Late Life Crisis - October 2022

WFC - working from the countryside? An emigrant from London, quoted in The Times, bemoaned the local unavailability of decent sushi. Probably not the best standard-bearer.


Advice out that older people should lift heavy weights in order to maintain fitness. So I am off down to collect a case of wine from the Concierge.


Staying with fitness. I was drawn to an article on how to get a CEO fit body. Academic in my case, but I read about the regimes of certain corporate leaders. The CEO of Under Armour (lycra exercise world) is Kevin Plank. Kevin has the same vegan breakfast every morning, without fail. To my mind that makes him a bit of a plank, but I apologise for being unduly unkind about his name.


You might have missed this item. It sort of concerns protected characteristics.

It is unlawful to discriminate against an individual on account of one of these. They are: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion and belief; sex; and sexual orientation.

Let us pause on religion and belief, specifically on belief. I will quote words from the Equality and Human Rights Commission:

'Belief refers to any religious or philosophical belief and includes a lack of belief. Generally a belief affects your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition'. 

If you are thinking that this is sounding ponderous, I will now tell you that the item is about football, and the issue is whether the passion of being a football club supporter can amount to a philosophical belief. In Employment Tribunal proceedings an individual claimed so.

His Club was Glasgow Rangers. He attended every match and spent his discretionary income on various forms of support for the Club. He argued that support for Rangers was a way of life, and as important to him as attending church. His case was that Rangers supporters were traditionally seen as Protestant Christians.

Here I can interject with a story. My father died when I was still in primary school. My mother had mental health difficulties and could not cope, so I was sent up to Glasgow to live with my auntie for a term. I was primed that when I enrolled at the local school I would be asked if I supported Rangers or Celtic. You may be up with me, but the question was whether I was Protestant or Roman Catholic.

Honesty was the only choice in response. I had been brought up Catholic. It helped that the area was predominantly of this faith. So no issue.

Now how did the Tribunal find? They decided that being a Rangers supporter was not capable of being a protected philosophical belief. They did not deny the genuineness of the belief, but observed that:

  1. There was a difference between 'support' and 'belief'.
  2. 'Support' meant active interest, whereas 'belief' implied accepting the truth of something, especially in the absence of proof (if I were cheeky I might suggest that belief could mean a Scottish football fan being convinced that their team was strong enough to advance to the latter stages of top European competition).
  3. Support for a football team was akin to a lifestyle choice and not relating to a substantial aspect of human life. 

All this could of course be debated. But to be honest I decided to pick out this one as an excuse to reprise the words of Bill Shankly, famed Liverpool manager in the 1960s and 70s:

'Some people think that football is a matter of life or death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.'

I reckon that the Tribunal finding would have been different if Bill had been on the panel. 


Postcard from Porto

British Airways have a habit of shooting themselves in the foot. We are in the queue, about to board. A member of ground staff emerges to say that we cannot board yet as the curtain between Club and Economy has come off its rails. This must be fixed before the flight can leave. It is a Health & Safety issue. An engineer has been called. Seriously.

The queue discussed the matter. One or two DIY folk would be happy to pop on board and have a go at fixing the offending hanging. Maybe it could just be taken off? But then would Club passengers be traumatised by the sight of the Economy oiks? Or might the oiks rise up and assault the Club people with the latter's metal cutlery.

Ten minutes later two engineers arrive. Yes, two not one. The problem is quickly fixed. The queue considered an ironic round of applause. but decided against it. It might be classed as intimidation of BA staff and we might be thrown off the flight.


And in a nod to the nostalgia, the French air traffic controllers were on strike. However, next to Eire, Portugal is the the least inconvenient EU destination where one is stuck with les Froggies misbehaving. 


Porto is lovely, set on the banks of the River Douro and steepling up on either side. The Portugese are unfailingly polite. English is commonly spoken, and to a decent standard. It might help that, leaving Brazil aside, Portugese is not widely spoken outside of Portugal. 


It would be touristic to go to a Fado show. Fado music has mournful tunes outpouring sentiments of resignation, fate and melancholy. However, there is an alternative: turn on BBC World News and focus on the UK segment.


