Thursday, 23 December 2021


 The Christmas story seldom changes. Presents. Crackers. Santa. Carols. Christmas cards and the greatest story ever told. Shops and ‘Toys-of-the Year’ come and go but there’s an annual constant in our lives. Anticipation, celebration, decoration and fun.

Another constant is the illusion that this year it’ll snow. But there’ve been only 10 white Christmases in the south of England since 1960 (admittedly 26 in the chilly north). But we can hope one day it’ll look like this.

But when it does, we’ll all be having fun on the ice like the Dutch were doing in this Breughel painting of 1565. He manages to make cold look so appealing. But so cold!        

Or having a wonderful dinner like these Edwardian grandees, people like you, I imagine, rich, successful, out of your minds… by the way, beware that chap on the bottom right who seems to have had several too many already.

But best of all is that wide eyed anticipation and excitement of children everywhere at Christmas and the thrill of all those unchanging Christmas decorations. The joy of those children and their delicious expectations are heartwarming.

Have a happy and, yes, a heartwarming Christmas and an enjoyable New Year full of nice surprises. It’s time for optimism.

Richard and Kate

Monday, 20 December 2021


No. Not the weather. Rather it was the rowdy debate in the House of Commons and, specifically, the torrents of unseasonal, ill humour that we saw from the government backbenches. We have become used to it over time but something snapped on December 14th. People I know who have always voted conservative were aghast at the vituperation and sheer nastiness and declared they couldn’t vote conservative again. Was it because of the parties, the Boris buffoonery, sleaze or resistance to government policies on health?

Coronavirus: Tory rebel Desmond Swayne in stern warning to PM as lockdown  begins | Politics | News |

None of these. It was the performance of backbenchers like Sir Desmond Swayne that made many feel they could have nothing to do with people like this.

I quote his remarks at some length because they were so distressing to many:-  

"On a typical winter’s day, between 200 and 350 people will die of flu. Do we hide behind our masks? Do we lurk at home, working from home? Do we demand that people provide their bona fides before going to a venue? Do we require people to be vaccinated as a condition of keeping their jobs?

Do we take seriously some of the extraordinary extrapolations that we have been given, particularly given the previous record? The fact is that those are things that might take place, and we have to balance them against the known costs and damage to enterprise, economy and society.

Desmond Swayne proves himself to be the Muhammad Ali of stupid – the  stupidest of all time | The Independent

In the end, it comes down to a matter of opinion—a matter of our prejudice. Typically, we are capable of organising our lives and making those decisions for ourselves. We decide what our risk appetite is and what we are or are not prepared to encounter. Notwithstanding the carnage on our roads, which is certainly killing more people than covid at the moment, some of us still decide to drive. It is a matter of opinion.

It comes down to letting loose the dogs of war—getting the fear factor into it and getting the officials, the members of SAGE, Independent SAGE and SPI-M and all those who speak in their private capacity out there twisting the fear lever……

The Government, having administered this Ministry of fear, are absolutely complicit with their officials and organisations who have designed and delivered it. In doing so, they have abandoned any principle of social democracy or liberal democracy, absolutely beyond anything that we have endured in recent living memory, in the history of this pandemic. As a consequence, having abandoned what might have been their ideology, they are rudderless and so much more at risk of the opinions and predictions of the advisers to whom they are in hock."

In fact 1,460 people died in road fatalities in the UK 2020. 147,000 people have died of Covid so far. That’s about 5 times the number who typically die of flu.

Coffin - Wikipedia

Fear? Yes, most people are frightened and it seems more people support recent Government measures and accept it’s their social  responsibility to protect others as well as themselves. Unmasked people on buses are the exception now. Large indoor gatherings are being generally avoided. 

A real shame' if enforcement needed against Aucklanders not wearing masks  on public transport, Chris Hipkins says |

Should we not welcome debate? Of course we should. But as Sir Desmond, himself admits “typically we are capable of organising our lives” but typically we also find it helpful to have scientific advice. 

If we look at Europe we find most countries take a much tougher attitude to lockdowns and personal restrictions than we do in the UK.

