Jodpur Sati

The city is sprawling, vibrant and overwhelming.  No more than Ajmer and less than Jaipur but still blanketed in smog and echoing to the call to prayer from its many minarets, and its bustling streets are even more full of animals than people, who flow like rivers through the excrement and rubbish and dust, on foot, and scooters, and bicycles and in tuktuks, and cars or camel pulled carts, always trying to get somewhere without regard for order. Tethered goats rummage in plastic bags for  fruit skins, and bullocks wander aimlessly searching for greenery which doesn’t exist here. The packs of street dogs are fighting or sleeping or feeding their pups, and thousands of people are crowding and milling and selling and joking and begging, and their children are calling us with ‘hallo’ and ‘namaste’  for rupees,  or ask for selfies, and ‘what country?’ to find out who these aliens are who are crazy enough to wander between them. Rats in families or hords beneath the pathways with their open sewers are trying to make some impression on the river of shit they live in and off.

The King’s Retreat guest house, in the shadow of the towering fort, is a strange combination of backpacker’s dive and Moroccan Riad, and would be no retreat for a king in any state of exile. It has a roof terrace restaurant which sells pizzas delivered from the cafe next door and which seem to have some exotic appeal to the hip Indian boys that come to smoke from the hookah and drink the Kingfisher.  Sold in cans, it is billed separately, as the place is clearly not licensed.  And the Kings Retreat is overseen by the Mehrangarh Fort, an immense hilltop sandstone edifice containing all the comforts the 17th century could offer the Maharajas, and all the privacy their wives and daughters in Purdah required, as they sat behind intricately carved stone latticework windows, observing their men in audience with his highness. The audio tour is narrated by an Indian acadamic with 1950’s Queens English and pride to match.

By the main gate is a plaque of hands sculpted in the stone wall, painted red.  Each hand was carved for a maharani whose husband had died.  As the funeral procession passed the plaque, she would impress her palm to the wall, making a print of henna, and  in prayer, with her procession of bearers and maidservants and elephants, she would be led to the maharaja’s pyre, to sit silently as she was engulfed by the flames to be burned alive in an act of Sati.  There are 30 hands in the plaque, and apparently, the last was added in 1847, though for each maharani this commemorates, how many ordinary Hindu women were burned alive, and for how long after the practice was outlawed in 1827?

Across town is Umaid Bhawan Palace, the Last royal palace for the surviving maharaja, with its 347 rooms full of opulent art deco furniture and pre-Raphaelite style paintings by a Polish emigre who escaped WW2 to serve the Man with a Rolls Royce which had an elephant motif on its bonnet. The palace is now a hotel, not the King’s retreat, and B&B is just 45,000 rupees a night (€630)…

It’s a city of contrasts and inequities.


New Year in Jaipur

I’m feeling strangely unexcited by the prospect of a dinner-dance new year celebration in this brash over-rated, impersonal and over-priced hotel in Jaipur.  It was obligatory and by local standards, exorbitant.  For the 6,000 Rupees we had to pay, you could buy 20,000 bunches of bananas, 30,000 litres of bottled water, 12 days full time tuktuk transport with driver… or, more reasonably, feed a local family well for two months.  We could have cancelled the hotel, which would have meant finding somewhere at the last minute, but avoiding the roof terrace drinks and Bollywood dress code and the pounding drum-n-bass disco.  But then how else could we discover what the Jaipurian middle-class is doing?  Since we last set foot in India, two years ago, prices don’t seem to have shot up, but the ratio of taxis to tuktuks and of tuktuks to rickshaws, of motorbikes to bicycles, has risen.  The air is even more full of fumes, the streets even more congested with mayhem, but perhaps fewer kids are running barefoot in the excrement.  The piles of smoking rubbish are topped with rummaging piglets, goats, skinny dogs and scrawny cows, but not humans.  Tens of thousands of Indian youths clambered over the Amber Fort to get their selfies, and the selfie-stick sellers outnumbered the trinket-vendors two to one. The camera-phone is top of everyone’s list this year, and the only shops in town are banksor mobile phone shops. Did these tourists want to know about the fort?  I was investigating the Turkish bathhouse which some eighteenth century Maharajah had had carved from marble and overheard one selfie-taker comment to his friend that it must be a tomb.  The sign on the door was carved in marble, in English and Hindi, but tombs and baths can be easily mistaken, I guess.

