The Martini Diaries – Episode 7

In which I move to temporary office space, attempt vlogging, visit the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, win at roulette using my system at the Royal Air Force Club Summer Ball, am invited to an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, endure the UK heatwave, find myself humming ‘Jerusalem’ whilst reflecting on Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister, start Queer Eye season 4, and question why Americans use the word ‘like’ every third word.

Monday 15 July 2019

We start our week with an office move. The Society headquarters in London have not been renovated since the two buildings we own were crudely knocked into one some 15 years ago. It seemed timely to remove the 25% space used for stairways and corridors to create a much more open plan and usable office space. Architects have finished the drawings, and the builders arrive today to undertake the demolition. As a result, we have had to move out as a team for two months. I had found this interesting temporary office space concept five minutes away called TOG. It stands for The Office Group, and they have been renovating and establishing shared working spaces across London. Our location at Number One Lyric Square in West London is quite fabulous.

We have a large office room on the fifth floor, with 10 desks. We kind of hot desk our way through there, but the real interesting aspect has been the many breakout spaces throughout the building that you can use just to work on your own or for small meetings or even large meetings. There is a gym, changing rooms and showers, a café, a bar, a wonderful outdoor terrace on the first floor (which is a beautiful sun trap), and many fine secure meeting rooms, private spaces, armchairs and sofas. It is interesting to see the team dispersing all over the building working in armchairs, small groups outside, there is much sun lotion and sunglasses in evidence! It truly is flexible working, but it does seem to be beneficial to our productivity.

My only fear with such comfortable surroundings the team may not want to go back to our renovated offices with their sun tans!

Wednesday 17 July 2019

I attended the launch of the Charity Commission report into tax relief today, in the House of Lords. Yes, I know, perhaps too much excitement for one day. It was in the Attlee Room, one of the many non-air conditioned rooms in the House. The heatwave has started, and it was somewhat uncomfortable in there. Most of the people attending seemed to have come only for the lunch, so I left once I had met the few people I needed to see. I walked across Westminster Bridge to my next meeting at the Marriott Hotel. I had forgotten how unbearable parts of London can be during tourist season – I battled my way through what can only be described as a human wave across the bridge. Why do people lose their sense of spacial awareness when they are near famous landmarks? Having nearly lost an eye three times to uncontrolled self-sticks I arrived at the Marriott Hotel a little early for my 3.30 pm meeting. I felt I deserved a restorative glass of champers for my exertions in the heat. My meeting guests arrived equally frazzled and joined me – result: a very productive meeting. Champagne is very under-estimated.

Thursday 18 July 2019

Today I decided to act on some feedback I’ve been receiving since launching the Martini Diaries to try some vlogging (and I am not sure I have even spelt that correctly?!). Using the live story feed on my Instagram account I kept a running video narrative of this day, Thursday the 18th. On reflection, it was perhaps not the best day to select, as my day started at 7:15 in the morning with a walk to the railway station and finished at just after 1 am in the morning when I returned home. I hope it didn’t give the impression that I consistently work 17-18 hour days!

That said it was a fun day. I started in the TOG office in West London with a series of staff meetings in the morning, and then headed over at lunchtime to the annual craft beer festival outside the Guildhall in the City of London. This is a fundraising event, where a number of small breweries are able to exhibit in various tents around the open square, in addition to a few food carts. If you are one of the public you pay to get in and receive beer and food tokens in return, a glass to use for drinking, and you happily spend your time sampling various beers and food. It is open from midday through until 6 pm or 7 pm in the evening. My wonderful lawyers, Hempsons, had sponsored a tent, and invited me to attend. Fortunately, despite the rising heat, the sun stayed behind clouds for most of the day so the confined space was not too tiring. However, it was a very pleasant way to spend an hour at lunchtime, where I enjoyed two very good craft beers and a venison burger, which was superb.

I returned back across London to my office for some conference calls, which were made far more enjoyable by being able to sit outside in the sun on the terrace to take them.

Then I returned back across London again to the House of Commons as a guest at a dinner hosted by MP Stephen Metcalfe. It was the annual dinner to welcome the American Chemistry Society to London, and was co-hosted by the effervescent Dr Stephen Benn.

It was a classical splendid evening of too much wine and great food in the House of Commons dining room. Unfortunately, as always with Stephen, these events run on so enjoyably that I found myself racing across London at 10.45 pm to catch the last train of the day at 11:30 pm back home to Ipswich – hence why the vlog showed me not arriving home till 1 am (and finally getting into bed at 1:30 am). During the dinner Stephen Benn surprisingly revealed himself as a baseball fanatic, was able to reveal his, until that moment unknown, love of the Cincinnati Reds, and showed an extraordinary knowledge of baseball stadium architecture! This wonderful man never ceases to surprise!

Saturday 20 July 2019

Today my wonderful wife Sue and I headed into London to attend the Royal Air Force Club Summer Ball. We took advantage of this day in London to visit the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. This has now become a regular event in our summer season, having attended the anniversary event last year.

