Life’s a beach and then…

If you close your eyes you can almost instantly imagine it. It’s the distant laughter of children, the rhythmic breaking of the waves and the soft hiss of the sea as it retreats across the sand; it’s the gentle rustle of the wind flicking the pages of your novel, it’s that energy sapping, cocooning, pervasive heat that allows you to let go of everything and simply float in its embrace. It’s knowing that when you open your eyes all you will see is an endless blue sky; until the first bullet rips through your carotid artery. The beach has become an icon for the protestant work ethic, it’s our secular temple, our sanctuary. It’s where the hypnotist asks you to go to deeply relax. A place of innocence, of childhood, of safety, a time when a family might lighten up enough to connect and enjoy each other’s company, its memories that will last a lifetime. It’s where we put down our armour for a few days and allow the world to pass on by. But is the Sousse Massacre the beginning of the end for the beach holiday? Has the age of the Kevlar bikini arrived? Is it all sun, sand and submachine guns? Is it slap on the Factor 15, slurp your ’99 and get slaughtered with an AK-47?

Sousse has been a particularly painful twist of the knife in the soft underbelly of the ‘Western’ psyche. Like the attack on the Methodist Church in Charleston just a few days before, it gains piquancy from striking us at our most exposed; even if it wasn’t wholly unexpected. The murder of African Americans has seen an exponential growth in the US recently and Tunisia is as vulnerable as any other Arab Spring nation to the rise of jihad. Less than two years ago, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a botched attack on a Sousse beach while security forces foiled another planned attack nearby.

Of course one way of staying safe is not to holiday in a war zone, but then since the terror, and consequent infamy, of ‘lone wolf ’ attacks has become de rigueur, where in the world isn’t one?

A map published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) put almost every European country in possession of a beach, except Belgium and Holland, on somewhere between a ‘high’ to ‘underlying’ threat status. Conveniently for the English Tourist Board they forgot to note that the UK, is also on ‘high’. Even landlocked Switzerland had a threat level, albeit ‘low’, and who would want to attack them? Bitter chocolate addicts and Cuckoophobes? Maybe the shifty ‘associates’ of the notorious FIFA ‘Family’?

Nowadays our holiday choices have become as much about risk assessment as wanderlust.

Go to South America or the Far East and there’s a chance of becoming an unwitting drugs mule. South Africa is renowned for its violence, even when legless. West Africa is scarred by Ebola while East and North are on the fault line of the struggle for a caliphate. The East Coast of the US comprises a number of policemen with over sensitive triggers as well as some very hungry sharks and the West Coast is just waiting for a seismic shift, literally, before disappearing into the sea. Practically the only beaches where you might be safe enough to come armed with less than a semi-automatic, are in Australia. Just don’t get mistaken for an asylum seeker. It turns out that they send them off to a remote jungle ‘processing’ prison island where chances of survival are minimal.

Now where did they get that idea from? I know it all seems like the world is becoming a more dangerous place, but it’s worth bearing in mind that fear is the gift we receive for getting older. Maybe if I was still young enough to think a Jägerbomb was ‘sick’ rather than sickening, I could be looking at all this and thinking it all feels pretty exciting; after all, holidays are either a decadent one percenter indulgence or a brief downtime refresh for the working drone feeding the machines of the capitalist establishment; and those people who are fighting for their ideologies are, well, heroic.

As ISIL’s endless videos of atrocities plug straight into the Daily Mail’s drip feed of terror their need for recognition and attention, and ultimately recruitment, seems manifest. Our shrinking buzzfed world is a growing canvas for those who desperately want to make their voices heard, be taken seriously and get their point across. I know Bill Gates is a great philanthropist but sometimes I wonder if there’s a little guilt that drives him. I mean, if Microsoft Word taught the world anything, it’s that if you want to get a point across, you’ve got to use bullets.

As the population grows the point making and shouting will only get louder but does it spell the end of the beach holiday?

