The Aesthete


The Aesthete

Every month the must have FT’s, How To Spend It, magazine asks a character from the travel/fashion industry a few questions. Today I answer those questions

My personal signifiers are my mainly tweed stable of jackets. Although four are from Hackett most are from charity shops and all the better for that. I feel a tweed jacket is a wonderful non verbal way of expressing how I feel.

An unforgettable place I’ve travelled in the last year is Trieste. Its situation is ravishing, its history fascinating and its culture riveting. A perfect three days for a flanneur. But by definition other places visited, Strasbourg, Berwick, Stornaway, Umbria, Quebec were also unforgettable.

The best souvenir I’ve bought home would be a close competition between a wooden god from Kenya and a set of black and white pictures from Vietnam.

A recent “find” would be the cemetery at West Norwood. London’s graveyards are its most interesting and deserted open spaces. With the closure of the Hope in Smithfield the discovery and success of the Punch Tavern in Fleet Street for my Trafalgar breakfast was an important “find”.

The last great meal that truly impressed me was on the way to Ovietto high above the lake in the Trippini in Civitella del Lago.We had the breathtaking site to our selves, crisp white table clothes, charming service, cheerful chef and outstanding food. Then there was the view and the village. Perfecto.

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Now You See It

Now You See It.


One of my favourite neighbours runs a film production company. He is also a motorcycle nut. 1200cc BMW ,his latest baby. Off  he roars  every morning. Except not this week. For the other day he was looking out of his office window and he saw four men in ski masks  toying with his bike.

He ran down, they had jammed the front door of his mews office, he came round the back  but they fought him off with an iron bar and roared off with the bike which was meant to have an “unbreakable” immobilising device.

He phoned the police and told of the tracking device. They tracked it down to an estate in Paddington. Thirty minutes after the crime they were on the estate and there they found the tracking device ripped off the bike. Which was gone, no doubt eventually shipped out in a container to some third world country where £20K bikes are all the rage. The robbers, probably stealing to order would at most get £5k.

My pal told me that BMW told him that their engineers take an hour to dismantle the tracking device. These robbers did it twenty minutes. The bad guys are winning. Now he faces the dilemma if he tells his insurance company he may get £20k but he will also get a prohibitive insurance.

Better security on bikes and  anchors have cut motorbike theft from  115,000 a year in the 1980s to 24000 today. Half of those thefts take place in London and police reckon that it takes most robbers 20 seconds to  do their dirty deed. London bikes are five times more likely to be stolen and parts of London are thirty times more vulnerable than provincial centres like Bath or Shrewsbury. The sad business of motorbike theft is  reckoned to be worth £3m a month.

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I Daniel Blake

I Daniel Blake

A sixty year old man with a weak heart who can’t use a computer has a problem with the benefits system. A single mother with two children by different fathers has been moved from London to Newcastle also has a benefit problem.

All benefit systems are abused and a major difference between the political parties is by how much. A benefit system designed to help the needy has become a way of life for those who prefer not to work, there is a consensus that this had to change. We now have a benefit system increasingly designed to weed out the scroungers and get shirkers back to work which some say has a problem in believing any body. Nevertheless when they brought in tests three years ago one million immediately went off sickness benefit.

This is the story of the movie, I Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s most recent attack on what a lousy job the state does in administering, caring and accommodating those at the bottom. Certainly the unfeeling and inflexible bureaucracy of the benefits system takes your breath away. And one says a little prayer of thanks that one never has had to rely on the benefit system. Life has been kinder to me than to those millions who queue for benefits and food banks.

The system needs changing, And it does change. Maybe for better maybe for worse. It can never be perfect,those on the borderline will always get a bad deal. The film shows that the system is efficient but unfair. A system that is not efficient no longer deserves the support of taxpayers. A system that is unfair and unfeeling is not worthy of humanity, which is Ken Loach’s point. All around humanity tries to fight back.

