Wednesday 28 April 2010

Spring cleaning

It's that yellow time of year. The daffodils may be on their way out but the fields and roadsides are aglow with rape and dandelions. And on patios all over Germany and, indeed, the world, the Kärcher is out, high-pressure cleaning as only it can.

Kärcher ("makes a difference") is one of those great brands that could only be German. With a core area of expertise in pressure cleaning outdoors, now extended to indoors, this is engineering ingenuity at its best. The company was founded back in 1935 and continues to go from strength to strength, even getting involved in huge public cleaning projects such as the Brandenburg Gate or Mount Rushmore - the ultimate "expert endorsement", I suppose.

Kärcher, in a way, is Germany's Hoover. Herr Alfred Kärcher's name has not just become a household one - in every sense of the word - along with his fellow Württembergers Bosch, Daimler and Count Zeppelin, but he's also had the honour of becoming a verb. Even if some, such as the current French president, have been known to use the verb a little unwisely.

Sunday 25 April 2010


A few weeks ago, I finally departed company with my family's Decca portable record player. It had been hauled down from the attic and, taking one look at the perished rubber ring inside and the decidedly dodgy plug wiring it was sentenced to the tip. I consoled myself with the fact that it was at least forty years the senior of any other item discarded in the "electricals" skip.

The old Decca had done me well - I used it doggedly throughout my college years and early twenties - I saw the hi-tech hi-fis of others as a waste of money. It was only when CDs really took hold that I eventually took the plunge to buy a new system.

I have a similar attitude to my trusty mobile phone, an 8-year-old Nokia 6310. I had been meaning to update this year but after my experience of being stranded, I've come to the conclusion that I'm not going to bother. I'm proud of my phone. It's robust, simple and still lasts ages before it needs charging up.

I can also give myself a pat on the back to say that keeping my historic handset is one little way of acting sustainably. The innovation consultancy More Associates have even developed a brand, Kept, to celebrate this way of thinking with the tagline "things don't have to be rubbish".

And, although the Decca may be gone, I still have three other record players in my possession. And one of them uses no electricity at all, just good old hand power.

Saturday 17 April 2010


In all my years of travelling on business, I'm quite amazed that I haven't been affected by any major disasters before. So I'm taking my current predicament on the chin and accepting that is going to be my favourite website for the foreseeable future.

What's interesting about this disaster is that, although I'm grounded, I don't feel in any way stranded. Of course, it helps that I'm stuck in Blighty, but the thing is - the way technology has moved on, the one thing you can do on the ground that you can't do up in the air is communicate by phone, by web, anywhere and anytime.

The news websites haven't been a great help, with their over-dramatising and doom-mongering ("a cloud of almost biblical proportions" - oh, pur-lease!). But it is just great to pop onto Facebook and see which pals and colleagues are grounded where - and you know that you are not alone in wondering when exactly you should buy that pack of new pants.

Sunday 11 April 2010

National logos

During my visit to the UK last week, I chanced upon the Cool Britannia store in Piccadilly. Once I'd got over the shock of thinking that I'd fallen into some kind of time warp and that the British will be re-electing Mr Blair in May, I had a quick look around this palace of patriotism.

As well as the "Best of British" brands such as Burberry, Marmite and HP Sauce, the national logo is served up here on everything from cars to underpants. "Cool" is not exactly how I'd describe it, but there is a rather glorious tastelessness about it that is strangely compelling. I felt taken back to the days when I envied Goodie Tim Brooke-Taylor's waistcoat (Union Jack, naturally, for those too young to remember).

I am sure that having an "iconic" (bleurgh!) national logo is partly responsible for our collective delusion that we still rule the waves, or the world, or something. This we share with our friends from over the pond. Other nations do this on a smaller scale, such as Brazil, or Canada.

But within Europe, the only country that comes even close to us when it comes to shameless commercial plugging of the national logo are the Swiss - is it any coincidence that they too are resistant to the single currency?

Friday 2 April 2010

Rising above the cloud of consumerism

I'm currently reading "Co-opportunity" by John Grant. It's a great book and something of a departure for John, in that it's far, far more than a marketing book. At the moment I'm trying to get my head round the alternatives to a GDP/growth-based economy.

A little bit more in my own comfort zone is the chapter about consumerism. In this, John dons an uncharacteristically negative-tinted pair of spectacles to paint a picture of consumerism as a kind of "infantilising of society". The promise of consumerism is that we will never go without, the "fantasy of cornucopia". People adopt a passive mode of behaviour, like cuckoo chicks clamouring for more and more - and then flying into fits of rage on the rare occasions when they "don't get".

This certainly rings bells with me and some of the projects I have worked on. And for all their missions and visions that promise to "improve people's lives", a lot of consumer companies are stuck in the same profit hamster wheel that demands that they sell more stuff to more people.

What I like about John's books is that he always offers an alternative view, a fresh perspective. So here are his thoughts about human needs that companies and organisations might look to answering that let us rise above the cloud of consumerism:
Reconnecting with nature
Lifelong learning
Social production, craft

Right. I am going unplugged for a while now to pursue one or two of those myself.