turned the tables on the money changers, who mixed with prostitutes, tax collectors, the marginalised and desperate, and was ultimately nailed to a cross for it. But that’s not all he was. For most of his life he was a carpenter, pricing up quotes for people who wanted a new fence or their roof fixing. He is the archetypal white van man, the stereotype so vilified by the middle-classes for not having enough basic intelligence to vote.

So we’ve been chastised, but what is left for us now? The saddest thing about it all this is that those who needed this the most won’t actually get what they want. Within two hours of victory Nigel Farage admitted that the spurious £350m that goes to the EU won’t go to the NHS. Then Conservative MEP Dan Hannan accepted that the future outside the EU will still mean a deal that will result in free movement of labour to the UK – everything the working classes didn’t want. The elderly who voted ‘out’ will see their pension pots evaporate as the stock market goes into freefall and you can bet your life that Cornwall, one of the most emphatic Brexiteers, will not see the £60m in EU funding matched by any future UK government. With an economy that went from the fifth biggest to the sixth biggest overnight, the likes of Cornwall will be standing at the back of the queue.

I said last week that people should be careful what they wish for. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove looked like they were attending a funeral after the result. They don’t want to press the Article 50 button and Theresa May is insisting there should be no rush despite the fact that the French and Germans say there should. You kind of get their point.

Whichever way you voted, you’d be impossibly naïve if you are not expecting anything other than a serious detrimental impact on the UK’s economy. Short-term pain for long-term gain? I think not. The last recession hit us in 2008 and we’ve only just recovered. During that time I got made redundant twice and it was horrible, but I almost got made redundant three times had it not been for European regulations that offered me enough protection to keep me in work.

And what of the UK? Expect Scotland to leave – and quite right too – and expect them to take the oil with them, but more worrying is the impact this will have on Northern Ireland, and this is where all the economic arguments for and against Brexit pale into insignificance.

We spent years trying to get a peace settlement in Northern Ireland and now we’ve thrown a ruddy great can of petrol over the embers. Since Northern Ireland will no longer be a member of the EU, we’ll have to introduce border controls to stop the immigrants coming in. Anyone with half a knowledge of Irish history will understand that this will be more than enough to antagonise those spoiling for a fight. The Orangemen of Drumcree would rather die than unite with the likes of Sinn Fein. Bloodshed, I am afraid, is inevitable.

So it’s all unravelled in front of us and, as much I think this has been a dreadful, dreadful mistake, I am not calling for another referendum. Democracy has had its way and the voices of those who had been previously ignored have now been heard. I do not blame those who voted for this – they had their reasons and they have to be respected – but I do blame those who led this campaign and peddled nothing but barefaced lie after lie to the British public. We deserved so much better than what we got, and I suppose all we can do now is just get on with it and hope and pray that it all turns out alright.

Tags: Uncategorized

The EU debate

NigelI haven’t written anything on this blog for a while because there hasn’t been much to write about, but I feel that the name of this website/blogsite lends itself well to the current EU debate.

The killing of Jo Cox, the vitriol, the constant bickering about what is and isn’t ‘fact’ is so saddening it should tell us that, as a nation, we’re not as ‘Great’ as we’d like to think we are. We have to face the reality that we’re just very ordinary and, if you are in any doubt about that, take a long look at the poster from the so-called ‘Out’ campaign. In this link you’ll see a picture of ‘poster-boy’ Nigel Farage standing in front of an ad hoarding depicting a long line of immigrants that are, purportedly, desperate to come into our country. They all have brown faces.

If what we are proposing to do, i.e exit the EU, becomes reality, we’ll stop Poles, Lithuanians, Romanians, Hungarians etc coming into our country (unless of course, under Nigel Farage’s points system, they are astro-physicists or doctors who are prepared to go tomato-picking in Peterborough). I live next door to a Polish couple. They are a lovely, hardworking, if slightly insular family with… white faces.