As Mossad realised when a whole party of their agents signed up for the Dubai Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh assassination; even the deadliest people in the world still want a little pampering at the seaside.

Happy holidays.

First appeared in Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster Today (August 2015)


Stop Press: Ikea design stores ‘as mazes’

Can there be anybody who has ever set foot in one of these flatpack scandi stores who didn’t already know this? Before this shock announcement did everybody just assume they were designed by the same confused designer who creates their baffling furniture assembly instructions?

Even for the Daily Mail this brings stating the obvious to new levels of absurdity. But with universities charging excluding students with crippling fees, whining in their scrabble for money it’s encouraging to see Alan Penn, director of the Virtual Reality Centre for the Built Environment at University College London, flying the flag for funding evidentially imperative research. Let’s hope that there’s enough money left over for the courageous teams that need to be despatched to the woods and the Vatican to find out the truth about bears and popes.


Flatpack furniture stores are ‘designed just like a maze’ (Daily Mail)


If you’ve ever found yourself hopelessly lost in an Ikea store, you were probably not alone.

The home furnishing chain’s mazy layouts are a psychological weapon to part shoppers from their cash, an expert in store design claims.

The theory is that while following a zig-zag trail between displays of minimalist Swedish furniture, a disorientated Ikea customer feels compelled to pick up a few extra impulse purchases.

A-mazing: A route a customer took through a store. Professor Alan Penn said they are designed to stop customers leaving

According to Alan Penn, director of the Virtual Reality Centre for the Built Environment at University College London, Ikea’s strategy is similar to that of out-of-town retail parks – keep customers inside for as long as they can.

‘In Ikea’s case, you have to follow a set path past what is effectively their catalogue in physical form, with furniture placed in different settings which is meant to show you how adaptable it is,’ he said.

‘By the time you get to the warehouse where you can actually buy the stool or whatever’s caught your eye, you’re so impressed by how cheap it is that you end up getting it.’

The time when our finances were smarter: We could profit if we copied the 1981 approach to money

While its stores have short-cuts to meet fire regulations, shoppers find the exits hard to spot as they are navigating their way through displays of flat-pack furniture, he added.

‘Also you’re directed through their marketplace area where a staggering amount of purchases are impulse buys, things like lightbulbs or a cheap casserole that you weren’t planning on getting.

‘Here the trick is that because the lay-out is so confusing you know you won’t be able to go back and get it later, so you pop it in your trolley as you go past.

Mesmerising: Ikea’s store in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.The flatpack store is designed to make it difficult for us to escape

‘It’s not like somewhere like John Lewis where everything has a logical lay-out and you know you’ll probably be able to navigate your way back to the same spot again.’

Alongside its reputation for good, cheap design, Ikea’s distinctive labyrinth has been phenomenally successful with 283 stores in 26 countries and profits of £2.3 billion last year.

The sometimes gruelling strategy – dubbed ‘more like S&M than M&S’ by Prof Penn – is similar to that employed by out-of-town shopping centres to attract customers then keep them in side for hours on end, he added.

Studies at the Bluewater centre in Kent found that shoppers spent an average of just over three hours inside, with a significant number spending eight hours at a time there.

Malls are subtly designed to keep shoppers moving around the retail floor, rather than towards the exit, while the frequent need to drive to the middle of nowhere means visitors are encouraged to make a day of it.

Along with familiar cafes and play areas, a common design is the ‘dog bone’ mall, where a large store at either end – such as Marks & Spencer or Debenhams – is attracted at knock-down rent, while smaller stores like Next or Mothercare cluster in-between to take advantage of the custom they generate.

Supermarkets use similar tactics, according to Prof Penn.

‘They couldn’t get away with having shoppers going in one single route like Ikea, so what they do is put popular purchases like milk and bread at the far end of the store so you have to walk past shelves of other products on the way.’

