December 12 – 31 2019
In which I reflect on the outcome of the General Election, note the importance of networking to help find employment and employees, explain leadership-in-action, attend the Annual Parliamentary Scientific Christmas Reception, fail to be inspired by the food of Ottolenghi, travel to Canada for Christmas, and offer my thoughts for 2020.
Thursday 12 December 2019
A long day ahead – it is Election Day at long last. Finally, a real “People’s Vote’! I have a late evening engagement in London and, to avoid the fear of not arriving home in time tonight to vote, I walk, at 7 am, the 50 yards from my home to my local Polling Station (in the Ipswich Museum) and cast my vote. Then, off to the railway station for a day in London.
Last week I heard one of my very talented staff will be leaving on 6 January, having secured a fabulous external promotion. After the excitement for her promotion died down the usual worry and concern over how to replace her started. It all just takes so long, with the advertising, the interviews, the final selection, and all the extra work needed in reviewing CVs and preparing for interviews. I am never concerned that I will not find new staff capable of undertaking any role needed – it is the fear over fit into the team and culture. Making that judgment in just a 45 minute interview is always very challenging.
That’s why networking remains so important. Having an awareness of people around us who could be potential staff, colleagues, partners eventually always pays off. In fact, a recent LinkedIn survey showed 85% of all jobs are filled through networking. On this occasion one of my senior staff knew of someone who could be a good fit as a replacement to the lady leaving the team. There followed a telephone interview between them, an exchange of job description, and then today I decided to meet the lady concerned for luncheon – a more relaxed, lengthy social occasion (or even a game of golf – where you cannot hide your character and temperament for 4 hours!) often provides a more nuanced sense of someone’s character.
We lunched at one of my favourite restaurants, Le Petit Citron, close to my office.
A few hours later back in my office (and feeling very confident she would be an excellent fit) we were able to agree terms and she agreed to start on the 6th of January – fabulous, no gap in the role, and a strong sense that networking remains an invaluable part of life!
After tidying up paperwork and emails I then headed over to the Royal College of Physicians near Regents Park at 5 pm as a guest at their annual Christmas Party. Always a lavish event, very well attended, so much great food, interesting people to meet. All conversation naturally centered on the election and the likely outcome – Twitter has been reporting all afternoon of thousands of young people/students turning out to vote, and of long queues at Polling Stations, predicting as a result the chance of a Labour victory or a hung Parliament. No one though seems to be able to accurately predict the outcome – the consensus around the room was another hung parliament. I found this very depressing – but something was telling me not to believe the Twittersphere, as I suspect most of the millions of voters are not living their lives in Twitter.
I arrived home at 9.45 pm and sat immediately in front of the TV ready for the 10 pm Exit Polls. My wonderful wife asked why I did not have a drink at hand – I told her I wasn’t sure whether I needed a strong Scotch or a glass of Champagne! So, best to wait a few minutes.
The Exit Poll – and a prediction of an 80 seat majority for the Conservative Party – came and my chin hit the coffee table. It couldn’t be – how could we have progressed from a hung Parliament to the largest majority since 1987? What a slap in the face for Twitter and social media. I couldn’t risk going to bed and missing this situation as it develops, so a quick change into my silk robe, on with the velvet slippers, and a large refreshing whisky and soda (one of several that night!). I stayed up all night on the sofa, fascinated as the results emerged one after another.
Friday 13 December 2019
A majority Government (I had always simply wanted a majority, and originally had not been overly fussed with whom – although that changed as the election campaign took hold)! I am still trying to come to terms with events. In my home town of Ipswich my local Conservative candidate over turned the sitting Labour MP and secured a 5,000 majority – the largest in the history of the town. Across the country areas I remember from the early 1980s who never had (or said they never would) voted Conservative have done so. Extraordinary. I could ramble on for ages in analysis, but of all the editorials I have consumed today Dominic Sandbrook sums up the mood best for me:
We love our country. Jeremy Corbyn never understood that. Boris Johnson did. And THAT is why he won
In the weeks ahead, commentators will spill torrents of ink poring over the results. But if you want a very simple explanation of the election, it is this. Deep down, we are a patriotic, small-c conservative nation. We are cautious, grumpy and suspicious of change, but we are also honest, pragmatic and tolerant of difference. We hate being patronised, nannied and told what to do. We despise ideology, we don’t like being bribed and we hate being taken for fools. We despise bigots and bullies, even when they dress up as high-minded martyrs. And though we like to moan, nobody should doubt that we love our country. Jeremy Corbyn never understood that. But Boris Johnson did. And that, above all, is why he won.
