Sunday, 23 May 2010


One of life’s real pleasures is sleep, although for most its not until you have been through the ‘joys’ of parenting that you realise just how precious those 8 hours of slumber really are. Sleep can be overlooked as an inconvenience, getting in the way of our busy lives, interrupting schedules and quality time, we take it for granted and abuse our bodies by preventing what should come naturally.

As an infant you have no recollection and no control (it seems) of when you wake up and subsequently when you wake your parents up. According to research, new born baby’s sleep for 16 hours a day, reducing to 13 hours by the age of 3. I am not sure who investigates, researches and prints such tripe, but my experience suggests that babies don’t sleep - ever, and when they are awake they have some incomprehensible power to suck the energy from their parents with a force greater than that of a collapsing star!

I have suffered from mild insomnia and have therefore been used to only sleeping for 3-4 hours a day for months on end, however even this could not prepare me for the worst form of Nazi/Japanese 2nd World War prisoner of war torture, dished up by the cute bundle of love in the pink bunny suit! If you see a women or a man walking the street splattered in food, excrement, and puke, looking as if they haven’t slept for 6 weeks, with creased clothes, un-cut, uncombed hair, odd socks and grey lifeless skin – don’t worry its not an invasion of zombies its merely the result of having a baby in the family.

Things change as you grow from a baby / infant into a child, this is when your parents send you to bed when you’re wide awake, and wake you up when you’re in deep sleep – the value of sleep when your young is not necessarily recognised or appreciated. Sleep gets in the way of fun, in the way of playing with friends, riding your bike, building dens and generally enjoying life. The fact that your parents pull you out of bed with a full 5 minutes before school starts amazes most kids, as does the need to shout the time every 30 seconds just in case you never heard the 120 decibel scream the first 18 times. I do remember being a child’s (honest), and I do remember being pulled out of bed by my toenails as my parents tried to extract me from the pit of foul teenage smells. With the resurgence in vampire movies this has become even harder, my son is only 12 and thinks he is one of the Nosferatu, staying up so late we pass on the stairs – me off to work, him off to bed.

As you get older and enter your late teens, sleep is only essential for recovery from hangovers, relationship disasters, and other activities that will endanger my ‘child safe’ website status. Previously the role of university dorms, bed sits and flat shares, it has moved more mainstream family homes, as more and more ‘young adults’ stay home festering and leaching on their parents goodwill rather than risk spending a Saturday nights money on rent or mortgage repayments. Acceptable and almost expected behaviour in your own (or shared) abode is becoming the norm in family households. Including the half naked friends wandering around at all times, the drive festooned with all sorts of scrap iron dressed in spoilers and GTI badges alongside the ‘man’ of the houses Volvo, watching your utility bills treble despite spending more time away from home, and resigning yourself to the fact that you will never find any food in the cupboard despite spending the entire Royal Navy’s canteen budget each week. The dream of repossessing your home, your bed and most importantly some sleep, like the dreams of retirement have to be shelved and put back to a point where they cross and happen sometime after death.

As you hit middle age, you find that sleep is addictive, although somewhat untouchable. I crave for 8 hours deep sleep, and then find myself guilty after only 6. Panic sets in that you are being selfish and ‘sleeping’ your life away. I get out of bed at 6.00am every weekday morning, weekend, bank holiday even whilst on vacation it takes about the same amount of time for me to start to relax, as it does for the early morning start to catch the plane back. Your body becomes conditioned to rising early, and if my father is anything to go by, I have another 20-30 years of this. That is not to say you don’t grab a sly afternoon snooze once in a while, my favourite is to snuggle down on a winters Sunday afternoon following a large lunch and a copy of Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean on the TV – both instant insomnia cures, not that they are bad films, just that my ability to watch a film longer than 36 seconds without snoring is legendary.

Grabbing 20 minutes on a Weekend afternoon, between flights or train journeys is like earning a bonus, buying something decadent or receiving an email from someone thought lost. Those small moments of pleasure when your snoring causes other airline passengers to ask flight attendants to check the aircraft status with for fear of a mechanical disaster, the awkward looks thrown at you from the train passenger next to you as they wipe the remains of your dribble from their shoulder, and the groans from your children as you jump up and declare that you were only resting your eyes as Hermione Granger turns Jack Sparrow into a toad.

