Green and Pleasant

Green and Pleasant


Friday. Was summer hanging on or autumn just holding its breath? Whatever , the sun shone, the sky was crystal clear and the South Downs called. With worries about the hip, I tried the three hour jaunt from Amberley to Worthing. On the outskirts of that endless, dull seaside  town I know there is a once an hour bus on the hour. Last year I waved at it as it just left the stop,this year there was to be no resting for lunch.

What a walk it was. To the south the azure sea so clear that one could see the cliffs of the Isle of Wight, in front the iron age hill fort and  out at sea the endless windfarms , a few container ships . To the  North the calm and reassuring Weald stretched to the North Downs, somewhere a  nasty fire burned, a few cyclists and some walkers but mostly just skylarks for companions. A few cows but many sheep. The fields now ploughed and resting, good jobs done.

As a walk it has no weak moments, if you walk countryside you are part of its rhythm and time, there was no end to the green and pleasant views, somewhere I could hear the pop pop of a shooting party getting their money’s worth . Never have  I seen so many kestrels, I had brought the bins and no sight is more worthwhile than the “hurl and  gliding” of the windhover. My book tells me that some  used to call this most elegant of predators, “wind fuckers”.Ouch

I caught the bus with two minutes to spare. It wound its way through estates of interminable bungalows, cemeteries in waiting, until the stony beach. I passed a pipkin of alcoholics in a shelter and was soon sunning myself with a beer on the pier. At the next table a group of Italian language students were also  sun worshipping . How is it some are so naturally stylish? With their scarves, anoraks and shades,they were not spotty students killing an hour,  they looked like a group of film stars posing in an après ski ad. Bella. Momentarily my Brexit impulse wavered, but not for long.

Soon I was on the train going home. Southern Railway true to form had problems and 45 minutes was added to the 90 minute journey. But the golden apple was barely bruised.








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God Bless You Ma’am

God Bless You Ma’am

Was she mad? Or just of her type  and age. Queen Victoria. You pays your money. She laid out fresh clothes for the dead Albert for decades, she ate like a pig,treated her children worse, had a vile temper and was prone to hysteria, had a problem with beards and objected to widows marrying again. Still no one had more roads, parts of the world, pubs and cities named after her. God Bless You Ma’am.

Victoria and Abdul, like her reign, the film goes on far too long. But hey, it gives Judi Dench her favourite part ,again and for Guardian readers confirms that the British Empire was mad, bad and dangerous to know-especially if your cheeks were not pink. But of course it brought up the old story that the Empress of India as well as loving paedophile, cuckold Lord M and hating whore saving Gladstone  had a thing for buck servants. Its confusing as she spends half the film ,saying don’t you know who I am and the other half saying its just because he’s coloured. By the end she can’t even die without Abdul’s permission.

First there was Victoria and John Brown-also made into a film and now  there is Abdul Karim. So I go to the great Lytten Strachey for some explanation.(His “Five Victorians” is a must read for intelligence, wit and brevity) ,”….it is no uncommon thing for an autocratic  dowager to allow some trusted indispensible servant to adopt an attitude of authority which is jealously forbidden to relatives or friends; the power of the dependent  still remains, by a slight of hand, one’s own power, even when exercised over oneself.”…. “People might wonder; she could not  help that; this was the manner in which it pleased her to act, and there was an end  to it.” Unlike with the children there is no emotional baggage to get in the way.In 1883 Brown dies and in 1897 up pops Abdul.

“The thought of India fascinated her; she set to  learnt a bit of Hindustani, she engaged some Indian servants…one of whom Mushi(teacher) Abdul Karim eventually almost succeeded to the position which had been John Brown’s” .

So just as some wealthy widowed ladies have deep relationships with their (pets),chauffeurs, gardeners, grocers, personal trainers, cleaners who are paid by the hour and are grateful for the work so Victoria had Abdul move into blessed John’s room at Balmoral.  A N Wilson in his “The Victorians” half approves of her multi racial tendencies. “Not all her notions were crazy.” But the royal household did not approve,and the film goes on and on  about the feud. The Queen’s doctor complained that of Abdul  “the Queen seems off her head.” It goes with the job. In the film Abdul ends up kissing the feet of statue of his beloved Empress. Bless.