So, the ultra-Remainers have failed to stop the Brexit democratic wish of the people. There will be no ‘People’s Vote’ (because we just had a real one!), no second referendum, no revocation of Article 50. It is over. We are leaving the EU, we will hopefully now have a stable Government for 5 years, a chance for a restoration of trust and belief in politics again, professionally for me an opportunity to help drive the agenda for science and research in a stable and progressive thinking Parliament. The word Brexit can be sent to the wastelands never to be needed again.
The quiet people of Britain have spoken: the people who like me don’t go on protest marches or get endlessly worked up on social media, but who get on with their living their lives and turn out at the ballot box to express their democratic rights. They have spoken and they have been heard. Let’s hope the political establishment never forgets this simple tale.
Saturday 14 December 2019
A chance for a long walk with Molly the hound this morning and a reflective cigar. I am thinking about leadership – regular readers will know the study of leadership is my hobby and abiding interest. I use a model known as the Leadership Loop to help explain and understand how leadership works, ‘leadership in action’ so to think. Here is the model:
It starts at the top with a leader having followers, you do not lead an organisation, you lead people. To be truly effective those followers have to become volunteers. As an example, when I became CEO 5 1/2 years ago I inherited a staff of 10 people in the office. It is fair to say in those early days those 10 people were following me, they were curious, they wanted to know more about me before they would voluntarily follow my leadership. I had been imposed upon them. As I added new members to the team over the years that I have personally selected it is much easier to call them volunteers at the outset because we’d met, we discussed values and mutual interests and I knew that they would fit.
So the second part of leadership in action is converting those followers into volunteers. A leader inspires – not manipulates. You provide clarity on the way forward.
The third component is explaining and demonstrating to those volunteers and indeed those followers that you can give them what they are looking for. That will vary, depending on the situation. It could be a meaningful salary, it could be a sense of purpose, it could be they want to belong to a team or a great cause etc.
But then we come to the most important part, which as a leader you are effective then in delivering what you promise. Whatever your vision, whatever you’ve outlined is your strategy or your plans you have a particular style that enables you to deliver what your followers and your volunteers want. We move around the loop because that naturally is going to attract new followers and then the circle begins again as we convert those to volunteers.
As I wandered around the Park with cigar and Molly this morning I am thinking how the election turned out the way it did – I have mentally put the Prime Minister Boris Johnson through this model. It does help explain how he achieved the result – however, he is now at that critical part, ‘delivering what he promised’. Time will tell if the model is correct. It would be interesting to put him through the analysis again in a few years time!
We lunched at the Arbor House near our home with Molly – hot pie and mash and two pints of local beer – and then walked the 10 minutes to Ipswich Town Football Club to watch the 3 pm game against Bristol Rovers. It was dreadful – the players boo’d off at half time for being 2-0 down. A more spirited second half saw them recover a goal to 2-1. But, at the end a loss. The Manager’s ‘Rotation Strategy’ (to keep his players rested and fit for the season he keeps changing between 4 and 6 of them every game) is looking shaky. The 11 players did not look a cohesive unit at all. If your job is to be a professional athlete how can you then need to be ‘rested’ on a regular basis?
Spent the evening watching the Strictly Come Dancing final – my predicted celebrity won. Should have placed a bet on that!
Monday 16 December 2019
My organisation collaborates with other STEM societies throughout the year to host events in Parliament, looking to keep science front and centre in the eyes and ears of politicians. One of the most important events of the year is the annual Christmas Parliamentary Reception, held in the Churchill Rooms in the House of Commons. By some great stroke of good fortune the organiser, the effervescent Dr Stephen Benn (The Right Honourable Viscount Stansgate), had organised the event many months ago to be held on Monday 16 December – the first day back for Parliament after the General Election. We were delighted the three hosting MPs (Stephen Metcalfe, Carol Monaghan, Chi Onwurah) had all returned unscathed from the election.
