The Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring many challenges. As the world goes virtual, the role of public gathering places will need addressing. The Town Square must again become the centre of local discourse. If not, the 4IR may become known as the Period of Polarisation.

From Wikipedia

“A town square (or square, plaza, public square, city square, urban square, or piazza) is an open public space[1] commonly found in the heart of a traditional town used for community gatherings. Related concepts are the civic center, the market square and the village green.”

Piazza della Signoria, in Florence, Italy, a historic example of a traditional public square

Announcement of the establishment of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs on Congress Square in 1918


Town squares will become contested during the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Technology will permeate every part of daily life. As it does, the need for physical gathering places will rise. The risk is that such public spaces become battlegrounds.

Urban planners need to pay close attention, particularly in England. The virtual world is changing behaviours. These changes are spilling out into the real-world streets. [1]

Class system

Since the Edwardian period, England has neglected public spaces. Public squares that encourage the mixing of cultures are rare. The Georgians began the trend to fence off public spaces and streets. The policy was steeped in the British class system. In recent years, the privatisation of public space has accelerated.

Sample of English public spaces

In Southern continental Europe, the opposite is the case. Town squares are the centre of the entire community. The design, construction and purpose are all geared towards civic pride and participation.

Sample of Spanish public spaces

Spanish Squares

In Spain, all urban planning revolves around public space. There are plenty of elaborate squares and boulevards to be happened upon. Most though are of simple design and materials. They work for all occasions. Organised events, family gatherings, meeting friends or eating a sandwich. Finding a public space with a fence or a locked gate will be a challenge in Spain.

Some squares have a cafe or restaurant bordering the parameter; many don’t. It is unusual to see a cafe in the middle of a town square. Modern Spanish libraries and museums spill out onto public squares. Public spaces in Spain are welcoming and well used because of their simplicity. [2]


The two photo galleries above show the public realm where people live. These are not tourist areas or places of commerce. Public spaces are there, in theory, for the local community and visitors to use and enjoy. The public realm in Spain sits at the very heart of a community. Unless there is a commercial reason, public space in England is a low priority.


Town Squares can be a metaphor for what is happening in the virtual world. Some people wish to see them controlled with restrictions on who has access. Others want them completely open, freeing and welcoming to all. [3] [4] [5]


Recent history has demonstrated how the virtual world can spill out into the real world.

Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, is the most prominent example. Protests in 2013 began online, discussing government corruption and policies. WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts began to grow and to spread. Soon these virtual spaces were not enough. People had to come together. Tens of hundreds of thousands of people started filling Tahrir square. Night after night protests continued until Egypt’s President Mubarak toppled.

Similar scenes with different results played out across the Arab world. These 2013 protests became known as the Arab Spring.

Although not on the same scale, most areas of the developed world have seen similar protests. The rise of the online protest hashtag has been instrumental. #MeToo and #blm (#blacklivesmatter) are the most successful to date.


Britain’s exit from the European Union was a direct result of online campaigning. What followed has been years of disruption, strife and polarisation. The struggle between the Leave and Remain camps manifested physically in London’s Parliament square. The argument has continued right up to the present day. [6]

Brexit supporter carrying Great Britain cardboard cutout, Parliament Square.

Rise of technology

As life moves further online, the need for real-world gathering forums will increase. Failure of authorities to not plan for this change could lead to dire consequences.

Reasons for people to engage within the physical world has been declining since the 1990s.

The internet changed the world of work, allowing employees to be more distributed. The onset of the pandemic brought a further scattering of the workforce as people work from home. Retail has been shifting steadily online. Restaurant food can now be delivered directly to the family dining table. The world of supermarkets without cashiers is upon us. Online gaming transformed from a table gathering to global competitions. The gaming industry now dwarfs, by revenue, the movie and music industries combined. [7]

There are plenty of Apps that anyone can access for free. However, to receive the full benefit requires buying a subscription. Public squares in England surrounded by cafes and shops are similar. To fully partake in the space requires a certain amount of purchasing power.

Two-tier England

English Extremes

Above photos from the Argent development, Kings Cross, London (2020). Below, public squares managed by Great Yarmouth borough council (2021).

In Spain, public squares are places where people congregate, play and celebrate. The public realm encourages the community to come together for serendipitous moments. Spending power is not relevant except in the most exclusive of shopping areas.

Public forum, with permanent outdoor screen, multilevel seating, no barriers. Eivissa, Ibiza, Spain, 2022. [4]

In England, the opposite is too often the case. There is heavy reliance on the private sector to create public amenity spaces. It is another aspect of Britain’s two-tier society. Money buys access.

Fenced public spaces, ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs and other rules are commonplace around England.


Public space needs to become the bridge between the virtual and physical worlds. Some may believe this is about introducing VR – virtual reality. VR will soon be playing a much larger role, but this is more about the physical spaces themselves.

