Thursday, December 13, 2012

A night out with Usher, Katy Perry and my daughter!

I had a great chance to return to "teenage-hood" last week as I went with my daughter to her first concert. 

We have been getting spoiled recently in Dubai with some big stars coming here to perform, and when Tia heard there was going to be a double-header of Usher and Katy Perry performing in one night, it was going to take a man of steel and no heart to say no!

Following our experience of the Madonna concert earlier this year where my wife and I (and thousands of others) were waiting on our feet for more than 3 hours waiting for her to come on stage, we were worried about how punctual these 2 stars were going to be, especially considering that Tia had school the next day !!!

But none of that mattered. Tia was determined and we were fortunate enough to get tickets for the Golden Circle … the chance to get "up close and personal" with the singers.

We headed out to the impressive Meydan complex early … and it was fortunate we did, as the traffic build up was horrendous. We had planned to arrive in good time for Usher's scheduled start at 7.30, but we finally made it into the stadium at 7.40. Fortunately, the organisers were staying true to "Dubai time". We had time to stock up on water and head towards the front of the "pit". Despite Tia's size, she was happy for us to work our way right as close as we could to the front where she was not going to see anything except the front wall of the stage … apart from those moments when the singers came right up front … and we were rewarded with many of those which made it all worthwhile.

There was a  great atmosphere around. Everyone looking to have a good time and the DJ's from Virgin Radio warmed up the crowd nicely .. Until 8.20, when the lights when out and the screams began as Usher came out. He got the crowd going instantly and kept everyone happy keeping his act predominantly as a repertoire of 'the best of", with a few really impressive tracks of his latest album … but his live rendition of OMG is going to stay in my memory as one of the single best performances I have ever seen. He showed off his outstanding dance moves and demonstrated a tireless energy from start to finish. Without a doubt, giving the crowd the performance they dreamed of.

Tia was blown away. Screaming and moving and singing along like and concert veteran, it was a joy to see her enjoying this first experience … and this was just a warm up for what she really wanted to see, Katy Perry.

So after a full 90 minute set, Usher retired and the crowd got a 30 minute "rest". The hard core Usher fan base that were right up front against the stage moved away and Tia and I were able to get front and centre. If it was possible, the general view was going to be even more obstructed, but it was going to place us just a few feet from Katy when she finally came on.

As the anticipation built, again the lights went down, and this incredible pop star made her entrance via a simulated parachute. I had just seen her movie "Piece of me" on a recent flight, and am so glad I did as I gained a huge new respect for her learning about how hard she had to work to make it to where she has.

Despite my 42 years, having a female tween in the house basically dictates your music taste, and I have learned and become familiar with the tunes that blare from Tia's room, which of course include the numerous hits of Katy Perry, and along with my daughter and the 10,000 or so other people present, we were bopping the night away with a powerful high energy show.

Katy sang all of her number one's and played the audience fantastically. Acting like a teenager herself, her colourful cartoon sets were bright and vibrant and set a fantastic tone for the concert.

For me, it was great fun and I managed to (temporarily) forget how sore my feet were, but I got the most enjoyment when I moved my eyes of the stage and just watched Tia. Jumping and dancing and singing .. Throwing her arms in the air and screaming as loud as anyone each time Katy came up close. I wouldn't have wanted to miss it for the world.

It has become a great memory we now share, which Tia couldn't stop talking about on the way home despite her totally horse voice! We got home late and I put her to bed just after 1am. Thank you Tia for sharing such a special evening with me!

By the way, the note to her school the next day simply said "sick" ! (shhh!)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

En Garde!

In the past 2 years I have become stronger, fitter and healthier than I have been in the past 20 years … and this has been driven mostly by (and for) my kids.

We are blessed to have strong and active kids, and I take it as my duty to work out with them and enjoy as much sporting activity with them as I can. It's great bonding and great for my own fitness, and it's great fun as both Shaan and Tia love to push harder and harder towards extreme type sports.

Be it off piste skiing, white water rafting, mountain climbing or our forthcoming scuba diving holiday or just running or playing football during the school term, I love to play with them and help train them in whatever capacity I can. Tia has most recently joined the school football team, and I thoroughly enjoy our weekend and evening training sessions. We work on ball control, passing, dribbling, shooting and also how to deal with the more physical side of the game by practicing some "argy bargy". Training her in football is certainly easier for me than training her in gymnastics … not my forte, so this is proving to be a great sharing experience.

