Thursday, 9 November 2017

Contactless World

Some individuals may feel they already live in a contactless world, without meaningful relationships in their lives, and even going days without talking to another human being, particularly if constrained by physical or mental health issues.

Many doubtless lack the comforting touch of a pet, never mind a human being. Moreover, it may have nothing to do with age. There is an alarming rise in depression and loneliness in the young too, no matter that their Facebook output may paint a picture of enviable perfection. Even a third of middle-aged Brits are now living alone.

Well here is the bad news. The world is set to get a whole lot more contactless.

We have become a more tolerant society to those who might once have found themselves on the margins (and rightly so), but meantime we have seen families, churches, communities and most elements that used to bind people together and offer a solid support structure swept away. Nor does a job for life exist any more.

In a so-called green age, we have seen the rise of the ruthless and throwaway society which extends to people too - at both ends of life. We are constantly encouraged to 'get over' and 'move on' irrespective of whether we are mourning a relationship break up or a deceased loved one. Most of us now spend more time on social media exchanging opinions and funny photos with random strangers than we do nurturing our real life friends and relationships. Social media also gives the opportunity for some anonymous trolling, when not virtue-signalling or falling out with someone over some trivial difference of opinion. It is no accident that mental health issues have risen in almost direct proportion to screen addiction.

Meantime the creep of the cashless society is afoot. Forget maintaining control over your finances, Silicon Valley won't stop driving cash out of town until they own us, lock, stock and barrel and can charge what they want for all the currently free services they have got us addicted to and on every other transaction too. Not so long ago the banks ruled the world. Then they became casinos and crashed, leaving the pitch wide open to the electronic players.

Some people call this 'progress' but I think we swallow the sugar-coated pill called 'convenience' at our peril. If cash goes, we will see even more social isolation and societal disenfranchisement. From children no longer receiving pocket money to homeless and other vulnerable individuals suffering and starving and charity donations taking a nosedive. The excuse is that banning cash will destroy the black economy and force everyone to pay their taxes leading to a more equal society, though as long as corporations are let off the hook and Russian gangsters are allowed to buy up half of London, this is patently untrue. Notwithstanding, preliminary trials and experiments in other countries have demonstrated that the black economy simply goes underground and finds a new way to operate, just as it always has, even if they have to start using another currency or create their own. In the legal world going paperless can backfire as we have seen with the road tax disc which used to have to be prominently displayed in every vehicle by law. Since scrapping this paper disc in 2014, yet continuing to require all vehicle keepers to carry on buying it in ethereal form, our government has lost £80m in revenue and counting. If no vehicle displays one, where is a parking enforcer to start in scanning every last vehicle on a daily basis to ensure compliance? Particularly when they have parking ticket targets to reach!

I have never been more grateful to see my new (and probably last) cheque book arrive in the post this morning. I may not write many cheques, but I still value them for some transactions but what I value even more is having the CHOICE as a consumer. When I grew up (not so long ago), being issued with your first cheque book was an important right of passage into the adult world. Credit cards were generally used for big ticket items and travel and only tended to be issued to home owners in their forties. No one my age had one.

So not content with the attack on the cheque book (thankfully postponed owing to public outcry), we see our bank and Post Office branches closing down, our free ATM's under threat and our bank notes reduced to toy town money. Meanwhile our parking machines are being turned into card/phone payment only, travel  and theatre ticket office closures force us to use our cards and pay 'booking fees' and we are propelled to the self-service checkouts in stores (contactless) and encouraged to use contactless cards (despite the warnings of security experts) so that onlife shopping becomes as soulless as online shopping.

Electronic payments may be seen as convenient by some, but what happens when they go wrong and you have a faceless non-accountable organisation to argue with to get your overpayment back? A mistake on a card is so much harder to rectify than getting the wrong change back in a cash transaction. And let's not forget the fees, fees, fees on virtually every transaction, as if they are doing you a favour by sacking all their staff and replacing them with machines! In addition I have seen so many passengers with bus ticket apps whose phones fail them when getting on a bus to the point they often have to pay cash anyway! I have also never bought a train ticket online or via a machine which was cheaper than the one I queued to pay a clerk in a booth for, a human being who can advise me on the best prices, times and routes. Self-service is NOT service. I may not be an old lady yet, reliant on a shop transaction as my only human interaction of the day, but as a human being I still demand to be served by other human beings. We have also seen whole systems brought to a halt by hackers and this risk can only increase, aside from all the individual cases of online fraud, which experts admit, are becoming ever cleverer and harder to avert. But at least the banks are currently obliged to try to offer some assistance and compensation. Who will help and protect consumers when Silicon Valley has taken their place and they operate entirely outside UK legislation?