The layout, ambience and purpose of the public domain in England should be along Spanish lines.

Free to access town squares must have 5G connectivity. Multipurpose seating and tables that encourage gatherings, games, meetings and work. Architectural flair can overcome issues around Britain’s inclement weather. The public realm needs to be attractive to all cultures, ages and abilities.

Without change, England risks further polarisation. Addressing the poor quality of places for public gatherings is now urgent.


The internet has slowly eroded the need for people having to meet fellow citizens. The pandemic has further reduced real-world interactions. Technology seeping deeper into everyday life raises the potential of a more isolated society. Free to access public spaces is critical for communities to stay in touch in the real world.

The political discourse around local issues cannot be online alone. To allow this will lead to unhealthy debate and will undermine stable democracy. Views are best challenged and debated in the open, in places where alternative voices can be heard.

Open, free, real-world forums, like town squares, are the best spaces for such discussion to happen. Being open will also allay some fears around privacy, censorship and freedom of expression.

Britain is in the grip of a mental health crisis, with loneliness and a sense of isolation increasing. Social media gets some of the blame. Not much is written about the lack of public amenity spaces.

England needs to rethink its approach to the public realm. Design should encourage serendipity and random conversations. Learning from Spain’s public spaces would be a good start.

We are in the fifth decade of the internet. It will be one that will see the virtual world and the physical world merge. Successful societies this decade will be the ones with the most engaging public realm.

Introducing technology into these spaces is the next phase around the world. Creating buzzing ambient public spaces will be essential for community lifeblood. Animated public squares will also attract the next generation of innovators.

England needs to rethink the public realm urgently! This is where ‘levelling up’ has to begin.**

John M

All images John McKiernan ©2022

** Levelling Up. A Conservative government manifesto pledge. What does it mean?

[1] see Public Space

[2] see Eivissa

[3] see Censorship

[4] see Apple Privacy

[5] see Leiston and Sizewell

[6] see Brexit

[7] see AI Supermarkets


Apple focusing on privacy is proving to be beneficial for customers. Unfortunately, the high cost of products deters many from owning a device. This brings into focus the price of online security. Is there a two-tier internet when it comes to privacy?

Internet consumer models

There are three distinct consumer facing internet business models; advertising, donation and pay.

  • Facebook is the most recognisable free at the point of use Internet product. It derives the majority of its income from advertisers and its content from users.
  • Donation models rely on users support through donating cash or personal time. Examples include online news sites, not-for-profit and charitable services.
  • And there are straightforward payment models.

A few brands stick to a single business model; Wikipedia is the best known. Many of the most famous online brands run on a combination of these models. Google, as an example, combines subscription and advertising for its free service.

Apple model

Apple developed a different business approach. It built the company on quality hardware providing internet and downloadable services. Advertising forms a small percentage of its total revenue. The core income derives from selling computers. Charging App developers for access to the Apple ecosystem has also proved lucrative. Apple is one of the world’s most valuable companies, with dollar reserves in the billions.

For its supporters, the success of the brand is about quality, both of the devices and security. Unlike the advertising model, Apple does not sell customer or user data. Privacy sits at the centre of the business model. For Apple loyalists, it’s the most important aspect of owning an Apple over another product.

Two-tier internet

An Apple laptop can be three or four times the cost of other laptops on the market. Those who cannot afford an Apple device can find security cumbersome. Protecting data involves purchasing security software. Enabling security requires a degree of understanding of the device settings. It can be a daunting task.

Creating and maintaining security settings is complex. To keep on top of all the threats is time-consuming. Ignoring security leaves users open to great peril. Risks like someone stealing bank login details is commonly understood. Longer-term risks are less appreciated. Companies build profiles on individuals over an extended period based on internet usage. Browsing habits, fitness data, travel apps and social media posts all provide aspects of a person’s profile. Over years, how much will this data determine the cost of medical care, insurance or where a person may live?

Apple Warning Pop-up

There is a real risk of commercial exploitation of data in the future. Unchecked, this will be much worse than anything being experienced at the time of writing.

There is also the reality of what a hostile government could do? Brexit has already shown the power of data manipulation (see Cambridge Analytica reports). Profiling could be used to curtail fundamental liberties in the future. This is already evident in some countries. [1]

Apple has long recognised these risks. In response, it is actively seeking to protect, at least in part, customers. But what about those who cannot afford Apple products? Who will be looking out for their privacy? Their protection? 

Market solution

As it stands, the market is encouraged to protect people from these risks. Except the market tends to serve the wealthier at the expense of the most vulnerable.


