Thursday, 31 December 2009


Shlemeil. Shlmozel. Shmuck. The Yiddish language is full of evocative words. The last few translate mostly as dolts, or dunderheads. The Sh sound is sh-tupendous for getting a feeling out.

So it is with shmeissing. To shmeiss is a verb meaning to strike or hit. Being shmeissed is a unique way of relaxing, and was one of the shtupendous Christmas gifts from my wife to my son and me. No we were not really hit, at least with any force.

Shmeissing is the guy's answer to a spa treatment. It takes place (uniquely, as far as I can tell) in the presence of the world's only accredited shmeisser and huge Jewish bear of a man named Lee Balch, who works in (and not for) the Portchester Baths near Bayswater. Shmeissing is a kind of massage/soaking/steaming/poaching/cleaning/foot-soaking/skin scraping/cold shocking treatment which in the course of an hour will alter your mood. Favourably.

I have a feeling it could become addictive.

The Portchester Baths (plural) is an old Victorian bathhouse with a rabbit warren of various steam rooms, a sauna, hot rooms (a tepidarium-warm, a calderium-warmer,and  a laconicium-the hottest, not to be confused with the sauna), chaise longues, swimming pools, showers etc.--all designed to percolate your body and mind.  That wasn't the original intention. The original purpose was to provide people who had no hot water a chance to bathe (and do their laundry) once a week. The original ones had a fumigation room for delousing clothes and then one for delousing people before they began the process of getting clean. They had a laundry (the steam being useful for both treatments and cleaning) and the freshly deloused kit was returned to the user at the end of his visit. Such precautions are not necessary today, and no, you cannot get your shirts pressed.

You enter past a matronly woman in a guichet who charges you £22 for the privilege. I inquire after Lee, saying: "We're here to get shmeissed." She is in the main, non-committal, replying: "Inside. Downstairs. You'll find him."

Trying to break the ice, I ask her if she has ever been shmeissed. "It is a required taste," she malaprops, and directs us to a young guy who shows us the lockers which are scattered about in a huge room with an assortment of men of varying shapes and sizes (older and larger, I would venture to say) lounging about. The banter is definitely East End, and lest you have doubts about where this story is heading, this is definitely a guy hangout, not a gay one. The bathhouse has  men only days (Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday) and women only days (Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday AM), and Sunday afternoon is couples day. So it is with Shmeissing.

They issue you with two towels (immense, thick gauge, with that old school laundry smell which says: I can't wait to dry off with this baby). No skimping here. You also get a wrap, which you wrap around your waist, a bit like a Beckham-sari. We go downstairs, and Lee appears, also in a wrap and slippers/flip flops (probably a good idea to bring those, though we didn't).

He is, as advertised, an immense man, and the mind begins to envision being slammed by him with a wet sponge. Hmm.

No fear is necessary. He is very amiable and chatty, and takes us on a tour through the maze of rooms. He suggests we take a sauna first, and then a steam bath, and then we will start the treatment. The schmeissing room has two chairs and two buckets, and then a chair to the side for an onlooker (he does couples on Sundays). The bucket in front of the chair is filled with Epsom salts, and the other one holds the besom, or the big raffia sponge (think mop or an oversized loofah) which he will use to shmeiss. We do his bidding, and return. I go first while my son looks on.

You sit there with your feet in the Epsom bucket while Lee works you over with practiced hands, your neck and shoulders being rid of the various knots and aches. He is (but I repeat myself) a big strong man, and this is done with no modicum of force. It feels great, however.

Lee chats all the time, and when prompted, tells the history of the baths, and how his shmeissing career came about. There is a limit to how much information you can extract when he has your neck in his hands, but that is not the point of the exercise. The point is to relax you, and after an indeterminate period of time, you then adjourn to the steam room at the end of the shmeissing room.

It should be emphasized that shmeissing is not a private affair, hidden away in some treatment room where you might think Max Moseley-like antics are going on behind closed doors in some subterranean lair. Nope. If there are other customers in the steam room, there are other customers in the steam room. What the hey? Do they care? Apparently not.