As all of my anecdotes and stories recount my times in China, it would be wrong of me to ignore one story that links in with this blog quite well. I remember travelling with a group of senior Chinese colleagues between Nanjing and Beijing, accompanied by my trusty assistant, translator and friend (Hu Jin), we boarded the plane, took our seats and were being served noodles for breakfast before you could say “why is everyone wearing 15 layers of clothes, and asking for the cabin temperature to be increased”. Soon after breakfast the rest of my colleagues (about 8 people in all) kept their tray tables down and proceeded to lean forward and rest their heads on the trays falling to sleep soon after. I had seen this many times before in China, on planes, trains and automobile journeys. It seemed that in every possible circumstance the Chinese would take the opportunity to rest their eyes and recharge their battery’s. I put this down to a harsh life and poor diet, rather than just being lazy. What I was surprised at was my assistant’s insistence that I do likewise and sleep for the next 30 to 40 minutes despite not being tired, when asking why? I was told that taking ‘dead’ time out to sleep shows that you are being efficient with the company’s time, and that you must be working very hard at other times to need the rest. I just continued to pick the weevils out of the bread roll served with the noodles.

I can t really finish my journey of sleep through life by talking about how sleep affects you in old’er age, as I haven’t quite reached it yet. However If I read the most recent research into sleep from the University’s of Warwick and Naples I will get all the sleep I need soon. The research conducted across Europe, Asia and the US suggests that people sleeping less than 6 hours per day are 12% more likely to suffer from premature death. Looks like I had better get my head down!

Sunday, 16 May 2010


When did patriotism become a dirty word? I remember a time when celebrating your national colours, a patron saint or your national heritage was taught in schools, celebrated in the streets and sung about at sporting arenas.  In England, St Georges Crosses were displayed in shop windows, on top of flagpoles and moulded into plastic bowler hats.  They showed a love of the Queen, a tribute to those lost in war and a large chunk of pride for a country synonymous with stiff upper lips, self-righteousness and ‘British-ness’.   The majority of people these days would rather stab themselves in the eye with a sharp stick than wear an St Georges cross hat.   Displaying the national flag on ones personage has become a symbol of thugishness’, racism and ‘chaveness’.

This phenomenon seems to be fairly recent; I seem to remember that it was still ok to display a flag - during the Silver Jubilee, Diana’s ill fated wedding, celebrating Torvill & Dean winning gold, the Falklands War, Botham’s 1986-87 Ashes series, Jonny Wilkinson playing football to win the rugby world cup in 2003, and probably the last time it was respectable to support England - the 2006 European football championships. These episodes in history cut across boundaries of class, culture and social standing, those that knew nothing about Rugby enjoyed Jonny’s biceps, and millions of people celebrated the works of the 19th century composer Joseph-Maurice Ravel without even knowing it.  In fact I remember proudly displaying a St Georges Cross from a flag pole at our home in Shanghai – that was until the local Gestapo intervened and demanded we take it down – the Gestapo in question were actually a family of Welshies who lived nearby and hated the fact that I hung a flag that reminded them of the English who had invaded their small hamlet in the valley’s by buying all the houses for holiday homes, either that or they just hated the English!

Of course you may have guessed that I am talking about the flag of England, rather than the flag of Great Britain, when asked abroad unusually I say that I am British first then English second.  I say unusually because I understand that the Scots, Irish and Welsh will always claim they come from their respective enclave before (if at all) saying that they are British.

Our neighbours have always come across as more patriotic than the English and I am not so sure if this denigration of a country’s flag as happened to our neighbours? Not the most independent or unbiased of newspapers, The Daily Mail recently published a survey that showed the English as the least patriotic people in Europe, I am sure the survey was intended to spur on public feeling and the headline grabbing sentiment certainly made me read on, what it actually goes onto say is that most people are concerned about displaying their patriotism for fear of being thought of as racists.

Adopted by the BNP, xenophobic pit-bull terrier breeding, lager swilling, tattoo wearing, beer gut spawning, shaven head wearing, Sun newspaper reading, football hooligans, and all other far right crack heads. The cross of St George has become associated with all that’s wrong with England and distanced from all that is great.   In 2008 St George's Day parades were banned by local authorities in Bradford and Sandwell in the West Midlands on the grounds they could cause trouble or were 'unhealthy' and 'tribal'.

It seems that being patriotic is not a desired virtue in modern England, as with politics leaning too far left, too far right or even having a strong opinion is frowned upon.  Patriotism shows passion, a strong strength of feeling, and belonging, living with principals, history and a sense of knowing where you have come from. 

Perhaps this is why patriotism is out of favour, like British politics everyone is now too scarred to say what he or she mean, take affirmative action or make difficult decisions, too worried that it may harm their chances from getting into office.  But then is this so surprising?  Putting yourself up for government is like attending a job interview, you seek to understand what the interviewer is after, and alter your answers accordingly, reading the situation is key, and how far your willing to abandon your beliefs, ethics and standards is I guess a measure of how much you want (or need) the job, as much of a measure of your principals.