The scale of Apple now allows it to dictate how all others within its ecosystem behaves. The company also has increased power outside of its ecosystem. The board of Apple recognised that customers were becoming concerned about privacy. Its response was to introduce a raft of measures to reduce app owners ability to harvest users data. Apple’s response needs to be replicated by governments and institutions. All citizens need the protections Apple is seeking to provide its customers. Data protection should be regardless of personal financial circumstances.

John M

[1] see Brexit Britain


The Dickensian living conditions of thousands trapped in Great Yarmouth is tragic. Life is more akin to an open prison surrounded by walls made from poverty. The up-and-coming holiday resort the council is trying to promote is a long way off.

Housing conditions

I have spent time in many towns and cities where living conditions are inadequate.

London had, and still has, some atrocious dwellings with awful landlords. Margate on the Kent coast has improved since the grim experiences witnessed in 2011. I would visit ‘homes’ with several mattresses butting up to one another on the floor, sleeping many people in a single room. The rooms sometimes had no glass in the window frames. Plastic made a poor substitute for keeping the rain out.

The worst conditions I have experienced were in the slums of Mumbai, India. Known as Bombay when in 1995, the Mumbai slums had families sharing one or two rooms. Larger families would turn the beds as restaurants will turn over their turntables. As one person gets up and another takes the bed.

I have seen pockets of bed turning in London. More so in Margate. In Great Yarmouth, it appeared almost systemic. The approach to people living in housing in multiple occupancies (HMO).

Chicken pluckers

In Great Yarmouth, people gather on street corners throughout the day. For the most part, they keep their heads down and to themselves. At certain times they will board buses, and off they go.

These people are the chicken pluckers. Low paid, majority immigrant workforce from a range of countries and ethnicities. Tenants of HMO landlords, these people work in the poultry farms across east Norfolk. The largest operator is Bernard Matthews.

Packed double-decker buses ferry the pluckers out to the factories. Watching these buses, it was noticeable there was no social distancing. Some passengers wore masks, others didn’t. These factories made national news early in the pandemic. Covid-19 spread quickly in the tightly packed working environments.

A new poultry plant which looks set to create at least 650 full-time jobs has been given the green light.

Beecles and Bungay Journal, Thomas Chapman, 17 April 2019, with accompanying photo below

Vested interests

For most people, regeneration of deteriorating buildings and public spaces means a general improvement in the living conditions of local people (leaving aside arguments of gentrification) and general uplift to the ambience of a place. In Great Yarmouth, the small clique of people who own large numbers of properties within Great Yarmouth, keeping the status quo, HMOs packed with people or families with low income is probably more financially lucrative than having an influx of higher income residents with spending power that the local businesses are desperate for. Generally speaking, having higher income earners comes with the headache of questions and challenges. They will soon begin to ask why are the neighbouring houses housing 10, 20 or even 30 people when there are only 4 bedrooms? How are there a dozen adults from different families living above one shop?

We were shown one premises by local businessman C, who proudly showed off the wall heaters he had recently installed in the 4 floor hovel he was hoping we might be interested in buying. The desired minimum auction price was set at around £130,000 and he told us how the ‘apartments’ generate around £18,000 per year from the four tenants and shop. From an investment point of view it may well have been a good return, from a human point of view it was a firetrap. A narrow staircase led up to the hovels where not even a proper kitchen could be seen; two spaces had only a tiny area with a microwave – I now struggle to remember if there was even a sink! The ‘apartment’ was less than 25 square metres and this included the toilet space, the beds took up the majority of the rooms, and none had the curtains open. The places were musty, and a heavy dampness that comes from habitats that have no ventilation.

This visit and other conversations with local landlords revealed a very depressing character of the average owner of large tracts of housing stock. These men, although there are probably landladies as equally as bad, should have been left behind in the 1970s rather than thriving in 2020. Charles Dickens would have had rich material had he met these local pillars of the community whilewriting a follow up to David Copperfield. It soon became clear that most of these landlords had impunity from any regulation as they are so embedded into the town, probably for generations. The interweaving of families, friendships and other forms of relationship means there is little if any rules being enforced. On top of this, there is a clear despising of the English on lower income for the position they find themselves and anyone foreign is deemed a lesser being it seems. It is a very sorry state. 

Examples of housing in Great Yarmouth

The following photos provide examples of some of the housing stock in Great Yarmouth where people reside. We do not know, and have not knowingly met any of the landlords/landladies who own these properties.

Snaps of just a few of the many houses and public spaces in Great Yarmouth, (2020-2021)

The council

There were, supposedly, some new Landlord regulations to encourage property improvement. Enforcement of regulations were already delayed when Covid hit, allowing the council a get out-clause from any inspections. The borough council found itself subject to a BBC news report about the appalling housing conditions of council tenants. There is a general lack of care that pervades the town beyond sweeping the streets.

But why?

