How do you tear yourself away from the screen?


Fact: We are social animals.

I like facebook, It’s good to see what my 300 “Friends” are doing. I have recently started using twitter. It took me a while to get into it. I don’t think I was using it properly for a while but now I see what it is for, I find it hard to ignore. There are over a thousand people on stream all vying for my attention, everyone trying to generate witty comments for me to enjoy.

In minutes my kindle lets me have the thoughts of the greatest thinkers the world has ever seen in front of my eyes. I have the entirety of human knowledge at my fingertips.

Working in TV I would spend 3 months researching to produce 30mins of top quality entertainment.

Why do we find it so hard to drag ourselves away from our devices? Is it because they are like the crack cocaine of social interaction? I think it is impossible to resist these knew toys because as an intelligent and gregarious species we crave social interaction.

It is awful to be ignored by someone using one of these gadgets, but if all you are doing is talking, using your own ideas, based on your own experience, then you are totally out gunned and outnumbered.

If you want to be more present, and tear yourself away from the screens. Or you want someone to be more present for you, then I recon you have to do something the screens can’t. You have to do something physical. (Like a Wine Ride)

Go for a walk and have a talk, dance, play a game. If we are going to beat the machines then I suspect we have to fight back on a field of battle the teck can’t or at least a present human has a chance of winning. We can’t just hope you are going to be more interesting than the most interesting people who have ever lived, ever.

It seems to me that if we want our lives back we need to get physical.

What’s your trick? How do you break free from the screen, why not (ironically) post your suggestion on our Face book page? We would love to hear your suggestions :-)

Last Chance for your First Adventure

wine cycling.png


I just wanted to send a quick note out to say that the first fantastic season of Wine Rides is coming to a close, and that there is only one more opportunity remaining this year to book a place on this fantastic adventure.

It’s a funny thing to say, but one of the best parts of running Wine Rides this year has been learning what we are for! A number of our guests have been keen cyclists, who use the bike as a way of getting to and from work and really like the idea of pedalling out over the horizon on a fun and adventurous holiday.

What we have been able to do is give them that first touring experience, with none of the uncertainty or hassle of planning an unsupported trip.

Our routes are planned and documented in detail so it is virtually impossible to get lost. We also have a vehicle and tools, so rescue is possible if you get into any trouble.

The distances and difficulty have been researched and planned so the days are full but manageable, taking you through some of the UK’s most beautiful scenery and past national monuments like Bodiam Castle.

You can rent a bike from us if you need one, or you can bring your own.

We provide the right kind of food, in the right amounts, at the right times of day. Our trips include wine tasting, the perfect reward after a day’s cycling.

Our all-inclusive packages mean you don’t have to pitch your tent at the end of the day, you just arrive and enjoy award winning British wine and food in the landscape in which it was grown.

Wine Rides is the perfect way to ease yourself into the world of cycle touring. What you learn with us you can take anywhere.

What’s more, this last weekend (20th – 22nd September) is particularly special. England has had one of the hottest summers for years and the vines are full to bursting. The exact date of the harvest is not yet known but it is very likely that this ride will be just before the grapes are picked and as the leaves start to turn to a kaleidoscope of green, red, and russet, there really isn’t a more beautiful time of year to make the trip.

If you have had a long year so far and just need a short, sharp get away, where you can do something totally different, hassle free and relaxing, then book on this last Wine Ride adventure. I promise you won’t regret it.



Jamie Oliver: Thinks young Brits are Lazy. Is he right?

Jamie Oliver


Jamie Oliver strikes me as a good guy. But this week he was quoted by the BBC without much context as saying: young British people are “wet behind the ears” and European immigrants are “tougher” workers. It is quite ironic in the week that we are celebrating 50 years since Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, that Jamie Oliver could be so loose with his tongue.

On the face of it, it seems to me that his observation can’t possibly be true. If the British were lazy then, it seems unlikely that we would be such a successful country. If the UK had always produced soft lazy young people then we would have fallen behind the rest of Europe a long time ago.

But perhaps he is saying that the current cohort, of young British people is soft and unable to put their shoulder to the wheel.

If his views have been represented accurately, then it seems obvious to me that Jamie Oliver has made the very human mistake of allowing himself to develop a prejudice. No doubt it is a very popular prejudice, and I am sure these statements play well, with the many, many people who hold the same view. This week I also happen to get hit by a torrent of abuse, directed not at me, but at the group I had identified myself as being a part of.