I spoke to a friend who said to me ‘at least Nigel Farage speaks his mind’. I’m not so sure this is a reason to exit the EU because, quite frankly, I don’t particularly like what’s in Nigel Farage’s mind. If you managed to read the previous two sentences and the penny didn’t drop, what we are talking about here is not a control on immigration, it is about fascism.

Don’t get me wrong, people who want out are not fascists and I do respect the opinions of those who have genuine concern about our status and have ultimately made the decision to leave, but this poster leaves me in no doubt about what the underlying message is here from those leading this campaign. This hoarding is designed to appeal to people’s fears and prejudices, nothing more. It’s a monumentally blunt tool and, what is surprising to me, is that people have bought into this lemon without fully understanding what kind of agenda awaits them.

First of all, you have to bear in mind that Farage is a charlatan of the highest order. He appeals to a base instinct: an internal fight-or-flight mechanism where instinct leaves you with no other course of action other than to lash out. Farage is the worst sort of politician: his common-man appeal – drinking bitter in English country pubs – is a façade designed to put you at ease and, if you hadn’t already worked it out, I’d rather paint my hand with fresh blood and put it into the mouth of an extremely hungry lion than side with Nigel.

Then you have to look at the rest of this ragtag bunch. Michael Gove, former education secretary who would have destroyed Britain’s education system had he been allowed to continue, and Boris Johnson, the lovable buffoon, who spent most of his time in the 1990s top-spinning stories about the EU because it pleased the political will of the great and the good at The Daily Telegraph. This threesome is not the ‘team’ I want running my country. I’d have a ‘faceless’ bureaucrat without a political agenda in Brussels every time.

Then let’s consider that main influencer designed to sway the British public for an out vote: The Sun newspaper.  Oh good. This is the organ that blamed Liverpool fans for the Hillsborough disaster.

In terms of the economic impact, I’ll say this. Nobody has any facts about what will happen because nobody knows the future, but my suspicion is that it’ll be a total disaster. Already the stock market is looking nervous and the Pound is in freefall. There is a simple reason for this. Financial experts – and I have said this before – are not experts. They do what everyone else would do. They are cautious when things are bad and bold when things are good and, with Brexit looking like a certainty, don’t expect bold, exciting investment that’ll stimulate/expand our economy in the next few months/years/decades.

Norway should not be held up as any kind of success story either. It’s not in the EU, but still pays a hefty contribution to the EU for free trade, accepts free movement of people and, most importantly, has no seat at the EU table. It’s doing alright for itself, says Farage. True enough, it is doing alright because it has a load of oil, but it still doesn’t have the fifth largest economy in the world. There is a reason we are the fifth largest economy in the world – it’s because we are part of Europe, not in spite of it.

There are other reasons that have all been well-documented, but if you have been living under a rock for three months, you should be aware that if we left we’d have to renegotiate around 50 new trade deals. This is not the work of a day, it takes years.

If you still think it’ll be a walk in the park to negotiate trade deals then think about what we’d be left with in terms of bureaucracy. There’s no avoiding it. Fully functioning societies need rules and we’d have to make them. If you are a UK government department or lawyer, granted, it’ll be payday because we’d have to sink billions into new UK-only legislation allowing them to fill their boots, but if you are the so-called hardworking common man or woman, it’s time to start putting your hands into your pockets to pay for it.

Thing is, the current EU rules can actually help you. I’ll give you one example. A few years ago I was threatened with redundancy because I worked for a production company and the contract had been moved to another supplier. Under EU regulations, the new supplier had to re-employ me. Had it not been for the EU, I would have been out of work. You might believe The Sun’s propaganda about straight bananas, but the EU helps us stay in work, improves our rights as workers and gives us a voice when employers try to take the piss out of us.

In other news, I want to retire… not in this country. I want to retire to somewhere hot in Europe, where I can play golf, wear loose-fitting clothing and get skin cancer. Out of Europe, I’ll not qualify under an ‘Australian-style’ points system because I’ll be too old. Spain won’t want me and after this messy divorce, I doubt Greece will want me either. It’s not looking good for my daughter either – she’ll have no right to live, study or work in Europe if we leave. My personal plans for the future are not looking good, it seems.