Lots of reasons can be attributed to why there is a mentality to allow Great Yarmouth to deteriorate. Most of the arguments centre around economic activity or lack of it. However this is a red herring (pun intended – see Time and Tide post). Before the pandemic, Great Yarmouth had many businesses and infrastructure to expand and grow more commerce. There was the offshore and a healthy legal, accountancy and support services economy. For the arts and creative industries Great Yarmouth could be a Mecca, with large warehouses, big window buildings, good light and plenty of open space.

The reason for its decline in my view has been greedy landlords and an inept council and local political system. Ultimately people in poorer situations are so vulnerable that they often feel it is better to keep quiet than make a fuss, as this could risk the little they have. Rarely do struggling people have the option to just pack up and leave, so are at the mercy of landlords, unless protected by wider society. We heard many horrible stories while in Great Yarmouth, one example being a heavily pregnant lady being evicted at midnight. The police, from what I have managed to discover, do their best in difficult circumstances to help, but the tools of policing are limited when it comes to civil disputes. Landlords also know that the government will often subsidise or pick up rent for the lowest paid and that little or no attention is paid to how many people live at one address.

My London, online, Marcus Wratten, 21 August 2021

Will it change?

There is a small chance that the hype around people all rushing from the cities post pandemic will bring about a change in seaside resorts like Great Yarmouth.  Indeed it might.  Ten years on, Margate does seem to be slipping from the clutches of families and vested interests that stifled progress for many decades.  However, the planning for this was not done by the local council but external public bodies, quite often in defiance of the local councillors and officers.    Great Yarmouth does not benefit from being in the London orbit and the challenges that brings.  

People in Great Yarmouth have been beaten into submission. There is little to speak of in the sense of community, everyone tries to keep their heads down.  The council is secretive and it’s track record on delivering anything substantial is exceptionally poor.  The decisions they are making with tens of millions of pounds of public money are appalling and little if any of this money will make even an iota of difference to the situation the present population finds itself in, beyond being able to go for a swim.  My view for Great Yarmouth’s future remains grim and the outlook for most of the most deprived, glum indeed. 

John M

Header Image: Exhibition photograph of Great Yarmouth Row displayed at the Time and Tide Museum. Photo: John McKiernan, 22 August 2021


Hot on the heels of the deprivation and poverty in Great Yarmouth league of crimes against the local people comes the food violence, a bombardment of high salt, high sugar, high fat, low nutrient ready made, mainly processed food wrapped up in expensive marketing packaging that is already causing a major health crisis.


I am back in the house where I stayed in Great Yarmouth from January 2020 until May 2021. Since I left there have been periodic visits to check on the place and clear the doorway of printed flyers. The photo above shows the fast food advertising that has come through the letterbox in less than a month.

Even before Covid, it was difficult to find healthy food in Great Yarmouth outside of supermarkets. There were, and still are some good restaurants serving quality meals, however on the casual dining side, even buying a fresh salad can prove an impossible task. The seafront is awash with stalls selling doughnuts, candy floss (cotton candy), cheap ice cream and an array of multicoloured sweets that can only be bought, it seems, in British seaside towns. None of these items as one off treats are particularly damaging, however when they become a staple part of the diet, serious consequences are likely. In Great Yarmouth, it is pretty clear that large numbers of people of all ages consume these treats as food.

Health consequences

The result of such poor food availability and consumption has been increasing the pressures on the health services of Norfolk. In 2015, Norfolk Public Health wrote;

The areas of Norfolk that have the highest levels of adult obesity (between 27.6% – 30.5% of the population are obese) are mostly centred around the urban areas of Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn

Childhood overweight and obesity, similar to adult obesity, is centred around the urban areas of the most deprived areas Norwich, Kings Lynn and Great Yarmouth.

Tackling Obesity – A Health Needs Assessment for Norfolk. Norfolk Public Health, 2015

Despite the warnings for a number of years, the rate of unhealthy eating continues to grow, with Norwich Evening News recently reporting;

Nationally there were a record 1,022,040 hospital admissions for obesity-related treatment in England in 2019/20, up 17pc from the year before.North Norfolk, Norwich and South Norfolk saw increases of less than 10pc, with Great Yarmouth reporting a 17pc increase in admissions

Norwich Evening News, Clarissa Place, 28 May 2021

Screenshot Obesity: fFat man paddling in the sea at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Postcard, early 20th century. Found on 22 August 2021.

Screenshot Obesity: Fat man paddling in the sea at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Postcard, early 20th century. Found on 22 August 2021.

Britain in general has had a poor diet from at least World War Two up until the 1990s when a revolution began to take hold and a new generation of chefs, many trained in Europe, began to emerge, congregating around London and the south-east. With it came more experimental cooking and techniques, particularly using a wider range of vegetables leading to the present rapid growth in vegan restaurants and food options. Yet this has all but passed Great Yarmouth by.

