Why I lost my watch at Dublin airport

I was early getting to Dublin airport. After the Bag Drop, we strolled over to the Departure Gate and scanned our Boarding Passes, declined the offers of clear plastic bags for liquids and toothpaste and joined one of the funnels for Airport Security. That’s the fancy name for the process that scans your cabin luggage and the contents of your pockets and handbags.

“Please remove your jackets and outdoor clothing, and take a tray,” said one of the uniformed staff in a high pitched, strident voice. We were switched from the line we had chosen, and directed to a different one. “Belts,” said the man, “No, keep your shoes on. Anything in your pockets? Move along please.”

Tensions were rising, due to the hectoring tone of the security staff and being ordered about. Placing my wheelie on the conveyor, I emptied all my pockets, pulled off my belt, added my watch with its metal strap, and topped it all with my lightweight outdoor jacket.

Trusting the system, I turned away from the tray containing my valuables and my passport, and walked through the body scanner. As I collected my tray on the other side, I was hurried along. “Take your things and pass the tray back for the next passenger to use,” instructed the man in uniform. I obeyed.

Once I was re-assembled, we went looking for the Gate indicator. Get it wrong and you could have a long walk back. Low numbers went one way, high numbers went the other way. The indicator stated that our gate would be displayed at 18:40.  I checked the time on my wrist. No watch.

Turning back to the security channel I thought we had just come through, I searched the floor and told a man in uniform that I had lost my watch. A hunt began, and three watches were found, none of them mine. They sent for the duty policeman.

A large man in a high-vis jacket, he ambled up and stood about importantly while everyone else scurried about looking, re-scanning my possessions, peering under the conveyors, asking one another, scribbling my details on a large white form. Considering the possibility that I was in the wrong place, I sent my wife to make enquiries at the distant set of security channels, where they soon located my missing timepiece.

During the whole episode, I reflected that none of that would have happened if I had stayed alert, in control, and not in ‘obedient’ mode. Doing as I was told, I dumped all my stuff in a tray, went through to the other side, expecting a seamless reunion with my possessions. But I allowed myself to be hurried along. Marching to the beat of another man’s drum, I failed to complete my own tasks.

That’s how serious mistakes can be made.

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Can you rely on your High Street bank?

Imagine you were a 65-year old pensioner and sole trader, banking with a High Street bank which claimed to be the best one for small businesses like yours. One day you decide to take charge of your accounting because your previous helper has retired. You notice a couple of regular payments that you cannot identify, so you call and ask your bank to tell you what they are.

They cannot give you the answer. They are direct debits that have been in force for some time, and one of them has the name of another bank in the same group, together with an account number. Despite that, they cannot tell you what the payments are for.

So you suggest cancelling the direct debits, in the hope that the relevant companies will contact you and all will become clear. With me so far? Quite a common experience.

Bank cancels wrong D/D

Now the bank cancels one wrong direct debit. Let’s suppose it happens to be for your mobile phone account on which your business depends. Let’s suppose it was for Vodafone. The bank goes further. It recommends taking out an indemnity claim against Vodafone and proceeds to re-claim (let’s say) £2,050, a figure which includes the latest monthly bill.

Later, then the mistake is discovered, the bank puts £1,904 back in your account. Everyone is looking for £2,050, and no one notices the £1,904, which is the reclaimed amount less the latest monthly bill. Still with me?

This goes on for some time, and you get demands from Vodafone which lead to black marks on your credit file for late payment. Remember, you have done nothing wrong – it has all been your bank’s doing.

Short shrift & rudeness

Now suppose you realise what has happened and contact both the bank (let’s call it Bank of Scotland) as well as Vodafone, and try to get the error rectified, but BOS deny responsibility. Vodafone are more helpful, but in trying to get your credit file cleaned up you make the mistake of contacting the Chief Executive’s office, where you get short shrift and rudeness.

Imagine that the other cancelled direct debit resulted also in complications that I don’t want to detail here, but which created yet another black mark on your credit rating. Through no fault of your own, you now have TWO payment defaults recorded, and you cannot get a loan for your business. And the stress is making you ill because you are a pensioner living alone and having to cope with all this on your own.

