An open letter of gratitude to Direct Line Insurance

James Payne

South West Sales & Service Cluster Director

Direct Line Insurance

37 Broad Street



1st May 2017

Dear James

I wanted to write back and thank you on behalf of my wife for the letter of condolence following the recent death of our cat Maisie.

We have struggled with the loss – Maisie was 16-years old when she took that last journey into a quiet oblivion at the local vets. For the last few years she actually was just part of the furniture, rarely venturing past her food bowl and litter tray and very infrequently out of the cat flap to stare angrily at the neighbours and passing birds.

In fact, I have to say I was completely bowled over by the fact that no less than THREE identical letters arrived in the same post, your own and two further copies from unnamed business support consultants who were motivated by our sad loss to press the “dead cat” button on their keyboards.

You have proudly earned the 5-star Defaqto rating for your Advanced Pet Insurance mentioned on your web site, simply by demonstrating your obvious distress at Maisie’s departure.

I can picture the scene now – a busy call centre full of enthusiastic Millennials, eagerly answering calls from pet owners who want the best cover for their furry friends.

Some perhaps crowding around the coffee machines and open-plan meeting areas, gossiping about internal love affairs and undeserved promotions.

Then, a hush falling over the proceedings as news of Maisie begins to spread virally around the Cluster. Three people (including your good self) racing back to their workstations.

It’s been a very long time since I worked in an office – back in the 70’s as a keen school-leaver, I was employed by a Manchester insurance company and used to take letters into the typing pool so that middle-aged ladies could produce communications in triplicate. Isn’t it amazing to see how far we have come from those days?

Your offer of pet bereavement counselling is very kind and thank you for including the helpline number in all of your letters. As you say, grief is indeed the normal response to loss but in this case it was tinged with a sense of relief that we will no longer have to clear up Maisie’s frequent vomits over the dining room table or mis-cued toilet visits in front of the tumble dryer.

I know it happens to all of us and, frankly, it won’t be that many years until I’m bed-ridden and rolling poo balls – I hope my wife will still be around to look after me then the way she looked after Maisie in her final years.

Confidentially, I won’t miss paying the premiums, even though it will mean losing touch with you all down there in Bristol.

No James – it’s no more pussy for me for the foreseeable future – I’ll have to find other ways to lighten my mood when I feel the urge to stroke something.

It was so kind and selfless of you to offer to insure a replacement animal though – I really appreciate that and will bear you all in mind.

In conclusion, can I make a suggestion? I’m not telling you how to run your business but I know that companies sometimes have one of those internal competitions where they ask for money-saving ideas? The winners usually get something like a contribution to their party pig for Christmas. Well here’s an idea from a grateful former customer.

Perhaps when so many of you are deeply moved to write letters to the survivors of pet bereavement, you could pop them all in the same envelope and save on a bit of postage?

Given that all three letters had the same signature (was that yours James?) it strikes me that this system would be easy to set up – the Cluster letter signing person merely keeping an eye out for multiple address usage.

I have no idea how many deaths you deal with every week – one imagines it could run into the hundreds, knowing what a pet-loving nation we Brits are – so think of all the money a wee bit of co-ordination could achieve?

Anyway – that’s it for now – I need to get back to my Bank Holiday weekend, out in the garden helping Mrs Barrow as she trims her bush – thanks again – you really touched our hearts.

Chris Barrow

Posted in Pets | 1 Comment

President Lannister and other despots

You would think we know better in 2017.

On one side of the world we have Kim Jong-un standing before the massed ranks of his army and press-ganged “supporters”, squealing delightedly as his armaments are paraded past.

Koreans, both North and South rattling their nuclear sabres.

On the other side of the world we witness a bombastic, mysogynist, racist in charge of the world’s most powerful military, unable to remember which country he is launching missiles against and authorising the use of his biggest non-nuclear toy, whilst his family slowly infiltrate the corridors of power (cue Joffrey?).

Hear me roar!

I find it difficult to decide which I find more deplorable.

I genuinely thought those days were over.

Admittedly the last 30 years have seen a catalogue of errors by the Western super-powers in the way that they have handled events in the Middle East, accounting for the awful terrorist events that haunt us to this day.