You then lie down, and get a damned good scrubbing. Not a beating. The besom is used as one would use a mop. Slap.  Mop. Slap. Mop. You get turned over, basted and slapped in appropriate places (no, your nads are safe). He then rinses you off with a hose with cold, and I mean cold, water.

This prepares you for the next step, which is to exit and go into the ice cold plunge pool, which is accessible from both side with steps. Do I go down the steps, or plunge? I inquire. Why do you think they call it plunge? he responds. We both jump in.

I have jumped into the Baltic after a sauna, but that isn't a patch on this. My normal reaction would be to jump out of the water like a tempura shrimp, but he insists I put my head above water and count to 20, slowly. He (though benefitting from a lot do I put it? insulation) says that our body is a furnace, and will heat the water directly around us. Maybe so, but after the allotted time my bones ache and I get the hell out. He then suggests I slap my legs, which are numb.

We then adjourn back to the schmeissing room, where Toby has his turn. Because that room is nice and warm, you immediately begin to experience a sort of euphoria, which is at the same time a feeling of utter cleanliness and relaxation, as though all the bad shit in your system has dissipated into the air. He says it is the thyroxine which is produced naturally. He admits that his thyroid gland doesn't work, and thus he has no natural regulator of temperature in his body (thus explaining his portliness), and has to take it artificially.

I have no such problem, apparently, but I am here to tell you the euphoria you feel is worth much more than the £25 you will part with.

While Toby goes in for his shmeissing I stick my feet back in the Epsom salts, and feel, not to put too fine a point on it, content.

Or as happy as a pig in shit, as I say to Lee when he emerges.

You are under no obligation to leave after your shmeissing. Stick around. Have a nap. Go in the hot rooms. Take another sauna. Whatever. I pay Lee. Cash.

We emerge into another grey drizzly London day with a spring in our step, in stark contrast to the shivering, shuffling masses. We have the feeling that we know something they don't, and we have been well and truly shmeissed. How about that?

If you want to experience this , and in the kindest possible way, you would be a shmuck not to, then here are the details.

Porchester Spa, Queensway, W2 ( 020 7792 3980) Opening hours: 10am- 10pm Men's days : Monday, Wednesday, Saturday Women's days : Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday morning Couples: Sunday afternoon 

Lee's details are: tel: 07973 218211
His website is:

Sunday, 27 December 2009



Never a good time, but the best time for doubt. In the middle of the night, the barely active mind can sift through the unconscious and dredge up a thousand excuses for failure, details that might go wrong, regrets for things done or left undone,  worries about the future or dreams that may never happen.

It is a time to glance over at the clock, and groan. There is almost nothing good about 4AM.


Sometimes in the midst of the miasma of self examination, an insight can be had.

Sometimes a pattern can be discerned through the fog of semi-consciousness. Sometimes a eureka moment can pierce through the gloom, a pinpoint of light from off in the distance.

Of course. It is so simple. So obvious. The word doubt itself.

It is an anagram. 

Rearrange the letters.


Doubt is doing, but doing at half speed. Not being fully engaged.  Looking while leaping. Being a spectator in your own scene. Letting fear rule. Stopping nature but added a comma where there should be a full stop. Second guessing. Thinking about the past instead of the present. Doubt, is doing, but with an unnecessary addendum. 

Doubt is doomed to failure. 
Want to know what a champion thinks of doubt? Martina Navratilova, when asked what made a champion, said total commitment. Prompted to clarify, she said, it's like with ham and eggs. The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. Undoubtedly. Totally. Unequivocally. No but.

That is why Nike uses as its slogan Just do it. Do without asking why. Get to the point where you trust yourself totally, where your mind, heart, body and soul meld into one, where you strip off the But from Do, leaving the essence of your being.

Forget the voice inside your head at 4AM, and get some rest for a new day.

Don't doubt. Do.

Friday, 25 December 2009


What did you see when you read this title?  

Did you think that this is an impossibility, that all lives are full of problems, and to think otherwise is naive and deluded? 

Or did you notice that the real intended meaning lies hidden amongst the letters?

Read it again. The capital letters only this time.

