Monday, 31 October 2022

So What's Next?

I was recently having a conversation with my Mother-in-Law about death. She’s 100 in a few days’ time. It wasn’t morbid but on her part there was just a genuine sense of curiosity. Her younger daughter had in a matter-of-fact way told her “when it’s over, you’re switched off then they bury you and you become old bones.”

A cemetery with a house in the background

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I told her it didn’t have to be like that. “Just imagine your best and most exciting event with you the star within it…imagine that’s what it’s like.” She pondered for a moment and asked “but what if it isn’t like that?” I told her not to worry because we’d never know. We don’t know one way or the other, of course not, but we can make our lives here much more cheerful with a happy prospect rather than darkness and nothing.

Just imagine as John Lennon put it – “it’s easy if you try.”

Imagine, new picture book inspired by John Lennon's song | Amnesty  International UK

Since that conversation with a game, old lady who’s still very much on the ball, I’ve been thinking about the power of our imagination and our ability to improve our mood just by dreaming. I told this to a very good friend who snorted “well that’s completely irrational.” I agreed with her because it is irrational but half of life is pretty irrational. Hard to argue that war is rational or falling in love is rational or playing cricket or baseball is rational.

PNC Park - Wikipedia

But imagine in your dream of waking after death to find you’re on strike at the PNC Park, Pittsburgh  playing against the New York Yankees and effortlessly smashing the ball deep into the crowd or hooking Michell Starc for six at Lords or writing a joke so funny it reduces an audience at the Stand in Edinburgh to uncontrolled hysteria.

Imagine the best ever lunch al fresco at La Colombe d’Or in St Paul De Vence surrounded by friends and happy people listening to laughter and birdsong and sipping a glass of Condrieu.

La Colombe d'Or Restaurant, Côte d'Azur | Centurion Magazine

Imagine the dream of spending time with witty, happy, beautiful people just soaking up the atmosphere of unalloyed bonhomie. And hearing:- 

“the Booker Prize for 2023 goes to “A Deathly Silence by… (your name goes here)” 

Julian Barnes in his book The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters writes about finding himself in a perfect heaven in his short story The Dream. He concludes:-

“Heaven’s a very good idea, it’s a perfect idea you could say, but not for us. Not given the way we are…. after a while, getting what you want all the time is very close to not getting what you want all the time.”

 History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters

But the actual perfection of perfection is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how the prospect of perfection and extraordinary achievement could keep us going and make us good company. In a world full of nightmares, disappointments and ultimately death we can soften that blow, that finality by dreaming of a momentary afterlife and make the prospect of death less intimidating.

This isn’t the Christian view for sure. But as you lie there composing yourself just imagine there’s going to be a wonderful experience of your choosing about to happen.

It’s irrational. It’s eccentric. But it’s likely to make you feel a lot happier than thinking of earth and old bones or as Macbeth said:

    Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,

    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

    And then is heard no more. It is a tale

    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

    Signifying nothing.


Think optimistically. Not this.

Monday, 24 October 2022

Come back Monty Python

This TV show ran between 1969 and 1974. It was sometimes hilarious, sometimes dull but always nibbling at the edge of good taste, convention and conservatism. Python in its often ridiculous way captures the foolishness of authority.

Monty Python's Flying Circus (TV Series 1969–1974) - IMDb

In the recent cost of living crisis as the media has embarked on money saving food ideas, offal and fish heads have appeared on the menu and, of course, Spam. This square-shaped mash-up of pork, water, salt, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrate recently celebrated its 85th anniversary. One myth insists that its name is actually an acronym for "Scientifically Processed Animal Matter." Others that it stands for “Spiced Ham” or “Specially Processed American Meat.”

How Spam became one of the most iconic American brands of all time

It has sold over 8 million cans and in over 44 countries. It’s still one of the most famous food brands. It even has its own T-Shirt “I think therefore I Spam.”

But it was Monty Python that really brought Spam back to life 50 years ago in their lyrically complex musical tribute: 

Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!
Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam


Lovely Spam! (Lovely Spam!)!)
Lovely Spam!

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam!


And it struck me that some of their most famous sketches remain relevant today:


The Dead Parrot sketch which brilliantly encapsulates the issues we’ve just experienced with our departing  Prime Minister and her denial of her demise.