Which brings me onto the recent political farce in the UK, despite one party receiving a resounding majority – that is a majority in everyone else’s definition of the word, we cant decide that it should govern alone.  So now we have to have a yard sale of policies to try and gain a coalition between both sides of the force.  Akin to a coalition between George Bush and Sadam Hussain, Hitler and Ghandi, or Kate Perry and Lily Allen, it should never happen and wouldn’t unless the protagonists were power hungry, job seeking hypocrites who would dance with the devil in order to get what they want.  Still we may at least get a Bank Holiday for good old St George as stated in both party’s policy documents – or will we?

Saturday, 1 May 2010


Monday meant my first flight since the Icelandic Volcano fiasco, not sure whether the removal of the restrictions on flying were due to a shift in the wind, reduction in tectonic activity or simply Willie Walsh convincing the faceless authorities that if they didn’t lift the ban soon – there wouldn’t be any airlines left to fly any as they would have all gone out of business. The flight itself was the normal encasement in aluminum, steel, fuel and flammable seats, sitting next to someone who believed they have paid for the whole row and saved showering until they landed, today’s destination Venice. The company I work for has some fairly prosaic plant locations around Europe, one that isn’t, is located just an hours drive from Venice in a small town called Bassano del Grappa, famous for its covered bridge the Ponte degli Alpini, its cathedral and of course its proximity to the Grappa mountains which the Italian national drink Grappa gets its name.

Grappa seems to be brewed from the residue of diesel refinerarys, mixed with turpentine and caustic soda. Like most national drinks; Irelands - Potcheen, Greeces – Ouzo, Chinas – BeiJiu and Scotland’s – Irn Bru. They all taste similar to licking the inside of a petrol tank – whilst it’s on fire. Not sure why they become national drinks, perhaps its similar to why the Beetle or the Mini became national cars – they were cheap, easy to make, readily available and would probably cause blindness, rotten livers and ultimately death – a great way of controlling population growth. Whatever it is they are forced onto weary travelers until they empty their wallets and the insides of their stomachs.

I had visited our Bassano plant several times before, but had started to think that it was located deep in a valley or even in a cave. Having only ever visited in the winter months, I would arrive at night to a hotel 50 yards from the entrance to the factory, and leave via Taxi to the airport the following night. Such is the glamour and delight of international travel, you rarely get an opportunity to enjoy the places you visit, and the only local culture you savour is normally the inside of a Taxi cab, hotel room or works canteen.

I was there for a conference in which I would give a presentation on a topic, that if you had asked me to give say 10, 5 or maybe even 1 year ago I would have laughed at you, shot another peasant and moved on.
The subject has become something that I find myself feeling more and more interested and passionate about, at first I thought it was a virus or I had been subject to some kind of subliminal experiment, my mind seems to have been warped, my beliefs torn and shattered. Everything I held dear to me has been turned upside down and inside out.

At heart I am a result of, and a rabid follower of consumerism, I collect cars, computers, watches, homes and air miles like most people collect socks. I had no interest in how many 4 year olds it took to skin kittens, so that I could have my favorite trim on the seats in my 14-litre Gas Guzzler. The sweat shops of Vietnam, where one armed lepers pick the individual hairs from warty toads, to provide warty toad flavored drinks to westerners never kept me awake, nor did the fact that they slept on razors, whilst being whipped with the tails from those pussycats made me donate to charities set up to look after their orphaned children. However, here I was preparing to give a speech on a Corporate Ethics and Social Responsibility. Had I gone mad? Had I caught some kind of disease? Had all my indiscretions come back to haunt me? The times I had thrown good food away, left the TV on whilst asleep, and buried my right foot firmly into the car mats whilst watching the MPG meter go into single figures, had they started to prey on my conscience? Or had I turned into the world’s greatest hypocrite?

Well I am not sure which it is but I genuinely feel that I (we) have an obligation to ‘do our bit’, and whilst profit, EBITDA and shareholder value keeps Warty Toad flavored drinks on my kids table, it shouldn’t be at the detriment of those one arm lepers. Not only do I find myself at the recycling plant each Saturday, I am now writing about ethics and even addressing a bunch of what could be considered as the most ecologically inept, 'rip-the-shirt-off-your-back' purchasing buyers, that would shanghai their own mothers to a Nigerian pirate if it meant cutting the price of a part by 0.00001 grouts. I wont write too much more at this point as revealing my tree hugging, sandal wearing, Mother Teresa worshiping ‘outage’ has made me feel light headed and need of a lie down – or could that have been the Grappa?