For hidden beneath the problems which are inevitably a part of the human condition, of trying to exist in the temporal, physical, and spiritual world at the same time, is poetry. 

A life without PrOblEMS is no life at all.

And that is what makes us human.

You can't define poetry. You can't just summon up poetry unless there is a reason, and usually that reason is a feeling...a moment of pain or pleasure or insight or appreciation.

A word.
An image.
An emotion.
A frustration.
A contradiction.

You cannot describe poetry, just like you cannot describe love. It just is.

I have loved hours at sea, grey cities
The fragile secret of a flower
Music, the making of a poem
That gave me heaven for an hour
First stars above a snowy hill,
Voices of people kindly and wise
And the great look of love, long hidden,
Found at last in meeting eyes.

Sara Teasdale

I don't know Sara Teasdale from Adam. But I do understand her....somehow....for in a few words, she gave me heaven for an hour.

I have no idea why she wrote this, or when. I do not know if she was beautiful, or old or young....whether she had a happy and complete life or one that was full of regrets, of chances not taken, of hours of pain alleviated only by few sublime moments. I only know that she can feel, and that she can tell others about it. I know that she can tap into my spirit, if only briefly.

We leave little behind us in life. A few friends. A family if we are lucky. Memories that quickly die. We can leave words however, and the right words can live on forever. 

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


So much of English...I mean the real English spoken in England, is delivered in code. The language is a very subtle dance using coded signals that may mean precisely the opposite of what they seem. The typical British person wants, at all costs, to avoid controversy, confrontation, or commentary, at least in person face to face. In groups, this subtlety is dropped and a pack-of-hyenas mentality takes over as hapless prey is ripped to bits (not surprising from the country that brought you Prime Minister's Question Time in Parliament or Lord of the Flies). I am also not talking about the media, for the media is the most open, clever and vicious in the world, and can get away with the most amazingly scurrilous headlines or commentary which in most places would be considered libelous. This in spite of the fact that the UK is the libel capital of the universe. Nor am I talking about the hooligan element. They are just as in-your-face as your basic gangsta rapper.

I am talking about the way sentences are constructed in person, face to face, mano a mano. Have no idea what this means? Humour me.

Let's start with some prefaces to sentences which one hears daily.

With the greatest of respect...
I hear what you're saying...
At the end of the day....
To be fair....
Without putting too fine a point on it...
I think we can agree....

I think we can agree that all of these starts to sentences are no more than preparatory jabs designed to soften up the belly before delivering body shots which are in fact the opposite to what they sound like they mean. The real meaning of these are hidden in the subtext, and woe betide the gullible foreigner who takes them at face value.

Herewith a primer:


With the greatest of respect…
I have little or no respect for you (ie. you're shite and you know you are)

I hear what you're saying...
I have no idea what you are saying and in any case it matters not a whit since I am right

At the end of the day…
A meaningless phrase, having nothing to with the day, or indeed the end of it. Used as filler.

To be fair....
This is my opinion, and fairness has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Also used a filler

Without putting too fine a point on it...
There is no point, even down to a nanometer, fine enough to underline how I am right and you are wrong, or otherwise put, you're shite and you know you are

I think we can agree....
I think I can agree, what you think doesn't enter into it, and anyway, you're shite and you know you are

The Japanese are well known for sucking their teeth, nodding their head, saying Yes, and meaning Yes, that question is difficult....Yes, I heard you and may or may not do what you want or have asked me, when they really mean: you're shite and you know you are. The English are the same. It is just a different form of subtlety.

We are all human, after all.


I once was in Athens, and asked a taxi driver why he thought that the Parthenon had stood for more than two thousand years. An amateur architect, he said because of two things: balance and simplicity. 
That got me to thinking. What makes a successful design, or indeed any successful venture?

The answer is in the simplicity of the design, the clarity of purpose, the attention to detail, and most importantly, balance.

A strong venture is a like a strong building and should be approached as such.

What are the characteristics of strong performance?

A strong foundation based on a strong PRINCIPLE, a clear PURPOSE, and an unselfish PRIDE in work and achievement.