Porto has beautiful churches, a stunning palace, and attractive and diverse architectural styles (even McDonalds is packaged inside a gem of a building). It is a City for the wanderer around, as long as you can manage steep hills. It is also a go-to for infrastructure and transport nerds: bridges (road; rail; pedestrian); boats (up and down and across the Douro, and with the bigger craft setting off for wine cruises upstream); a Metro; a vintage tram rattling out to the mouth of the river; a cable car; and a funicular railway for those who do not fancy the walk up from the lively Ribeira river bank area.


Lively area indeed. People strolling around from early evening. Summery. Except it is autumn, so slanting light enhances the scene. Top drawer busking. Staying at a hotel on the Ribeira, there was a little initial concern about late night revelry. None of it. Such noise as there is melts away soon after 11pm. Civilised.


One has to say something about port. On the opposite bank, billboard signs for Taylor's, Sandeman etc. English 18th century entrepreneurial investment into the then sunlit uplands.

We went to one of the smaller outlets. An erudite tour, with a soupcon of disparagement of the industrialised larger operations. Afterwards, a walk round an ambitious new cultural/high-end retail centre, the child emerging in nappies. The place will need a couple of years to become a destination.


Surely time now for port. I used to be snobbishly sceptical about the three little glasses of white, ruby and tawny ranged in front of one's plate of cheese. Of course they were lovely, and I have finally expunged the memory from way back of one of the worst hangovers I have ever suffered. 

Also a moment to say that at breakfast we could have had gratis port and champagne. I eschewed the opportunity, which may come as a shock to those who know me. There have to be some limitations. 


I feel that in all this I ought to be saying more about Porto's culture. The City is fabulous on that plane. Yet I keep coming back to food and drink...

As a starter, there is the Bolhao food market, a delight alone for produce on display, but where for 2.50 Euros you can buy a decent glass of wine (in proper glass) that you can then take with you in a stroll around the market - they trust you to return the glass.

Turning to restaurants, there are various. I am better at eating than describing, but if you like your seafood you would be very happy here. 'Smart, innovative cuisine', I think the foodie writers would say. Though I am drawn back to decent house wine - proper labelled with cork, not the London drawn off tap stuff shoved into a re-used bottle and priced up radically in an attempt to claw back profit post-pandemic. Oh, and the average cost: 16 Euros. Yep.

I suppose finally I should make a recommendation. Here it is: Mistu. Superb food, with house wine at 16 Euros. Have I already mentioned wine?


After return from a week away and catching up on an episode each of House of Dragons, This England and Industry, I must turn attention to the documentary on TS Eliot's The Wasteland. Being intellectually lazy, I always go first for the dominantly entertaining rather than the dominantly cultural, but Eliot must be done, if for no better reason than I am still holding a volume of his Collected Poems that came out of my school's library.


The Telegraph and Spectator columnist Charles Moore has a habit of winding me up. I think it might be his smug self-satisfaction that does it. So I was amused to see him on the defensive, berating Nick Robinson over the following remark on the Today Programme about Truss/Kwarteng economic policy:

'Making promises is easy. Explaining how you'll pay for them is rather harder, as the Chancellor and Prime Minister are starting to discover.'

Moore's thesis is that the interviewer's job is merely to assist communication with the interviewee, and not to interpose his brain between one and the other. He questions how any listener could think that Truss and Kwarteng had not thought about the explaining part. 

Ha ha. I suspect that Moore would prefer the Toady Programme, at least when Conservatives are under the spotlight. But I reckon that this is a good moment to bring in Lance-Corporal Jones from the wonderful Dad's Army:

'They don't like it up'em, Captain Mainwaring, they don't like it up'em.'


I suppose I should say something in summary about the miserable UK political developments over this month. I propose only to mention three things from management theory:

  • It is best for an organisation to make radical changes in strategy when it is in steady state.
  • In putting forward a business case you have to make the case to each set of stakeholders, irrespective of what you think about any particular group (reference bond markets in case that is not entirely clear). 
  • Once again the Peter Principle - individuals in a hierarchy tend to be promoted until they reach a level of incompetence.

Truss and Kwarteng note. Although as ideologues they will remain convinced that they were right.


The author is a writer, speaker, historian, occasional tour guide, and former Managing Partner of a City law firm.