A person sitting at a podium

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The Four Yorkshireman who were affluent businessmen reminiscing about their deprived backgrounds. Their nostalgia becomes more livid and competitive reaching this absurdity:


“Right.. I used to get up in the morning at half-past-ten at night, half an hour before I went to bed, eat a lump of freezing cold poison, work 28 hours a day at mill, and pay da mill owner to let us work there. And when I went home our dad used to murder us in cold blood, each night, and dance about on our graves, singing hallelujah. Yah, you try an tell the young people of today that, and they won't believe you...”

I’ve been like that recently telling younger people about the Three Day Week in the 1970s and, as I say, you try telling young people of today that and they won’t believe you.


But when it comes to bureaucracy and the offices of government what can beat the Ministry of Silly Walks? This may be the best thing John Cleese ever did.


Ministry of Silly Walks 6 Postures - Etsy UK


The occasional shaft of absurdity or silliness can be highly effective satire. Monty Python could do that sometimes although – not unjustly - Morecambe and Wise criticised them saying the Python team could be annoying and unprofessional.

…there’s five or six minutes of utter boredom. And then there’s three minutes of very funny and then another eight minutes of boredom.” 

I used to get irritated by being told by friends  from abroad that leaving Brexit had made us a laughing stock but I accept now we’re reputationally diminished after the Truss farce and the possibility of Johnson standing again when he’s highly likely to be expelled from the Commons for lying to them - no I didn’t, yes you did…

Desperate Times by Peter Brookes | Waterstones

The past few months should have been enough to convince even the most right wing Tory member that we can’t go on like this, that the parrot is dead, that Boris is a bad man and own up to the fact that this government is damaging the country. I am not an especially political person and avoid ideological debates but it’s time for Monty Pythonesque ridicule to return.

In the meantime sit back and experience what might be one of the most loony weeks in our history.

Monday, 17 October 2022


It’s been a troubling week. We’ve traditionally prized ourselves on our sound government and our fiscal prudence. We’ve prized  our grown-up diplomacy. We’ve a seat near the very top of that G7 table. But we’ve been found wanting.

We’re in laughing-stock territory. It’s shameful.

Yet something I read – sorry I can’t remember who said it -  made me feel a lot better. They said that for the first time ever, living in Britain was like living in Italy. You know exactly what they mean - the economy’s in turmoil, the level of debt’s ridiculous, there’s upheaval at the top of an ever revolving leadership, there’s sleaze, corruption and no one takes us seriously yet……

19 Of The Best Italian Restaurants In Sydney Right Now | Urban List Sydney

People are crowding into restaurants, drinking good wine, laughing at the poor fools in government and getting on with life. As things get worse up there down here we’re having a party. 


They had Berlusconi we had Boris. 

They have Giorgia we have Liz. 

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We are suddenly rather alike it would seem.

Hopeless, utterly hopeless, but at least we both get the important things right.

Food, drink and laughter. Especially laughter.

UK central bank intervenes in market to halt economic crisis - ABC News

I was cheered by this because the alternative is to start taking the critical issue of Liability Driven Investment Funds very seriously indeed.

Liability Driven Investment Funds - what the hell are those?

Apparently these are critical to the health of Pension Funds.

Here’s how they’re described:

Every defined benefit pension scheme has promised to provide retirement income for its members.  To do so, a scheme aims to have sufficient assets  to cover its liabilities. This has led many pension schemes to adopt liability driven investment (LDI) strategies which aim to enable pension schemes to reduce risk and maintain or improve funding levels over time, increasing the probability that they will  achieve their ultimate objective.

To achieve this they rely on having big bags of Government gilts so as to maintain stability, security and safety in their portfolios. Because?

Because Government gilts and bonds are the safest thing we have so whatever else happens they are rock solid safe. Until a week ago, that is, when after that Mini Budget their values plummeted. 

Chart, line chart

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Panic for Pension funds and their safety, security and stability.

And then someone took a rather harder look at these Pension Funds and found that many were performing really rather badly even before this LDI body blow with year on year declines across the board of 12% and on some of the big name funds declines of 50%. 

So feeling by now resolutely Italian - facciamo una festa-  I opened another bottle of Prosecco, slowly munched a couple of cicchetti and reflected on two things.

