A Coir Factory, and a Ride in a Fishing Boat

Sue wakes me with great excitement just after 6 am. The sun is coming up, casting a glorious pink and golden hue on the clouds, and the local fishermen are setting off for the day in their long canoe-like boats. We watch as they head out from the shore, dark silhouettes against the morning light. It’s a scene that lasts for only a few minutes as the sun rises, pink turning to bright white, its rays reflecting on to the ceiling of our room through the full-length patio doors, rippling as the breeze gently ruffles the surface of the lake. I’m happy to forgive my unexpectedly early morning call to witness such a sight.

Breakfast is served to our table. I choose pancakes with banana and honey, never too sure what to expect. When they arrive they are two small amber coloured parcels delicately wrapped around a soft slice of banana, with the honey in a separate dipping pot, and they are divine. I’ve always considered breakfast to be my favourite meal of the day, and this is the best yet.

After breakfast we’ve arranged to visit a local coir factory. Our tuk-tuk arrives and Rahul from the Purity Hotel accompanies us on the short drive to the small town of Muhamma, and we pull in to the factory entrance. Buildings are grouped around a central yard in which long red ropes are stretched out, and we cross the road to see an ancient machine used in the process. Around the corner we enter a huge barn chock full of the fibres extracted from the coconuts from which coir is made, as well as large rolls of carpet ready for export. In the UK we probably associate coir mainly with doormats, but clearly there are many places that use it extensively as a flooring material.

Further on we enter the main ‘factory’ proper, another series of large barns. It’s dingy and dusty in here, with a thick layer of coconut dust covering the floor we walk on. We are shown the machine that strips the fibre from the dried coconut husks, how the fibre is spun into string, the ladies stretching out the string into long lengths, the frame with a large circular drum where the strings are aligned into large rolls, and the weaving looms that turn these drums of fibre into carpets. It’s all mostly man-powered, and we stand in awe as four men use all of their weight and strength to operate the coiling frame, and two on a large loom treadle up and down on long wooden blocks, passing the shuttle between them to form the carpet that emerges.

It’s hot, heavy work, and perspiration gathers on the men’s bare torsos as they work. I ask Rahul how much they can earn from their jobs in the factory.

“Up to 1,000 rupees a day,” he tells me. That’s about £10. But that is based on time and production targets so they don’t all receive that much, and the women are paid less. It’s a six day a week 8 till 5 job, the factory is closed on Sundays.

We reflect back on the unashamed opulence of the Karan family museum yesterday, built on the efforts of these people. At their wage of no more than £60 a week it would take years for them to afford even one piece from the Karan collection. I’m better able to understand why the communist party has a significant following in this business-friendly nation.

I spot the name ‘Goodacre’ on the factory wall as we leave. It’s only later when I look up the Muhamma coir factory online that I connect William Goodacre & Sons Ltd with the Karan Group, it’s owner and the family behind the museum we visited yesterday. It looks as though their collection of treasures might continue to grow for a while yet.

We spend our afternoon sitting outside our room at the Purity Hotel, enjoying the stunning views across Lake Vembanad. A local fisherman crosses a few feet away, laying a line of net that sits in the water marked by orange floats. We’ll try to be here when he returns. The crows are raucous and lively, and grebes paddle across the water before diving under, only to resurface soon a few yards away. Unfortunately the insect population also thrives by the waterside, and we are soon covered in red dots as they tuck in. Spraying with the Jungle formula we’ve brought doesn’t seem to make much difference, and then I realise that I’ve forgotten to spray my legs after changing into shorts following this morning’s trip. Oops.

It’s lovely out here, but we’re tempted to return to the sanctuary of our air-conditioned room.

At about 4.30 a canoe passes close by our window and makes for the gazebo in the centre of the area next to the lake. Sue reminds me that we were offered a boat ride when we arrived yesterday, so I go to enquire and find that this is indeed the man. He says the trip is complimentary but I need to go to reception, and they tell me he’ll be leaving at 5.00 and it’s around an hour.

