Monday, 27 February 2023


The problem with globalisation or anything which encourages macro-think is it becomes too imposing for most of us to get our heads round. When people say “we must fix the NHS” they look flummoxed on being told the cost of the service in 2022/23 is likely to exceed £180 billion this year and that there are 1.2 million people working in it. 

Branding – People's History of the NHS

Try fixing something this big and you’ll spend so long working out where the money goes, is needed and can be saved that at the end you’re likely to conclude the NHS is underfunded and understaffed.

We have a lot of very clever data scientists in this country and 1st class minds who seem to spend their life baffled because challenges facing them seem too enormous.

I’ve always enjoyed the sayings of Calvin Coolidge – the 30th President of the United States: “if all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves.” 

Biography of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th US President

Imagine that we lived in a house nestled in the heart of beautiful country. The house has a thatched roof, gorgeous beams and splendid rooms. There’s a bit of damp (but who minds about that?) or some crumbling pointing. Our gardener and cleaner have both left us because we’re paying less than the normal rate. We’ve had a squabble with our neighbours so we’ve stopped going to social events locally.

You know what?

We’re a bit lonely and the house is crumbling. That’s like Britain.

We need to make up for years of neglect and spend some money – doing what George Osborne said: “Fix the roof whilst the sun’s shining”. Great thought George; what did we do back in those days of austerity? Nothing much. We are guilty but not alone. In the rich west we don’t invest in upkeep; we invest in dreams.

Ułóż online puzzle Przytulny domek kryty strzechą, Broadway, Cotswolds,  składające się z 360 elementów | Thatched cottage, British cottage, Cottage  exterior

It costs £17 billion a year to run the British rail service. It’s going to cost nearly £100 billion to complete HS2. Imagine having that size of budget to spend on updating the existing service?

Start thinking achievable, needed and smaller rather than phantasmagorical. Stop pretending the future is all that matters and that the present and things that prevent life being worth living today don’t matter. Stop trying to be what we are not, can’t be and don’t need to be.. 

Every time I’ve been to the USA I’m full of excitement and awe. Tell me New York isn’t marvellous. Well, some New Yorkers say the problems there are challenging. But let me remind them of how it was in Harlem in the 1970’s or the time I was threatened with a gun in a snowstorm by a guy wanting my cab and  shouting “give me that cab or I’ll kill you.” “Be my guest” I said. New York was great then, gun and all. Today it's wonderful but a bit shabby.

Simply Shabby | Huntington Station NY

As is Paris, Rome, Lisbon and London. I was in London recently – that long journey up from Brighton – bright, smiling and vibrant, full of young people doing great work. But in need of a clean-up.

And that imagined house of ours?

New thatch. Repainted. New plumbing, repaired electrics. Gardener and cleaner rehired at decent pay with new tools in the garden and a new vacuum cleaner. Good relations with neighbours – we’ve said sorry over many glasses of prosecco.

Dartington Party – Kings & Queens

Why does it take so long to refresh the present? Nothing much is that wrong apart from gloomy inertia. So cheer up, start Spring cleaning and live for today.

Monday, 20 February 2023


Elderly people are increasing in number and as a proportion of the total population. A combination of increased longevity – up by roughly 10 years over the past decade – and a decline in birth rate means the over 65s are becoming an increasingly important sector that will have further doubled in size by the middle of this century.

1950's Primary School -

We’re a strange bunch. Brought up on school milk, Latin and politics more redolent of Trollope than Laura Kuenssberg. How strange was shown vividly when recently discussing my first trip to Japan with one of my god-daughters. It was like visiting another planet, I told her. I described getting hopelessly lost in Tokyo. Exasperated she said that was ridiculous when all I had to do was use Google Maps. I told her Google didn’t exist back then. I think she thought I was joking.

We span leaking fountain pens, a university population of just over 10% of young people as opposed to 50%, lax drink driving attitudes,  even more lax attitudes to hygiene, the beginning of rock and roll, racist, misogynistic, homophobic comedians evoking gales of laughter, 90% of the population identifying themselves as Christian and a grave suspicion of foreigners apart from Americans whom we worshipped from afar and at the cinema.

