Thursday, January 29, 2015

10 Favourite Jet Lag Reduction Tips

Image source: Brian Joseph
  • Hydrate with Fly1above – a brilliant product.
  • Set your watch to your arrival venue 2 hours before you board.
  • Don’t touch alcohol pre/during flight.
  • Wear flight socks.
  • Eat protein/veggies – avoid starch/fats.
  • Don’t work on the flight – read odd stuff, binge on some TV, sleep!
  • Go into low reactor mode – slow down heart rate, adrenaline output, and don’t get emotionally engaged in the inevitable lousy travel experience/service.
  • Budget a 3 hour rest, shower and 30 minute exercise break when you arrive/before you work.
  • Get to bed early day one, avoid screens, read and sleep!
  • Power nap for 30 minutes once/twice on day 2.

A Little Kindness Travels

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When it comes to sharing, studies have found that articles and video clips that trigger positive emotions, such as happiness, surprise or warmth, are more likely to go viral. No surprises then that random acts of kindness by strangers are frequently reported in the news or shared online. These stories remind us of the goodness in people and make us reflect on the importance of kindness.

Here are a few random acts of kindness in 2014 that will restore your faith in humanity. It’s the little things. Don’t forget that you can do your part too.
  • Instead of handing out tickets, police officers in Kansas City, Missouri handed out money to unsuspecting Americans, on a mission from a wealthy businessman known as ‘Secret Santa’. The people’s reactions are priceless.
  • A store employee at an Ormond Beach, Florida Publix Super Market was snapped helping an elderly man by bending down and tying his shoelaces.
  • A North Carolina high school student gave a pair of rare Air Jordans to a classmate after he noticed he was being teased about his old sneakers.
  • A ‘layaway angel’ paid off 150 layaway accounts totaling $20,000 at a Toys R Us store in Bellingham, Massachusetts.
  • Hair stylist Mark Bustos spends every Sunday giving free haircuts to homeless people on the streets of New York City.
  • Months before he died, Robin Williams made a video clip for a terminally-ill New Zealand woman whose bucket list included meeting Williams.
  • Luke Cameron, a 26-year old from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, performed one good deed each day in 2014, blogging about it on his Good Deed Diary.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Tipping Point and the Mona Lisa

Image source: Brian Joseph

The Tipping Point
, the transformational book by Malcolm Gladwell from 2000, describes “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” The Mona Lisa is a famous painting by Italian artist Leonardo Da Vinci.

Notwithstanding the Mona Lisa’s innate quality, the serendipitous string of events that led to its tipping point – being considered ‘the greatest work of art ever’ – are fascinating. An article by Ian Leslie on More Intelligent Life discusses this and how a work of art comes to be considered great.

One aspect is the ‘mere-exposure effect’. Psychologist James Cutting studied whether this plays a role in which paintings achieve cultural status. His experiments, which were based around exposing people to images, were telling. Familiarity, even unconscious familiarity (i.e. flashing images that people didn’t notice), bred liking.

The other aspect is ‘cumulative advantage,’ a term used by sociologist Duncan Watts, who studied the history of the Mona Lisa. I’ll provide a potted summary here. For most of its life, the Mona Lisa languished in relative obscurity. It was in the Louvre, but it wasn’t in a prime spot. Then it was stolen and Parisians were aghast. They queued to look at the gap where it once hung.

Two years later, it turned up at a market in Florence. The Italians hailed the thief, an Italian carpenter, for trying to return the painting home. The French public was electrified. Newspapers around the world told the story and reproduced the painting in print. Global fame. Others used it to their own advantage – French-American painter Marcel Duchamp reproduced the Mona Lisa with a beard and moustache – reinforcing its status as an icon.

Leslie makes two simple points to renew a little faith. First, a work needs a certain quality to be eligible to be swept to the top of the pile – the Mona Lisa wasn’t in the Louvre by accident. Second, some stuff is simply better than other stuff. Also, the mere-exposure effect doesn’t always work – think of the last time you didn’t like something, but had to look at it on a regular basis. Chances are you grew to like it less, not more.