Shaan, the young man in our household, plays his football at "house level" in school and has taken a liking (and a shining to) fencing. He has only been at it for 6 months, but is excelling in his academy, and while I have found it a pleasure to watch him, witnessing this riveting sport at the Olympics in summer gave me the bug too. Since we got back to Dubai in September, I have taken a few private lessons myself to get to grips with the basics of the sport. I have learned the footwork and the basic moves … it has proven to be something of a help in guiding Shaan in some of his tournaments as an onlooker, but things changed for me dramatically last week as I moved from the security and isolation of my private lessons to my first group session. I was put up against the other adult beginner and intermediate fencers in the academy and this was to be my first real bout.

Shaan in action - showing how the game should be played!

Shaan was good enough to come along and watch, and this time be my trainer and supporter. I shared with him my fear as we approached the hall … that I might lose both battles 0-5 and totally embarrass myself. Had my trainer prepared me well enough? Did the luxury of private lessons keep me too much in isolation? We would soon find out. Shaan was a good sport and a good motivator, so after the warm up, I masked up, wired myself to the machines and stepped up for a fight. The feeling at that point was surreal. Looking through the mesh mask, it was like I was watching a movie filmed in the first person. I approached the starting marks and stood face to face against an opponent with a sword ready to stab me. The adrenaline began to rush … waiting for the words to start us… I pondered, who will make the first move, and if my opponent comes in fast against me, will I react quick enough?

Warming up!

I crouched down as I heard "en grade" and then listened for the all important "allez" command which marks the commencment of battle. As I heard it, I held my ground bracing myself for the fast paced attack of my opponent, which didn't happen! I remember my coach telling me the importance of these opening seconds. What each player does and how they respond gives away a whole lot of information about the strategic approach needed for the match. So as I found myself holding ground and no fast lunge forthcoming at me, I pressed forward myself. I tested the water and saw my adversary to be experienced and very calm. He kept his distance and I tried again a couple of times, wanting to show that I was confident ... but then I saw the move towards me and scuttled backwards. Not very elegant, and not keeping my footwork as I had been trained to do, but to my relief, I had avoided a first hit. It must have been a total of 15-20 seconds by now, but it felt like minutes. I was sweating but feeling a fantastic high from this encounter. My confidence grew as I engaged in the fight. With each of my moves forward I was able to avoid taking a hit, until I was finally outplayed. I had lost my first point and I was shell shocked. I can only think that I panicked as I was then very quickly down 3-0. I realised I was being badly beaten, although, thankfully, not being embarrassed, but I was learning a lot very quickly. I gathered myself and tried to analyse where I was keeping myself open. I approached the next touche with more caution and looked for a possible opening myself. As I stood firm to feel out my opponent, I saw the chance to strike … I did and scored hit. It was only a point, but I felt like celebrating as if I had scored a goal in a Wembley cup final. I was exhilarated. Not only because, in the worst case, I was not going to lose 5-0, but because I saw there was hope. If I could get this one point, then why not another, and why not five? If I could avoid being hit, then why not for 5 more touches also?

Game on! I was ready. My confidence was growing and I structured my moves carefully. My retreats remained clumsy, but they kept me safe and I could work on those during my next training session, but now I needed to focus on the battle at hand. I achieved another hit and then another. In a flash, I had made it 3-3 … dare I consider a victory? Some of the crowd was getting behind me, and most importantly my son and my coach. Perhaps it was with the hope of victory that I got cocky and over confident. I let my guard down and found myself trailing 3-4. Match point to my opponent. As I hear "en garde" again, I force my focus. I was not going to lose another careless point. I kept my blade point up and tried a few moves. As long as I show some forward momentum, I should keep my opponent at bay. It was a tense battle that went on a while and when I saw the opportunity to strike, I did. 4-4. I really had to contain my excitement now and remain focused on the final deciding point. My original fear of being totally outclassed had long gone. I may not have shown that I am the most elegant fighter and I may have had my fair share of luck in this, my first real encounter, but I was holding my own and was on the verge of a massive confidence boosting victory, "Allez" the referee says for the last time. As the sweat built on my forehead, my legs were tiring and my arm was getting heavy, but the thrill of this fight was pushing me to ignore all of that. Step forwards, step backwards, lunges and parries … the feeling was absolutely riveting. My usual conservative and defensive nature was now out of the window. I could smell victory and wanted to go in for the kill, and that’s when I saw the opening. My opponents guard was up and in training I had been prepared to spot this weakness. I went for the lunge at his wrist and get a direct hit. As I heard the buzzer sound I could not believe I had done it. I was a fencer. I was hooked. This was definitely a new sport for me and I hope I made my son proud.