This may not make this the most convivial Christmas ever but “typically” we are pretty good at making the best of things. So let’s do that now.

The Christmas lights displays you can see without leaving your car - Hull  Live

Monday, 13 December 2021


Throughout my life the nation’s mood seemed to lighten in the build-up to Christmas and for a few days afterwards and it wasn’t Christmas parties that created this bonhomie. It was a combination of the ending of one year and starting another; a year which started with hope and wonder. The lead-up to Christmas was one of good humour and community. It was silly season in the media and silly spending on presents. There were always a few Grinches and Scrooges around but as  the quote in the Gospel of St John says:

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer

Especially at Christmas. 

“Be of good cheer” sounds old fashioned but those words reek of Christmas. But Christmas 2021 which started weakly has collapsed in a complete mess. 

Politics first. Donald Savoie said in the Guardian “Politics has lost its soul”. He then said image had replaced policy and that:

“The problem is that the economic and political interests of the political, intellectual and economic elites are heard at the expense of the broader community.”

I have a problem with this. 

Donald wrote this piece in 2011 and now it’s got much, much worse.  And will probably get even worse. We can blame much of this on the Billy Bunterish antics of the current Prime Minister but the problem is more deep seated than those provoked by this cavalier misfit. 

Things Can Only Get Worse? by John O'Farrell | Waterstones


Billy Bunter at Butlins - Cartoon Gallery

From top to bottom the political system is rotten. There are so few grown-ups around– perhaps a few - but with the departure of Angela Merkel as German leader Nicola Sturgeon seems the leader with the most gravitas. 

We don’t pay our MPs enough, although we could sort that by having fewer of them, but the real issue is quality, integrity, intelligence and their breadth of real world experience. Most of us have no one we could vote for. Should it be Priti Patel or Angela Rayner? Crumbs, that’s such a hard choice. As things stand abstentions will be the winning vote at the next election.

The fact that the current furore is about Christmas Parties says it all. Those who broke the rules are fools and that’s what hurts most. Why should we be governed by fools?

Secondly the pandemic….again. Sick of it as we may be, we have to face probable truths (no, we don’t categorically know how serious an illness Omicron will be). However at least 60 Tory MPs seem happy to risk its being a minor thing as they vote against increased precautions this week (anyway it’s their constituents in their smaller homes and in their poorly paid jobs who are most at risk). Prudence was a word much loved by conservatives once. No longer.

Kentucky tornadoes: up to 100 feared dead in historic US storms | Tornadoes  | The Guardian

Thirdly climate and catastrophe. Over the weekend the small town of Mayfield, Kentucky was flattened by one of the worst tornados ever. At least 70 people were killed. The tornado was preceded by weird extremes of temperature. Commentators described the pulverising of ornate Christmas decorations in this town. Happy Christmas? No, not there, poor souls.

And in the Ukraine it isn’t sledges we’ll be looking out for next Saturday. 

A military tank driving on a dirt road

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Despite this (hard but try) let’s be of good cheer and be nice to our family and friends (remember being nice?) Let’s stop listening to the ghastly news and infuriating social media – guys, haven’t you got anything better to do than rail and grumble?

Keep safe, keep calm, have a relaxing time and heed the words of the briefing in the 1980s TV series Hill Street Blues

“Hey…let’s be careful out there.”

Monday, 6 December 2021


I’ve just had the first mince pie this year. That’s rich I’ve just had the first mince pie this year. Spiciness brings back memories of Christmases past when Christmas was just a three-day interlude.

The best mince pies in Britain 2019: Country Life's ultimate taste test -  Country Life

This week the “Christmas Party” debate has started. Boris, who resembles, as much as anything else, an out-of-work Santa Claus – full of “ho, ho, ho’s” with sacks of expensive presents but nowhere to do his stuff. He is (when was he not?) determined to give us the Christmas we need and deserve. He’s surrounded by Ministers and medical advisors who’d like to dial down these celebrations “just one glass of mulled wine and drink it slowly.” Boris, on the other hand, belongs to the “let’s get lashed and snog anyone pretty” party.

