The Strange Evolution of Fear

When I was thirty, I was worried about my pension. I’d worked full-time for a couple of years, gone back to university, changed direction, changed direction again, wanted to change again. Not at all what a well brought-up middle class kid should do. I was sure the heavens would take their revenge later on.

At about this time, there was an advert in the papers by an insurance company. It showed a picture of a little wizened old man with a barrel organ and an equally wizened little monkey and suggested that this might be my future lot when I reached retirement if I didn’t have enough insurance set by. It made me laugh and afraid at the same time, because I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have enough to retire on if my life continued as it had.

I was sixty at the end of May of this year and now I know for certain that I don’t have enough to retire on, in spite of all the investments and experiences in between.

But the thing is, the thought of ending up in the street with a barrel organ and a small monkey no longer fills me with fear. I’ve got my music and a good singing voice and I think that if I had to, I could get by on the street. In fact, there’s a part of me that is even attracted by the idea.

Perhaps the things that fill us with fear are actually the things we could fall in love with. Is it true for people?

Have a great weekend.




P.S. This post originally appeared, with minor alterations, in my discontinued WordPress blog, ‘Jack-of-all-trades.’

Pull Ups Without A Bar

Just a heads-up about a rather amusing video from the Tapp Brothers:

In the video, one of their subscribers asks the question, “How can I do pull-ups if I don’t have a pull-up bar?”

Seems like a valid question to me. Not all of us are happy with a gym environment and not all of us have access to a bar.

So the brothers show a series of 5 basic ideas, and some variations, for doing pull-ups without a bar.

Some of the ideas are really simple and the presentation is a lot of fun.

The brothers are really Parkour adepts, but I love the way they come up with alternative solutions for exercising that are useful for anyone.

Why not take a look?

Hope you enjoy it.

Have a great weekend!




Danger Triangle

Been on holiday, which is why I haven’t written anything for a while.

Sorry, guys.

I thought this was an interesting video about nose hair from a site called ‘Business Insider’ of all things.

Who knew that plucking nose hair could be so dangerous!

Here’s the link:

Danger Triangle

Intriguing, huh?

Never underestimate the power of the human body…

Have a great week.





I thought I’d give my 5 euros worth on Britain’s decision to pull out of the EU.

I’ve got the BBC News app on my iPad, so I was checking the news early yesterday morning (Friday 24th June 2016). The full count hadn’t been made, but it was already clear what the result would be. And the strangest thing happened.

I’m a British citizen, grew up in England, but I’ve spent the last thirty years in Switzerland and I feel at home here. I didn’t think the decision would have much importance for me, to be honest. I really thought that Britain would stay in. But when I saw the news, I had a physical reaction. The kind of reaction you get when you personally receive bad news. That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.

I felt a tremor in the force.

I think it’s a mistake.

We have something called PPE here in Switzerland: ‘propriété par étages,’ which literally means ‘property by floors’. It’s a misnomer really, because people don’t necessarily own the whole floor of a building. Imagine a building with ten flats and you own one of them. PPE is a means of distributing the running and repair costs of the whole building between the different owners of the flats.

Let’s imagine you own a flat on the ground floor. The annual general meeting comes round and it’s necessary to repair the roof. You don’t feel concerned because you don’t live under the roof, so you ask, ‘Why should I pay for roof repairs?’

The EU is like a huge PPE. Every country has to pay for costs that they feel don’t necessarily apply to them, but sooner or later there will be costs that do apply to them. Complaining about this is like complaining about roof repairs on the building. Sure, when the rain starts getting in, you won’t be the first one affected, but sooner or later the deterioration of the building will trickle or crash down to you on the ground floor.

The point is that distributing the costs of the upkeep of the whole building benefits everybody in the long term. If people start saying that they don’t want to contribute to cleaning the stairs because they never use them, then the whole thing falls apart.

And this is what Britain has just decided. It doesn’t want to pay for roof repairs or cleaning the stairs. So now it will have to move out, buy another property and pay for the upkeep of the whole thing.

I can understand the attraction of going it alone. The problem with a 28 country EU is a lack of focus and identity. Where does Europe really begin and end? Does Turkey, for example, which is still trying to get in but hampered by its poor human rights record, belong in Europe?

Another Swiss example to illustrate.

Up until recently, the Canton of Vaud was composed of hundreds of communes, sometimes with only tens of inhabitants. It became financially and administratively unviable to continue like that, so in the early 2000s, communes started to band together.