We look back at the Bush/Blair legacy and have every right to be fearful of politicians manipulated by military and business interests.

But we seem to be heading backwards – military parades belong to Cold War Russia and the failure of communism. A puppet in The White House is for a TV box-set, not real life?

Season finale Homeland tonight. At least that’s fiction – and yet the twists and turns appear more believable than watching the news.

I find it all disturbing.

Is winter coming?

Posted in General, Morality | Leave a comment

Why I’m pulling out of tomorrow’s Manchester Marathon

With less than 24 hours notice (and after many a conversation in the last week about “just doing it”) I’ve reluctantly decided to withdraw from tomorrow’s Manchester Marathon, pushing my next attempt back to Liverpool at the end of May.

When I share with you the list of reasons I can already hear your reaction but the head and the heart do battle about these things.

Reasons why I should withdraw:

  • When I’m in full training I set myself the goal of running 250km a month – I’ve run 233km so far this year;
  • Back in January I suffered a very sore achilles that took me off the road for a week and saw me frantically administering Ibuprofen gel to the affected area;
  • From there I went off to the Caribbean for 2 weeks sailing (no training);
  • Back for a week I managed just one 6k run at a very slow pace;
  • Then off to Oman for 3 weeks of wild-camping (no training);
  • Back from Oman a month ago today and, since my return, a smattering of 10k’s that started slowly at 01:15 and have improved to 01:02 but
  • The last 2 Saturdays I have trained a half-marathon – the first was an 02:34 (off road), the second (last week) was an 02:22 (on-road) and at the end of both of them I have been completely knackered – you would have had to kidnap my kids and demand a medal to get me to run/walk the circuit again;
  • The last 4 weeks at work have been demandingly mental;
  • The last week I have had 5 days on the road and this morning I’m experiencing one of my periodic burn-outs (maybe a couple of times a year) where my body and mind feel as if they have been kicked overnight by a party of Clockwork Orange skinheads;
  • The last few days my achilles seems to be getting inflamed again.;
  • I’m 63 and need to listen to my body;
  • I have 23 (?) marathons under my belt, nothing to prove and plenty more time to run again. I’m not buddying or raising funds for a charity;
  • I have already done more this year than some folks do in a lifetime.

OK – I know – I said “obvs”.

Reasons why I should show up tomorrow.

  • I’m male
  • I’m stupid
  • I’ve told people I’m going to do it


On reflection – I’m going to invest tomorrow morning in redesigning my training schedule for 28th May 2017 and the Rock and Roll Liverpool – a cracking day out.

This post is my catharsis – thank you for reading and, thus, helping vicariously.

Posted in Health, perfect imperfection, running | Leave a comment



There’s been some comment on both sides of the Atlantic about the fact that I haven’t yet disconnected from the web, even though I’m on vacation.

Perhaps the most significant difference in the world of travel has been the arrival of wifi across large parts of the known world.

Our first sailing holiday in the BVI was 8 years ago.

When you arrived on Tortola insofar as staying in touch with home, that was it – internet access unheard of in the capital Roadtown (except for dingy internet cafes), in our marina, Sopers Hole and during the trip.

Anchoring off a beach and going ashore for an early evening beer was the opportunity to chat to the bar-keeper, each other and fellow sailors, often with an American TV channel blaring out NFL football or CNN news.

Our second trip, 5 years ago, changed as we discovered most of those same beach bars, wooden or not, had limited wifi access and so the evening pre-dinner drinks were devoted to getting intermittently connected with home (and in some cases work) through iPads.

Here we are in 2017 with the island covered in wifi and although we don’t set sail until tonight, I’m expecting plenty of web access as we make our way up and down Drake’s Channel over the next 10 days.

It’s predictable at this point to bemoan the loss of inter-personal relationships between families and friends, personified so well in the movie Captain Fantastic (if you haven’t seen it – please do – a superb modern fable on the price of progress).

I seem to recall my own previous blog posts expressing dismay at observing children and adult restaurant diners mesmerised by their tablets and smartphones.

However, there comes a point in time where we have to embrace change.

