Sunday, 30 October 2016


I started to think about what simplifying really meant when a friend glanced at the books in our house and said “I haven’t bought a book for years. I read everything on my Kindle or smartphone.” But the smell, feel and weight of a real book - the ability to flick backwards and forward and the sheer sensuality rather than the mere functionality of reading - that’s what matters. That’s what’s precious.

Marie Kondo’s best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever” sets the tone in a slightly terrifying way. I thought at first how wonderful to help in the removal of unnecessary stuff and create a minimalist life. But is it? Have an occasional tidy-up, yes, but create a world of virtuous empty. No, no, no.

The potential closure of the Walsall Art Gallery is scandalous because it’s a joyous, cultural asset not just a functional piece of machinery.  So amidst all the reductionist gloom it’s welcome to discover “hygge” - the Danish concept of cosy contentment - open fires, comfy furnishings and a good book (can you imagine hygge and Kindle? Don’t be silly.) Hygge, I’m told, has replaced mindfulness as the new fad. It’s generous, warm and embracing; cuddles and giggles not serious, sterile debate.

If everything has to function efficiently that’s why the all too evident flaws of democracy seem to be driving a lot of Generation Y to support the idea of having a despot as leader - Erdogan or Putin - hurrah for strength!

The Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney found that only 42% of Australian 18 - 29 year-olds thought democracy was the preferable form of government. OK, it’s Australia and it’s not necessarily typical but the trend to preferring a simplified form of government seems to be becoming more widespread. If only they thought about what this would really mean.

In the 21st century we just have to get used to mess in life. Not everything is simple. Not everything can be swept under the carpet. Complexity is to be treasured.

Recently we were given as a present a tiny wooden box just bigger than a thumb. Our name was etched on it and the cap silkily screwed off. What’s it for? It’s for joy and it’s for fun.  Other moments of joy this week: the CEO of robotics giant Electrocomponents, American Lindsley Ruth, in a major turn-around of the business has banned PowerPoint presentations so his people can start thinking again.

One of the wisest things said to me about live performance was about going on stage simply “to be” not perform. Just stand there and be alive like ‘Catfish and the Bottlemen’, a Llandudno Indie group, have taken the USA by storm - listen to them on the David Letterman Show last year and you’ll see why.

They have the sound of joy - they’re alive - and probably stoned (but I forgive them.)

Monday, 24 October 2016


As I get older I think I’m learning more. Mind you given the unpredictability and pace of change in today’s world there’s a lot to learn. Earlier this week I was about to turn off the TV when I came across a film to which for the next two hours I was glued. It was called RED - an acronym which stands for “retired - extremely dangerous”.

Here’s how the film is described:

“When his peaceful life is threatened by a high-tech assassin, former black-ops agent Frank Moses reassembles his old team in a last ditch effort to survive and uncover his assailants.”

It has an impressive cast, Bruce Willis, John Malkovitch, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Marie-Louise Parker and some great moments. The first when Frank Moses (Willis) and Marvin Bloggs (Malkovitch) are holed up by a female assassin with a bazooka in a container park. She calls out to them derisively:

Female Assassin: That's right, old man!
Marvin Boggs: Old man?
Frank Moses: No respect.
Marvin Boggs: Can I kill her now?
Frank Moses: [nods affirmative]
Marvin Boggs: [steps out from behind shipping container and shoots her oncoming bazooka rocket blowing her up]
Marvin Boggs: Old man my ass

And the second is when the gorgeous Helen Mirren is asked what she does and she says smiling:
“I kill people dear”

The film celebrates the advantage that experience and cunning had over youth and naivety. Needless to say the “old team” wins with ease as old teams do. I loved that film.

The Brexit thing continues to gnaw away like a nasty ulcer. As Mark Ritson in Marketing Week explaining the brief Tesco/Unilever stand-off on a price increase - that inflationary costs have hit companies especially like Unilever who accounts for its European  business in Euros - said:
“We voted for Brexit, we devalued our pound and now we are going to start paying for it. Literally.”

David Aaronovitch in Thursday’s Times disputed the “it’s about immigration and the downtrodden masses” argument for Brexit or Trump. The clash is so deep-seated and nasty because there’s a cultural divide characterised by a powerful xenophobic attitude towards, as some used to describe them, “Johnny Foreigners”.