The visceral pleasure of being part of the melee in the streets still outweighs the revulsion at their open sewers or the abject poverty which is still here.  It’s thrilling, and it’s exhausting, but at every corner, it’s new. Everyone here is trying everything they can to better themselves and their standards, even though they clearly scramble over one another in the process.

The same guru who is now a TV star in the UK, after reading the palm of Jan Leeming, saw Val for ten minutes in his small office at the back of the jeweler’s shop his family runs, once we’d bought something in the shop. He pulled no punches apparently. Saw everything he could not have known, hit several nails on their heads.  Foretold possible futures, gave advice on work she might take time to carry out on her chakras, and recommended the use of a semi-precious stone in the mantra.  I’m glad I didn’t ask for a consultation, though he didn’t need me there to know who I am. He knows someone in Cork too. An infamous Head Shop operator I used to know.  Small world, I hear.

I read today that Facebook values each user at $20 per year. That may be a figure for US users, but it will do for now. The $20 is dwarfed by our value to Google, which makes about six times as much ad revenue from its users, so perhaps we average $120 per year on Google. If you search for information on something expensive (like a rare drug for your life-threatening disease) then your value to Google jumps enormously, as they sell your details to the vendors and you get deluged with ads for rare drugs.

So for Facebook, there are 1,600,000,000 users worldwide – one in six people on earth. That’s 1.6 billion people’s personality profiles, demography, geography, habits, personal history and preferences divided into the amount of advertising revenue generated, I guess. Each person is, of course, only targeted with a tiny proportion of all the advertising FB carries – after all, why would I want to see ads right wing political organisations in America, for instance? That means our value can be split among those advertisers whose suggested posts and FB Ads clutter up our news feed.  When I advertise my small business, I pay about 30-40 cents per click through to my site, and as little as about 0.01 cents per ‘impression’ – the chance to put my promotion in front of someone on their screen, albeit for the moment it takes for them to scroll past it. My moment of exposure takes place during each user’s half-hour a day spent wading thought the poo that occupies most of FB – those fatuous videos and viral platitudes. Viral refers to infectious spreading…

So, about 30 minutes per day of each person’s attention. But I assume that $20 is annual, so we’re each effectively earning 10.9 cents per hour for Facebook and in return we’re getting lots of garbage interspersed with personally useful, sometimes valuable, insights and connections.  Would you pay 5.5 cents per day to use Facebook if you didn’t EVER have your personal information stored, or used to sell you things?  If the average number of searches I make on Google is 10 per day, then I’m worth 3.2 cents per search to them in ad revenue.  Assuming they alter the results of every search I make, based on who wants to advertise to me, then for that 3.2 cents, I’m getting distortions to the ‘truth’ of what’s available on and through the internet. My searches and your searches using the same search criteria produce different results.  Would you pay 3.2 cents per search to have the results untainted? Do you really want to see the same world I see?

So let’s say we all agree that paying for the internet is better than being controlled by it. Can you reverse what has become established as a currency? Your identity in exchange for free access to a substitute for personal interaction, free access to some parody of reality?  Would you switch if you could?  After all, it’s only a matter of them offering you a choice – the advertising model or the subscription model – micro-bill me for ‘pay-as-you-go’ truth or spoon-feed me the bigoted pap for free.

Hang on.  This blog is not personal interaction – it’s a diatribe spouted in the privacy of my own head. But once I press ‘publish’, it’s linked to my social media, and FB and Twitter lead people to read it, and those people might comment, and so it becomes a social, not to say personal, interaction of sorts.  I have communicated with my Friends (not to say friends) for a fee which I haven’t paid in cash but in identity exploitation.  Let’s say the extract of this blog post is read by 100 Friends on their news feeds – that being a proportion of everyone who links to me – the rest either skip over it, or more likely don’t go onto FB at the right time of day to have it in the top eighteen inches of stuff they’re prepared to wade through in their 30 minutes.  Now suppose I boost this post, so that I am buying the exposure to a much larger audience of people whose thinking I want to influence.  Maybe they’re undecided voters in an election, or political extremists in their closets waiting for guidance.  Do the algorithms vet my intentions and assess my advertising worth?  Do they apply their own ‘political weighting’ to the import of my message?  I’m going to sway voters towards a regime that supports low corporate tax rates. I’m going to engage sufferers from expensive diseases to follow my blog – now that’s going viral!  My value to FB and Google might go up so much that they’re prepared to give me free exposure, rather than me having to pay for it… hang on, that’s what they’re already doing in listing ‘top stories’ over ‘most recent’ stories on peoples’ walls, and in manipulating the Google rankings.