Soon after we find ourselves carefully climbing down into the boat, feeling unsteady as it rocks from side to side. It’s just wide enough for two but the boatman suggests we sit in single file. There’s another young woman coming on board with three young children, and they sit at the front as we set off. She tells us they’re from California, and she’s their chaperone. Mom and Dad have sold their house in San Francisco to travel around the world. The frizzled blonde three-year-old asks questions as we go, but the others sit quietly.

As we punt away from the bank, it’s the quiet that is striking. The surface of the lake is smooth with zero breeze, and we glide along with only the sound of our driver’s pole entering the water as accompaniment. We follow a course a hundred yards or so from the bank, and women washing clothes at the lake edge wave happily to us. Further on we pass the rear of two hotels, one a large elongated three story building with great views over the water. “Lemon Tree Hotel,” says the driver from behind. “Not as good.” I’m reassured by our hotel choice, although the boatman’s assessment may not appear on Trip Advisor.

He points to our right and exclaims “Kingfisher!” We are steering between the shore and a long row of the large elaborate sets of Chinese fishing nets that we saw on the beach front at Kochi. They comprise a wooden platform behind a series of long poles forming a triangulated frame, from which is hung a 30 feet square net. The net is pivoted into the water and lies underneath the surface, then raised to bring up any fish that have ventured into the net. The whole thing is held together with long wires, and naturally birds sit on these. One of these birds is vivid blue, with the distinctive long beak we know from the kingfisher in our local brook at home, although this bird is larger than we’ve seen before. As we watch it swoops from its perch with a brilliant flash of colour.

We go slightly further from the shore, and our driver seats himself and begins to paddle gently in the deeper water, negotiating us to the far side of the fishing nets before turning the boat for our return. Unexpectedly, though, he pulls up alongside one of the platforms and ties the boat to it, then gestures me to step up. I can’t quite believe that he wants me to get out of this rocking canoe onto a stage well out in the lake, but that’s exactly what he wants and I clamber out, followed by children and all. Once we’re all up, he turns and hauls on the rope beside him, slowly raising the net from the water. He beckons the two young boys to follow him, and they walk gingerly along a scaffolding pole out to the net to inspect their catch. They return with a bucket of small fish, including tiny pearl spot and an eel-like fish, only an inch or two long, and our host tips them all out onto the wooden platform. There’s nothing here worth consuming, and he suggests that the catch is better at night-time. The kids are enthralled to pick up the tiny fish and save them by casting them back into the lake with great glee.

We carefully ease ourselves back into the canoe and head back to the hotel. Mom and dad are waiting on the bank to photograph their children’s return, and we thank our fisherman who surreptitiously glides away again before we can say a proper thank you. He’s given us a delightful experience, and one that we’re pretty sure wouldn’t be allowed back home, at least not if the Health and Safety people had anything to do with it.

It’s our last night here, and after last night’s thunderstorms and rain we are pleased when we see dining tables being set out at the lake’s edge. Candles are lit, and they barely flicker in the still calm air. It’s still in the high 20’s centigrade, and we enjoy a super meal under the stars. As we wait for dessert it begins to rain so we all retreat under cover, and we finish our meal inside the hotel’s open inner courtyard.

We reflect on yet another day that, whilst gentle and relaxing, has also been full of interest and surprises. It’s been typical of our time in India so far. We’re setting off for Kochi Airport tomorrow evening to make the two-hour flight up to Mumbai, from where we’ll head back to London. It’s all gone much too quickly.

An assault on the senses

The streets are thronged with people of all shapes and sizes, many speaking in foreign tongues. We are surrounded by multi-coloured messages and glorious images, and our nostrils are assailed by the scents of rich spices, elaborate perfumes, and sweet confections. Our taste buds are tempted by a mouth watering choice of street food, beers and beverages. It’s a fascinating experience for the uninitiated. And we haven’t even left for India yet.

Terminal 5 at Heathrow is a huge metropolis in its own right. We arrive in good time and wait patiently in the security queues amongst the multitude. I am picked out for closer inspection and suffer the ignominy of having to empty my bag so that the lady can thrust her security probe into its innermost recesses. If it keeps us safe then it’s a price worth paying.

