Monthly Archives: November 2014

Comparing apples and pears…

“Obesity is costing the UK economy more than violent crime and the war on terrorism” ran the headline on the news bulletin on BBC Radio 2 at 7am this morning. The report had been prompted by a McKinsey Global Institute paper that calculates the total cost of obesity to the world economy at US$1.3 trillion annually. Apparently, the UK share of the total is £47 billion. You can see the BBC news item here :

A couple of things intrigued me about the news story : firstly, the implausibility of any sort of meaningfully accurate calculation of the actual cost of obesity to the world economy (remember, God only created economists to make weather forecasters look good); and secondly, the incongruity of comparing the claimed economic cost of obesity with the costs of violent crime or the war on terrorism. What possible connection can there be between these things, and why choose violent crime or terrorism as the comparators, rather than (say) unseasonal weather or flu?

Is there a subliminal suggestion here that violent crime is linked to obesity? Are dangerously overweight people so desperate for their next fast-food fix that they’re mugging people to fund their Big Mac habit? Or is it the case that in fact, obese people are the victims – easy pickings for heartless, fit muggers who don’t even have to go to the bother of chasing down their prey? Of course, these suggestions are ridiculous, adding nothing to a greater understanding of the story. And that’s the point : the comparison between the claimed costs of worldwide obesity and the costs of fighting terrorism is utterly meaningless and adds nothing to a better understanding of the issue.

In fact, it is a measure of the extent to which our values have become distorted that obesity makes headline news as an economics story at all. The reality is that each obese individual has become dangerously overweight for a whole range of reasons – social, biological, psychological, physiological, educational, to name a few. Only when we tackle the root causes at an individual level can we hope to halt the epidemic. The answer almost certainly won’t be found in macro-economics.

Perspective and blessings

The tragic and sudden death of a young man who – to all outward appearances, had so much to live for – has made today about recalibrating a sense of perspective, and counting blessings. Seeing the pain caused to a loved one through the loss of a friend, is a sharp reminder that so much of what worries me is utterly trivial, and that I have taken for granted so much of what really matters.

Derek Mahon’s poem Leaves contains the following lines :

It is autumn, and dead leaves

On their way to the river

Scratch like birds at the windows

Or tick on the road.

Somewhere there is an afterlife

Of dead leaves,

A stadium filled with an infinite

Rustling and sighing.

Somewhere in the heaven

Of lost futures

The lives we might have led

Have found their own fulfilment.

There is a message of hope in the idea that the lives that we might have led are being fulfilled in some other dimension; that a tragic ending in the here and now might not be the end of the story. It is my hope that those currently struggling to make sense of today’s events, might at least find some comfort in that.

There’s no “I” in team…

It’s been an inspiring day. I’ve had the privilege of listening to medical educators from Leeds, Sheffield, Keele and Cardiff sharing the exciting and innovative ways that they are helping medical students to develop the skills, knowledge, and attributes that will make them safe, effective and fit-for-purpose doctors, ready to serve their patients and help push back the boundaries of medical science and practice.

One of the key themes that’s been repeated throughout the day is the importance of team work and multi-disciplinary co-operation and respect in the modern healthcare environment. There is an enduring belief that health care is delivered by a hierarchy of practitioners, with the doctor sitting at the top. In practice, the lead person in the team will tend to change as the patient proceeds along a care pathway, with nurses, doctors, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, pharmacists and a range of other professionals all coming to the fore at different points in the total treatment package.

It reminded me of a great poem attributed to Saxon White Kessinger called The Indispensible Man, that I hadn’t read for a long time, but which in some respects could serve as an anthem for team and interdisciplinary working in healthcare and many other settings.

Sometime when you’re feeling important;
Sometime when your ego’s in bloom;
Sometime when you take it for granted,
You’re the best qualified man* in the room:
Sometime when you feel that your going,
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions,
And see how they humble your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining,
Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.
You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop, and you’ll find that in no time,
It looks quite the same as before.

The moral of this quaint example,
Is to do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There’s no indispensable man*.

* or woman!

An old one admittedly, but still makes me smile

I work in a fairly large University in the south west of England. In common with many institutions in the higher education sector in the UK, we are currently going through a pretty radical change process. This morning, the management team for my Faculty met together to discuss some of the ways that we could engage with our staff, students and other partners to ensure that they are aware of why the changes that we are making are necessary; and (in some ways more importantly) how they can help us to design and implement the changes that we need to make.

The discussions about engagement reminded me of the story of the change management consultant who was asked to explain the difference between involvement and commitment. “Well”, he said, after a moment’s pause for thought, “it’s like cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast”. Looking around at the puzzled faces of the management team he was supporting, he went on : “The chicken is involved, but the pig – well, he’s committed!”

Three unmistakeable signs that Christmas is coming…

#1 : The John Lewis ad has started appearing between prime time shows on pretty much every commercial television station

#2 : The Coca Cola lorry has been sighted, “Holidays are Coming”, and the dates and venues for the annual tour have been announced

#3 : “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” returns to our TV screens this evening. Naturally, I don’t watch it myself, but Mrs Pearce is an addict, and some of it seeps into my unconscious without me even realising it!