The Magnificent Seven | Moviepedia | Fandom

It was another world. Hard to believe how much has changed. Equally hard that most oldies are now as much at home with the past and the internet.

But the problem is we’re unaffordable. We’re rapidly approaching a time when those claiming pensions will exceed those working whose tax pays for those pensions. The elderly also need the NHS more often than younger people. As my wife said to me recently “how are all your aches and pains today?” evidence of the reality that being fit as a fiddle my body is not the strongest part of me anymore. Gone are the days of boxing and pole vaulting to be replaced by a doctor saying gravely “you are in reasonable condition considering your age.”

Old man walking bent hi-res stock photography and images - Alamy

This is not just a British problem. France is currently addressing the issue of retirement age and there are riots because of it. Throughout the developed world people live longer as the birth rate declines. China is facing the most dramatic projected population change of all, halving by the end of this century.

The Thursday Murder Club: (The Thursday Murder Club 1):  Osman, Richard: 9780241988268: Books

Having identified the problems age can create, there are upsides too. Maybe the reason Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club (and its two follow ups) have struck gold is he’s identified the potency of dramatising and glamourising the elderly.  His first book is being turned into a film by Stephen Spielberg no less. Set in the Sussex countryside the retirement village he describes is one he understands because his mother lives there and which I understand too because my 100 year old Mother in Law also lives there. 

Nowadays people increasingly die when they’re in reasonably good shape. A friend recently went on a five week Saga cruise in the Caribbean. Everyone on it was very old but full of life until there were five deaths, one of them an 85 year old in the middle of an ambitious dive into the sea.

Inspiring news comes from 81 year old Neuroscientist Professor Richard Restak who’s been studying how to enhance brain health and memory. Read fiction he says,  learn poetry and think. Most of all keep working. Surely it’s time to end that nonsense you should stop working at 65? If we carried on working just imagine the impact on the economy.

The Complete Guide to Memory | Book by Richard Restak | Official Publisher  Page | Simon & Schuster

Sorry, I must go and have a little nap.

Monday, 13 February 2023


It can’t be easy being a Prime Minister. You’ve a lot to read; a lot of speeches to make; a lot of people to please; a very thick skin and the ability to swim cheerfully in choppy water whilst earning per working hour rather less than a train driver. 

No fanfare for Rishi Sunak as his sombre speech will calm colleagues and  voters | Politics News | Sky News

One of the key skills is learning whom to fire and whom to hire. This is made more complex because half of the people in your team don’t like your ideas, so much of your life is spent balancing tribal factions and being nice to people you loathe.

Which brings me to Lee, a name declining in popularity but there are still as many as 50,000 Lees in the UK – about the same as the population of Bloxwich or Sittingbourne. Well, a Lee has just been promoted to the role of Deputy Party Chairman of the Conservative Party. This is an important and influential role especially in the run up to an election in 2024. His full name is Lee Anderson. He’s 56. His father was a miner as was he for 10 years. 

Lee Anderson Children: Does Lee Anderson Have Children?

He was a member of the Labour Party from which he defected in 2018 saying they’d been taken over by the hard left. He himself has a colourful record in vigilante policing receiving a community protection warning by the council for using boulders to block members of the Traveller community from setting up camp at a site in the Ashfield area.

He had made some interesting contributions to various debates on the financial planning of nurses forced to use food banks which he derided citing his own experience of coping with extreme poverty. “I’ll take no lectures from anybody about being hard up and struggling for survival.”  

More intriguing are his views on restoring capital punishment;

“Nobody has ever committed a crime after being executed. You know that don’t you? 100% success rate.”

Top 10 facts about execution |

I used to work with someone who having said something like that would triumphantly cry “Am I right or am I right?” But before we lightly dismiss Lee with liberal scorn let’s pause. Lee is a Red Wall Tory and claims, I’m sure correctly, that his views are widely applauded in Ashfield. He suspects he’ll be greeted with approval as he tours the Conservative Associations across country over the next months. I suspect he may be right. What about when he gets on Question Time? Well that should be fun.