We opt for the walkway to the C gates in preference to the train, and travel down in the lifts to find ourselves in a deserted world of endless corridors, the travelator humming beside us. It’s like a scene from Star Wars as we encounter BA flight crew coming the opposite way in full uniform. They chuckle as I ask whether they are lost too?

Eventually we emerge into the natural light, and look out over a forest of red white and blue tailfins. Which one is ours, we wonder?

Our holiday has started as we hope it will go on.MVIMG_20191106_112349


It’s a Very Long Way Down

The rock face is immediately in front of us and our rate of ascent has slowed almost to a stop. Whereas the view from from our cable car was spectacular as we rose the 1,000 metres from the base station in just 6 minutes, we also seemed detached from it, as though floating across the valley towards the mountain. But now the sheer height of the receiving station, and the fact that it is invisible above our heads, makes this a scary – no, terrifying – experience. My god, it’s a very long way down.

We’re on the Dachstein in Austria, near the former mining town of Schladming, now a thriving holiday resort. We’ve been high up a few times in the last few days, but this takes ‘high’ to literally a completely new 20190916_134256level.

I may have led a sheltered life, but I don’t think I’ve been this high before without being inside an aircraft. The lovely warm summers day below is transformed into a 7° winter landscape this far up. There is a glacier up here and it’s frozen.

There’s also a full-blown restaurant, a snack bar, gifts and lots of seasonal mountain goers, I guess as I notice I’m the only one wearing just a T-shirt. Austrians obviously live in their mountains. I may never have been this high before, but I’m clearly in a small minority in this company. They are wearing fleeces, walking jackets, thermals and brandishing walking poles – they obviously knew the score.

We need to sit down after the last few minutes since docking. Opening the restaurant door we are hit by a cosy warm blast. Life is going on as though this were a diner in a bus station, catering for its transient visitors. The fact that the staff here clearly make the terrifying cable car journey at least twice a day as a matter of routine makes me appreciate that there are just some jobs that I really wouldn’t want to do.

Our reason for being in Austria is to help John, a Rotary friend, to celebrate his 60th birthday. Two days ago we had been driven up into the mountains by bus to a local restaurant, complete with its own trout lake from where many of the menu dishes clearly originated. It was a great party.
The day before that, in Salzburg, we had savoured tripping through the Mirabell Gardens in the footsteps of Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp family as we do-ray-me’d our way through the Sound of Music Tour. Whether or not you’re a fan of the film (which I am) this is a great experience, as you learn about the way that films are made and the grand deceits that take place along the way, and relive some of the key moments from the film. Highly recommended.

We hadn’t visited Austria before but there is clearly plenty to enjoy. Salzburg is a fabulous city full of delights, and the mountain regions around the area are clearly a winter sports haven when it’s snowing, and an outdoor pursuits playground when it’s warm. We’d love to return and spend more time here in the future.

Canal Trip: 4 – Boating Past Rooftops

It’s a strange sensation, navigating a boat along a channel whilst looking down on the rooftops of houses.


At 500 feet above sea level, the Peak Forest Canal lives up to its name, entering the fringes of the Peak District and offering delightful views over the hills beyond. We begin our journey in the light sort of drizzle that isn’t really rain, but fills the air with damp. The hill tops are obscured by cloud, and we’re not far below.


As the day progresses the sun appears and the clouds lift, until by the time we reach historic Bugsworth Basin it’s gloriously warm. This site, at one time one of the country’s busiest inland ports, has been recovered from dereliction and restored to glory by the hard work of a large group of volunteers, and their enthusiasm shows in the welcome we receive and the displays chronicling the history of the Basin that are part of the site. Now a scheduled Ancient Monument, the Basin saw huge amounts of lime and other minerals transported from local mines to the heart of Manchester and beyond in its heyday, fuelling the Industrial Revolution.


