Friday, October 27, 2006


We are off for a weekend of (hopefully) peace and tranquility in the Lake District.

I will try and leave on a positive note, sharing these simple words interpreting the Sanskrit word "Namaste". Here is the interpretation given by the late inspirational writer Leo Buscaglia.

"I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides. I honour the place in you, where lies your love, your light, your truth and your beauty. I honour the place in you, where...if you are in that place in you ... and I am in that place in me...then there is only one of us".

Leo Buscaglia

At its simplest Namaste means "I bow to the divine in you". If practiced world peace would surely be the result............You don't have to be a buddhist or Hindu to understand that. I am neither but find these words quite moving.

Good weekend all.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

This Man thinks we can all live for 1,000 years !!!

Aubrey de Grey- he has a lot of brains as well as beard :-)
(Photo credit-Kevin Perrott )

So, back to the 1,000 year life expectancy question… Good thing or bad thing?

The question was raised when I recently watched an episode of "Time", a series covering a range of issues around that overall subject and presented by the engaging Japanese American Michio Kaku.

This particular episode focused on our own mortality and how this affected our lives. In past ages the rich and famous would sometimes be painted holding a skull to remind them of their own transience and maybe keep their egos in check. These days the approach is a little different- plastic surgery, botox and if this all proves too much- therapy.

This was more philosophical. However, "here comes the science bit", as Jennifer Aniston used to say in shampoo ads. There is apparently no genetic reason why we have to die. Contrary to some earlier theories there is no "program" inside us that says we have to die at 60, 70 or 100. While mice only live a couple of years, parrots can live longer than humans and tortoises can live up to a couple of centuries.

Apart from accidents, war and disease the thing that gets most people in the end is simple "corrosion" or aging. Humans are very good at repairing themselves but this is not effective forever. Hence skin thickens, hair greys, bones thin etc etc.

The "good news" for the future is that need not be inevitable. The "corrosion" is all the effect of free radicals- damaging "bits" that escape from us reducing the effectiveness of our cells, both slowing them down or killing them. The effect of this ranges from the mild (wrinkled skin), the profoundly disabling (Alzheimer's), to the terminal (cancer).

However "a prophet" in the field of studying aging (bio gerontology) is a 43-year old Cambridge scientist called Aubrey de Grey. Mr. de Grey is nothing if unconventional (enormous beard, older wife, fond of a pint) but is also undoubtedly highly intelligent and knowledgeable in his field.

His basic premise is that aging is not inevitable. There is no overriding program that determines we will age and die. Rather there are a range of processes that our bodies suffer that result in corrosion and degeneration. These processes (Mr. de Grey summarises these under 7 distinct problems- see below) could all be either prevented or reversed.

De Grey also feels right is on his side as "aging" broadly kills two thirds of people or 100,000 people a day. So to cure aging would "save" 100,000 people a day.
Of course his theories are not without controversy. While no one alleges de Grey is in this for money, many simply believe that what he suggests cannot be done. All his opponents broadly see aging as bad but inevitable. Others have argued that even if he did succeed de Grey "would surely destroy us in attempting to preserve us" because living for such long periods would undermine what it means to be human.

Not being a scientist it was this argument that had most interest to me. I lack the knowledge to be able to comment on reversing damage to cells but I can take issue with the belief that to be human is to die at 70 or even 100.

I find such a belief patronising and analogous to "well-travelled" middle Englanders who take delight in pronouncing how long is appropriate in a particular holiday destination. Tell one of these "know-it-alls" you are going to Paris and they will say "Oh how lovely. Mind you, you wouldn't want more than a week there. You will have seen everything in a week". ("See everything in Paris in a week " I silently cry incredulously) These people will also advise on 2 week limits for a beach holiday (obviously Robinson Crusoe went wrong here) or a minimum period in relation to more far flung destinations like Australia ("Oh you must go for 3 weeks to make it worth while"). Such statements that come out as ex cathedra pronouncements rather than personal preferences put my back up and I snobbily tell them I once went to Chile for a 4 day visit.

Anyway, to return to life, I find statements that human life is limited to 100 years similar to a suburban philosopher saying "Life as a human being. 70 years is nice but you wouldn't want more than a 100. 110 is too much. Whatever next you'll be spending a fortnight in Rome!"

Aubery de Grey's science may be unproven but if he can do it, I would be up for it. To live 1,000 years would be a gift. Of course it would require flexible attitudes. Assuming you were born a 1,000 years ago you couldn't have got to 500 and say, "I'm afraid I will never be able to get on with anything except the quill pen and the scroll". Equally while you could keep your principles you would have to be tolerant of changing social attitudes. In one lifetime you would deal with the dark ages in your youth, Puritanism, enlightenment, Victorian values to our current relative pool.

Reskilling and education would also be an issue too. If you started as a sword-maker in your 20s, in your 980s you might have to earn your crust in a call centre (ghastly thought!).

All this brings home how mentally programmed we are to dying around "three score years and ten". If we were to live to 1,000 we would want our friends to live for similar lengths (well most of them anyway !) or it would prove difficult to make new batches of friends every 50 years or so.

Maybe the biggest obstacle to a successful 1,000 year life is our attitudes. By our 20s many of us think we know it all. In our current age especially there is a world weary cynicism, "we've seen it all before" attitude. It's not cool to be surprised, even amazed.

Well if Mr. de Grey is right I would like to think I would be happy to learn something completely new on my 383 rd birthday. When we fear age now, we think of decline and illness but if aging could be "cured" we would be as healthy at 650 as at 35.

The only thing that would scare me would be the thought of a few hundred years commuting on the train to Cannon Street Station, London. In fact isn't that a contradiction? If I can "only" hope to live for 70 years shouldn't I be doing something far more interesting as I'm nearly half way through already? Whereas if I was going to live for 1,000 years a mere 40 years on South Eastern trains wouldn't be such a big deal !

Maybe our expectations are too low. We expect our lives to be short (if not "nasty, short and brutish" as Hobbes wrote) so don't make enough effort. Whereas if we had 1000 years, we would surely plan to do something amazing?

Aubrey de Grey has created a vision which may or may not come to being. He married in his twenties a woman who was 20 years old than him. They are still together so maybe he has a vested interest in this theory. He hopes that this generation can "outrun death". By our 50's or 60's the damage to our cells can be reversed to enable us to live to 150. By then science should have advanced further to enable us to reach 300 and so on.

However for many of us maybe the biggest problem is not the coming of death but the loss of dreams and the lack of desire for new thoughts or new insights. If you think you know it all by 25 then of course the prospect of 975 further years may be a little dull. However if your attitude is open and you are interested in life then no period is really too long.

We don't know it all by 25. In fact I am certain I will never know it all. Until my last day, I hope I learn something new every day. For that reason, I would like all the time I can get. Healthy time of course rather than years ill in bed. However as Mr. de Grey's photo shows, no one is yet immune from aging ! So perhaps I had better not count on more than 70 years for now- until some clear evidence to the contrary. In which case time is running out..........


Below are Aubrey de Grey's 7 steps to curing aging:

1. The problem: Cell loss or atrophy
Mr. de Grey's solution: Develop stem cells to replace lost cells. Or use chemicals that stimulate the division of cells to produce new ones.