The Summer Exhibition is an open art exhibition held every year at the Royal Academy in its building in Picadilly. It’s open during June, July and August.

It exhibits a range of paintings, drawings, sculpture, architectural designs and some models and is the largest such exhibition in the UK. The first exhibition took place in 1769 and has been held every year since. Some 10,000 artistic entries are submitted from up to 5000 artists. About 1000 are selected each year for exhibition. Much of the art is then sold and it is one of the principal sources of revenue for the Academy, as they receive a percentage of the sale price of each piece of art. As a very poor amateur artist myself, and I really am only comfortable in a classical sense of being a little bit of an impressionist in oils, I find much of the work on display at these exhibitions a combination of frankly disturbing, weird, occasionally stunningly fabulous and do wonder sometimes whether the artist is in fact making fun of the audience. I saw pieces valued at £12,000 which could have been designed by a small child! One glass display simply had pair of sunglasses in it. Really?

The Club Ball was an altogether different and much more traditional experience. As befits such an occasion I dressed in black tie, and Sue looked spectacular in a full length gold sequin dress.

After some introductory songs by the guest band we headed into dinner in the long room overlooking Green Park and spent an enjoyable two hours meandering to and from the expansive hot and cold buffet prepared by our wonderful chef in the Club.

Having eaten so much, the sizeable cheeseboard was too much for us, so we moved down to Churchill Room to take part in a casino. We were presented with £100 of chips – not real money – and at the end of the evening the person holding the largest amount of chips would receive a prize.

I have long had a theory that in roulette you could develop a system to even out the betting and win a modest amount of money – I had been aching to try it. So, with no personal money at risk, but with a real roulette table to use it was time to test the system. I placed a £5 bet the second 12 numbers, which covers the numbers 13 to 24. Having covered one third of the table, the odds pay at 3 to1. The theory is if you keep betting on the same 12 numbers statistically you should see a return. The key though is to double your stake if you lose. First spin of the wheel and I lost, so then I doubled my stake to £10, and I lost again. This meant I now had to double again to £20, and that would mean £35 of my pot of money already disappeared. If this £20 bet was lost I would have to go to £40, I would then have lost £75 of my £100. I therefore couldn’t double the £40 to £80 because I wouldn’t have enough funds. This clearly is where the self-discipline comes in. Luckily, on the third spin of the wheel, with a £20 bet, my number came up (17) and I received my £20 back plus £60 in winning. I was now ahead!

I kept the system up for several more spins of the wheel winning either on the first or the second spin. I then decided to use some of my surplus funds, because I now had almost doubled my £100 to nearly £200 and placed a £5 bet on my birthday, number 4. Number 4 came up straight away and I won 36×£5 pound bet! Sue joined me at the table (helpfully with a cognac to calm my excited nerves), and feeling confident now with the significant surplus pot I placed another £5 bet on her birthday, number 27, as well as continuing to cover my one third of the table numbers 13 to the 24. Guess what? Number 27 came up straight away and we pocketed another 36×£5 pounds! My one third spread continue to pay every two or three spins and then I decided to put £5 on zero. Three spins later that came off as well and another 36×£5 pounds into the pot. This was now becoming addictive!

People arrived at the table with their pot of £100, randomly spread bets all over the place and left a few minutes late with no money! I stayed in my place sticking to my system and continue to accumulate funds. By midnight, when the tables closed, I was announced the winner by some clear margin and took away my prize of a bottle of champagne!

We went upstairs to the Ballroom for a little dancing and then collapsed into bed exhausted, but feeling very smug, at 1 am.

Sunday 21 July 2019

With a number of late nights in the past few weeks catching up on me, and also taking into account I haven’t switched off from being the CEO with my 24/7 existence for nearly 11 months, a sense of bone tiredness has begun to creep in. This happens every year, which is why I look forward to August to arrive when I take a three week holiday and do not open my email. I literally go off the grid for three weeks. It is liberating. This Sunday morning, we didn’t wake up until 9 AM! After a very light breakfast we wandered over to one of my favourite places for a coffee on a lazy Sunday morning in London, the Lido beside the Serpentine in Hyde Park. There we enjoyed a leisurely Latte, watching the various ducks, geese and birds sweeping and diving like military aircraft in formation. Such a great place in the middle of the city.

We headed over to Kensington to Cote Brassiere for luncheon (steak and frites for me) and enjoyed a bottle of Muscadet. Drinking a bottle of wine at lunchtime, in the heat, perhaps not such a great idea as the tiredness came back again!

I was very relieved to arrive home that evening and collapse into bed. Only two weeks to go before my holiday!

Tuesday 23 July 2019

A few months ago, at an Embassy reception in London, I met one of the curators from the Victoria and Albert Museum. She invited me to bring my staff over to the V&As summer exhibition, ‘Food: bigger than the plate’. This unusual exhibition is an opportunity to participate, taste and debate food, there are experiments at every stage of the food system. It starts with composting and finishes at very large table where you can design your own micro food and then taste it. The head curator welcomed us to the exhibition and provided an overview of how she has created the concept, and then we wandered around for two hours. It was very interesting, thought provoking, slightly disturbing and beautifully presented.