Historic Bugsworth Basin

Today it’s a pretty and peaceful spot, filled with brightly painted narrowboats and surrounded by greenery, quite a contrast from its working days. It has made the trip down the Peak Forest, an extension of the canal from Marple, a real pleasure.


We return over the next 3 hours, enjoying the summer afternoon. At Marple Junction we turn left to the start of the Macclesfield Canal and a 27 ¾ mile journey to Kidsgrove. It’s many years since we last travelled this canal, and we take 2 days to do it this time, mooring at Higher Poynton on Saturday night and and then below Congleton last night. Yesterday was our best day of this holiday so far, being blessed by glorious weather and enjoying one of the most scenic lock flights you could experience. The 12 Bosley locks are stone built and delightfully picturesque, dropping through secluded countryside with the sound of only the water and the local sheep population for company. With single width locks and double gates at each end as well as being closely grouped, they are easy to operate and quick to empty. Still hard work in the rising temperature, though.


The canal is busier today, and halfway down the flight we meet a flotilla of hired boats coming upwards one by one. They are crewed by a large contingent of Swedish holidaymakers, obviously enjoying their canal experience. The canals seem very popular with Swedes, they are one of several such groups we’ve met over the week. Must be our climate that attracts them.


This canal was one of the last to be built on the system, and it benefited from advances in technology over the canal building era. Unlike the early ‘contour’ canals which followed the line of the land, this one charges over valleys and across roads and rivers on huge embankments and majestic aqueducts. Walking along the towpath ahead of our boat, we peer over a set of attractive iron railings to suddenly step back as we face the hundred foot drop to a river passing beneath the canal. Later at Congleton, we glide over a huge embankment with superb views of the valley below, dominated on the right by a many-arched railway viaduct following the line of the waterway. It’s just one of many dramatic sights that constantly surprise on this enjoyable trip.


As we chug gently around the perimeter of Congleton we pass many boats moored on the towpath, occupants enjoying the lovely summer evening with wine or beer glass in hand and jovial banter in full flow. There is a peaceful quality and a sense of camaraderie about the waterways that makes stepping on to the towpath a transition in time and space, and it’s very welcome.


As our holiday draws to a close, there is talk onboard of acquiring our own boat to be able to continue our experience and share it with our family. Whether that idea comes to fruition or not, we know that, one way or another, we will be back.

Canal Trip: 3 – Manchester to Marple

The last two days have seen us navigate through two of the most dramatic lengths of waterway on our canal system, although dramatic for very different reasons. From the historic Castlefield Basin in the centre of Manchester we follow the first nine locks of the Rochdale Canal for our first drama.


The canal rises up through the heart of the City to Piccadilly Junction, completely overshadowed by, yet an integral part of, huge office buildings, alongside people at workstations, gazing into their PCs and canalside commuters, business people and tradesmen, some of whom stop to watch us go by, some with a sombre blank expression, lost in thought, others with a cheery wave from an office window.


We go past and then right underneath huge buildings, the foundations of which form dark, low-roofed tunnels, Victorian history below a high-tech City. New construction soars over the canal, a working crane vertically above us as contractors create a new development straddling the canal. We have to duck low as the bridges press down on the waterway, stealing its valuable city space in every direction.


Trains and vehicles criss-cross the canal on historic iron and period brick arched bridges straight from the history books, mixed in with modern concrete, glass and steel structures that showcase the vibrancy above. It’s a hugely busy scene and one that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.


As we approach Piccadilly we follow Canal Street, self-proclaimed home of Manchester’s Gay Village. Many of the bars along this colourful street overlook the canal, and travelling along here on a Saturday night must be a different experience again. Perhaps one we’ll forgo for now.


We’ve heard stories of problems with drug users in this area, and we keep our wits about us. Canals seem to draw certain types of people for some reason, and today there are a couple of young men who we aren’t too sure about. They seem harmless enough though, and we pass without incident.