Maybe I’ll de-couple from this technology and write hand-written letters which I’ll post to my friends (not to say Friends) and that will generate revenue for An Post which will ensure that the postman keeps his job and spends his hard-earned in the economy and his income taxes will underwrite the Irish infrastructure, and An Post will make profits which will attract corporation taxes within the country, rather than in the cloud which Google and FB occupy. Maybe I will re-gain my identity control. Maybe not.

Small steps

Apropos my application for Irish citizenship, I was delighted to get a letter today saying that I’m being put into the second stage of processing.  If it were a sausage factory, I’d be getting ready for the pig’s gut jacket about now.  My case is to be submitted to the minister, once all enquiries are complete and all required documentation is received, after which, if I’m not a reject chipolata, it will take up to 6 months to complete… but:


It begs the question “What is ‘good character’ in this case?”  If I were the minister, whose back must be against the wall over the limited number of Syrian refugee children Ireland is taking in, and potentially how few of those twenty-somethings who emigrated in the last 5 years are in a position to return to gainful employment, I’d have some pre-defined criteria.  I’d also have a suitable algorithm to apply to the candidate’s Facebook history to vet their social behaviour, but that’s another story.  The criteria he/she might use could include:

  1. What has your economic contribution been to the Irish State in the last 16 years?
    • Income tax paid (as opposed to tax due on un-declared earnings)
    • Vat paid on purchases (as opposed to cash in hand payments to builders)
    • Capital gains on property sold
    • Stamp duties on property purchased
  2. Indirect economic benefits you have brought to the State eg:
    • Business initiatives helping other businesses to generate more wealth
    • Tourism initiatives bringing inward expenditure, which could be offset against overseas holiday-taking which undermines Ireland’s tourism industry.
    • Community initiatives encouraging spending in the community by others, with its concomitant Vat generation
    • Voluntary work which saved the government money (eg running school bazaars so that the State didn’t need to pay for running repairs on the school)
  3. What, if anything, have you done in the last 16 years which might cast doubt on your standing in the community?  This might include a list of sub-categories eg –
    • Acts of gross indecency in a public place (eg peeing against a pub wall)
    • Traffic offences (eg parking really badly in the centre of a village or town)
    • Acts of violence (drunken brawling, wife beating)
    • Gossip-mongering (after mass, before mass, during mass)
    • Racist comments against Irish people (presumably they wouldn’t worry about your views any other racial group)
    • Being the object of ridicule as a foreigner, excluded from full involvement in the community (eg becoming a County Councillor) and therefor belittled to a point of ineffective contribution.
  4. What positive influence have you had on the quality of Irish society in the last 16 years? This is a more qualitative assessment which might be achieved by scoring the individual out of 10 on each aspect and looking for them to exceed a threshold score:
    • Being a moral extemporiser and evangelist, preferably in favour of Catholicism rather than C of I, but maybe double points for Catholicism
    • Being a good Finnian – not to say Fenian or Plastic Paddy. This might include actively supporting Irish teams in rugby and soccer. It might also include GAA, but that’s probably a step too far.
    • Being a creative leader and inspiration through art, music, ballet (?)
    • Having a great recitation or song you can pull out at Christmas – must have Irish origins
    • Making people laugh away their daily woes (preferably so they laugh with you rather than at you)
    • Making an effort to learn Irish words and phrases, but not using them in a Plastic Paddy kind of way to show off to (other) foreigners just how Oirish you’ve become.
    • Turning a blind eye to corruption and anti-social behaviour by prominent members of the Irish community (Irish ones that is) with the comment “sure,  isn’t he/she a bit of a cute whore.”
    • Reporting corruption and anti-social behaviour by (other) foreigners.

I think I can feel a book coming on!  Please submit your contributions.