2. The problem: Cancer
Mr. de Grey's solution: Aggressive gene therapy will make it impossible for cancer cells to reproduce. Stem-cell therapy will prevent side effects.

3. The problem: Mitochondrial mutations
Mr. de Grey's solution: Mitochondria are the cell's power plants, and they house separate genes that are prone to harmful mutations that cause diseases. To prevent those problems, copy the critical mitochondrial genes and insert the copies in the cell's nucleus, where they will be better protected.

4. The problem: Unwanted cells (such as fat cells)
Mr. de Grey's solution: Possibly stimulate the immune system to kill unwanted cells.

5. The problem: Stiffening of proteins outside the cell
Mr. de Grey's solution: Proteins outside cells help support tissues, making arteries elastic and ligaments strong. But chemical reactions throughout life link those proteins and make them less mobile. Specific chemicals could break those links and allow the proteins to move more easily. One chemical is already in clinical trials, says Mr. de Grey.

6. The problem: "Junk" outside the cell
Mr. de Grey's solution: Plaques accumulate outside the cell and may lead to diseases such as Alzheimer's. Small molecules called beta-breakers may break these plaques down.

7. The problem: "Junk" inside the cell
Mr. de Grey's solution: As cells age, molecules can change in ways that make them stop working. Those structures can accumulate in cells and and eventually overwhelm them. Extra enzymes from bacteria could be given to cells to degrade the unwanted material.

More details can be found on his Web site:

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Would you like to live for 1000 years ?

Ironically I have run out of time to answer that question for myself this evening !!!

However a recent TV programme I saw raised this question and I was initially surprised that the general consenus was not "yes".

I am not referring to any religious promise of eternal life here. That is a separate issue and one worthy of far more than a few lines on a blog.

For blog purposes, I am just posing the question- would you like to stay physically alive for 1,000 years ?

Any answers gratefully received.

Hope to be back with my thoughts in the next day or two........

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Timid Britain to be the first home of Two species humans ?

Two different stories have caught my eye in the past week and I wonder if there could be a connection.

First a survey out shows Britons are the least likely "Europeans" (the question of whether Britons are really Europeans can wait for another day :-)) to "correct" or intervene against vandalising youths.

The Institute for Public Policy Research found that of Europeans, Britons would be the least likely to step in if they saw a group of 14-year-old boys vandalising a bus shelter. Only 34 per cent said they would intervene, compared with 65 per cent of Germans ("Vot do you think you are doing ?"), 52 per cent of Spanish and 50 per cent of Italians. Those who said that they would turn a blind eye feared being attacked or verbally abused.

See also,,170-2417126,00.html

This is a shocking statistic but one borne out by anecdotal evidence from friends and colleagues. The general attitude is that it is foolish to intervene against youths for fear of being attacked, stabbed or generally abused. This is the pervasive view in London but not one that would have been shared in rural areas at least when I was growing up in the country 20 years ago.

I feel,media horror stories of "have-a-go" Dads ending up stabbed to death over-state the real risk. In my own case as a home-owner I have had to ask for music to be turned down, fires to be put out or given a stern stare out of the window to prevent noise. I do not consider myself intimidating but have never had any problems from adopting a polite but firm approach.

However the trend of people to be too afraid to intervene is likely to continue in the current climate.

The second story is apparently unrelated but raises a grim prospect at some point in the future.

This is that current human development will eventually lead to 2 distinct "species" of human in around 10,000 years. Racial differences are likely to have been largely eliminated by then but selective breeding is likely to have resulted in one species of tall, intelligent and timid humans and a second species of short, stocky, stupid but wild humans.


The two groups are likely to be in conflict. This story has strong echoes of HG Wells' 1895 novel, the Time Machine when two sub-species Eloi and Morlocks inhabit the earth.

The Eloi are intelligent but timid while the ignorant Morlocks use their strenght to intimidate the Eloi. In suburbs of London it sometimes feels this situation has already arrived.

The fear of "middle England" to tick off its errant youngsters is a warning sign that the time of Eloi and Morlock is coming sooner than we expected.

We have been warned. We should not be intimidated and we should stand up to both vandalising youths or local Morlocks !

Budapest 2006

A case of historical re-enactment Hungarian style. In the UK it is mainly confined to slightly unusual (or weird !) men who dress up in armour on a Saturday morning and head to the nearest castle or fort.

In Hungary the history is a little more recent- 50 years since the uprising against the Soviets. Here they captured a Soviet era tank to take part in the protest against their lying PM. All this was on the 50th anniversary of the original uprising.

Fortunately the casualties were a little lighter this time- about 40 injured compared to 2,600 killed in 1956.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada (and wants us to have a career with a Corporation)**

** original post updated at the request of readers so as not to "spoil" the movie for those who had not yet seen it but wanted to.(apologies, earlier disappointed readers!)

The other evening I was "dragged" by my better half to see a film I viewed as "girlie". This was "The Devil Wears Prada", starring Meryl Streep as the ultimate boss from hell.

Anne Hathaway starred as an idealistic graduate looking for a way into journalism through the fashion magazine, Meryl Streep's character edited.

"Meeting the Boss from Hell........."

Streep was hard, she was cynical but above all she was successful at what she did.
She lead through a combination of fear but also some inspiration to her dedicated employees. Her most dedicated was the unbelievably camp "Nigel" played by Stanley Tucci.

Nigel, expert on all fashion houses from Chanel to Jimmy Choo and sporting an outsized ring with a red stone the size of a small tomato, was born to work at the magazine. It has been his life's ambition and one he achieved.

"The mildly camp....Nigel"

In contrast Andie (Andrea) had no real interest in fashion and was honestly not too bothered about the fact she had a job with "Runway" magazine. She did however possess one key trait- determination. This was her strength that became a weakness.

Despite being completely unsuited to working life at the magazine and initially despising her co-workers for their myopic out-look on life, she was determined not to be forced out. Eventually she realises the only way she will survive at Runway is to appear more like those at the magazine.

Appealing to camp Nigel's humanity, she gets a makeover and miraculously (this is a Hollywood film!) her fortunes begin to change. She slowly wins respect (or at least gets less abuse) from the fearsome boss, Miranda Priestly.

However Andie's new found success comes at a price. Her long hours at the magazine and her obvious changes in attitude undermine her long term friendships and her relationship with her boyfriend.

She is driven to succeed at her job and begins to fail at her life.

When things are getting near rock-bottom on her home front she confides in Nigel "My personal life is hanging by a thread. That’s all."

Nigel has obviously seen it all before and offers scant comfort – "Well, join the club. And that’s what happens when you start doing well at work, darling. Let me know when your whole life goes up in smoke. That means it’s time for a promotion."

This was the key message of the film for me. Fashion was incidental to the overall message. It provided a glamorous backdrop to a film that could have been about anyone making career choices.

It is the dilemma between choosing a corporate career in the hope that it will give you a better life and choosing a life while you still have the chance. (These comments are largely aimed at corporate careers and not more altruistic jobs or work in general!!!)

Of course for a happy (or deluded) few there is no conflict. For Nigel there is no life but fashion. His career is his life and exactly what he wanted in life. Nigel may face a big crisis when it comes to retirement but aside from that there is no problem.