Big success: The Ikea store in Wembley, north London. Last year the Swedish giants made a profit of £2.3bn

He has a ‘nightmarish’ vision of a clothing store like Primark directing shoppers on a single route through the store, passing displays of different styles of outfits en route, but questions whether the Ikea template would work on the high street.

‘It would be interesting to have customers go past lots of mannequins showing different lifestyles the clothes were meant to inspire before they actually got to try them on, but so far no-one’s tried it.’

However Prof Penn said the trend was towards more subtle techniques, with new city centre malls having better links to surrounding shops while supermarkets devised more sophisticated tactics for targeting their preferred customers.

Ikea denied that its store layouts were designed intentionally to bewilder customers.

‘Our furniture showrooms are designed to give our customers lots of ideas for every area of the home including your kitchen, bedroom and living room,’ said Carole Reddish, Ikea’s deputy managing director for the UK and Ireland.

‘While some of our customers come to us for a day out to get inspiration for every room, we appreciate that others may have looked at the Ikea catalogue or online offer, have a specific shopping list in mind and would like to get in and out quickly.

‘So to make it easier for those customers, we have created shortcuts.’

via Ikea design stores ‘as mazes’ to stop shoppers leaving so you end up buying more | Mail Online.

Haven’t the Germans tried something like this before?

“Gay men and women in Germany are being invited to live in an exclusive housing development, in a unique project that aims to make them more visible in the community.

Villa Anders (“Alternative Villa”) in the working-class district of Ehrenfeld in Cologne will offer gay Germans the chance to live together …”

From, Tuesday October 28 2008

Appropriate Defence

From The Daily Telegraph – Lingerie-stealing postman caught wearing woman’s thong.

Matthew Furness, a Royal Mail postman who stole parcels containing women’s lingerie, was caught wearing a stolen red thong…
…He aroused suspicions after a string of packages of a “female nature” disappeared while he was on duty. His Royal Mail bosses launched a covert operation which involved planting a parcel containing a women’s bra and thong in his van…
…”My client has already suffered as a result of the publicity that surrounds this case,” said his defence lawyer, Ian Brazier.

Friday 17 October 2008

Throwing eggs at the global stocks

In bygone ages people used to throw eggs at the stocks, then at the end of the 20th century it progressed to stockholders.  Remember when the anti-globalization movement caused stirs and debate with finely orchestrated civil unrest at every meeting of the World Bank or the G8 Summits?

But now, with the disaster of a global economy crashing around our ears… where are they?  Just when we need them, just when people are ready to listen to a sensible alternative to the chaos theory – when a trader in Taiwan flaps his arms it causes an economic hurricane around the entire world – just now, when their moment has come, where are they?

The recent E7 and World Bank meetings were egg free – apart from the ones the harder-nosed bankers were breaking to make their metaphorical omelettes.  Has Jamie Oliver’s free-range, “Every Egg is Precious”, campaign got to the anti-globalisation protesters or, with inflation at an unprecedented high, can they simply not afford the eggs any more?

Maybe getting to these meetings and summits was causing too large a carbon footprint for the conscientious to have on their conscience.  Or maybe the egg throwers are there but, much like the blanket media blackout on “Harry does Afghanistan”, the media have signed an agreement to only do good financial news, so as not to panic the poor sensitive bankers and stockbrokers.  Who can we trust?

My favourite theory, is they’ve quietly moved to Lewes where the local printed Lewes pound is worth as much today as it did a month ago and are happily ignoring the world who tried to ignore them keeping their own back yard economy safe from global fickleness.

I just wonder how much, in Lewes Pounds, it costs to buy the latest version of Monopoly now being advertised by Parker Brothers. With barely more than a hundred days until Christmas they are almost presciently launching The Here & Now World Edition which involves taking over the entire world economy, or bankrupting it…

As the Duke of Westminster so often says, “I’ve got Mayfair and Park Lane, that’ll be five million pounds please”.