I wake, and step out into the cool winter air of dawn, and the day is ahead, with its to-ings and fro-ings. Its potential is based on my sense of place in it. I judge my intention to engage or to stand off and watch. For me, this is something that happens momentarily. Shall I feel the day or shall I act it? Will I be buffeted by its pressures and expectations or will I drive through it, choosing a route, seeking a destination? Does it have purpose and structure, or will it drift and eddy? These are tentative questions, not fatalistic fears about the way the world will treat me. You know there are enough of these stacking up. You know how we are dragged by infinite planetary gravitational forces. We’re becoming lunatics under their influence. They are national, global, geopolitical, socio-economic, moral and cognitive, but also insidious, subliminal, irrational and nightmarish. Too much of our time is taken up with holding our orbit in space.

In the morning light, as the sun rises, streaks of vermilion and cerise cut through the slate clouds. It feels like something piercing the amniotic protection, though what would I know about that? The fug lifts on my day. The rays of light disperse through the prism of my wakefulness, colouring the choices.

If feelings have forms, this one is perhaps a sphere with an indent, perhaps it is a partially deflated ball, one that the dog chewed and some air escaped, so that she could hold it in her mouth. Its surface is smooth, but not like vinyl or polypropylene, more like skin. The feeling is warm, not quite blood temperature. It is spongey, rather than encrusted. Liquid-filled. The day ahead reflates it, the sun hardens its surface. The oozing bite-marks form scabs, the ball cools and it is ready to be played, kicked, driven forward.

Karl, Uber and sweaty hands

I’d been browsing online for a high pressure hose system for days. A Christmas gift for a cleanaholic in the family…

I’d been through to a couple of retailers which offered online sales, and asked for prices on the Karcher K140. It was going to be €199 for the basic machine and I really wanted the extension for upstairs windows. I began to notice ads appearing in my Facebook page for Karchers, and for Nilfisk options, but the prices all tended to be higher than I’d first seen on Amazon. No surprises there. I’ve been getting targeted advertising based on my browsing history for a while.

Then I started getting ads for the Karcher K180, which said that I’d need the bigger machine for my bigger property, and that most of my neighbours in Kinsale had the bigger machine. Amazon wanted €250 for the K180, and I didn’t want to pay that much, but as I spent more time looking at the prices for this bigger machine, I stopped getting ads for the K140, and all the main online retailers’ prices on the K180 seemed to go up. Christmas delivery dates were running out and I was getting desperate. Prices kept rising…

Personalised pricing, or price discrimination has begun. We’re getting allocated a price based on our address and demography, and that price is going up or down based on our ability to walk away, or our impatience to buy. Mac users get given higher prices than PC users, and depending on their browsing history, they will be deemed more or less desperate to buy. Outrageous! But hang on, last time I was in Marrakech, in the Souk, I was no more than amused when I refused to buy a rug and walked away, that the shop keeper followed me and offered me a lower price, but when I just had to have that beautiful chess set which had been carved by the little boy with no arms, using his bare feet, the price was non-negotiable.

I’ve heard that soon the technology will sense our emotional state and prices will be adjusted accordingly. The more impatiently you browse, the more the price goes up. Time to start playing online poker, I think.

“Balderdash”, I hear you cry. Surely the price is the price? Surely we’re not becoming part of an Orwellian nightmare where commerce robs from the rich and gives to the poor? Or is it a Marxist utopian dream we’re having?

In Finland, speeding ticket prices are linked to income. Time for a more integrated and open system where “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is applied electronically to equalise social injustice – the fair distribution of wealth. So if I want to buy the Karcher K180, because I live in a fuck-off house, but Joe, who lives in the council estate down the road, in a small terraced house, also wants the K180, because he wants one over on his neighbours, who should pay more for the same machine? Does his mobile phone report on his motives and the fact that his is a ‘luxury’ purchase, while my needs dictate the bigger machine and in my case it is a necessity? Can the algorithms weigh wealth against greed? Can they choose who deserves what? Not yet. But remember, the number one objective of ALL commercial organisations is to maximise return on investment for shareholders.