Another minority group have absolutely no interest in a career, do a job to pay the bills and nothing more and live their life spending as much time doing what they enjoy, which is not their work. These people can be found in many places but are more obvious as someone who appears "over-educated" for the job they do e.g. the taxi driver who listens to radio 4, the man at the Post Office with a huge knowledge of politics. In some cases they can get more upscale jobs generally only using a small portion of their energy and intelligence to meet the demands of their employers.

However that is to blurr the edges with the majority who do feel the conflict and have not resolved it. On one hand they see the benefits of a career (basically money if they are being in an honest mood) but the demands of a career do not fit nicely with their main interests (whether it simply be friends and family or something more distinctive from painting to mountaineering). These people are often trying to do a career to pay for their "real" interests. The irony of the situation (and one I share) is that they spend the majority of their time (and certainly energy) doing something that is not their main interest. Their main interest is fitted in on tired evenings or hectic weekends, before going off to their "career" again.

The saddest sub-group are those who do a career they don't really like but this in turn squeezes out all their time and energy so they cannot do anything that really interests them. This is one of the ironies of modern life as if only they could quit the career, they would immediately be happier even allowing for the loss of income.

This was the situation Andie found herself although her determination to succeed blinded her to the fact she didn't really like it. Andie fell far from her initial ideals, split from her long standing boyfriend and upset her friends.

However something stayed alive in Andie that ultimately made her uncomfortable with her career choice. What she does a result of that discomfort, that conflict becomes one of the key plots of the movie, so I shall not spoil that for other potential viewers :-)

The film raised a few thoughts and memories from my time pursuing a "career" although I have never called it that myself.

First when I trained with a global firm of Accountants, I remember a severe partner got sprayed with champagne at an office "away day". A more diligent friend said of the champagne sprayer "That's one career going up in flames". Even then I thought to myself "Is that really a problem for him or more for those who of us who are left?"

In another situation, a "widower" of the firm, I worked (i.e. the husband of a girl who worked at the Accountancy Firm) at the end of yet another "pay day drinks" in a well known Kent town commented wryly to me "Of course I think you've all lost your identity as I always compare this firm to "the Borg" in Star Trek. It sucks out all your goodness and knowledge and uses it for its own purposes". I knew very little about Star Trek but I can confirm that "the Borg" is a overriding collective body that subsumes individuals into the collective.

From more educated sources I gather that the moto of the Borg is "Resistance is futile — you will be assimilated." Sometimes within the collective an "individual" is referred to darkly as "the one who is many". This has been noted to have biblical echoes of the demon possessed man who approaches Jesus "My name is Legion, and we are many". The overall theme is that the individual is erased in favour of the collective. This is viewed as a bad thing from the Bible to Star Trek. Yet that is the basis that many corporations have to operate. There has to be a "corporate identity". People must feel they are "part of" the corporation. Their loyalty is to the corporation and they must share the "corporate values". Most importantly their time and energy must be given to the Corporation. Their friends, family and interests are not intended targets but rather inevitable "collateral damage" if a career is to truly "succeed".

Hence the notion of the Borg is quite appropriate.

A final note in relation to Corporate life and jobs that are not inspiring. My brother often tells a tale of his University Chaplain who was frustrated at the continual trail of people studying interesting and unusual subjects but opting for a career with a well known accounting firm. Disappointed at this he said "There's a whole world out there and what do they do ? Join Coopers and Lybrand !"

So the Devil may wear Prada but I believe that he really wants you opt for a career with a Corporation. That is the easiest way that all your energy, potential and creativity can be used up in a largely futile way. What better way to put a smile on the Devil's face by devoting your life to an organisation that is of little interest and only exists due to the legal fiction of "incorporation".

"Andie" awoke to this situation and made her choices. To find out her choices you will need to see the movie ! However to me today, one thing is clear, I'm still sitting in my office writing about it :-)

"Queen Borg- "I can promise you a good career here"

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Countries I've seen.........

Another internet toy- this site lets you fill in the countries you've visited and comes up with a world map with all those countries coloured red- rather like how the British Empire used to be shown (on British maps!!).

I'm afraid it doesn't distinguish between mere stop over and extensive visiting or living. It looks like a lot of red but Russia and Canada cover a lot of space between them ! I travelled enough in my previous jobs to know the difference between mere travel and actually getting to know and understand a place. I think I would be happy if I'd seen a few less countries but knew a few more a bit better.

The countries I seem to have spent the most time in so far are:

United Kingdom- at least 25 full years from birth to date
Malta- off and on in my first 7 years
Sweden- several months off and on with work

All the others probably range between 3 months in total for somewhere like France to a couple of hours stop-over in Iceland- I'd love to go back for a closer look at Reykjavik........

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

You can do your own map by following the above link....


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Shameless Star buys an African Souvenir

Powerful Comment from Andrea Peyser of the New York Post
Oh and yes I sympathise with what she writes- I just couldn't put this better myself, so reproduce it in full here.............

October 12, 2006 -- NO WORD - yet - on whether Madonna plans to nail her brand-new bouncing boy to a crucifix, live, in concert.

Madonna, the sluttish, egomaniacal mother-of-the-century has topped even her most revolting self. She plans to remove a baby from the loving arms of his dirt-poor father, in one of the most desperate nations on earth.

Madonna has traveled far beyond her bra-baring, intercourse-simulating, public girl-kissing, Jesus-emulating loser antics to grab attention - and flesh.

The one-named wonder, who already has given birth to two children by two different daddies, one of whom she would not deign to marry, has her heart set on raping Malawi.

Days ago, she lined up 12 African boys - tots hand-selected for her perusal. She picked out a 1-year-old, David, to take home in her luggage.

Well guess what? The boy selected in this freakish slave auction is no AIDS orphan. He's got a biological father, plus a granny - but was placed in an orphanage after his mother died. His family loves him. They just can't afford him.

If Madonna possessed a speck of sanity or shame, she would write a generous check. Instead, the boy's father says he is thrilled at the prospect of a wealthy American carting off his progeny.
Madonna should nail herself on her crucifix - for real, this time.

Malawi is making an exception to its law that forbids foreigners from adopting a baby. Living proof that money talks.

Madonna, who at 48 has more undeserved cash than probably sits in the Malawi treasury, agreed to pay big bucks for the transaction.

In exchange for her human package, she will pour $3 million into a center to help 1,000 Malawi orphans.

She'll also spend a mil on a documentary about the plight of children there. Presumably, this plight does not include Madonna's child purchase.

But wait - there's a catch.

Children educated at Madonna's new orphan center and bin for rejected babies will be taught a curriculum based on her pet religion, kabbala.

There is nothing that money can't buy, I suppose. That is except talent and taste - and moral fiber.

Stop this monster!

A Cautionary Tale for Russian Billionaires

There once was a Russian called Roman,
Who made billions from gas that was stolen,
He ran off to England with the cash,
and cheated on his wife-which was rash,
For now his accounts, she can siphon.........

This subject is receiving the sensitive coverage typical of the British tabloids...,,2-2006480201,00.html

The downside of living in a country with press freedom........

Poetry was never my forte so all alternative limericks or rhymes gratefully received !!!

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Power of Love

London, like all cities, sometimes hardens the soul. The pace of life forces us to put up defences just to survive. We start the day pushing or being pushed onto a train. Everywhere is crowded. Everyone wants our time. We are forced to say "no" to hordes of market researchers, pamphleteers and beggars.