VICTORIOUS (and relieved)!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A tough act to follow ...

Apart from being one of the best, Casino Royale was certainly the most expensive movie I ever saw … I ended up buying an Aston Martin as soon as I walked out.

I lived with that glorious piece of machinery for 5 years, and I finally said goodbye to it earlier this year with great sadness. It served me well, was thrilling to drive (and just to look at), but apart from the horrendous service bills, my kids had outgrown the back seats and practicality had to overrule emotion in my life.

So I was considering a "sensible" replacement. A Mercedes, BMW or Audi. All fine elegant cars. I would be happy with any, but none are exactly what you might call inspiring, exciting or sexy and all go well with a balding head and a pot belly (both of which I am staving off with great effort)!

Looking for an alternative that would be more interesting and "different" I considered a Cadillac Escalade 4x4 (too "gangsta"), the Porsche Panamera (too chunky) and the Maserati Quattroporte (had a "clunky" gear shift") and then stumbled across the Jaguar XJ L. A stunning looking car with 4 door sensibility.

There are a couple of versions available and according to Jeremy Clarkson, the 3 litre diesel is a great option, but living in Dubai, where petrol is cheaper than water, the option of the 5 litre V8 "Portfolio" was very appealing. 385 BHP and 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and stunning comfort and luxury to boot, this became a no brainer as soon as I set my eyes on it.

I selected mine in "Caviar" (that’s a deep burgundy colour for some reason). The "Portfolio" version is a "full option" car with upgraded rims. It has everything you can think of and it is sublime to drive. In its normal mode, it is smooth and comfortable, but remains short of being "sensible" because of the light growl you can constantly hear out of the exhaust, and then there is "Dynamic Mode". When engaged, the dials on the dashboard glow red. The car hunkers down, the suspension and the steering stiffen up. Combine that with engaging the Sport mode on the gearbox and the ratios get more aggressive and the growl from the exhaust gets more ominous.

The straight line speed of this vehicle is massively impressive as it has loads of torque on tap, especially in 3rd gear, but it lacks the sure-footedness of an all out sports car around corners. Perhaps not a bad thing as this encourages more sedate driving.

This "limousine" suddenly feels like a sports car and goes like the clappers when you put your foot down. The acceleration is incredible, but comes on so smoothly … less violent than out and out sports car, but with the massive engine it keeps on going with plenty of torque available even when getting to and exceeding (apparently) the legal speed limit.

The detail inside the car is magnificent. The touch screen computer is more logical than the Mercedes and BMW equivalents and the machined aluminium gear knob is beautiful … as is the way it raises and lowers with the ignition. The bluetooth connectivity is as per standard in most new luxury cars and there are USB connectors for iPods and other media drives which project themselves exquisitely clearly through the plethora of high end speakers dotted all over the cabin.

I've had the car a couple of weeks now and have been totally chuffed with my decision. This car is a luxury sedan that is great to self drive or be driven in. It is eminently sensible, but has enough "bad boy" in it for when the urge takes you.

I do miss the sheer coolness of my DB9 (for example, announcing proudly at the valet parking stands that "mine's the Aston"), but with the recent release of Skyfall, I was thrilled to notice what new car the lead character drove (even if it was only briefly and did in fact  belong to "M") ... nice choice Mr. Bond!

Monday, October 29, 2012


Life's most difficult question ... who is the best Bond?

Some like the suavness of Sean Connery, the wit of Roger Moore, the looks of Pierce Brosnan, the brute of Timothy Dalton or perhaps some find an endeering quality in George Lasenby ... but for me, the cool ruggedness of Daniel Craig gives him the title (with Sean  running a very close second).

