Just Write

This humble website has been evolving for a few months now, since I hung up my abacus and started messing around with words.

Throughout a long career massaging numbers, my real passion was always really the written word. Like an unfaithful husband with a long-standing mistress, stashed away in a seedy flat at the end of the Victoria line.

I’ve shamelessly been using justretiring.com as a training ground, pumping out functional articles like an over-zealous squaddie spraying bullets from his first semi-automatic.

I’ve even had some stuff published, and I got very excited last week when I was invited to talk about my Hidden Paris articles on Silver Travel Advisor’s radio show.

But now it’s time to Get Serious. Fictionally speaking.

I’ve been stung into action by inspirational words from four published authors, performing on Saturday at a Guardian Masterclass on How to research and write your novel.

Alex Preston expertly curated the event, and talked about idea generation, researching and editing your novel. I read and enjoyed Alex’s first novel This Bleeding City when it was published in 2010, a parable for our recent post credit crunch times. Since then, Alex has written The Revelations and his latest book,  In Love and War, meticulously researched in bellissimo Florence.

Mirza Waheed spoke of the personal and the political.  Brought up in Kashmir, Mirza’s published novels The Collaborator and The Book of Gold Leaves use that place’s troubled history as their backdrop. The Guardian’s offices near Kings Cross were a somewhat less dangerous environment, but in no way diminished Mirza’s message to an attentive audience of would-be writers.

Amy Sackville’s subject was writing place and character, which she has clearly done so evocatively in published novels The Still Point and Orkney.  A place – or space – can be used as a starting point for a novel, as much as character or plot. It can be used to impose constraint on the narrative, as much as unfolding an unending horizon.

Kerry Hudson talked of writing from life. It sounds as though a large chunk of her own life was transferred vividly to the pages of her debut novel Tony Hogan bought me an ice-cream float before he stole my Ma.  Kerry estimated 85% of Tony Hogan was plucked from her own childhood, with a mere 30% in her follow-up novel Thirst. Leave just a little of yourself a secret, Kerry!

Huge thanks to all of you, and to the Guardian. I may not be able to translate a passion for words into the creative spark of fiction, but you have at least given me the inspiration to try.



The English Mouse Squeaks

The dust has just about settled on the Great British General Election of 2015.

Ed is in Ibiza, reading up on his Marxist tracts, wondering where it all went so wrong. And avoiding gloating calls from his brother.

Nigel resigned as leader of UKIP,  ostensibly honouring his promise, but is now back – Lazarus-like – at the helm.

Nick resigned as leader of the Lib Dems after his party got a real kicking for “doing the right thing for the country” during the 5 year coalition.

Nicola rules the new UK political landscape from Scotland, with 56 out of 650 Westminster MPs.

David rolled up his sleeves, carried on with business and is already attacking the key challenge of Europe.

So the pollsters got it all wrong. Up until that bombshell Exit Poll at 10 pm on 7th May, they were all predicting that the Conservatives and Labour were neck and neck, a hung parliament a certainty and a coalition or alliance of Lefties cobbled together to form a majority the likely outcome.

The reality was oh so different. But was it really that surprising?

Alex Salmond – the ex SNP leader after the Scots voted NO in their independence vote, but now bizarrely a Westminster MP – claimed rightly that the Scottish lion has roared today.

But what happened south of the border was the English mouse squeaking. Very loudly. “Middle England” is usually a pejorative term, but millions of hard-working English voters came out in favour of a free market economy, lower taxes, a smaller state, saving more than you spend…and possibly the desire to vote separately for the UK’s position in Europe.

The left will call this the middle class mouse, but that’s where Ed and his Labour cronies were mistaken. The country is no longer defined by lower, middle and upper classes.

Ed used lazy, outdated rhetoric and repetitive sound bites from a bygone age: posh Tories; bankers’ bonuses; I’m here for working families. But people voted against the risk of a Labour-led government repeating the economic mistakes they made under Gordon Brown. And more importantly, perhaps they rejected the socialist ideology of a larger state machine, funded by higher taxes and supporting a bloated welfare state. Just look at France under Monsieur Hollande…….

I wrote here back in April, in an article on the new pension freedoms:

In broader terms, this is a metaphor for capitalism v socialism. The political right want to decrease taxation – personal, to maximise the disposable income in your pocket each month, so that you can decide where best to spend it; corporate, to encourage businesses to invest in people and physical assets. And yes, to make a profit, which should NOT be a dirty word.

The political left believe in increasing taxation to maximise taxes because they want to spend more on public services. Because they know better than us what we need. The Nanny State.

I know which philosophy I prefer. Capitalism – with a social conscience, of course. Socialism doesn’t work, in economic terms. It scares away the wealth creators, discourages inward investment and inevitably causes a downward economic spiral.

The English mouse squeaked in favour of working hard, saving for your family, creating personal wealth, starting up companies, paying sensible taxes and, yes, balancing the books. And being incentivised to go out and work, rather than sit at home on the sofa enjoying a benefits lifestyle.

This new Conservative government now has a real opportunity to do the right thing for the long-term: encourage enterprise, stimulate further employment and economic growth and – more importantly – rebalance public services and the welfare state so that taxes are used to help those that need it most, rather than those who choose not to help themselves when they are able.

