Tuesday, 29 August 2017


Is it my age that makes me exasperated by how polluted our lives are becoming, not least, by noise? From souped-up Fiestas playing ear-crushing rap music to restaurants where you can’t hear your companion’s conversation. Even friends who left the city for the unpolluted tranquillity of the countryside are fleeing back to escape the terrifying sound of sheep bleating in the night, the screech of rabbits being dismembered by predators and the deafening 4.30am dawn chorus.

I find I’m not alone. People converse eagerly about acoustic separation and the sales of ear plugs are booming. In Darlington residents near Darlington Cricket Club have complained about the grunting of the bowlers and the terrible sounds of leather on willow which they claim sound like a rifle shots.

John Cage composed a conceptual work 4’33” (that was how long it lasted) in which no note was played, no instrument touched. He claimed at its first performance:

“There’s no such thing as silence. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.”

Even sounds like the throaty roar of a high performance car have lost their allure. I recall with pleasure Ian Fleming’s description of James Bond’s Bentley’s exhaust “bubbling fatly in its wake”. That sounds rather like me after a fine lunch. Age again.

But apart from being unmoved by their sex appeal my overall attitude to cars has changed. I am beginning to wonder if the automobile may not be the cigarette of the 21st century. July 1st 2007 was when cigarettes were banned in workplaces in the UK. I had long before that stopped smoking - it seemed old fashioned, smelly and odd. And now Jeremy Clarkson, having smoked, according to his own estimate, 630,000 cigarettes in his life has given up. It’s a historic defeat for BAT and others.

Cars are beginning to seem similarly old fashioned, smelly and odd. My Jaguar is due for replacement. It has a Diesel Particulate Filter, which clogs up with polluting gunk and which I’m advised can be safely blown out by accelerating on a motorway and presumably blitzing the unfortunate cows grazing dreamily in nearby fields.

I’m glancing at car ads for brands I used to revere like Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Jaguar. But my car libido is unstirred. They’re just expensive (£135,000 for the BMW below) pollution machines which will be illegal in just over 20 years from now.

Until I see Tesla, the trailblazing electric vehicle. Its market capitalisation greater than Ford, it’s just opened a state-of-the- art showroom in Stuttgart, car capital of Germany. It defines the future.
So it’s helped change my thinking. More head, less heart. I am looking at the Prius which seems rational, clean, quiet and relevant - a car to make me feel better and more contemporary.

Monday, 21 August 2017


“You’ve got to be faster, cheaper and better” - but the greatest of these is faster

In the world in which we live this mantra has the joint distinction of being both true and fantastically annoying. It’s on the lips of all Management Consultants and MBAs. Because in 2017 tortoises don’t win; they get run over.

But speed contains its own perils like prosecution, fatal collisions and blinding headaches. In Britain, as we are demonstrating in our preparation for Brexit, speed is not our priority because when we attempt to rev up we become like Lord Ronald in Stephen Leacock’s “Gertrude the Governess” - one of his Nonsense Novels:

“Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”

Our great trophy - HS2 - will cost £56 billion give or take and save 30 minutes on the journey time to Birmingham. If the money were spend instead on increasing broadband speeds and improving mobile reception this would improve our lives and the speed at which we operated in a much more relevant way. What sort of country Lord Ronald, we ask, do you want Britain to be? Currently we are 31st for broadband speed in the Global League Table. 17 of the EU countries come ahead of us. But (zut alors) we come ahead of France on whose slow broadband we contemptuously spit.

Presuming that we wish in our post Brexit lives to remain a green and pleasant land but also be supremely fit for international business for the next generation, speed in the right area rather than on a slightly quicker trip up north would seem the smart thing to do. But presumably we’ll push on with HS2 because we said we would.

Our second mission in speeding up our lives is to stop wasting our time. I have had a run-in with BT (yes them again) for several months over our defective landline. It hasn’t worked except for odd moments. Dealing with them is made harder by most of the conversations irritatingly being online or with a computer. Worst of all I’m wasting your time by telling you all this. (Breaking news…..Trevor from BT just fixed it and was mystified it had taken so long…)

By trying to make things simpler we’ve complicated processes so trying to fix anything takes a very long time. Today it took a very accomplished workman 3 ½ hours to fix one kitchen tap and conclude that another one was defective. The way they were assembled made this process incredibly longwinded.

We have too much bad design, too much choice, too many applications. We are wasting our energy being busy. In the recent Great British Menu one of the contestants produced a brilliantly complicated confection. The judges started at it and concluded “There’s a lot going on here…far too much”

So the greatest word is not faster.

It’s simpler.

Being less elaborate and more effective should be our mantra.

Monday, 14 August 2017


This was the name of a 1966 musical. It’s how most of us seem to feel right now. In common with millions I have the strangest feeling that I’ve left something somewhere but I can’t remember what. The old certainties have gone.

It’s very much not a time as described by Robert Browning in his poem ‘Pippa’s Song’:
“The lark 's on the wing;
The snail 's on the thorn;
God 's in His heaven—
All 's right with the world!”

Not only can I not get off this crazy world, I can’t get away from my e-mails, texts and constant phone calls from people I don’t know calling and asking “What arrangements have you made about your Health Insurance…?”. Just hearing that brings out the hypochondriac in me - an alter ego groaning wistfully just below the surface.

It was time for a holiday. A long one. In our favourite place. Venice.

A time of quiet, artistic inspiration, beauty and certainty. All around the architecture is a confident 500 years old.

And something other worldly happened there.

I learned to read again. Suddenly the contemplative, written world became an essential part of my daily life. Books and especially novels replaced e-communications.

I learned to relish the ceremony of food, not just the taste but the going out and having time to munch my way slowly through gnocchi made in heaven. Meals that made me giggle with pleasure.

And something else strange. Spritz. In the British climate there’s one drink that has me squirming with distaste. Campari. It’s bitter. It’s red. It’s horrid. It has an improbable 86 mystery ingredients including chinotto (a small bitter orange type fruit) and cascarilla (Sweetwood or Croton bark from the Caribbean. It has narcotic properties.  We are warned darkly by doctors it has “side effects”).

In Venice as the heat built up I lived on those “side effects”. It was delicious, refreshing and saw me though the pitiless heat of Heatwave Lucifer. Lucifer racked up temperatures of 40C and humidity up to 70%. Between the heat and Campari I was anaesthetised for almost a month

So I got off the world.

A world of catastrophic Brexit negotiations, British politics dominated by people like Corbyn and Rees Mogg, world politics dominated by Trump and Kim Jong-un. Our destinies are being determined by buffoons. Getting off the world was good for me but now I’m back.

I recently learnt the key to our happiness, as as determined by the Japanese, is “Ikigai” - it’s our reason for getting up in the morning. The keys we’re told are taking pride in what we do; focusing on small things that bring us joy; getting up early and starting the day well and about being fully absorbed in everything we attempt.

This sounds more promising than mindfulness or hygge.

So I’m not going to get off the world. I’m just going to make my own, small world a place of greater joy.

Monday, 7 August 2017


  1. I always want to see my friends and family
  2. I love Brighton
  3. I still wish we were European

Tuesday, 1 August 2017


  1. Does the Pope have flat feet?
  2. If you had Panna Cotta like they make in La Bitta you wouldn't ask that question
  3. Simple, divine and yummy.
Richard Hall is spending a few weeks on holiday in Italy