On Wednesday I had a magnificent lunch at Koffman’s. As we finished the people on the next table who were, as it transpired, German said without a trace of irony:

“Can we just congratulate you on the brilliant, clear English that you speak…we couldn’t help overhearing some of your conversation.”

They themselves spoke fluent English yet we’re turning our backs on elegant, civilised people like that? Basil Fawlty… welcome back home.

In recent months I’ve been mistaken for a vicar, an MP and an actor. I think I’ll stick with being an oldie. As one of my grandsons asked when I dispossessed him of the ball at football recently:
“Do you mind if I call you Gramps, old man?”
“Old man, my ass” I should have replied but I’m much too polite.

Monday, 17 October 2016


We live in grumpy times. The referendum didn’t help much. I’m still coming across people who haven’t been on speaking terms with their Brexit-voting parents since June.

It’s reminiscent of Jonathan Swift’s descriptions in “Gulliver’s Travels” of seemingly trivial but vitriolic disagreements between the Lilliputians and Blenfuscuans as to which end of an egg to break open, the small or big end. This ding-dong led to thousands of deaths. There’s yet another dispute in the Lilliputian court between the Tramsecksan and Slamekstan factions, the one favouring low heels and the other high heels. Neither party will acknowledge or speak to the other. Splendidly the Emperor seeking a rapprochement wears one low heel and one high heel “which gives him a hobble in his gait.”

Ah, the hobbling gait of modern life foreseen back in 1726. Plus ça change….

What I love about Swift is his ability to put the spotlight on the triviality of human obsessions and that urge to take extreme positions even when Lustrog (Swift’s fictional god in this instance) has proclaimed:
“All true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end”

Depends on what you mean by “convenient” they all cry and the Smallenders and Bigenders in rage and hatred set about each other…kersplat!

Surely we are better? Well not if you read about the alleged tantrums displayed by the third and not-so-lucky appointment to head the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse by Theresa May, when Home Secretary, a few months ago. Dame Lowell Goddard, according to the Times, “treated staff with contempt and flew into rages”.

She refutes this but even if a tiny bit true it might explain why so many people at work there and generally today are so unhappy. Workplaces are increasingly driven by targets, by egos and by fear.  And this made me sad when the so-called NHS Whistleblowing Tsar Dr Henrietta Hughes said the NHS needed more of the “trust and joy and love as in Love Actually” hormone oxytocin and was derided by Santham Sanghera in the Times. More mirth and better manners and, yes, a bit more love wouldn’t be so bad but Santham hates the film for its sugariness, inappropriate sexual liaisons - just about everything.

Come on. Richard Curtis must have done something right because Love Actually grossed $259 million worldwide and nearly $30 million in the UK and was the apotheosis of “feel-good”. And feel-good is what we’re missing. Santham reduces life to mere functionality when he suggests all an employee needs to be happy is to be reasonably paid and do interesting work for a successful company. Most people achieve none of those.

What the workplace currently misses (blame computer screens and savings on coffee and biscuits) is the sound of buzz, gossip and laughter. Make it a place people want to go to for work and a pay packet, sure, but much more a place where interesting stuff happens and where grey people and misanthropes get mercilessly teased.

Bah humbug!

Monday, 10 October 2016


The new-enlightenment fizzled out in June when old Britain won. Just what this really means became clearer at the Conservative Party Conference. This is not just about throwing up two fingers to Europe; it’s about dismantling new, liberal, cosmopolitan Britain and creating a new Brand. The Millwall FC of Nations - remember Millwall’s chant “nobody likes us and we don’t care”.

Old Britain hankers after BOAC, the Austin Allegro, coal mines, bri-nylon and Rule Britannia. And because we love the idea of democracy more than we love rationality we are all reluctantly and silently getting on with it, playing the ball where it lies and tacitly accepting a long period of decline and disgruntlement.

Because we are homo sapiens (well, most of us are  but there are an awful lot of neanderthals around too) we are adaptable, crafty and resourceful. Yes of course we’ll find opportunities but if the landscape against which this smart thinking occurs is as disagreeable to many of us, as seems increasingly possible, the will to win for Britain seems less likely to burgeon.