Skyfall brings us into a new era of Bond movies. Sam Mendes directing a post Ian Fleming script gives us a very different feel of the series. There is far more of a  "story" in Skyfall. The action sequences remain, but this somehow feels different. More contemporary... perhaps even more "grown up". It's more of a serious movie, and for me, that's how and why Daniel Craig excels (although his debut portrayal in Casino Royale remains THE qunitessential performance to beat in what, for me, is the best Bond movie till date).

Despite the changes, thankfully, the critical elements of what makes a Bond movie exactly that are not touched. The one liners, the cunning bad guy and his masterful plot, the big hit theme song, the chase sequences and the exotic locations.

Much has also been written about Skyfall falling victim of sponsorship as our hero now drinks Heineken, but he has also developed a penchant for Macallan whisky ... keeping the ultimate movie charachter a man after my own heart.

Daniel Craig again plays this role as a uncompromising tough guy, but continues to show his vulnerability (he is the only bond that wears blood and bruises with class). As the the movie is still new (at the time of writing), of the few people I have spoken to, it has received a mixed reviews, but I loved it ... welcome back Mr. Bond!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The new kid on the block

Every since we moved our Hong Kong office from the United Center to Wyndham Street, finding a suitable hotel for my trips has been a challenge.

United Center offered the convenience of Pacific Place and a convenient selection of hotels all just a short walk away. Our Wyndham Street office certainly has a better variety of eateries around and is in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong, but convenient hotel choices are few and far between (especially if walking to work is the goal).

My usual haunt has been the LKF Hotel (my review of the LKF Hotel). A decent place, but simply too noisy at night. I am (as it turns out) a sensitive sleeper, and the buzz from the streets in Lan Kwai Fong below have kept me awake during many jet lagged nights, no matter how high up I am in the hotel.

So what options do I have should I wish to keep my proximity to the office, not sacrifice my comfort, but be able to get a decent quiet nights sleep? The answer now may well be the Ovolo hotel.

Located at the top of the Spanish Steps, these newly converted service apartments have just opened as a boutique hotel … and very nice it is.

Ovolo has a less than traditional entrance, stemming from its apartment heritage, but once on the first floor, you are very much in a "hotel" environment. The check in staff were polite and efficient … and were quick to offer me a free late check out as soon as they knew I had a midnight flight the next day (and this was a proper late checkout … till 6.30pm, as opposed to the the "traditional" late check out time of 2pm that may be lucky enough to scrounge from traditional hotels).

I was brought up to my room ... there are just 2 per floor. The lobby area outside the lift appears quite cramped, but once in the room, it is remarkably spacious and well designed and thought out, especially for the business traveller. From the convenient suitcase stand to the spacious desk (which has ample plug sockets and multi region adapters provided to the Apple TV in every room allowing airplay viewing of your iPad movies on the big screen (a nice touch).

Every room has free wifi, a free mini bar with drinks and snacks and a Nespresso machine with free capsules. Its a small thing, but it's a constant frustration for me when I travel that I pay premium hotel prices and then get nickel and dimed for extras on top. I like this approach of everything "free" in the room. I saw it in the Upper House in Hong Kong also, and find it a refreshing change.

Speaking of "freebies", there were some excellent slipper provided (2 pairs found their way into my suitcase and I am now using them on flights) and a lovely back pack which now accompanies me to my football games as a kit bag.

The bathroom was spacious and when lit with an excellent shower cubicle (with a padded seat) and some great amenities provided (which somehow joined the slippers in my suitcase). The shampoos powerful minty essence remains a fond memory and will certainly wake up the weary jet-lagged traveller on a trip.

The bed was large and extremely comfortable. Plug sockets on either side are provided as well as an iPod / iPhone docker.

Allegedly, the hotel also has a gym and a spa ... but I just didn't get the time to visit either, and there is an attached "cafe" next door where breakfast is provided.

To be fair and to give a balanced opinion, there was a corner window in my room that had shutters instead of the electric curtain that closes the rest of the windows in the room … something my ultra light sensitive wife would not be pleased about, and I missed there not being any dressing gowns in the room.

While I like the small touches and attentino to detail that you really only find in boutique hotels, I do miss some of the facilities of a big 5 star hotel ... and in this case mainly a 24 hour room service option. Perhaps next time I will try a Pizza Hut delivery to my room ... that might prove to be the answer!

But I am nitpicking. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the hotel and the experience. I was only there for one night and had good (and quiet) nights rest and shall certainly plan to stay there again.