The Reception was a lively affair, the key note speaker was the new Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley, and there was perhaps a delicious air of freedom and excitement in the air – even the Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to join the party, but his minders kept him out saying he was already behind schedule for the evening!
Sir Peter, in his speech, made an impassioned plea for more scientists to join the House of Commons and Lords, to help add a more rounded sense of evidence-based perspective to the proceedings. Last year such a plea from the keynote speaker brought a smattering of giggles and groans from the room (who, last year, would have wanted to give up a successful career in science to have the letters MP after their name?), but this year was greeted with a respectful nodding of heads – perhaps we are already seeing a return to some sense of dignity in this area of public life? Who knows.
The Reception finished at 10 pm, and I walked back to my Club through Whitehall, Pall Mall, and St James, savouring the cool late evening London air and feeling all is good in the world of science and the future looks more promising than just two weeks ago.
I avoided the bar in the Club and sat in my room for a while clearing the last of the day’s emails and drinking a hot chocolate. I then turned the lights out at 11.30 pm and slept soundly.
Tuesday 17 December 2019
Today is the annual staff Christmas luncheon. The task of organising the event is traditionally undertaken by the staff member who has been with us the shortest amount of time. They are given a free hand to plan and deliver an event. This has in the past seen us eat an Indian Christmas lunch, a mid-afternoon shared plate experience at the top of the Shard, cocktails in Simpsons on the Strand, even a visit to Chiswick!
This year it was the turn of Ottolenghi to host us at his restaurant in Fitzrovia – the Rovi. We arrived at 2 pm for our reservation, only to be told they were running behind schedule. We could either stand and wait in the reception area (no bar, so no drinks) for half an hour, or try the pub at the end of the road. We opted for the pub, a quick G&T, and then back in Rovi at 2.30 pm.
Luncheon was a shared plate concept. Initially though the serving staff seemed more keen to foster the cocktail menu upon us. A bizarre a concoction of flavours you are ever likely to meet. The closest to a normal drink I could find was the ‘Killer Quince’ – which with gin and vermouth sounded like a Martini. However, added to it was ‘poached and grilled quince’ – a creamy and frothy topping that was frankly weird and unpleasant.
Then, with cocktails still being consumed, the first round of food began to arrive. The food did not match the various cocktails, but clearly we were not lunching on our timetable (as paying guests) but on the kitchen and staff timetable! The bottles of wine I had ordered did not arrive, the serving staff member who had taken the order was now ‘missing in action’. Rather a shambles. I eventually attracted the attention of a ‘manager’, and the wine was delivered (after a further 10 minute wait). At this stage the first course was over!
The food though was interesting, if not really filling or satisfying. I enjoyed the Charred leeks and the grilled halibut, but not much else – it was all rather confusing, and I am still unaware of exactly what Ottolenghi’s concept is. There were elements of the Lebanon there, but the mix with English ingredients, and some very left field additions lost me.
The desert summed up the challenges of the shared plate concept. We were not provided with serving spoons, and expected to dip in with our own. This only works the first time, because the second time one uses one’s spoon you are adding one’s own ‘residue’ back into a shared dish. That lack of hygiene is not to my likening – I adore my staff, but sharing on this level is too big an ask!
We left at 4.30 pm, and the staff went off to play indoor golf somewhere and I had to travel South of the river to attend the farewell drinks of a long serving member of Public Health England, and a good friend to my organisation, who was retiring. The venue for the drinks was Ev Bar, The Arches on Isabella Street. I travelled by Tube to Waterloo and then walked around in circles for 25 minutes trying to find the place (eventually realised I had walked past it twice – the hint was ‘The Arches’, as it was hidden in the Arches under the railway lines!)
A fun hour spent there, and then back across London to catch the 8 pm train home, arriving at 9.45 pm, via a rare visit to MacDonalds as I was very hungry after the limited lunch.
Three appointment-free days beckon – that does not happen very often in my life. A great chance to clear the decks of all the small unfinished tasks before the Christmas break.