Rossens VD, the village where I live has 42 inhabitants. There are many more cows than human beings. Up till 2006, the village had its own administration with a Syndic and Municipalité. In 2006, it banded together with 2 neighbouring villages, Villarzel and Sédeilles to become one commune called Villarzel. Total population, just over 400. The marriage was an organic one because there was a history of cooperation and interaction between the three villages already and the fusion has been a success.

On the other hand, another fusion project in the region called Valbroye involved the combining of fourteen different communes not all of which had an organic pre-existing connection and this has been much more delicate. In the end, only eight communes banded together.

Obviously, the more communes there are, the less organic the new commune becomes and the less likely that solutions will be a good fit for everybody.

The same thing applies to the EU. When the core EU countries banded together, the idea of a unified Europe was relatively clear. World War II was still a very recent memory and I suspect this helped everybody to focus. But when you have a Europe of 28 countries, how can it be organic and solutions satisfactory for all its members? Not possible. It all becomes an amorphous mass.

More is not necessarily better.

A club that lets everybody in isn’t a club. Or as the reverend in ‘A Passage to India’ put it, ‘We must exclude someone from our gathering or we shall be left with nothing.’

The concept of a unified Europe is no longer clear. It is threatened by the huge migrant problems facing the EU as a whole. The Euro is in trouble. And we live in narcissistic times. Community spirit seems to be largely absent. It isn’t fashionable to think in the long term. So perhaps the British decision has a certain logic in the circumstances.

One commentator suggested that it is important to maintain calm and wait until the dust has settled.

Or, we might also say, until the water from that unrepaired roof finally starts seeping through the ceiling.

Have a great weekend wherever you live.




The Myth of the Open Road

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, there are more vehicles than ever on the road.

This means that the chances of a vehicle coming in the opposite direction are pretty high, even on a country road.

So tell me, why do a lot of people drive as if they are the only people on the road? And why do they constantly drive in the middle of the road rather than keeping to their right here in Switzerland (or left in the UK)?

Is it because they are fiddling with their mobile phone, looking at a GPS screen, changing the radio station, smoking, eating a sandwich, or just because the only person who exists is ME?

I learnt to drive in the UK at the end of the 1970s when there were many fewer vehicles than now. But when I look back, I have no memory of people driving in the middle of the road. Strange, huh?

Here’s another situation.

You’re driving happily along a road at your own speed and suddenly you see a vehicle a few hundred yards ahead of you.

Do you

a) continue driving along happily at your own speed or

b) accelerate, come right up behind the other vehicle and sit on its bumper, impatient for the earliest opportunity to overtake?

If you can honestly say that you do a), then you have my congratulations.

Because the vast majority of people do b).

It’s what I call the Greyhound Syndrome, a phenomenon that I noted as early as the tender age of 16.

So why do people react like this?

We’ve already established that there is a lot of traffic on the roads, so it’s not surprising that you find vehicles on the road ahead of you.

I think it must be a throwback to our days as hunters, a sort of knee-jerk reaction, rather like the reaction of greyhounds to an electric hare ahead of them in a racing stadium.

But we’re not dogs or sheep, are we?

So the next time this situation occurs and you start to accelerate, try to catch yourself and ask why you’re doing this.

Are you really in so much of a hurry?

What happens if you let the electric hare vehicle run in front of you and continue to drive at the same speed as before.

For one thing you don’t get stressed up.

You don’t stress up the driver in front of you by sitting on his bumper which is JUST PLAIN BAD MANNERS.

You’d forgotten that, huh?

Yep, not according the respect of a certain distance between you and the next car is not only dangerous, it’s, I repeat, BAD MANNERS.

And you can continue to enjoy your driving rather than getting het up about the fact that someone is in front of you.

Of course, if your personal speed is faster than the car in front of you, you’re going to catch up eventually and overtake. Just make sure that it is your natural speed and not a reaction to the other car. And don’t sit on the guy’s bumper because, yep, you got it, it’s BAD MANNERS.

I am fortunate enough to do a lot of driving on country roads where you can still drive freely and there is space still. So these days, if someone comes charging up behind me, trying to stress me up and sitting on my bumper, I just look for a safe place, indicate and pull over or slow down to let the vehicle pass.