At Piccadilly Junction we turn right on to the Ashton Canal and the 18 locks that take us up to Dukinfield. This part of the city has changed a bit since our last trip through here, with the Manchester City FC ground dominating the skyline and lots of new community developments. The locks, by contrast, are old, heavy and creaky. They have anti-vandal locks fitted which makes progress even slower, and this isn’t the most enjoyable flight we’ve ever navigated.


Coming through Manchester by boat isn’t an experience everyone would savour for their holiday, I’m sure. For me though, the trip has been hugely enjoyable and full of unusual perspectives on this great City. If you like life in all its aspects, you’ll enjoy it too.


And then, a day later, the total contrast of working the flight of 16 locks rising into Marple. The canal crosses a superb aqueduct, built in 1805, offering the always unusual experience of navigating a boat along a channel itself high above a waterway. The views down to the River Goyt below are vertiginous and stunning, a picture of the English countryside at its best. The locks themselves are as fine as any, set in gorgeous woodland with tantalising views through to the rolling countryside beyond. The solid stone locks are attractive and relatively easy to work after the slow and heavy Manchester versions, and Marple welcomes the canal to its heart with obvious pride.  Reaching the top feels like a real achievement, and we finish the day with a very tasty Indian meal on board, supplied by ‘Marple Spice’ only yards from the canal and highly recommended.


It’s been a very enjoyable day.

Canal Trip: 2 – Straight Through Sale

There’s a stretch of canal on the approach to Manchester that is unusual in boaters’ experience by virtue of its remarkable straightness. After miles of waterways that meander gently around bridges, trees, bushes and moored boats, swinging from left to right and back again following the contours of the land, this length is arrow-straight for over 2 miles – too far to see from one end to the other, so that the pilot can’t discern whether that shape in the far distance is an approaching craft or a bridge across the cut.


Slicing its way through Sale towards Stretford, this is one of the earliest waterways of its kind anywhere in the world. When built, it would have been a scar through open countryside, but its arrival in the late 1700’s – a gamble by Francis Egerton, Duke of Bridgwater after whom the canal is named, that nearly bankrupted him, costing a then colossal £200,000 – soon started to pay off as Manchester and its burgeoning industry started a revolution that was to lead the world. The price of coal from the Duke’s mines halved in price immediately, turning the demand into a clamour and leading to annual profits of £70,000, a good return on capital by any standards. This blossoming of enterprise led to a huge influx of workers, and they had to be housed somewhere. Ironically it was years later when the railways took over from canals that Sale became one of the world’s first ‘railway dormitory’ towns as thousands of commuters travelled in to the City to work.


To Infinity….and Beyond!

Sale has matured since then, and the canal is no longer a scar but a sanctuary through the urban sprawl. Travelling this stretch is a delight, joined as we are by exercising joggers, serious runners, leisure cyclists and head-down commuters, to say nothing of the local dog population, all enjoying the wide and well-formed towpath on the west bank. On the east side the regular Manchester Metrolink trams are ever-present, reminding us of the proximity to the City.


Entering this straight one wouldn’t be aware of the built-up nature of the surrounding area if it were not for our map revealing all. We pass open fields and meadows, which give way to a nature reserve which doubles as a flood overflow area. Onwards we go, to a delightfully laid out park, a sports centre, rowing club and then a large cemetery, smart headstones laid out in neat rows with the vivid colours of remembrance flowers making a lovely picture despite the sombre purpose.


Further still and rows of well-kept cottages just a stone’s throw across the road are in keeping with the period feel of the canal, until we reach a school, a mix of old and new build with classroom areas on outside balconies so that, presumably, lessons can be held overlooking the canal. The King’s Ransom offers us its culinary and alcoholic delights from a deck running alongside the canal, no doubt to become much livelier later in the day. Further still to attractive modern flats, each with its own balcony, although none are occupied on this wet and windy afternoon. Everyone wants to be a part of this waterway.


From our vantage point on the slightly elevated rear of our narrowboat we have a view of all of this life in action. It is tempting to stop the boat, walk all the way back to the beginning, and explore each of these delights in turn, finding out more about them and savouring their story. I’m sure that this two-mile stretch of canal could yield more than enough material for several documentaries. It would be great to go exploring and find out more. One of the great pleasures of travel is the opportunity to experience such landscapes, and one of the great tragedies that one so often does so as an observer rather than as a participant.