I think I dealt with it sensibly, but I was interested to know how I good have dealt with it more effectively in the future, so have had a quick look at some of the research on prejudice and learned a little more about how we form these misguided views, and why we all fall into this unfortunate trap from time to, to time.

The BBC article suggest that Mr Oliver, complains that he has British 23 year olds getting their mommies to call him up and say that they are over tired. He suggests that he would work a 100 hour week and that by law he can only get his workers to do 48hrs. So by his standards they are doing less than half a week’s work anyway.

I suspect that what he is saying could accurately reflect his observations from his own business. I also admire the fact that he is publically standing up for migrant workers, who are incredibly valuable to our economy. But is it fair to compare the British workers in his kitchens and the Migrant workers and assume that he is looking at two directly comparable groups? Is it also fare to compare the British workers in his kitchens with the foreign workers and assume that he can make a sweeping statement about all young British people based on that observation? And what harm are we doing to our own economy if we allow ourselves to judge all young Brits harshly, based on prejudice, rather than a sober reflection of the facts.

I would argue that Mr Oliver’s Migrant workers have already set themselves apart from their British colleagues. For a Polish young person to get a job in one of Jamie’s restaurants they have to jump a much higher bar. They have to leave their home and their support network, travel 1,600 miles, and master a new language. A local worker just has to summon the energy to write a CV, walk down the road and submit it.

You also have to consider that a driven young British person would likely have been driven at school to get good qualifications. As we are in a developed economy, our most driven young people will be shared out across several industries and may not think that working in the kitchen of Jamie’s Italian, is the best work experience for them to enter one of our professions. Though no doubt, there are some highly motivated, young British people working for Jamie and his statements seem to be doing them a disservice.

It has been amply shown that there is a significant relationship between economic success of residents and their mobility. So this could mean that rich people move more easily. But it probably means people who are willing to move for work improve their circumstances and become richer. I would suggest that his foreign workers are more motivated because they have invested more, and the stakes are much higher for them.

When I tweeted about this earlier in the week only a few of my friends were kind & brave enough to comment back, all who commented were themselves migrants. The most apposite observation was that, Jamie Oliver may prefer migrant workers because they are more easily exploited and that no-one should be obliged to work a 100 hour week.

My very small example of experiencing prejudice happened when I returned a rented van on Tuesday. When I picked up the Van, the branch manager told me he had looked at my website and that Wine Rides was a great idea and that it looked like a really good firm.

When I returned the Van, the manager was there but his colleague checked me back in. I open the back of the van to get my bike out at the start of the inspection and the member of staff told me that he doesn’t like cycling or camping. As it seem good natured at that point I said: “Oh, have you heard what my company does? We organise cycling trips that camp on vinyards?”

He then proceeded to tell me that he didn’t know that, but that he hates cyclists, that he deliberately drives dangerously around them and that when his wife protests he says: “They are more scared of me”, that cyclist shouldn’t be allowed on the roads, they should be made to cycle “in little tunnels, underground”, That “I should try driving” and when I said “I do both” he said “at rush hour!”. After a short while it became clear to me, that this was about torturing me. There wasn’t a mark on the van but he was conscious that I wanted my damage deposit back, so I wasn’t going to effectively counter his arguments while the inspection was taking place. It culminated in him telling me that I should focus my company on responsible cycling because everybody HATES, cyclists and being offered a £5 bet, that if I did a survey, I would find out that EVERYONE HATES cyclists.

So in the end I got my deposit back. And the manager started talking to me about future rentals. At which point I said: “yeah, maybe. To be honest your colleague is a prick. I don’t need a ten minute lecture about how much he hates me and what I do, when I return a vehicle”. Who knows if he was reprimanded for this behaviour? But if he worked for me and treated a client like that it would have resulted in a formal verbal warning.

How is it that people can start to hold such vehement and even violent views about other people?

One possible explanation is the out-group Homogeneity effect. This is the perception that members of an out-group are more similar than members of the in-group. Students were asked to guess what kinds of music members of their own school would like and what members of a rival school would like.

The study reveals that people tend to think there will be less variety in out groups. Effectively Drivers who don’t cycle are more likely to think that “(nearly) all cyclists are the same (personality)” but that someone being a “driver” doesn’t give you any information about their personality at all.