In the midst of this a public row between Rudd and Rudd - Sister Amber Rudd Home Secretary and her smarter, older brother Roland Rudd founder of Finsbury PR is thrilling. Here’s what Roland said:
In a democracy there’s always a spectrum of views. Those of us who want a sensible Brexit, who want Britain to remain a beacon of tolerance and who find the denigration of non-British workers appalling have a duty to speak out”… and he added …”Leaving the EU is probably the biggest event since the Second World War.

When I look at Amber I remember Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary - when our leading politicians (even some Conservatives) were progressive champions of liberalism and creating a New Britain.  I have a mischievous desire to extrapolate the nonsense that she speaks to a declaration that foreign names like Prêt a Manger, La Gavroche, Credit Suisse must be translated in future.

 “The Best of British” - overdone beef and warm beer - lovely - is also on many lips together with dark warnings about failing to be patriotic enough. Remember Dr Johnson saying “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. He was right.

And talking of scoundrels.

Here are three of my least favourite men. The chaps to get a deal, win business and build Brand Britain.  “Haaanngg on!!!” as Mr Tumble my grand daughter’s favourite TV character splutters in despair.  Davis, Fox and Boris (another Johnson) - the slipperiest trio in living political memory. Philip Collins quoting Chamberlain’s comment on Disraeli says of Boris: “a man who never tells the truth except by accident.

So am I depressed? No. This will not last. Old Labour and Old Tory will be replaced by a new generation of liberal, enlightened and resourceful voters. Just keep on talking about all this and laughing at their idiotic lumbering backwards.

It makes Monty Python look quite serious.

Monday, 3 October 2016


No, yesterday wasn’t so good if you actually think back.

This week Libby Purves wrote a great piece in the Times counting our current blessings. She’s so good that a friend said to me “I’d make her PM - tomorrow” - he’s right Libby’s a liberal voice of joyful sanity - Libby for leader of the Happy Party. Why not? In the insane post-reason and enlightenment world of Brexit, Corbyn and Trump anything could happen.

Her basic thesis - well-worn and endorsed in various blogs of mine and others but not so well written as hers - is that across the board everything, yes everything, is getting better. Health, medical discoveries, food and drink, restaurants, shops, manners, sport, wealth, housing, welfare - yes, everything….Yet despair is fashionable, she says, and only 5% of Britons think the world is getting better. So of the other 95%...
Are you blind? Are you deaf? Are you mad?

In the relatively recent past we hanged, beat and abused people with some relish. When Winston Churchill rebuked some Admirals for talking affectionately about the traditions of the Royal Navy he said:
 “And what are they? They are rum, sodomy and the lash'.

In this better world, global literacy is up from 21% a century ago to 86% now. Johan Norberg,
whose book “Progress” Libby cites at some length, praises globalism, industrialisation, science and the liberal heart. And it’s this liberal heart that interests me and inspires me the most.

Overall we, and especially the young and better-educated, are repelled by any concept like the old-school smack of firm government. And to those lamenting our rapid progress and who advocate the return to the rose tinted past and good honest coal mining, well I despair of them.

Our new world is actually (and potentially even more) bright, shiny and brainy. It’s liberal, cosmopolitan, speaks English and likes the same great movies. It’s young, energetic, fit and funny. We learned to laugh intelligently in the 1960’s and 70’s and now again we are seeing better and sharper satire. This is as good as it’s got.

Over the past two weeks I’ve eaten splendidly at newish restaurants - 64 Degrees in Brighton and at 45 Jermyn Street and Eneko in London. I’ve felt as though I were in the centre of the world walking with a mix of different nationalities and seeing people enjoying the warmth of a long drawn out summer.

I read Saturday’s Times and it was upbeat as I wanted it to be, Caitlin Moran and Robert Crampton as ever cheerful, funny and big hearted. Happy stories like Gertie the dog swimming out to sea to recover a German holiday maker’s false leg that had been washed away in a freak wave.

All too often we get what we expect. As the Victor Meldrews discover things go wrong when
we anticipate them doing so. So cheer up. Expect the best. And start laughing at our extraordinary good fortune.