Monday, 30 July 2018


It was the Tour de France that really got me thinking especially when at the end of Wednesday’s stage Chris Froome was manhandled by an over-zealous gendarme under the impression poor Chris was an interloping fan of the sport not a contestant as he cycled back to the Sky team van.

Cycling can be dangerous, I thought, shivering as I recalled a personal incident of a few weeks back. I was crossing the road in Brighton as the green man shone signifying it was safe to cross. Not so. As I passed in front of the stationary cars I heard a wild cry and the sound of gravel being ripped from the road. I stopped (fortunately) as a Lycra clad cyclist sped through the lights frantically applying his brakes and crying “sorry, sorry, sorry!”

So do I have a thing about  cyclists? Yes. I think they are a mix of the sane, courageous, adventurous, stupid and thoughtless.  A friend of mine two of whose acquaintances had been left broken and bleeding on the pavement reflected “they’ll get me next.”

The killer words are on the pavement. Here in Brighton skateboarders and cyclists use the pavement as their own. And with rent-a-bike schemes like that sponsored down here by Santander and others people who’ve never cycled much before recklessly swerve along the cycle lanes and in gained confidence the pavements.

Chris Greenwood in the Mail Online wrote in 2017:
The number of accidents between cyclists and pedestrians has soared by almost 50 per cent in seven years. One crash on pavements or roads now takes place every day as the number of cyclists increases. The total number of accidents rose to 408 in 2015, according to official figures, a significant jump from the 274 in 2009.

Recently a rash couple visiting Brighton and imbibing its spirit of adventure decided to share a bike (big mistake) and were mown down by a police car they’d carved up as they attempted an illegal u- turn (huge mistake). Fortunately neither suffered from serious injury.

My own view when driving is to give cyclists free rein, to stop and let them pass and to brake and look twice always before turning left. I am metal. They are flesh. But I wish they’d obey the rules of the road. Red Lights. Zebra Crossings. Obeying speed limits.

In Holland there are bikes everywhere pottering along at less than twice walking pace. It’s brilliant, safe and a lesson to the apprentice boy-racers who terrorise us here.  Interestingly here it’s proper cyclists who are most angry about the hooligans who bring them into disrepute. In Holland they reserve speed for the track.

In Venice there are no cars or bicycles which is wonderful. In central London more and more streets are pedestrianised. The problem in the transition from the car is  threefold:- manners, road sense and speed.

Sadly whilst manners and road sense are in short supply on the south coast the sun is shining and life has slowed down.

Monday, 23 July 2018


It’s Wednesday and there’s no electricity. The pubs are shut. There’s no TV. Half the country is in revolt.  They’re talking about martial law.

What was it like? In the early months of the Miners’ Strike of 1972 it was actually rather wonderful. We sat around, drank and talked by candlelight. In the background we listened to the Stones and were glad to be alive in a civilised world.  The media were in paroxysms about the impending Armageddon but all else was relatively calm. The art of conversation reached new heights. We demonstrated nothing could blunt our appetite for living, loving and laughing.

So over 40 years ago I realised the three-day-week-crisis was not such a big deal after all. We even survived the inflation rates of 27% a few years later when there were typically two or three price increases a year and wage rises to match. Out there the world had surely gone mad but we all survived cushioned by friendship and our self-belief.

In 2002 when the Firefighters went on strike and the Green Goddesses manned by the armed forces were called into action it seemed like the world was falling apart (again).

It was then at a cocktail party at Lambeth Palace I ended any chance of ever working with or speaking again to the then Conservative MP Archie Norman who declared “I fear Britain’s now ungovernable” at which I burst out laughing and said “don’t be ridiculous”.

The point is that life moves on and as Churchill recognised so vividly you have to be patient and keep going. Alistair Campbell when Communications Director in Tony Blair’s office said wisely when yet another crisis blew up…”it will pass”. And of course it always did. What history cannot teach us is just how terrifying and raw these crises seem at the time. How do human beings recover from the loss of a partner or anyone close; from  injury or bankruptcy; from the loss of their job? Well they do (generally) and they do because human beings are very resilient. But they are also extremely dramatic and avidly seek out headlines or, in the case of our favourite Commander-in-Chief, create their own.

I have been a rather blasĂ© spectator to decades of life-changing crises, almost always “the most important/dangerous/ruinous/catastrophic in the history of our nation/mankind”. We all thrive on it. In Italy they used to have a paper called La Domenica del Corriere  the raison d’ĂȘtre of which was disasters – train crashes, horrible murders, death by foul and unnatural means. It was very popular.

But very few of these crises have actually been life changing. A government falls, a President is replaced, a financial meltdown is averted, a union becomes disunited yet the sun rises and we try to do something extraordinary again. Whatever happens we’ll  be OK. And as Leonard Cohen said:

“When things get really bad, just raise your glass and stamp your feet and do a little jig. That's about all you can do.”