There is also the Justification-Suppression Model of prejudice. This is a really funny concept, and when you see it happening in an angry ranting person it is quite hard not to laugh in their face. The model explains that people face a conflict between the desire to express prejudice and the desire to maintain a positive self concept. This conflict causes people to search for justification for disliking an out-group, and to use that justification to avoid negative feelings about themselves when disliking a group. e.g. “I have seen young people drinking” therefore “they won’t work, and they want everything served up to them on a plate.” Basically: looking for an acceptable way to tar them all with the same brush.

With cyclists and drivers, there is clearly some evidence of The realistic conflict theory. This states that competition between people with limited resources leads to increased negative prejudices and discrimination. Drivers and cyclist are in competition over road space. Young and old are in competition for jobs and the distribution of resources and opportunities.

Additionally, there is the Social Dominance Theory: which states that society can be viewed as group-based hierarchies. In competition for scarce resources such as housing or employment, dominant groups create prejudiced “legitimizing myths” to provide moral and intellectual justification for their dominant position over other groups and validate their claim over the limited resources.

Drivers own the roads and take it as a self-evident fact that this has always been the way, and it should always be the way. The legitimizing myth is that the economy will implode and the sky will fall in if people cycle to work rather than take there almost empty cars. And there are biased merit norms: The young are inexperienced and therefore incapable of being responsible, hard working or diligent.

These myths work to maintain our current prejudiced based hierarchies but are they ultimately helpful?

I suspect, that with the two issues I raze here, work and transport, unless we wake up and smell the coffee and start making decisions based on actual evidence rather than anecdotes we are going to reach uncomfortable tipping points.

My personal view is that the cost of allowing ourselves to remain sedentary will be horrific. Equally not skilling up the younger members of our work force is fine now but when the baby boomers all leave work as they have started to do we will find a terrible financial short fall. This will be further compounded if we pull up the draw bridge and stop talented working age people from other countries from coming here, working and paying taxes.

You may not be a racist, a sexist or homophobic but it would be very unwise to assume that you do not hold any prejudices. Unfortunately it is a very human trait to use the short cut and simplify people into groups that have a mythical shared set of characteristics.

As a result we all walk around with misguided views in our heads. Until we are confronted with reality these prejudices don’t hold us back. It is only when we are met with evidence that challenges our beliefs do our own prejudices become exposed. I don’t think you can free yourself from forming prejudice. What you can do is become much more sensitive to the feelings you experience when someone challenges your misguided views.

We tend to think that winning arguments is a good thing. It makes us feel clever and powerful. But when you lose an argument you actually gain. If my views are unfounded, and someone points that out to me, then I gain a load of knew knowledge, and a more reliable model of how the world works. If I win an argument, I don’t gain any knew knowledge, and I lose the time it took me to explain something to the other person. If you find yourself ranting or mocking someone as a negative stereotype, then you could be doing that from a point of prejudice and you only stand to gain if you stop, and check you have all the facts.

“Everyone’s money is the same colour”. So clearly harbouring prejudice in your head will lose you sales. I know Jamie Oliver is a Titan. He is famous and a successful business man. But in my first year of operating I have already had enquiries from some incredible young British job seekers, who are looking to work in an exciting new company. Maybe it could take years before he notices the effect. But surely making dismissive and prejudiced statements about potential workers will slowly erode his firm’s ability to attract talent and therefore make money.

This week seems like a good one to look at ourselves in the mirror and really question: “Do I judge people by the contents of their character or have I allowed myself to become mentally lazy?”

Should husbands and wives work together?

wine rides prep

We have been asked how Hayley and I feel about starting a company together. I can’t speak for Hayley but this is how I feel:

It has been interesting to see that some people have expressed surprise that Hayley my wife and I have founded this company together and that we are both working on it. This has come as a shock to me. Although there were a number of things I worried about when starting Wine Rides, working with Hayley was not one off them.

I suppose as with so many things, I can’t predict the future. So I may well look back and realise that I was naïve not to worry about this more. Certainly there is stress involved. I think if we hadn’t renovated our home when we bought it and lived through that stress then, starting the company might have seemed like even more of an unknown.

We have both worked with fantastic husband and wife teams: One of my favourite TV production companies to work for is Atlantic Productions and that is headed by Anthony Geffen and his wife Claudia Perkins. Hayley works for Sue Riddlestone and Pooran Desai at BioRegional. Both of those husband and wife teams seem to have made it work, and they are role models for us.