Saturday 21 December 2019
Because we are spending Christmas in Canada with my wife’s parents we decided to hold our own mini Christmas Day today and exchange gifts. We had a leisurely morning, consumed Bucks Fizz and croissant, and then prepared a modest version of Christmas luncheon – Turkey, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts with pancetta, roasted carrots, Christmas Pudding, wine and Port.
We then exchanged gifts. Molly and I took a cigar for a walk in the Park. We spent the rest of the afternoon packing our suitcases – our driver would be picking us up at 6.15 am so no time for packing in the morning!
Sunday 22 December 2019
5 am wake up, last walk for Molly (the dog/house sitter would be arriving at 9 am) and we were in the car and heading to Heathrow at 6.15 am. A long journey awaits.
It is not possible to fly direct from London to Winnipeg in Canada. The journey has to break at Toronto. So, British Airways to Toronto and then WestJet to Winnipeg.
Being Sunday morning, and early, we made excellent time getting to Heathrow and arrived in just under 2 hours – I think a record. We were settled in the Galleries First lounge before 9 am. Scrambled eggs and bacon and coffee, followed at 10 am with a glass of champagne to lift the spirits. We boarded on time and took off at 11.40 am. Because of the extortionate costs of flying at this time of the year (our two economy tickets were £3,500!) we are flying in economy. However, my Gold status with BA meant we had front row seats, which came with significant amounts of leg room. The arm rest based TV screen was very good (better than many I have used in Club World), but the pre-ordered meal was very disappointing.
BA allows one to pre-order and pay extra for a ‘gourmet’ meal (£18). I opted for this hoping it would improve the economy flight experience. Alas no. My tray of food arrived after the drinks cart had passed – just enough time to have finished my G&T. The first course of prawns was very good, but, oh dear, the globular serving of the main course was appalling. 90% mashed potatoes, with a few stalks of vegetables buried within, and my beef was full of greasy fat and grizzle. The pudding however was very tasty, and of course you can never go wrong with cheese. I calculated I had spent 30 minutes consuming my meal, but no drinks were offered. Just as I finished the food cart came to serve the rest of the passengers their meals – and wine. So, my glass of wine had to be consumed after lunch, not with it. A lesson here, reinforced by my Gluten intolerant wife, is if you order a special meal it will always be served first, but you will never get a glass of wine with it!
I watched the classic 1960s The Italian Job, the new Official Secrets (a must-see movie), read my copy of the Rake magazine, and started my book The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz.
The time passed quickly enough, although like all long haul flights the last hour (no matter how long the flight) seemed to drag on.
7 hours later we landed at Toronto.
Here we had to clear customs, collect our luggage (even though tagged all the way to Winnipeg) and hand it back in again to a WestJet counter. The lady at the counter didn’t even check the luggage, and just told us to man handle it on to the conveyor belt (isn’t that what baggage handlers are supposed to do?). We then headed back to security (we were now on the wrong side, despite being on a connecting flight), and onto the Plaza Premium Lounge – we had two and a half hours to wait for our next flight.
Checking in to the Lounge was a painful experience, despite having a receipt and a pre-booked arrival time. The young man seemed to have to undertake a lot of manual tasks to get us through. His colleague meanwhile seemed to spend his time refusing people entry (all kinds of credit cards and boarding passes were being brandished in his face claiming the right of entry – a not very pleasant job, but he seemed to handle it well). Into the Lounge – and wow what an underwhelming experience. Not many seats, very little food, only one bottle of white wine, one red and a pinkish looking one (all from Niagara, and all pretty disgusting). I managed a bowl of soup and some crackers and a festive cookie. There were half a dozen spirits to choose from, and a small fridge of cans of beer and soft drinks. Probably the worst Lounge I have ever been in.
We were airborne again at 6.45 pm, and landed in Winnipeg at 9.15 pm. My body clock was 6 hours ahead on UK time at 3.15 am. We were met by the family, and whisked off to the family home and eventually into bed by 11 pm (or 5 am body time). I put on my sleeping eye mask, popped a melatonin and sleep soundly for 9 hours – no jet lag! I think I have this flying routine worked out now!
Monday 30 December 2019
A week in Canada and little to write about and share. It was traditional family time, Christmas, Church, catching up with old friends, endless food and drink, and of course freakishly cold at times! I travel back today on the 30th, leaving Winnipeg in the late afternoon – Sue is staying on for a few more days with her family.