Being a diligent and determined individual, you keep records of your correspondence and phone conversations, including episodes of corporate bullying, and you build up a file over 12 inches thick over a period of 18 months. Oh, did I mention that it might take that long?

Let down by Financial Ombudsman

During that time, you will, of course, have contacted the Financial Ombudsman Service who, naturally, would uphold your complaint. But what if they could not be bothered to read your file and awarded you a derisory £600 compensation? And what if, after 18 months of effort on your part, your helpful High Street bank wrote to say they would no longer reply to your letters?

It couldn’t happen, could it? Especially not with a bank that claims to be the best one for small businesses, now could it? I mean, they would really pull out all the stops to clear your credit standing and compensate you for the harm done to your business, to your credit worthiness and to your health. They would, wouldn’t they?



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Corporate bullying is killing her

A friend of mine has been driven to the edge of financial and health collapse by corporate bullying and overwhelming bureaucracy. She has been badly let let down by the very organisations that were set up to help people in her position, and I fear she may soon have a stroke or heart attack.

Business errors by one large organisation led to complications elsewhere that adversely affected her credit standing, cost her large amounts of money and blocked a new business. All through no fault if her own.

For more than a year she has battled to resolve the issue and restore her previous good credit rating. Her letters, emails and phone calls are largely ignored. The higher up the chain of command, the less interested they are in putting things right.

She has been dismissed by the organisations that have harmed her, offered insultingly small amounts of money as “compensation” in the hope that she will go away. However, the people representing the offending corporates have made no attempt to rectify the original errors, nor the damage they have done. They have briefed one person to lend a sympathetic ear … but no action, no proper compensation, and no access to the people with the power to put things right.

They don’t seem to care about the effect on one customer’s financial position, health or peace of mind. She turned to the Ombudsman service. What a joke! These are people who are paid to help us. But they have proven to be just process servers. They have been self-important and arrogant, speaking over my friend on the phone, not understanding the real problem because they have not read the file completely, even claiming that they had no need to do so.

Meanwhile my friend is at the end of her tether, unable to work properly, in tears at the bureaucracy that keeps blocking her, and desperate for resolution. Even her doctor has written a letter stating that the situation is seriously affecting her health. No one cares.

Is this a common experience? Is there some way of calling corporate bullies to task? Where can a person get help?

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Was it sang froid that night in Wexford?

PKP Head 2009

It was a night to remember at the Opera, but not for the usual reasons.

Back in 1979, Wexford in Ireland staged a performance that has passed into the folklore of stage productions. The opera was La Vestale by Spontini, an infrequently performed work that enjoyed great popularity in its early days, two hundred years ago.

The cast was young and near the start of their careers, a factor that had a bearing on the outcome.

The stage was angled down from the back to the footlights, and made to look like marble. It was slippery, so the stage designer arranged for the surface to be liberally sprinkled with lemonade, which provided the necessary grip.

The curtain rose and the hero strode confidently onstage, singing lustily. Unfortunately for him, there was no coating of lemonade that night. Someone had blundered.  The hero fell flat on his back.

Still singing, with the orchestra in full flow, he scrambled to his feet and fought for purchase, sliding ever closer to the footlights. Next onstage was his stage buddy who similarly slid downhill, colliding with the hero. By this time the audience was falling in the aisles.

Together, the pair of them (still singing) scrambled upstage to grab hold of the altar, from where they could safely continue their performance. With the audience whooping and weeping with laughter, the chorus launched themselves onstage, sliding and scrambling with arms waving wildly.

With the determination of youth, some managed to grab the altar and our two heroes, while others anchored themselves to them, forming a kind of conga line. In this unstructured formation they managed to see out the first Act, and the curtain fell to a massive roar of delighted applause. In the interval, lemonade was restored and the performance continued as planned.

It might have been an ‘ordinary’ event, a passable performance of an attractive, if little known, opera. In fact it provided huge entertainment that those present would never forget, and it enabled the cast to show their combined resolve and press on, despite the unexpected hazards.

A useful lesson, I think, for those of us who present or perform to audiences.

[I am indebted to the late, great Bernard Levin for the story.]

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Knowing that you know

PKP Head bowed

And a woman said, “Master, speak to us about ageing.”