Remarkable photos reveal Boris Johnson and his now famous contemparies  partying in the 1980s | Express Digest

I loathe Christmas Parties of the sort being discussed; the corporate shindigs that HR hates yet thrives on when picking up the pieces of party ‘naughtiness’ or worse and the highfliers who compromise their careers by over-doing it. These are occasions when people of talent, worth and weak-will awaken the next day muttering “oh no, I didn’t, did I?” 

Christmas parties are expensive, high-risk adventures. They belong to the past when patronising, senior management were meant to smile indulgently at their staff “letting their hair down.” 

Avoiding Christmas Party HR Disasters - Employsure

I reject all the nonsense about bonding, motivation and building the culture. Read about the ghastly orgies of the discredited company We Work, and you may agree. Or you may think mine are the fun-rejecting rants of a Grinch. For sure I am not the Minister of Mirth. 

Because I hate phony fun. I hate self-destruction. I hate the imperative for “big parties” without asking “why are we doing it?”

I’ve watched a restaurant destroyed by an out-of-control crowd of Christmas celebrants. At another all three of the emergency services arrived – to save someone trapped in a lift (Fire); to rush to hospital a poor soul who’d fallen and twisted his kneecap, so it pointed agonisingly out of the back of his leg (Ambulance) and (Police) in response to householder complaints, a large number of policemen arriving to arrest “whoever was in charge” (exit discreetly all senior management).

Cops storm wake after dozens of 'travellers' break Covid lockdown to cram  into caravans for funeral party

It was infamous but it was a long time ago. Afterwards everyone involved felt like members of a riotous rebel insurrection. We were precursors of the Insulate Rebels who stick themselves to the tarmac. But on reflection we had more fun and made a lot more noise.

So, can we have fun without that office party?

Yes, we could spend that money better; yes, we could construct something more exciting than just another booze-up. But no, we can’t be entirely rational in deciding what to do. Fun didn’t get a degree. Fun doesn’t live in spread sheets. But fun does make us feel more human. And Christmas is and always was exciting and a revelation. You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate a great story and the spectacular music, tunes and celebration that Christmas creates. It’s still special and human.

Let’s just stop and think about how to create our own sense of fun and celebration. We don’t need an office load to create bonhomie. A few friends; a few colleagues; people you’d want to be with, not people you have to be with and don’t really know.

I remember my father, sometimes a little dour, suddenly a revelation of jollity, toasting me in Green Chartreuse (does it still exist?) many years ago and smiling “Happy Christmas, old boy”.

Green Chartreuse, 70cl. Gerry's Wines & Spirits - Buy wines and spirits  online at

That was a magic moment. 

Let’s have Christmas parties that make us feel more like that. 



Monday, 29 November 2021


It goes back a long way, before the industrial revolution which itself led to our 24/7/365 world. To when the harvest was, as the hymn says: “safely gathered in”, the pig was in the last phase of being fattened up before being slaughtered, when the frown of winter deepening and getting under the cosy covers at night was the best time of the day. That was when we learnt to replenish and prepare for the next productive seasons starting in April. Like plant life we hid ourselves in a winter snooze.

Why Snoozing Makes You Lazier — Logan Lenz

The word “snooze” has a bad reputation. Today “having a snooze” is a slightly furtive thing to do. There is no longer room for the unproductive or the lazy. No room for re-fueling or replenishing. No time to snooze. 

Yet slowing down, meditating, rebooting, refreshing, and replenishing over the next two months is exactly what we should be doing. This means preparing for the next assault. It means taking stock and filling in the gaps in our lives. It means loving ourselves more, developing our talents, instincts, and potential. It means getting ready to live anew. And it’s easier to do when it’s cold and gloomy, when the days are short and indoors, in the warm, is your laboratory for crafting ‘The You of 2022.’

So, here’s “Project Replenish” and some ways of doing it: -

  • Sleep in … a lot. We’re told sleep is important. In the long, dark winter, it’s critical. Sleep experts recommend 8 hours a night. In winter go for more. Get up later. Have a nap after lunch. Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet. 