Leslie’s final remark suggests that we should take the greats with a grain of salt. “We should always be a little sceptical of greatness…we should always look in the next room… we need to see, and read, as much as we can. The more exposed we’re to the good and the bad, the better we are at telling the difference. The eclecticists have it.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Could You Ever Tell A Story This Way

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Traditionally, storytelling has tended to follow certain conventions. Aristotle told us a plot must be whole, with a beginning, middle and an end. Richard Linklater, Director of the Oscar-front-running film Boyhood, offered some suggestions on how to shake things up in a recent article on FastCo.CREATE.

Linklater’s approach is admirable and courageous, precisely because new forms of narrative have always been part of his thought process. For example, he continually asks himself, “Could you ever tell a story this way? Why wouldn’t that work?”

He took an ambitious gamble on Boyhood, which was filmed over the course of 12 years with the same cast. It paid off, recently winning three awards including Best Film at the Golden Globes and nominated for six Academy Awards.

Linklater’s keys to great storytelling are suitably bold.

First, just because you’re dancing to the beat of your own drum doesn’t mean structure isn’t important. Linklater says “find your form first.” The shape of a film’s narrative is a key decision. Get rhythm.

Second, storytelling is problem solving. Linklater had a problem – he wanted to express thoughts and experiences that were scattered throughout his childhood, which is hard to do in a movie. Boyhood was the solution – sure, one that seemed completely impractical at the time – but solved his problem nonetheless.

Third, trust your audience. Linklater says if the story has integrity, motivated viewers will work a little harder to follow the narrative. “I’m never trying to confuse anybody… If you establish rules and play by them, the audience will buy in… Once people are invested, it won’t be an issue.”

Fourth, sometimes you have to wait for technology to catch up with your ideas. New technology can provide a new way to tell a story. That was the case for Linklater’s Waking Life, which was something of a hybrid between real and animated film. He sat on that idea for 20 years until the right technology made it possible.

Five, art demands structure. Linklater says, “A film isn’t just a narrative; it’s a framework in which to create.”

Monday, January 26, 2015

Carefree Arizona

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Was at my place in Carefree, Arizona over the weekend (75°F vs 20” of snow forecast for NY!). Watched a fully grown mountain lion amble up the boulders outside the back walls, unhooked a 2ft long King Snake from the wire mesh around a lemon tree and sent him on his way, photographed three lean coyotes – one with a limping hind leg – on their loping dusk hunt through our (their!) land, and had a stand-off with a dozen javelinas protecting their new-borns on an early morning bike ride. A far cry from the hustle and bustle of Tribeca.

Leave Nothing But Footprints
Take Nothing But Pictures
Kill Nothing But Time.

Service Is Everyone’s Business

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(Good) hospitality, which can be characterized in a nutshell as ‘efficiency and just the right degree of interaction’, isn’t just for hotels – it’s everyone’s business.

Customers have greater access to services and products and lower tolerance for shoddy service and obsolete technology. They’re outspoken about their experiences, and have a variety of outlets to voice their opinions after the fact. If you’re a reader of reviews, you’ll know that good hospitality makes all the difference. People rate service on expectations, value for money and hospitality. Three and a half stars is better than three. Four stars and you’ll expect something to be good. Five, excellent. It makes a company stand out from its competitors and it keeps customers coming back.

A recent article on The Telegraph highlighted that for hotels in Britain, standards have certainly risen and a more professional attitude pervades across the board. Branding, groups and chains are becoming the norm and with that comes difficulty in finding hotel service that is not merely efficient, but also characterful, genuine and warm. But it’s not impossible. My 12 favorite hotels certainly have my loyalty because of their depth, rhythm and authenticity.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

10 Favourite Things

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  • A gripping new book (Fiction)
  • A new Live John Prine album (pictured)
  • The latest video of the grandkids
  • A handwritten letter/ card from a friend
  • A bottle of Petrus
  • A slab of Mrs. Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese
  • A new series of Justified
  • An All Black Test Match
  • The Villa Santa Ana in Castiglion del Bosco
  • Spending a week at home.