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Hilary-Get Real

Hilary-Get Real

One of the joys of travelling is you meet folk who don’t live, actually or metaphorically, in your road. So it was on Lewis-the  ex school teacher, avid ,life long Fulham FC supporter who ran the immaculate Baille na Cille at Uig, the author of McLibel the never ending case a few years ago and of course the Americans. One a group of evangelical ladies from Baltimore, the other John and Jean Doe from upstate California. Both Trump voters, both feeling  give or take the odd tweet “that he isn’t doing a bad job for someone who is new to politics,”

This all comes to mind as Hilary stands by her book “What happened”. I have not/ will not read such self serving twaddle. Several reviews give the game away. Of course she blames Trump not just for winning but by not playing by the rules, she blames the Russians, Bernie for opposing her ,the American people for being dumb, she later feels their pain and forgives them. How could  American women  not seize the historical moment and vote against misogyny, when will sexism end, when will women stop putting up the beastliness of men. Go on Hil, tell us. Right on Hil.

As her staunchest supporter the Guardian states Mrs Clinton is “unreflective”,”bewildred” and shows “no remorse.” She was the wrong candidate and ran a bad campaign. Obama’s regime for all its grace and charm had failed at home and abroad and the Democrats foolishly chose its second most prominent member.

She had not ,as her opponent did, realised that “politics is show business for ugly people”. She had not realised that the success of Bernie,Trump, Farage and Corbyn is the success of outsiders, her long lasting commitment regardless of  emotional cost to the system,her high profile roles, her position in its wealthy inside track made her the horse that ran up that churned up, heavy going route, Trump running on the new hardgrass had a much easier ride

When we asked our American aquantainces why they voted Trump,they looked at us with complete astonishment. “We had no choice”. For them voting for  totally predictable, possibly dishonest Clinton was voting for the problem, no change, voting for a soiled product instead of a fresh, just in model.

Many in the world are fed up with excuses,  having their pain felt, having leaders who are forever learning lessons, no risk cock ups and the smug all embracing bland, blind confidence. Many can see that  black is black and white is white and no amount of fudging ,and  on the other hand ,is going to change it. Those at the centre are not part of the solution  but part of the problem. They caused the crash,the Iraq war, the rust bowl,the general mess-time for a change of front line. As our very own Maybot shows just trotting around waving at the converted is no longer good enough.

But when you are running for president, selling a book, making big buck speeches to Wall Street.running around is what you do. Think of the up side,we may never have to look at Chelsea Clinton-and Hil has told us the detail of her birth- again. As the Kennedys and the Bushes have shown sometimes families only have a limited supply of political genes/luck/. Face it Hil, you just ran out.

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Over the Seas-Beyond Skye

Over the Seas-Beyond Skye

One of the world’s greatest photographers Paul Strand(V&A Exhibition 2016) once spent three months  snapping in the Outer Hebrides in the mid 1950s. Strong marginal people were Strand’s speciality. Then it was third world, the ploughs  were wooden, the crofts earth lined, the living hard, the people simple. The Gaelic life still continuing, It was seemingly little changed from when Dr Johnson travelled in the  18th century.

That was then. Now there is tourism, there are grants, the islands are part of the mainland, they do not fish salmon they farm them, there are modern registration cars, all of which we were part.  The unique, wind swept crofts have gone to be  replaced by non descript, centrally heated, pebbled dashed bungalows. Gaelic may now be on the road signs but it is not heard.

You don’t go for the weather, the architecture, the dancing or the pubs. It takes as long to get to as three times the distance elsewhere- 8-9 hours door to door. For much of the year the midges fly. The food is pretty good, the accommodation first rate, yet when  the rain sleets down the barren bogs of Lewis look like a version of hell, but when the sun shines-which is does when there is a R in the month, the mountains of Harris,its lochs and islands-take your breath away. No, you go for the beaches. Such  fine, white sand, such distance, such views, seven days and  six nights,as many beaches. On good days the Caribbean similarity is well made.

Tolsta north of Stornoway, to get there you have to do through the home village of Donald Trump’s mother. But its mile long reach is worth it. For three days we stayed on never ending Traig Uig to the West, we experienced ,as they say, a lot of weather  but the beaches round the corner-wild furious Cliobh and   the more extensive calmer Traigh na Berigh with its views of Bernara made you glad to be alive.