My hopes that a new, pretty trendy looking space that has opened this summer would be the beginning of the end to the bad casual food offering were dashed on Friday evening when I was served the box pictured below, at a cost of £9.00. I will leave it to the reader to decide what it is.

Dish served as a wrap, Great Yarmouth seafront, 20 August 2021.

Economic consequence

There is a second economic consequence for the town beyond the financial burden to the local health service. Without a strong food offer, attracting visitors with higher disposable income, particularly from the big cities, to not only visit but to part with their cash is almost impossible.

People have become more conscious of the relationship between what they eat and health. Parents are better educated about the effects of high sugar, salt and saturated fats on their young, and children themselves are becoming more aware of the downside to eating too many sweets, snacks and treats. For these kinds of families there is little choice in Great Yarmouth, so they either leave to head elsewhere for food or not visit at all. This is a loss not only to the town’s hospitality sector but also to retail and hotels as people tend not to shop for pleasure while hungry. Throughout my time in Great Yarmouth, there appeared to be a void between my talking about this and anyone locally understanding the connection.

Free choice

Cutting across much of this discussion can come the accusation of free choice, people can eat what they like. it’s their body. As with the argument for Brexit, there is a deliberate obfuscating of different arguments to justify a reduction in choice and opportunity under a falsehood that it will offer more choice and opportunity! As with Brexit, the reason the food is generally so poor in the town is because of vested interests. There is little or no care for improving the offer because there is no pressure to. Veganism is scoffed at as some kind of niche, totally unaware that this is the fastest growing food sector in the Western world. Even vegetarian dishes are limited. It is in the businesses interest to all offer roughly the same quality. And as many of these businesses have been established in the town for years, often many decades, the connection to local politics and the council runs deep, ensuring that things cannot change, well at least at any pace.

The victims

As with housing, education and employment, the real losers of this onslaught of poor food by the food industry, both big and small, are those who are trapped locally. The housing conditions for many are overcrowded, with many bedsits not even having cooking facilities, maybe beyond a microwave. Children being fed by schoolteachers out of their own pocket is not uncommon in Great Yarmouth. One morning spent in the Market Square gives rise to the scale of the disaster that is unfolding as the queues for the dozen or more chip stalls make clear to see.

And yet, despite what is so evident the elected politicians and the local council ignore, instead focusing on constructing bling buildings that were white elephants before the first stone was turned. There is no incentive in Great Yarmouth for those in power to change the dynamics even if they wanted to because all are invested in keeping the town as it is, and this turns to another blog post, that of housing.

John M


Seeing Kamala Harris huge happy smile brings me back to what I wrote exactly 4 years ago, as Donald Trump was confirmed US President.  Vice-President Harris represents ‘the first flower open[ing] through a crack on the rocky path where only the ignored moss seemingly existed.’ 

Listening to the Vice-President’s humble speech acknowledging ‘the strength of vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been, and I stand on their shoulders’, recognises that positive change is a fluid process, built over time, and by many who had to sacrifice themselves to the cause.

For me, Trump’s arrival signified the ‘Last Throes Of Capitalism’; he has represented, and continues to be, the personification of capitalism in its most grotesque form.  

As the new world begins to emerge, it is essential that there is not a seeking of retribution or punishment for the white man, whose hands continue to drip with the blood of the earth.  Our new world has to begin as it means to go on, taking the hand of the scared, confused, frustrated and angry and show them how beautiful the world really is, and the size of the universe and the joy ahead.  

Like providing experiences for a child who has never experienced joy, the challenge now is to embrace and lead not through punishment but through love, and then we can really begin to create a new world that lives with our mother earth, not against her.

Trump | Last Throes Of Capitalism

John McKiernan | Nov 9, 2016 | 1 min read

There is an observation of the death throes of the capital system, beached as it is on the shifting sands. The huge tail swings wildly as it gasps for air. The white man keeper is becoming desperate as he watches the enormous beast slowly dying, and with it his power. He knows the game is up. He looks around observing the emptiness, it was all an illusion, nothing actually ever existed in his world besides the youthful conjuring trick. 

Suicide beckons as fear engulfs the scarred mind of deluded dominance. Now alone, watching the only thing he ever truly loved, flailing in front of his own eyes, he scans the horizon for whom in which to blame. He sees no one. There is nothing left. He will need to sleep soon as he is hungry and weak. In his angry daze, full of confusion, contorted by hate, he stumbles inadvertently under the last great flap of the monstrous tail. There is silence. Serenity returns. The first flower opens through a crack on the rocky path where only the ignored moss seemingly existed. The sun begins to shine brightly again.

Read the original blog post here

Headline Photo: New York Times

Sunset on Capitalism | John McKiernan

John M


Starting a business is always somewhat Haphazard, however a gas leak, no water, weeks of storms, and Coronavirus initiating a stock market crash has been a little more than was bargained for … and Brexit is still yet to come!