A group of people walking

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

  • Slow down. Many of us rush around. We are busy, busy, busy. Stop - it’s ‘winter speed’ now. Take more time over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Linger in the shower or bath. Have fewer things in your diary. Allow more time to reflect between events and meetings.

  • Taste/relish your food and drink. Part of replenishment lies in eating our meals more slowly and enjoying them. Food isn’t just fuel. It’s a luxury to savour.

             Why can't I feel satisfied after a meal? - Quora

  • Spend an hour a day just musing – musing means “to consider something thoughtfully”. Just musing on anything (or if you’re a “Super Muser” on nothing) will refresh your brain. Musing isn’t just amusing it’s replenishing.

  • Visit the neglected in your life. Say “hallo” to the 20,40 or 100 people you’ve forgotten about or remembered but lost touch with. Write a note, an e-mail or call a few of these every day. 

  • Read more, much more slowly. To replenish you need to relish. Don’t gobble up a 300-page book in 4 ½ hours. Read more slowly and re-read bits you really enjoy. This is not a “Reading Race.”

             Silhouette of woman reading lying down Stock Photos - Page 1 : Masterfile

  • Stop being angry about “stuff”. There’s a lot of stress around and a lot of rage about what other people think. If you come across something you think is crass, perverse, or just plain batty, think about it and reflect on why they (whoever they are) say that and think that.

  • Pamper yourself. Cold outside, warm inside equals dry skin. Use moisturiser. Spoil yourself with an occasional “be kind to yourself” present.” As L’Oreal rather coyly put it “Because you’re worth it.”

  • Stop reading the paper and watching the news for a while. Too much politics. Too many broken promises. Take a rest. They’ll survive.

We have this two-month opportunity to revitalise ourselves. The past two years have been unusually exhausting. Try some of these strategies. 

Replenish and prepare for 2022. 

Sleeping happy smiling office worker woman Vector Image

Monday, 22 November 2021


Between the ages of 16 and 50, I spent a lot of my weekends playing cricket. Over the past week I’ve been thinking about racism in cricket. I experienced hardly any racism although I was once described as a “honky” by a West Indian fielder. 

Back in the 1980s the power of the West Indian teams was such that any racist remark by someone stupid enough to make it would have resulted in some lightning fast short-pitched bowling aimed at their helmetless heads. One player in county cricket stood out. Wayne Daniels. He was called “Sir”.

200 Cricket ideas | cricket, sport of kings, sports

The most enjoyable cricket I played was when white players were in the minority, when talent was what counted, where sheer unbridled joy in the game was what stood out.

But there was a remark in the Azim Rafeeq hearing that stopped me. It came from one of the Yorkshire Cricket Club Board. It said that “Asim lacked White Rose qualities and attitudes”. This made me shiver.

A person with his hand on his face

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

I recalled a particular cricket dressing room. The smell of BO and Brut, old unwashed kit spread around and a laddism that would have been at all levels unacceptable today. It was ghastly then, but it represented the cultural language of our team. It was misanthropic, misogynistic, homophobic, satirical, cruel, and crude. Almost certainly it was racist too. Everyone had a nickname – none of them pleasant. There was team-bonding and a slightly hysterically fueled hatred of our opponents. This was the same credo as the Allan Border-led Australian team of the late 1980s. He was known as “Captain Grumpy.”

Happy Birthday Allan Border - Interesting Facts, Trivia, And Records About 'Captain  Grumpy' On Cricketnmore

Dressing Rooms like Board Rooms can be dangerously self-deluding places. Last week has at least corrected that impression.

What bewilders me is anyone thinking racism is acceptable in 2021 yet the people who ran, and presumably some who still run cricket in Yorkshire, think it is acceptable, or maybe worse, they don’t even realise that they are being racist.

In the 1980s advertising had a slight smell of -ism about it. A black art director who liked his photography to be dark and moody who was called the Prince of Darkness. He seemed amused – but was he? A team at Saatchi & Saatchi who dressed as ‘The Blues Brothers’ – trilbies, dark glasses, black suits, white shirts, narrow black ties. They grimly told their clients they were “on a mission from God”. 

This was a world of alcohol, drugs, and beautiful women. It made ‘Mad Men’ look rather underpowered. It was not so much an -ism as a world in which to be politically correct (I’m not even sure we even knew what that meant back then) was to be out of step.

Mad Men: Shop the Mid-Century Look

Now, not to be politically correct is to be unemployable. It isn’t good enough to say the right things, you must not even think the wrong things. The result of last week’s hearing will be an upheaval in sporting governance, not just that of cricket. In Friday’s Times, Sports Columnist Matt Dickinson said:

“There’s no other word for it: the way we run sport is nuts”   

 He’s right. The comments of many of the leaders in cricket fill me with dread. Sport is no longer an amateur business. For better or worse (mostly if run well, for better) the money floods in to allow world class talent to be properly rewarded.

This is what happens if you don’t understand this simple truth. 

Sunder Katwala on Twitter: "My @EasternEye column on cricket & race.  The 'banter' defence is collapsing under political and sponsor pressure -  including from @sajidjavid @julianknight15 @DanJarvisMP et al How can  cricket

Money matters but our self-respect matters more. Our world has changed. We need to change with it or become just a footnote in history.

Cricket RIP.

Hopefully not.

Monday, 15 November 2021


When you don’t understand something it’s better to admit it than to bullshit. After years of fiddling at the fringes of social media in common with several acquaintances I have decided to become antisocial. No more Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Twitter. I didn’t really understand them anyway except as a medium for sounding off.

Wednesday Wellbeing: How to use social media and retain your sanity – IT'S  A LAWYERS LIFE

We shall not miss each other.

But there was one occasion in my life in 1972 when despite a complete failure of comprehension, I changed someone’s life.

I was in advertising and one of my clients, James Arnold-Baker, who was Managing Director of a big record company called Record Merchandisers called to say he needed an urgent piece of advertising to promote the just released record of a Scottish unknown and his appearance in the biggest Woolworth Record Department in Glasgow. I asked him to send me the record. The artist was a scruffy banjo player called Billy Connolly. The record was called Billy Connolly Live!


I played the record, but I could barely understand a word. It sounded something like this punctuated by coughs, grunts, “fek dis” and banjo sounds:

“BANJO MUSIC – Oh fekin twat.....meh ahse twand...pie on cwarp ...fwackin hell...fwackin lad spit! – AUDIENCE LAUGHTER AND panna ...outavinda what penny throw...aaaggh...pennies...aaagh fekin larf doon ma breeks piss ahsel ... feckin darfme - AUDIENCE ERUPTS”

I wrote a conventional brief for the creative people, hyping the cultural strength of this new star.

“What Bruce Forsyth is to The London Palladium Billy Connolly is to Glasgow”... shameless.

But the creatives refused to create an ad because my client or I was “taking the piss. No one can understand this. Stop wasting our time”

So, I wrote the ad myself – an enthusiastic presenter saying where, when and why Billy would be on a given date followed by excerpts of Connolly and audience laughter. I managed to get as many what I supposed was the “f” word in as I could. And no one complained and Sauchiehall Street was jammed solid with eager crowds to meet Billy and buy the record.

From banjo player with a gift in chat to superstar comic in 30 seconds of nonsense.

Ignorance can be bliss.

Tory sleaze is no surprise when self-interest is the party's driving force'  - Kevin Maguire - Mirror Online

Or, of course, the reverse. Seldom can political missteps (starting with the Patterson fiasco) have been conducted with such cocky assurance that nothing could go wrong. The word “sleaze” has become inextricably linked to Tory. It’s started and will go on...too late to stop ... the sleaze wagon is on the move - the product of Government failure to understand the media would use this hook on to which to attach every Tory story.

Most of us are weary of the Covid story. Many think it’s yesterday’s news, that we know all we need to know, that the beast’s been conquered, that it’s party-time. 