Monday, 16 July 2018


The recent report on the national mood by Deloitte shows we are more confident and happy than we’ve been since 2011.

Rather surprising this given the gloomy news commentaries. The improvement is put down to the Royal Wedding, the World Cup where we did less badly than expected (and with some style) and, of course, the weather - 58 days without rain in the south east.

Meanwhile one rather sparsely reported event has stood out for me. Peace has broken out between Ethiopia and Eritrea after 20 years of war and on-off border conflict. This was a real cause for celebration.

It also occurs to me that people are clearer about what really matters and are becoming immune to complex and legalistic arguments. I watched a typically ill-tempered Question Time on BBC1 last week partly to watch Barry Gardiner, Shadow Secretary of State for Internal Trade because I’d read he had the voice of the late serial murder, Dr Harold Shipman.  Barry has the charisma of a GP for sure and one who’s about to smile and give you very bad news.

As the panellists beat each other up in shrill discord I was struck by Claire Perry, Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

She said two things that stood out:-

Unravelling a relationship that had taken 44 years to put together was tricky and would take time

Of course they were working on a plan B “no deal” worst case scenario

Fellow panellist Gina Miller, the remain activist, was aghast with her honesty. I meanwhile enjoyed her teasing Piers Morgan and her sheer bubbly enthusiasm. She was smart and a lot of fun. She has been characterised as “colourful” (that’s as dangerous as being described as  “courageous” - code for “reckless”.) Hence a political commentator describing her thus:

Claire could be brilliant, but there’s a danger she could self-destruct at any point,

She made me laugh and listen. I predict Claire will go far but break a few glasses and hearts on the way. I learnt more about Brexit from her than anyone else so far. Her attitude mattered most. It’ll sort of be OK whichever way things roll provided we keep our sense of humour.

Enter Mr Grumpy - Donald Trump. Yes he’s ghastly, rude but playacting and increasingly he asks the question no one else dares to ask. He’s beginning to make me laugh. He’ll make a great TV personality (again) when he ceases to be President which I’m afraid he increasingly enjoys. He knows he can actually say anything he wants and deny it despite it being on tape (“fake tape”).

I think we’re becoming immune to him and Brexit. Like Boris they’re infuriatingly tiresome. Claire at least shows life can be funny too.

This has been some summer as we discover walking on sunshine beats shouting and makes various conflicts seem irrelevant. Life goes on: humanity is recovering  - and don’t it feel good?

Monday, 9 July 2018


As we flew back from a sultry Venice last week I thought about one of the books I’d read whilst there. Mike Foley’s “The Age of Absurdity.” It was an appropriate book to read in the world’s most absurdly beautiful city built on a marsh in a lagoon where the roadways are water, there are no cars and bicycles (absurdly wonderful) and the diversity of nations is similar to what it was in 1500 spending their absurd money shopping for absurd luxury goods.

Mike is a Northern Irish novelist, poet and philosopher. He is also a misanthrope and an angry man. This is a 272 page rant about the world we live in which occasionally goes off the rails like when he says the south of England only comprises concrete and motorways nowadays. Not so. On our return we flew over East Sussex - green (well actually greenish-brown) field after greenish-brown field with the occasional stately home or cottage, village and church – South East England in 2018 is a greenish-brownish and very pleasant land.

Mike rants especially angrily about shopping – “the thrill of desire not of purchase” and the “new infantilism” of want, want, want. New books unread, new clothes unworn. It is he says “a hedonic treadmill”. But what’s new? In 1500 Venice the markets were full of the unattainably beautiful, delicious and luxurious.

And it still is

He hates this PC world of PC – “professional cheeriness” whereas I enjoy people being nice to me in shops, planes and restaurants.

Those entitled millennials get a kicking too. They are constantly distracted by anticipation and a belief than anything is possible. Success is an imperative, a given - hence all those Ist class degrees and A*s. There’s a need to be liked by everyone and a belief that the world is easy. Oh and everything is someone else’ fault. Wrong, Wrong. Wrong. Wrong says Mike. Failure is normal; half the people won’t like you; the world is a harsh, aggressive place and you are to blame for where you find yourself. Being late is just that … not Temporal Disorder Syndrome. And not anyone can be a millionaire.

No especially not you two.

Indifferent is the new cool, he laments. But the new cool is “enthusiasm” related to “professional cheeriness”.

The book revels in the absurdity of love, of work, of politics and has one or two great quotes:
 “Be what you are – something always comes up” (Earl Hines, jazz pianist)
“The first feeling of happiness is power” (Nietzsche)

He’s best on age as he reflects that Shakespeare, Yeats, Tolstoy, Hokusai and others flourished in their later years with insights and crisp expression. He finds numerous sources to define his core philosophy of life, one that I profoundly agree with. Effort matters; you only get anywhere by trying; and it’s the journey that matters not the destination.

He describes reading as a “contact sport” which makes books like this so agreeable, energetic and thought provoking.

Tuesday, 3 July 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.