Your mobile phone has sweat detection sensors, which measure galvanic skin responses to stress or excitement, it can pick up your heartbeat, has motion detectors which can probably tell how often you go to the toilet. As you move around a shop, the phone identifies where you stop, and for how long. The wifi connected packaging on the merchandise (which is already built into high value items) in front of you also reports when it is moved, picked up and examined, and if you keep fiddling with the new sandwich toaster on special offer, and it is something which is also for sale in another shop within the mall, why not offer a ‘special price’ just for you, using a personalised digital display? The advertising boxes which show digital ads in the mall already change depending on the time of day and whether it’s about time you fancied a pizza. In fact, the mobile phone can even detect stomach noises if you’re hungry, apparently, and matching them to your normal feeding patterns and shopping habits would allow the ad to be that perfect pizza you drool over in the takeaway. Why wouldn’t the ads be personalised to suit your own preferences as you pass the ad box? Only that there are some ‘legislative hurdles’ about data privacy to get over, apparently. Uber’s algorithms can tell how low the battery is on your phone, and therefore how desperate you might be to book that cab before your phone dies. They have evidence that people will pay a higher price for the cab in such circumstances…

So do we just wake up and smell the brand of coffee we like? Can we learn to play poker against an algorithm? I think not. So, first rule is leave your mobile phone at home in a lead-lined box when you go shopping, and every so often, buy something you don’t want, or perhaps do someone else’s shopping.


Thanks to Arwa Mahdawi in The Guardian for poking my unending fascination…

How do they decide?

OK, so in the early 2000s, I thought I would take up Irish citizenship on political grounds because Tony Blair took Britain into Iraq and I felt ashamed to be British.  I got hold of the forms from the post office and only stumbled when I found that the Government required copies of my 1984 divorce papers, which I didn’t have.  I could probably have applied again for them but I didn’t. So then about 14 years later, Britain did something equally shaming, in voting Brexit, and I decided to try again for Irish citizenship.  In the intervening years, the forms had become pdf’s and the requirement for the old divorce papers had been dropped.  The fee for applying (with or without success) had gone up to €175 and the fee for success had become €950.  Since there are 250,000 UK passport holders living in Ireland apparently, this could potentially underwrite half the costs of the latest public sector pay rises.

So, besides the 17 page application form, I supplied: Copies of my own and Val’s long form birth certs and marriage certificate, certified by a solicitor, Three separate proofs of my address for each of the last 5 years (bills etc), two passport photos, certified by the solicitor, my own passport original, Val’s original passport, three months’ bank statements from all my bank accounts, An affidavit that I now hold one of the new Public Services Cards (a form of chipped ID introduced into Ireland recently), and a bankers draft for €175 (no other form of payment accepted).

All that done, I have since been asked to dig out three years of bank statements, showing my name and address on them.  This might sound straight forward, but since internet banking came in, one can only download 15 months of statements (and these don’t have my name and address on). The branch apparently keeps these on file, but I am informed that I will need to have them stamped and a letter provided by the bank that I live at this address.

So I have to ask on what basis all this is needed.  I have lived in Ireland for sixteen years and been married to an Irish citizen for 28 years.  I’m eligible for citizenship on both counts.  I have proved both to be true.  I have paid taxes in Ireland for 16 years, spent my hard-earned and taxed income in the state and generated employment for others.  I estimate my financial contribution to the state to be in excess of €500,000 in that time, excluding stamp duties and fees on the purchase and sale of two properties.

But Irish citizenship is a privilege not a right, it says on the website.  I wonder if the vast number of Brits now looking to apply have made it unattractive for the Government to rubber stamp applications…

Since I started the process, I have become addended to the idea on an emotional level, though it began as a practical one, to do with access in Europe.  I am disgusted by the Brexiteers, the racist rhetoric, the myopic decision based on ignorance and miss-information which led to such widespread suffering and economic doom, and potentially to the disintegration of the EU, something I hold dear.  If I should fail because of some bureaucratice anomaly, such as the lack of an address, it will hurt I think.

Now what’s going on: Episode 7

And so, finally, here is episode seven, which is about the culmination of sixty years. It seems slightly unfair to have to write seven ten-yearly episodes for a sixty year life. At least this time, the news is easy to remember, even with a noticeably shortened span which begins to undermine my sense of establishment (as if I had one).