Gas Leak and No Water

A few weeks back, it was announced on this blog site the opening of two new hub within weeks! The intention was to do some cleaning, basic repairs and get the places open before slowly developing each site over the coming year, while encouraging local people to join the journey with suggestions that would steer the design.

Within a few days of taking the keys, hub one had access issues to water and hub two had an odd smell that turned out to be a slow gas leak. Both places require much more attention than first believed and it was clear opening would take slightly longer than first expected. Although disappointing, this is not unusual when occupying old buildings.


In January, Storm Brendan kicked off more weeks of rain. It was soon followed by Storm Ciara, Storm Dennis and Storm Jorge causing major disruption and becoming the wettest February on record. Although Great Yarmouth was one of the luckier places not to suffer flooding, travelling, transporting equipment, and just generally moving around without getting soaked all began to cause issues. Visitors and help struggled to reach GY due to transport issues. A general gloom had already descended on many people because of the lack of sunshine, almost constant wind and dealing with the drizzle cum heavy rain, even before the Coronavirus outbreak reach the U.K.

Covid-19 Coronavirus

This last week (March 01-07) Covid-19, commonly known as Coronavirus, claimed its first life in the UK. As I write, there is a discernible sense of rising panic as cases increase across the globe leading to large falls on the world stock markets and panic buying in some supermarkets. London is noticeable quieter on the streets. Surveys of the hospitality industry capture the growing worry as the spring holiday season approaches.

The data showed 85% of senior executives across the out-of-home food and drink market were now “concerned” about the threat of coronavirus to their businesses, with 58% of leaders “very concerned”.

The Caterer

Haphazard Business Blog

The intention behind this blog is to document the often haphazard nature of creating a business, project or idea, as even the most careful planning can be scuppered by unexpected circumstances. However, the last few weeks have had a number of quite exceptional circumstances way beyond what would be normal, and things may yet get much more hairy!

Documenting The Next Stage and Stress

Beyond a ban on public gatherings, or some further issue that causes delay, one of the hubs, probably hub two will open later this month, with a very stripped back offer. My intention is to try and document the journey as best as possible. One of the greatest causes of stress is not being in control of circumstances and lacking information. The last week in particular has been difficult, trying to decide how best to move forward. A new normality will creep in over coming weeks and I hope to capture this here for future readers to understand how decisions have been made and are affected by unknown, far off as well as close to home events.

John M


The Caterer, (06 March 2020), Restaurants and pubs ‘left reeling’ from coronavirus and new immigration rules, Jennie Milsom, London, online.


Disclaimer, I am an unabashed Remainer in regards Brexit.  Although I accept the EU has many failings the world needs to be coming together not sowing division.  

Britain is in the midst of a huge crisis of self-identity. An illusionary image of the past has smashed head on into the reality of a present day Britain, which feels a need to redefine itself in a globalised world.

Conservative Values vs. Reality

A large number of pensioners and middle aged Britons hang on to a notion they are living in a powerful nation leading the world, amplified through a soft lens of empire and great military victories against tyrants. There is a misplaced belief that the British have some unique resilience that no other people possess.

Younger generations on the other hand inhabit an all-together different world of social media, instant information and ease of travel, bringing a broader perspective. The melding of cultures and ideas is making the concept of the Nation State less important, with global factors like the environment and poverty taking greater priority alongside technological change.

Not all older people believe that Britain was once some idyll in a world of madness, just as not all young people believe in an open, transparent world where individuals can be who they wish to be, yet Brexit Britain’s generational differences are fairly stark.

Nigel Farage, along with Trump and other populist leaders have tapped into these differences and brought them to the surface; and the results are not pleasant.  

Cultural Revolution?

The revolution that the West is presently undergoing appears different to the counterculture of the 1960s, mainly because the old levers of control are so less powerful than they once were.  During the 60s turmoil, information and knowledge seeped through society more slowly, providing time for institutions to reluctantly adapt.  The student communes and Vietnam protest were radical, and posed real risk to different nation states, particularly in France, and should not to be belied, yet power over the people was not only vested in pillars of government alone.  Mass employers, unions and, to a lesser or greater extent, the rise of mass cultural icons (e.g. celebrities and popular arts) and consumer products, all distracted or exerted new forms of power.  Only in hindsight will it be possible to compare this period with those of the past, all else is conjecture and personal viewpoint.  

This project is seeking to understand just a small part of this present period we find ourselves, and what novel ideas will emerge from it.


Top image represents the rock and hard place where the Malthouse Compromise staked its position, an ill-conceived attempt by Conservative MPs to hold their party together. Lower image is the logo of mobile phone app Snapchat, which can be seen to capture in 10seconds our instantly disposable culture.

John M

Donate to this Project

Haphazard Business journey is a self funded project. For more visit Donation page.