Meanwhile, back in Rome…

So – after a short break in coverage – this evening’s blogpost returns to our trip to Rome. The Sunday of our trip saw us making our way from the Piazza Venezia, with it imposing Palazzo, towards the Colosseum.

Palazzo Venezia

Palazzo Venezia

One of the horsemen that towers above the Piazza

One of the horsemen that towers above the Piazza

The approach to the Colosseum is an event in itself, dominated by statuary and ancient archaeological sites that serve as a superb appetiser for the main event.

The approach to the Colosseum

The approach to the Colosseum

And this was just on the way!

And this was just on the way!

And then, you turn the corner and you are greeted by the sight that is synonymous with Rome :

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

A quick couple of ‘touristy’ tips at this point. Firstly, book your tickets in advance on the internet. The queue of those seeking to pay on the day was very long, and whilst it was mostly covered and cool, you don’t want to be wasting valuable sight-seeing, shopping, eating or drinking time waiting around. Secondly, the audio guide at the Colosseum is well worth the investment. It allows you to see all the key things at your own pace, and in a way that means you can avoid arriving at the main vantage points at the same time as the latest coach-full of visitors from the most recently-arrived cruise ship! We spent a good three hours in the Colosseum itself, and it was brilliant. As an added bonus, the views out from the amphitheatre were as good as those within it.

Inside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

Arch of Constantine - from inside the Colosseum

Arch of Constantine – from inside the Colosseum

Following a well-earned lunch (a superb cheese and ham panini from one of the authorised street food vendors found throughout the Italian capital – they also provided life-saving frozen water throughout our stay!), we made our way to the Forum – the oldest part of the Roman capital and literally saturated in history.

The Forum

The Forum

History and faded glory around every corner!

History and faded glory around every corner!

We had an absolutely fantastic day absorbed in the ancient history of the city, and it was two very happy, but totally exhausted explorers who returned to the hotel that evening.

An apology…

In a blogpost earlier this week, I may have inadvertently given the misleading impression that the key to happiness in life was inextricably linked to the consumption of cake and chocolate icing.

I now realise that this was a grave error and I wish to apologise unreservedly for any distress caused as a result. I now understand that in fact, and without any shadow of a doubt, all you really need is :


Have a fantastic weekend, dear reader!

FIFA – you couldn’t make it up…

For students of public relations and media management, this has been a red letter day – a real life case study in how not to do it. It should have been a milestone in the rehabilitation of an organisation that has attracted more than its fair share of criticism in recent years : over alleged dodgy deals relating to TV rights; over attempted bribes to win votes in presidential elections; over the decision to award the World Cup finals to a country where temperatures at the normal time of matches will top 40 degrees C. Following the commissioning of an independent investigation into the award of that World Cup to Qatar (and the one after to Russia), the publication of the report today was trailed by FIFA’s Executive as a vindication of the award process, and confirmation that the organisation’s claims that it behaved ethically and professionally were fully justified.

Unfortunately, we now know that the version of the report that has been released by FIFA may tell some of the truth, but it appears that it’s neither the whole truth nor anything but the truth. The independent investigator has complained that his findings have been misrepresented by FIFA to such an extent that he does not recognise the conclusions that have been published. FIFA has so far resisted calls for the full report to be published, claiming that to do so would breach the anonymity of some witnesses who had been promised that they would not be publicly identified.

It’s fair to say that the whole thing is a shambles. It’s almost impossible to see how FIFA’s Executive can survive this latest debacle unscathed. But that’s been said many times before too.

Speed posting

This is a speed post, written in a hurry having just got in from a twelve hour day at the office, and completed as the pork chops hiss and spit under the grill. It’s my very own form of “jeopardy writing”, and it’s even more effective than the Write or Die app used by David Nichols in an attempt to write the successor novel to One Day :


Using the app, all that happens is that words that you have written start to be deleted if you don’t get things down quickly enough.

In my version, my dinner will be burned and Charlotte will literally kill me!

If there’s no post tomorrow, you’ll know what’s happened….

All you need is cake

There are times when I have been pretty sure that I am the luckiest person in the world. I have felt this at various points in my life : when lying on a Skiathos beach looking up into the infinite blue of a cloudless sky, waves gently lapping the golden sand at the water’s edge; when sitting at a table a deux on the rive gauche in Paris sipping a cafe au lait and looking back towards Notre Dame; when standing wrapped up against the biting cold of an early winter’s evening, watching the fireworks in the sky above Cardiff Castle on November 5th.

However, these are all things that are available to anyone who is fortunate enough to be able to travel and has reasonably good health. Very occasionally, though, something happens that removes all possible doubt about the extent of my luckiness. Today was one of those days, when I arrived home this evening to find these sitting on the kitchen :

If Carling made cup cakes...

If Carlsberg made cupcakes…

At the end of another busy day, sometimes all you need is cake. Thanks Jo – they taste (amazingly) even better than they look!