And now here we are at Castlefield Basin, deep in the heart of Manchester. It’s a fascinating place, and an important part of our industrial and social history with its own story to tell. This trip is yielding some wonderful nuggets.

Malcolm Swan – a Tribute to a Maths Genius

When I first met Malcolm Swan it was immediately apparent that the illness that was to take him already had a firm hold. Indeed, it was because of that illness and his prognosis that Malcolm had been referred to me in the first place.

I met with him and his wife, MargMalcolm Swanaret, several times as we worked together to get his affairs in order, but as is sadly often the case I felt that I got to know him best only after he had gone, and I came to attend his funeral service. What a moving occasion it was.

I knew that Malcolm was accomplished in his field, but I hadn’t appreciated quite how widespread his influence had been. He was a towering figure in the teaching of mathematics, and was obviously revered by his colleagues and peers for his work. He was one of those rare individuals who see the world differently, who delight in making the complex seem easy. Malcolm created a series of teaching aids and methods that changed both the way in which students received instruction and, much more importantly, the way in which teachers viewed their role. He was clearly a huge inspiration to literally millions of people – the online toolkit that he helped to create has been downloaded over 7 million times and is in daily use throughout the world. The tributes to him are packed with personal testimonies of the influence of Malcolm’s ideas.

The reason why Malcolm’s funeral was packed with mourners wasn’t just about his academic achievements, though – in fact I would suggest that they fell into a distant second place behind the fact that he was just such a loveable, generous and life-loving man. We heard about his playfulness, sense of humour and generosity, and mostly about his love of people. Malcolm was a committed member of his local church, and he loved working with young people, creating new ways to see the world and sharing his faith and positive view of life.

What a vivid contrast with the news from the previous day, when a young man in Manchester decided, for reasons we will never understand, to remove not only himself from this world but also as many other people as he could manage to take with him. No wonder that we were all so aghast at the terrifying thought of anyone packing nuts, bolts and shrapnel into an explosive package and detonating it inside a crowded hall of young people. Malcolm would have been distraught.

We will never be able to stop truly determined people from committing atrocities such as the one at Manchester, although the security services do a brilliant job in the face of such attacks. But when such an event occurs, it is good to remember that people like Malcolm – deeply caring, truly humble, yet massive contributors to the world – embody the kind of humanity that makes life worth living and an example that I am proud to be associated with. Malcolm, thank you, and rest in peace.


First time in Hong Kong

Lying on a sun lounger overlooking the 8th floor swimming pool, surrounded by the mix of old and new buildings that is modern Hong Kong, it’s gratifying to know that we made it. A visit to this city has been high on my to-do list for years, and now we are here.

We’ve promised ourselves a lazy day today after the 30 hour stint yesterday. We slept on the plane, of course, if you can call it sleeping. ‘Birthday Girl’, Virgin’s first Boeing Dreamliner acquired last year, gave us an impressively smooth ride in its climate and light-controlled cabin (no window blinds, the glass automatically adjusts the light to reflect the passengers’ perceived time zone) but the very nature of the beast doesn’t lend itself to deep sleep. Apart from which, what actual time is it? I’ve suddenly lost track.

The efficient Airport Express train brings us to Kowloon Station from where we catch the free Shuttle Bus that delivers us right into the bowels of our hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui (the dual language onboard information TV helpfully tells us how to pronounce it. For Tsui think Choy rather than Suey).

We’ve been told about the charms of Asian customer service, and here is the evidence of it. Kit, the diminutive but extremely helpful Guest Services Officer, takes us to our room from checkin and points out the aircon, the mini-bar, the lighting, and the view.

And boy, what a view. It’s turned to night in the short time since we left the bus, and Hong Kong is ablaze with lights. We’re looking directly over Victoria Harbour, and it’s magnificent. Colours sparkle and change as we watch, boats ploughing across the scene before us. It invites further exploration.