A balanced approach to the seven pillars which support the structure of any enterprise:

  • The People who are the central support to a company--including employees, customers, suppliers,  family, and friends.
  • A commitment to the continuous development  of Products which will stand the test of the harshest critics and inspire loyalty from their biggest fans and which form the cornerstone of any company
  • An attention to the components which make up Profit-- the generation of sales, the control of costs, the strength of capital structure and financing
  • Investment in Plant -- the working environment, the technology, and the infrastructure which enable employees to extract the maximum productivity and pleasure from the work that they do.
  • Process which is continually refined to simplify development, production and delivery of products and takes into account both the internal and external needs and desires of the company, its employees, its customers,  and the environment
  • Systematic Planning for the future which is structured but dynamic, which tries to anticipate but can respond to a sudden change in market realities
  • A clear-headed and consistent approach to Problems which inevitably crop up--whether or not they stem from internal failings or external forces--and which demonstrate an honest and decisive path towards their resolution

Is this a recipe for success? Well maybe not, because luck and timing also play their part. But if these elements are not considered in their turn as part of a whole venture, the venture is doomed to failure. Forget one key element- a lack of capital, treating your employees or customers badly, not planning, ignoring problems, not investing in plant, abandoning long term principles in favour of short term gain,not taking pride in your work or indeed not recognising the pride that others take in theirs, forgetting the purpose of the whole enterprise...and the whole thing goes down the tubes.

A very bright accountant once said to me: Ce qui se concoit bien, s'annonce clairement. That which is well conceived can be clearly explained.

Construct things with the same aforethought as the people who built the Parthenon, and you have a chance, a small chance, of success. Forget balance and simplicity, and the importance that the foundation and each pillar plays in supporting the infrastructure of performance, and the structure will crumble eventually.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


I have survived in large corporations. Or not. Well, to be honest, the corporations (large banks) haven't survived (not my fault really, a global trend if you haven't noticed). In the past this used to be a surprise. At least it was to me. Now, however, in post Credit Crunch purgatory, it is a surprise if they DO survive.

Anyway, over the years I have come up with some observations about the process of survival, and have distilled it to the following four short sentences.

Get up.
Show up.
Put up.
Shut up.

Sad but true. I have also been, both as a boss and an underling (where I find myself again), a keen observer of human nature. I have decided that in the main, modern corporations don't really give a rat's ass about management, despite what the self-help books may say. Jacques Cousteau, the famous french oceanographer, once said: "Dans la mer, il n'y a pas de cruauté, seulement l'angoisse de survivre."   In the sea, there is no cruelty, only the terror of survival.

So it is in corporate life. There is always a bigger shark in the pool, or if you are the shark, then the hunter pack of shareholders, the press, or the market, which is faceless, emotionless, and brutal.

The large corporation is staffed by the silent majority, who have learned that the path of least resistance is the answer to survival in the pool. So much of corporate life is about how you are perceived, and a performance loop is created (see above) which can be a virtuous or vicious circle. Most people can't be arsed, and thus sleepwalk through the process, trying not to rock the boat, anesthetising their feelings with drink, iPods, or a collective shrug of shoulders (the yeah-whatever syndrome).   If for one moment, a boss, preoccupied with his own battles above him, took a minute to consider how to enter into the performance loop of each employee, then people might be happier and more productive.

But the world is not like that now. Longevity counts for nothing. You want loyalty, go get a cocker spaniel, said a boss in Salomon Brothers in the 1980s, itself swallowed by Travellers which was merged with Smith Barney and then Citibank and then almost imploded before being merged with the US government. This is merely symptomatic of an attention deficit disorder planet with the memory of a flea and the morals of a whore, or a general impermanence and lack of values.

Everyone knows that we need little to survive, but spend a lot of our time fighting for the excess that never really makes us happy. Sad but true.

But most of us, when faced with the deep pile of caca which is the daily grind, just learn to keep our head down and stare straight ahead, and hope the baying hounds of greed don't notice. Survival, but at a price, requiring the guile of a fox.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


For a little over a year, I have been writing a weekly market update at work, a commentary on world markets, centering mostly on the UK. Check them out.  

Santander Weekly Market Update