Made from coffee grinds!
When oranges were wrapped in paper not plastic
First edition from 1865 of Mrs Beeton’s cooking book (and household management)

It seemed appropriate then to have some lunch, so as a group we headed across the road to Comptoir Libanais, a delightful Lebanese restaurant in South Kensington. I had an excellent halloumi salad, washed down with a much-needed iced tea.

For those of you who were in London this week you will know this is traditionally when we began to creep over the 30° weather – it was stifling. We were now half an hour by public transport away from the office, and made a quick collective decision that getting onto the underground in this heat to return to the office for our planned meeting on a European conference would be a waste of time (and an unpleasant experience), so we walked across the road to a pub, found a large table in the corner, and where we enjoyed refreshing gin and tonic‘s and held perhaps one of the more unusual staff meetings during my time in office!

Thursday 25 July

I travelled to work this morning catching up on the many editorials in the newspapers concerning our new prime minister, Boris Johnson, and his first full day in office. It had been quite the most extraordinary cabinet reshuffle that I can recall since I began following politics in 1979. As I surveyed this new young cabinet made up of not just men and women, but also multicultural individuals, spearheaded by probably the most charismatic individual (whether you love him or hate him) in recent political times, I realised a seachange maybe taking place in this country. I lived outside the UK between 1999 and 2014, and was very surprised by how much the country had changed when I returned. I guess if you lived here all that time you may not have noticed how that change has crept in.

I have feared for a while that we have entered a very strange period of debate where normal argument, the ability to speak freely, to respect each other, was beginning to disappear from any kind of discourse and debate. I sense that there is only one allowed view on any particular issue and if you do not subscribe to that and come up against the often left wing so-called liberal perspective on that issue then they will come after you and ‘attack’ with all kinds of venom and aggression. I had grown up in the World, in my school, in my church, in the military where the real values in life are patience, tradition, an attempt to understand other people’s perspective, and to demonstrate a degree of humility. I therefore still find it very difficult to cope with the rage and anger that seems to come out of less tolerant areas of our Society.

Looking at this new cabinet, looking at this new concept that the United Kingdom is open and dynamic and wants just not European citizens but also citizens around the World to come to this re-vitalised country, is the expression of a confident, and democratic country. That is why I voted for Brexit. Perhaps we are going to reach a stage now where the imposition on our wonderfully laid-back Nation of a particular agenda on social and other issues, attacking anybody who disagrees without respect and tolerance, may be coming to an end. I do not underestimate the challenge it will take overcome what has happened and become embedded in so many institutions since 1997. We can but hope.

And, having read those editorials of upbeat enthusiasm for a change rather than endless negativity (and hoping above all hope that we ban the word ‘catastrophic’ from our language, as it is used to describe everything that’s not going the way that a certain group of people want it) I found myself humming the tune Jerusalem as I left the underground and I wandered over to my office. I had a slight spring in my step and feeling just a little bit more upright and confident than I have done for the last year.

Friday 26 July 2019

As the increasing tiredness takes its toll, and it is now only one week left to go before my holiday, I settle down tonight to watch Queer Eye season four. For those of you not familiar with this quirky, emotionally enjoyable series on Netflix, it is a simple happy story of a group of gay men who travel around America helping people who have suffered a range of emotional or physical setbacks, both men and women, or have just simply led a life of virtue and neglected themselves. The group help these people grow their confidence, improve their environment, and in the case of my wife are all left at the end of the evening weeping! The first episode of season four sees one of the group, Jonathan, return to his hometown in Illinois and back to his High School to acknowledge and reward a selfless teacher. This is the lady who personified all that is good about those who teach in our public education systems. Selfless, inspiring, determined, and not seeking personal recognition. It was a very powerful episode, and the reason this is such addictive television.

However, after 45 minutes of this American television, if I have one slight tongue in cheek observation, I have to ask why do our American cousins use the word ‘like’ after every third or fourth word in a sentence. It is like, why don’t we, like, perhaps go to the, like, cinema, like, tonight to watch a, like, movie. If you are tempted to write out that sentence as spoken, you would never commit that to paper. So why do they speak like that? I’m sure poor Samuel Johnson back in 1755 when he created perhaps the most reliable first English Dictionary did not envision a few years later after the revolution that our cousins would set out to destroy the beautiful English language!

Sunday 28 July 2019

I close this diary on a Sunday afternoon, the heat wave has left thank goodness, so sitting in the garden is really quite pleasant. Only five days to go until we head off to Portugal on holiday, but a busy week still awaits. I have to head to Reading University on Tuesday to assist in the making of a television documentary, back to London to stay in my Club overnight, as I have a 6.30 am start on the Wednesday morning to get to Heathrow Airport to fly to Dublin for the day to finish planning a European conference. Thursday will be a tidy-up day, fingers crossed, and then I can begin to think about what to pack to take away for a lovely week with my wife in Portugal, and no emails. I cannot, like, really wait!

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