I Can Vouch For This

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Browsing the weekend Financial Times’s book section I saw that English actor, novelist and stage, film and radio writer Emily Woof was asked “Where is your favourite place in the world?” She replied:

“My father, who died in 1996, was the director of the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere in the Lake District, and my favourite place is above Grasmere were Dunnabeck stream is at its highest.”

William Wordsworth lived in Grasmere for 14 years and declared "The Vale of Grasmere - the loveliest spot that man hath ever found!"

I’m coming up a decade in Grasmere as part of my re-connection with England’s north west and am rebuilding Beckwood, on a timeless site on the way up to Alcock Turn, high above Grasmere directly opposite The Lion &The Lamb.

Emily Woof’s new novel The Lightning Tree has just been published by Faber & Faber. This is a story of two young people who fall in love - and then life gets in the way. Set in Newcastle in the mid-80s, the novel weaves across generations, asking us to question the nature of love in all its forms.

p.s. Another good book just out Peter May’s Runaway. Glasgow 1965. Five teenagers run away to London and form a band. Glasgow 2015. Five decades of fear. Back they go to London to confront their past.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Worth A Thousand Words

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The saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ rings true now more than ever. We live in a culture accessorized by cover images, thumbnails, Instagrams and emojis. People ‘read’ pictures like they do text, but with pictures there are no rules for engagement. There are no restrictions; no left to right, top to bottom, start to finish. Your eyes are allowed to wander through the story a picture tells.

The convenience of making images has made people more creative about how they use pictures as a means of communication. With so much data available on a variety of things, information is being transformed into incredibly interesting, accessible and beautiful pictures that can be more powerful than the written or spoken word. They also seem to travel faster. The proof is in FiveThirtyEight’s 33 Weirdest Charts from 2014.

On FiveThirtyEight’s list, there is an image that illustrates weather predictability across the United States and makes it clear that if you like to rely on the weather forecast, you might want to consider moving to the West Coast. There is also an image that illustrates the way some countries feel about others (and thus, who you might root for if your team gets knocked out of the next World Cup). If you’re into football, you can spot how likely your team are to make the NFL playoffs based on previous records.

The geniuses behind the best infographics are typically those with a rare confluence of ‘right-brain’ and ‘left-brain’ skills according to Steven Heller, co-chair of the MFA Design Department at the School of Visual Art New York City. I think it’s the illusion of simplicity that gets me. The best images are easy to digest and eye-catching.

Compelling, by getting straight to the point, telling you the gist of the story in a language you can understand.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Radical Optimist

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I’m a big fan of Marc Andreessen, and not just because his head is an identikit for mine. From an “incredibly practical and hardworking” farm family in small-town Wisconsin, he graduated as an engineer from the University of Illinois, one of four sites with supercomputers in the mid-1980s. He burst into prominence in 1995 a lead programmer of the first commercial web browser Netscape. At age 24 his net worth was $58M.

Now, as co-principal of Andreessen Horowitz, a leading Silicon Valley VC firm (investments include Facebook, Skype, Airbnb and Twitter), he is voluble and evangelical about the buoyancy of the technology sector and the recalibration of economic and cultural power stemming from its innovation.

Happily, he watches “an unbelievable amount of TV or movies. In a ‘Lunch with the FT’ interview, Caroline Daniel writes: “He attributes the creative renaissance of television to its expanding internet audience. “Today, you’re selling to Netflix and Amazon and Microsoft and Sony and Yahoo.”

“He likes television, he says, because it puts the writer in charge, and compares it to the best tech companies which are also built when you put founders in charge for long periods.” “By the way,” says Andreessen, “writers are often crazy; they’re unpredictable, they don’t necessarily operate on a budget or a timetable you might want. They argue a lot. But you get the magic.”

Monday, January 19, 2015

Celebrating the Daily Commute

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Commuting – traveling between home and work on a regular basis – takes all kinds of forms. Some people enjoy it, taking time out to ponder and reflect. Some go to great lengths to distract themselves, using modern technology to read, listen to music, watch TV or perhaps even work. Some find the whole experience utterly tedious. There is a reported correlation between a person’s happiness and the brevity of their commute.