It isn’t Lee that troubles me. I disagree with what he says but recognise a lot of people in Britain would feel the same about life as he does, about travellers, noisy neighbours, immigrants, murderers and people who ask for state aid. What concerns me much more is that our Prime Minister believes Lee is a wise appointment to a senior, opinion forming position. His boss, as Chairman, is the moderate centrist Greg Hands who is I’m sure (I couldn’t resist this) a safe pair of hands. 

A person in a suit smiling

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However believe me that it’s Lee who’ll be making the headlines. His history suggests he has a ferocious certainty that he’s saying the right things, things that people want to hear.

 So, it can’t be easy being Prime Minister and those who claim to understand these things say he should carefully balance the views of everyone on every wing of the party. But that isn’t possible when the loudest voices are often those like Lee’s. The new Tory Party led by Rishi Sunak are misjudging the popularity Lee is said to have as being an asset when in fact it’s an unexploded bomb.

Bomb Error Mistake Explosion Svg Png Icon Free Download (#561090) -  OnlineWebFonts.COM


Monday, 6 February 2023


Back to the 16th century when “bully” meant a fine fellow and several centuries later when “bully for you” meant “good for you.”

Times have changed since with several of Shakespeare’s plays now in danger of being cancelled. But we must tread carefully and listen well. As the recent furore over transphobia shows this is not simple as far as many people are concerned. Witness the extraordinary interview of Nicola Sturgeon on ITV Scotland last Thursday when she squirmed and struggled over the definition of what a woman is. 

Watch: Sturgeon ties herself in knots | The Spectator

Apparently – in her world – a man is a woman if he/she says that he/she is, unless they’ve committed a crime against women in which case she/he’ll be locked up in a male prison.  Peter Smith was the interviewer and he skewered her. You might even suggest he bullied her.

Bullying is very much in the news right now. Dominic Raab is being accused of persistently making Civil servants frightened and even reducing some to tears. Apparently on being presented with a paper with which he disagreed, or possibly thought was substandard, he shouted “bullshit.”

Dominic Raab accused of 'stupid and offensive' food bank comments |  Conservatives | The Guardian

Dominic sounds like many senior people I’ve encountered. People who got their faces uncomfortably close to yours and shouted what they thought, what they wanted and why your offering fell short of their expectations and needs. There are many words beginning with “b” that I thought defined them, oddly “bully” wasn’t on the list. 

I talked to a now retired civil servant who described such encounters in his career as being in the course of a normal day of crises and dissipated like “water off a duck’s back” as far as he was concerned. He said his job in the 1970s was to make his minister’s life simpler and to smooth troubling issues using diplomacy and the seamless skill of a butler. 

A group of men in suits

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There is not nor ever was any excuse for bad manners. There is not nor ever was any excuse for treating someone much younger and more junior to you unkindly. But…and it’s a big but, being in a senior job where a false step can lead to a falling share price, bad press reports, a political crisis and (importantly embarrassment to those senior to you) can fray nerves and tempers. Even bosses are human….most of the time.

Or are they? Julia Lieblich in the Harvard Business Review in 2015 said:

“From our experience working with several hundred bipolar executives, we estimate that as many as 5% to 10% of corporate America’s senior executives may be manic-depressive, with more than 90% going undiagnosed and untreated.”

Bipolar disorder - Wikipedia

When I read this I foamed at the mouth, jumped up and down and shouted “bullshit.” But it actually seems likely from my own experience to be a serious underestimate. I recall Phil Green, Fred Goodwin, Frank Lowe and Alan Sugar and think manic-depressive describes the mood swings of many of the most swinging of the swinging dicks in business and politics.

What are the consequences of creating a new, gentler and kinder world where we rewrite history and create stories which are more pleasing to us, where we place winning below participating in an everyone-gets-a prize culture?

We are edging towards creating a better world. Less than a century ago children were regularly caned at school, women didn’t have the vote, homosexuality was a criminal offence and there was a droit du seigneur mentality in many corporations.

We may be exaggerating bullying but we’re failing in helping people have the resilience to deal with it. 

Still it’s better now than the 1960s. So young, progressive people…bully for you!

I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (SATB ) | J.W. Pepper Sheet Music