Have you ever felt ashamed at being attracted to some gruesome sight
despite yourself? Road accidents, for example, always draw horrified yet
fascinated onlookers. I know this from personal experience: at 18 I was
run over and nearly died.
Indeed, I was an object of medical curiosity as the first person in the
north of England known to survive a ruptured liver. I recall feeling
oppressed by the circle of gawpers pressing in.
I am often drawn in an analogous way to the antics of meretricious
entertainers with an engaging way of saying nothing in particular. Jimmy
Saville was one. Chris Evans is another. Not long ago he mentioned a
glorious invention which can only hearten those of us who believe
progress is still possible in this wicked world. The breakthrough in
question is the polypropylene artificial testicle for dogs, or rather,
since these things tend to come in pairs, polypropylene artificial
testicles. They have been introduced in the US, of course - where life
at its best and worst is to be seen - to assuage the post-operative
trauma of male dogs who have had their own removed. It all reminds me of
the touching joke: ‘How many Country singers does it take to change a
light bulb? Five. One to change the old one and four to sing about the
one they lost.’
In an age when such marvels are possible, what can we say about our
petty struggles in marketing? Take the great supermarket war, in which
the antagonists, exhausted from struggling over their traditional turf,
have sought to change the battleground, first launching competing
schemes of bribery and now moving into things like banking. In my view,
the bankers couldn’t possibly be as bad as people paint them, but if I
ran supermarkets I would think hard before allying myself with people
who find their own business so tough. Either because they might screw
things up in mine; or because anything as difficult to do well as
banking may not be a good business to enter.
There is a world of difference between fooling around with money and
fooling around with groceries. What is more, there are sometimes signs
that these new ventures are undertaken as a way of escaping unpleasant
reality, rather as prime ministers become engrossed by foreign policy
when everything at home goes pear-shaped.
For instance, a ton of money and thought has been invested in enlarging
and improving my local Sainsbury’s. When the grand opening occurred,
magnificently choreographed in stages, maps were given out to show you
where everything was and a small army of people appeared to direct you.
Despite all this planning in a business Sainsbury’s knows very well, it
was impossible for some weeks to find something in their kitchen section
you would think any fool would know is essential to anybody fitting out
a kitchen: a small knife for cutting things.
If something that simple is hard to do, I wonder how good they’ll be at
banking. We shall see.
Drayton Bird runs the Drayton Bird Partnership