And the Master said:

“There will come a time when the lessons of life’s experiences coalesce into understanding and mature into wisdom. For what is wisdom, save the enlightened state of knowing that you know. Although your life may be an unending quest for truth, it cannot only be about new insights, as though each experience should be sucked like a lemon then cast aside. Rather, it should be the building of a body of knowledge, particle by particle, layer upon layer.

“A grain of sand may amount to very little on its own, and a single snowflake will whisper away in the palm of your hand, but the sands of the desert and the white tops of mountains have the awesome power of storms and avalanches.

“Therefore let each one of life’s experiences deliver a jewel of understanding, and learn to pause and appreciate the vastness of your gathered treasures.

“For then you shall be wise, not old. And you shall also be content.”

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It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in July 2001, and I was driving my Irish girlfriend, Evelyn, to Stansted airport to catch her flight home after the weekend we had shared in Bromley. She was asleep beside me and I kept nodding off for fractions of a second. I knew I should pull over and get out of the car, but there was too much traffic on the M11, and I was hemmed in at over 70 mph in the fast lane.

Suddenly I fell into a deep sleep. Approaching a right hand bend on the motorway, the car drifted across three lanes of fast moving traffic without hitting anything, and left the road.

The bumping woke Evelyn and she screamed. That woke me up and in a daze I wrenched the steering wheel over to the right. The car skidded across the hard shoulder and slammed sideways against the wheels of a passing lorry. There was glass everywhere as we spun and slid backwards into a ditch.

We both emerged from the wreck unhurt, but I knew something was wrong. I had been falling asleep at my desk, and becoming increasingly breathless over the previous several months. As a speaker, runner and singer, I was particularly aware of that growing breathlessness, and by December I checked in with my GP.

He promptly referred me to a cardiologist who was associated with the British Heart Foundation. He put me through a treadmill test, telling me that the average time was nine minutes. Despite being a marathon runner, I came off the treadmill after seven minutes.

The cardiologist carried out an angiogram two weeks later. When it was over, I asked, “So what did you find?” Without preamble he said, “You are going to need a heart bypass. Next week. And don’t fly.”

I asked for a delay of one week because I had just started writing a book and had a deadline to meet. (I completed the book the day I went into hospital for the bypass.) Dr Jackson explained that two of my coronary arteries were 95% and 70% blocked.

I asked, “Is there some alternative to the bypass?”

“Yes,” he replied, “a massive, disabling heart attack.”

I said, “I’ll have the bypass.”

I was a widower in my middle years, with two grown up children who had not yet got over the premature death of their mother. There was concern in the Khan-Panni household.

Five days after the operation, I went home, and had a total of two weeks off work, but it took a further month before I was able to drive a car with a cushion over my chest. I was on a batch of pills that would provide me with protection against a recurrence of the blocked arteries: Aspirin to thin my blood, Valsartan for hypertension, a statin to control my cholesterol, and Metformin to keep my Type 2 Diabetes at bay. Plus a strong recommendation to walk briskly for 30 minutes at least three times a week.

There were changes. For one thing, my energy level dropped by a massive margin. I became less aggressive, and more able to tolerate or even ignore unpleasant encounters. There was a distinct slowing down in my pace of life, and I established a more regular pattern in all the things I did, including my meals.

One pleasant after effect was my decision to get married. And three years later Evelyn and I were married in Trinity College, Dublin.

Other after effects included a slight memory loss, poorer concentration and, as I said before, significantly less energy. But a calmer, more positive attitude to life and less anxiety.

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With nothing to read

Something to read

Something to read

Going up to London for a course, on Sunday, my iPhone search indicated a Victoria train at 8:37 a.m. My wife dropped me off at the station early — 8:28, but when I arrived at the platform I saw that the next Victoria train would be at 8:49!

A 20 minute wait! Not only would I be late for the course, but I had nothing to read!

I have developed the habit of filling every small time slot with reading. I have 4 business books on the go, partly read, none with me except a fifth on my iPhone’s Kindle, but that was a ‘duty’ read, a book I had promised to review.

Without reading matter to fill my mind, I felt adrift. It happens also when I am alone in a cafe, when I will read every word on the menu. Twice. And then I’ll read the labels on sauce bottles, if any are about. Once or twice I have even gingerly picked up a shared copy of The Sun newspaper, carefully maintaining a look of disdain as I did so.

