Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Proper Weekend

For once, a proper weekend. You know, the ones that seem to last that bit longer. Where you lose yourself, just for a while, in something other than the mental Inbox.

Family has been the focus. Plus other people's families. Went to the wedding party of our friends, Keith and Judith. Keith is a former Trustee of mine. He was 65 on Saturday too, so it was a double celebration. Retirement and remarriage. Two fresh starts.

Seeing a guy so clearly happy in his later years, when so many blokes seem to struggle, was uplifting in its way. Clearly, sometimes, it is the best thing to just leave your life (and your wife) and start again, as he has done. We often forget that marriage was invented when we all died at 40 and that by our fifties and sixties we either need to reinvent our marriages (as my parents have done) or our lives by moving on. Keith was delightful with my daughter Ruby. `Mr Bubbles' (as he became) provided endless fun for her, enabling her Sad-Dad to talk shop with somebody from the sector.

I've been feeling my own age a little recently. A nerve was touched on Saturday morning when I heard a group of sixth formers in Cafe Nero, assuming I was out of earshot, saying I looked like Alan Bennett. It doesn't seem five minutes since I had people comparing me to Hugh Bloody Grant. Being 39 next month doesn't help. It feels like such a crap age. What's even more chilling is that a decade hence I will be 49. I just can't imagine liking it one bit. The fattened body, the lost hair, the sense of being yesterday's man. Women and even older gay men looking straight through you. The promise of life no longer sharp and fresh.

Mind you look at David Davis. There's man who's not going old without a fight. Andrew Rawnsley today was saying the guy is looking for his Enoch Powell moment, a place in the history books. I'm not so sure he'll get it. Most people, me included, are with Gordon on this one. We need to have more confidence in ourselves as a society. All the bleeding-hearts, led by the irritating and over-rated Shami Chakaravorty, present 42 days as the death of liberal Britain.

Come off it! Gordon is not Vladimir Putin. This is not Burma. If the police can get a judge to approve an extra couple of weeks to nail the next Tube-bombers (and they are coming, that is guaranteed) then a society confident in its liberal foundations needs to say `Given the special circumstances here, yes".

As for the radicalisation of the Muslim community, well, again, sorry, I don't buy that either. Every Muslim I know is praying, more than anything else, that there's never a repeat of what happened on 7/7. They know that would be far more harmful to community relations than 42 days.

Spent a surprisingly pleasant Saturday night leafing through the papers for my first Futurebuilders Investment Committee meeting. I have to say how impressed I was by how well everything was written and presented. It made for a really good couple of hours. A couple of themes emerging for me, just on the basis of this set of papers (so major health warning here!!).

One is that some of the investments in smaller organisations (and a couple of larger ones) appear to be going a bit pair-shaped. Low organisational capacity seems to crop up quite a bit, ranging from financial illiteracy to, now and again, a dodgy CEO nicking the dough. The assessment process looks pretty vigorous to me and exceeded my expectations, I had to say. The ones that, on the face of it, don't look so strong now are where several things all needed to come good all at once (CEO, new appointments, the market, a separate bit of the project) for the FBE investment to be effective. In my experience, you need to be a position where most areas are strong and you only need a couple of unknowns to go your way, not eight! Of the ones coming up as recommends to invest, I agreed with all except one that seemed to need too much to go right for it to be a success. And with a recession on the way, I can't see that happening for this particular concern.

The other frequent problem that I see is expectations of income from public sector contracts not being fulfilled. This isn't actually normally the organisation's fault. They've often just bought in, quite understandably, to Government spin about increased contestability when in fact the public sector remains unreformed and highly skilled in serving its own interests. Labour's blood-ties to the public sector (shown by `Prezza''s achievement-claim in his book to have created a million public sector jobs) prevent it from doing the necessary with public services.
Blair tried. Brown stopped him. Once elected, Cameron will, at first, duck it, then, use the fact that the Treasury's cupboard is bare after 2011 to introduce proper markets and genuine choice into education, health and social welfare. This could be the real opportunity for social enterprise, I reckon. When we actually get round to changing Britain, rather than just working at its edges.

Sunday has ended rather blissfully with a run through the fading light around the lanes of Bury St Edmunds. I saw a duck followed by a troop of about twelve tiny black ducklings, running across a road, cars stopping to let her pass. I was seized, momentarily by emotion before I pulled myself together and reminded myself of Rod Liddle's excellent article in the Spectator last week in which he highlighted the absurdity of our attitude to most animals.

Listen to the new Coldplay album on the way round. I am still undecided about it. However, what I do know is that Brian Eno has given it a feel and texture that I really love. Coldplay are a funny band. I always buy their albums, listen to them for about four months then never play them again. My wife, like a lot of women, tends to buy music she likes first time and doesn't get all geeky about the mix etc. She loved the others but thinks this one won't do very well `because the tunes aren't very good'.

However, I am finding myself liking it, partly because I am loving Eno's touches and ideas. That man could turn me singing the Smiths in the bath into art and so he has, clearly had good subjects in Coldplay. The band, themselves, however, have a strange kind of identity. They often morph the popular acts of the day (Arcade Fire for example) into their sound. I wonder, at times, whether they are in fact just really talented pop-marketeers who can also write and play.

Like all bands, and people, they are at their best when they are being themselves. On a couple of tracks - not the ones that sound like out-takes from the Joshua Tree - they achieve this. And it is nice. Listen to `Exile on Main Street' for the last two miles. This is not Coldplay's `Exile' or `Joshua Tree'. That much I do know.

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