Sayonara LKF, Hello Ovolo.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ich bin ein beer drinker!

I went on a retreat last week ... it was held in Munich to coincide with Oktoberfest.

My limited experience of this beer drinking frenzy is in Dubai where a number of hotels make a valiant effort to celebrate this 150 year old festival, so with that in mind as my benchmark, I was not at all prepared for what I saw.

Munich appears to be a beautiful and modern city in any case, but with the sun shining and crowds of people all over wearing traditional Bavarian clothes, you couldn't help but get sucked into the very unique spirit of Oktoberfest.

While the whole city is buzzing at this time of the year, the "Oktoberfest grounds" are the main place to go. It is swarming with hundreds of thousands of people, all there to have a good time ... and drink! The scale of the event is colossal ... more than 7m people visiting it in the 2 week period over which it runs.

Once inside the territory, you are surrounded by games and rides and all manner of food, drink and souvenir concessions, all interspersed between some enormous "beer tents" ... which aren't tents at all, but colossal halls that can each hold several thousand people.

The atmosphere is amazing. Despite the vast majority of people being somewhere on a scale from "slightly tipsy" to "totally plastered", there is no discernible sense of trouble or violence ... everyone is there to just have a good time, and mostly quite tolerant of those who have managed to tip the scale slightly beyond "totally plastered".

We were (fortunately) well organised. The head of our group had booked us a table at one of the larger tents. We had a 5pm entrance time, and as lined up with the hoards trying to get it (many finding unscrupulous but ingenious ways of getting in without a ticket), I was surprised to see our delay in entrance was due to the earlier batch taking their time to exit. Some were tardy due to their inability to walk straight .. but somehow managed. Other needed what can only be described as a "helping hand" from the very friendly security.

So our time came and we marched inside, and I just looked around in awe at the sheer scale of this single "tent". Once inside, we settled down at our table and started to enjoy our first beers, and started to line our stomachs with pretzels.


Over the 2 week period that Oktoberfest lasts, some 7 million liters of beer are consumed, and half a million chickens and 200 thousand oxes sacrifice their lives for our indulgence!

The sheer logistics of this event defies belief, and its no wonder that it is executed so well in a country like Germany. The waiting staff are self employed. They earn (we estimate 1 Euro per beer) and are said to earn between 30-40 thousand Euros per week during Oktoberfest. With that kind of reward, it makes it understandable how they can deal with this crowd and the sheer volume of work and the loads they have to carry.

As the evening wears on, the consumption increases, the music gets louder, your neighbours become your best friends, the tables become dance floors and the whole tent becomes a riotous party.

Allegedly, the beer is specially brewed for this event and has double the potency of normal beer - that could certainly explain the actions of the majority of the crowd by the end of the evening.

It was a fantastic experience and well worth the trip ... a big thank you to my friend Arian for organising it ... the bar for our next retreat has just been set very high indeed!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Seen the movie, read the book ... and then saw the movie again!

I've been a month away from blogging ... and although i missed it, it's a terrible struggle to get myself going again ... but when something happens that spurs up my passion, it makes it that much easier.

The Hunger Games did just that.

I was a laggard in seeing the movie (I caught it on a flight recently, long after it had finishes in the cinemas) , but I'm so glad I did. A superb story well told on the silver screen, and that inspired me to read the book.

There are a number of books I have read which have led to "blockbuster" movies. Those that come to mind are "The Silence of the Lambs",  "The Da Vinci code" trilogy and several John Grisham novels.

Some live up to their billings, and some are just a disappointment (compared to their written counterparts) ... the Da Vinci Code falling into the latter catagory

So with the Hunger Games, I was going in reverse order. I took a well worn copy of the book from home (everyone else in my family had been through it), and started reading.

I rifled through it. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I was gripped and riveted at every page turn, and, as expected, it was better than the film. The descriptions of places, surroundings and events - far more vivid than even big budget Hollywood could muster. The thoughts and musings of Katniss Everdeen being communicated on the page in a way that can't be done naturally on screen ... I could share her senses of hunger, thirst, fear and anxiety.
I'm a slow reader normally, but I just couldn't put this book down. I normally take the best part of a month to complete a book, but this was finished in a week ... Coincidentally, on a plane!