Feature Image: Brook | John McKiernan


The Fourth Industrial Revolution may offer a way back for men who are no longer rooted to a job, religion or partner and, in attempting to give-back to the community, sometimes find themselves spiralling into counter-productive tendencies, which American scientists have termed the ‘Haphazard Self’.

Many of the motivations and thought processes identified in America were also present during the Platform-7 Art Interventions over the last decade.

In line with these observations, part of the Innovation Hub remit will be to demonstrate how art and creative practices can assist men (and women) seeking to move beyond the rigid behavioural norms and strictures that the legacy of an outmoded industrial economy still imposes. By creating a Hub where people are able to express themselves freely will provide the right ambience to explore alternative models of self-reliance and lead to new businesses being created and individuals’ pursuing new career opportunities.

A short summary of the research The Tenuous Attachments of Working-Class Men (Edin, et al 2019) can be found below, plus excerpt from a New York Times article discussing the research, where referenced.

The Haphazard Self

[The Haphazard Self refers to] men whose vocational aspirations usually remain nebulous and tentative, rarely taking the form of an explicit strategy. In the meantime, career trajectories are often replaced by a string of random jobs. […]

These men’s desire for autonomy in jobs seems rooted in their rejection of the monotony and limited autonomy that their fathers and grandfathers experienced in the workplace. […]

Comparing Standards Of Living

The researchers conducted 107 in-depth interviews with working-class men. Many told them that the economy doesn’t allow them to provide the same standard of living that their fathers could provide. (NYT, 2019)

Fathers and grandfathers of today’s young working-class men provided a standard of living that many of their adult sons cannot match today. This is particularly true for the whites, who when they look back can remember fathers and grandfathers who were sustained by the booming industrial economy of post- World War II America. African-Americans, however, did not get a fair share of the blue-collar prosperity of the post-World War II period. As a result, they may look back to a time when discrimination deprived their parents of such opportunities. Many Hispanics may look back to the lower standard of living their parents experienced in their countries of origin. Thus, whites are more likely to compare themselves to a reference group that makes them feel worse off, while blacks and Hispanics compare themselves to reference groups that may make them feel better off. […]

Need For Creativity And Self Expression

Most of the interviewees spoke of a need for ‘creativity and self-expression’ and pivoting this to create a business.

This is reflected in the entrepreneurial nature of many of the side bets, [or side jobs] ranging from petty drug dealing to cash-in-hand plumbing, and the emphasis on the creative and performing arts. […]

Generative Selves: Give Back

As the stories illustrate, a desire for generative work—jobs that allow men to “give back” to their communities—is most often voiced when they are asked about the jobs to which they aspire. […]

Rather, they are attempting to renegotiate their relationships to these institutions [partner/wife, job/career, religion/church] by attempting to construct autonomous, generative selves. For example, these men’s desire for autonomy in jobs seems rooted in their rejection of the monotony and limited autonomy that their fathers and grandfathers experienced in the workplace, along with a new ethos of self-expression (Cherlin 2014). […]

Our interviews strongly suggest that the autonomous, generative self that many men described is also a haphazard self. […]

Yet our analysis of men’s life narratives suggests that many are also focused on rescuing themselves or those they see as younger versions of themselves. […]

Cultural Forces

Cultural forces have also played a role, namely the emphasis on autonomy — being your own person, focusing on your own personal growth, shucking off any constraints. This ethos, at least in the cities where the interviews happened, has replaced the older working-class ethos, based on self-discipline, the dignity of manual labor and being a good provider, they conclude. […]

In short, at the very moment information-age capitalism detaches many working-class men from stable careers, the autonomy ethos teaches that it’s right to be semidetached, that the best life is one lived in perpetual flux, with your options perpetually open. (NYT, 2019)

Changing Father Relationship

One might question whether the emphasis on nurture and warmth has supplanted men’s sense of duty to provide financially. […] Though men did not explicitly say so, the fact that they placed more emphasis on their emotional than their financial role may have weakened their motivation to work. […]

The form of fatherhood these men wish to enact is not modelled on what they observed among their own fathers and grandfathers, who—in their view—were inadequate. Rather, this generation places strong emphasis on nurture and warmth (see also Edin and Nelson 2013). Many derided their own fathers if they “merely” provided financially for the family but didn’t provide emotional support. […]

For their fathers and grandfathers, work, family, and religion created the attachments, investments, involvements, and beliefs (Hirschi 1969) that guided and gave meaning to human activity in specific social domains. In addition, this pattern was broadly shared within the community and successfully reproduced over time (Friedland and Alford 1991). These institutions not only organized social activity into common patterns of behaviour, but supplied norms, beliefs, and rituals that legitimated such patterns. If traditional social roles in these domains are now only tenuously embraced, a few may craft lives that are more rewarding than those of prior generations, but the majority will struggle. […]

