November 15, 2013 6:09 pm

Your starter for five

‘Would it be out of order if someone drove Rob Ford to a remote part of the province to dry out?’

This week it’s time to turn the tables – ever so gently. As well as answering questions about what to buy clients for Christmas (a good scarf is always a winner – even for contacts in tropical climates), where to grab a week of sun from New Year’s day onwards (Chiang Mai, Muscat or Honolulu) and what’s a good alternative to Lego (Playmobil’s Alpine series of cows, huts and figurines in traditional attire), I’m going to ask some questions and hope you might have a few answers.

1. Did you manage to catch the latest instalment of Canada: A Tale of Two Countries on Wednesday evening? Broadcast on most major international news channels it made for rather uncomfortable viewing, to say the least. Up first was the very dapper, urbane and well-spoken Bank of England governor Mark Carney – the best ambassador for Brand Canada since Ryan Gosling. Delivering a generally upbeat message about the UK economy, Carney’s manner was not unlike that of a Canadian pilot at the controls of a widebody aircraft – making the UK and its key partners feel like they were in safe, steady hands and on a course to a lovely destination.

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Tyler Brûlé

After the commercial break, it was over to Toronto for one of the most embarrassing, painful few minutes of television in recent history. Standing in front of cameras inside the chambers of Toronto city hall was the puffy, smug and glistening mayor Rob Ford answering questions from his fellow council members and looking like he was in urgent need of another hit on the crack pipe. Aside from Ford’s shambolic, Humpty-Dumpty-ish appearance, the entire session looked like a meeting in a community centre.

Thirty seconds earlier, Canada was represented by someone who embodied all that was good about the country’s banking sector but now the leadership of the biggest city in the country was doing a very good job of making the place look like a mismanaged clown-town. So here’s my question, to save the country further embarrassment would it be out of order if some well-meaning, gentle individuals pulled up beside Ford’s SUV and bundled him into another vehicle and then drove him to a remote part of the province to dry out and stay well away from politics?

2. What would you do if you were interviewing someone for the digital arm of your company and they asked: “In my old job, aside from sick days, we also had a series of duvet days that we could use when we didn’t feel like going to work – is this something you’d be able to extend to me if I was offered the job at your company?” Would you immediately show them the door? Lean forward slowly and explain softly that the world really doesn’t work like that? Or sign them up on the spot and rewrite your company handbook ensuring all other staff could enjoy duvet days retroactively?

3. When oh when will there be proper competition on the rail route between Paris and London? When will someone put all the suffering Eurostar passengers out of their misery and raise the bar to offer a world-class product that others might want to benchmark against? Could a smart bank perhaps think about sponsoring special “club cars” (think back to the rail services that used to run into Manhattan in the middle of the last century) and charge a premium for a better standard of service? Could this happen by January 1 2014?

4. How did west London end up with the sprawling and ugly Westfield shopping centre when it should have gone for something more vertical, integrated and architecturally inspiring? Earlier in the week I paid a visit to Istanbul’s new Zorlu Center and couldn’t help but feel that London missed a trick not just on its west side but also at the Westfield development at Stratford in east London. The elegantly landscaped, four-tower development is still very much a mall and is somewhat detached from its surroundings but at the same time has shown there’s a new way of merging retail, food, residences, hotel rooms and culture in an environment that has design and service ambition.

5. And finally, is the UK’s faulty boiler business the biggest racket in the world? How many work days are lost in the UK every year (the official “My boiler’s broken and I’m not sure when they can send someone out to fix it” season starts this week) due to poor engineering and why is it that the Germans, Swedes, Dutch or Swiss don’t suffer from similar technical plagues? Youth unemployment remains high in the UK – perhaps Carney could kill two birds with one stone by incentivising UK industry to build better heating systems while also getting more frustrated young people into work building and servicing them? Here’s hoping.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine tylerbrule@ft.com

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