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Today’s right Royal Hoo-Ha

April 29, 2011

So today is the day when we all go wild with excitement over the Royal Wedding. With wall to wall TV coverage, Facebook & Twitter are swamped with posts about how giddy with joy we are. The bunting is out, street parties are planned and even the sun is shining.

And good for the couple, may they have long and happy life together.

But I just don’t get this national outpouring of emotion around the monarchy. I understand that the role they play in UK society is historical, and history is important, I can rationalise their symbolic constitutional role as useful, especially for tourism. Even though it leads to anachronisms such as the Commonwealth, which unbelievably has 53 countries in it, and the House of Lords, which consists of ex-politicians and hereditary peers, neither of which should have any role in deciding law.

So why do we go Royalty mad when a wedding like this appears? I suppose you can argue that it is just a good news story, a feel-good event in difficult time, an extra day off in spring. But we are going over the top, this national sentiment that is whipped up feels out of proportion to the importance of the people and the event. Seems strange, and slightly concerning to me. it’s as if we have so little idea about a real national identity, that we have to cling like mad to these sort of events.

So all the best to the couple, I’m sure it will be a great day for them, and a lot of people will get a real buzz about out of it. If you don’t mind I’ll watch it on the 5 minute slot on the late night news tonight, and spend the day enjoying a good book.


Cathedrals….what’s the future?

April 16, 2011

I’m a real fan of cathedrals. I’ve been going to Carlisle Cathedral for several years, mainly as a chorister parent, but it has become far more than that to me, it’s a refuge and an oasis of peace. Evensong is a beautiful way to end the day, and the Eucharist service is full of depth and meaning. There is a committed community of people who work there, run the services, maintain the music tradition, and keep the civic activities and the building alive.

I was there a week or so ago, and looked around during the service, and looking at the sparse number of people there. I was reflecting that there are two types of people connected with the Cathedral. Those that keep these activities going, and those that attend the services, most evenings for Evensong with a full choir, there are only a handful in the congregation, and those attending are at the older end of the spectrum, and are definitely diminishing in number.

I can see a time in the not so distant future where the Cathedral still has it’s choir, it’s ministers, it’s liturgy, it’s civic role but no-one goes anymore, well maybe they’ll be a few of us there, but you know what I mean.  A cathedral does have a different role to a local church, it has connections and opportunities in cities that other churches don’t, but I think that just its history and civic role can keep it going.

And that will be so sad for so many reasons.

Mind you it’s been there for 900 years so I suppose I’d better not write it off yet.

Maybe you should pop in and visit before it …well who knows.

Writing for pleasure

April 10, 2011

In the last 12 months I’ve spent more time writing than in the whole of the last 20 years combined, having started an MBA and also taken up journalling.

Buying a iPad really helped as it is not as intrusive as carry a laptop around, has made writing simply more accessible in everyday life, with programmes such as Evernote & Dropbox making it very simple to capture thoughts and ideas.

I thought this would lead to a lot more blog posts, but as I’ve written I realised that for me, writing is intrinsically private, it helps me think more clearly, process emotions and learn. Hence this very quiet blog.

There are also so many interesting writers and bloggers out there, that it has made me question why I would want to write publicly. The blogs I enjoy are those that challenge, introduce new ideas or are topical, these bloggers tend to write about subjects rather than themselves, although my favourite writers are those that combine the two. Even this post feels too introspective to me.

With my studies on retail, and my work in Christian bookselling, and I have quite a few opinions on a “trade in trouble”, but being fortunate to be working for one of the most professional and progressive companies in the sector, I don’t want give away the family jewels or come across as patronising, so I’m reluctant to blog in this area. The Christian retail trade need to engage with the harsh realities of retailing, and to win back the hearts and minds of the Church, and on it’s current course it is not going to do that.

So writing has become my new unexpected pleasure in life. I’m so pleased to have discovered it.

Reaping what you sow

June 18, 2010

I confess, I am a football fan.

Yes I know, please don’t laugh. It gets worse as well…I support my home town club Carlisle United, who are superb at being frustratingly rubbish. So when a World Cup comes around, the hype starts, and the footballistas amongst us get our hopes up, that this time, it will be different.

