Monday, 25 October 2021


 Well, I guessed that might capture your attention. The trouble is success is relative. Would you rather be Jacob Rees-Mogg – rich, with a beautiful house and Rolls Royce or a League Two footballer for Exeter City (9th in the table) and dreaming of promotion. I know which I’d prefer.

But success can’t have ever come in such abundance as it has for Richard Osman the gameshow host, TV producer and writer.

The Thursday Murder Club: The Record-Breaking Sunday Times Number One  Bestseller (The Thursday Murder Club, 1): Osman, Richard:  9780241425442: Books

As a writer he’s breaking all publishing records. So far “The Thursday Murder Club” is only the 2nd work of fiction this century to sell over a million copies. His second book “The Man who Died Twice” sold 114,202 in the first week, one of the fastest opening-week sales of a book ever. The film rights for the first book have been secured by Stephen Spielberg. Richard is the Lionel Messi, or the Beatles, of fiction. If he wrote a book called “The Ditchling Sieved Lettuce Incident” it would sell another million.


The Beatles - IMDb

That’s the question the late Richard Rowe who was Head of A&R (Singles) at Decca Records from the 1950s to the 1970s and who rejected the Beatles would be still asking if he were still alive. 

Because the point is this - as Ann Treneman witheringly wrote in the Times last week -  “The Thursday Murder Club” is not a very easy or rewarding read. Not so says great novelist Ian Rankin it’s 'so smart and funny. Deplorably good’. Kate Atkinson is equally vociferous in her praise. But the point is I agree with Ann Treneman. I’ve read the book and found it rather weak and lacking in focus, and characterisation. My 98-year-old mother-in-law, still a keen reader of writers like Sarah Dunant, was more damning – “disappointing” she sniffed.

So why?

Three things:

1. Brilliant marketing

2. Richard is a carefully created modest and clever TV star we all know and love. He’s a good guy. An intellectual George Clooney.

3. He has settled into, and now owns a piece of unoccupied territory in literature. Old people as heroes. Forget that “love island” Sally Rooney and others compete in writing about. The 3 million over-60s are not so much an island as a continent with more millions of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who love them. How many Grandparents will get several copies of both books this Christmas? 

The Golden Oldies' Starting Next Week at the Royal Court - The Guide  Liverpool

So well done Richard Osman. Several million pounds richer says you are right and that I am wrong in finding your first book a bit Enid Blytonish - “The Retirement Home Of Adventure.” It hasn’t certainly been a “pointless exercise”.

But how I want to write the Texas Chainsaw Massacre version of his books with mad Sister Martha, a series of gruesome murderers, poisoned food and the uncovering of a drug smuggling operation…” that may explain the huge number of visitors in fast cars” mused Inspector Dim. “We’re dealing with Geriatric Lines – it’s worse than County Lines.” 

Mamma Mia! The Party | The O2

Richard Osman has done for the world of literature what Richard Curtis has done with Love Actually and what films like Marigold Hotel and then, Mama Mia did for extrovert audiences. I may not like Richard’s books, but I love the effect they’re having. Whatever else they are nice books which seek to spread joy (and yes Enid Blyton in her day did just that too.)

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman; The Diver and the Lover by  Jeremy Vine – review | Fiction | The Guardian

Richard has sneaked into the role of National Treasure alongside Jamie Oliver, Stephen Fry, Judie Dench, Adele and others. It was about time we had someone like him spreading good.

I’m just so sorry I didn’t enjoy that first book more. 

Monday, 18 October 2021


Brighton shock: Rubbish piles up in the streets and rats feast on scraps of  food in echo of dark days of the 1970s as resort's binmen go on strike -  NewsBreak

All over Brighton the bins are full and the streets are overflowing with rotting rubbish. It’s been like this for two weeks. The latest news about the strike is it could last until mid-November given talks between the GMB union and council have broken down. The GMB called action over changes of duties, drivers being removed from long-standing rounds and pay. Pessimists are predicting a six month stand-off.


The irony is the Council is led by the Green Party. A similar strike happened before -  nationwide in 1978-79 leading to Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power over the bones of the Labour administration in the “winter of discontent”.


Who was 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher? | Live Science


I’ve been surprised just how relaxed everyone seems to be about this hygiene catastrophe, exhibiting mild grumbles rather than outrage. A group of valiant lads proposed commandeering a lorry and clearing their area but were told by the council it would be illegal to intervene and dispose of this illegal rubbish in the tip.


What a load of rubbish. 