The web isn’t going anywhere, and the advances in connectivity and device design mean that I can communicate in real time with fellow business consultants in Sydney, Australia, with my eldest daughter studying for her Masters in a Cambridge coffee bar, with my clients who are always asking questions – all from the balcony of our AirBnB villa in Belle Vue, as we watch a beautiful sunrise across the islands.

And you know what?

That’s OK.

Let me give you some reasons why:

  • for the umpteenth time in the last few weeks – I’m a freelancer – and the business connections and clients with whom I have communicated (on the train to Gatwick on Tuesday evening and here in Tortola for the last 2 days) are the people who are indirectly paying for me to have fun now – I appreciate them
  • I love my work and so, to quote Isadore Sharpe, founder of The Four Seasons Hotel Group “if you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life”
  • I know when to stop – Annie and I were up at 05:30 this morning and whilst I’m sat here thinking and typing, she is enjoying a favourite hobby and doing some craftwork – we are chatting as we do our thing. We will stop in an hour or so and enjoy breakfast with our fellow travellers Willie and Xandra Maceachen before packing to go sailing
  • I will probably stay connected as we travel over the next 10 days and YES I will be posting photographs to Facebook via Instagram, because it’s fun so to do

We complained when shops started opening on Sunday.

We complained about the microwave.

We complained about 100 TV channels instead of 3.

We complain about the web and the integration of devices in to every aspect of our daily lives.

They all have the same characteristics – a blessing when used properly and a curse when abused.

The problem isn’t the march of technology.

The problem is the self-discipline of we who use it.

We are an addictive species by nature, we have to exercise caution in the choice of our addictions, rather then preaching about giving them all up. That isn’t going to happen.

I’ll be using the web over the next 14 days, when it suits me.

If I do get around to blogging or posting photographs, I hope you enjoy them – I know I will.

Posted in Gadgets, Happiness, Holiday, Travel | Leave a comment

Ready, steady, go!

Glcksklee, Klee, Silvester, Glcksbringer, Willkommen 2017

For many of us, first proper day back at work tomorrow – the party being over.

It occurred to me as a jogged through a frosty Dunham Massey Country Park this morning, that we have a choice as to how we see the responsibilities that will return when we next wake for the year ahead.

There have been many times in my life where “first day back” has seemed as if I was standing at the bottom of a rock face, daunted by the challenge of having to do it all over again, perhaps aiming at a higher summit, carrying heavier equipment, wondering if I will have the physicality and the nerve to make it to the top.

My sleep the night before has been restless, my mind full of stuff.

On fewer occasions, I’ve been excited by the prospect of the new year, seeing it as more of a launch from a safe harbour into ocean currents, ready to follow a planned course that will ride the wind and waves to a new horizon.

I see myself starting 2017 in the second mode:

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

Brutus may not have ultimately succeeded in his own quests but we can all learn from his sentiment, so eloquently summarised by The Bard.

I’m ready to set sail on a full sea – join me!

Posted in business, General, Happiness, Health | Leave a comment

Christmas week in The Bunker


I’m a neat freak.

This is possibly the quietest week of the working year and an opportunity to spend some time thinking, planning and preparing for the first quarter of 2017.

In the run up to Christmas I created a new task list in Wunderlist entitled “Xmas projects” and started to pile in there all of those “around to it” jobs that never seem to get done in the hurly burly of “normal” work.

My next 6 working days will be about addressing that list – just as well as there were 27 items on it by yesterday morning.

I spent some time in The Bunker yesterday and my very first completed task was to create a personal cash flow forecast for the year ahead – the MOAS (mother of all spreadsheets) to which I refer most Sunday mornings, updating my cash flow position from internet banking and projecting personal expenses for the full year.

It is very cathartic for me to look at our personal expenses a year ahead and make plans for accelerated debt reduction, holidays and any other events and projects that require funding.

One thing is for certain – a significant driver for me at the moment is to make our household completely free of debt ASAP and plans are well on course.

In the afternoon I completed a couple of unusual tasks that may seem to have little bearing on business planning but psychologically mean a lot.

The first was to fix and tidy the top drawer in a small 2-drawer bureau that sits next to my desk. I’m paper-free at home – all documents are scanned into Evernote and shredded.