And then I continue on my way and laugh at the bizarre reaction of the driver who doesn’t really understand what has happened and is usually, suddenly and for no explicable reason, no longer in such a hurry any more.

Perhaps his ego is miffed because he didn’t get to overtake me ‘properly.’

If you can do this safely, then I suggest you try it out. It’s a simple but effective exercise in letting go, rather than allowing the impatient driver behind you to stress you up and influence what speed you drive at, whether it be accelerating or slowing down.

It’s not because other people on the road have the mentality of a child of three that you have to behave in the same way.

It’s your life. Drive it at your own speed!

Have a great week.




The Most Destructive Thing Since The Atom Bomb

I’m going to stick my neck out here.

What’s the most destructive thing to hit the human race since the atom bomb?

Answer: the mobile phone.

You may well disagree, and that’s your privilege, but the more I see people with their mobile phones, the more I am convinced of the truth of the above.

Television has been highly destructive in many ways. An incredible time waster, a wonderful way of controlling the masses and keeping them in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction, brain-washing them with mindless and endlessly repeated adverts to make them run after material objects that they frequently don’t even need or really want, just to keep up with the Joneses.

But the mobile phone is something else again. At least you used to leave the TV behind you when you went out. Now you can take it with you wherever you go. My wife and I went to see Coldplay in Zurich on Sunday. The concert was one of the best I’ve ever seen, spectacular in its execution with fireworks, light shows, imaginative use of screens and even light emitting bracelets. All this without even talking about the inspiring performances and an incredible atmosphere.

What did the man sitting next to my wife do?

He spent the whole concert watching a Euro football match on his mobile phone in his CHF 175.00 (£130.00, $180.00, 160€00) seat.

And this is where I really take issue with the mobile phone.

It prevents people from being really PRESENT. IN THE MOMENT.

It blurs the line between what is real and what is virtual.

And it’s gradually turning people’s brains into soup.

They don’t listen, they don’t read, they don’t remember, they can no longer think properly.

And they have absolutely no control whatsoever over their enslaving little device. A tool is no longer a tool if you have no control over it.

Who is really the master here?

And for an instrument which is supposed to facilitate communication, never has the standard of communication between people been so poor. I’m not talking about SMS messages detailing what you had for breakfast this morning, which station you have just passed on the train, or how you broke a fingernail, I’m talking about REAL COMMUNICATION.

You know, when people put down their phones, look each other in the eye and INTERACT with each other.

When they concentrate on the person in front of them and stop bullshitting about the values of multi-tasking.

When they’re in the present and fully human.

When was the last time you gave your full and undivided attention to another human being?

Don’t make the mistake of concentrating so much on the trivial that you miss out on the truly important, the moments that will never come again. Don’t miss out on real friends that are here, now, in flesh and blood and who may not be here tomorrow.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you have instant access to most of the entire range of human knowledge on the internet you don’t have to bother to think, to remember, to work hard to master something worthwhile, or to decide what is bullshit and what is not.

I wish you a great, preferably mobile phone free, week.




Time Is Money

How often have you heard that?

In films, on TV, perhaps from your boss or colleagues or even from your own family.

Thought provoking stuff, huh?

Well, I’m here to tell you that’s it’s absolute bullshit.

Time is infinitely more precious than money and no matter how much money we sell it for, it still isn’t enough because time is IRREPLACEABLE.

We live in a culture obsessed with money. How much do you have, how much does he have, what does she have that I don’t etc, etc, etc?

I would argue that the vast majority of people have got it completely wrong. They should be obsessing about time, not money.

We are born with two assets.

Our bodies and time.

But here’s the thing. We don’t even know how much time we have, which makes it even more precious.

Now many of the articles I write are about looking after our bodies, but truly assessing the importance of the time allotted to you on this earth is equally important. How can you put a monetary value on a commodity when you don’t even know how much of it you have?

The short answer is, you can’t. It’s PRICELESS.

And yet it’s my impression that for many people their time has no value at all. They are only concerned about money.

Now I can understand obsessing about money if you don’t have enough of it to fulfill your basic requirements, if you really don’t know where your next meal is coming from. Unfortunately, there are many people in the world for whom this is true. It’s a real battle for survival and they don’t have the luxury of being able to stand back and assess the worth of their time.

But how many of you reading this blog are really in that position?

I would go further.

I would suggest that if you even have the time to be reading this blog, then you are not in that position.

So how much is your time worth to you?