Ken Loach is   a member of the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party. He believes in socialist revolution liberating humanity from the shackles of the capitalist system. A system which on the one hand has enriched more and more, some outrageously, while at the same time impoverished an increasing number.

The problem with a socialist revolution is that it impoverishes more a more(see Cuba, Venezuela, North  Korea etc),cannot be democratic and opens up concentration camps for those who dont agree. A sometimes uncaring benefit system is preferable. And does a working man who can’t handle a computer or a single mother with two children bear no responsibility for their fates? Its easy for me to say.

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Thatcher She Very Bad

Thatcher She Very Bad

Recently the so called Historical Writers Association voted Margret Thatcher(25%) the worst prime minister since 1916. The usual suspects were quoted as the reason. She created a social and moral vacuum, made a sense of community an anathema, inspired a lack of compassion, promoted deindustralisation and  the free market. Of course the fact that economic and social events very similar have happened across the Western world(see Trump,Pen,Farage etc)  are nothing to do with Thatcher   escaped this hardly august body, none of whose names I recognised.(Darwin,Hokin,Scott, Meredith?).45 voted.

Second worst was Cameron(22%) he of course committed the sin of sins by allowing the people to have a say on the EU. And the people  committed the even bigger sin of disagreeing with the HWA and voting bye,bye. No mention of how Cameron engineered the first and successful coalition.

Thankfully the better known Paddy (Pants) Down disagreed  and made Chamberlain(17%)  for his feebleness with Hitler as the biggest failure. Thatcher he notes  left Britain in many way stronger and achieved many of her aims, home ownership, privatisation, a revival of entrepreneurship, national pride.No mention of the wasted years under Wilson . And the luvvies of the HWA could hardly bring themselves to mention Blair(11%).

As hinted my bad boy would be Harold Wilson who for two terms sucked his pipe while Britain quietly went down the pan with misguided economic policies- British Leyland, British Steel, ICL, trade union arrogance and general complacency. We won the World Cup and stayed out of the  Vietnam War,so Wilson and his risible “white heat of technology” remain beneath the radar. Best would have been Putney boy Atlee followed by Thatcher.(Wilson went to Jesus College with(one of) my father (s)

Worst in my life time, not maybe worst but one to make you smile. Douglas Hume. He played cricket for the MCC ,went to a good school and did his economic calculations with matchsticks. Whats not to like? Just remember where those clever city boys   and their rocket science pals  with their space age computers  took us and where in many ways we still are.

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Happy Day


Happy Day

It started with a toast to the Immortal  Memory and ended with three cheers for our Hero. The Punch Tavern, Fleet Street with so much of its Victorian architecture intact, turned out to be a great venue. Excellent full English, Guinness well poured, Bloody Maries well mixed, coffees sharp and bitter. What was not to like? The music, we got it turned off.

My petty officer’s jacket brought admiring looks from a grateful nation. I did my piece on Emma, Captain Peter RN read out a rare letter from Trafalgar , Jan showed us a Collingwood  heirloom and told of her Trafalgar work at the National Archive, Tom told of the changes in marine engineering, Nick told how a half Nelson saved him, Edward of his Pa’s naval court martial. So it goes.

From our traditional band of brothers Michael had gone to a better place,  Clive was still trying to get used to his new knee, Henderson had a blood test later in the day,Stephen had granddad duties and John was walking in the Lake District. We are showing our age. But Glory pushes us on.

The 8.30 boat from Putney to Blackfriars was by the end standing room only. When we got to the pub there were just a few young German tourists nursing their first of the day. By the time we left groups of City boys were hee-hawing over their gin and  tonics.

This being Fleet Street with the first meal of the day finished by midday, half of us decamped to the historic and more upmarket El Vinos, home of the drunken journalist. By the time we got there we  qualified. Then we  found that Ian, my sporting neighbour,  was not only going to lunch(which he missed) with Paddy’s ex business partner but had known Tom’s racing driver cousin well. A small world. Same again!