A collection of striking photographs of London commuters by Arnau Oriol captures these attitudes towards commuting. Oriol’s comments delve deeper, describing each facial expression: “At the end of their journeys – coffees drunk, papers read – they seem to be savouring their last few moments of calm before they disembark into the crowds and head to work. They’re not sad, but there is about them an air of thoughtful melancholy.”

Our attitudes towards commuting have changed over the years. Iain Gately’s new book Rush Hour: How 500 Million Commuters Survive the Daily Journey to Work covers commuting past, present and future and the changes commuting has brought in landscapes, manners and entertainment.

A related article on The Economist points out that people were eager to commute as soon as they had the chance. People could live in the city, but ideally, if they could afford the train fare, they’d move to fresher air in the surrounding suburbs. We’ve been carrying on with this trend ever since the concept of commuting first began.

Today, many of us will have a bevy of options for our daily commute. We travel by train, bus, boat, car, or we walk, run or cycle if we’re that way inclined. Colin Marshall, host and producer of Notebook on Cities and Culture said rather aptly of the relationship between a city and its commuters, “if you wish to understand London or any place else, look no further than how people move through it. This goes not just for subways, but overground trains, buses, cycleways, rickshaws, and every mobility solution in between.”

Many cities even go so far as to build transport as a means of defining their character. Enrique Peñalosa, Bogotá’s former mayor proclaimed “an advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars; rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation.” He has also spoken of our “need to walk, just as birds need to fly”, suggesting a need for appropriate pedestrian infrastructure in cities.

Commuting trends in the U.S. tend to favor driving alone, though the fastest growing mode of access to work is actually working from home, according to data from the American Community Survey. However, people who work from home sometimes still choose to commute – cycling for miles in the opposite direction, only to arrive back at home some time later ready for the work day to begin. To go to the other extreme, studies in the UK suggest that by 2016, 1.5 million people will be traveling to work regularly from overseas via London’s main three airports. Hope we’ll get the infrastructure to support it.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Habits of a Lifetime

Love a List – an ongoing series. Today, 9 personal practices for living life well.
  1. Live life slow.
  2. Always look on the bright side of life (thank you Messrs Python).
  3. Don’t have any screens in the room in which you sleep… yes, that includes your mobile!
  4. Read odd stuff.
  5. Avoid moderation – nothing succeeds like excess.
  6. Invest in experiences, not things.
  7. Make to do lists every week… and knock’em off.
  8. Make happy choices.
  9. Make time for family and friends.

When the Going Gets Tough

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“When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” sang Billy Ocean in the eighties. Some people call it hustle. I call it grit, or to coin a phrase from a fantastic (but out-of-print) book by Gary Jacobson and John Hillkirk, ‘the 3G factor’ of grit, guts and genius. It’s what epitomizes those who succeed in the face of adversity.

A recent article by Paul G. Stoltz on Fast Company put it slightly differently, but rather aptly in an acrostic of the word ‘grit’: Growth, Resilience, Instinct and Tenacity.

Here’s a brief run-down on each.
  • Growth. Do you have a fixed mind-set, or one that is open to new ideas? The latter is where you want to be. If you’re seeking out alternatives, fresh perspectives and new insights, you’re more likely to succeed.
  • Resilience – bouncing back. But it’s more than that. It’s about learning from your setbacks. Over time, adversity consumes you, or you consume it. That’s why bouncing back – with insight – is so important to grit.
  • Instinct. It’s something we tend to develop over time. When you’re first starting out – at most things in life – you’re unlikely to make the right call 100% of the time. But rest assured, you’ve got company. Even top executives will tell you that they too spend a great deal of time pursuing less than optimal goals in less than optimal ways. Don’t dwell on it, move on. Do better next time.
  • Tenacity – the opposite of throwing in the towel. Sometimes it’s the difference between success and failure. It’s getting through the mire when you’re at the end of your tether. It might require a bit of crazy, but in the end, it’s what propels you over the finish line.
Sometimes you can’t help looking for a quick and easy fix. Sometimes you might find it. Sometimes you just need grit.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Smarter Groups & Collective Intelligence

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What happens when a bunch of smart people get together? Smarts aren’t necessarily cumulative, according to an article by Thomas Malone on Quartz, so really, anything could happen.

