Saturday, 4 September 2010

Shades in the shade

Sunglasses are very popular in London.

And being London the fashion in sunglasses changes regularly and often. This year for instance Ray-Ban Wayfarers are back, but not in tortoiseshell brown, but in reds and whites and blues. Over the years my wife and I have amasses our collection. At this point you should say, but the sun seldom shines in London. And you'd be right. But who said fashionable shades had anything to do with sun or shine?

There are of course several towns in Europe with much more sun than dear old Londinium. I was recently in two of them in quick succession. Spontaneously I loved Lisbon and only "liked" Madrid. But what was remarkable in both those towns was that people seemed to eschew sunglasses.

I committed a cultural gaffe in Lisbon when getting into a colleague's car en route to a client meeting, I whipped out my Zegna (pictured middle right). He was driving, in the glare, stole a glance at my face, but being very polite did not remark, just screwed up his eyes and drove on. Having reflected on that for a couple of weeks, last Friday in Madrid, as I got into the taxi with colleagues en route to another client's office, I reached out for my Boss (bottom left), but checked myself just in time. The Spanish guys seemed not to mind the glare, just squinted into the sunshine, so did I - the man from Calcutta.

My darling wife commented that it must have something to do with the prosperity of parents in south-west London, compared to Lisbon, Madrid or Calcutta. She reminded me how in our youth, Bong parents cleverly reminded their kids of the risks of blindness that wearing plastic "goggles" exposed you to. And true enough we grew up with furrowed foreheads and squinted brows, but without the affectation of sunglasses. Perhaps the same is true of parents in Lisbon or Madrid. Perhaps these poorer parents lack the ability - in 2010, parents in south-west London have decked out their kids in the most up to date colourful Ray-Ban Wayfarers: it might be cool, it might even be core to parenting if you believe the UV police - but their poorer children seem to do just fine.

My cabbie in Madrid was the pasha of the furrowed forehead, the sultan of the squinted eye. He didn't thank me for hailing him at 3.30 in the afternoon: siesta time. Perhaps to exact psychological vengeance on me he had his eyes firmly shut at traffic lights, and open just a chink as he negotiated the Madrid traffic in the unforgiving afternoon glare. There wasn't a single pair of sunglasses in sight.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Marketing Whiskeys

Many years back on a business trip to Ireland I had asked a colleague for a recommended Irish whiskey. He named me a brand called Knappogue Castle. A frenzied search at the airport duty free found me the right bottle. And I was immediately struck by the colour of the drink. It is an Irish single origin whiskey, so light delicate a hue of gold, I became a fan just on that premise. Then I drank it and convinced myself of it's smooth delicate flavour. Definitely holds it's own amongst better known Scottish cousins.

Since I treasure my whiskeys (I actually once had to move a slightly inebriated friend who was drinking my malt too fast onto Bacardi) my first bottle of Knappogue gave me years of companionship. I was back and forth from Ireland without needing to shop for another bottle. This week I needed a replenishment.

I searched high and low in the whiskey section of the Dublin airport duty free, confident that such a mellow coloured fluid would not escape my eye. No success. My friends will know that a career risk management guy I've recently, hesitantly started working in marketing. I am full of buzzwords like next best offer or cost per acquisition right now. And I can see that running marketing needs as much hard nosed data driven decisions as risk did - and I am starting to admire the professionals in this field. Suffice to say I wasn't impressed by the Whiskey Marketing people this week.

When I asked the shop attendant whether he stocked any Knappogue, he promptly took me to a shelf of dark brown cardboard cartons with that name inscribed in black on them. The whiskey marketers had thought the light gold attraction of their product would most entice consumers from behind dark coloured cardboard.

They need a shake up there. They could hire me.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Fairweather Friend

I was refreshed by the simplicity of Dublin airport management on Thursday morning. As we got off the plane down the metallic staircase an airport staffer pointed out the terminal building only several metres away and directed us to walk to it. Seemed perfectly normal, the tarmac was smooth, the destination was in range, my bag had wheels. The short walk was rejuvenating actually. Even in early August, Dublin airport tarmac is not exactly T-shirt weather. There was a smack of rain in the air. An airport vehicle thundered across our path, the string of walking airline passengers scattered to let it pass, then again resumed their queue towards the terminal.

It was only later, in the immigration queue, that i reflected on the exact opposite of this paradigm in airport management. Heathrow. We were at the gate, behind the glass we could see the tarmac, a few metres away the aircraft, with its metallic staircase ready for us. As I came through the gate, about to make my way to the aircraft, a staffer sternly barred my way. She made me get in the bus that was waiting - i just hadn't realised - of us! This bus then drove us for 10 seconds and deposited us next to the aircraft. How silly. But how safe! I marvelled at that thought in the queue in Dublin.

A co-traveller I shared the story with commented: in Muscat you want the bus. Indeed, I remembered the times when we have caught connecting flights in the gulf. As the glass doors at the airport gate slide open, a blast of boiling hot desert air hits you. You run on to the bus - its cocooning air conditioned interiors welcome you - as its doors slide shut behind . Near the plane you have to deal with another hot blast as you climb the ramp. Once again within the craft - peace, cool. Safety!

I reflected how in adverse weather we crave the protection and the comforts of technology. Yet at 20 degrees we feel so brave that we commend poor safety practice.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Guinness in Dublin

I am not a big beer drinker. I really struggled in my early days living in London serially downing pints of lager to keep up with my colleagues at the pub after work. A pint is a lot of liquid you know, you metric minded europhiles, 0.56 litres to be exact. And beer is an acquired taste, as someone said, I haven't yet fully acquired. The fact that in Bangalore one was used to big bottles of Kingfisher drunk slowly poured into glasses doesn't help either. I gradually settled into drinking light lagers in pints, but still often drink the first pint too quickly. This led, so many times, to more pints being consumed in total - especially during summer months when Fullers of Chiswick bring out their summer brew Discovery - that I now restrict myself to long neck bottles on principle. I don't like half pints.