My working desk has no drawers but the top drawer of the bureau is full of odds and sods like a stapler, cellotape, pen refills, envelopes, batteries and goodness knows what else.

Over time it had become so full of junk that the bottom had warped out of place. I’ve been staring at this untidy drawer for a year – yesterday it was emptied out, cleaned, repaired and returned to showroom condition.

Big mental tick.

Next – my clothes wardrobe upstairs – crammed full of shirts, sweaters and shoes I will never wear again (and, in some cases, haven’t worn for 5 years).

One hour of focused and ruthless effort filled 3 large green garden refuse bags and they will be making their way to the local charity shop in the village in the next day or so.

The 4 pairs of almost new Levis that I can no longer get into will either be recycled to my sons or sold on e-bay.

I now have a very tidy wardrobe and a cornucopia of assorted hangers.

Yes – the remaining sweaters and shirts are hung in a certain order.

Tidy desk, tidy wardrobe – a premature physical Spring Clean that prepares me for my mindful voyage into the task list that will occupy me for the rest of this week and into the next.

Posted in General, Happiness, Holiday | 1 Comment

Saturday morning riff

Think Different

I knew I’d had a good night when I woke up at 05:00 this morning, flat on my back in bed, all the bedroom lights on and still wearing my glasses – at least I had undressed before I got into bed (I know – too much information).

The refreshingly strange thing is that I didn’t pass out on the bed last night because I was intoxicated by alcohol but rather by the sheer pleasure of conversation with my dinner companions at the end of a busy working week.

The Edgbaston Boutique Hotel and Cocktail Lounge is, by the way, a hell of a place to wake up in – the style is a fascinating cross between 20’s Boardwalk Empire art deco and 19th Century French bordello – my room (photos already posted on Facebook) is the size of a squash court with a very elegant bath plonked in front of the bed as well as a superb walk-in monsoon shower off to the side (in which I regained some semblance of consciousness this morning).

One of those hotel rooms that you enter and think “bugger, I’m here alone”.

Back to my dinner conversation.

I don’t do lads nights out – never have.

As someone who prefers solitude in most departments of my life (running my own businesses and marathons), I’ve never been a team sport player and I guess that those who have been in business with me would probably add that I’m not much of a team player at company ownership, even though I get good feedback from support teams on my leadership skills.

The people who work for me love it, the people I work for seem to appreciate it but the people who work with me frequently get themselves exasperated at my performance and behaviour.

Pretty much every attempt I’ve ever made at co-creating capitalist, profitable enterprises has ended in mutual indifference (that being the opposite of love).

I think the reason I’m having such a good time with Sandy and Tino in building 7explorers is that we see our remote expeditionary company as a labour of love and legacy and not as a way to generate piles of filthy lucre. That was demonstrated on Monday last when we stood at the strategic cliff edge and looked at the distant view of a bigger business, then joined hands, turned around and walked away, preferring a smaller company in which everyone can have a better experience.

It would be delusional to point back at all of my unsuccessful partnerships and allocate blame to the other parties – the only common denominator was ME. Perhaps ME isn’t so good at picking THEM.

There is now a standing instruction to my family, friends and colleagues to poke me in the eye with sharp object if I’m tempted to get involved in any more JV’s, partnerships and big ideas. I’ve worked hard this last few years to regain my independence and solitude and I need to stay focused on that.

(except when I break the rule – perfect imperfectionist remember?)

Back to the lad’s nights out.

I’ve always preferred female company.

I always have more girl-friends than boy-friends (if you get my drift). I’ve always been more comfortable with the pace, tone and content of conversations with female company. It’s liberating that, in the absence of a sexual agenda, there is nothing to prove, no win:lose or win:win.

At the risk of saying the right thing the wrong way, I equally enjoy the same aspects of my conversations with my gay friends. This time in the absence of either a sexual or warrior agenda.