As soon as I finished, and felt my usual pang of sadness that accompanies the ending of a good thing, I had the opportunity to see the movie in-flight again.

Star crossed lovers

I enjoyed it thoroughly, the second time ... this time noticing the parts left out for expediency and to keep the story telling "simple", but I also noticed and appreciated that the producers had done the book justice. Much of the descriptive detail was executed well. The stage set for District 12 and the Capitol easily recognisable from their page descriptions and the character castings were near perfect.

From book to screen

I've become obsessed by this book and story, and I am rummaging quickly through "Catching Fire" as I write this.

I'll be sad again when I finish the trilogy and hope the movies come out thick and fast to appease me!

Monday, August 13, 2012

London 2012

I have never been to an Olympic Games, so when it was going to be held in one of my “home” towns, it was a great opportunity to make the most of it. We planned our Summer Holidays accordingly, and the hunt for tickets began.

I was late off the mark, and didn’t get any from the first ballot. As time passed, and availability remained tight, I at least managed to get some “golden seats” via my travel agent in Dubai. He had 4 tickets for Athletics on the night the Men’s 100m final was to be run. One of the highlights of any Olympics, I grabbed those tickets feeling satisfied that we would at least see something.

As time passed and I tried all the contacts I could, via a friend of a friend, I suddenly had access to a wider variety of tickets. We got Gymnastics and Fencing (top of our list as these are sports my kids play), Diving, Cycling and Archery.

On arrival to London, we breezed through the airport like we never have before. There was so much talk about how busy London would get and how the airports would need to have extra staff to manage. I think that Heathrow Airport did their part, but the huge crowds that were supposed to descend upon London didn’t seem to materialise.

The main roads in London were marked with special lanes for official vehicles. Also set up in the anticipation of overwhelming traffic, they served well to upset the taxi drivers in town. The few taxi rides I took in the early days of the games all gave the drivers a chance to share their annoyance at the games and the confusing rules about special lanes. The official Olympic BMW’s were stealing their trade and the official lanes causing them undue fines.

Olympic Lanes were kept free from regular traffic

It wasn’t only the taxi drivers though. Hotels, restaurants, theaters and shops … all complaining that business was down. It seemed that the English press and organisers had done too good a job of convincing people to stay away, but for those of us there, it was a blessing. Central London was not heaving like a usual summer, and the space around was a welcome break, and so was the convenience of public transport.

Our venues were spread around London and we managed to use just about every mode of London’s public transport. The tube to North Greenwich. A taxi from there to the Excel Center. The DLR back home. Bicycles to Lord’s Cricket Ground (for the Archery) and of course the excellent “Javelin” from Kings Cross to the Olympic Park in just 7 minutes (and a bus from Kings Cross to get back home). I don’t know if its normal for all Olympic Games, but all inclusive travel passes were provided and included with games tickets … a great convenience and incentive to ensure people used them. They were so much quieter than usual days in London, and it was almost a pleasure. I liked this London.

The Javelin

A lot had to do with this lack of crowds, A lot had to do with general superb organization around the city by the planning committee, but also so much credit had to go the Volunteers. There were so many champions at London 2012, and the Volunteers have to be included in that. Everywhere we went, on every mode of transport. In the streets and in and around the venues, the volunteers were around. They were well trained and well informed and all sharing their fantastic mood … and it was contagious. Each and every one of them had put their heart into this, and that was what made the London spirit during the games so appealing.

In general, my preferred sport as a spectator is football, but during these games that was relegated to a lowly position. The Olympics is a celebration of all sports and for spectators it is a chance to see and learn about those sports you might otherwise not follow. From the combative sports of Fencing, Taekwondo, Judo, Wrestling and Boxing, to Beach Volleyball, Dressage, Water Polo and Synchronised Swimming .. this is a chance to broaden horizons and see the wide talents that hard working sports men and women have. And all of these sports were held at amazing venues and stadia. The North Greenwich Arena was home to Gymnastics, Wembley to Football. Wimbledon for Tennis. Lords to Archery. The heart of London around Buckingham Palace saw Triathlons and the Olympic Park hosted the new Olympic Stadium for Athletics, the Velodrome for track cycling, the Aquatics Center, the Basketball court, the showjumping arena, the rowing and so much more. Al of these full to capacity and buzzing with a superb atmosphere. The mostly local crowd was of course partisan to the hugely successful Team GB, but also cheered on everyone who participated. All victories were celebrated along with valiant efforts that didn’t receive medal honours. Maybe it is all clich├ęd, but everyone showed true sportsman like behaviour.