We end up complaining every day about the trains, the office, the shops and other people in general.

Then, every so often, if we are fortunate, an event comes along that reminds us we are truly human, reminds us that most of the daily grind is irrelevant whether it is tough or easy and reminds us that nothing matters more than love.

Such an event came this weekend when my wife and I attended the wedding of my best friend in Kent.

Kent is known of "the Garden of England" and despite being the main freight route from the continent of Europe to the UK, it still retains large areas of rural tranquillity all a short drive from London.

For October in England the weather was unusually kind. The wedding ceremony was in a rural church out in fields away from the village. It looked like it had hardly changed in hundreds of years.

More important, even to a jaded Londoner like me, there was a spirit in the air that was powerful and inspiring. It was a spirit of sincere love and hope for the future.

Maybe it was partly due to the fact the groom was a close friend that I felt this more. All the same, while other weddings I have been to have been sincere and happy, I have rarely felt this spirit of love so strongly emanating out of a wedding before. Maybe it was that little Kent church. Maybe it was the blessing of God that the priest made.

Whatever it was, it felt right. Both bride and groom are happy to come from strong families. Maybe the fact they have all four grandmothers is a testimony to the benefits of matriarchal rule :-) (By the same token, the sad demise of all four grandfathers is a reminder of the fragility of male life :-( :-))

It was a happy day of the union of two strong families to celebrate the marriage of one family's son to the other family's daughter.

I have always known that love is the most powerful force in the world. However we all need to be reminded that sometimes. One of the best ways of remembering the power of love is to see it living in two people who commit the rest of their lives to each other. When you see them do that in happiness and sincerity it is really the antidote to all cynicism!I wish the bride and groom well on their future lives together. Going on the feeling of the day, I have every confidence that their future will be long and happy. Thank you for sharing your big day with us and thank you for the inspiration and reminder of what is important in life!

(For those of you who prefer my more complaining posts, I fear that "normal service" will be resumed shortly !)

Friday, October 13, 2006

They keep trying !

I seem to be receiving an upsurge in "West African" or "Nigerian" scam letters by email. I use those terms not out of disrespect to that part of the world but due to the fact the Police often refer to these letters as such due to the fact that vast majority come from that area.

They have a common theme of someone who has come into a huge sum of money (often due to the unfortunate sudden death of a relative). Due to the vagaries of the banking system of that particular nation (hence West Africa) a British (or probably American or European person would be equally suitable) intermediary is required to use their bank account as a transit account for which they will be richly rewarded with a large percentage of the "loot". Obviously full bank details must be provided for this to go ahead.

Obviously the bit they don't tell you is they will empty your bank account and you will never see a penny again.

This has been well publicised so I fail to see how such a scam could work any more. However it must do sometimes as they keep trying.......

Definitely not emails you want to respond to but amusing in their sheer cheek and creativity. I can only assume they work on a few people sufficiently greedy and naive.

Here are a few I have received recently:

My Dear
I am Mrs Salam Ahmed, the manager of bill and exchange at the foreign remittance department Bank Of Africa.

In my department we discovered an abandoned sum of US$14.5M (fourteenmillion five hundred thousand US dollars) in an account that belongs to one of our foreign customer who died along with his family in the 2002 in a plane crash.Since we got information about his death, we have been expecting his next of kin to come over and claim his money because we cannot release it unless some body applies for it as next of kin or relation to the deceased as indicated in our banking guide lines and laws but unfortunately we learnt that all his supposed next of kin or relation died alongside with him at the plane crash leaving nobody behind for the claim.

It is therefore upon this discovery that I now decided to make thisbusiness proposal to you and release the money to you as the next of kin or relation to the deceased for safety and subsequent disbursement since nobody is coming for it and we don't want this money to go into the bank treasury as unclaimed bill.The banking law and guidelines here stipulates that if such money remained unclaimed after four years, the money will be transferred into the bank treasury as unclaimed fund.

The request of foreigner as next of kin in this business is occasioned by the fact that the customer was a foreigner and a Burkina cannot stand as next of kin to a foreigner.I agree that 45% of this money will be for you as respect to the provision of a foreign account , 5% will be set aside for expenses incurred during the business and 50% be for me.Thereafter, I will visit your country for disbursement according to thepercentage indicated. Therefore, to enable the immediate transfer of this fund to you as arranged, you must apply first to the bank as relation or next of kin of the deceased indicating your bank name, your bank account number, your private telephone and fax number for easy and effective communication and location where the money will be transfer.Upon receipt of your reply, I will send to you by fax or email the text of the application. I will not fail to bring to your notice that thistransaction is hitch-free and that you should not entertain any atom of fear as all required arrangements have been made for the transfer.You should contact me immediately as soon as you receive this mail,Trusting to hear from you immediately.

Yours faithfully,
Mrs Salam Ahmed


Dear Friend,


I am the manager of bill and exchange at the foreign remittance department of BANK OF AFRICA. I am writting to seek your coperation over this business deal.
In my department, I discovered an abandoned sum of$15million USD(Fifteen million US dollars)only , in an account that belongs to one of our foreign customers who died along with his entire family in a plane crash that took place in Kenya,East Africa,the Late DR. GEORGE BRUMLEY,a citizen of Atlanta,United States of America but naturalised in Burkinafaso,WestAfrica and contractor with ECOWAS,(ECONOMIC COMMUNITY OF WEST AFRICAN STATES) .

Since we got information about his death, we have been expecting his next of kin to come over and claim his money because it cannot be released unless somebody applies for it as next of kin or relation to the deceased as indicated in our banking guidelines but unfortunately , all his supposed next of kin or relation died alongside with him at the plane crash leaving nobody behind for the claim. It is therefore upon this discovery that I now decided to makethis businness proposal to you and release the money to you via your foreign bank account as the next of kin or relation to the deceased for safety and subsequent disbursement since nobody is coming for it and this money Could go into the Bank treasury as unclaimed Bill.

The Banking law and guideline here stipulates that if such money remainedunclamed after four years, the money will betransfered into the Bank treasury as unclaimed fund.The request for your assistance and maximum co-operation as a foreign citizen to stand as the next of kin in this business is occasioned by the fact that the deceased customer was a foreigner and a Burkinabe cannot stand as next of kin to a foreigner. 30 % of this money will be for you as my foreign partner, inrespect to the provision of a foreign account. 10 %will be set aside for expences incured during the business and 60 % would be for me.There after I will come over to your country for disbursement accoding to the percentages indicated.

Therefore to enable the immediate trnansfer of this fund to you as arranged,you must apply first to the bank as the relation or next of kin to the deceased,indicating your claims and wherein the money will be remitted .
Upon receipt of your reply, I will send to you by fax or email the text of application which you will fill and submit to the office of the foreign remittance director of the bank of africa. I will not fail to bring to your notice that this transaction is stricly confidential and i will use my position in this Bank to effect a hitch free transfer of the fund.
You should contact me immediately as soon as you receive this letter.
Trusting to hear from you immediately.
Please , visit the website below for more informations about the Plane Crash and the tragic death of the deceased and his entire family, Late DR.GEORGE BRUMLEY.

(link deleted)

Your’s faithfully,

These crooks hide behind email on another continent and are incredibly difficult to catch.

The Iceman Cometh ?

It's a warm and sunny day in London and the weekend is forecast to be good too.