Anyway. let's not kid ourselves. All the free goodies we enjoy on the internet now are but a 'gateway drug'  to lead us up the garden path to the hardcore reality of a contactless, control-less future which not only charges us at every turn but can cut us off electronically and condemn us to an electronic gulag cast out from society if we do anything to displease its masters! Hence I am writing this blog while I can!

The sexual world has become such a minefield, society almost deems it more desirable to go contactless there too, with live webcam shows and pernicious free porn, lest the brush of a real life knee or waist is misinterpreted, and which can doubtless only lead to disappointment after a hardcore porn addiction, when it is not! On a related note, the teenage pregnancy rate in UK has almost halved since the advent of social media as young girls would seemingly rather flirt online than meet boys in real life. Online, girls can control their image, so presumably those who don't match up to their glamorous photo-shopped selfies or made up personas can stay safe!

Finally, lest we get any ideas about remaining in the driving seat of our own lives, we have the joys of self-driving vehicles being foisted upon us - ostensibly to prevent accidents - but in reality we will most certainly be tracked and charged for whatever by whomever at will and there won't be a damn thing we can do about it! And what if the car is still involved in an accident or traffic violation? Who or what will be held responsible?

I can't wait!

Meantime I shall carry on being the cash backlash, watching my old skool DVD/VHS collection, reading my paper books (mine, all mine, for you never own electronic data!), meeting friends IRL (in real life) and supporting my High Street, whilst ensuring I keep my mobile notifications firmly switched OFF, for that way madness lies. Nor have I any intention of ever connecting my mobile phone to my bank account and indulging in phone apps. It may not be off-grid living exactly, but I choose real life insofar as it still exists. As the famous scene in Network declares; 'I'm a human being goddammit!'

For those who share my concern that we are sleepwalking into an unelected world we have diminishing personal control over under the guise of 'progress', I recommend reading The War Against Cash by Ross Clark and Done by Jacques Peretti. (available in all good bookshops too - support them while they last!)

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Is The National Trust Creating Trust Issues?


You'd have thought the National Trust would have had enough beautiful buildings in need of rescue to cherry pick and restore the most amazing national headquarters possible, even in the middle of London. Or failing that they could have talked to the Society For The Protection Of Ancient Buildings who maintain a list of At Risk historic buildings For Sale. 

Instead they opted to erect the above temple to the worst of flimsy bland modernity in Swindon for £14.5m, representing a rather large V-sign to their many thousands of members. Ok, it has green credentials (if you discount its construction footprint) but how much more inspirational it would have been to show how a historic building could have been 'greened' to a similar degree without compromise to its architectural integrity.

Recently their outgoing (thank goodness) £183,000pa director Dame (how?) Helen Ghosh has dragged NT into the eye of a storm by putting the National Trust, somewhat inexplicably, at the heart of celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of the de-criminalisation of homosexuality.

Not content with trying to force NT's many thousands of (mostly retired) volunteer staff and guides whose free labour the charity relies on to proudly wear rainbow badges, thus alienating many scores, some of whom have resigned after more than 20 years of giving their time to the charity, Dame Helen also 'outed' the late owner of Felbrigg Hall, left to the National Trust by lifelong bachelor, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, something his surviving friends and family insist he would have been horrified by as he was he was 'a very private man' and of an era where most people kept their private lives private. Then there was the ghoulish exhibition of 51 nooses at Kingston Lacey to mark those who were hanged for their proclivities in less enlightened days - moving, no doubt - but hardly relevant to (or the place of) a conservation charity.

Earlier in the year Dame Helen enraged members and staff alike by banning the word 'Easter' from the Great Egg Hunt' events promoted across NT properties and she has previously outraged art lovers by removing many paintings from NT properties (NT hold one of the largest collections of art in the country) to encourage a less middle class demographic to visit, an object significantly reduced admission (or even free days) would be far more likely to achieve. Similarly she has stripped a lot of antique furnishings out for the same reason (let's hope they do an audit of everything she's removed before she leaves - or even better compel her to reinstate it.)

