Monday, 21 December 2020


Christmas has always been about anticipation; a build-up to a magical event. Whether  you’re Christian or not the Christmas story and carols are wonderful. Through the year we drearily sing hymns like “We plough the fields and scatter” (enough to put anyone off farming.) At Christmas we have gems like “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” or “Adam lay ybounden” or the glorious prose/poetry of the King James Bible readings. 

Kings College Cambridge and their Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols becomes more glorious than the Royal Opera House or Glyndebourne for that afternoon of December 24th. Agnostics begrudgingly, albeit briefly, put aside their doubts.

Christmas presents are beautifully wrapped and ribboned - “I need your finger” I’m warned -  as a pair of socks resembles a treasure from Harrods with ribbons and bows whilst I anchor the ribbon with my finger.

Our house has lights and wreaths and music. We are celebrating. We are waiting. We are crossing our fingers that this is a special event and not a disappointment or a hangover.

Commercialisation has not spoilt Christmas although starting it in October seems a touch opportunist. It’d just that Christmas has become all about value as opposed to values.

It was Dr Mark Carney, ex-Governor of the Bank of England, in his recent Reith lectures who observed this distinction. Globally we have become obsessed with money and are forgetting the values that underpin our civilisation.

Two recent examples struck me: the recent IPO of a US business called DoorDash (a glorified Deliveroo). It has not recorded a profit since being founded in 2013 although it’s gained share from other home delivery companies. In December 8th its valuation amidst investor frenzy exceeded $68 billion. Funds like Citron, who’ve derided this business valuation, have cooled the price but this seemingly worthless company is still ‘hot’.

The second story is about the madness of ministers. The Right Honourable Robert Jenrick (who’s neither right nor particularly honourable given this proposal) has floated the idea of shifting our major celebration from Christmas to Easter so everyone gets to party in safety. 

Trouble is Bob, that plays havoc with the Christian calendar unless you are proposing ‘Speed Christianity’. From Birth to Crucifixion to Resurrection all in three days. Roast Turkey stuffed with hot cross buns. Lovely. No values there.

Back to anticipation on a more personal level. My car broke down. All battery life gone. As I waited and waited for the RAC I felt the increasing need to pee. But it was in the middle of a town and doing it in the street and a lamp post like a dog was a no-go strategy. From the first yearnings to eventually getting home was around four hours. But when I did it was worth waiting for.

Despite what promises to be a messed-up season of jollity because of the new strains of Covid that are spreading much more rapidly than expected, the sense of anticipation remains, hopes as well as fears:

Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight

This painting by the Dutch artist Avercamp in the early 1600s is all about community, cold and fun. Yes, I hope we have snow. I hope we get outside and have some fun at last. 

Meanwhile, have a great, bibulous celebration, better than you’d feared and count your blessings. “Ding dong merrily on high”

Monday, 14 December 2020


It’s odd how a tune you haven’t heard for decades suddenly leaps into your mind together with the lyrics. This happened to me last week. It was sung by Bing Crosby in a successful 1949 film called ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’.


We're busy doing nothing
Working the whole day through
Trying to find lots of things not to do
We're busy going nowhere
Isn't it just a crime
We'd like to be unhappy, but
We never do have the time.”

The film based on a book by Mark Twain explores the clash and chemistry of two cultures 1500 years apart. In a way it’s a story of our times with that song an anthem to Covid and its effects. 

I’ve felt as though I was “busy going nowhere” recently. The Brexit negotiators on both sides of the table must have felt the same too.

News from around the world is a mixture of déjà vu (will I be allowed to use French words in 2021?) and aimlessness.

The virus has taken hold of parts of China – again- and airline crew have been instructed to wear nappies as the use of aeroplane loos is discouraged. Nice.

Germany, until recently a paragon, has such serious rises in infection that Christmas may be called off. Angela Merkel addressed the nation in tears begging increased caution as daily infection rates neared 20,000 and peaked last week at 23,000. 

Meanwhile California is in Covid crisis with three regions, San Joaquin Valley, Southern California, and Greater Sacramento under the Regional Stay at Home Order.

In Sweden their policy of relaxing restrictions and hoping for herd immunity, so appealing to many as they ate and drank cheerfully in restaurants, has bluntly failed.

Meanwhile the anti-vaccine movement is gaining strength in the UK and USA. In the UK one in six will not accept vaccination with a further one in six sitting on the fence.

Depressing news but leavened for me by a story of waiters in pubs in Britain where you can’t order drinks unless you are eating a main meal encouraging customers to leave food on their plate so they can order more drinks claiming, as the food congeals, “I haven’t finished yet”

But aimlessness met despair for me last week when once again Venice flooded. I am exceedingly fond of this city and everything about it apart from the acqua alta, the seasonal tide rises which devastated Venice last year. The controversial flood defence, the 78 mobile barriers of the ‘Mose Project’, have been used twice recently to good effect but weren’t in use on December 8th as stronger than expected winds and high water in rivers flowing into the lagoon created another flood in the city.

The aimless Venetian officials explained that no one had forecast it was going to be such a high tide, that raising the flood barriers was an extreme precaution as it disrupts shipping and – anyway – it takes 80 personnel and 48 hours to erect them. Bah humbug. I just don’t believe this. This is a classic case of being busy doing nothing. Venice deserves much better.

On a lighter note, Brighton has low rates of Covid infection and this has been maintained for some weeks. Infection amongst students, usually a high-risk group, is also low. There are no floods. The sun’s shining. Locally grown food is available and selling well. We are prepared for anything and though some of us might like to be unhappy “We never do have the time.”


Monday, 7 December 2020


Years ago I worked with someone who was rather lethargic. One day I walked into his empty office and found written on his wall “I feel so tired” …20 times. It was eerie. Rather like finding Jack’s book open in “The Shining”.

I kept a wary eye on him after that. Then he left, started a new company and became extremely wealthy. At that point I felt really tired.

I’m constantly hearing  people lamenting their weariness. What’s going on? We don’t commute or travel anywhere. We had a lovely, lazy summer redolent of the Kinks:

“I love to live so pleasantly
Live this life of luxury
Lazing on a sunny afternoon”

But in the Kinks song all is not well. Tax burdens. Bailiffs. Broken relationships. Boredom and weariness.

Now we’re lashed by unending news and interviews with second-ranking Ministers of State.  It’s like Groundhog Day. We’re all clones of Bill Murray. 

I even know someone who, in a state of woe, stayed up very late listening to the early results of the US Presidential Election when it seemed Trump might pull it off. We’ve become depressingly knowledgeable about politics, Covid, health issues, the NHS.  It’s time to get a life instead of being self-obsessed hypochondriacs. We’re being ruled not by fear of the virus but by all the worries of the world. Like the Guardian we’ve become experts in what’s wrong.

Time to re-energise and look on the upside. I love the fresh air of change. We now live in a world where we can develop a vaccine from scratch in 10 months rather than 10 years. Quantum Computing is changing everything. Last week Deep Mind (part of Google in the UK)  has created  a programme called Alpha Fold that can predict protein shapes. This is the biggest scientific breakthrough in many years. Other scientists are saying this is a development they’d have described as having a feasibility of happening  “not in my lifetime.”  Proteins are the workhorses of life. In a human being there are 80,000 to 400,000 of them. A scientist on the Radio 4 Today programme described protein as being like shoelaces but you don’t know what shape they’ll tie into. If you knew you could anticipate diseases and shape the life of human beings positively. 

I love seeing new enterprise. Ours is rapidly becoming a brave, new world. Getting back to normal was a pretty unambitious aim: normal was not so great. Now we are at last rushing to try and reverse climate change – with even the Chinese setting carbon-free targets. We are changing that face of normal.  The way we do our shopping has changed and soon Amazon won’t be the only show around. Watch out for Ocado. 

The way we travel and why we do it is changing.  We’ll be working from home as well as meeting together and learning new skills. Eating out will return but quality will become a bigger factor. In the lockdown wine sales have held up well but people are paying much more for a bottle than they did last year. Local communities are beginning to thrive. I can’t influence the Senatorial election in Georgia but I might help solve the litter problems in Central Brighton.

The antidote to fatigue is exhilaration not more news. The contribution that Netflix makes to human good is bigger than the Times, BBC News, the Guardian and the Economist.

Back to the Shining.  “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. So let’s start to play again. Celebrate, talk, laugh and enjoy. 

Happy December. Ho. Ho. Ho.