I used the Plaza Premium Lounge in Winnipeg Airport whilst waiting for my flight to Toronto. It was a delight – open, airy, quiet, and very clean and comfortable (certainly when compared to the lounge in Toronto). The departure gate was next door to the lounge, minimising waiting time. Time to catch up on emails and the day’s news. We boarded on time, and a 2 1/2 hour flight to Toronto passed quickly (I started a new fictional book I found in Winnipeg by David Silva – ‘The English Spy’. Apparently he is a prolific writer in the spy genre, but I had yet to read his work). The book is excellent, descriptive, good pace, unpredictable, accurate in its depiction of the troubles on the island of Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s.
On arrival at Toronto BA use Terminal 3. Last time I was here 2 years ago BA shared the Plaza Premium Lounge beside the departure gate. It was a strange experience, as BA passengers were told to sit in a dedicated area (roped off like a night club VIP entrance) as here there was an open bar. The other passengers using the Lounge had far less selection than BA passengers – it was rather like sitting in a zoo being observed! I was pleasantly surprised today to find a whole new experience.
The lounge has been moved to the circular point where C gates start and B gates finish. It is still the Plaza Premium Lounge, but very much influenced and controlled by BA. On arrival you turn right or left depending on status. BA Silver members and Club World passengers turn left into a large open lounge, with self service food options. Gold members and First Class passengers turn right into a smaller area. I am fortunate to have Gold status with BA, so even though flying on an economy ticket I turned right. The Lounge is not overly large, but has a superb long window over looking the runway and airport. Against the window are tables and chairs set for dining. Before those is an open area with a range of comfortable armchairs.
On arrival I was immediately approached by a uniformed member of staff who asked if I would like a drink. There is no ‘open’ bar, everything is ‘waiter service’. A glass of champagne was in order. I was then presented with the menu of the evening, and asked to select my dinner. It came within a few minutes, and I moved to a dining table to eat. An excellent glass of Bordeaux complimented the very good food. After dinner I returned to my armchair to read my book, and enjoyed a fine Glenfiddich.
A pleasant 1 1/2 hours passed, and I was able to board the flight not needing any in-flight food or drink. I donned my eye mask and put in my ear plugs and dozed for the 7 hour flight (fortunately again I had a seat in the front row of economy and had ample leg room to stretch out).
Tuesday 31 December 2019
We landed back in London on time at 10 am, I had a quick shower, change of clothes and some bacon, eggs and coffee in the Arrivals Lounge, and walked out to find my driver waiting for me on time at 11.30 am. He advised the roads were very quiet and hoped to make good time. And we did. In just 2 hours we arrived home. Molly was thrilled, and I think exhausted herself running around in circles for at least twenty minutes!
I failed to stay awake past 9.30 pm, as tiredness for the journey kicked in. A good sleep followed, no jet lag, and I awoke at 8 am to welcome in 2020!
And so ends both Episode 13 and 2019. It has been quite the year. I hope you have enjoyed sharing my experiences as much as I have enjoyed somewhat whimsically telling of them. It has been a new experience for me, but a very positive one as it forces one to focus and live in the ‘now’ to make sure one fully appreciates how precious life and experiences are.
As I spend a few days at home before returning to my office in London on the 6th here’s my modest New Year’s wish list for 2020:
- A return to freedom of speech (and stop hiding behind the wall of social media)
- A return to tolerance
- A return to respect for others – especially their opinions
- A return to having some perspective (less outrage and hysterical hyperbole – no more ‘Cliff edges’ and ‘catastrophes’!)
- And a return to some demonstrations of humility
- Can we hope for the end to the obsession with ‘political correctness’?
- As someone who has the privilege of travelling extensively not just around the UK but also around the World, we have so much more in common with the peoples of the World than we think – I hope we can begin to recognise that.
- I suggest a proposal to us all to consider, as Douglas Murray wrote recently: “And that a quiet and solemn pride in your country is not some expression of extremism, but the best imaginable tool to ward it off.”
Finally, some Jungian insight to replace the tired cliche of New Year resolutions, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.”
Happy New Year!