The Olympic Stadium - the centre piece of the Olympic Park

The amazing Olympic stadium. Packed to capacity and anticipating the Men's 100m final

As a spectator in these crowds, I learned a lot myself. I learned that, despite the atmosphere, some sports are better to see on TV and some, most definitely, need to be witnessed live. Archery is a clear example of this. We saw the team finals in a day that saw sunshine, wind and rain, and only in those conditions can you appreciate how hard accuracy is to achieve. Similarly, its only in person that you can appreciate the sheer distance the arrow has to fly. The men's 100m final, over in the blink of an eye, but generates a roar in the Olympic Stadium that simply cannot be replicated or appreciated on TV at home. Fencing jousts in person bring a new dimension to the sport and lead you to realise the focus needed by each player. For more technical sports like Artistic Gymnastics and Diving, I can see the benefit of expert commentators on TV talking you through each performance as real benefit, but either way, experiencing the games like this was an experience of a lifetime.

Tremendous action at the Fencing

So after discussing the sports, it brings us to the athletes themselves. It was a time of heroes. The greats came and continued to conquer. Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps being the obvious ones. Others came as great hopes and also delivered, including Andy Murray in Tennis and David Rudisha with a new World Record in the 800m race. And then there were the dream stories. Those amazing tales of athletes who came from nowhere to win gold, when even participating would have been unthinkable not long ago. Those tremendous stories of bravery, courage and perseverance of people who went against all odds and succeeded at the very highest levels. As much as we all respect those tremendous athletes who win consistent medals and break records, as much as they achieve and gain their own (well deserved fame), the Olympic spirit is about these wondrous tales. It is those stories that give people hope and drive and inspiration.

That man again ... celebrating after retaining his 100m title.

And a commiserating word has to be given to those who worked so hard and came so close. As much as we can say "its the taking part that counts", there was heartache and perhaps even injustice in some cases, and there were many a tear of sorrow shed during these games as there were tears of joy.

Fortunately, for Team GB, many of the more positive and astonishing stories emerged this incredible team and their performances. Ending their home games with a record 29 gold medals … far exceeding their best ever performance in Beijing 4 years ago and also exceeding their own wildest expectations.

Bradley Wiggins started it all off following his Tour de France victory, he came in as one of Britain's hopefuls and didn’t fail to deliver. Andy Murray won the tennis at Wimbledon for the first time. The lovely and diminutive Jessica Ennis ran home in style on the 400m to complete an outstanding Heptathlon win. Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton hung up their cycles with numerous more victories and handed the baton to a very promising Laura Trott (who it emerges had a collapsed lung as a child and was in a struggle for her life, let alone brandishing hopes and thoughts of Olympc glory). Mo Farah won over hearts with incredible displays of perseverance and drive in both the 5K and 10K athletics. The Brownlee brothers took 1st and 3rd in a grueling Triathlon. Debutant Charlotte Dujardin shocked all with a gold medal in the Individual Dressage, and in the fnal days, you Nicola Adams and Jade Jones won their Boxing and Taekwondo gold medals. Both were surprises, but both came as a result of unbelievable dedication and hard work. Two of the loveliest people. Modest and down to earth, their smiles of joy were contagious every time you saw them speak on their post victory interviews.

Sir Chris Hoy leading the field

This has been an Olympic Games and a summer I will remember for many years to come. All those magical moments and winning smiles will stay with me and I hope they motivate further generations to come.

We all caught "Bolt Fever" and became honorary Jamaicans
... at least for one evening

Well done London !

Monday, July 30, 2012

Lessons from the mountains

I am just back from an excellent holiday with my family in gorgeous Switzerland.

It was quality time away and a chance for me to get some great photos of the magnificent scenery that country has to offer,  but the holiday was not about relaxation. We took this trip to learn climbing.

Ready to go on the first day ... with no idea of what lay ahead of us

There could be no better place to learn this sport than the Swiss Alps and our ski instructor from last December spends his summers as a climbing guide an teacher.