Yet through their attempts to renegotiate work, family, and religious roles, working-class men, whose fathers’ and grandfathers’ lives were often marked by limited autonomy in the workplace, gender-segregated roles within their family, and religious structures that dictated a set of rigid behavioural norms—these men are showing signs of moving beyond such strictures. Many will likely falter. Yet they are laying claim to a measure of autonomy and generativity in these spheres that were less often available in prior generations. […]


This brings us back to the question of why labour force detachment is becoming more common among men with a high school diploma but no four-year college degree, especially when the official unemployment rate is so low. It is tempting to look for a single explanation for this increase. Although only a starting point, our findings suggest that these changes may be driven by the fact that the workplace, the family, and religion have all been transformed, along with men’s sense of what constitutes fulfilment in all these domains. In addition, the salience of manual labour in identity formation seems to have weakened, compared to prior generations. If significant changes in any one of those arenas can be life-altering, the combined effect of all these changes will be quite unpredictable and will vary with the temperamental differences of the men who confront them. […]

Though our analysis should sound an alarm for the near term, we believe it is too soon to predict how these changes will play out over time as society adjusts to them.

Image: Damon Winter | The New York Times (13 May 2019)

Linked Posts: Innovation Hub, Standardising Life, Art Interventions and Abundant Choice

Edin, Kathryn, Timothy Nelson, Andrew Cherlin, and Robert Francis. 2019. “The Tenuous Attachments of Working-Class Men.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 33 (2): 211-28. Online 19 April 2019 {}

Brook, David. 13 May 2019, “The Rise of the Haphazard Self: How working-class men detach from work, family and church”, New York Times, Opinion. Online 29 May 2019 {}


An aspiration of this project is to create a Haphazard Index (Hi), a simple methodology to measure the amount of Haphazardness existing within a business.   

Measuring haphazardness within a company may allow the organisation to better understand where to loosen controls and where to tighten methods of working and/or systems.  

Haphazard Auditing

Inspired by a paper on Haphazard Auditing and Chance vs. Randomness, the Hi will review areas of the business that would otherwise not be noted for adding value.  ‘Haphazard sampling’ is a legitimate non-statistical technique used by auditors.  

Measuring Routine

The intention is to adapt the method and apply to the Daily Routine of the employees and systems within the company to discern the amount of haphazardness.

The hypothesis runs that if the level of haphazardness is high, then the employees will be better equipped mentally to manage uncertainty, whereas if it is low, then there is risk of lethargic response?

Artist Resilience

Drawing heavily from the arts, live events and learning from this project, the Hi will slowly evolve (or not!), to provide business with a scorecard for dealing with uncertainty.  

Being able to adapt and roll with the knocks embodies The Artist of all generations, a notoriously precarious profession. The kind of skills an artist needs to be totally resilient could prove invaluable to management and employees in the present political climate.    

John M

Connected Posts: Auditing Haphazardness, Haphazard Life Plan, Haphazard Routine and Artistic Process

Image: Triborough Bridge (East 125th Street Approach) | Photo Berenice Abbott (1937)


Thread of nuts and bolts, mobile phone networks and bathroom tap fittings are just some of the standards that make life easier. Standards allow things to work together and reduce risk of non-compatibility.

Creating standards for almost everything would be the most logical way to avoid Haphazard business practice and smooth out day-to-day living, yet all it seems to have done is cause political crisis?

Standard History

Building of the first railways was probably the genesis of standardisation.  A golden period of innovation, the early rail networks were a hotchpotch of different gauges, materials, designs and models.  It quickly became apparent that to create a financially viable and sustainable railway would require compromise and agreement on the bits of innovation worth keeping, (to become the standard), and the bits to discard.  

Arguably, the most important and successful standard to date has been the humble shipping container, which accelerated global trade almost overnight.

As industries began to see the benefit of standardisation, so the political and policy arenas soon followed.  Trade agreements between countries set standards on how certain goods were made or services provided – the SWIFT payment system* in banking being one example.   

Trade Blocks

These agreements multiplied quickly, and after World War Two, trade blocks like the EU began to form. As the scope and scale of the agreements grew, so did the need for political and legal consensus.  From flying to phoning, these agreements have made the world easier to navigate, yet as the political situation in the West is demonstrating, there are consequences to standardisation.


Brexit is just one example of the kickback against standardisation, and the perception (rightly or wrongly) that control is being taken away – standardisation, for some, appears to mean the removal of choice.  And in some ways such concerns can be said to be solid.

Standardisation Debate

In computing, debate constantly rages when should a standard be adopted. Creating standards too early can stifle innovation, but leave too long it stifles wider diffusion.

When considering Haphazardness, it will be important to take account of the consequences of supposed solutions.

* SWIFT: The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication