Monday, 24 June 2019


Just nine days pottering around in the jewel of the Adriatic was very restful. A word to all of you out there who are saying you’re knackered.

You are. You need a break.

I was knackered and now I’m feeling great not least because I’ve dragged the Venetian weather back here.

Observations on Venice:
  • Still manages to be beautiful and, yes, serene. The sun creating twinkles on the canals fills my heart with joy.
  • The airport has got international class – you get through in a jiffy; it’s clean, cool and elegant. The Marco Polo Lounge has to the very nicest I’ve been in.
  • Campari Spritz, a vile-tasting concoction when drunk in the UK, tastes absolutely fabulous there and as part of that away-from-homeness feeling one has relaxing in the sun.
  • We must has been about the only Brits there… what’s going on? Venice used to teem with Waitrose shoppers, now no more. Lots of Americans, Germans, French, Indians and Italians. And (also) where have all the Chinese gone?
  • Aha! They’ve gone to the Tedeschi, which was in the 13th century and beyond, the HQ of German Traders in Venice. Now it describes itself as “The Lifestyle Department Store”.  We visited it briefly having observed (as it were) the absence of wasps in Venice this year and finding ourselves in a huge wasps’ nest. Chinese families all paying in cash and spending thousands of dollars on Prada, Cartier, Chanel, Burberry. It’s an amazing tribute to the power of luxury branding and the sudden growth in personal wealth of the world’s second largest economy. 
  • Sadly the place is full of beggars, mostly illegal immigrants brazenly demanding money in an intimidating way. It was made illegal in 2008 but no one now enforces it.
  • Just before we arrived the cruise liner, the MSC Opera, crashed out of control into the Zattere just west of San Basilio. On just our first day there were three of these nautical  monsters lumbering up the Guidecca canal. Imagine a 40 storey skyscraper being built next to Admiralty Arch in London. Yes it’s that inappropriate. 
  • Finally a sour grape from an ex adman. On a deconsecrated church on the Riva Degli Schiavoni just beyond the Danieli Hotel facing out into the lagoon  is the vastest, nastiest poster ever. It’s for Balenciaga which says, well it just says Balenciaga in letters 20 feet high. This was last year’s – this year’s is even worse. I hated the brand in 2018.

And, now,  the bad news.

 I now hate Balenciaga even more.

 Just thinking and looking at the Grand Canal I’m forced to take the long view and think of history. Virtually all the buildings are over five centuries old.  Somehow Britain, Brexit and Boris seem a little trivial when I’m here.  

I want to quote from that brilliant speech Aaron  Sorkin wrote for the first episode of the Newsroom orated by Jeff Daniels. I’m thinking of Britain as I read it:

“America isn’t the greatest country any more… It sure used to be… We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason.  We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbours, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest.  We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed… by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”

Venice was great once. America was great once. We called ourselves Great Britain. But we aren’t great anymore….we sure used to be. We have a problem to solve.

Monday, 3 June 2019


As I age and ache, that saying comes to mind that being an old (ish) man, even on a good day, feels not much different from being a young (ish) man except that young man is feeling rather unwell.  But it’s the mind I want to focus on. We are supposed to become more conservative,  more prone to live in the past and more averse to loss as the years pass.

Almost 50% of Conservative Party voters in the UK are over 65 and only 16% of those under 35 say they’ll vote conservative. By rights I should be joining my cohort but….but…. as the years pass I’m getting more left wing.  The Wedgewood Benn in me has, suddenly, like something from ‘The Alien’ leapt snarling from my body. Only it isn’t snarling, it’s full of good humour, just a little anti-capitalist. I  sat in church on Sunday listening to the hymn “Glorious Things of thee are Spoken” with that couplet about the overly rich and smug:

“Fading is the worldling’s pleasure, 
 All his boasted pomp and show”.

The Christians have always known how to smack the rich, them and their “boasted pomp and blasted yachts”. But it isn’t just their “boasted pomp”; more importantly it’s their extreme right-wing Toryness that alienates me.

Alistair Campbell has, meanwhile,  lost his home in Labour who, in turn,  seem to have lost their political minds according to Matthew Goodwin’s article “The Strange Death of Labour” in the Sunday Times.  We slightly further right of Alistair and wondering where our political home might be are facing, like Tennyson’s Light Brigade (misquoted):

“Idiots to the right of us
Idiots to the left of us
Idiots in front to us” 

 I am spending my days frustrated by homelessness, poverty, official attitudes to migrants and the problems suffered in Northern Africa, the tragic decline in manners (stop shuffling Donald Trump. We respect your office but you are very naughty),  the dislocation of a significant number of young children – posing knife threats but worse than that in the long term. We have become a richer, smarter, more excluding and less kind society and that makes me sad.

We‘ve stopped caring enough about the big issues. This “Withdrawal Agreement” has not been a big issue at all - just a fatally misunderstood “preliminary” agreement. We shall have to learn new skills like listening and doing coalition well. The old votes and tribal loyalties are dead. John Scott – the mediator - said this about our world:

“In this increasingly complex, kick-arse, hurtling, over-provided world most people want a simpler life.”

Hurray for simplicity.

And that is just what Clement Attlee described:

“(No) differences arose between Conservatives, Labour and Liberals ….in the War Cabinet … not in the big things. ... 

When one came to work out solutions … one had to …disregard private interests.  But there was no opposition from Conservative Ministers. 
They accepted the practical solution whatever it was.”

That’s all we ask.