Monday, 31 December 2012


The wettest year since records began. The sound of a coalition splintering. America heading towards the edge of that fiscal cliff. Syrian cataclysm. Youth unemployment. Austerity. Woe. A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year.

When TS Eliot wrote the Journey of the Magi from which I quote in that last sentence he was feeling depressed. Yet when I read it I am uplifted and excited.

As I am about 2013.

Dawn French whose appetite for life is irrepressible said on Desert Island Discs that her positivism was begotten of saying “I am the sort of person who…” Try it. It has an amazing effect on your psyche – better than Obama’s “yes we can”.

So I am the sort of person who believes nothing is impossible and that as Stevie Wonder put it:-

“It isn’t about talent it’s about what you do with it.”

And it’s about how you make your audience feel.

When we won all those gold medals at the Olympics not least Andy Murray’s brilliant display at Wimbledon. Or when Ian Poulter transformed himself from good to great to Superman in the Ryder Cup. Or when we won the series against India thanks to the example of Alistair Cook. Or when Mr Wiggins won the Tour de France, I believed anything was possible. It was a year in which we all celebrated winning and I was inspired.

We may think we have too little inspiration in today’s world but 2012 was the exception.
It was more than sport. We had the Man Booker prize going deservedly to a breath taking novel, Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up The Bodies” and we had Boris. Even those who hate him have to confess to his indomitable spirit and brilliant clownishness. 

Karl Lagerfeld, the fashion designer (Chanel and Fendi et al) enthusing about luxury brands said
“It’s about people buying things they don’t really need because they really want them”

The smell of expensive fragrance, the touch of fine fabric, packaging so brilliantly made that the top hisses as you pull it off the box, the taste of a brilliant culinary creation or the sight of people smiling help define our times.

Time to enjoy, to believe in ourselves and have some fun. Work hard for sure but stop being so gloomy about this wonderful world. 

Morecambe and Wise were brought out of the archives to do just that this Christmas.

“Bring me sunshine in your smile
Bring me laughter all the while
In this world where we live
There should be more happiness “

It’s not a bad anthem.

And remember – you are the sort of person who can do whatever you set your mind to.

Happy New Year.

Monday, 24 December 2012


Woodrow Wilson, one time US President, said looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes produced innovation. This time of year….the end of one with all the sloughing off of the old and the start of another with resolutions to transform one’s life, achieves another kind of renewal.

An American President and two well known Africans

But a fresh pair of eyes is what I had when I recently heard the eminent Nigerian, Professor Ibrahim Gambari when he spoke at the Africa Centre. Jeremy Clarkson wrote this weekend of how in a world of information overload how little is accurate. So when the Professor talking about the African Union, founded in 2002 with 54 members said 75% of the funding came from five countries, South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt and Libya I sat up. 

I’d thought the last three are part of that Arab Spring that had swept east a couple of years ago – nothing to do with Africa. And when he spoke warmly of Gadaffi’s contribution to the cause of African unity I was spellbound. 

There was once a political party in America called the “Know Nothings”. I want to join. And yet we are all know-alls to the point of not needing law courts now. Anyone accused is presumed guilty. Andrew Mitchell guilty as reported (but now read the Sunday Times for possible vindication). Lord Patten is the next to go under the hammer in the same paper and because it’s all such good sport we smile at the headline “the survival of the fattest” and  Ron Liddle’s:-

“Hark the Herald Angel’s sang
glory to the Fatty Pang”

Lord Patten practising karate

But the press are out to get him…and then the police. Vengeance is mine says the press.
But it’s Christmas and so here are some things that have made me think positively and anew. 

Downton Abbey is also popular

I loved BBC2’s series on Westminster Abbey, charmingly anachronistic and full of mahogany values.
Shopping in Waitrose at 8am four days before Christmas, seeing trolleys crammed with kumquats, Lindt Truffle Balls and Heston’s Christmas puddings. I said to one woman “Have you taken leave of your senses?” She burst out laughing and said “these are the things I forgot first time round…it’s mad isn’t it?” All around people were smiling in sheer self-deriding bonhommie.

And my favourite music.

 I’m not alone in having wanted a Christmas carol at my wedding. But the stories of children (and adults) simply getting the words wrong are legend.  Here are some of my favourites:
“Angels we have heard get high” 
"Hark the hairy angels sing”
“We three kings of porridge and tar”
“Most highly flavoured gravy” (instead of “most highly favoured lady”)

Happy Christmas. 

Monday, 17 December 2012


I live in Godless Brighton where in the 2011 Census we ranked right up there with the worst place in the UK as the fastest declining in believing in Christianity and containing the fewest believers in anything.

So …. away with your mangers and your cribs and with any wise men.
This is going to be the most secular of blogs.
First of all sex - David Cameron seems to have it on his mind when he talked this week about tantric policy making – “the longer you wait the better it is when it comes”.

Dave’s gone potty. Zero for creativity. High marks for being rude.

Secondly – the closure of police stations. When Mr Plod is stationless he must have somewhere to pee, to sit and take statements. Options discussed as police-venues are coffee bars and churches. I favour churches. This could provide much needed income to this suffering group. It would also bring a whole new dimension to religion….”hallo, hallo, hallo God”…and when Jesus overturned the tables in the Temple we were there saying “right son, you’re nicked”… brilliant. It brings church into the centre of the world and keeps the doors open – shut doors in churches always seem to me a disgrace.

Thirdly - “Doctor you’re in trouble” – blame Sir Bruce Keogh leading cardiac surgeon, medical director of the new NHS Commissioning Board. He says like Tesco, GPs should be open for business at the weekend. Of course….and about time too.