Besides the overwhelming impact of Trump combined with Brexit, and the effect of the Syrian war on migration and the related racist backlash, there were the Russian and Irish scandals of Rio, Shakespeare was 400, Shimon Peres died, Brazil got a new president, Jeremy Corbyn was elected and re-elected while Nigel Farage retired, resigned, won, retired and stood in again as leader of UKIP while drawing his MEP salaray for not attending the European Parliament he wanted the UK to leave… The political manipulation of fear has driven so much this year. The fear centres on territorial protection and unnamed threats to personal safety from people hungrier and more disenfranchised that ourselves.   Looking back on episodes 1-6, I think socialism has been a dominant theme in my life, even though I don’t think I’ve ever put myself on the line for the welfare of anyone not close to me. But things have definitely shifted since Episode 6.

Between 2006 and now, so much has fallen away, or been rejected, or done the rejecting. Symbolically, perhaps, I’ve applied for Irish citizenship, having realised I no longer want to be British.  The values which caused the vote for Brexit revolt me, and the people who espouse them are the same people who shouted abuse at me and my fellow marchers on Brick Lane in 1976 when we joined The Anti-Nazi League to put the British National Party back in its box.  They were so much more obvious then, with their Union Jack teeshirts and shaved heads, but the smart suits and anti-immigration rhetoric change nothing.

Almost all my entanglements with voluntary organisations, committees and boards are gone. All those responsibilities abrogated. It’s been the most rewarding experience to let go. It’s been a conscious process in an unforgiving but demanding environment. Ireland’s tiger roared in 2006 and was skin and bones by 2010. The pottery diminished to a point where Groupon tickets became currency and parents bargained over the price of their children’s art classes, or simply kept their kids away.

I launched Custom Breaks Ireland in 2009, with support from some great and good people, into a globalising online tourist market and increasingly sophisticated Google model, which swallowed it and spat it out.

Then the recession receded and the pottery began to regenerate. A smart American arrived in a chaufeur driven car one day and offered to bring a weekly tour visit of 40 rich customers every summer, starting two years hence, which has turned out to be the lynchpin in the business.

Ger pulled me into Sponge It just when I needed a rock to hold on to, and I rediscovered my love of business, and my forgotten expert status. It should have felt tired and passe. It certainly sounded like a retrograde step, but somehow, this time, it didn’t feel bad. It wasn’t my business and ultimately, not my responsibility. I could do what I was good at and be paid and then step away.  And I almost didn’t.  One night I woke in a cold sweat after offering to take over running the company at the same time as accepting a place in the creative writing masters programme.  It was a simple enough choice between the old and the new.  Between holding on and letting go.  I chose the masters, and cut back on the consulting, but there was no need to let go completely. Felim appointed me as a non-exec to his London publishing company and I started a research division for him. He bought a company based in Dublin and I became his non-exec there too. Sponge I became Opinions, and I moved back into the role of freelance Research Director there too.  Back to doing what I’m good at for fees.  But even with this regenerative experience, the letting go continues. Sometimes I worry that I will let go of it all and end up with nothing, become nothing. But each window I open to let out some stale air lets in bright light and fresh wind, and a view of a wider horizon. It would be great to stop seeing everything from one’s own eyes, and to begin to see things from the eyes of everyone else. That would really be letting go.

The A to Z of Letting Go (2011)
A is for Acceptance and authenticity, but also for arrogance, aspiration and anticipation
B is for Being, just being
C is change, consistency and character, the loss of which is not a pre-requisite for letting go
D spells definition, but let’s also look at defence and deferral. D is also for devotion
E must be for The Energy, but let’s not forget expectations, evolution, enervation and emasculation
F feels free
G is for growth and gain but also for grasp and greed
Happiness, a peaceful, powerful state which we can hope for in letting go.
I am the ego and self, I seek status and I must watch how I see myself. I is also for idea and for ideal
Jealous, Justice – and fighting injustice, Judgement: hinderances to letting go
K is for kindness – not philanthropy or patronage – kindred kindness
L is for lost and lonely, but also for love
M is for mother – try letting go of that! M is also for Maker, as in meet thy… M is for meaning and motivation
N…Nothing, nothingness nihilism, negativity and nastiness. N is for need and name
O for ordinary, opting out but mainly for openness, options, order
P is persistent and perseveres. P has purpose, perspective and purity
Q has to be for Question, and perhaps for quiet
R is for rage, but also respect, respite, reason and reality
S is for senses, sensitivity, surety and serenity. S is also for status, surprises and standards
T trusts and tolerates, but also tempts and tests
U represents utopia, but is also unseen, uncomfortable and unappreciated. U is for understanding, unravelling…
V for The Voice but also the vanity
W is whole, wise, washed. We wish and wait for this
Xist, xcite, xternalise… xcuses
Y oh why are we where we are? Whisper truths. Y is also for youth – letting go of this is hard
Z is the zenith and like omega, the completion of the journey.