Take it away Shakin’ Stevens: 

“Snow is falling

All around me

Children playing 

having fun

It’s the season

Love and understanding

Merry Christmas everyone”

Merry Christmas everyone! | Caremark

Hmm .... talk to people in Bavaria, in Austria, in Holland, in Norway and Sweden. Covid is back with a vengeance in retaliation for their having taken its disappearance for granted. Bavaria has declared a “state of catastrophe” with intensive care units close to collapse. In Germany nearly half the new cases are amongst the vaccinated due to the waning efficacy of vaccinations over time or to a new variant.

COVID: Fourth wave 'in full force' in Germany as WHO warns Europe is 'back  at epicentre' | World News | Sky News

Politicians there are talking about restrictions including isolation/house arrest for the unvaccinated; there are mutterings of the unspeakable – lockdowns.

All this the product of incaution and ignorance.

So, a not so Merry Christmas may be looming.

Monday, 8 November 2021


Officially winter starts on December 21st. Yet first thing on Friday it was really chilly with a frost. I recalled a poem First Frost by Edwin Curran an American poet born at the end of the 19th century:

The flowers grow in the garden pied
Velvet, imperial, laughing-eyed,
While on them all hovers a breath,
The whistling frost of silver death.

A Frosty Morning | At the Write Time

I’d been feeling pretty mouldy for several weeks so I empathised with phrases like “silver death” but more to the point the blue sky, the bright sun and that familiar ‘Brrr!’… feeling as I wound my scarf more tightly round my neck, made me feel so much more alive than I’d recently felt. I love seasons. Autumn, like claret, is my thing but I also recall the thrill of bleak midwinters as imagined by Christina Rossetti.

School Gate Etiquette: Five Do's and Don'ts

I was up early as we were taking our 7-year-old granddaughter to school. The children all “laughing eyed” were waiting patiently at the gate looking eager, happy and expectant. The tired dismay I’d been feeling earlier, based on a mess of dismal news about institutional racism, sleaze and sheer stupidity, together with unexpected Republican victories in America, ebbed away. These children were the future, and it was lovely to see. No prejudice, no-isms  just a joy in life and the present. There was also a sense of humour that was rich in wicked fun:- 

“So what did you do in school yesterday?”

“Oh, fighting and cutting up butterflies.”

Fall is yet to happen. The leaves are still withering but green on the trees. Winter is waiting. As are our fuel bills. Ours I’m told will be over £5,000. Eyewatering but it’s my wine cellar that will take the hit to accommodate that.

I’ve decided to stop grumbling about the racism, sleaze and sheer stupidity journalists are slavering over.


Blood & Beauty: The Borgias by Sarah Dunant

Instead I’m thinking about reading a good book – currently Sarah Dunant’s “Blood and Beauty” about the Borgias, sipping a chilled Pinot Grigio – tiny ones to savour - and listening to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.  His music has such a sense of fluent certainty about it.  He makes it sound easy.

The story of our times is not that complex; it’s happened before; it’s a perennial story. Old v New; Past v Present; Continuity v Change. As people get older they’ll often lament “why do they keep changing things?” The answer is because old naturally has to renew; because humanity is creative and keeps on trying to improve things and the sheer economic logic of change which creates work, money and jobs.

The biggest difficulty in life is people. Understanding them, hearing them and speaking to them. Persuading billions of people to be poorer more uncomfortable and colder is difficult. We are wealthier, healthier world than we were a century ago because we’ve worked harder, more creatively but also created more pollution.

But things are changing. In India a 15 year old has invented a solar powered ironing cart to replace thousands of previously coal powered ironing carts. Enterprise and determination win again.

A picture containing text, tree, outdoor, bicycle

Description automatically generated

In the Dominican Republic a start-up business is working successfully on cultivating coral on land, making it more resilient to changes in temperature and acidity and then transplanting it to the ocean. Great story. 

Finally read Jeremy Paxman’s Black Gold.  It tells the story of coal and how it transformed us in the Industrial Revolution and then propelled us globally to where we are today. But we have changed. Coal is of yesterday as the horse is a mode of transport. And we can change further because, remember… winter is coming.

Hard Graft By Jeremy Paxman