The latest is that NT have stopped asking visitors to rate their 'enjoyment' of visiting a National Trust property as the percentage of positives was plummeting.

My last visit to an NT house was to Prime Minister Disraeli's House Hughendon in High Wycombe about a year ago. I loved the house and garden and found 'Dizzy' a fascinating character, but what impacted on my NT 'experience' is that the moment we admitted to not being NT members, the young spiv in the ticket office proceeded to do a hard sell on my mother and me for ten minutes or so rather than just smile sweetly, hand us a membership leaflet, let us buy the tickets and get on with it. The tea shop was overpriced (as expected) and delivered distinctly underwhelming menu options, my watery hot chocolate at the luxury price of £3.40 being particularly disappointing.  The gift shop had a few nice trinkets, but again overpriced enough to easily resist temptation (particularly for my mother's generation, who now have money late in life but have never developed a habit of spending it on unnecessaries, owing to the privations of  their early life). Note*: It was once a fantasy job of mine to become 'chief buyer' for a major historic attraction, in which case, I would have used the William Morris 'useful and beautiful' criteria as my mantra for selection and known exactly how to hook my mother's generation into buying!

While I appreciate the fact that most large houses have now opened their Below Stairs world as well, what I don't like are too many ropes in the way and not enough artifacts on display. I don't like most dumbing down or Disneyfication of our heritage, though that said, I don't mind the odd wax figure here and there or staff dressing up. In fact I prefer staff dressing up as it adds to the atmosphere. Laid banquet tables are also fine with me.

I like the tea room and WC's to be as beautiful as any other area, preferably with Victorian replica sanitaryware and William Morris wallpaper in the loos and at least appear to be genuinely historic and in sympathy with the property, even if they are modern add-ons. I think well-behaved dogs should be as welcome as well-behaved children. More places to take your dog is definitely a national need. But one of the absolute joys of visiting a historic property, apart from to admire its beauty and absorb its history, is that the admission fee usually guarantees you some peace from overcrowded and raucous public areas where graffiti and anti-social behaviour such as littering or excessive noise, might be on display. If people have to pay admission, they generally respect a space far more.

I also approve of the public events such as the organised fire work displays, concerts, ghost hunts, banquets and other entertainments that many NT properties now host. This is an important revenue stream for them and often forms special and even landmark memories for attendees.

Drag hunting on NT land remains a dilemma if the accusations are founded that it is used as an excuse to 'accidentally' tear apart live animals in the process, but if anti-hunt protesters have solid film evidence that this is happening, then they need to submit this to the Police and the RSPCA. 
It is not up to the NT to take action on the basis of online petitions unless this evidence has been submitted to and is confirmed by the relevant channels. If drag hunting were to be banned there is also the matter of all the hounds which would be culled if they were no longer needed, which is a cruelty issue in itself. The NT are meeting to decide the matter on 21st October.

Hopefully with the departure of (Dame) Helen, the NT can focus on getting back on track and back to the mission people join them for - to save the nation's heritage.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Royal Wedding - remembered

'Rubbishing stuff!' condemned my father from the kitchen doorway, bonfire wellies still on. 'Bloody parasites, the lot of them!'
'Oh stop it' retorted my mother 'Go back to your bonfire if you don't want to watch it and take those dirty boots with you!' A gruff harrumph was followed by the back door slamming.
Such was the day punctuated at regular intervals as my little sister, mother and I gathered round the 12 inch black and white TV set, straining to take in every detail of the pageantry that was the Charles and Di wedding.

We particularly marvelled at the Emanuels' ivory puffball wedding dress which drowned Lady Diana's slight figure and almost served as 'packing material' around her in the carriage conveying her to St Paul's, and wondered how on earth she went to the loo.

 My father simply couldn't comprehend the female imperative which made such spectacles compulsory viewing, not least when he had made his views on the Royal Family clear and expected his family to tow his line on this (among other matters).

I briefly wondered what Lady Di was doing marrying such a boring old man, but all the adults seemed to agree the Royal Wedding was a Very Good Thing, the officiators were taking it scarily seriously indeed, and he was a prince after all, and she LOOKED like a princess.  So the grown ups who ruled the world surely knew what they were doing.