In the elastic minutes before the train arrived, I recalled an article in a 10-year old Reader’s Digest, a piece about one Dr Herbert Benson, author of “The Relaxation Response”. Dr Benson is a mind doctor, and his book discusses the benefits of relaxation and even distraction when we are wrestling with a problem.

Get your mind out of the way, he says, and the solution has a better chance of presenting itself. Going for a walk or a spot of meditation can do wonders for the harassed mind. In the absence of reading matter I thought I’d “think”, and perhaps benefit from unexpected insights.

The train arrived. On board was a group of friends talking in loud voices. One woman had a flat but penetrating voice that blotted out all attempts at quiet contemplation. I moved to another seat.

Ding dong! The train’s automatic station announcer forced itself upon me. Ding dong! The next station will be … Pause. Ding dong! We will shortly be arriving at … And again for every station along the way.

Now I really did have a harassed mind. Excuse while I go for a walk.

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The Vulture Culture


Imagine this scenario. You go down the High Street and pop into a shop to buy a pair of shoes. You try on several pairs, choose one, and take it to the counter to pay.

“How would you like to pay?”

“Credit card.”

“That will be £49.99 plus £2 for using the credit card …”

“OK, I’ll pay by debit card. £49.99, is that right?”

“No, there’s also a transaction fee of £2.85.”

You’d probably walk out in disgust without the shoes.  And on the way home, you might stop off at the supermarket and fill your trolley with some midweek top-up groceries.

Now imagine arriving at the check out, only to have the same conversation as at the shoe shop. An extra charge for using a credit card and a transaction fee as well. This time you may not want to hand back the groceries, so you stump up the £2.85 transaction fee.

Unrealistic? Fanciful?  If that’s what you think you haven’t been to the theatre recently. Whether you book your tickets by phone or online you will get charged a booking fee at the last moment, usually between £1.50 and £3.00 per ticket, but sometime more. Almost certainly that fee will not be declared in the advertised prices.

Put simply, you will be charged a fee for buying a theatre ticket, over and above the cost of the ticket itself. It’s a charge for spending money, for buying the ticket; it’s a double charge and there is no moral or commercial justification for it. It’s nothing less than a rip-off.

According to the Mail Online, the company taking bookings for the musical The Book of Mormon were charging a booking fee of £4 per ticket plus a one-off transaction fee of £3. A person buying four of the cheapest tickets at £27.50 each (total £110) would have paid £19 extra.

The Advertising Standards Authority has said it does not have the power to outlaw these fees, so the heinous practice goes on. I always thought the advertised price was the one they had to charge. If you see an item in a shop window with a price rage of, say, £50, the retailer would have to charge that, nothing more.

It amounts to customers paying the sales people their commission. Shouldn’t commission be paid by the theatres and others who sell things, not by those who buy?

A final word on credit cards. They were introduced to help retailers and other businesses make more sales by enabling customers to buy even when they did not have enough money to pay. That’s what buying on credit means. The credit card delivered advantage to the retailer, improving cash flow. Charging the customer for using it is a complete reversal of the underlying principle of buying on credit.

It seems we are in an era of exploitation of customers.  It’s a vulture culture in which parasites line the space between customers and suppliers, clawing at every scrap they can scrape from the transaction.

Today it’s theatre bookings. Tomorrow it could well be the supermarket. Where, you might ask, are the lawmakers in all this?

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A great Curry Evening for Jimmy Mizen

The mayor of Lewisham, Sir Steve Bullock, supported a Curry Evening in aid of the Jimmy Mizen Foundation. Jimmy Mizen was a teenager who was murdered in South London five years ago, and his parents, Barry and Margaret set up a charity dedicated to promoting peace and community spirit among young people.

Yak & Yeti, a Nepalese restaurant on Bromley Hill, decided to raise funds for the charity by hosting a Curry Evening, and donating all takings for the meal to the  Foundation.

As diners arrived, they were entertained (and amazed) by a young master magician, Steve Dela, whose close up magic had them gasping. He was followed by Southern Brand, a Barbershop Quartet from the Bromley Barbershop Harmony Club, which has made the Jimmy Mizen Foundation their nominated charity for the past two years.

It was a fine example of a local business joining hands with its customers and friends of friends to boost a local good cause.