Hong Kong from our hotel

Hong Kong from our hotel

We opt for the Chinese Restaurant within the hotel for our evening meal, and ponder over the extensive choice of options with fascination and some trepidation. With delicacies quite unlike our local Cantonese restaurant on offer, we’re not entirely sure what we’re going to get. However the pork and ginger noodles are excellent, and the accompanying asparagus shoots are delightfully crisp and tasty.

And now it’s Monday morning, the sun is shining, it’s comfortably warm and the city is beckoning. We’ll take our time to adjust today, but this place promises to be everything we’d hoped and much more.

Let’s get started!

IFP Conference Report 2015 – Day 2, 6th Oct 2015

There was only one standing ovation during the three days of this year’s IFP Conference, and it came from the hearts of those present. It was at the moment when special acknowledgement was given to Nick Cann.

Nick is one of those guys you have to love. His enthusiasm for the Institute and it’s role in changing people’s lives through the delivery of great financial planning has been inspiring to everyone who has met him. And during his decade long reign as Chief Executive of the IFP, that’s a lot of people as he toured the country regularly meeting members at Branch Meetings, appearing in the press and wider media as one of the primary representatives of the financial planning profession, and steering the Institute as it has gathered mass, influence and skill.

That was until nearly two years ago, when Nick suffered a massive stroke that robbed him of the use of his right arm and left him struggling to communicate. To say that this was a body blow to the organisation he led is a ridiculous understatement, and it was clear what a dramatic effect his sudden illness played on not only the small team of permanent staff that surrounded him, but on the Board members and the wider IFP community who held him in such regard.

The recently announced merger with the CISI has meant the breakup of that team as the operation moves to its new London home from Bristol, a commuting problem too big to swallow for most of them. It was partly for that reason that, when long=standing IFP stalwart Julie Lord gave her tribute to Nick’s huge influence, the whole hall rose to its feet in support of her words. It was a poignant moment.

It had been a long day, with an early breakfast required to be able to catch the first concurrent sessions of the day starting at 8.15 am. I chose to learn about ‘Why Online Advice is the Next Evolution for Financial Professionals’, a thought provoking analysis of trends in the way people receive and process information. There is much talk in the profession about the dawn of ‘robo-advice,’ where people can get the answers they need without human intervention. The speaker assured us that all of their research and practical experience shows that, whilst computers can handle the delivery of key information and illustrate strategies, the vast majority of people of all ages still wish to speak to an experienced person to validate their buying choices before they push the button. However people are increasingly taking their first steps towards building their financial plans, arranging investments and insurance, and sorting out their tax online, and it’s definitely an area that Chesterton House needs to be involved in to deliver the results for our clients that they desire. We’re already looking at some exciting ideas in this area and this session helped point towards some resources that I’m sure we’ll find useful.

The first plenary session speaker was new IFP President Alan Dick, who spoke with great passion about the work of the Institute and it’s people, the possibilities as well as the concerns for the future as part of the CISI, and reminded us that ‘financial planning is the glue – the context – that holds everything else (in people’s lives) together.’ His tenure promises to be inspired.

Steve Groves of Partnership Assurance was up next, talking about ‘Retirement’, a subject at the heart of most people’s financial plans.

Steve talked about the current consultation into pension tax relief and the possible reforms that might ensue. He compared the current EET model – Exempt contributions, Exempt fund, Taxed benefits – with a TEE approach whereby contributions are taxed (i.e., no tax relief), your pension fund continues to be exempt from tax, but future benefits (your pension drawings) are exempt. We already have this structure in place, it’s called an ISA and there has been talk about pulling pensions and ISAs together into one ‘product.’ There are some obvious disadvantages from this approach that were highlighted by Steve, and it was thought provoking to hear his analysis.

