Rome – a city of two halves

Ostiense bridge, in the less privileged area I visited in Rome

Rome, which I recently visited, has its extravagant treasures, such as in the Vatican. I found these material things rather difficult to reconcile with the idea of faith in Jesus Christ.

While in the city, we went on a Street Art tour, organised by a charity which seeks to interest the public more in the genre. We saw a plethora of beautiful and skilful street art, explained brilliantly by our guide. It all made quite contrast to the Sistine Chapel et al.

I was particularly struck by the work of the street artist Blu. In one case he worked for food and accommodation only, risking his life on ropes at night to cover a social housing project in art. In tribute to his selflessness, graffiti artists have left his work untouched (which is unusual).



Bob Monkhouse: The Last Stand

The video below shows Bob Monkhouse, live on stage at The Albany pub in Great Portland Street, Central London in 2003, interspersed with interviews with comedians and celebrities that were in the audience that night. It was to be his last stand-up comedy performance and shows him at his best. He really was a stand-up genius.

I was fortunate enough to see him on stage at Butlin’s Minehead doing his stand-up in the late 1970s. I was doing glass collection as a staff member. He was fantastic – and quite different from his TV appearances. The following night I saw him again, because I was still collecting glasses. Interestingly, his every utterance, gesture and pause were exactly the same as the night before. This was testament to his supreme skill.

After some great stand-up, in the second half of this video, Bob Monkhouse recalls some fascinating observations on famous comedians he knew and worked with such as Peter Sellers, Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper etc. He really is very frank, incisive and funny on these comedy giants. He then introduces Mike Yarwood, who is seeringly honest about his career and life. This gig was recorded shortly before Bob Monkhouse sadly died. So it is incredible that he puts in a flawless, fascinating and hugely energetic performance.

The enchanting music from “The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe”

When I was a child, I was mesmerised by “The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe”. This TV series, shown by the BBC in the sixties, was made all the more magical by the fact that the film copy used by the BBC looked about a hundred years old and the beautiful music blared out, in a slightly distorted way.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that the original soundtrack from the series is available from all good streaming services! The music is by Robert Mellin and Gian-Piero Reverberi.

Exciting tour of National Public Radio in Washington DC

Me at the studios of National Public Radio in Washington DC

When I was in Washington DC last month, I discovered that the headquarters of National Public Radio (NPR), the US wide public broadcaster, was near my hotel. I was able to go on one of the daily tours of the offices and studios. It was absolutely fascinating and very exciting. NPR is heard through 1000 affiliates across the USA, peaks at 15 million listeners and is the most trusted USA news source.

On the tour, we passed the legendary “Tiny Desk”, the home of the “Tiny Desk concert”. It’s a bit like Radio 1’s “Live Lounge”. By chance, the group for the day, Phony Ppl were arriving at the desk for their concert. I met one of the band and the “Tiny Desk” curator/presenter Bob Boilen.

Below is a photo of Phony Ppl performing their “Tiny Desk” concert that day.

Here is the concert which Phony Ppl recorded that day (click on the image below):

We need to do the full Swiss

I happen to believe that David Cameron will go down as one of the worst Prime Ministers in British history. His decision to hold an EU referendum would have been fine if he had a plan for afterwards. He didn’t. He just scarpered and “put his trotters up in Cannes” – to use the immortal words of Danny Dyer.

Andres Allemand in the Independent describes the Swiss referendum model:

…it is not uncommon to vote again and again on the same issue. The most dramatic example is maternity leave. It took six votes and 60 years for the country to agree on its position.

The British do not have a history of referendums. We have only actually had three national referendums ever: The Common Market one in 1975, AV in 2011 and EU in 2016. Yes, just three (all the others you might remember were regional polls).

The problem is that once we start doing referendums, then we need to go the whole hog and do it like the Swiss.

As the above quote suggests, it would be very usual for the Swiss to have a referendum on the deal to leave the EU, even after having voted initially to leave the EU. It is part of the Swiss process.

What is maddening about the current situation is that there are still people who think that democracy started and ended on June 23rd 2016. But that was only the start of the process.

You either have a representative parliamentary system or you go the full hog and have a referendum system. But if you have a referendum system you have to have lots of referendums, or at least two in the current Brexit situation.

As it is, we’ve ended up with an outrageous situation. Theresa May boxed herself in with her red lines and then tried to find words to come up with a soft Brexit without actually saying so. “Frictionless border” being the top one. Ridiculous. So she’s painted herself into a corner. Her deal is ludicrous. Her delay on the vote on the deal is ludicrous. She is holding parliament to ransom with the deadline of 29th March 2019.

The whole thing is a disgrace. At the risk of repeating this: there is only one way out of this and that is for the people to decide whether they want May’s deal or whether they want to remain in the EU.

I don’t personally think that “no deal” should be on the ballot paper with a leaving date of 29th March 2019.

As Gina Miller put it, “no deal” is fine, as long as we have ten years to prepare for it!

Thinking of Paddy

This photo was taken in April 1993, during one of Paddy’s three overnight stays at our home. It was the time of the Newbury parliamentary by-election. This photo was taken in our dining room, just before I went to work one morning.

A few weeks before, we’d suffered the horrible blow of suddenly losing our son.

Paddy’s frequent visits during the election fight were a huge shot in the arm to the Newbury campaign.

But personally, it really was a huge uplift and inspiration to meet Paddy and have him stay in our home. With Paddy, you get a feeling that you don’t get with many other people. You get the feeling that he is 100% on your side and that he will fight any necessary battles alongside you. It is always a huge comfort to know this.

In the years since, through good times and bad times, Paddy has always been there for the party – an essential rock to lean on.

So now, as Paddy faces his own battle, he deserves the greatest of good fortune and to know that many people are willing him on.