To me, the evidence against leave the EU is too strong to ignore: the fact that Farage is a chancer, I’m not confident about the economy, my personal situation will be screwed and there are some useful EU regulations that help us, but all that pales into significance when it has become crystal clear that our country has descended into a mirror image of Donald Trump’s America. It is a society quick to lash out, strongly suspicious and anxious to build walls. Farage is our Trump, but poorer and with less ridiculous hair. The only reason Nigel hasn’t suggested building a wall around our country is that there is a bunch of sea around us and sea is much more effective at keeping the Syrian refugees out.

In some respects there is one thing that gives me hope if we do vote out. It’ll mean we will have no-one else to blame but ourselves. Be careful what you wish for people.

I am the new James Blunt

James Blunt rhymes with munt

James Blunt is riding the crest of a credibility wave after his activities on Twitter. The Poke website has underscored this with its 30 Reasons Why James Blunt Won at Twitter in 2013 story, citing the singer’s deadpan, self-deprecatory put-downs. This has been a revelation to me and as such, I want to follow in Blunt’s footsteps and achieve a reputation where people will say in the street: “Wow, I really thought that Tim Bowdler was a tosser, I really did, but now I’ve been on Twitter and seen that he truly is a funny person, I not only respect him as a writer, but as a person too.”

So, in a bid to head off critics at the pass, here is a nine-point list of my pre-prepared witty ripostes that will surely deter those who seek to bully me and undermine my efforts as a highly respected writer ‘an that.

1. ‘No you are – and so’s your mum.’ (this is my favourite put-down even though I could actually point out in actual fact that I’m neither tall or a homosexual, but I thought this was funnier). RT @troll1: ‘Tim Bowdler is a big gay.’

2. ‘Yes they do.’ RT @troll2: ‘Does anyone still care about Tim Bowdler?’

3. Nobody lets me per se, I just do it of my own accord. RT @troll3: ‘Oh god… who let Tim Bowdler write another column?!’

4. ‘Whateverrrrr.’ RT @troll4: ‘Tim Bowdler is one ugly mother f*****.’

5. ‘I’m going to report you to the police. I’m serious.’ RT @troll5: ‘I want to kick Tim Bowdler… repeatedly… I dont know why’

6. ‘I think you need to get a sense of real perspective there’. (this one’s my second favourite put-down). RT @troll6: ‘Tim Bowdler is not a very good writer.’

7. ‘See, what you are saying is that I have a large penis and that is a compliment. Bet you feel stupid now.’ RT @troll9: ‘Why does Tim Bowdler write like his willy is being stood on?’

8. ‘Stick and stones, loser!!!!!!!.’ RT @troll10: ‘I cannot put into words how much I hate Tim Bowdler’

9. ‘I think that’s more than enough’. RT @liesliesliesnet ‘why you only got 120 followers?’

That’ll definitely shut the trolls up. Of course, I take all this internet stuff really seriously because it enhances my feeling of self-worth. James Blunt may be the king of the ’Twittersphere’ this year, but I am surely the Queen. (Let’s hope The Poke picks this up because they really like the funny stories about people and all that).

Tags: Uncategorized —

Chris Huhne

Huhne: another bloke trying to cover his tracks

Having covered off the Lance Armstrong thing I think it well worth grappling with the other topic that has made the news recently and that’s the complete debacle that is Chris Huhne’s life.

His tale must be an object lesson for us all. The headline on yesterday’s Daily Mail read ‘The man who ran out of lies’ and as much as I find the Mail a somewhat detestable newspaper, it sums up the story very well.

It’s a classic ‘pride before a fall’, story. Sure he had been pipped at the post for the Liberal Democrat leadership by charisma bypass Nick Clegg – a kick in the teeth if ever there was one – and had to work in a Cabinet with people like George Osborne and Michael Gove, but apart from that Huhne had it all.

It’s fair to say that Huhne was living a blessed life. Yes, he had joined the Liberal Democrat party, which is much like joining the Thomas the Tank Engine fan club – a largely pointless exercise – but when he did, he couldn’t have predicted that some day he would have been part of a fully operational UK government that makes proper decisions an’ that.