I want you to take a moment and try to come up with a figure per hour that you would be willing to sell your time for. It’s never going to be enough, of course, because no amount of money can compensate for that time. But hey, we all have to live, buy food if we don’t grow it ourselves, offer ourselves a roof over our heads, some luxuries, navigate in a very consumer orientated world.

But at what price are you comfortable with the idea of selling your time?

If you like, start with the hourly rate you get at work. But be careful. An extremely interesting exercise is to work out exactly what your hourly wage really is once you deduct all – and I mean ALL – the expenses involved in earning it. You’d be surprised how low it can be.

But that’s another article. I don’t want you to get too depressed after all!

For the moment, start with an hourly figure that you feel comfortable with and go with that.

You’ll probably start to think of all the situations when you gave up your time for much less than that.


The idea is not to depress yourself with all the time you’ve wasted, given away for free when you didn’t want to be involved in the first place, all the times that your time was, quite literally, stolen. Don’t beat yourself up about it. It happened, that’s life. The time has been spent and you can’t get it back. No use crying over spilt milk. Move on.

It’s the FUTURE we’re concerned about here. You want to learn from your mistakes and avoid doing the same thing in the future. That’s PROGRESS.

So the next time you think, oh, that’s a nice offer, and you start collecting cereal boxtops to offer yourself a personalized spoon that you don’t even need because you’ve got too many of them already, and for which you have to buy several boxes of cereal but pay money for it anyway, and when you look for the codes you have to send to get the spoon, you find that they are printed right on the inside of the box and that you literally have to cut the box up in order to get at them and then you find that you’ve cut off some figures and you’re not sure really what they are because the codes are so badly printed, and then when you finally get enough codes to send in, you find that the offer has expired ….

STOP and ask yourself, with your hourly wage figure in mind, is this a valid way to be spending my time? Is the return on my investment of time sensible?

And the answer may well come back, NO. So don’t even start down that road.

And then every time there’s a little niggling voice in your head suggesting that this or that might not be time well-spent, apply your hourly wage rule to whatever it may be and see if it makes sense.

There are many people who have made a fortune out of you because you think your time is worth NOTHING. Ingmar Kamprad of IKEA is one of them. The list of companies and people out there doing the same thing is endless.

If you think that it doesn’t matter how much time you spend on something as long as you are “saving money,” think again.

Have a little self-respect.

Are you really going to continue living your life as if your time is worth nothing? It’s an insult to yourself. At least start requiring yourself to measure up to that minimum hourly wage you thought up.

Just think of that next time. I guarantee that simply thinking of your time in these terms will help you to sort out what is worth doing and what is not. And who knows, it may help you to start spending more time with your family and/or doing things that you really enjoy.

And you can’t really put a price on that, can you?

As the late great Muhammad Ali wrote in a note to a neighbour from his childhood days:

Enjoy life: it’s later than we think.”

Have a great week.




Selfie Sticks

The selfie stick is arguably the object most representative of this decade: a camera/phone extension to enable us to take better pictures of ourselves against various backdrops.

I saw this article on the BBC News app and it made me smile:

The science behind why we take selfies

I have a much simpler explanation.

We are just obsessed with ourselves to the exclusion of everything and everybody else.

In my humble opinion, it’s not a good place to be.

On a recent trip to Paris to promote my new album MY TITANIC on a radio show, I played tourist and went on one of those open-top bus sightseeing tours of the city with my wife, Brigitte. Wonderful spring weather, very agreeable. But what struck me as we went round the city was that people were consistently only taking pictures of themselves. Me in front of the Eiffel Tower. Me with the Champs-Elysées in the background. Me and Notre-Dame. Me.

I imagined these people sharing these pictures with their friends and the stultifying boredom of being subjected to 150 pictures of ME. Where people in the past would have been fascinated by the sights and taken pictures of the city to show their friends, Paris has now become simply a backdrop, a prop in the studio of me.

How did we get so obsessed with ourselves? When exactly did the outside world start to exist only in order for us to better show ourselves off? Will taking endless pictures of ourselves make us happy?

My advice.

Take one or two pictures of yourself on your smartphone with your selfie stick and then put it away and start really looking at the world around you. If inspired, take pictures of what you see. Much more interesting for you. Much more interesting for the people who will have to look at your photos later.

As Henry James once put it, “Losing yourself is the next best thing to dying.”

Have a great weekend.