Monday, 25 June 2018


I am on holiday and shall resume my blogs when I return from Venice in July. Here’s a glimpse of what I’m enduring.

Monday, 18 June 2018


I recently noted with grim satisfaction that more new generations had lower IQs than mine had. Scientists at the Raglar Frisch Centre for Economic Research in Norway analysed the IQs of 730,000 men in national service during 1970 and 2009 and found a drop equivalent of seven points per generation. And now exactly the same trend has been seen in the UK. This is the first time the previously steady increase in IQs had been reversed.

I came from an educational age where, for instance, collectives were de rigeur. An exultation of skylarks, an unkindness of ravens and (I loved this one) a tantrum of decorators. We were taught to remember things. General knowledge and breadth of learning mattered. In the current tyranny of an exams culture -  Sats, GCSE, A levels – pupils focus on a narrow syllabus that most of us don’t understand. Despite a degree in English Language and Literature I understand Scholastic Aptitude Tests for maths better than for literacy which labels parts of speech in alien terminology.

But, anyway, I distrust the whole idea of IQs which the Frenchman Alfred Binet invented not to test  for super intelligence but the exact opposite, to assess the needs of the educationally challenged.

I agree instead with Sir Kenneth Robison who suggested schools today were killing creativity. If you haven’t already seen it watch his epic TED talk. With more opportunities to learn and understand we seem to have dumbed down and narrowed. What should have borne bumper fruit seems instead to have achieved the reverse.

There are more opportunities for everything…but the measurements have simplified and brutalised. Passing exams and earning loads of dosh. Life is not more fun. It’s just busier. So can we change this busier, less intelligent, gloomier world?

We must and can by listening more, living in the present and enjoying life for what it is. Bloody marvellous. However when you wonder if I’m indeed going mad with optimism on the basis of Einstein’s definition of insanity well think again.

Because yet again we are going to Venice to potter, see new things, eat pasta, drink Campari, prosecco and read a book a day. And yes I do expect a different result. I do expect new stimulation. I do expect to learn because this kaleidoscopic city is not as some have called it a watery theme park. It’s an energetic place with a vibrant history of success. It keeps on being on its knees as when Napoleon swept in to ravage, plunder and humiliate in 1797; in 1967 when the Venice in Peril fund started because Venice was thought to be sinking fast and in 2016 when the oppression of the burgeoning flood of tourists and skyscraper cruise ships at last became seen as the threat that it is.

Venice is a living place that still thrills. And the world is not getting more stupid.  We’ve just  forgotten what matters that’s all. Just stare at the Grand Canal and all will be well. Trust me.

Monday, 11 June 2018


This Rolling Stones song of 1965 came to me as I ended a difficult week. First of all my computer system crashed as I spent hours trying to get my IP configuration to register…no me neither. It was worse than irritating as my IT guy surfing in Cornwall said on the phone  to the background sound of waves breaking “yeah you’ve got a big router problem…sorry”. Meanwhile my hero of a son-in-law solved the problem…so here’s a blog in praise of him. And then a shopping disaster when I reached the checkout in Waitrose with a huge trolley to discover I’d left my wallet at home.

I felt victimised by a sullen and unremitting fate. “Suffer sucker” it hissed.

But it could be worse – I could have been at the G8 or at Boris’ recent speech. But the behaviour of the gruesome twosome, Donald and Boris, would have been avoidable simply by good manners and a bit of charm.

How can it be that two men wielding theoretically such power can be so churlish, boorish and clumsy? Boris went to Balliol, an Oxford College proud of its alumni. They even thought Howard Marks, the late drug baron, had his good points but of Boris they speak little and then sorrowfully.

The Brits and Americans seem widely ashamed of their two corpulent spokesmen. What Harvey Weinstein was to Hollywood they are to the corridors of power. And my main problem with both and it’s a bigger problem than profoundly disagreeing with their politics, is the terrible example they set our young people. Role models (except in the sense of their resembling bacon rolls) is what they are not.

But the week ended better with sunshine and laughter.

We had two grandchildren staying and their attitude and behaviour could teach their elders a lesson. All our young people, two great nieces and three grandchildren have brilliant manners, are affectionate and will turn out well. Why can they do what politicians can’t? Possibly because the politicians had such strange childhoods – imagine being a small Donald or an infant Boris.

The problem is we take the porcine pair too seriously. Boris has a consistent track record of being a reckless philanderer and unreliable friend. He’s overtly out for himself. Donald – well what can we say – philanderer, dodgy investor, TV star of sorts, a man with a ridiculous superiority complex. How glad I am not to be American right now.

In his book Utopia for realists Rutger Bregman a Dutch Historian traces the luck most of us have in this improving world. Compare ours with the lives of even the wealthy in Tudor England. 16th century America would have been even more primitive. We have the benefits of technology , an increasing understanding of nature and a sophisticated debate about values and priorities. In my better moments I hug myself in joy at all this.

Just so long as Boris and Donald get off of my cloud.

Monday, 4 June 2018


Recently I was sent an article from the New York Times which suggested Britain had been virtually destroyed by eight years of austerity. Examples were drawn from some blighted parts of the North West highlighting some specific examples of human misery that Dickens in his pomp could not have bettered. It concluded:

Britain is looking less like the rest of Europe and more like the United States, with a shrinking welfare state and spreading poverty

You can look at virtually anything through either end of a telescope and you can guess through which end the gloomy chap who wrote this was looking. I see things differently. The cities of Britain are flourishing - not just London, which few would question is the greatest city in the world. The others like Manchester, described by the cantankerous Jeremy Clarkson as the Berlin of Britain, Birmingham , Newcastle, Leeds, Glasgow, Belfast – all of them are  shining examples of renovation and new hope.

Am I a cockeyed optimist? Well maybe but the dystopian vision of the New York Times is wildly removed from my perception. Except in one respect. ‘Austerity’ has a bitter price to pay. The word that is. The attitude it conveys. Since 2008 that word has preyed heavily on the needy, hopeless and vulnerable. It gets the blame for everything wrong in our lives.

Yet the reality of 2008 and the years after is we were living beyond our means. The correction that was needed at every level was to adjust that. ‘Austerity’ however is  a humourless, Victorian workhouse term to describe a necessary process. ‘Austerity’ doesn’t  laugh or listen. ‘Austerity’ is the implacable bank manager. ‘Austerity’ is cruel.

There’s a better word and a better strategy.’ Austerity’ derives from the Greek word meaning “severity”. Frugality derives from the Latin ‘frux’ or fruit  which seems a whole lot better to me.

Frugality is about simplifying, moderating and decluttering. To that end the data protection nonsense (death to entrepreneurial businesses by the way if not for me, the consumer) means I’m being unsubscribed from all that bother left, right and centre. Frugality in action means less of everything, books, papers, appointments, clothes … STUFF!

Being frugal is about being good humouredly ruthless. Like Richard Madeley interviewing hapless Gavin William Secretary of State for Defence.

After avoiding  answering a question several times about whether he now regretted saying “Shut up and go away“ to the Russian State after the Salisbury drama, Gavin was taken aback to be told “All right you won’t answer -  so interview terminated”.

Frugal may be the way forward for all of us. Frugality has a more obvious impact on the rich than the poor whose lives are pretty frugal already. But frugal connotes a more natural and fruitful process.

First we had Google taking over our lives but now we have Frugal as the new and much more controllable zeitgeist. I may sound like a Brexiteer but being frugal means getting back control.