It seems virtually no one practising in the financial sector has ever heard about or knows anything about these LDIs yet  - sit down for a second - the value of UK Pension funds is between £2.5 trillion and £3 trillion ( yes, that’s the total size of the UK economy.)

And, excuse me, this is our money, money that we have lent to Pension Funds because they’re trustworthy rather like, say, the Mafia.

A group of women posing for a photo

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I’ve just remembered a 1984 song  by Bananarama with the refrain “Talking Italian” the first line of which is “Hopes dashed to the floor.” We should all listen to it, buy a Vespa and get over to Italy where the sun shines, the food’s exquisite and no one pretends they know what’s going on.

After all if the top financiers have never heard of the fund that’s causing so much anxiety in the markets we might just as well. 

Monday, 10 October 2022


Maybe it’s age and intolerance to the sort of Meat Loaf levels of sound I welcomed when younger but I’ve recently noticed an uncomfortable increase in sound levels.

Close your eyes and listen. The decibel level of intolerance, of feigned jollity, misfortune being described as OMG catastrophe, of birdsong (even the seagulls have upped their screams of protest) and the sound levels on TV – getting louder and more intrusive. Restaurants I used to love now make me fear I’m getting deaf (I must go to Specsavers for a hearing test) as I have to lip read to understand what my companion is saying. 

Say that again': Are noisy restaurants ruining eating out?

But it occurred to me this phenomenon is not about me at all. It’s about a world where everyone is permanently on broadcast. Whether this is on radio stations that are springing up like daffodils in spring, on podcasts, blogging (sorry I’m guilty too but I’m thinking maybe I should reduce the noise level by stopping this practice) and wherever there are people…giving opinions, breaking news, spreading rumours, protesting, having arguments, celebrating goals or birthdays … making noise, NOISE, NOISE.

Do certain noises drive you crazy? You may have a health disorder.

It's invaded politics. The House of Commons was always, of course, a noisy place. But it’s got worse. Suddenly we have “noisy government.” It set off two weeks ago in high spirits like a Ferrari driver in a built up area going from 0 -60 in 4 seconds. Very noisy. Exhilarating for the Prime Minister and Chancellor. But ill-thought through and certainly dangerous. All noise. No navigation. No steering, failed brakes and would’ve failed the breath test. Like Toad of Toad Hall all “poop, poop” and not a thought about other people.

How Fast Is a Ferrari? | 0-60 MPH Times | Ferrari Top Speeds | Ferrari Lake  Forest

From a Russian perspective the war in Ukraine is “a story told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing” as Putin - the contemporary Macbeth - might put it.  The cost for Ukraine so far is estimated at £330 billion including rebuild costs and for Russia - who knows but a likely much larger sum. A lot of very big bangs for getting nowhere in particular. In heaven the gods are shaking their heads and muttering quietly “they’ve all gone crackers.” 

It's not new of course but it is louder. I remember a long time ago hearing someone who had a big and important job being called “a big noise.” It was always men who were the noisiest ones – big lunch-filled stomachs, red porty noses and loud braying voices. Until Liz whose voice like the sound of a mosquito insistently whining away…”liz,liz,liz”…. A new noise.

A close up of a bug

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Even the weather has got louder with the devastating impact of Storm Ian on the south eastern states of America with wind speeds of 155mph and water surges of up to 15 feet. Terrifyingly waterlogged electric cars are imploding as their batteries corrode. Recently here we had sheet lightning and thunderclaps so loud they woke people up.

Yet not all noise is bad. After a particularly rousing version of Vaughan Williams’ “Sea Symphony” at the Brighton Festival to an ecstatic reception I wondered if quieter pieces like Debussy’s Clair de Lune eventually be dismissed for  having “not enough impact”.

We need a spell of less.

Silent retreats.

Greek islands like Kythonos and Alonnisos.

All you need to know about Alonnisos island! | Live the Greek Life

A spell away from city life.

No TV. No radio. No news.

Greta Garbo was famous for saying “I want to be alone” and retired from films aged 36. But she was a rather tragic melancholic.

I don’t want to be alone. I just want a bit of quiet. A bit of relief from the shrieking urgency of 2022.