The Beveridge Report of 1942 formed the basis of the modern welfare system. It was designed to address the 5 “Giant Evils” of society at that time: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease.  Our welfare system of the 21st century should reinforce those principles, rather than the broader, more lax ones it has come to stand for in the intervening 70 years, abused by many undeserving of its worthy intent.

If the current government can deliver, we just might end up with a group of politicians who are conservatives with a social conscience, no longer the Nasty Party, and who create a country for the many rather than for the perceived elite few.

Sort out the marauding Scots and our EU position too, and there will be no surprises at the next General Election.

But mess it up, and David, George, Theresa or Boris might also be off on holiday to Ibiza in May 2020.

I wonder if Ed will still be on the sun lounger….

BrewDog – so do you feel lucky, Punk?

BrewDog only started up in 2007, north o’ the border in Fraserburgh, as a small ground-breaking craft beer brewer. Their inspiration was to be everything that the global brewing behemoths weren’t.

And blow me, they’re making amazing progress.

I’ve heard of them over the last year or so, and may even have subliminally seen some of their beers on sale somewhere, but now I’ve actually invested in their latest Punk Equity round.


For a start, the current equity raising round of up to £25m is being crowdfunded, raised by themselves rather than through a generic crowdfunding platform. And certainly not via the traditional  investment banking establishment. As a result their total costs will be only £200k, compared with a possible £1m+ if they were using the banking community. I love this way of leveraging the power of the interweb thingy.

But more importantly, from an investment appraisal perspective:

  1. they’re already profitable, with an operating profit of £3.9m and post-tax profit of £2.7m in 2014, with healthy gross & net margins
  2. the top line is growing strongly, from £18m in 2013 to £29.6m in 2014, with massive growth potential in this country and overseas
  3. the senior management team includes the founders, who are clearly passionate about the BrewDog philosophy, brand and product. They’re also heavily aligned with shareholders’ interests to succeed
  4. their beers – and increasing number of own-branded bars – sound very cool, popular and positioned to succeed where traditional pubs are failing (younger, hip nephews who have been to one of their bars agree)
  5. the prioritised list of what they’ll spend the newly raised funds on is exciting and compelling
  6. I love their energy and innovation. They feel like an early-days Virgin, or pre-corporate Ben & Jerry, genuinely wanting to stay true to their values but not afraid to chase aggressive growth. Although only time will tell, of course….

Take a look at their Prospectus. I love it. It’s persuaded me to buy 10 shares for a total investment of £475. Yes, it’s at an aggressive valuation of the business based on a heady multiple of current profitability but, what the hell, this is fun and I’m happy to just go along for the ride.

They may appear edgy and anti-establishment, but they also look very professionally managed. From their track record, from the Prospectus and within seconds of investing, I had access to my shareholder page, with great discounts on beers ordered online and in their bars, and a huge range of other mouth-watering fun benefits.

BrewDog are not quoted on any public exchange yet, but they have an annual internal market  if you ever want to exit. And there’s always the chance of an IPO, or trade sale. I’m guessing that the founders will want to keep control for a while yet though.

I’d love to have got in on an earlier round and a lower valuation, but I can see these guys conquering the world with their great products, service, brand, innovation and management.

And even if they don’t, as a shareholder I’ll get a free beer every birthday.

And who else has the chutzpah to raise money via Equity for Punks?

As with any other equity investment, there are clearly risks involved. These are listed succinctly in the Prospectus. The minimum investment in Equity for Punks IV is 2 shares @ £47.50 = £95.

Cheers, BrewDog.


Movie review – Far From The Madding Crowd

Sadly, I’m old enough to remember the critically acclaimed 1967 film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd,. Directed by John Schlesinger, it  starred Julie Christie as Bathsheba Everdene, with Terence Stamp, Peter Finch and Alan Bates as her triumvirate of suitors.

Yesterday we watched the 2015 incarnation, directed by Thomas Vinterberg with a screenplay by David Nicholls (the author of Starter for TenOne Day and Us) and aimed squarely at a 21st century audience.

Carey Mulligan is perfectly cast as Bathsheba, a beautiful, feisty, and independent young woman, who inherits her uncle’s Wessex farming estate.

Her feminism is rare in Victorian times, and her natural exuberance attracts three very different men.

Quickly becoming another famous Belgian, Matthias Schoenaerts is Gabriel Oak, a hard-working sheep farmer who loses his own livelihood and ends up working for Bathsheba.

William Boldwood is a wealthy, 40 year-old bachelor neighbour. Played by Michael Sheen, Mr Boldwood is at first indifferent to Bathsheba, but quickly becomes infatuated with her after a prank is misconstrued.

Image result for far from the madding crowd 2014

And then there’s dashing Sergeant Troy, played by Tom Sturridge. The speed with which the hitherto defiantly single Bathsheba succumbs to the ultimately disastrous soldier is surprising, and perhaps a function of this adaptation condensing the plot a little too narrowly.

This love triangle is played out in the mesmerising Dorset landscape, with exquisite cinematography by  Charlotte Bruus Christensen.  The scene of a young, untrained sheepdog herding Gabriel’s flock over the cliff tops to thud onto the beach way below will linger long in the memory.

The story ends with a sort of stoic happiness, vividly conveying Thomas Hardy’s message about the value of long-term loyalty compared with brief passion.

A joyous way to spend a couple of hours….particularly if you like Dorset.