Last night was a pleasant surprise. My initial reluctance to attend at all was less important than the friendship with my host and, after a few minutes of quiet observation, it quickly became apparent that we weren’t going to invest the evening in the usual male cycle of, in no particular order:

  • fast cars
  • recreational or broadcast sport (football or rugby frequently being a tribal identification that can divide a group for the evening)
  • participatory endurance sport
  • alcohol preferences and tolerance
  • breast sizes and sexual conquests (mind you, nobody male in dentistry is talking about sexual attraction at the moment – dangerous territory)
  • business success
  • outraged ex-wives

Now I have to admit that, looking back over the evening, all of these subjects did feature, if fleetingly, in the conversation but what made the dinner at the Michelin-star Simpsons so enjoyable was that the 80/20 rule was reversed and we only spent 20% of our time on that male-bonding/positioning crap.

The 80% was quite wonderful, especially made so by 69-year old Stephen, our retired former barrister, QC and judge (with a speciality in medical negligence cases) who entertained us royally with excerpts from his remarkable life story, including summiting Annapurna in his 30’s, collecting antiquarian books and ownership of a vineyard.

When he and I shared a love of the works of Haruki Murakami and Orhan Pamuk, my evening was made.

Notwithstanding Stephen’s tour de force, the rest of the ensemble chipped in their respective two-penny worth’s and a cracking time was had by all, with much laughter, the most amazing fine dining and a wine selection generously chosen and contributed by my friend Ajay Mahan (wealth manager and sports agency owner) after a 10-year gap since we last spoke.

Enjoyable though this was, when the gentlemen retired to the garden at 01:00 to enjoy cigars and a selection of spirits, I knew it was 3 hours past my bedtime and that I was in danger of crossing that line where I detach my central nervous system and start drinking for the sake of staying up and staying up for the sake of drinking.

That has ended up in hospital before now and I think I’m finally learning.

So I left them to it and retired to my solitary and spectacular penthouse suite – which, of course, brings us nicely back to where I started, waking up with my specs on.

I don’t do lad’s nights out – but I’m glad I did that one.

Posted in 7explorers, business, Independence, Team building | Leave a comment

Working so hard that you forget how to rest

October has established itself as the busiest month in my working calendar (and, it seems, that of many of my friends and clients who run their own businesses).

My new business, Coach Barrow, launched on 1st September, the new web site on 19th September and since then my support team and I have been thrilled with the level of interest in what we do and simultaneously daunted at the challenge of fitting everything in.

Our new business made a profit in month #1 and the prognosis is good for the months ahead but Phillippa is sending me shouty emails (they’re the ones typed IN CAPITALS) to say that I have to be careful what I say “yes” to in consideration of our overall diary management.

Of course, it’s always a danger to say that in public because:

  • it tempts fate and
  • it sounds a bit cocky and
  • it sounds as if you are too busy to take new business enquiries, leading potential new clients to question whether to make contact

I don’t do myself any favours by having time of my life on Facebook and other social channels, further leading the observer to conclude that I’m all over the place and, therefore, too busy.

I was chatting to a client this week about the dangers of “over-trading” – a term to describe what happens when a business (or a consultant) takes on more work than they have the time and resources to deliver.

Many moons ago I accused a client’s accountant of that malaise and he was so outraged that he threatened legal proceedings (even though it was blatantly obvious that he was committing exactly the offence suggested).

One of the benefits of being truly a one-man band who delivers his work face to face is that it’s hard to overtrade as there are only so many hours in the day for client meetings.

Some consultants try to solve this problem in a variety of ways:

  • creating bigger audiences (workshops and mastermind groups) to leverage time and money across more people
  • creating e-commerce sites populated with downloads, audio and video
  • taking on associate consultants

and yet few of these initiatives, if any, last the course.

I’ve tried them all (as many of you know) and, after years of periodic misery and frustration, have ended up back where I started, delivering my calling one client at a time, face to face – and loving it.

I’m not over-trading, the clients will tell you that my work gets done in a timely fashion – I’m simply having a blast and sharing it.

I’ll never make a fortune but I will make a living and have a life, except in October.

What is it about October?

  • potential clients back from their summer holidays and realising that they have problems that need solving?
  • dental trade shows, conferences and dinners?
  • the end of the calendar year approaching?
  • the nights beginning to draw in and the weather getting colder?