According to a study conducted by Malone and his colleagues, collective intelligence isn’t the sum of the individual intelligence of people in a group; it’s more complex than that. In fact, it’s a bit like the IQ + EQ + TQ + BQ* of a group. Malone’s study found that collective intelligence is dependent on factors such as social intelligence, participation and gender balance.

Social intelligence is about guessing people’s emotions depending on the look in their eyes. Some people are better at it than others. This factor was partly related to another finding from Malone’s study, that gender balance is also important to collective intelligence – particularly if it was weighted towards having more women in the group, because women tend to be more socially perceptive than men.

The other thing that the study found about social intelligence was that it applied to both face-to-face and virtual groups, who couldn’t actually see each other’s faces. It turns out that people who are high on social intelligence and able to ‘read’ people are equally good at interpreting the otherwise ‘hidden’ emotions icon texts and words.

Participation was another key factor in determining collective intelligence. Smarter groups tend to be more evenly balanced in terms of participation, with all individuals contributing equally to the conversation as opposed to one or two dominating the discourse. It makes sense. None of us is as good as all of us.

* Intelligence Quotient + Emotion Quotient + Technology Quotient + Bloody Quick!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Will London Be the Most Innovative City in the World?

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In many ways, we have cities to be thankful for much of what humankind has achieved. Cities play to our strengths as social creatures. They encourage collaboration, creativity and innovation. Cities give off a certain kind of energy, and you don’t feel that in the suburbs or in the countryside.

There’s also a competitive element between cities. One accolade that’s becoming increasingly sought after among modern cities is innovation. In a Business Insider article listing the 18 most innovative cities, Drake Baer points out that indeed, many modern metros are pushing the limits of industry, design and urban planning. Rethinking the way people live and work and going against the grain of ‘business as usual’. The cities that feature on the list are a diverse bunch and include Singapore, Amsterdam, Bangalore, London, Helsinki, Hong Kong, San Jose, Vienna, Copenhagen, Rio de Janeiro, Medellin, Cape Town, Vancouver, Santiago, Dubai, Tokyo, Munich and Seoul.

These cities were chosen according to metrics such as patents per capita and skyscraper height. Their ‘innovative’ initiatives are far-reaching and demonstrate the breadth of innovation as a common denominator. For example, Amsterdam is the most bike-friendly, with 38 per cent of all trips in the city made by bicycle. Hong Kong has twice the number of skyscrapers than any other city. Rio de Janeiro is leading the way in becoming a ‘smart city’, letting residents use smartphones to alert the city to infrastructure issues. Santiago is one of the most entrepreneur-friendly cities in the world, having recently launched Startup Chile, an accelerator program that seeks to attract early stage, high-potential entrepreneurs to Chile.

London was highlighted in a recent article on Wired, subsequent to an event in Boston that brought together high-ranking diplomats and business leaders to discuss how innovation can increase productivity and income opportunities through cross-border innovation. The article posed the question – is London becoming the world’s greatest city for innovation? It certainly has taken major steps for it to be so.

London is a frontrunner in the innovation stakes, mobilizing a strong and quite deliberate push for innovation-driven business development. The ambitions of London Mayor Boris Johnson are certainly just that – ambitious, with his plan for London to become ‘The Greatest City on Earth’.

The Mayor isn’t alone – the business community is also behind him with initiatives and programmes aimed at strengthening economic growth. For example, City Hall’s Smart London Plan, a development platform that focuses on broad digital inclusion, significant investment in technology companies and more support for businesses that actively pursue innovation. London is also part of the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program, which encourages innovation-driven entrepreneurship and helps regions around the world promote economic development and job creation.

So will London become the greatest city on earth or more specifically, the world’s greatest city for innovation? It’s got some competition, but I’d say it will certainly be in the running.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Culture Drives Change

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Louis V. Gerstner, former CEO of IBM once said, “Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game.”