….and it should be different, we have the Premier League, the most highly rated, highest viewing ratings, money-spinning league in the whole world, it’s full of some of the greatest players in the world. Drogba, Torres, Cech, Tevez.

But it is never different, our national side comes out, chest puffed out, ready to do their duty, but no, we’re plain, boring, uncreative and pedestrian. I think the individual players do their very best, but are ultimately doomed to be not good enough.

Is it possible that this is the problem, in creating the monster that is the Premier League we have sacrificed our national side for the most glamour of the world’s most popular league. We have become the Las Vegas of football…glittering on the surface, but a desert underneath.

We have some good players, but the Premier League relies on creative skiful players from overseas to provide the spark, and that leaves the national side bereft of magic, passion and flair. Now I’m not turning into a Daily Mail writer, and thinking we should only have English players, these overseas players are magical and make our leagues into a wonderful spectacle, and our players aren’t bad.

Maybe we should just recognise that we’ve made that sacrifice, Premier League for the National side, and so quietly withdraw England from any competitions.

That way we’d know where we stood, and wouldn’t have to go through the absolute torture of hope and expectation that get dashed time after time.

The saddest thing is, there is a little corner in me that still believes.

Bullied into buying

May 30, 2010

I think it would be safe to say that most of us dislike uninvited telephone sales calls to our homes.

I signed up to the telephone preference service (TPS) to ensure that I didn’t get these calls, and I’m pleased that they’ve dried up…mostly. I say mostly, as I got a call last week from a company called Nationwide Energy Service, the saleslady was very insistent that this wasn’t a sales call, that they had a government grant that I could use, and all it would cost me was £99.

Of all the sales calls I have ever had the misfortune to receive, this was probably the most pushy, slick and well-worked of them all. The saleslady had every objection covered, had the ability to talk without breathing, spoke at 100 words a minute, it was like being hit by a sledgehammer.

The irony of it was that the product she was selling, loft insulation, I had already decided that I needed to sort this summer for our home. However, her attitude was so aggressive that there is no way I am going to buy it from them. So I’ve decided to incur this company as much time & cost as I can, knowing they will not get a penny from me. I let their surveyor come round, measure up, quote, and I’m now waiting for the follow up sales confirmation call, which I will say not yet, please call me back in 2 weeks, when I will ask them to call later…you get the picture.  I’ve also reported them to the TPS.

This lot really bugged me, I think because the sales lady really knew how to work the call,

So memo to self….

  • I have a right not to say yes there and then, I can take my time and decide.
  • Someone else’s pressure is their pressure, let them keep it.
  • If someone makes a request, the default position is no, it is much easier to change a “no” to a “yes”, than it is to get out of something.
  • You have a right to be undecided, that’s not a untenable position.
  • I have a right to find out more information and alternatives.
  • I have a right not to be bothered by these people.

So if these guys call you, do yourself a favour and just put the phone straight down.

And if you’re Ashleigh from the Nationwide Energy Service, change your practices now, they are deceitful.

And if you’re the saleslady that called me, then please, please, please, go and find a good use for your quite obvious phone talents…go and join Compassion or World Vision, but stop doing what you’re doing.

The scariest comment for booksellers that I have ever heard….

May 29, 2010

Last weekend I was attending my first study weekend for an MBA course that I have just started. In amongst the teaching, case studies and introductions was a session with the librarian, who took us through how to use the Stirling University Library facilities. Being a distance learning course, he focussed on how we could access the libraries online books, and with a throw away comment,  he added….

“As as University we buy nearly a million pounds worth of books, journals and reference works each year, and we try and and buy as few actual physical books as possible, we aim to get as many as we can as e-books”.

Most of the other students smiled and nodded, but I sat there as if the world had stopped around me and thought, “my world of bookselling has truly changed irrevocably”.