Yet again, I’m right in the middle of it all and, this weekend, enjoying 2 rare consecutive days at home (with a half-marathon thrown in tomorrow morning).

I’m looking at another 5 weeks of this full-on stuff until we take a cottage holiday in Northumberland and I can get off the grid and plan to sleep, rest, read, walk, eat, drink and sleep some more.

Having worked so hard for what seems like weeks on end, I’m struggling today to slow down and do nothing.

I sit down on the sofa with my current novel (Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie – part #2 of a mind-expanding scifi trilogy), read a chapter and then pop up and wander around the house looking for things to do, which have so far included:

  • clearing up all the domestic paper that arrived last week
  • cleaning the hard drive on my MacBook
  • two loads of laundry (ironing will be tomorrow watching Episode 3 of The Fall)
  • looking at Apple Watches online (I know, I know – I don’t need one)
  • clearing the dog crap out of the back garden
  • two dishwasher loads of pots and pans
  • a trip to Sainsbo’s to pick up some toiletries
  • writing this blog

I think I’d better go and have a nap – early dinner with visiting friends later.

Or should I hoover the Bunker?

Posted in General, Happiness, Health, Holiday | Leave a comment

More on daily huddles


An interesting moment for me at Friday’s BDA Whitening Day was asking an audience of over 50 “how many of you conduct a daily huddle and go through the day-book before the first patient arrives, so as to highlight opportunities for sales and referrals?”

Two hands went up – dare I say it – one of them a former CB client.

So the rest of the audience didn’t think a huddle was practically possible or commercially worthwhile.

In a world in which dentists are increasingly throwing money at hair-brained and unproven marketing gimmicks, it seems that a good conversation with the team at the start of every day isn’t a very good idea.

It works OK for Pret a Manger, Apple, Hilton, your average New Zealand international rugby team and most of my award-winning practices that are having their best ever year with inspired and motivated teams – but not for most dentists.

That’s OK – just saying.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The extra miles


Followers of my social media channels will know that on Thursday I had the privilege of joining Patrick Allen from Henry Schein and small group of intrepid dental folks for marathon #388/401 with Ben Smith, who is completing 401 marathons in 401 consecutive days to raise £250,000 for charities that support those who have suffered as a result of bullying.

You can read all about Ben and his wonderful achievements HERE.

Ironically, I’m taking a day off training today as I’m possibly the most burned out I’ve been this year – simply an accumulation of early starts, late nights and a busy calendar (read yesterday’s blog). My usual long training run on a Saturday morning is beyond my capacity to imagine – and I’m sufficiently experienced in these matters to know when to stop.

But I have, this morning, entered for Ben’s final challenge to all of us – and that is to join him during the week between 2nd and 9th October (his final day) in running our own personal marathon, in however many stages, at whatever pace during that week.

The entry ticket is £26.20 (get it?), 100% of which will go to the two causes he is supporting – and the finishers will get an official marathon medal to treasure or add to their collection.

So unexpectedly, my 24th marathon will not be in Dublin on 30th October – it will be here in leafy Cheshire on 9th October.

That will be the first day back at home after the BDIA (normally another burn out recovery day) but I’m going to commit here and now to making the distance.

I’m not going to ask you to send me money – I think we are all sometimes overwhelmed with charitable donation requests – but I am going to ask you to follow and encourage me on the day and maybe, just maybe, consider supporting Ben by doing the same challenge yourself – remember 26.2 miles in as many stages as you like during that week.

You can enter by following the link above to his web site.

My plan will be 4 x 10k runs spread through the day at about 1hr 15mins each, with an extra 2k on the final circuit to make up the distance – so I’ll be completing hopefully within a 12 hour timescale – planning my slowest ever marathon time – because this one is simply about taking part.

Incidentally I’m entry #695 on the web site this morning so we have collectively raised over £18,000 already


14355549_872693912862476_1346594746471709366_nIf you want to join me in Hale for the day I’d be delighted to have someone to chat to and I’m sure that Annie won’t mind providing us with periodic refreshments.

Even if you can’t physically join me – why not consider virtually joining Ben?


Posted in Happiness, Health, Heroes, running | Leave a comment