Years later I learned that 'loony feminists' had been furiously waving 'Don't Do It Di!' placards just out of camera shot as the carriage wended its doomed way. But the nation demanded its pageant pound of flesh and as Princess Di admitted post-divorce, the T-towels and the tea sets were already printed, so what was a girl to do?

Nevertheless, I still recall it as a marvellous day which brought the nation together, topped by Kiri Te Kanawa's soaring solo in St Paul's and the happy couple did manage to look happy. The sun even managed to shine.

Post Charles and Di, the Royals ultimately learned that it was a bad idea to value virginity and breeding above all other traits in a future daughter-in-law, Consequently Fergie and Sophie enjoyed far happier marriages for being women of the world and age-appropriate to their princely spouses. Whilst Fergie and Andrew didn't last either, at least they managed to part as friends, with no dirty laundry aired in public, and present a united parenting front, enjoying the odd family holiday together to this day.

I do often find myself wondering about a particular wedding present that Charles and Di received though, a set of new goose down feather pillows every year, and wonder how long they were sent for and when they were cancelled by that particular wedding guest. In addition were they ever misused to biff each other over the head with?

As for my father, he is no longer around to approve or disapprove of Royal weddings. However now I am old enough to hold my own views I'd rather live under a monarchy than a presidency, for all its imperfections, and in answer to the mealy-mouthed, I am sure the Royals earn the country at least as much as they cost it in tourism and other revenue. They have even sacrificed the royal yacht and the royal train, for goodness' sake!

Finally latter-day royalty is not without its challenges. I feel sorry for Kate, as having enjoyed national admiration for being a commoner whom William fell in love with and married, she is now chastised for talking with 'a plum in her mouth' and it seems she can no longer put a foot right even though she's tried everything to be the perfect Royal wife and mother, to the point of blandness, for someone who wasn't born to nobility. Sadly for her, she lacks Diana's charisma and luminescence to override every pair of tights being commented on, but maybe she will find her feet in time. Or the cute kiddiwinks will get her through. As long as she doesn't have too many of course in these environmentally-sensitive times.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

What Would Princess Diana Be Doing Now?

























Like most people, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news (in bed on a Sunday morning when my radio alarm inexplicably went off at 5.30am to relay the surreal and shocking event while I sleepily tried to figure out who they were talking about whose 'boys were going to have to be very brave').

I have wondered many times since what Princess Di would be doing now if she were still alive and never more so than approaching the 20th anniversary of that fateful night

What we know about a surviving Princess Diana for certain:

  • Would have continued to be a proud and supportive mum to Wills and Harry
  • Would be a doting grandma to George and Charlotte
  • Would continue to play a pivotal role on the world's stage most probably through charitable work, ie becoming ambassador for UNICEF like late Audrey Hepburn. 
  • Would have continued to be a friend to HIV/AIDS sufferers.
  • Would remain a fashion icon and keep fit enthusiast.

Theories:

  • Before she died Princess Di was denied a bolt hole house on the Althorpe family estate by her brother Earl Spencer. She then yearned to live abroad but was told in no uncertain terms that she couldn't take the princes with her if she did so. Her compromise was increasingly frequent holidays/mercy missions with regular calls and visits home to Wills and Harry. As they grew into men and forged lives of their own I think Diana would have emigrated, though possibly remaining in Europe.
  • Diana was due to fly home to see Wills and Harry the day after she was killed. She may have enjoyed her summer with Dodi, but she knew he was a playboy and the moment she found out he had another girlfriend on another yacht nearby, one he had promised to marry, that would have been the end of it!
  • Meanwhile the Royals (if they hadn't previously attempted to) might have apologised to her for her ill-contrived Royal marriage and tried to cut a deal with her to agree to live quietly and respectably (including no change of religion as mother of heirs to a C of E throne) in return for free lifetime tenancy, possibly of former Edward and Mrs Simpson pad in France, and a generous guaranteed lifetime income. Having a strong sense of destiny that she was meant to be out there making the world a better place, she would have declined but insisted on retaining a lifelong royal title. Nor would she have agreed to be publicly gagged in any OK magazine appearances etc. As she said of herself in a post-divorce interview 'She just wouldn't go quietly.'
  • Diana felt the need of a wealthy man to protect her, so in Jackie Kennedy fashion (one of her heroines whose style she often emulated) I believe she would have eventually found herself an Onassis figure or widowed nobleman to marry, based in Europe. She would subsequently have quickly tired of a 'safe' father figure who possibly first admired her charitable endeavours and then sought to persuade her to give them up one by one as she should give all of her attention to him. In truth, she needed all the attention focused on her and wasn't about to become anyone's trophy wife or bird in a gilded cage. So divorce no. 2 would follow, albeit leaving her well set up for life.
  • A couple of successive flings with wealthy arab playboys might have followed, who flattered her, cheered her and spoiled her for a while, but had no intention of seriousness.
  • Finally I think she might have settled for a wealthy Fortune 500 American and moved stateside to be publicly adored into her dotage, Skype and Facetime by now keeping her in touch with her nearest and dearest in addition to regular visits.
  • Charles would not have been able to marry Camilla, not just because Diana would have made a massive fuss, as would her thousands of loyal followers, but because the church wouldn't have allowed him while his former wife was still alive. Then again, once we had gay marriage, Charles could have always asked for a review of the situation!
  • After initially embracing Tony Blair and New Labour, she would have become appalled by the war he took the nation into, particularly when he offered her no major role as a peacemaker and contradicted her charitable and peaceful endeavours.
  • Diana would have made strenuous efforts to try and save her rock star friend George Michael from his demons when she realised his life was spiralling and make him get help. She may or may not have succeeded in extending his life but her efforts would have put his condition in the public domain and encouraged other of his loved ones and fans to stage interventions.
  • Diana would have encouraged the nation's women to dress better and not let fashion descend into anything goes. Tattoos and piercings would also be less prevalent under her influence.
  • We wouldn't be such an emotionally incontinent nation who cry at the slightest thing, which would not please the producers of BGT! Diana's death spelt the end of the stiff upper lip and any pretence of emotional resilience. She has also, for better or worse, made the cult of victimhood socially acceptable, and not necessarily as a curable condition.
For all her pros and cons Diana was an undeniably iconic figure and, Royalist or not, you could no more ignore her 'girl next door' luminescence with its cornflower blue rolling eyes and flicked blonde locks than you can walk past an image of Marilyn Monroe without being drawn like a magnet. What they shared was that elusive intangible known as star quality and the unshakeable belief (despite their myriad failings and insecurities) that they were born to play a major role on the world's stage. Like Marilyn, Diana was a flame which burned too brightly and she died at the same age as her movie star heroine - 36 - in the month of August - like a candle in the wind indeed.

Diana's untimely death also plunged the monarchy into a crisis not seen since Edward VIII's abdication. The Royal Family simply did not know how to respond to the event or to the extraordinary outpouring of public grief, while simultaneously trying to comfort and protect the princes.

Strangely the thought of Diana being alive today is almost unthinkable. I wonder why that should be.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Reclaiming the Middle Class



My grandparents didn't claw their way up from working class families of 12 on one side and 15 on the other with scarcely enough to eat and at least half the family lost in infancy and in two world wars for me to pretend to be ashamed of the class they aspired to and eventually achieved - middle. And I'm not.

I therefore find myself growing increasingly tired of middle class people pretending to be anything but, meanwhile enjoying all the luxuries and privileges (and in many cases financial buffering) of their education and class. Champagne socialists, I suppose.

It is particularly galling when you meet someone who benefited from grammar school and a free university education themselves but who is more than happy to see the drawbridge pulled up against all other bright working class kids who may seek to better themselves and who now openly mocks and speaks against the grammar school system as 'outmoded' and 'unfair'. Often the same people indeed
who purposely move house to ensure their children are in the best possible school catchment area and have private tutors to cram any subjects they are shaky on as 'young Bryony is definitely OxBridge material'. Those who harp on and on about immigrants but would never dream of turning over their spare room to one, let alone indefinitely, and for no rent. When they are not harping on about how green they are with a bespoke kitchen island recycling unit, whilst taking four long haul holiday flights a year and popping five Boden-clad sprogs, that is.

As a keen reader of social history, I find we actually had more visionary educationalists even in the 1920s than we do now. And if kids left school without knowing the three R's inside out, it tended to be because they had had to leave school at 14 to earn a wage to help put food on the table for their impoverished family.