I have read that less than 2% of the population ever try and start their own company.  Also if you are a top graduate like me, then statistically you will earn more money if you sell your skills and talent into an existing organisation. So at the very least people who start their own thing are unusual,  but I suppose because we have each had employers who are successful husband and wife teams, it doesn’t seem that rare to us.

The most inspiring husband and wife team I have met so far is Peter Cove and Lee Bowes. Peter founded an organisation called America Works. I found both their work and their working relationship incredible.

I met them when filming for the BBC in 2011. It was a film that looked at the evolution of love, and this couple were recommended by world renowned anthropologist Dr Helen Fisher, because they were personable, articulate and thoroughly in love. Their charity is paid by result by Government to get unemployed people back to work.

They explained to me that one reason they have been able to get over 300,000 people in the USA back to long term work is that they did an awful lot to differentiate themselves from normal unemployment facilities. They treat the people they work with, with respect. They don’t have messy notice boards or any leaflets piling up.

Their whole approach is to be totally positive and professional from the start of the process and thereby elicit the same kind of behaviour from their clients, as they help them through the process of finding work.

I loved meeting two people who cared passionately about what they do and who were applying a rational and systematic way of getting better results than those that had gone before them.

It was also interesting to see how they were able to compartmentalise their lives. When I met them at least they both seemed very calm, centred and relaxed. They clearly also had really well defined roles and a great deal of respect for each other’s abilities.

That isn’t to say they were both good at everything: Peter and Lee joked that before Lee joined the charity Peter was known as “Mr Cash Flow” because the organisation was always running out of money.

But Peter was so clearly the most affable and charming man you could ever meet and he said it was his role to act as the pot of honey and attract interest and investment into his charity. Lee was clearly the more organised person and evidently got a grip on things. She had come in and managed to level things out and stop the roller coaster, which had enabled them to build a large and strong organisation.

I can only hope that Hayley and I have the same qualities and that we will be as successful as Lee and Peter seem to be, both personally and professionally.

Certainly there have been a number of husband and wife teams that have built hugely successful companies: our business heroes Anita and Gordon Roddick and of course there are our partner vinyards: David and Lynda Carr Taylor and Irma and Roy Cook.

The worry is that the stress and pressure of the work will impact negatively on your relationship. I know that I have found it hard to power down at the end of the day and that really isn’t helped by the fact that our start–up is a very modern and web-based enterprise. At 11pm there could be new web traffic analytics to look at.

I write these blogs, because I want our readers to enjoy them. I want them shared and discussed so that more people regularly engage with what we are doing. That way we increase our reach and that should make it easier to sell our services to people who want them. So even if you should be heading to bed, it is really hard to pull yourself away from the computer, when stats are coming in that tell you how your creative endeavours have gone.

Whilst you might get on really well with your other friends, there is no-one in the world you trust more than your spouse. And because it is such a huge commitment in time and emotional effort, you need a lot of trust from that other person.

I have also found you need their help. The process can be so unrelenting, and every inch has to be fought for so hard that sometimes you need them to step in and take the thing on. It doesn’t matter if it is buying food for the weekend ahead or realising those directions need laminating (and a laminator needs to be bought).

We don’t have children, but I think the child analogy, could be a good one.

My suspicion is that couples are actually the basic economic unit of human’s society. At the end of the day, human babies require a lot of effort to get them to a point where they can stay alive. That effort is only possible because we have evolved to love.

It’s our strong pair bonding that meant it was possible for humans to complete this task collaboratively in a hostile environment.

Raising a family requires you to think collaboratively, to communicate, and to resolve conflict efficiently and most of all: to sustain that effort for years. If you want to do what we are doing with Wine Rides and start something from scratch, then you will have to find someone to work with, that can do all of the above with you.

I don’t think people who start companies are special when they start them. Taking that leap is just a matter of personality and circumstance. I have drawn heavily on the experience of other entrepreneurs. All the ones who have made it work do seem to have become obligate realists, but I genuinely believe that anyone can and will be able to start a company if the circumstances they find themselves in are right.

In conclusion I would say: So long as you are both realists, you want the same things and you love each other, then sure: why not start a company together? Who could possibly be better?


What Makes Communities go BOOM?

wine in the park


Wine Rides is a means by which people can enjoy a journey to British Vineyards by bike. They get to not only sample wine but also soak up the stunning atmosphere of an ancient landscape. So I am very interested in what different modes of transport offer their users and the communities they pass by.

