To the untrained eye, Suffolk (on the east coast of England) doesn’t have much going for it. For the most part it’s flat, grey and wet, particularly on dark winter weekends. In the months that buffer the odd lazy summer day, when the hordes flock to the coast in their thousands, it is a remote, barren and brittle place. Earth is sodden and field upon field long since ripped open by man and machine, revealing the deep, rich chocolate brown of the soil below.
I love this place like nowhere else on the planet: I love it for its raw, unpretentious pose; it’s soporific, weighty stance; the heavy, salt air that slings it’s damp cloak across the landscape; and the sodium light that bleaches an horizon of bare oak. It is truly unique.
Since leaving Suffolk I’ve come to learn that as children, we tend to absorb our surrounding through osmosis; unaware of the influence it has in shaping our senses. When we go back to the place of our youth, it is the light and the air and the most obscure and unremembered sounds that touch us like nothing else. As warm-blooded creatures, we may prefer to bask on the sun-drenched plains of warmer climes – and our head and heart may eventually lead us there. But forget what your granny told you. It’s not about the heart. Home is where the soul is. It’s a very groovy spirit thing.
Before life got too serious and bogged down in responsibility, my brother and I would wind away the time indoors playing a handful of ridiculous games. The most arbitrary of these was “Me Too”, a 30 second ramble of one upmanship. On reflection, it was remarkable that it lasted all of 30 seconds. It went along the lines of this: “I can do that 5 times”; “Well, I can do it 500 times”; “Well I can do it 5 million times”; “Well I can do it 5 gazillion times” and so on and so forth until the inevitable conclusion, “Well I can do it infinite times” “Well I can do it infinite plus one, times”. Fun, eh?
Australian politics has gone all “Me Too”, too. Without wishing to show any political bent, we are now half way through an Election that has gone from cash bonanza, to capital investment overload, to infinite plus one. As incumbent PM John Howard throws another 2 billion dollars at some struggling sector of society, so his challenger, Kevin Rudd, matches it within 24 hours. Plus one.
Such politics is troubling for four reasons. Firstly, it suggests the Australian voter can be bought. Secondly, they probably can. Thirdly, political parties may have reached their nadir where they realise they’re actually void of an original thought. And fourthly, billion dollar credits have to be paid for eventually. Australia’s national credit card is being given a worryingly good workout in the race to Election Day.
Such policies seem paralleled to Australian consumer’s own approach to their wallets. Debt may be at an all time high but consumer spending continues to head north, towing inflation along at the same pace of knots. So what’s the likelihood that a fair proportion of the political promises will amount to absolutely nothing? My money’s on 50% – max. Whoever wins the Australian election is going to have to paddle fast just to stay afloat.
As are all of us, according to Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO and Chairman of advertising and marketing services group (his words, not mine), WPP. I had the chance to see Sir Martin in conference late last week. He is a man who is not afraid to tell the world what he thinks and he does it with absolute power and authority. On this particular evening he nimbly picked his way through a multitude of topics: predicting a US-led global economic slump in 2009; the draining of intellectual and technological pioneers from the shiny offices of Silicon Valley to the bed-sits and hostels of Beijing and Bangalore; and the rise and rise of corporate responsibility in the face of sustained consumer hostility towards brands – all with great aplomb and a ravenous mind for detail. How to stear clear of the impact of such trends? Size, he said, matters. Size is everything.
I would suspect that my friends at Singapore Airlines (SIA) couldn’t agree more right now. As the carrier that was the first to fly the gigantic A380 commercially, SIA’s super-sized aircraft drew awe-struck plane spotters and rave reviews in equal measure when it touched down at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport a little over a week ago.
In fact, such was the global media coverage of the event, it seemed the world had donned its collective anorak and gone plane-spotting potty for a few hours on that cold, blustery day. The 70 or so journalists who were lucky enough to get a seat on the first flight were positively gushing, as were the various charities who received more than US$1 million dollars from the proceeds of the flight.
My own firm, Weber Shandwick, were very much involved in the launch, so I’d be the first to admit I have a vested interest in reporting a successful day. But I’m certainly not alone in thinking that in no more than 24 hours, it seemed aviation had taken a giant leap forward and the 747-400 was condemned to the history books. Just like that. It was a remarkable story by any accounts.
Of course, the impact of the A380 launch is not only good for Singapore Airlines. It will be good for customers as well. Airlines have a habit of playing “Me Too” on a very big scale. Bigger seats, bigger TV screens and bigger smiles. The list will be nauseatingly endless as more and more carriers introduce their A380 product to the market
For me, I’ll watch carefully as new A380s come on stream. Call it professional indemnity, if you like. But once a year I’ll take pretty much any flight that’s going, as long as it takes me home. Everyone needs their soul food. Once in a while, I need it infinite plus one.