This ambling preamble was needed for you to understand why I don't do well on social outings in Dublin. I have just been to that very enchanting city for two more days of business meetings. And even the recession softened pliability of my clients couldn't mitigate my dejection at being severely out drunk by those fun loving Guinness worshippers who actually revere Arthur's Day, perhaps, secretly, a wee bit more than St P's. Today I drank a half pint of Guinness.

The well informed will tell you a Guinness drunk in Ireland is different. From anywhere else in the world. In London a pint is a pint - a bored pub worker quickly pulls it spilling a bit and charges you close to 250 rupees - even if it's a Guinness. Not so in Dublin. My man Donnchadh pulled the namby half pint glass full, set it on the counter, and instead of letting me have it, he disappeared, good man. I kept an eye on my soon-to-be-drink and slowly discerned the method in the madness. The brown fluid slowly, surely, purposely settled. Until the glass was only half full. Then he topped it up, charged me a hundred and fifty odd rupees, and let me have it. Finally. Boy what a head, and what a body. Aptly, Grand ! So my initiation was a cold summer Guinness drunk quickly in a half pint glass while the last call for Aer Lingus 184 was booming out across Dublin airport. When the well informed tell you a Guinness drunk in Ireland is different, take their word, it is.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Unconventional Body-shape

If you live in London you feel pressurised to buy lots of clothes, controlled as you are by the changing winds of annual fashion. I feel it especially, having been brought up in an environment where it was very normal to buy clothes a few sizes too big: boys grow after all. In Calcutta, boys grow up to be men and feel the need, without exception, to buy size 42 shirts, even when they've stopped growing. And this in a people who seldom grow more that 5 ft 6. A couple of years back I went and bought myself two one-colour Italian big knot ties - but by the time I got comfortable wearing them, harsh diagonal stripes were back in, and when I got used to wearing them .... If you approach Bond St with a Foriapukur mindset you'll forever be playing catch up! But then men in London are man enough to wear 38. It is in London that I first came across grown men openly discussing man-boobs. (Common in Calcutta of course, but never discussed, always hidden behind size 42 shirts).

Its my blog, I told my darling wife, as she read the paragraph above. I will write what I feel like. But I also undertake that I will write of myself, not of generalisations and truisms. So on to my personal predicament: I have an obsession with semi-formal jackets. I must have about a dozen of them; none of them fit! Since this note is about shoe-horning Bengalis into today's England I can tell you why they don't fit: its my unconventional body shape. I have a slight deviation from plan just above the belt which makes me a chop-and-weld job that went slightly off. In Calcutta the decision would have been made for me by the friendly panjabi seller of Kingbodonti (size 42), in London I make my own choice -- I have size 38 shoulders, to hell with the rest. I have now discovered what it means to say I have a jacket for every mood: am I feeling confident to be a 38 today, or do I feel the need to hide in a 40. As a risk manager I must diversify, and because I am a moody man my latest two purchases are size forties.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Snip, Snip-Snip-Snip-Snip

I once had great trouble accepting that barbers could charge ten pound for a haircut. Add insult to injury he didn't even bother to wield a pair of scissors. What craft is there in electric shears with plastic size guides? My heart went out to Srikanto-da and his brother Prohllad toiling in the Calcutta summer sun with their little tin boxes and scissors that got flimsier with each sharpening on the whetstone. He once snipped off a bit of the top of my left ear. But still he practised an art. Give me a pair of scissors and I can still mimic the snip snip-snip music from my boyhood.

Naturally I went through a phase of rebellion. Bought my own electric razor attachment, then even my own hairdressing kit. I learnt the numbers 3, 5 and 7 have special resonance with the shape of my head. Learnt why poor Srikanto had so much trouble with me in the distant past - it took an English woman barber in south west London - I have forward growing hair -- a fact unacceptable among Bengalis of course where the only approved alternate to left parted is back brushed. My wife also reminded me how much of a mess I made in the bathroom every 3 weeks or so. I am intrinsically lazy, so I went back to the professionals.

Settling in, settling down - a process I understand very little of. Yet somehow it crept up on me. This December we will have lived in Kew Gardens for five years. And Al's Clip Joint has become a mainstay of my settlement. I happily shell our twelve pound and engage the polite artisan in small talk. A thousand yards, a thousand miles, Manicktolla or Kew, the barber's shop remains the hotbed of local news, gossip, sport, interaction. A veritable information exchange. Older than the internet.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


Around 10pm this evening when we were brain dead from powerpoint, I was telling a couple of my colleagues why I quite like the idea of a blog. I know I am late to the party - my geocities page was fully functional in 1998 - yet my blog only happened in 2010. But I have a good reason. For the last decade then I have been debating what do I have to say that the world wants to hear? Its only this last weekend that I realised that actually, it does not matter.

My blog is about mundane things. Things that my friends and loved ones will read and pause with a quiet smile, a memory, then move on and finish slide 29 of their powerpoint or whatever it is they get paid to do. So today's story is about and old memory, an old colleague, an old pitchology compatriot.

Tom was a big bloke - with a booming voice, a personable manner, and rightfully he holds the senior role in industry today that he was destined for. A pity then that all I remember about him is his urinal manner. Tom was a big bloke, and he always stood too far from the urinal, so sure was he of his aim and his force. To this day, while he crafts together his senior industry leading slides, he is probably unaware of how much collateral splatter he leaves on the hands and trouser fronts of his neighbours.

After a round of ciders tonight we rechristened this pillar of industry Tommy Splatter. All the best wherever you are, all the best to your current colleagues.