We rented a small chalet in the quaint town of Grindelwald and off we went. Pushed by my ambitious kids, we scaled to heights I didn't think we could or dared achieve, and not wanting to let my children down, I had to brave my lifelong fear of heights and follow where they wanted to go. It was exhilarating. Hard work and physically demanding, but well worth it.

What I liked best about it was the teamwork required. It bonded us as a family and I couldn't help analogising this to business.

The first step in climbing is to find a suitable rock face. Choose something too easy, and it will be crowded ... too many people will be on the same face. Choose something too difficult, and you set yourself up for failure. It's important to know your ability and limits and set your targets on a face that pushes you within reasonable limits. I think this is similar. To choosing ones "market place" in business. Carve out a niche that plays to your strengths and has sufficient differentiation to others around.

My son up a rock face we chose to challenge us

You then need to start preparing for the climb. The climber needs to look up and plan his or her path. To just shoot up without a plan is going to lead you into trouble. Not unlike a salesman. He needs to be prepared before going out and meeting customers. He needs to scope the lie of the land and modify his approach accordingly. The salesman should guide the way (working within the scope set by the business) and he should have confidence that there is a competent team behind him.

Climbing is a team sport (I learned this on our first session). The climber has to have total faith and trust in his belayer (the guy holding the rope at the bottom). Clear communication is essential. The belayer has to support the climber in the direction he wants to go, but the climber can't dictate all the shots. He has to be weary of the belayers ability and perhaps slow down from time to time (if the belayer can't keep up). In climbing, it is life threateningly dangerous for any of the team to consider themselves and not focus completely on their partner / team mate.

My son and daughter supporting each other all the way

And so in business, a support function exists to aid a sales function, but each must know what the other is doing, their capability and limits, and they must keep communication open and alive at all times. There is no room for bickering and politics. There is one goal to be reached and it is a totally joint and shared goal.

"Hanging" as a family ... 200m up a rock face!

What exhilarated me in our climbing experience was the encouragement and support being offered by all the family to each other. We are a competitive family, but this was not a time for one upmanship. This was not a race to see who could climb the fastest. It was a challenge for us all to see how we could get to the top together.

On occasion, My young daughter had to belay me, and despite being less than half my weight, we adjusted ourselves. Climbed at varying speeds and made sure that climber and belayer were always comfortable and in perfect harmony. We achieved our joint goals. We all reached the various summit points we selected and it was an amazing team effort.

"Hanging Out" with my daughter

These are great lessons for any office. Alignment and shared goals are key. The understanding of each other is crucial and having a respect for what each team member is doing and what their ability is will help everyone reach a targeted goal together. Clear and frequent communication is a must and so is an understanding of how pointless and wasteful politics and arguing is (as opposed to "healthy discussion" about a way forward).

Single minded focus is also crucial. While climbing, you learn that there's no room in your mind to be distracted and to think about something else. You have your own (or somebody else's) life in your hands (quite literally), and with that kind of strong focus you can achieve great things.

This was a truly memorable holiday. We have fond memories, some great pictures and we are an even stronger family unit having experienced this together.

Another elevated rest stop

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

There is white ... and then there is white

We are just getting to the finishing stages of decorating our new office in Dubai. It's been stressful, but a lot of fun (design inspiration has been taken from Ari Gold's office).

On product I am a detail freek and I have really enjoyed the more anal parts of this project. Selecting the light switches, the specification of the doorbell, the correct thickness, texture and colour of the AstroTurf in our break out area and all possible combinations of AV wiring to be done to make this office as technologically future proof as possible.

But I was thrown on something as "straight forward" as the colour of the walls ... white.

I spent yesterday morning in a meeting trying to select the right shade of white. I thought this would be a no brainer, but it's proven to be one of the most impossibly difficult choices to make throughout the whole process.

Apart from the obvious considerations of getting matching finishing textures on different materials, Dulux alone has more than 30 shades of "Off White" (and that's from the selection that I was shown!)

I managed to short list 5 of those and am going to see larger swatches of those on-site. At the end of the day it's "Off White" and I can't believe it's going to make that much difference regardless of which one I choose, but this overly wide choice has just stressed me out.

I'm no different in a good restaurant. Give me steak and chips and I'm happy. Give me a wide selection of appealing choices and I become confused and totally indecisive!

I just wish that white was white and this choice could be made easier for me.