And so onto our last day on Harris. The endless sand at Luskentyre,here we were joined by oyster catchers and fish  seeking gulls. But even better was to come. The road to Hushnish from our B&B in Tarbert had it all. Narrow with passing places. Rolling hills besides Loch a Sair. Lazy sheep who know their rights . On this road in 1865 was built the gothic  castle for the Earl of Dunmore. The main road passes his front door, He is not amused at the right to roam. As we passed a mature wrinkled madam with twin set and  a sensible tweed  skirt was talking to similar, like the sheep they did not immediately gave way and only did with scowl. We gave them an impudent wave.

But Hushnish. It may not be large but it is perfectly formed. White sand. Row after row of islands and mountains, heather still just in purple, the gentle green sea lap,lap, lapping. Very popular with mobile homes for whom  state of the art facilities had been built.  We got talking to an itinerant carpenter  complete with shepherds crook and terrier. From Yorkshire, he had been on the island 18 months, earlier that day he had seen a pod of porpoises in the bay and yesterday an otter. We had to bring home a variegated stone.

The next day, after a delightful walk  and lunch in Lewis Castle we were brought back to earth during our far too long  wait in Glasgow airport by the worst sandwich ever made.






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Piers and Me

Piers and Me


The scandal involving PR firm Bell Pottinger will die when the company does. Which is soon. Lord Bell once Lady Thatcher’s right hand man and Piers Pottinger  who once starred in a double act with me have for some years , having made their money,really only lent their name and a few  shares to the once all conquering  company which they founded  20 years ago. But Piers  and I go back. He is at present trying to buy from the corpse of the mother corporate the Singapore arm of the company which he has been building up over the last few years. One story is that with his horse racing debts a gentle retirement was not on the tic tac.

In the mid 1980s when I feelanced for the Times,Financial Weekly and others, Piers who has been for 50 years the wunderkind of  financial PR, and I met several times. As  Bob Geldof made  headlines with Band Aid,  my colleague Alex Murray(FW, S. Tel and Adelaide’s god father) and  Piers who both went to the same school decided to form City Aid. Piers of course famously had to leave early, but that’s another story. For City Aid, hacks and pros would take over a theatre and put on   charity show. I sold Piers on the idea that we would do a synchronised swimming take off. The sport had just made its debut at the Olympics,

So two chubby chaps in colourful one pieces and suitable caps came on to some smooch tune and did the hand and feet movements on stage. A variant on the Englishman’s love of cross dressing. We were good and it was funny and we did it for a number of years. Piers of course  was/is a famous humourist, prankster, punster , he did a great stand up of some of the worst jokes ever told.  He had chutzpah, in horse racing ,it cost him a fortune and he had style. We would have rehearsal lunches at the Garrick!

Anyway after a couple of years he decided we needed  some new moves. Smiling, waving and kicking however synchronised was not enough, So typically  Piers, money was never a problem, he hires one half of the UK synchronised swimming champions. She of course thought she was being hired to coach real swimmers not a couple of middle aged jokers. There wasn’t even a pool, we just pushed a few desks back in Piers’ office just off Fleet Street.  For Piers a minor prank but priceless. And  rehearse new moves we did and the act went on for a few years.

At one point  Piers was pr for El Fayed who as well as  owning Harrods also owned Fulham FC. I was a  governor of top Fulham girls school Lady Margaret. We had another good lunch at the Garrick, his car dropped me off at the tube but no cash  for the school. So although some of the headlines around the Pottinger name are once again unfortunate, Pottingers are made of stern and very amusing stuff, as their long history testifies, they survive. Not least in my memory.

The man

The Sport

Early start ,off to Stornoway,talk next week

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Circular Ace

Circular Ace

You are fat, you have a beard, leather jacket complete with badges, a greasy branded tee shirt ,a great big cc bike, tattoos and a lady to match. For you , it can only be the Ace (of Clubs) Cafe, Stonebridge just off the historic North Circular,N. London.

You roar up. You and your missus swing a leg, slowly take off your helmets, she shakes out the blond and you the greying pigtail. Other bikers come up to admire your Triumph/Ducati/BMW/Norton (NOT Harley Davidson-too easy!). Shake hands , grin, shuffle, male hug,look as an experienced farmer at other beasts-their heads, backsides, their pedigree  and innards, look but don’t touch-this is someone’s baby, someone’s girl-smile, shuffle some more  and make for the cafe.

Full English, Manx kippers, brown sauce, ketchup, we are not scooter boys who worry about our figures, what could be finer than in the autumn sun filling your face as more bikes pour in. All the time people are taking pictures, of  machines, of men, of sex appeal, not with some dumb arse phone but with real Johnston shaped cameras, biking is real men its not a giggling selfie.

