London

Swingin’ London

Stokey Lit FestThis morning in the midst of sorting out my horrendous paperwork backlog I stumbled across a flyer I’d saved from last year’s Stoke Newington Literary Festival.  It was for a screening of the excellent “How We Used To Live” film directed by Paul Kelly, narrated by Ian McShane and with a “swingle-y” soundtrack from St Etienne.  It’s a collection of BFI footage from the years 1950-1980.

I really enjoyed the Stokey Lit Festival last June.  We went for the entire 3 days.  I’d strongly recommend attendance if you’re in London this June, dates this year are 5 to 7 June.  There’s a real eclectic mix and the stuff I liked best ranged from a talk about our relationship with numbers to some crazy science fiction authors discussing how best to make money from publishing short e-books to a conversation with iconic cartoonists Steven Appleby & Martin Rowson to learning about Georgian London from Lucy Inglis to listening to dub poet and legend Linton Kwesi Johnson.  Really good fun and hanging out in between in Stokey’s hipster coffee bars & restaurants with the rest of the truly bohemian crew.

Back to the film.  There were a few things that really struck me from watching old footage of the 60s and 70s especially as that was the era I grew up in.  I wrote them down on the back of the flyer before leaving my seat at the screening and I so enjoyed reading them again this morning that I thought I’d share them with you.

Sid & Johnny from The Sex Pistols Experience at the 100 Club Feb 2015

Sid & Johnny from The Sex Pistols Experience at the 100 Club Feb 2015

Incidentally, as a person who usually looks forward rather than backwards I’ve just realised that in the course of the last week or so I’ve been indulging in a ridiculous amount of nostalgia wallowing as I’ve watched the excellent BBC4 documentary about Joy Division & Ian Curtis, seen a Sex Pistols tribute band at the 100 Club and last night I saw Good Vibrations.  I don’t know why that is.

Now that's what I call a Mini

Now that’s what I call a Mini

Here’s my list – please, please add your observations in the comments section below:

  • Minis were small cars, not great big things
  • Police cars were also small
  • People were thinner – but they had terrible hair, skin & teeth
  • People were either young or old – there was no-one in between
  • Men went to their work to do physical labouring in proper trousers and jackets
  • Mickey Most went out jogging in a brown shirt & trousers and his office shoes
  • Punks really were different than anything before or since
  • Our streets were thinner
  • The Tube was just as busy and everyone looked just as p’d off commuting
  • The Festival of Britain looked incredible; St Thomas’ Hospital recorded 2 baby girls named “Festival” and one baby boy called “Skylon” (I wonder where they are now and did they change their names?)
  • The Queen looked amazing
  • Tower blocks looked awful – even when they were new
  • Industry was so manual – there’s footage in the film of men operating a wrecking ball and rows and rows of men in teams physically lifting railway sleepers as part of the railway transformation programme
  • All the London landmarks are recognisable (Big Ben, Tower Bridge, The Monument) but there are tiny, almost imperceptible differences
  • Cars all looked different instead of being identical silver boxes
Glamour-tastic taste of the 70s

Glamour-tastic taste of the 70s

Reading that again this morning made me remember the fun of rushing home from school in the 1970s, desperate to catch Marc Bolan & David Bowie in full-on glam rock paraphernalia on British tv at teatime.  Glorious.

Catch that film if you’re old like me and want to experience those strong waves of nostalgia from things long past and see you all at the Stokey Lit Fest in June.

My London Life – recommendations for places to go & things to do

I find myself telling people I moved to London “the other day” but in truth it’s been over a year now since I’ve been living in central London.  I miss Ireland, I miss the countryside at home in County Tyrone & I miss being in the Learning Pool mothership in Derry at the heart of our team but I’m also really loving my new London Life.  Living here this time around I’ve found London to be jumping with things to do & I’ve found it to be a far friendlier place to live than I remember from last time – but maybe it was me who changed in the intervening 12 years.

