The Independent: goodbye to print

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The Independent’s first edition, 1986

The death of the printed newspaper came a step closer today with the news that The Independent and Independent on Sunday’s print editions are to close next month.

The Independent was Britain’s first new broadsheet paper for a generation in 1986. But it has been struggling for years. Its early success was torpedoed by a hubristic decision to launch a Sunday edition to compete with the highly regarded, but short-lived, Sunday Correspondent. Later, Rupert Murdoch’s price war cut even deeper.

I found the daily paper rather dull, but loved the Saturday edition in the late 1980s. (The Independent was one of the first to recognise that Saturday would become a day for leisurely reading of a multi-section paper, as Sunday had been for years.) An excellent magazine helped. In time, The Guardian, its closest rival, took the hint and created a worthy Saturday rival.

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Bravo, Evans Cycles!

A big bike ride in January might strike some as crazy. They’d rather keep warm and dry indoors. But back in October I booked to take part in Evans Cycles West London Ride It sportive event today. It seemed like a good idea after a few beers.

I set the alarm earlier than normal for a Sunday this morning to get to Osterley in time. As I crawled down to make a mug of tea, I saw that it had snowed. I reached for the iPad to see if there was an update on the event. Sure enough: an email from Evans Cycles’ event manager Mark Gregory at 6.37am saying that they were cancelling because of the weather and road conditions. There were also photos on the Evans Cycles Facebook page.

I was disappointed, but impressed by Evans Cycles’ quick communication. I went for a short ride on my mountain bike later in the morning and have to say conditions were horrible: slush everywhere. I was soaked within a mile. So that early morning decision was spot on. Most of the comments on the Facebook page agreed.

Better luck next time!

Below: soaking but glad to get some miles in..

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Back from a slushy ride..

The weekend I became a foul weather cyclist

When friends say ‘You’re a keen cyclist!’, I always reply that I’m actually a fair weather cyclist. Until this weekend.

I’ve cycled 28 miles in the most atrocious conditions over the past two days. I have been soaked to the skin. I have been drenched by drivers as they displaced flood water over me and my bike. The biggest surprise? I loved it.

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Ertblog: 10 years a blogger

TypePad 2005

Ten years ago tonight, I became a blogger. I’ve always loved writing, and on New Year’s Eve 2005 took the plunge with TypePad. Within minutes, I had a blog, which I called Ertblog, and as Big Ben sounded the start of 2006 I published my first post, Welcome to 2006.

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25 years ago today: Margaret Thatcher resigns

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25 years ago today, Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister. She bowed to the inevitable after her cabinet finally rebelled against her autocratic rule.

I blogged at length about Britain’s first woman prime minister when she died in 2013. I titled that post ‘the woman who changed Britain’ – which she did, for both good and ill. She was a force of nature, unlike almost all of her successors. Only Tony Blair came close.

Paris, Facebook and the fight for humanity

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Paris 2014: the city and people we love

Bravo to family and friends who have turned their Facebook profile photos into a tricolour in respect for the victims of Friday’s appalling murders in Paris.

I love France and the French, and grieve for them and everyone else who died in this assault on humanity. But I won’t be changing my profile photo. I feel equally sad for those who have been savagely killed in Beirut, on the Russian airliner, on the beaches of Tunisia and across the Middle East. And those who have perished fleeing the death cults of the Middle East.

I just wish we could find some way to combat such brutal, medieval tribes that wish to defeat those who hold different values. The sad truth is that the western powers will most likely respond in a way that makes things worse, not better.

It’s easy to change your profile photo. That’s not to say that doing so has no meaning. I’m sure it will bring some comfort to the people of France, a country that millions of us love and cherish. But I’d rather see brilliant minds across Europe thinking how we can turn the tide of hatred. The west has a grim record of intervening in the Middle East without thinking or caring about the consequences, from Britain, France and Israel’s 1956 Suez adventure through to the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Please prove me wrong.

Stephen Waddington on business jargon

The British are famous for being hopeless at languages. Yet when they get to work they start speaking another language. Unfortunately that language is business-speak. Former president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Stephen Waddington has blogged a list of the worst examples of business gobbledegook.

Stephen gathered the list after asking his Facebook friends for contributions. I happily contributed ‘visibility’ – a fine word in a weather forecast but nonsense when used as a synonym for information. (“I don’t have visibility on this” means “I don’t know” in the English language.) He could have filled a book rather than a blogpost: companies and other organisations create bullshit phrases on an industrial scale.

Business speak gets in the way of communication. It deadens the senses. And it prompts clever and sensible people to suspend their ability to think what they are trying to say and use the right words to communicate a thought. You’d be ridiculed if you talked to your friends like this. So why inflict it on the people you work with?

Let’s reach out to each other to create visibility about a roadmap to axe gobbledegook going forwards…

PS: it may be unfair to point this out, as Stephen is one of Britain’s finest communicators, but his job title is itself an example of business bullshit. ‘Chief Engagement Officer’ sounds like someone very important at a dating agency. 

Britain’s surviving fingerpost signs

Restored fingerpost in Chalfont St Giles, Bucks

Restored fingerpost in Chalfont St Giles, Bucks

This signpost is one of a dying breed. Fingerposts like this once guided travellers in every corner of Britain. They were simple and graphic guides in an age when people travelled slowly. As speeds increased, they were replaced by bigger signposts that could be seen by speeding motorists by day or night.

Happily, this example in the historic Buckinghamshire village of Chalfont St Giles has been adopted by the local community. It was restored recently for the second time in a decade. It is a welcome sight when I’m racing up Bowstridge Lane on my bike as it means I can relax as the climb is over.

Pointing to Threehouseholds, Chalfont St Giles

Pointing to Threehouseholds, Chalfont St Giles

This fingerpost is a witness to history. The Threehouseholds in the sign refers to the area of Chalfont St Giles at the top of the drag from the village towards Seer Green. It includes the popular White Hart Inn, and was named after the original terrace of three cottages at the top of the hill.

I hope the sign will be guiding travellers for many years.

Volkswagen: the company that can’t say sorry

Volkswagen’s reputation is in tatters after it deceived customers and regulators by doctoring emission test results with ‘defeat’ devices fitted to millions of cars.

As the owner of an Audi (one of the car brands owned by Volkswagen Group), I suspected that my car would also have been tampered with by this dishonest company, Sure enough, a letter dropped through my letterbox recently telling me that my car was affected by the scandal and would need to be modified.

The letter made me angry. Not just because I will have the hassle of taking my car to Slough Audi for the fraudulent device to be removed. No, what made me angry was the absence of an apology – or indeed any recognition that Audi, or Volkswagen Group, was to blame. It talked about ‘the recently highlighted emissions issue’, as if Volkswagen Group was an innocent victim. It went on to say that ‘your vehicle is affected by the issue’.

The letter was sent in the name of André Konsbruck, a director of Audi UK. Mr Konsbruck, this is not ‘an issue’. It is fraud on an industrial scale. I am amazed that you could send a letter to millions of customers about this fraud without saying sorry. Audi and Volkswagen’s reputation will never recover if you can’t grasp the simple fact that you need to apologise.

This appalling own goal is consistent with Volkswagen Group’s catastrophic handling of the crisis. The head of VW in America, Michael Horn, said the company had ‘totally screwed up’, using flippant language that suggested a careless mistake rather than deliberately defrauding millions of people.

My current Audi is my fourth. It is likely to be my last Ingolstadt made car unless VW and Audi show some contrition – and say sorry.