What’s been going on: Episode 6

It was the year we didn’t catch bird flu, but inoculated our children and gave them narcolepsy instead. It was also the year when the world’s most wanted terrorist, progenitor of WMD and figurehead of evil, Saddam Hussein, was executed. In 2006, the US legislated to build a border fence with Mexico. Dell recalled millions of computer batteries because they might catch fire, and anti Muslim cartoons caused protests and deaths in Libya. Deja Vu? Google bought YouTube and Nasa launched a probe which was due to reach Pluto by 2019. And in November, 349 people died when a Saudi plane crashed into a Kazakhstani plane. Michael Stone strode into Stormont and tried to blow it up.

The world I occupied had changed immeasurably since 1996. My own self-determined space, in which I’d collected together the sum of the parts of my ‘old life’ and shaken them through a sieve and found no nuggets in the panning tray, was pretty empty. I’d chosen to reject myself as corporate man, then I’d given up or failed to be a true entrepreneur, and then I’d thrown out my comfortable middle-class London lifestyle. I could argue that all three steps were carefully thought through. I could say that I’d approached the precipice and jumped because I knew, or at least believed, I could fly. But really, I’d jumped, expecting to be dashed on the rocks below, because that would feel better than what was behind me. In reality, I hadn’t jumped but had fallen. In the end, it amounted to the same thing. I floated down to earth, more like gliding than falling, but I didn’t fly. My soft landing wasn’t so soft for the family. What seemed a positive step forward for me was an unwanted wrench for them.

We’d left London abruptly in 2000, packed up the house and sold it, bought a house and collection of outbuildings in Ireland and moved over. I gave up paid work and began to live on savings, ploughing large amounts of them into renovating the house and its outbuildings to make a home and a new business premises, for Kinsale Pottery. The physical structures took shape without the concomitant emotional investment, and time passed.

But it does matter whether I fell or jumped or tried to fly, because everything up until that point had been about control of my self-definition in the external world, about my status. That wasn’t just a material status, though much of it was about wealth and title and control. It was fundamentally about potency. You peel away the layers of protection, the well-made clothing in which you’re used to parading, and you find yourself naked. You take away the needs which you satisfy in others and you find yourself to be useless. You remove your responsibilities and you wither.

And so the years approaching November 2006 were a lurching nightmare, interwoven with a sense of release, irresponsibility. Slowly, and much more carefully, I built a new identity around art. I was the artist and teacher, and mostly it felt good. I stopped being the bastard Managing Director who drove his minions ever harder. I stopped being the fat cat who drove his BMW. I stopped being needed, and I began to shrink, like Scott Carey in The Incredible Shrinking Man, and it was very hard to find something to hold on to.


In 2005 I joined Mareta Doyle to develop Kinsale Arts Week, and after the July 2006 festival was wrapped up and reported upon, I realised that people in Kinsale had begun to see me. And I started to feel needed. I set up West Cork Calling, a tourism marketing network, and Hands On West Cork, a craft teachers marketing network, and I signed up for a tourism training programme, and I chaired Cork Professional Craftworkers Forum, and I built walls and piled responsibilities on them and definitions and it began to feel like the old days.

But everything was somehow less appealing, less engaging, less of a rush than it used to be, and it felt like I was building on sand. The old foundations were gone. All the values on which I’d build my career were meaningless now. 2006 was a hollow rampage of gestures.

What’s been going on: Episode 5

From the position of wage slave in a sweat shop in West London in 1986, I’d been hopping from rung to run on the ladder. Euromonitor took me on to set up the research consultancy, which was full of pioneering energy and personalities, then United Newspapers wrested the UK music charts from the record companies and hired me to run the aptly named company CIN which tried to balance the egos of record execs with record retailers and the media. Three years in and I’d had enough of the whole lot of them, and of corporate life at UN, which was unbelievably hierarchical. All I wanted was to own my own ideas and to work for myself. And that’s how Market Tracking International came about, with the help of Don and John, both of whom were freelancers. We started out in a small dungeon, sharing a cell together, and quickly added staff. The first year’s Christmas party was for the three of us, the second for eight and the third for 33.