We might start burning it – not very green but we wouldn’t have a plague of rats. My frustration is that no one is seeking a solution to this urgent problem. Politicians, Waste Management Experts, Journalists, Union Officials are talking about it but not creating a solution…unlike the Pied Piper of Hamelin’s musical solution.

Pied piper of hamelin Royalty Free Vector Image


Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, who has had something of a rubbish week himself given the findings of the Health and Social Care Committee’s report on the handling of the Covid pandemic, said he believed we needed more engineers and engineering systems. 


Engineering, unlike Patrick, had a great week. The front page of the Times carried a story about the need to rename engineers. Professor Elena Rodriguez-Flacon thinks engineers should be called 'ingeniators' – ingenious innovators. 


Well, I think that’s rubbish. We need to celebrate engineers not rebrand them. I like the dictionary definition of the verb “to engineer” – “to skilfully arrange for (something) to occur”. Engineers are not just TV repairmen or radiator installers. Think Brunel, think Stephenson, think Archimedes, think Tesla (the engineer not the car!), think Leonardo. All engineers.


Drawings of Water Lifting Devices, c.1481 - Leonardo da Vinci -


Given the current global fragility of critical systems a few smart engineers would seem to be exactly what we need. Engineers not MBAs, engineers not politicians. If politicians had engineered the Channel Tunnel it would have ended up in Antwerp and then flooded.


Three stories that have cheered me up in the midst of the garbage mountain outside our house.  


  1. I had an x-ray recently at the Hove Polyclinic. Spotlessly clean. Plenty of parking. Charming people – It’s a no-appointment place;  I was in and out in 15 minutes. The radiology manager was Sid. Remember the Gas Privatisation advertising in 1986. The NHS can be amazing  when there are “Sids” to make it happen. 
  2. A friend of mine is running an incubator seeking new ways to convert waste (yes, rubbish) into useful and valuable material by employing the inventive skills of Chemical Engineers. It’s flying.
  3. Restaurants are open. Wild Flor in Brighton is back, delivering a splendid experience. They ‘engineer’ a perfect conjunction of relaxation, taste and pleasure.


What I’ve realised this past week is that good intentions, optimism and unbridled hope are not enough. We can eliminate grumpiness but never the need to question and work out how to engineer solutions and systems that work, are robust and adaptable. 


What’s happening in our rubbish strike is an absence on all sides of common sense, compassion, compromise and community. Brighton’s not a nice place to live in right now.

Monday, 11 October 2021


Last week I went to a funeral…another funeral. My life seems to have comprised a succession of funerals. They are nearly always stimulating, thoughtful and important. A pause at a moment in time; a chance to remember; a positive moment when we recall the best of a person.

A picture containing person, outdoor

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 Life is a film which, when it ends, is edited with all the dull moments hitting the cutting room floor. Most of us hope to end up like Hugh Grant in “Love Actually”. As a  hero, kind, a high-achiever, funny but clever…exceptionally talented. A star.

Hugh Grant's career regret: 'I should've made interesting decisions'

It was the absence of proper funerals during lockdown that was especially sad for many. Death became a furtive transaction with a crematorium rather than a celebration of a life well-lived.

Joe Orton, genius playwright, wrote “Funeral Games” for the BBC in 1968. I recall a line in it “We set off for the funeral in high spirits” which I always loved. Those high spirits were dampened when the car bearing the coffin ran out on control down the hill spilling all inside. Orton could always see the funny side of things with immortal lines like these:

Truscott: Why aren't you both at the funeral? I thought you were mourners. 

Fay: We decided not to go. We were afraid we might break down. 

Truscott: That's a selfish attitude to take. The dead can't bury themselves; you know. “

Joe Orton Gallery

or this about privilege:

Hal: That's typical of your upbringing …. Every luxury was lavished on you - atheism, breast-feeding, circumcision. I had to make my own way.

Like Death itself Orton’s writing constantly takes you by surprise, but I think he’d have liked this story last week:

Increases in the size and weight of Dutch people are forcing the country’s funeral industry to introduce bigger coffins, more pallbearers, wider crematoria ovens and longer cremation times. A study by the NRC Handelsblad newspaper has found that the Dutch funeral is changing as people in the Netherlands get fatter.

Almost half of Dutch people are overweight – DutchReview


Poor cat. Blame their Gouda 


Moving north but remaining morbid, the Swedes believe in something called döstädning” which means “death cleaning.” It originated in the urge to remove the misery of clearing up after someone dies, all those old letters, birthday cards, books, photographs. An artist, Margareta Magnusson, who had to clear up after her parents and her husband has written a book, no doubt, with a sense of frustration The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter”.