Spare a thought then for the residents of Buffalo, New York. Winter really has arrived there with heavy snows.

London is very much a Northern City in world term- 51 degrees North compared to 40 degrees North for New York and 43 degrees North for Toronto. However we normally benefit from a mild gulf stream which means winters are rarely severe. Although snow is still possible here, but much less so than the 1700s when festivals and bonfires were held on the frozen Thames.

As it still feels like summer, I wonder at the snow in more southerly Buffalo and value the last days of summer a little more in case the ice man does indeed cometh.........

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Commuting Chimpanzees..............

Last evening I watched an interesting "scientific" programme on BBC2. It was called "Chimps are People too". Its presenter Danny Wallace set out to show that as humans and chimps share 99.4 % of their genetic make up, they are too close to treat differently- hence Chimps are people too !?

For the record, I disagree. However it was amusing to see the reactions of some "eminent" scientists as he lobbied for this view at a scientific reception. Some entered into philosophical debate while a few fundamentalist type scientists reacted in horror to this attack on "classification" and scientific principles.

There were some more sympathetic scientists and the majority of the film was spent with them. He also visited some trained chimps near Hollywood where there were some dark allegations of cruelty in the training methods.

Most interesting was a near cousin of the chimps, the bonobos, which were looked after by a female scientist near Atlanta Georgia. The most able of these were able to cook themselves a pot noodle using a saucepan and gas burners. They had also been trained to use a special computer so could actually have a short "conversation" with Danny Wallace using this.

These are clearly very intelligent animals but not humans. Genetically they are only 0.6% different from us but that is an important 0.6%. One geneticist said the disappearance of a particular gene had allowed the human skull to expand mean its brain was 3 times bigger than a chimp. Chimps have some form of language but it is not as rich as ours.

However the ultimate evidence again human status seemed to be their attitude to each other. While they were able to cooperate for mutual benefit and in an experiment one chimp unlocked another chimp to help with a rope that pulled in bananas, the same chimp did not release the other chimp when he could get the bananas independently.

In short Chimps are not human because they have no moral concern for the welfare of fellow chimps (apart from their own offspring). A chimp will quite happily eat 2 bananas in full view of another chimp that it could unlock and share with. Although appealing in many ways, Chimps are ultimately selfish and cooperate only when there is an obvious gain from doing so. Chimps are not kind and do not practise altruism.

I was happy with this conclusion until I got to the train this morning. Then I witnessed the usual free for all as the doors opened and people rushed for seats. Suddenly I realised the programme could have had the wrong approach. While it said "Chimps are People too", a short commute in London would raise the possibility "People are Chimps too"?!

These chimps read newspapers and listen to I-pods but they are grimly happy to sit while others stand. They push each other out of the way to get out of the train. Occasionally an alpha male cries out in anger when someone invades his space too much.These chimps, like all chimps, can cope with automatic ticket barriers but as commuting chimps no one is bothered about the others and hardly anyone looks at or speaks to each other.

Railway worker chimps man (or "chimp"?) the barriers at the station and grunt as they let someone whose ticket doesn't work, through the barrier.London can make us all chimps sometimes but then someone falls over and a few of us rediscover our humanity as we try and help.In a way our daily commutes are little more than learned exercises that could easily be done by Chimpanzees. Maybe some of our jobs could be performed by Chimps too? (I've certainly met a couple working as real estate agents before !)

London, like most big cities, can be hard and uncaring sometimes. We loose something of our humanity and forget about others. To the visitor it can be daunting. I remember how a New Zealand colleague in my previous job said how on his first visit to London it took him 15 minutes to get out of Oxford Circus underground station because he had never moved in such a crowded confined space before. The local chimps were obviously oblivious to the visitor's plight and kept on moving as a fast flowing torrent, with the newcomer sticking close to the walls of the station.

Now I certainly believe that none of us are really chimps even if sometimes we act like it. However the next time you commute, try to remember that you are 0.6% different from a chimpanzee. And it's rude not to share your bananas with hungry neighbours !

Monday, October 09, 2006

Corporate Thought Police

"Now what I want to know is who the other 8 percent are?"

My colleague, a father of two and long time resident of the South London suburbs and Essex-born, laughs at the possibilities his statement raises.

We are talking about "diversity". To a simple soul like me diversity used to mean "variety". Someone could have "diverse interests" meaning they had many hobbies and participated in many activities. "Bio-diversity" could be found in a rain forest with many exotic species of parrot or plants. Diversity in these cases is an accident of nature or the choice a "renaissance man".

However increasingly in corporations "Diversity" (with a capital D) is becoming a requirement to "tick the box" and show that the particular corporation "cares" or has "corporate social responsibility".
Diversity now is all about the requirement to have "x" percentage of ethnic minorities, "x" percentage of gays etc etc.

This is ironic, as most people from communists all the way to arch-Monetarists will agree that the only "purpose" of a corporation is to generate profits for its shareholders. A corporation is not there to care or change the world unless of course being seen to "care" or change the world helps its profits in some way.

Technically I do not work for a corporation but for a partnership. However in a way the partners are shareholders and the aim is to generate profits for them just the same.

So, back to my colleague and the 8 percent…. We were having a Friday afternoon discussion about diversity. It had been sparked by one of the managers responsible for purchasing telling me he had had an enquiry from a Partner about whether we enquire with our suppliers with regard to their policy on anti-discrimination on the grounds of "sexual orientation".

The answer at the moment is "no". We do not ask a computer company- what are the prices of your computers and more to the point what is your anti-discrimination policy for gays?! However corporations are increasingly asking each other about their diversity policies, before they will do business with one another.

I had located a survey on our intranet that claimed 92 % of our employees were heterosexual. This information had allegedly been obtained by a survey. Quite how this information is supposed to benefit the Partnership is a mystery to me, but it did raise the question in my colleague's mind- "who are the 8 percent?". I doubt the discussion of this question was the purpose of the survey !

So why is this happening? Why are corporations suddenly concerned about how many gays work for them and how they can prove they have an anti-discrimination policy in place ?

"Diversity" is to be distinguished from the legislation that came to the UK in the 1970s against racial and sexual discrimination. This was government legislation designed to prevent discrimination against two groups seen as being at a disadvantage in the British workplace. Corporations were required to comply with this.

"Diversity" goes far beyond this. In many ways an inclusive approach by corporations can be welcomed. As the early pioneers of Diversity often pointed out, it is in the best interests of the corporation that their work force at all levels reflects the make up of their customers.

However when it comes to less obvious characteristics such as sexual orientation, I would question what an earth a corporation is doing spending a lot of time and resources ensuring that minorities are both identified and promoted ?

I am aware of little if any gay-discrimination in the context of an office- especially in London. I also fail to see the benefit of identifying gays in the workforce and ensuring their numbers are built up to an "acceptable" level.

This is largely a product of the tide of political correctness that started in some local authorities in the 1980s and the resulting "Diversity industry" as "PC" goes corporate.

I previously worked for an American mega-corp that had an established Diversity policy which made all the right noises but in reality achieved little. My impression there was that the Diversity department was a safe haven for the work shy who wanted an easy life but still to get some level of promotion within the company. There were various initiatives including a Gay and Lesbian car which predictably became the butt of some jokes from less enlightened colleagues.