The implications of this quite logical step for the university are profound. Not only are they not buying physical books, which undermines the logistics of a viable booktrade, they are training a generation to read in ways which will change the face of bookselling. This e-learning generation will learn to default to ipads, kindles & netbooks as their preferred reading method. I’m not saying they won’t read physical books, and that won’t buy the physical books from bricks’n’mortar stores, but I believe that the nature of books and bookselling is changing more rapidly than we ever thought it would or could. As an aside, this is as scary for internet retailers as physical stores, because their primary purpose is to move actual rather than digital product.

As an avid user of the internet, I’ve always known, deep down, how this will change bookselling, but the starkness and reality hit me hard in that simple throwaway comment.

Bookstores will have to be simply exceptional to thrive, they will have to offer their customers an experience they enjoy so much, that they will choose to forgo the ease and price of online reading. This “being exceptional” will be different for different retailers, but will probably include a surprising breadth & depth of stock, being a specialist store, have deep community and customer relationships with loyalty schemes, a local distinctive, and a staff that are totally passionate about their store and the books they sell. These will be the basics, with other things like coffee, college bookstores, and new expressions of bookselling, having seen a really busy little bookshop in a market hall today,

and a mobile bookshop in my own town,  so I believe new types of bookshops will appear.

So what is important to the book trade now is “content” and “the customer”, because the rest of the book supply chain is imploding.

and yes, I will still be buying an ipad this week.

Back to school

May 19, 2010

After a real tough year in 2009, I’ve decided that I needed to take another approach to my work life. Having worked from the day I left school, started my own business, and worked my way up in other companies, I need, at this stage of life, to do something different.

So I’m going back to school. I’m going to do an MBA

It’s based at the University of Stirling and is the MBA in Retailing course.

I’m as excited about this course as it will be intellectually stimulating, fun & different to anything I’ve done before…. and a huge thanks and kudos to my new employers for supporting me in this.

It will take over 2 years, a shed load of time, commitment and hard work, and covers key areas.

• Managing the Strategic Environment

•Retail Management Context

• Managing Finance

• Managing the Supply Chain

• Managing People

• Retail Marketing

• Retail Buying and Merchandising

• Managing Change

So this weekend we have our first study weekend,

I can’t believe how much I am looking forward to this, a really great new chapter in my life.

Thank you Don

April 27, 2010

One of my favourite bloggers is Don Miller, author of Blue like Jazz

whose books I first discovered in a remainder warehouse in Waynesboro, Georgia!  So I’m really pleased this guy has become popular and is now a well read & influential Christian writer and blogger.

In his post today he asks the question ” Do you own your own successes?…he then writes about ways of reminding yourself of God’s faithfulness and previous successes when it seems failure is all around.

This is particularly poignant for me just coming out of a business that failed, leaving significant debts. I am clear in my mind that I myself could not have stopped the business failing, but I was still part of the team when it went down. There isn’t day that goes past when I don’t reflect on why, how, and what I could have, should have, done to prevent it. It still leaves a horrible feeling and a sense of failure, and awareness of the problems it caused many good people.

So to have a reminder in a blog post to consider those things that are successes in my life is very very valuable. Top of the list, and unsurprisingly, has to be my family, but oh how easy is it to take them for granted.  I can also think of lives changed through the bookshops I’ve run, and churches I’ve been a part of, and this is just for starters.

So I think tonight I will make a list of successes rather than failure. Then maybe sleep will come just a little easier.

Thank you Don

This has to get better

April 9, 2010

So an election is officially coming, depressingly, the opposing parties are have already reduced their campaigns to negative cheap shots at each other. I have to drive past this poster each time I go into town…

now I know our Prime Minister isn’t that photogenic, but to start a campaign with such an image shows just how poor British politics is. The Labour party are just as bad, in fact worse, their Ashes to Ashes “let’s get at Cameron” spoof backfired big time ….sheesh idiots.

If they remember Obama got elected on a message of hope and positivity, and he got the US pretty much behind him. Now you can argue with his politics ,but you can’t argue with how he won the election, and gave himself a year of voter goodwill, and in a really tough economic environment.

So you political candidates, for my vote, you’ll need to be way more positive…cos at the moment all I can see is petty people insulting each other. Let’s hope it improves, I want to hear clear policies from people of integrity.