Steve also spoke about the new pension freedoms, and the need for people to manage their retirement planning successfully. There had been a lot of talk, he said, about rising life expectancy but pointed out that if all men budgeted on living to age 87 (the average expected age at death for a male in the UK), then half of them would run out of money. He also suggested that many people with small, medium and large pension funds would live in poverty, scared to spend for this fear. As always, good money management is less about logic and more about managing your emotions.

The next speaker, Andy Bounds, had us all out of our chairs and pointing objects out to each other. His creative and often hilarious presentation showed how to make a good impression, and how to focus on what’s important to the other person – a major theme of our work at Chesterton House. Nobody is impressed if you’re great, he told us, but people are highly impressed if you make them great. The exercises he suggested to achieve this were simple yet memorable and effective, and his talk went down well with this audience.

 Next up was the inspiring Dr James Rouse. We had met James when he spoke to last year’s Conference, and he told us how pleased he was to return. James’ theme was Mastery over Mind and Body, and in his very full talk he explained the importance of gratitude in living a great and long life. Be aware of silent gifts; a tasty breakfast, a warm shower, walking in the rain; and ask what gives you ‘irrevocable joy?’

James went on to describe techniques for self-discipline, exercise and diet that have been shown to help people live to age 100 and beyond, and told inspiring stories of centenarians running marathons to demonstrate that such mastery can yield dramatic results. He’s a very interesting man with an important and relevant message, I recommend you experience his ideas at www.drjamesrouse.com. If James’s energy and enthusiasm were indicators then his stuff definitely works.

After lunch I attended a session with Rob Stevenson of Kingmakers who talked about ‘The Financial Planner as a Business Consultant.’ Rob works with firms to identify, manage and overcome problems and get things done. There’s an obvious crossover with financial advice, where I’ve many times got involved in helping clients to talk through business issues in order to break through to higher levels of wealth. Rob explained the difference between consultancy and coaching, and the times when such help can be needed in the lifecycle of a business. He made some interesting points. For example, he suggested that it takes approximately 10 years to build a succession plan, something which I realise is correct on reflection.

With the traditional Gala Dinner in the evening this was a very full day, and a productive one. The value in these events is often in the conversations one has with fellow professionals in between sessions, and this was no different. If you’re a practising financial planner, or aspiring to be one, I strongly recommend that you get along to next year’s IFP Conference. You won’t regret it.

Introducing the Chesterton House App!

We are always looking for ways we can improve the service we offer and that’s why we took the decision to launch our very own App. It’s available to you today and it’s completely free of charge to download. It’s available for iPhone, iPads and Android phones and devices.

What does this powerful little App do?          

The App has been developed by Chesterton House to give you access to key financial data, in real time, whenever you need it, as well as news, information and updates about topics that may affect you.

CH App homescreen

It contains a variety of helpful calculators that, among other things, let you calculate the amount of tax you might be paying, work out Stamp Duty costs, quickly check the cost of a mortgage or loan, or see how you might increase your profits as a business.

You can browse the library of tax tables, giving you the latest tax rates 24/7 when you need them. From National Insurance and Inheritance Tax to Income Tax and Tax Credits – it’s there for you.

Photo Receipt Management, Email and Store

Never lose a receipt again! Using the App you can track receipts and expenses literally at the touch of a button. With minimal effort you can take a picture of any receipt and save it to your App. It can help you track all your expenses with ease and, if you’re in business or self-employed, it will enable us to interact electronically with you, saving you loads of time and effort in dealing with your accounts.

GPS Mileage Tracking and Management tool (iOS only)

Using the built-in GPS in your device, the Chesterton House App will automatically help you to track mileage, recording every single trip at the touch of a button, storing them and allowing you to view, edit or email with ease.

Keeping in touch via ‘push notifications’

As your financial adviser, lawyer and accountant we are committed to keeping you up-to-date in the most efficient possible way. The new App enables us to send you important news, deadline reminders and financial updates. And using the App, you can contact us at any time in a way that’s highly convenient for you, as well as view key details about us and our Team.

To download our free App, simply use this QR code directly from your device, or visit the App Store or Google Play Store and search for ‘Chesterton House.’ If you need help just ask!

Chesterton House App QR code