This is adrift from my usual business related blog topics but I thought it would be fun to jot down some of what I’ve enjoyed most about the last year in London.  Might be interesting for visitors & tourists.  I know everyone will have their own favourite recommendations so please feel free to add yours in the comments below.  I’ve gone for stuff which is free or low cost & which everyone can have access to.

  1. Hang out in any of London’s independent coffee shops and bakeries.  There are hundreds of them and they’re all magic.French-BakeryStay away from the chains.  As well as some of them dodging UK tax they are also as boring as sin, usually packed and they often serve coffee that tastes rotten and is way overpriced.  Locally to me I have the French Bakery in County Hall (south side of Westminster Bridge on the Southbank) & I have the Greensmiths Food Company on Lower Marsh St – the most divine & affordable cakes are baked on site by the chef for their cafe.
  2. If you want to impress someone with a great view & a bit of history then take them for tea in the Southbank Marriott hotel.  I know this is a direct contradiction of my recommendation No 1 but I can’t help being contrary.  It’s the old GLC building and was the seat of London government from the 1920s until 1986.GLCMany of it’s original features have been retained by the new owners including the beautiful wood panelling throughout the common areas.  Don’t miss the photographs taken at the time the building was going up and don’t miss the many period cartoons of Ken Livingstone & Margaret Thatcher.  The tea rooms look out directly over the Houses of Parliament, the River & Big Ben.  My friend Tom Phillips & I called in there recently although we didn’t even buy anything – we just had a look around – no-one seemed to mind.
  3. Eating Lebanese food on the Edgware Road and shopping in some of the local grocery stores.  Magnificent & easy on the wallet.  Completely authentic & cheaper than getting on a plane.  Sights and sounds from afar & waves of aniseed from the outdoor shisha smokers as you walk along the street.
  4. Ronnie-ScottRonnie Scott’s at Sunday lunchtime for intimacy, jazz and a taste of old world glamour.  It’s exactly as I imagine clubs in New York to have been in the 1950s in my mind’s eye.  Red velvet & table lamps, waiter service even if all you want is a glass of water, prime people watching…time travel without the machine.
  5. Last minute tickets to the theatre or the ballet.  We go to see everything that we have time for.  If the show is completely sold out you can queue for returns – you get lucky about 50% of the time in my experience.  You can see shows at the National Theatre on the Southbank for as little as £12 (or even £5 if you’re prepared to stand and aren’t yet too decrepit).  Some plays are better than others of course but they’re all enjoyable.  Going to see live performance is an incredible privilege and it’s just so easy in London.
  6. Joining the curator-led tours at the National Gallery.  These are brilliant, last an hour & they are free.  I’ve been on 4 or 5 so far & have seen different paintings every time.  Having the curator explain the paintings gives you a completely different perspective & insight.
  7. Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel – live art in the making & constantly changing – and I mean constantly changing.Queen-with-teapot  Maeve McLaughlin snapped this picture of the Queen last week and it was gone the very next day – her Majesty had been replaced with a rather rubbishy robot – which again has since been replaced by something else.  Utterly amazing.  Do not miss it.  It looks a bit menacing at first glance but it’s perfectly safe and there’s a 24 hour car wash going on in the middle of all the photography shoots and biker gatherings and film-making and all the other stuff that’s going on.  About 5 minutes walk from Waterloo station.
  8. Visit Parliament for free.  You don’t have to pay.  You just show up at the visitor’s entrance, queue & go through security and next thing you know you’re in Westminster Hall surrounded by history.  Dependent on how busy it is you might even get into the Gallery to observe Parliament in action if you’re lucky and well behaved.  The Parliamentary Outreach team is working hard to make Parliament more accessible to us all so watch their website for the free events that take place from time to time.
  9. Send off for free tickets to BBC recordings.Billy-BraggThe one we got tickets for was in Maida Vale Studio to be part of the audience for a Radio 4 Mastertapes show featuring Billy Bragg.  It was utterly brilliant and so was he.  Look on the BBC website where all their open events are advertised.  All you need to do is email them & you’ll find out a few days later whether or not you’ve been allocated tickets.  Be sure you show up in time on the night as they overbook & you might not get in if you’re last to arrive and everyone else has turned up.  Great fun and completely free.
  10. Sign up for some low cost learning related events.  The two I attended & enjoyed the most in 2012 were Tedx Houses of Parliament (happening again 14 June 2013, tickets go on sale tomorrow 4 March, great lineup again this year, I thoroughly recommend this) and the Mozfest (from the Mozilla Foundation) which will be happening again in late October 2013 in London.MozillaHang out with some like minded people & learn some stuff too – what’s not to like.
  11. Take the riverboat up or down the Thames using your Oyster card.  Viewing from the River gives you a different perspective on the City and you can see stuff you wouldn’t normally see.  If you manage to get as far as the O2, go over to the ExCel conference centre by cable car – also using your Oyster card.  Great fun and not anything like as terrifying as it looks from the ground.
  12. My last one is spending summer evenings in the parks.  The Serpentine Bar & Kitchen was a particular favourite of Team Learning Pool in summer 2012 – we spent the long summer evenings in their garden – eating pizza from the woodfired oven, drinking a few light ales, watching the ducks swim past & speculating about how much fun it would be to have a Learning Pool summer party in a flotilla of those pedal boats.

I’ll finish up with my favourite pic of the boys from last summer, snapped outside of the Queen Victoria in Connaught Village.  London summer evenings are pretty perfect and should be enjoyed outdoors.  London’s a great place to live and visit.  My advice for London Life is keep your eyes open for all the wonderful things there are to see, be friendly to the people you meet and when anyone invites you to stuff – say yes!

Boys-with-beers-Connaught

Interactive art doesn’t have to be 21st Century

Yesterday I joined one of the National Gallery’s tours.  The excellent Steven Barrett, one of the National Gallery’s lecturers, took us on a whistlestop tour of the gallery & showed us 5 significant paintings.  The one I’m going to focus on for the purpose of this blog is Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” painted in 1533 and depicting two French dignataries visiting the court of King Henry VIII.  My reason for choosing it is that the painting is one of the earliest examples of interactivity in art and because of that I find it incredibly interesting.

Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors, National Gallery London

Placed in the bottom centre of the painting is a strangely distorted surreal looking object which is an anamorphic skull.  The artist has used perspective to carefully distort it so that you can only see it as a skull when you view it from the right hand side of the painting with your eyes about 1.5m from the floor – from that perspective the skull pops into view & the rest of the picture disappears.

We think Jean de Dinteville (he on the left in the furs) hung the painting on his staircase back in France and the skull would jump out to people descending the staircase when they reached that crucial point and give them a shock – reminding them of their own mortality.

So – this is an early example of interactivity in art.  The way the artist has created this piece requires the viewer to do something & shift position to a different stance in order to fully experience the painting, to see worldliness disappear & the memento mori spring out.

Interesting eh?  I like also the contrast between the forensic detail of the rest of the painting and the distortion of the skull at the bottom.  Don’t miss the strangely angled crucifix in the top left corner.

Loads more written about this painting online including a couple of the National Gallery’s videos on youtube that explain the geekiness behind how the artist did the distortion accurately with the instruments he had available to him at the time.  The National Gallery is free to visit and a wonderful national resource.  I’m sure many of you pass it all the time, rushing to & from other places.  You really should take 15 minutes out & go and look at something beautiful or thought provoking.

For those that are interested, the other 4 paintings we saw were:

Paolo Uccello “Battle of San Romano” – an early attempt to create an illusion of 3D space

Carlo Crivelli “The Annunciation with Saint Emidius” – another early example of improved perspective in Medieval art

Joseph Wright “An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump”

Vincent’s “Sunflowers” – beautiful now but so controversial when it was painted.

I enjoyed the complete immersion in the hour long tour and listened to every word that Steven said.  It was possible to do this despite the crowds on a busy Saturday.  Thoroughly recommend it.

Titian and innovation

Titian’s Diana and Actaeon

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a private, curator led view of the Metamorphosis Titian 2012 show at the National Gallery.  My reason for writing this blog is twofold.  First it’s to encourage anyone who’s in London between now & 23 Sept to call in & see the exhibition.  It’s free and as it’s small it won’t take you long – although you may find the paintings so mesmerising you’ll stand in front of them for longer than you realise.

The show is a multi arts project and if you’re interested in finding out more the link is here www.nationalgallery.org.uk/metamorphosis  For the purpose of this blog I’m going to focus only on the three Titian paintings, exhibited together again for the first time in over 200 years.  Two of the paintings entitled “Diana and Actaeon” and “Diana and Callisto” were purchased recently by the Gallery from the Duke of Sutherland for around £100m for the pair, thought to be about 1/3 of their market value (that’s about £100,000 each for each year that’s passed since the artist died).

When I entered the gallery I thought at first the paintings were recently painted reproductions of the originals, the colours are so remarkably bright and vibrant.  Titian from his 16thC base in Venice had access to amazing pigments and the Gallery has been able to determine that the blue pigment in these sister paintings originated in Afghanistan.  It’s no wonder that Lucian Freud described them as “simply the most beautiful pictures in the world”.

Colin Wiggins of the National Gallery’s Education team

My second reason for writing the blog is to share with you the massive difference it made to me having a knowledgeable guide explain the background to the three paintings.  It had really never occurred to me to join a gallery tour before but the additional enjoyment that Colin Wiggins brought to the experience was unbelievable.  He explained to us the stories depicted by the three paintings, made the link to Ovid’s writings without losing me or losing my interest (attention span of a fruit fly I’m afraid), gave us the background to how the paintings were commissioned by Philip II of Spain and how Titian delivered only two of the three to him (choosing to keep the Death of Actaeon for himself as he approached his own end of life) and he added a personal touch by telling us the story of seeing that painting himself on a school trip.  At the time the National Gallery were raising funds to buy the painting but Colin wouldn’t contribute any of his pocket money as he “hated its brownness”.  Now, of course, he loves the painting.  Appreciation of art no doubt improves with age – a bit like eating olives & anchovies…

He also talked about Titian’s innovation as an artist and stepped us through how he had paved the way for Rubens, Delacroix, Pollock, Bacon and Frank Auerbach to follow in his footsteps.  Fascinating to think about how an individual artist can leave a legacy with a halo effect that continues on for 500 years so far.  I wonder if Apple will be able to match that?

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the story, Actaeon accidentally stumbled upon Diana bathing in the forest surrounded by her nymphs.  He glimpsed her naked body & she splashed water in his face, turning him into a stag who was then hunted down & torn limb from limb by his own pack of hunting dogs who no longer recognised him.  Some may say quite a harsh punishment.

I urge you to go and enjoy this exhibition.  Thanks to the National Gallery for having the patience and wherewithal to buy these beautiful paintings, thanks to the curators & collaborators on this project for assembling such an enjoyable show and thanks to you Colin for sharing your experience and insight.

Grayson Perry – an unusual man with an unusual view of the world

Grayson_perry_motorbike

Today I spent 4 or 5 hours in the British Museum.  It was wonderful.  There’s something there for everyone.  I have to admit to behaving today a bit like an accountant & a person who without fail always counts their lengths when swimming.  I grabbed the brochure entitled “A History of the World in 100 Objects”, picked out the 20 that interested me the most & then mapped out a route to view them.  I did my “objet” viewing on either side of the main reason for my trip – Grayson Perry’s exhibition “The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman”.  All I can say is it’s on until 26 Feb (extension by popular demand) & if you haven’t seen it yet, you need to get down there, pay your tenner and consume this visual feast.

I know there’s been a lot already written about this exhibition, and photos were not permitted, so I’m going to keep this short.  It’s a mix of artefacts from the British museum which the artist has selected & then sometimes juxtaposed next to his own work (10 or so of his famous ceramic pots including one featuring Mark E Smith of The Fall entitled “Grumpy Old God pot”, iron sculptures of people, a coffin containing his ponytail from 25 years ago, needlework and huge tapestries, a tower he built out of stones he found on the road outside his squat in 1983, outrageous costumes he’s created & then worn, and of course his famous motorcycle – there in my photo, complete with Alan Measles riding at the back in his box).

What I liked most of all was some of the stuff Grayson had written here & there.  These are my favourites:

·         Reality can be new as well as old, poetic as well as factual and funny as well as grim;

·         Next to a selection of exquisite tiny portable lacquered Japanese shrines from the 1700s he tells us that the modern day equivalent of a portable shrine is the photo album we all carry about on our smartphones – I love that

·         The suggestion that CCTV is the modern version of carvings over cathedral doors depicting the Last Judgement & the damned going to hell – hahaha

Beautiful, just beautiful.  Don’t miss out.  Post up your comments if you’ve been along & enjoyed it as much as I did.  I look forward to reading them.

Some thoughts from Rosaleen Blair – entrepreneur, Dubliner and superwoman

Rosaleen Blair

Great female role model Rosaleen Blair speaking at an IIBN London event

As I’m sure the whole world is by now aware, I’m coming to the end of my first week living back in London.  Everyone I’ve met this past week or asked for help has been extremely welcoming and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited to a few really useful networking events.  Best of all, however, from the perspective of a newly arrived Irish entrepreneur in London has been the Irish International Business Network or IIBN as it’s known.  The link is here for anyone that would like to know more or find out how to join http://www.iibn.com/london/

I’m lucky enough to have been introduced to the original Wild Irish Guy himself, Damon Oldcorn, and it seems that once you know Damon, you don’t really need to know anyone else.  I’ve always found this to be a good strategy.  Bryan Keating was the first business person I met in Northern Ireland, he’s the exact same and it’s never done me any harm.

Thursday night’s IIBN event started with drinks & chat and it was very easy to circulate and get talking to a few people as everyone’s very friendly and open.  Everyone has an Irish connection even though many, like me, don’t have an Irish accent.  Don’t let that fool you! – they all know their Leitrims from their Letterkennys and their Dungloes from their Dingles.  Our diaspora is a beautiful thing.  There were bankers, recruiters, reps from private equity houses, lawyers, entrepreneurs, investors and no doubt many more besides.  If you’re Irish, in business and in London you need to join IIBN.

As part of the evening, our speaker was the charming and self-effacing Rosaleen Blair.  Rosaleen is one of those women who have achieved a helluva lot but doesn’t go around shouting that from the rooftops.  She just gets on with things.  Most of all, I liked the way she described the values her company operates by and I liked her statement of the 3 things she demands from people in her team and recruits against.  I’ve used these a few times already in conversation with others I’ve met this week but having chatted with Rosaleen on the evening, I don’t think she’ll mind.  They are as follows:

·         Trust – the members of a team have to really trust one another; of course this takes a bit of time

·         Collaboration – people need to be able & willing to work on projects with each other and to work hard to make that collaboration work

·         Sharing – Rosaleen hates it when people hold back knowledge & refuse to share it with other members of the team

I also loved what she said about encouraging a culture of “intrapreneurship” within your own organisation as a way of motivating and retaining the people in your team.  If anyone’s unsure what that means, it’s about encouraging positive aspects of entrepreneurial behaviour but within a large organisation.  It’s something we always tried to do at Learning Pool.

Rosaleen told us her story about how she arrived in London from Dublin in the 1990s, not knowing a soul but with a background in recruitment and having run a few small businesses in Ireland, believing herself to be fairly unemployable.  She went to work at Alexander Mann and over the course of time, persuaded her employer to allow her to try something new to fill a gap in the market and co-create adjacent services with clients (the first one being ICL/Fujitsu).  As it happened, she, working along with James Caan, became one of the early pioneers of what these days is known as RPO (Recruitment Process Outsourcing) and the rest is history.  In 2007, Rosaleen led her team through a £100m management buyout with the backing of private equity house Graphite Capital.  These days her company Alexander Mann Solutions employs 2,000 people working in 70 geographies and 42 languages.

Rosaleen also gave us some priceless bits of advice which I hope she won’t mind me passing on here to others:

·         When looking at which private equity house to go with, do some research and talk to some of the companies your main players have divested themselves of

·         As CEO, always keep your bank manager close & don’t give them any surprises; don’t pass that bank relationship off to someone else in your team

·         If your company is going to be working in some way with a private equity house, get yourself a CFO that has previously worked with a PE house, a CFO coming from a big corporate background won’t have the right sort of experience

·         Trust your own instincts and that of your team every day of the week over the advice given to you by external “experts”

Thanks Rosaleen, thanks IIBN and hello London!

 

What makes a great virtual team member?…time to practice what I preach

Paul_in_stansted_lounge

Today’s my last day in Northern Ireland for 6 months.  For the past 5 years I’ve managed a highly motivated part of the Learning Pool team who are absent from our Derry mothership & who work from home in England and Scotland.  Tomorrow I become one of them.  This past couple of weeks I’ve been really mulling this over & wondering what it will mean for me.  I’m also slightly worried that I may not be the exemplary virtual team member that I imagine I will, a carbon copy of the perfect remote worker in the image I have in my mind’s eye.

In my view, these are the qualities & behaviours of a great virtual team member:

·         superb communicator – in both directions – giving & receiving information; this applies equally to customers & colleagues

·         highly organised in terms of managing appointments, follow ups, phone calls, CRM updates, keeping your online calendar bang up to date

·         ability to work efficiently on the hoof (on trains, in cafes, at airports, in the car)

·         knack to really bond with people you don’t see face to face much – other virtual colleagues but also the people in the powerhouse or mothership – the people you need to actually do things for you that you can’t do yourself

·         planning your schedule to get the most out of each day by combining appointments & using common sense

·         gift for really knowing what’s going on beneath the surface at HQ, think that comes about by really listening to what your colleagues say

·         makes the best use of the available technology & doesn’t get bogged down in constant technofail

·         books travel well in advance to get the best prices

·         effective collector & disseminator of customer information back to the mothership team

·         self starter with a lot of drive

·         ability to complete & finish things (this one is tricky for me) in a fast paced & constantly moving environment.

From time to time I’ve been critical of how other people do some or all of the above.  I guess I’ll know by this time next week how I’m doing myself.  Any hints and tips from you, my dear readers, will be most welcome as always.

So what am I going to miss most over the next 6 months when I’m London based.  Folks – there’s no competition on that score.  The photo of Paul was snapped yesterday at Stansted airport.  He’d just finished a conference call with our tech team & is posting something up on Twitter.  As usual, we had a few right old laughs yesterday – despite both of us having a 3.30am start, a tricky meeting at the Cabinet Office and the usual mixed bag of rushing around London for meetings, juggling stuff as we go.  Along the way, and starting at 5.30am, we also discussed everything that both of us are working on, we did some long term strategic planning, we both chatted to a number of colleagues, customers and partners, sketched out a couple of new products or markets for existing parts of the Learning Pool portfolio, swapped the usual load of gossip (mainly about other entrepreneurs or businesses), exchanged views on the content of business books we are both reading (cuts down on individual reading time if your business partner reads it & gives you a précis of course), managed to have both breakfast & lunch in the most random of places, went through some sort of time/space portal at Stansted airport, took two plane journeys & two long drives each, but were emailing again when we got to our respective homes last night.  The relationship anyone has (should have) with their business partner is pretty intense and full on.  I’ll refer you to a previous blog of mine if you’re interested in reading more about this – it’s here https://kickingassets.co.uk/two-heads-are-better-than-one-10-pros-of-havi

We’ve been working together like this for 8 years, we rarely disagree and you couldn’t put a cigarette paper in between us.  I guess that’s what I’m going to miss most.