Thursday, 27 February 2014


I met Zac Goldsmith today.   I interviewed him about his views on travel and the initiative the Energy Smart Campaign whereby the local council not only sends someone round to show how you can save energy but also gives you the contacts for the plumbers who are not cowboys and has organised a loan system that won't screw you into the ground for the next ten years to get your boiler fixed.

This is particularly pertinent to me at the moment as I am boiling water in saucepans as a plumber my neighbour recommended has charged me over £100 to get my downstairs loo fixed (I could have bought a new one for less) and looked at my boiler and now I have no ruddy hot water at all. Hence the  saucepans.   So I will be using the campaign, seeing if it's simple stupid and I can get a new boiler, a plumber that does good and not Richmond prices, and for once believe what a politician tells me is going to be delivered - happens.  

But I liked Zac Goldsmith.    I interviewed him about his travels which will appear in writing and online, but also on my new website too in the next month.    But here's a photo of the very handsome Mr Goldsmith and me grinning like the proverbial cloth cat

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

CUT PRICE HOLIDAYS - mind the gap and surf the net.

Ive been asked to comment on the increase in holiday prices during the summer and school holidays.   It is extortionate now, yup.   The prices more than double but it's only because we've had it cheap for so long and compared to other countries we have been blessed with cheap package holidays.    For example in Canada, very few Canadians have travelled around their own country - it's relatively cheaper to leave it than travel round it.   We have it good.

Of course, if you have the money - which a proportion of us do, we can go anytime, any place anywhere like the Martini advert says, so price is irrelevant. For the rest of us it's a bit of a scramble.  I suggest you get your teenager to surf the net, search the engines and get off their butt and facebook and instagram and anything else that appeases them at the moment and do something useful with their computer time.    The prices are not up over the holidays because the tour operators are greedy but because tour operators usually run on a very fine profit margin.    That's why when things get tough, they don't have margin to mind the gap, they fall through it.  

Saturday, 22 February 2014



Tips on going to Gozo - don't go on a Saturday, don't go for the day.   Visit the Ggantija Temples and Ramla Bay below the Calypso Cave, visit Rikkardo at his restaurant in Victoria, - the fresh cheese is the best - and go in the Spring or Autumn.   Avoid the hot summer months and the coolest of winter, and did I mention, avoid Saturdays...

this is a pose. not sure what it's called but it's the same thing I did once after having too much to drink outside my hotel room when I couldn't stand up properly.... The arch is DWEJRA, the man is Rikkardo, of Ta Ricardu restaurant. he makes wonderful cheese.


Last week I woke and it took three minutes for me to remember what day of the week it was.   I texted friends to find out if this happened to them or that I was going mad, which is a possibility.   I was told by a knowing soul, that it happens when you have a) too much on the mind and b) have had a deep sleep. So any of you out there who wake up not knowing the day of the week - there you have it - you're not mad. If you still don't know three hours after you wake up, that may be different. When I was traveling a lot I used to wake up and not know what country I was in.  

Two weeks ago it was Italy. Today I am in Gozo as I type.    It's a fifth the size of Malta and is treated like 'Ireland is to England' in other words not as bad as France and Britain and Australia and New Zealand and America and Canada, but sort of - an 'ish' of suspicious (ish), as Professor Edward de Bono would say.

Talking of which, I have spent a few days in the company of this incredible man again.   The person who was able to break down barriers of politics, prejudice, personalities, by using his incredible ability to simplify and thereby make accessible the process of thinking, has probably done more for productivity on all levels than the combined diplomacy of the world. His methods are used globally in China and America and Russia - cultures which rarely agree on anything even to this day without lots of negotiation, compromise, chest beating.  In companies, schools, universities, governments, establishments who not so much have narrow ways of thinking, but don't actually think, he made more progress than any statesman and far fewer enemies - if any.  Jealous critics perhaps.   He also happens to be a very funny, charming man, thoughtful - which doesn't often go with someone who is this clever and thinks on a level few can aspire to - and has a lovely partner Jayne.  He is going to have a busy year of which I will write about later, but it was an extraordinary weekend with lovely people.

Getting back to Gozo, it's a bit like Venice in that people visit for the day. Don't. Stay here for two nights, do a spa day or holistic (yoga on the beach) see pix. The walks here are lovely, very rural and incredibly dramatic countryside and cliffs.  Don't go on a Saturday as 'Saturday is Gozo day' for the locals - so go Tuesday which is the quietest.   Don't treat it as the poor relation to Malta as it's very much part of the package with it's own history and food specialities (I don't eat cheese but the goats cheese here is lovely).   Eat at Rikardu Zammit 35621555953 in Victoria and ask to see how they make the cheese.   Stayed at the lovely Corinthia Palace in Malta and the Kempinski in Gozo.  

Sunday, 16 February 2014



I stood outside on Friday night, the wind not allowing sleep and watched the clouds covering an almost full moon that looked down on me like a blistering bright eye, blinking it's eyelid every time the cloud cast a shadow.     My heart goes out to those who have had their homes and lives flooded by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.   But I feel grateful on Friday night I was in the right place at the right time looking up at that moon in that incredible storm. It was phenomenal.

Saturday, 8 February 2014


Rainy Friday night and I went by myself.    Cinema full of city, mainly men, possibly some seeing it for the second time I'm not sure. Many of them knew the words.

Beautifully shot film reminding me of the jagged edits of Goodfellas.   De Caprio brilliant as the protaganist but Matthew McCon (whatever his name is) was excellent.   He's not in it long but he is stronger in this than Leo.  Very funny line about wanking.