Since then, a friend working for a leading global banking corporation has informed me of a more aggressive brand of "Diversity". "Champions" for women, ethnic minorities, older workers and gays have been required from each department. The failure to find a "gay champion" within my friend's department lead to a serious email from management stressing the importance of the initiative. Eventually a straight member of staff was press-ganged into taking that role.

Later, someone was pulled up for referring to the "disabled toilets". It should have been "enabled facilities". This highlights the point at which an anti-discrimination policy turns into thought policing.

In a sense, corporate work-places represent the ideal environment for thought police. No one wants to get too out of line for fear of their pay rise, promotion and ultimately job prospects.

Staff with limited ability, who would not have made it elsewhere in a corporation, take leading roles in the Diversity department. They lack the intellect to debate these points with so it is a question of obey or be marked as a trouble maker. Therefore disabled toilets must become "enabled facilities". The majority must look on passively as a "gay champion" is nominated without any desire or enthusiasm from members of staff or all orientations.

Furthermore, corporations begin to sponsor gay carnivals and similar events. The bank my friend works for is sponsoring some "gay hero" awards as well as carnival floats in the UK gay capital of Brighton.

This does not seem to help anyone in my opinion but ultimately leads to resentment from the majority that there is not such a fuss made of the straight, the white or the males.

I am not writing in support of discrimation. However I do write against "Diversity" in its aggressive corporate forms. People go to work to earn a salary. The majority do not even want to fill out a form saying if they are gay or straight, so that some middle manager can compile statistics. Least of all, no one likes being told what to say or think. Of course people should be civil and polite to their co-workers but correcting grown adults as they make a passing reference to disabled toilets?! Where will it all ends?

Recently some firemen from Newcastle in the North of England were disciplined for refusing to attend a gay-pride event because as family men they felt uncomfortable. "Conservative" councillors in Greenwich, London held a gay-only surgery. I fail to see how fire safety or local council problems are different for gays.

Now in corporations up and down the UK, politically correct enforcers are promoting their views to the captive audience of staff afraid for their jobs.

Some political correctness is ultimately contradictory. Back to the bank again, which promotes both "gay heroes" and "shariah mortgages" for muslim customers. I think the non-entities who work in the Diversity Department completely fail to see the irony of promoting "gay heroes" and shariah law at the same time. That makes these people even more zealous and dangerous in that their often limited abilities means they fail to see any wider context or history for the views they promote.

Anyway, this is all at an early stage where I work but if things continue as they are I fear it is only a matter of time before gay champions are requested, we are told what to think and the thought police come knocking.

Wake up, UK Inc, you are there to earn money for your shareholders! Somehow you got into this strange competition to prove who was the most "Diverse". It is going too far and getting too out of touch with the general population. Look at those who work in the Diversity Departments. Do you see your most able employees in there? I doubt it. Well cut the rest of us some slack. Treat us like adults and allow us to speak and think as we do outside work. As for gay heroes, there are plenty of wealthy private citizens who would be more than happy to sponsor them! It's not the place of a bank to do that. Finally, make your Diversity policy consistent. Gay heroes and shariah law? I don't think so. Don't take my word for it- ask the Taliban if they have a Village People album?!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Monday morning therapy !

Aahhhhhgggg- it's nearly Monday morning. Well I felt like that in my last job anyway.

Still for those of you looking for a brief distraction I can recommend uploading a photo of yourself into this website where using the latest face recognition technology (allegedly) they will come up with the celebrity faces most like your own.

In my case they seem quite a range:

Steve Buscemi (actor)
Rowan Atkinson (actor- well Mr. Bean- great !)
Ashlee Simpson- a flattering if unexpected comparison !
Alexander Lukashenko- Dictator of Bylorussia !
Travis Tritt- aging rocker
Raoul Bova- Italian actor !
Joshua Jackson- former Dawson's Creek hunk
Harold Wilson- former British Prime Minister

Conclusion: Concerned about Mr. Bean and Alexander Lukashenko. The other chaps I've hardly heard of. My genes definitely come out better in female form :-) I'll never look at Ashlee Simpson in the same way again :-)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Allegiance and Duty Betrayed

I was honoured this week to have my earlier thoughts on the Amish people in the aftermath of the School room tragedy, included in a US blog- "Allegiance and Duty Betrayed".

It is a political blog but I can recommend it as an interesting read for anyone with a political interest that wants an American view beyond the "Washington Beltway".

Thank you to Joanie for including my thoughts on her blog.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Prince Philip Gaffe Log !

For a bit of light relief I recommend reading a few of the choice comments of HRH Prince Philip- husband of the Queen !!!!

"I am actually a large piece of cheese". (1953)
To Francesco De Burgemile, upon hearing of her whimsy of gullibility.
"Where did you get that hat?" (1953)
To his wife, the Queen, immediately after her coronation
"The only active sport I will follow is polo - and most of the work is done by the pony". (1965)
"British women can't cook". (1966)
"The bastards murdered half my family." (1967)
When asked if he would like to visit the Soviet Union
"What do you gargle with - pebbles?" (1969)
Said to Tom Jones after the The Royal Variety Performance
"Everybody was saying we must have more leisure. Now they are complaining they are unemployed". (1981)
Said during the 1981 recession
"You must be out of your minds". (1982)
To Solomon Islanders on being told that their population growth was 5% a year
"You are a woman, aren't you?" (1984)
Said in Kenya to a native woman who had presented him with a small gift.
"If you stay here much longer, you'll all get slitty-eyed". (1986)
Said to British students in China
"If it has four legs and is not a chair, has wings and is not an aeroplane, or swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it". (1986)
Said at a World Wildlife Fund meeting
"Your country is one of the most notorious centres of trading in endangered species in the world." (1991)
Said in Thailand after accepting a conservation award
"You can't have been here that long - you haven't got a pot belly". (1993)
Said to a Briton in Budapest, Hungary
"Aren't most of you descended from pirates?" (1994)
Said to an islander in the Cayman Islands
"How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?" (1995)
Said to a driving instructor in Scotland
"If a cricketer, for instance, suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat, which he could do very easily, I mean, are you going to ban cricket bats?" (1996)
Said amid calls to ban firearms after the Dunblane shooting
"Bloody silly fool!" (1997)
Referring to a Cambridge University car park attendant who failed to recognise him
"You managed not to get eaten, then?" (1998)
Said to a student who had been trekking in Papua New Guinea
"It looks like it was put in by Indians". (1999)
Said after he saw a poorly constructed fusebox
"Deaf? If you are near there, no wonder you are deaf." (1999)
Said to young deaf people in Cardiff, referring to a school's steel band
"Oh! You are the people ruining the rivers and the enviroment". (1999)
Said when he met three young employees of a Scottish fish farm
"Oh, it's you that owns that ghastly car - we often see it when driving to Windsor Castle." (2001)
Talking to Elton John after he told Prince Philip that he had sold his gold Aston Martin
"Do you still throw spears at each other?" (2002)
To an Aboriginal man on Australia's Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
"You were playing your instruments, weren't you? Or do you have tape recorders under your seats?" (2002)
Said to a children's band in Australia
"Do you know they have eating dogs for the anorexic now?" (2002)
Said to a blind woman with a guide dog
"If you travel as much as we do you appreciate how much more comfortable aircraft have become. Unless you travel in something called economy class, which sounds ghastly". (2002)
Commenting during the Jubilee tour
"The problem with London is the tourists. They cause the congestion. If we could just stop tourism, we could stop the congestion." (2002)
Commenting on the London traffic debate after mayor Ken Livingstone launched his plan to charge motorists £5 to enter the city
"French cooking's all very well, but they can't do a decent English breakfast." (2002)
Aboard the floating restaurant 'Il Punto' on the river Orwell in Ipswich, after thoroughly enjoying an excellent full English breakfast (Il Punto is owned by Frenchman Regis Crepy)
"It is surprising the way things have changed since I first became chancellor of a university 50 years ago." (2003)
Source: Opening a new research centre at the University of York
The statement was widely misrepresented as referring to the University of York itself, rather than the University of Edinburgh, of which Prince Philip is Chancellor. (The York Chancellor at the time was Janet Baker, and the university was celebrating its fortieth anniversary.)
"It doesn't look like much work goes on at this University". (2005)
Overheard at Bristol University's BLADE (Bristol Laboratory for Advanced Dynamic Engineering) facility, which had been closed in order that he and the Queen could officially open it
"You look like you're ready for bed! "
Said to the President of Nigeria, who was dressed in traditional robes
"Never pass up a chance to go to the loo or to take a poo. "
When asked his secret for dealing with public appearances
"If people feel it has no further part to play, then for goodness sake, let's end the thing on amicable terms without having a row about it."
On sentiment against the British monarchy
"If you see a man opening a car door for a woman, it means one of two things: it's either a new woman or a new car!"
Edinburgh: "And what exotic part of the world do you come from?"Lord Taylor: "I'm from Birmingham". (1999)
An exchange with Lord Taylor of Warwick, who is black
"Shut up woman, otherwise I'll turn you out of the car!"
Said to the Queen in the presence of Countess Mountbatten of Burma whilst Prince Philip was driving at high speed through Windsor great park and the Queen insisted he slowed down - Gyles Brandreth's Philip and Elizabeth
"Brazilians live there"
Prince Philip on the "key problem" facing Brazil
"Do we need ear plugs?"
At the Royal Premiere of the James Bond film Die Another Day, on being told that Madonna sung the theme song.