Last week Elon Musk the founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors gave us a new transport idea: Hyperloop. It is a type of train in a vacuum tube. He estimated it would travel over three times as fast and cost less than a tenth of high speed rail. What a legend.

The fact of the matter is that Musk has taken a look at transport and offered us a way to travel faster than the speed of sound over 400 miles and do it in a journey time of 38 minutes, at a ticket cost of $20.

That is really exciting but I suspect that in London we have already seen a transport system that will do more to change our lives: Exhibition Road in South Kensington is a road with no pavement. Cars and pedestrians mingle together. When that plan was proposed I was hugely skeptical. 22 thousand students study at Imperial, the adjacent university and there are 3 major museums on that road, it seemed crazy.


exhibition road

A couple of years on, Exhibition Road is clearly working and the word is that Oxford Street could be due the same treatment. Personally having seen it work, I would love to see it done near me.

Crystal Palace is the up and coming part of London that I live in. The “triangle” is a concept that describes a one way system; the local estate agents coined the phrase to make the homes at the top of the hill seem more desirable. To be fair to them it has worked. In the three years we have lived here the pubs on all three corners of the triangle have transformed from being quite “film noir” to swanky (mum & child friendly) gastro pubs.

If the triangle became a pedestrianised shopping and dining cluster, that traffic had to creep through at less than 10mph, I am sure the value of my property would shoot up. The pubs and restaurants here are great. The landlord at my local has been on at the Council to see if he can get a zebra crossing from his front door to the other side of the road. He sees people on the inside of the triangle looking over at his establishment and knows he would get many more customers if crossing the chicane of traffic was easier.

This is my community; I don’t see any reason why people passing through in cars should have priority of movement over me. Pedestrianising the triangle but giving cars access like they have successfully done on Exhibition Road would make Crystal Palace the most desirable shopping and dining location in South East London.

We don’t have the Hyperloop here but we are blessed in Palace to have three amazing transport connections: Gipsy Hill station, Crystal Palace train station and the Bus terminus. You don’t need a car to get here at all.

I haven’t seen any numbers but I suspect that the vast majority of the car traffic is passing through. As a result they are creating noise and making the narrow streets of the triangle more hostile and less pleasant without contributing to this community.

Tescos has announced that they are going to start putting restaurant concessions into their larger stores. They are also going to allow community groups, and yoga classes in. That sounds to me like that is re-creating the high street, inside their store.

We are always hearing that these out of town shopping malls are killing the high street. People normally assume that it is because the out of town shopping centres have lots of parking. And they do. But they also have a car free environment once you are in them shopping. I hate a trip to Westfield but I am sure I would hate it even more if people drove their cars through them. What out of town shopping centres do is cleverly get people to drive to them and then demand they leave the car at the other end of a vast car park.

People can get here without their car. If we made Palace a pedestrianised zone it would become a real destination. Footfall is what we want. The idea that lots of parking means people will drive here park and spend money is a nonsense. When you are in the car your attention is on the road. When you are on foot you can discover wonderful little shops. The trick of a profitable shopping district is to get people out of their cars as soon as possible. It’s pretty hard to spend money if there is a car door between your wallet and the till.

If you supply parking you get somewhere like Hammersmith, which let’s face it is a horrible hole. People drive there and go into a huge chain shop with money for advertising. They aren’t looking for local shops. If you focus on public transport and lots of pedestrianised space you get Covent Garden.

Everyone wants to live at the “destination” not on the route. If Hyperloop gets built then I am sure the people who live at the point where the capsules go supersonic and “BOOM” as they break the sound barrier will not be happy. But near the stations at each end, the locals will be delighted.

Personally I think it is time that people in Crystal Palace decided to make the leap and ask that our streets become pedestrianised and we get to be the “destination”.

Wherever you live, I would encourage you to think about the total effect traffic is having on you. We really have to ask, is the noise, and the pollution really benefiting me or are these people off somewhere nicer? You have a right to walk in your community. The act of going from your property to buy a pint of milk shouldn’t require you to risk your life. It is odd that right across middle England the NIMBY’s are protesting HS2. They are entitled to of course. But we city dwellers are just as entitled to say, actually, if you are going to drive past my house, I want you to do it slowly, quietly and safely. If it is good enough for the people of South Ken, then it is good enough for me.

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