Scorsese shoots the scenes, sometimes the characters talking to us (the audience, the watcher, the punter) direct and sometimes interacting so we feel complicit in the duplicity, and not one of the patsies they are mocking for wanting to be rich and lacking the intelligence to know that they are speaking to men who know how to screw the system as well as they do the punters.   We become one of 'them' - although we're not. Although I felt in the cinema there were quite a few of 'them' there, although they hadn't made that amount of money because they would be living the life on the screen and not in a cinema in Richmond on a Friday night.

The brokers are shown to be either rich boys wanting to get richer or salesman who can be taught to sell anything to script. They don't start off bad, the system just makes them that way.   That's how it's sold to the audience anyway.  (although my son returned from his father telling me young men are wanting to be traders now having seen the film which tends to suggest otherwise, or alternatively his father is talking out his backside). Both are possible.

The director doesn't show the lives these men (and women) destroyed (suicides, businesses going under, homes lost, livelihoods lost on a global scale), we know the tip of the iceberg already of that. He shows what they do/did with the money although I sense this is also the tip of the iceberg.  At one point a character mentions the amount of money these guys are earning is obscene but I'm not sure anyone is quite aware of how obscene. I'm not even sure Scorsese is.   Even he couldn't find a big enough yacht to symbolize that.  There is only so many hookers you can get on a plane - although he did manage to get an awful lot on one of them in the film  (I watched Snakes on a Plane the night before for the first time and see similarities in choreography with some of the activities).  And there is only so much coke you can stick up your nose, and pills you can pop, but it was an education which the rest of the audience in the cinema already seemed to know a lot about. Or wanted others to think they knew a lot about.  

And Joanna Lumley's in it playing a posh English aunt.   Yup.

There were other similarities to Goodfellas.   The frenzied anger and pumped up hatred on the faces of the brokers is animalistic and visceral, reminding me of the contorted psychosis of the gangster Joe Pesci played, the mad, bad, dangerous to know gangster in Goodfellas.   He at least got his head blown off as did a lot of the others.  These crooks get away with a jail sentence. Got away with it. Are getting away with it.  They get blown a lot but not blown away, unfortunately.  The palpable, persistent and absolute contempt the brokers have for everyone around them is well observed.  It's real, as in it's real, present, current, in the now.  The broker comraderie shallow and short lived. You get a sense they could tear the skin off the bones of their colleagues with their teeth to get the deal.   It is such a pity they don't actually do it in the film or in real life for that matter.   There's no evidence of that over whelming sense of self entitlement evident when you meet a city trader in real life and at one point Di Caprio says to camera 'we don't create anything, we don't make anything, we don't build anything.'  And the markets they did create screwed up the world.

The audience laughed at the jokes about the stages of drug induced coma, as though they identified.

Two scenes from the film cut the air in the cinema dead.  The last time I had been in a cinema when the atmosphere was so tense was in the film The Innocent Man when there was a scene where a white man was being raped by a black man.   In this film, it was the scene where De Caprio was with the girlfriend and the wife opened the car door to find him sniffing coke off the girlfriend's chest.  Cut to stag party with hookers on the plane and wedding in the Bahamas.  One out one in.  The audience had been there, the divorce, and probably the Bahamas as well.

And the next when the aforementioned girlfriend (now wife and mother of his children) threatened to take the children, and he screamed incandescent rage at her, punching her in the face.   I get an eery sense they identified with those scenes as well.  Loss of family still bites no matter how high the hookers and coke take you.   For a few weeks anyway.

There are a lot of lines in the film (not just of coke) that are sound bites to last at least a few months.    "I forgot for a time I was rich," De Caprio says at the end of the film, having been put in jail for a few years and coming out - at the other end of the world (in New Zealand) selling selling to another group of patsies, punters. Not sure if this was symbolically meant to represent he 'came out the other side the same' or the guy on which this was based genuinely did work in NZ.  

And moral to the tale?   Crime pays.   It pays extremely well.    And they got away with it and are still getting away with it and laughing at us as we look on.... at least the Goodfellas gangsters had some semblance of honour and respect for family, their family, "The' family. This lot don't even have that.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014


We could learn a lot from Venice how they deal with floods, which is they take it in their stride, they sell more wellies and get on with it.   I learnt a lot when I was in Italy, how journeys become more philosphical with age, how magic moments are the simplest.    The Venice hotel had the best view.  The other hotels had walls.   Rome had the best food and Florence the best galleries.   Venice the best waiters, Florence the best shops and Rome the most characterful faces.  The Venice hotel had the most wonderful fragrance in the rooms but I'm not paying £40 for a jar of grapefruit smelling oil. Sorry. I will squeeze a few grapefruits in my kitchen every morning and waft it about the house.

They love this Pope. They wish they had had him earlier and they are pleased the other one abdicated.  I know having been to Argentina only the mont before, they want him back. They miss him too.

Florence it was the paintings and sculptures that stick in my mind even now, but I kept thinking when I was crossing the square to the Uffizi of the scene in Hannibal, because the character of Hannibal Lechter had walked across that square at the beginning of that horrid film.    I tried to focus more on the scenes from Merchant Ivory's altogether more romantic A Room with a View.   That was nicer. No eating of brains or being eaten by pigs in that one.

Rome, I last visited twelve years ago for a book launch. So much has happened in twelve years.   And it will in the next twelve, it's all a drop in the ocean of time compared to the timescales on show in the incredible history on display in thsese citites.  

We are a funny breed. We admire the very old and revere the brand new. It's frequently loving, living, appreciating the present moment we have a problem with.   Except when you have a journey like this when you enjoy every moment of it as you are living it and the fact that life for all it's shit is brilliant.