Pennsylvanian Values

Last year I had the privilege to visit rural Pennsylvania during my previous job.
I flew to Baltimore from London and then drove to visit the factory of the company I worked for in Hanover, Pennsylvania.

Hanover may be an unremarkable small town in the US, but if it is representative of Pennsylvania as a whole I think there is much to be positive about:

1) Feeling of space- countryside all around
2) Despite being quite a small town it had good shops (by English standards at least!)- a "Golden Mile" of stores and diners. Good prices compared to London.
3) Warm friendly people- definitely not used to that in London!
4) Great customer service- people more than happy to help and friendly with it too. Compare that to the grumpy "jobs worth" approach in many an English restaurant or café.
5) Strong emphasis on the family- "Hanoverians" seem to have a lot of kids compared to this side of the pond.
6) Feeling of community- strong local churches and other organisations. Hanover really felt a "Christian town" compared to anywhere in Britain or Europe.
7) Some quaint practises- like an Italian restaurant with no liquor licence!

As a visitor, Hanover felt like a nice town to live in and grow up. There was still a sense of innocence there. Maybe I had rose tinted spectacles on and in reality people get bored and move away.
However at this time when Pennsylvania is in the news for a tragic reason, I just wanted to salute that State for its good things. Small town America is very different from the America we see in the media. In an age when the world seems against America it is well to remember the good things and good people in towns like Hanover and states like Pennsylvania.

The simple dignity and humbling forgiveness of the Amish People

Whoever hears of the story of the school room massacre of 5 Amish girls, is surely not only struck by the tragedy but also by the forgiveness of the Amish people which seems simply astounding.

I know little about the Amish and the bit I do mainly comes from the film "Witness" staring Harrison Ford. In that film a young Amish boy witnesses a brutal murder and is hunted by those behind the murder. Harrison Ford's character, a policeman, knows too much about the murky circumstances and after helping the boy to safety is forced to seek sanctuary with the Amish.

The Amish come across in the film as a strong and stoical people but also profoundly good. They reject the modern world and live without cars and electricity. There is nothing threatening about this rejection. It is a choice and their lives do not suffer as the result of such decisions. They simply want to live away from the modern influences of the world, in accordance to their beliefs.

Yet they accept the world around them and do not seek to spread their lifestyle. They are no Christian taleban seeking to impose on others. Above all they want nothing more than to be left alone to get on with their lives.
It is so sad, therefore, that a maniac sought to show them the very worst side of the modern world. Yet the compassion of the Amish to the wife and family of the killer shows the true nature of these people.

They believe that it is not their place to judge others- judgement can come only from God. "Judge not for ye shall be judged".

The Amish are an inspiration even if their morality and forgiveness sets a standard few of us in the wider world could meet. They live in a world without cars, electricity and few other modern conveniences. Yet their sense of community and strength of spirit shows a richness rarely found elsewhere.In a sense they are the ultimate environmentalists, leaving hardly any "carbon footprint" in their natural lives. However their education is strong- the class that were massacred were learning German, the language of their forefathers. Compare that to the rest of the US and the Anglo-Saxon world that is mainly linguistically illiterate.

The Amish have known persecution in their history. Now their separateness and distinctive dress make them an object of curiosity in the modern world.
Yes in this great metropolis of London amid the bustle and chaos of urban life, where only this week railway ticket collectors attempted to throttle a fare-evading passenger, I believe we could all benefit from being a little closer to the lifestyle, values and beliefs of those Amish people in rural Pennsylvania. Maybe their separateness and decision to stay off the roller-coaster of modern life gives them a sense of balance and perspective that we are missing. They are unaffected by the soap opera of politics and celebrity and adhere to timeless values. Above all they are true to their beliefs. I find them a humbling inspiration.

God bless the Amish people. Link to website maintained by friends of the Amish people in Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Brutal Kings

This story seems strikes me as surprisingly disturbing. After all they are "just animals" but that lions have somehow "learned" to attack elephants, just doesn't seem right..........,,7-2386134.html

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

South Park Smug Alert

Details of my all time favourite "South Park" episode. The smug alert I referred to in my previous post plus George Clooney's infamous Oscar acceptance speech. (Clip) (full episode hosted on Youtube)

The ascent of Waitrose Man- keeping up with the "ethical" Jones's in the Twenty-First Century Supermarket.

As David Cameron's new Conservatives hold their Conference in Bournemouth, he is keen to appeal to the "fashionable middle classes" (assuming that phrase isn't a contradiction in terms!). The key to electoral success is seen as winning the hearts and votes of those middle classes who both aspire to wealth but also care….. or at least care that they are seen to care.

This important electoral demographic has already been described (tongue in cheek) as the "waitrose voter". For my purposes I will refer to the more evolutionary correct variant as "Waitrose Man".
Being at the top of the evolutionary tree he obviously knows himself to be above such variants as Neanderthal Man or the more recent Mondeo Man. A look along any British High Street shows however that both species still flourish in large numbers!

Of course I jest. To be a Waitrose Man is not an accident of birth or evolution- it is a choice and apparently an increasingly popular choice.
Let me first describe the general characteristics of Waitrose and Waitrose Man before explaining my doubts about whether he does in fact represent the pinnacle of civilisation and caring social conscience that he would like to think he is.