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your  Family from a Lifetime of Clutter: Magnusson, Margareta:  9781501173240: Books

I’ve been thinking about this and am planning to do the following:

  • Reduce the huge number of books – I’m obsessed by the need to have a “library” but what I need are paper books that inform and need referring to – history books, biographies, books on philosophy, art, politics and poetry. I reckon about 200 is enough. Nearly all the works of fiction can go on my Kindle which I’m going to upgrade.
  • Photographs – reduce to the emotional few. How many pictures of the Zattere can anyone want?
  • Clothes – I’m Dutch-like tubby following the lockdown so a lot of my clothes don’t fit me (sorry, I don’t fit my clothes). So they’re going to the Salvation Army.
  • Stuff one keeps because it’s perfectly OK – like clocks, scissors, old spectacles, cufflinks, shoes, biros, pencils – but are redundant. “sorry shoes, I’m  downsizing so I’m afraid we’ll have to let you go.” 

It sounds so easy on paper. I think it might be quite hard to do: In fact, it could be the death of me.

Monday, 4 October 2021


Is that where Britain’s going? You’d  think so based on schadenfreude articles in Germany on our “post-Brexit-plight” to e-mails from friends in France entitled “Doom and Gloom” to articles in our own press about the collapse of the economy.

Scotland's papers: Petrol rationing as PM urges 'don't panic' - BBC News

There are issues, to be sure, but to predict as the Times did  that “This could ruin Christmas”  is foolish. Taking a calmer view we can understand why these local difficulties have happened and how we can cope with them.

The shortage of HGV drivers. Better pay and conditions will solve this.

Eddie Stobart to keep on truckin' as investors back rescue | Business News  | Sky News

Blame Eddie Stobart. Rescued from collapse by private equity in 2014 the name that once dominated our motorways is seldom seen now. Instead we see the word “logistics” meaning “the organization and implementation of a complex operation.” When Eddie was king of the road life just seemed more straightforward than that.

Being a lorry diver used to be tough - long hours and poor pay. Now there are allegedly salaries of over £50,000 a year being offered plus a signing-on bonus of thousands more. But if you want a cushier life operating nearer to home Amazon are offering van drivers up to £17 an hour (that’s around £40k a year.) The good news is some school leavers are seriously considering training to become HGV drivers.

The fuel shortage will be a blip - such things always are. In 2000 we had a fuel crisis. At the time Archie Norman was Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. I met him at a cocktail party – those were the days – and was surprised to hear him saying “I fear this country may be becoming ungovernable”. When I suggested this was nonsense he stormed off. But then as in 2005 and 2007 a fuel crisis is an easy thing to start. Just hint a shortage of something important to people and expect a surge in demand.

Lavatory paper, gin, fuel, eggs, bread, chocolate. Those’ll do for starters.

Coronavirus toilet roll panic buying is only the start of omni-channel  retail's biggest supply chain test

The gas price boom. The large number of virtual gas suppliers selling on price was always going to be unsustainable as Russian and Norwegian supplies eased. Any market where price becomes the primary driver is a minefield for small, inexperienced players. Again a blip that will stabilise.

Food shortages. Some of this is to do with a poor summer in the UK leading to poor harvests but not just in the UK. The durum wheat harvest in Italy was a bad one too. But the shelves remain quite full, just a few gaps, not empty.

There are other disturbing  issues like the virtual nationalisation of a major section of the rail network, massive “logistical” fissures appearing in the NHS and the very culture of the Police Force being under scrutiny following the ghastly murder of Sarah Everard by a policeman. We always focus on hellish thoughts when that’s what the media tells us.

Let me lift your spirits a little.

Less driving will do us no harm.

The low-wage culture is rightly changing; maybe the minimum wage should be £15 an hour rather than £10.

After nearly two years of Covid, depression is understandable. Amazingly most of us are OK and beginning to be sociable again. 

Low price, low margin, low quality are on their way out. 

As a high wage, high quality, highly skilled economy we’ll be happier.

It’s always been easy to grumble. Our society will be fine. How fine is up to us.

To hell in a handcart? Nonsense. Just relax.

And Christmas won’t be ruined without pigs in blankets. Ho! Ho!  Ho!

UK faces Christmas without pigs in blankets amid labor shortage – POLITICO