Huhne rode his luck and you could have regarded him as a success. Indeed, this time last year he was the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, which admittedly, is like being in charge of the laundry, but it was a cabinet post after all. People were even shouting his praises. I read he was a ‘consummate politician’. God knows what that is but it sounds pretty good doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, waiting to rear its ugly head was a lie that would leave his life in tatters. It wasn’t a big fat lie, but big enough to inflict serious damage.

In terms of the offence in question I don’t know what all the fuss is about. In my role as a car journalist I know of at least three people who have got their wives or girlfriends to take their points after being caught speeding by a GATSO. One individual, who I know very well, managed to rack up nine points in a 45-minute period in a Merc E-Class, and because it would have meant a ban, the points went his partner’s way.

In Huhne’s case the decision to pass on the speeding points to his wife was a particularly stupid one. The summons arrived in June 2003 when he wasn’t even a member of parliament. This was a timebomb that would drag him, his ex-wife and his children through the mire.

If you have bothered to look at the story you’ll know that Huhne’s son Peter has been caught in the crossfire. For whatever reason, a series of texts between the two have been part of the documentary evidence. His son, it is fair to say, isn’t particularly generous. Indeed, the phrase ‘Don’t text me you piece of shit’, pretty much sums Peter Huhne’s feelings for his dad.

Now, here’s the thing. First of all, the full text exchange is detailed in the Mail (not my usual choice of journal, I might add) and, as far as I know, pretty much every other news outlet. Yesterday, on Radio Five Live a journalist for the Huffington Post website justified the decision for publishing the entirety of the texts between Chris and Peter Huhne, arguing that it was in the public interest.

Now, I will accept all accusations of hypocrisy here – I have quoted one of the texts in this piece – but a bunch of texts between a father and his son, and the vitriol contained in them is, let’s face it, not in the public interest. It is fascinating, however. It’s fascinating because this kind of dysfunctional behaviour makes us feel better: it lets us know that no matter how messed up our own lives are, they are simply not in the same league as this.

The fact that Huhne got his wife to take the points for a speeding offence is trivial. Yep, it’s not right, but it’s hardly worth getting het up about. No, like Lance Armstrong, it was his insistence that he was innocent that’s the real crime and that points to an unbelievable arrogance that none of us can stomach. Huhne spent two years telling Nick Clegg and David Cameron that he had done no wrong and he even spent up to £500,000 on lawyers in a bid to derail the prosecution and that’s why you can put this man in the same context as Armstrong. Huhne, like many other lying politicians before (Jonathan Aitken, Jeffrey Archer etc) tried to use lawyers to cover their tracks and, as is always the case, the only winners here will be lawyers.

So, it’s a pretty sorry tale and therefore I implore you: if you get caught speeding, suck it up, take your points, drive home to your wife and children and tell them that you love them. It’s just so much easier than a painful, costlier alternative.

Tags: Uncategorized —

Lance Armstrong

Armstrong - one of the greatest liars of all time

I’ve just had a phone call from Lance Armstrong’s agent and, apparently, he wants to sponsor  this site. All I have to do is give a clean blood sample and he’ll pay me a load of money.

Lance Armstrong is one of the greatest liars of all time, second to Jimmy Savile. Like Savile, he conned us big style and, like Savile, we all kind of knew.

Savile was creepy, Armstrong was beyond human but the questions that remained unanswered when these two odious individuals were in their so-called ‘glory days’ are almost as criminal. The bigger the lie, the more they’ll believe it.

I am not putting Armstrong in the same league as Savile – I just need to make that clear. Armstrong is not evil, he’s just fundamentally flawed as an individual, Savile, however,  is a monster.

This morning like millions of others, I watched the Armstrong interview with Oprah Winfrey, and although there is a part of me that respects such a candid outpouring, what amazes me is how devastatingly composed he is. This composure just begs the question: what else is he lying about?

