Monday, 24 December 2018


Christmas is remorselessly creeping up on us like an expensively dressed mugger. There’s plenty of conspicuous consumption going on. The amount of sugar in the stollen, panettone and mince pies that I’ve casually scoffed over the past week would have made the government spokespeople on obesity writhe in horror.  (Have you noticed the way people say “All good….anyway it’s Christmas” as they dive into a Yule-Hyper-Calorie-Log.) And I haven’t been too clever on the alcohol front either. A weekly unit or whatever abstemiousness (given half a chance) they’d mandate is beyond my weakening will.

But it’s the music at Christmas that makes my skin tingle. So of full of joy and great lyrics.  I want to shout aloud:

“Let the organ thunder
While the choir with peals of glee
Doth rend the air asunder”
(Unto Us a Boy is born – Mediaeval possibly 12th Century)

Isn’t a peal of glee just wonderful?  Not enough glee around, not nearly enough. I’m told I have a loud voice so I’m rather more familiar with rending the air asunder.
Christmas is, if nothing else, cheerful and a relaxing time when we should heed these words

“Let nothing you dismay”
( God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – 16th century)

After the past few weeks of the dismaying Brexit debate that’s a tough call. But maybe the spirit contained in it can be taken to heart. They can sing it in the Commons in 2019. When they aren’t snoozing of course.

In the aftermath of Christmas we can address the curse of today. Bigger even than Brexit. Yes it’s insomnia. 36% of the population have it and another third don’t sleep too well or nearly long enough. Every time I hear “O Little Town of Bethlehem” these four words resonate:-

“a deep and dreamless sleep” 
(Philip Brooks 1868)

The idea of hibernating after Christmas, healing my battered brain by cuddling my wife (and Orpheus) and hiding from the bleak midwinter that they say is coming soon makes me feel wonderful.

After the parties, the feasting, the drinking of Armagnac, Green Chartreuse and Tequila (only at Christmas does anyone drink stuff like that) we have opportunity to replenish our  souls and reboot our minds. Rest is a good thing and we don’t do enough. The real curse of today’s world is unproductive rushing around and nagging anxiety about almost everything. Take the advice of that wonderful, too seldom performed carol, Jesus Christ the Apple Tree:

“I’m weary with my former toil
Here will I sit and rest awhile”
(Richard Hutchins? – 1761)

The resting starts on Wednesday; before that we can afford to let our hair down, tell silly jokes, pull crackers, drink mulled wine and try to be as nice a person as we always should be. Because if it doesn’t work its magic what can? A very happy Christmas.

“Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither….”
(Good King Wenceslas – John Mason Neale 1853 based on 10th century Bohemian story)

Monday, 17 December 2018


Michael Gove says he’d like to play Tyrion Lannister in the TV show “Game of Thrones”. What did he mean by that – being perpetually drunk and spending time with prostitutes like Tyrion? Perhaps not - perhaps instead he’s been seduced by Tyrion’s intelligence, wit and panache. 

For those unaware of Game of Thrones (are there any?) Tyrion is a smart dwarf who has great charm and a concealed lust for power. In what is a pigmy-brained conservative party Gove wants to be head pigmy but his colleagues all want to be the PM too. They must all be quite mad as it’s worse than a poisoned chalice. In a quote from series seven Peter Baelish describes something resembling today’s political world:
"Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb….. only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is."
Many of us are obsessed just with the sensation going up – to what end? Once up there’s only one law that has much relevance. Gravity. 

Which reminded me of freeclimbing – that’s rock climbing without ropes. It’s been in the news  because American Alex Honnold recently free-soloed the 3000 foot El Capitan at Yosemite in just 3 hours 56 minutes. It made me feel sick just thinking about it. In the same week a British climber out walking there was killed by a massive rock fall. I’m beginning to hate heights and rocks and falling and futile ascent.

So what possessed me to take two visitors up the i360 in Brighton when they paid a visit to cold and windy Brighton?  Only as we started the ascent did one of them say he suffered from vertigo. The whole event is bit of a damp squib – it’s like  a rather slow lift dressed up as a BA “Flight” (they keep on calling it a “flight” when it’s clearly not.) Much is made of the pre-flight check and the ritual of being body scanned and searched. All the waiting takes a long time. The ascent is a slow business (although the view over Brighton isn’t displeasing)  and then it comes down again. £16.50 for a yawning ½ hour.
Richard French – one of the guests – got it spot-on when he said it can’t work commercially. They play dreadful music instead of having a running commentary. There’s no energy, no drama and what little theatre there is, is performed poorly by bored and under-rehearsed 20 year olds. BA should be ashamed to lend their name to it. He said it needed to be a faster, more breathless experience. Four ascents an hour at less than £10 a pop. The visitor numbers so far are unsurprisingly disappointing.

I was frustrated. This is my town and its key feature was being justifiably traduced. Getting to the top has never been more boring. Brighton deserves much better than this.