En route to El Vinos we passed Christopher Wren’s St Brides. The journalist’s church. Time to  think of dear and departed colleagues and their memorial services, Ray, Alison, Michael and John-scribblers all, who for, once  again, we  bowed our heads. They live as long as we do. Ray a legend who went from office boy to editor and never got home before one. Alison, a pearl of a girl, what can anyone say. Bless, we all had our stories. No tears, this was Trafalgar Day.

And on to the last step. Billy and I enjoyed one for the gutter in the Eight Bells at Putney Bridge. More friendship, more bullshit talked. Home for tea. By then the Russian fleet had entered the once English Channel. Where was he?, long gone. That’s the point.

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Immortal Muse

The Immortal Muse.


Today is Trafalgar Day. Every Englishman walks a little taller . The Immortal Memory will be toasted as I and eleven others sit down in the Punch Tavern, Fleet Street for a full English breakfast. A meal  washed down by good English ale. The convention of this annual event is that we all give a  short talk. Mine will be on the early life of “England’s Mistress” the blessed Emma.

Nelson said of his adoring mistress “If there were more Emmas there would be more Nelsons.” While his wife the mealy mouthed Lady N bemoaned him going to sea, Emma knew it was at sea  that her lover gained fame, fortune and above all glory.

Emma lost her blacksmith father when young. Aged twelve she and her mother  like any others left their Cheshire home  for London.  Always  a pretty lively personality she used her abilities well . She knew how to make  men feel good, she was good looking and a flirt. All of her men worried about what was going on when they were out.

Whatever, in eight years she was the mistress of Sir William Hamilton. In thirteen years she was Lady Hamilton the power behind the Naples throne and waiting for Nelson.

At first there were jobs as  a maid,bar girl, she was a working girl. She lost her virginity early by aged 14 she had a job posing in the notorious Temple of Health. Here a quack doctor guaranteed conception. Part of the deal was pretty girls wandering around in erotic  poses. Emma a gifted actress and singer was a natural.

She graduated to the best brothel in London, Madame Kelly’s in Arlington Street. Here she caught the eye of the young buck Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh,the owner of Uppark. He paid off Madame Kelly so the 15 year old  Emma  could entertain him and his pals full time. As a natural flirt and party girl Emma,who thrived on attention, is rumoured to have danced naked on the table. Way to Go Emma  . But Sir Harry got bored and Emma got pregnant. She was out.

But Emma always adapted. She had befriended one of the less sporting of Sir Harry’s friend Charles Greville. He eventually agreed to take her in. Typically she was soon in love. Back in London she caught portrait painter George Romney’s eye who painted her sixty times. Other artists including Joshua Reynolds  followed suit.

Greville had a problem. He was relatively poor and unmarried. But he had a  rich uncle Sir William Hamilton. If Greville inherited he was a made man. When Sir William’s, our man in Naples, wife died there was a problem, he might marry again and thereby disinherit Greville.

So  Greville offered the twenty old Emma to the 55 year Sir William. At first Emma cried and wept for her lost lover. But Sir William played a long game and Emma who always knew how her bread was buttered eventually accepted the antiquarian, she nicknamed Pliny into her bed. He in turn, being a gentleman(and wanting to keep his prize) after five years bent to her pressure and made an honest woman of her. But as we know this was just the back story to one of the greatest love stories in history.

Story with pictures-



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Proverbs I

Proverbs  I

Whatever our disbeliefs we do not read the bible enough. Over the months I have been spending a few minutes a day reading  the Old  Testament’s Proverbs. Here are a few of my favourites.

Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.

Keep thee  from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Lust not after beauty in thine heart;neither let her take thee with her eyelids. (This be tough)

A wise son maketh a glad father:but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.

He that gathereth in the summer is a wise son; but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame.

As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without dicretion. (see above)

A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosever is deceived thereby is not wise.( Uhm)

He that goeth about as a tale bearer revealeth secrets; therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.

Whoso curseth his father and mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness(right on)

The glory of young men is their strength, and the beauty of old men is the grey head. (Me, I’m bald)

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