Fourthly storytelling – the Hoxton experiment in which the Ministry of Stories has been set up to help young people write creatively. Founded by Nick Hornby it’s coming to Brighton. Really effective creativity teaching for the young – brilliant.  

Fifthly the good side of Christmas – the music, the celebration and through all this a strange sense of bonhomie and the realisation that a whole sector of society  is beaten up and isolated….providing just half a chance we’ll begin do develop a bit of “caritas” – love, kindness and old-fashioned charity.

Finally community – our ability to touch, know and celebrate Christmas with those in our tribe, our family or our team.

I’d been talking to an old friend about Malcolm Gladwell who in “Tipping Point” said an effective team peaked at around 120 as the optimum size using WL Gore as an example. Interestingly this is the rough size of an Army company.

At my 4 year old Godson’s Christmas show I engaged with those around me on this. The view was quite simply this was the sort of number you could keep in touch with. And maybe that’s simply it.
The number with whom you could share stuff be it good, be it ill but especially – whatever -  at Christmas.

It’s a large party but it’s still a party….and one with rich potential.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


Happy Christmas from me and from Tintoretto that 16th century Venetian genius of big canvasses, dark shadows and characters with attitude.

Here are the Adoration of the Shepherds, cowpats, straw bales and all 

and of the Magi, venerable and wise with lots of angelic interference. 

Take a harder look. They’re rich in life and Christmas.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


Not just because I’m getting on a bit (but as I sit with my peers I still feel absurdly young) but much more because a few things have happened recently that have persuaded me we’ve lost touch with the new realities of our social demographics. You see it’s a fact that 35% of the children born now in the UK will live to be over 100.

What the hell are they going do in the last 40 years of their lives? Or put another way what proper use will the State make of their talents because we have a tendency to regard people over 65 (or younger even) as having passed their sell-by date.

And then Mick Jagger and friends strutted their stuff at the O2 Stadium. Extraordinary.

Mick, let’s face it, is going to be 70 next year and although his face has a leathery, lived-in look to it his movements were the fluent ones of someone 20 years or more younger. I looked at Stone’s performances of “Let’s spend the night together” on You Tube from 1965 to current times and they’ve got better even if the probable invitation seems likely to be more mundane now… .”Let’s spend the night together, now I need my sleep more than ever.”

Bob Charles the left handed New Zealand golfer had a glittering career and was British Open Champion in 1963. This year he was 76 and did something really amazing. He shot a 66 in a Seniors’ event – no one has ever beaten their age by 10 shots before.

Moira Bennett is over 80, lives in Brighton and has just written “Making Musicians” - the History of the Britten-Pears Music School at Snape in Norfolk.
Her career in musical management and development includes spells at the Barbican and with the LSO. She has the mahogany feel of someone with insight and perspective. A while back she took up smoking saying “it won’t kill me now”.  Wisdom too, plus style.

Talent ripens, it doesn’t wither. What changes is a belief that our stamina declines. Not true in Kenya where their elite runners seem to get better as they get older.

Tom Wolfe is 81 and still writing like a Rolex.

Lord Leveson is 63 and isn’t. (You can’t win them all.)

The best model is in Japan where they leverage the wisdom of age and the energy of youth in the “sempai” – mentor, “kohai” – pupil relationship. As you get older you’ll find a seniority- based social structure increasingly appealing.

Someone (no one knows who) said “don’t regret growing older; it’s a privilege denied to many”.
No regrets. You get to help the next generations avoid the mistakes you laughingly made.

Monday, 3 December 2012


It was the rush hour at Victoria. I saw this guy with a huge case, struggling down the stairs. Now the double bass, because that’s what it was, has always struck me as absurdly cumbersome.

A few minutes later I was standing in the tube and saw this poem by John Fuller that I loved. The description of a player wrestling with the awkward instrument are splendidly described for sure  but it’s the description of the sound of a double bass that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

I’m still thinking of the “growth of tree roots” – deep, deep below ground.

Concerto for Double Bass

He is a drunk leaning companionably
Around a lamp post or doing up
With intermittent concentration
Another drunk's coat.

He is a polite but devoted Valentino,
Cheek to cheek, forgetting the next step.
He is feeling the pulse of the fat lady
Or cutting her in half.

But close your eyes and it is sunset
At the edge of the world. It is the language
Of dolphins, the growth of tree-roots,
The heart-beat slowing down.

Now is it me or is it winter that spreads intimations of mortality with the icy sound of the violin in the Winter section of Vivaldi’s  Four Seasons?

Then I discover there’s a new exhibition in London. It’s called “ Death: A Self-Portrait” at the Wellcome Foundation….a bit unsettling to find a trust devoted to medical science being so morbid but there you are.
Frans Francken the younger’s “Young Death playing the violin” is shown. As my mother aged 93 when dying and finding the process dispiriting said in feisty tones:

“Well if this is dying you can keep it.”

I felt the same about Frans’ picture.

What is that rich merchant saying …words to the effect of “oh bugger” I imagine.

And, finally, a moment of insanity owing to a piano last week.

I was at a charity dinner sitting near someone who leaned across his voice competing with the pianist. He engaged me in conversation about the evening which he said he was enjoying. I could barely hear him but then he said:

“Normally of course I hate masturbating”

I looked at him in mystification…why on earth was he saying this?

I suddenly realised he was talking about mass catering not masturbating…..

I think I’ll stick to TV dinners and Vanhal’s concerto in D major, in future. Try it – it’s like sunset at the edge of the world.