There’s a lot more to this and I suspect there will be many more revelations in the years to come. Lance Armstrong is right when he says his confession has come too late: the lie he has told is just so monumentally massive that it’s hard to get your head around. How can a man win the biggest prize seven times and get away with it?

Lawyers knew, they knew the extent of the lie and they took the money. Armstrong sued everyone who stood in his way. Journalist David Walsh knew the truth and his paper got sued. Armstrong’s relationship with the mirror must have been remote.

Armstrong eventually told the truth because he simply could not ignore the fact that the evidence around him was so compelling. He did not volunteer this information because of some sort of Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus enlightenment. He did it because he had to. The game was up.

The lie was so big that we didn’t really want to hear the truth. So many turned to Lance Armstrong for inspiration, yet that inspiration was founded on deceit and I don’t know if cycling will ever truly recover from this – Bradley Wiggins is leading the sport’s recovery, winning the Tour de France as a clean rider. Of course, I don’t know that for sure, but one suspects that this mess has scarred the sport so badly that it should deter even the temptation to cheat.

I don’t know what to think about Armstrong. Does one forgive and accept the contrition, or do you continue to nail this man to his own personal cross? One finds it difficult to find a place to forgive liars, but we all have to accept that we’ve all told lies, they are just not as big as Armstrong’s. Watching Armstrong, we all see a bit of ourselves in him: the white lies we’ve told and the big fat ones. I just hope we don’t ignore the truth because, without getting over-trite, the truth does set you free. Armstrong’s story proves that.

Tags: Uncategorized —

Brand wheels

The beginning of another pointless brand wheel

Currently, my company is urging us to create ‘brand wheels’ and if there is something else out there that wastes more time, I’d like to know about it.

Middle-management bell-ends are responsible for this and the reason they ask teams to construct brand wheels is because they, absolutely, have nothing better to do.

For the ill-informed, a brand wheel is a thing that’s designed to give employees real focus about what they are doing and help teams create better working environments. It is, of course, utter utter bullshit.

When someone starts talking about brand wheels – I’ve had to do two of these in my lifetime and another one is now beckoning – I start praying for illness. I want the kind of disease that’ll be long enough to disengage me from this laborious, pointless process.

It’s little fun and I’d rather nail my penis to a desk than go to another brand wheel construction, but if you are interested here’s what happens:

Large companies, that are usually top-heavy and full of overpaid tossers with car parking spaces nearest the office, get teams of their workers to take time out from their daily duties and think about constructing a brand ‘wheel’. It usually takes the best part of a day but longer if everyone’s really bored with their jobs.

So everyone congregates in a meeting room. On the whiteboard a circle is drawn and the idea is to fill it with appropriate words in a bid to establish what the company stands for and what its aims are. Hopefully, by recognising the traits in the brand wheel the company can see its strengths and weaknesses and react accordingly.

So, the circle is drawn – usually by the person who secured an A in GSCE Art – and a person with the nicest handwriting is assigned to write down what people shout out. Early in the proceedings people shout expletives in a bid to demonstrate how hernia-inducingly funny they are but once everyone has accepted that this is a serious task ‘for the good of the business’ and more importantly, job security, the brand wheel starts to roll.

After three hours the centre of the wheel details a set of agreed core values. Generic tosh like ‘quality, integrity and good customer service’ is always in the centre regardless of whether it’s a cricket bat factory or a bakery, while the outer segment of wheel details the ways in which these core values extend throughout the business – you’ll get things like, ‘Bert’s good at talking to the clients an’ that’ or ‘Tanya’s good at bringing in cake.’

Once completed, the brand wheel is polished up by a designer who’s a bit of a whiz with InDesign and it’s handed to the managing director who pins it up on his or her wall.

Then everyone gets back to doing exactly what they did before.

Tags: Uncategorized —

Road signage

Simply no idea

Last week the Government announced that it wanted to ‘de-clutter’ the UK’s roads of pointless signage.

This, I think, is a fine idea. There’s too much crap to look at when you are driving. It also distracts you when you are trying to check Facebook, texting or writing emails on your iPhone at speed.