Why Waitrose?

Waitrose Man takes his name from the UK supermarket chain of Waitrose. Waitrose remains one of the smallest UK supermarket chains with only around 4% of total market share (giant Tesco has 30 % with Sainsburys and Asda on approximately 15 % each). Nonetheless Waitrose is deceptive as a minnow. Its market share has been consistently growing for the last 5 years (no mean achievement in the hugely competitive UK market) and while other supermarkets often have to resort to price cuts to hold customer share, Waitrose manages to grow share while still charging more for nearly every line including necessities like bread, milk and bananas.
Waitrose in undoubtedly a strong brand name and builds its reputation on the basis of perceived "quality". In many cases it stocks some unusual items which due to rarity are expensive too. In one of the main London branches I once saw an "unusual" loaf of bread that cost £4. Of course that is an exception but even the normal lines usually cost a few pence more.

In recent years Waitrose has moved beyond selling good food and a few specialist lines to marketing itself in terms of aspirational lifestyle.

Waitrose has moved from being a small quality retailer focusing on the more leafy towns to being a badge of status to the metrosexuals, the vocal socially concerned, the Observer readers who also work for a big corporation, the food snobs and the West London wannabees. In 2005 the Waitrose Foundation was formed. This is the corporate social responsibility trumpet that they can blow themselves. It is all about special stickers on avocadoes and lemons that mean funds will be set aside for school (s?) and crèche in South Africa when these fruits are purchased.

Essentially Waitrose is trying to say to a certain section of the middle classes- "Come shop with us. Let us take away the guilt of your poor Volvo driving souls. Let us put balm on your conscience that you are wealthy and live in Windsor*, Putney* and Mill Hill* while others are poor and cannot. Ye workaholics of Canary Wharf*- it is ok. Ye workaholics and drinkers from the trendy bars of Balham*- buy your Chianti from us and even Hannibal Lecter can enjoy his fava beans and census taker's liver in peace. We know you feel guilty as you drive your 4x4s and polar bears drown in the melting ice flows but if you buy a lemon with a special sticker on you will be giving 10 pence to a school in South Africa- when your friends see that at the next dinner party you can look them straight in the eye". (*all locations of Waitrose stores)

What's more Waitrose is moving the supermarket beyond the realm of just shopping. It is now a place of leisure and dining too. One of the leading branches that I have been to at London's Canary Wharf contains a bar for freshly squeezed fruit juices, a sushi bar as well as a café which certainly doesn't offer the £1.99 breakfasts you could find in more proletarian supermarkets cafs. No- this is for people who know their coffee and want to luxuriate a minute while they read their Observer, all with a clear conscience that they are doing all the possibly can to help the world unlike those lesser mortals who shop elsewhere.

All this has brought Waitrose a long way since 1904 when Wallace Waite, Arthur Rose and David Taylor opened their first small grocery shop in Acton Hill, West London. Quite appropriate roots for the store that now represents the badge of middle class social snobbery borne originally in West London !

Who are the Waitrose Men (and women)?

I have already briefly described some of the characteristics that Waitrose Men possess as well as some as their more obvious habitats.

However let me also say that not every one who shops in Waitrose is "Waitrose Man". Many older Waitrose stores exist in polite but dull suburbs of "nice towns". These are often situated in geriatric ghettoes and mainly cater to the well-healed coffin-dodging community. These senior customers have little in common with the socially concerned workaholics or West London posers who shop at the newer stores.

So I will focus on describing a typical Waitrose Man (and woman). They are generally younger but not too young-broadly in their thirties but ranging between late 20s and early 50s. Despite what they may say to the contrary they are all middle class. If they are not middle class they are either lying or lost or both. (Britain is one of the few countries where some people much prefer to be seen as working class and will argue against any middle class title despite the presence of a BMW on their driveway). They are nearly all quite wealthy (relative to the rest of the country) and are either successful "salarymen" or a running their own business. They like to think of themselves as having a social conscience. This excludes the wealthy but genuinely ignorant who've never given a second thought to global warming, global poverty or AIDS. "Philistines" may shop at Waitrose but they will never be "Waitrose Men". Due to their social conscience they would like to think of themselves as politically moderate- not exclusively left of centre but certainly embarrassed by "loadsamoney" Toryism of yesteryear. A decade ago they would have been new Labour almost to a man but now are more scattered politically with "Cameroons" anxious to recruit them.

In terms of appearance they are generally rather self-consciously informal- particularly at weekends when shopping. It's all cargo pants, combat trousers and flip-flops for him- and largely the same for her too ! "Trendy" t-shirts abound. Che Guevara is probably a little too naff and obvious these days so maybe some Chinese characters, an unusual Canadian town or failing that some phrase in a hip foreign language such as Spanish.

Children are optional but where they exist they are treated like little emperors. Bulky "humvee" style push chairs clog the aisles laden with enough equipment for an Everest expedition. A copy of the Observer may be seen secured in the webbing at the back of the pushchair. There is a trend for 3 wheelers- my correspondent on the subject tells me a company called "Maxi-cosi" has a near monopoly on this market. Annoyingly the parents may be sipping coffees as they progress round the store- maybe Americano for him and skinny latte for her.
The other obvious characteristic is that at present they are pretty satisfied with life in general and themselves in particular.

What's Wrong with all this? What is my problem?

In writing about Waitrose man I am forced to admit that he possesses many positive characteristics. He is educated, thoughtful, aware of the wider-world and civilised. So what if he is a bit self-righteous and smug? Yes, sometimes he is a hypocrite too. He may sometimes ride a bike to the office but clogs the roads and pollutes excessively with his 4*4 on the school run.
He may buy organic eggs but smacks his fat lips as he chomps his way through the suchi sucked up unseen by industrial fishing vessels that decimate marine populations.
Yet he tries to do something positive while many others do nothing at all.
I think my main problem with Waitrose Man is he only makes a token effort and he makes such a lot of noise about that token effort. Just because he can afford it he doesn't mind paying a few more pence for his lemons while this would be more of an issue to the less prosperous. But building one school in Africa from all this "lemon money" will not really change much at all.My concern is less that Waitrose shopping is pretentious but more that it makes its shoppers self-satisfied. Ultimately Waitrose is just another supermarket chain, a corporation gaining more customers by appealing to their sensibilities. Shopping at Waitrose won't change the world, it won't change any system but it may just give some well-educated, well-intentioned people the excuse they need to carry on as they are. Waitrose Man is most dangerous because of his lost potential. Waitrose Man knows there is much wrong with the world as it is. He knows about Global Warming, poverty and AIDS but when he goes to Waitrose he allows himself to feel good about himself and better than the hoi-polloi who shop in Tescos and elsewhere. He allows himself to become self-satisfied, even intoxicated by the smell of his own farts (see South Park and the Smug Episode involving George Clooney's acceptance speech).
Pigeon-holing yourself or others by the supermarket you shop at is all rather vulgar and shallow in any case. So "Waitrose Man", I promise to stop calling you that if you do something constructive in your life. If you won't, at least don't pretend that shopping at a certain supermarket makes you better than those who don't.

Waitrose Men of the world wake up- you have nothing to loose but your avocadoes!