The diners were lavish in their praise of the food, and applauded Krishna, the restaurant’s manager, whose every move was shadowed by a cameraman from Nepalese television, who was a touch too intrusive.

As the Chair of Trustees remarked after the meal, the Mayor is invited to large numbers of such events every year, yet he chose to attend this one.  He is clearly a man of the people, and it’s hardly surprising that he is in his third elected term of office.

Together with a small raffle, the evening’s donations totalled nearly £930, which Gift Aiding will take past the thousand mark. Pretty good for a Curry Evening, wouldn’t you say?

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How to prepare a Best Man speech

Preparing the Best Man’s speech is no different from preparing any other speech.  The same disciplines work.  You’ll be trying to make your listners feel good.   You’ll also be trying to make yourself feel, look and sound good.

Above all, you’ll be trying to avoid any of the negative scenarios that have been filling you with dread ever since you agreed to be Best Man.  Let me take you through each step of preparing and writing a speech.

 What you already know

Let’s start by reminding you of what you already know, and what it means for your speech.

You know that the Best Man concept originated in the days when brides were abducted, and her friends and family had to be fought off.  So be protective of the groom, even though you may pull his leg and even embarrass him a bit.

  • You know that you were selected because of your special relationship with the groom, so provide some insights and perhaps even divulge a secret or two.
  • You know that you are expected to be amusing, and that you need to have or joke or two, but not the stale stuff that everyone has heard before.
  • You know that you may have had to act as master of ceremonies, and that therefore you will have already made some impression on the audience.
  • You know that you have to collect together the cards and messages from absent family and friends, so you must plan how and when to read them out.
  • You know that your speech will be in response to a toast to the bridesmaids or maid of honour, and that you must therefore be gallant and gracious.
  • You know that yours is a pivotal role in the day’s proceedings, and you should be masterful and “in charge”.
  • You know that this is a wonderful opportunity to make a big impression, which could benefit you in your working life and may even lead to a speaking career.
  • You know what the groom’s family and friends think of him, and what they want the world to know about him.  You have privileged information about the day’s key player.

10 Key Points

You know all those things.  It means you know what to say and you know that you will be well received because the wedding guests will see you as the one who knows what to do and say.  So let’s draw up a (flexible) checklist of the 10 key points you should consider including in your stand-up slot.

Your first duty is to thank the groom for the kind things he has said about the bridesmaids or maid of honour, as you are responding on their behalf.

  1. Thank him also for any gifts he may have given to the other helpers: bridesmaids, ushers, page boys, and anyone else.
  2. Read the cards, telegrams, mobile phone text messages and smoke signals sent in by those who could not attend the wedding in person.
  3. Reveal some of the heart-stopping moments leading up to the big day, including misunderstandings, wrong deliveries, amusing moments and near misses.
  4. Select a couple of revealing anecdotes from your early relationship with the groom.
  5. Put in some mildly embarrassing revelations about the groom’s younger life – at school, at work, when he joined the Young Conservatives, when he switched to the Lib Dems, when he disgraced himself at some formal function … that kind of thing.  Just remember not to be hurtful.
  6. Use props to highlight your main embarrassing revelation(s).  This could be photographic evidence of his stag night, or when he had long hair and flares.
  7. Say nice things about the bride.  Tell her how lovely she looks.  Speak to both of them directly, part of the time, but don’t address the whole speech to them.
  8. Add a touch of sincerity near the end.  Talk about the good mate he has been, about how he behaved differently “with this one.

10.Conclude with a toast.  If the bride’s father hasn’t already done so, toast the bride and groom.  Otherwise toast absent friends.


Once you have set down all the material you need to include, it’s relatively easy to arrange it in the order you should follow.  Do you need to follow a sequence?  Of course you do.  Your listeners do not know what you have planned on saying, nor will they readily follow your drift unless you make it easy for them to see how each point follows from the previous one and leads on to the next.

Even if your mother and both your friends try hard to be supportive and laugh at all your jokes, you’ll soon notice that the rest of the room is simply waiting for your lips to stop moving, so they can get on with the dancing.

Follow the 10 points above and you’ll be fine. For more detailed guidance and sample speeches, get a copy of Be the best Best Man and Make a Stunning Speech.

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