I came across this quote in an INSEAD article by Martin Roll, which was about how leaders who are looking to drive change need to be mindful of the culture of their organizations because this is crucial to successful change, in a make-or-break kind of way.

So what is culture? Roll comments that it is something that develops over time. Something that binds people together. An aggregation of the mind-set and beliefs of an organization’s employees. Something that plays an important role in ensuring the company stays on course and does not veer off path.

Roll outlines three principles that underlie organizations most successful in driving and implementing change through embracing culture.

First, they understand global differences in culture. This is obviously more relevant for global companies, but also for start-ups with global aspirations. Any big picture change strategy that’s being developed at the top will need to be adapted to suit each local culture and market.

Second, there is a need to understand what culture means to different people, and different groups within their organization. This is typically more of a challenge for well-established companies. Change leaders need to be thinking about how organizational changes might affect employees and employee groups differently.

Finally, change initiatives need to be aligned with organizational culture, and ultimately, strategy needs to be aligned with culture. This will reduce the disruptive nature of any change.

At the end of the day, culture is about the people – and taking them on any journey of change. If you want your company (and any changes on the horizon) to succeed, it starts with your people. If they’re motivated and inspired, and if they have a sense of purpose and understand where the organization is going, then they’re more likely to do a good job.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Singing into 2015

Here’s a list to get you hummin’ and foot-tappin’ in 2015.

12 Favourite Songs

"Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen
"No Surrender" by Bruce Springsteen
"Thunder Road" by Bruce Springsteen
"Mr Tambourine Man" by Bob Dylan
"The Road Goes On Forever" by Robert Earl Keen
"In Spite of Ourselves" by John Prine
"Bird on a Wire" by Leonard Cohen
"I Got You Babe" by Sonny and Cher
"Be My Baby" by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector
"Nowhere Man" by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
"Fairytale of New York" by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan
"In My Life" by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

10 Favourite Songwriters

Bruce Springsteen
Leonard Cohen
John Prine
Bob Dylan
Kris Kristofferson
Dory Previn
Ray Davies
Robert Earl Keen
Tom Russell

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

That’s heart-warming

In my weekend New York Times magazine was a beautiful small insert from Google called ‘A little look at a big year.’ “In 2014 we searched trillions of times. These are some of the most searched stories of the year.”

The most asked question of 2014 was “What is love?”

To quote Google in full:

“In 2014 romance was alive and well. Of all the trillions of questions the world asked this year, ‘’what is love’ topped the charts with 5x more searches than ‘what is science.’ But when it comes to puckering up, we like a bit of guidance and searched ‘how to kiss’ more times than any other activity, including ‘how to survive.’”

In 2014 the world asked 'am i in love' 3x more than 'am i alone.'

So it feels good in 2015 to be part of Saatchi & Saatchi: The Lovemarks Company. Right place, right language, right motivations, right thinking.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Love a List

I love lists – a young (old) friend Janine Burns reminded me we were making them together when she was still at School!!

I don’t like ‘The Best of …’ – too presumptuous.

I prefer ‘My Favourites’ – we all are entitled to our own.

Here’s a few to get the year started.

10 Favourite Places to Visit
Aman, anywhere!!
The Etihad Stadium, Manchester

12 Favourite Places to Eat
Agata e Romeo in Rome
Corrigan’s in Mayfair, London
Binkley’s in Carefree, Arizona
The FrenchCafé in Auckland
The WatersideInn in Bray, Berkshire
CiprianiDowntown in Soho, NYC
Holbeck Ghyll in Windermere, Cumbria
L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria
The MusketRoom in Nolita, NYC
The Old StampHouse in Ambleside, Cumbria
Castigliondel Bosco in Tuscany (pictured above)
Euro in Auckland

12 Favourite Hotels
The Bulgari – London, Milan, Bali
Emiliano, Sao Paolo
Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica
Ritz Carlton, Fort Lauderdale
Amangiri, Utah
The Midland, Morecambe
The One & Only, Bahamas
La Samanna, St Maarten
Malmaison, Manchester
The Ritz, Paris