Monday, 10 December 2018


 I was quite unfairly accused of being a hypochondriac last week when I groaned in a rather melodramatic way. But the fact is I was feeling a bit below par and the behaviour of our politicians was causing me acute mental anguish. In a word I thought I needed sympathy and treatment.

Perhaps however I was just suffering from an acute idiopathic condition which was probably sub-clinical and mercifully pre-terminal.  In other words I was really OK with nothing to worry about.
“Idiopathic” is a useful word. It comes from the Greek “idios” - one’s own and “pathos”- suffering. Widely used medically it actually means diagnostically “denoting any disease or condition which arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown”. Or in plainer English “this chap’s probably a malingerer; I don’t know what’s wrong”.

The current situations in the UK, France and America are idiopathic and pathetic. It should, I suppose, make us feel less bad about Brexit to see the French setting fire to themselves and shouting very loudly. One commentator actually said sententiously “this is how the French Revolution started.” Macron is now the most unpopular President ever. In a run-off between him and his predecessor, the despised Francois Hollande, Francois would win by a landslide.

Meanwhile over in the States Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s lawyer has pleaded guilty to eight charges and will be going to prison. From the President’s viewpoint the most serious guilty plea Cohen made is that he made hush-money payments during the presidential campaign to women Trump had slept with. Worse – that the President had directed him to do this. So that’s clear. Donald is nailed. Dead as a parrot.

Ah, apparently not. Trump immediately tweeted “totally clears the President. Thank you!” There is something so barefaced about him you almost (almost but not quite) admire him for it.  Set against the 2nd French Revolution and the impending defenestration of the 45th President of the United States our Brexit squabbles in the UK seem quite petty if undignified but at a much lower level of disgracefulness than France or America’s woes. If we were to be generous we could argue there is a genuinely important disagreement between parliamentarians about a matter of principle. However I do not feel very generous-minded when the bulk of MPs are polluted by a naked quest for power. This is a case of MeMe# as opposed to MeToo# 

Alone and abandoned Theresa May makes a long suffering, resolute yet curiously impressive figure. I never thought I’d feel admiration for her but I do. Most of the rest of her colleagues are a clueless and sadly squalid bunch. The question for me has long ceased to be about Brexit but about whether we can trust many/any of the 650 MPs to oversee and direct the affairs of Great Britain Limited.

I don’t believe that many of them care for our collective wellbeing at all. Which is pathetic and very disappointing. Happy Christmas.

Monday, 3 December 2018


Last week I had four adventures which gave me a new perspective. The first at the Christmas Market in the close of Winchester Cathedral, the second at lunch in the Oriental Club in London, the third a tour of Brixton and the fourth a visit to Coal Drops Yard at King’s Cross.

Winchester is a mediaeval wonder. The cathedral itself enormous and powerful, the Christmas fair a brilliantly created commercial event with over 100 wooden chalets selling craft products, an ice rink and a variety of food and drink. It gets up to ½ million visitors in the month it’s on. The only thing missing for me was the smell of mediaeval England. I wanted jesters, dwarves, lute players, stocks, gibbets and bonfires for heretic Christians. My wife said I’d gone mad and she could do without the smell thank you. The distant past.

The Oriental Club in Stratford Place is a huge, palatial club of the sort found in Pall Mall and St James. It’s full of colonials and ex Foreign Office mandarins gravely discussing affairs of state and the sending of gunboats. Lytton Strachey said “it has the best cellar in London, by Jove!”  It still has I gravely noted. The recent past.

I last visited Brixton in 1995. Much has changed. There’s a magnificent cornucopia of fruit, vegetables, unusual fish and Halal meat in the market. It’s a comfortable third world. It’s like being abroad but at home – a strange conjunction. And Pop Brixton – a series of multinational pop-up eateries is a gastronomic joy. Kricket started here. It serves splendid Indian small plates and it has restaurants in Soho, White City and back in Brixton, this time with a proper restaurant. A real world.

Finally Coal Drop Yard at Kings Cross.  It opened recently and the workman are still in. The unusual buildings dating from the 1850s were built to transfer coal from rail wagons to road carts. It’s been turned into an architectural wonder alongside the Regents Park Canal with those original Victorian buildings brought screaming into the 21st century. Shops include Christopher Raeburn, Vermuteria, Paul Smith, Tom Dixon. Interesting this one – there’s a shop, ‘factory’ and HQ all under one roof, with a roof terrace.  Coal Drop Yard is vast. Dubai meets Victorian England meets the first retail complex on Mars. Comfortable? Hell no, it’s a big echoing place that smells of money (no, not money - bitcoin). Nothing quite makes sense. The emptiness. The wealth.  We had a drink at Asaf Granit’s Coal Office. Unlike the rest of the place it was great value, with a better ambiance and astonishing service. Coal Drop Yard’s the future. Bring your platinum credit card (not to the Coal-Office though.).



Last week I spanned 1000 years.  From ye olde England to Imperial Britain to melting pot UK to Global shopping centre.

I felt like I’d seen a revolution and it was a revelation. It was also rather exciting.