By November 1996, North London was abuzz with the sale of the company to The Daily Mail. We really thought we were going to be millionaires. Just three years into the childhood of our only son, he was growing too fast, almost uncontrollably. The monthly salary bill had reached about £75K, and as MD, all I could think about was where the hell it would come from each month. That, and how to mend PCs or toilets, or who to hire and fire.

‘The Interactive Future’ was our report of the year, in co-venture with Management Today, it sold over 250 copies at £500, because the world was completely panic stricken by what the internet meant for their businesses. Its contents list would read like a history book on technology now, but then it was like a sci-fi novel – What was MP3 and how did a JPEG work? DVD was the future of mass storage, and DVDR just a twinkle in the eye of developers at Phillips and we looked forward to when internet access speeds would increase from 14.4kbps modem speeds to 56kbps. The phone still made that iconic hissing noise as the modem dialled up, and visual images crept down the pc screen. The report even talked about the possibility of cable models which would carry up to 0.5mbps, within a few years.

We might have been in the forefront of publishing on such technical topics, but our own 50,000 pages of analysis was still sitting in Word and on paper. Time to bring in a tech nerd who could upload it to a website called MarketFile, in simple pdf format, and include a search engine. We added a nice home page and wheeled it in to our main client, The Daily Mail’s business journals division, which published such popular titles as ‘Oils and Fats International’ and ‘World Tobacco’, with which we had very profitable co-ventures.

So with our P/E at 10 and DMGT’s at 20, it was a no-brainer for them to buy us. They could double the company’s value overnight, if we succeeded, or take a healthy tax credit if they had to write us off as a failure. Since Lord Rothermere was sitting on £200M profit each year, he could do with a few losses. We took the downpayment, which we split three ways and paid off our credit cards, and we chewed on the mouthwatering earn-out payments we forecast for the next five years. Then we three lambs were ready for the slaughter. But hold fast, there’s the slow bleeding that any good sacrifice demands. So let’s employ expensive lawyers to tie the whole deal in knots that will take six months to unravel, while we scrabbled for cash to pay those salaries, and the generous guys in Kensington advanced us money every month on the deal. They called a meeting to tell us that the downpayment was halved – take it or leave it. We took it, since we were already in hock for working capital. The half-sized downpayment arrived and DMGT generously agreed to pay the legal fees (which were, incidentally, larger than the downpayment) and then we were ready to become another line in their P&L. Once that was over, I could get back to consulting.

Karlheinz Koegel, owner of the German music charts company and Baden Baden Airport which he later sold to Ryanair, wanted me in Germany to help him build MediaControl’s radio tracking business in order to sell it to Viacom, owners of MTV.  Sally Whittaker wanted me in Bloomsbury to help build Book Track, the book industry charts, and David Kusin, a retired banker and art lover from Dallas, wanted me to find out how the European Art Market worked. Everyone wanted me to make things happen and it felt like my hour upon the stage.

All this was against a backdrop of grunge in Holloway Road, in our industrial office-block, shared with Ian Dury’s recording studio, with our sweatshop of linguists, slaving over government statistics and copies of the FT.

We were all strutting and fretting, and it signified nothing.

What else was happening? I was ignoring everything else. Ignoring the needs and pleasures of my family, failing to see the world, barely touching art, hearing but not listening to music. John Major had a weak grip on the country. Scargill was leaving the Labour party, the Maxwell brothers survived their father’s fraud and Charles divorced Diana. This last upset stopped me getting him to attend the Deutsche MedienPreis, so instead, Karlheinz got his friend Helmut Kohl to persuade Boris Yeltsin to attend. Not much of a follow-on from 1995, when we got Arafat and Rabin (though Rabin was assassinated two weeks before the event). Boris and his entourage drank themselves into a singsong in Baden Baden, and probably slept it off on the flight home. I see that Hilary Clinton won the preis in 2004, given to her by Angela Merckel, Bono in 2005 and the Dalai Lama in 2008. Then it was downhill with Richard Branson in 2010 and George Clooney in 2014 …. after my time.