The noise, the smell the camadarie, where else  would you want to be, whats not to like. Some just  sit there in their leathers  for hours just grinning.. There are guys from all over There are girls who ride. Who cares,its the bikes stupid The Germans love it here. Not least this weekend for its the  “Rocker Brighton Burn Up”.

Some have camped out for days,next to motorways, main roads, railway bridges pylons, factories. Stonebridge must have got  its name from the enormous amount of  giant bridges  between the tube station  and the cafe. No one goes to the Cafe for the  view. They go for the bikes, the food,the retro.On Sunday more than 400 bikes rode down the M23 in  heroic formation to Brighton. Ok the seaside town maybe Green but on Sunday it was heavy metal that ruled.OK ?

Some may see the Ace Cafe as a living organism alive and  revving since the birth of main roads. Certainly the first cafe opened in 1938 with the N.Circular, Gt West Rd,A1. One of the reasons it is now so popular with the Germans is because their dads blitzed it in 1940. It reopened in 1949 ,staggered on until 1964 when out of kilter with Ford Capri,motorway Britain it closed. In the  1990s certain retro rockers got together(see link) and the existing cafe opened in 2001.

Totally successful,music,bikes, cars festivals,clothes, food – it has spawned namesakes in five countries. This is big business, this is living retro. Smell it, breathe it, ride it, live it. On Saturday Billy Bumper Booth took me on his annual pilgrimage. We noted that there is a Billy Fury Tribute night on  October 14.





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Whats Wrong With The British Economy

Whats Wrong With The British Economy?


Its all my fault. I live in London, my house is too expensive, so was my parents’, the wealth of one and the inheritance of the other has made me rich. My children have been suffocated in privilege and higher earnings. They will never recover. Most of my life has been spent in the SE,the other regions are another(backward) country, My own career was City based(financial journalism) over paid, unproductive and not wealth creating, I was a fly on an economic dung heap.

It gets worse. I was nothing to do with all important manufacturing, technology and the  digital revolution. I  was always interested in my own well being and not the long term vision. But thats not all , as a 71 year old  I am now part of the new depressing demographic  which because of our declining  birthrate needs at least six immigrants working 27/7, all paying tax  are needed to keep me in the NHS I am accustomed and use more and more. And now Brexit. OMG.

Whip me harder, yes, yes its all my fault, I could have learnt how to build, how to make, how to create wealth, how to do my shoes up, but no ,I sat in my house and watched its value grow and grow like  Jack’s magic money tree bean stork. So its my fault.

This cloud of shame fell over me as I sat through the launch yesterday of the left leaning IPPR’s Commission on Economic Justice, Interim Report on “Time for Change, A new Vision for the British Econmy.”.  In the grand Church House, Westminster,on the panel, during yesterday’s fine autumnal morning, was Sally from Liverpool’s Festival of Contemporary Art who bemoaned the “poverty of expectation”. There was  Grace who is an entrepreneur with large expressive hands who was saddened that kids in Hackney know  nothing of the digital excitement of Hoxton. Jurgen from Siemens wanted us to invest more in automation to create more wealth and jobs. And he came up that so original idea that we needed  political  cross party agreement . Chairman Tom got them all to agree that the UK is posturing on Brexit. He didn’t need to ask this bunch of the great and the good whether the EU was doing anything wrong.

The Tories put up a brilliant black MP, Bin who found it difficult to talk simply and  Labour  put up  predictable Rebecca who said she was  so excited( by the report), so many times that I thought someone should give her some water.

So we want a better balanced economy, invest more in productivity, which spreads the wealth more evenly, takes heed of the regions, a chicken in very pot, apple pie and motherhood. And successful companies  walking hand in hand with creative trade unions  towards the dawn of the world where marshmallows grow on trees and hurricanes hardly ever happen.

And its only me  getting in the way of today’s kids earning as much as their parents. Look, both my kids earn at least twice as much as I ever did. More proof that is my fault. Not even bankers can afford my old house. And as this bunch of the great and the good which  includes goody, goody Canterbury come up with the blindingly obvious( with graphs),again and again, one knows that what has been troubling so many of the best and brightest on the left is  the fact that the real world isn’t to their liking. It never is, thank you for calling, your call means a lot to us.. Dream on. Don’t worry its not your fault, its my fault.

I wont be around much longer and without that impediment there will be nothing in the way of creating  the new  caring, sharing, coop Britain. Things can only get better?




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