Each day I drive past a sign that says ‘Sign not in use’ – an utterly pointless addition – and that tells me that somewhere along the line we, as a country, didn’t have enough things for people to do so we put things up so that later in the line we’d have to take them down again.

The de-cluttering idea is nothing new, however. The Dutch got ahead of the game after it became abundantly clear that if you take away the motoring equivalent of safety blankets the world would be a safer place.

Hans Monderman, Head of Road Safety for the Northern provinces of the Netherlands in the 1980s, studied incident reports and conventional traffic engineering and he found that a different approach is needed. As a result of his research he set up three ‘naked’ road schemes.

In Drachten, a 17th century Dutch village, a busy intersection handling more than 20,000 vehicles a day featured a gamut of road markings and signs until it was replaced with a roundabout with no lane markings or kerbs separating the street and pavement. By encouraging drivers to communicate with eye contact rather than conventional signals and signs, casualties reduced.

Then, in a busy street used by cyclists, pedestrians and cars in the village of Makkinga, Monderman removed all traffic signs and markings. As a result traffic speeds were reduced to less than 20mph and injuries fell by 10 per cent in the three years following the redesign.

In Oosterwolde, Monderman got to work at a busy intersection, again removing all traffic control features. Speeds and casualties were also reduced.

The same results were achieved at a reworked intersection in Christiansfeld, Denmark, and now people in cars, on foot and on bicycles rely on eye contact as the key safety measure. In the two-and-a-half years since the completion of the scheme, the intersection has experienced no serious incidents.

Last to the party, predictably, is the UK. This country finally caught on and subsequently introduced a shared space scheme in a town called Poynton after a monumentally long study that featured leading questions like 1) ‘Do you like road signs an’ that?’ and 2) ‘Do you keep your mouth closed when you are eating?’

After collating the results from both residents in the area Poynton District Council decided that yes, the town would be a safer place if they removed signs saying: ‘You are what you eat’ and ‘You’ll take someone’s eye out with that’.

Now, Poynton residents drive around people not through them, which sounds great, but Poynton is a duller place for it. I might move in to see if I can run people over without being sued.

Thing is, there’s enough right-wing idiots complaining about nanny states and I don’t wish to add to that complement of dimwits but these examples do underscore their point.

I don’t want to sound like a well-known motoring journalist with stupid hair and bad jeans, but we don’t need road signs. Never have, never will.

Tags: Uncategorized —

Reading on the toilet

It's all wrong

I’ve been given two books this Christmas. One about Greg Wallace and the other is a book about Christianity.

I will read both, but not at the same time because that’s just confusing.

My chosen location for reading will be in my front room. If I’m feeling particularly saucy, I might choose to read in bed.

This is normal, grown-up behaviour.

There are those, unlike me, who will elect to read their Christmas gifts in the lavatory. These are people without self-respect/household seating/noses and if this is a scenario you recognise then I suggest you change your habit.

Why? I hear you ask, Darren.

Well, let’s nail this down. When you need to go to the toilet your one and only task is to release your waste into the bowl, do the necessaries, then leave, closing the door behind you. Of course, conventional wisdom dictates that patience pays off: arise before the taper has kicked in and there will be disastrous results that’ll mean a date with the Domestos and a hasty change of underwear.

If you have followed normal toilet protocol you will have resisted the urge to multi-task. Expanding the mind is acceptable during this process, however. Maybe, in mid-flight you’ll consider your existence, explore your spiritual side – perhaps – and then pray that no-one will visit your toilet within the next ten minutes because if they do, they’ll know full well that the quite horrific odour has been generated by your unfeasibly large turd.

We live in a civilised society where Thomas Crapper blessed us with an invention – the flushing toilet. Prior to this, folk would sit on a bowl, release and then dispense… out of the window. They didn’t stay there and pick up a copy of the Times travel supplement while enjoying the aroma of their own shit.

This modern-day phenomenon should stop and if you are reading this on your iPhone, iPad or other purported time-saving devices while sitting on your WC, then shame on you. Wipe, pull up your garments, flush and decamp to a comfortable chair in a room that smells of roses.

Tags: Uncategorized —