My grandmother won a grammar school place in 1913, but could not take it as her family could 'not afford the uniform' with 12 children to feed (and presumably on the basis that females in those days had very limited job prospects anyway so they may as well go out to work at the earliest opportunity).

Wind forward and social mobility was the big thing twenty years ago, but tellingly, it is  hardly mentioned now.  It's all about treating all kids equal and making sure they all win prizes.  In politically correct lip service if not in actuality that is. Those with money still pay for privilege and special treatment for their darlings to ensure they will be life's winners.

Reading 'The Middle Classes - their Rise and Sprawl' by Simon Gunn the other day really brought home the noble intentions of many of the original Victorian middle class who devoted their lives to innovating and building industries and cities to make Britain great, using their newfound wealth for all kinds of philanthropic projects including the social and educational betterment of their communities, however prescriptive, by today's standards. We have them to thank for universal free education and public libraries and toilets, among other things. They brought in trains and a postal system not much slower than the internet! The middle classes were known for getting things done and often on a grand scale.

What has happened to that 'can do' spirit? That pride in our country and determination to make it centre stage with justification?

We now have a middle class which continues to insist on playing a centre stage role in the world and interfering in the affairs of other peoples and nations but without the excuse and welt of Empire or a significant economic/manufacturing base to justify such a stance and without any weight left to throw around if we did but admit it.

We are left with a nation we constantly mock, undermine and apologise for in every way, even selling off the family silver, with many of our bridges, utilities and banks sold off to other countries, leaving us in a perilous national position, yet we continue to grant ourselves the right to tell the rest of the world what to do, a hangover of empire, if you will.

Former Prime Minister John Major promised the coming of a 'classless society'. What he and subsequent governments have actually facilitated are two additional classes in Britain - the underclass - where we are now seeing second or third generation benefit dependents, some of whom have never worked in their lives and - the super rich - whose job it seems to be to hoover up and trouser enormous amounts of wealth, occasionally for doing very little or providing only parasitical services to society, before depositing them into offshore bank accounts and funds to dodge tax.



So do I hate my class? No. Not at all. I just want us all to be honest about what we are and stop pretending to be ardent lefties, with all that would bring if the leftie utopia ever became a reality. Even Jeremy Corbyn went to public school and grew up in a substantial property, for goodness' sake! Up the workers - my a**e. I just want us to make our forbears, those strugglers who fought in two world wars, proud.

But on the other hand we need educated people to run the country properly and like it or not, these do tend to come from the middle or upper class, even if they often do it improperly. All the more reason to reclaim the middle class loudly and proudly. Or at least the best parts of what it used to embody. If we need an enemy, let it be those leeching super-rich who now control over 90% of the world's wealth keeping untold millions in poverty. Let it be the realisation that political correction has replaced national direction. 

The other day I overheard a forty-something white trustafarian woman boast loudly to her young Turkish companion in a trendy Brighton vegetarian restaurant that she was a campaigner for 'no borders'. 'Yeah, right.' I thought. 'I bet you are. As long as it doesn't impact on your comfortable lifestyle in any way and gives you a ready supply of exotic young paramours.' 



On a less cynical note here is - The Emperor of Lancashire - George Formby's sublime comedic take on being promoted to emperor from a working class perspective! 



Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Stop, Don't Jump!


I have been on a number of suicide prevention courses during my university career, in case I should ever come across a student in distress. Meanwhile national suicide levels continue to rise, particularly among the young, I suspect, as the act becomes more socially acceptable as a means to solve one's problems - an unintended consequence of the push for assisted suicide for the chronically ill - though no suicide charity has dared to speak up so far.  Which prompted the following thoughts on whether a more unconventional approach might be called for if I were to come upon a youngster on the brink.

Stop, Don’t Jump!

Stop, don’t jump!

I’ll have that dewy complexion, those bright eyes, that salon hair, if you don’t want them

I’ll have those admiring male looks, those limitless job opportunities, that chance to start over.

I’m a great believer in recycling unwanted pert breasts and precision perfect teeth

I could do with a new pituitary gland, a new pair of ears, 20/20 vision,

And knees that don’t creak

Which look wow in mini skirts

Your restless energy and raging hormones will be put to good use by me.

It’s true what they say that youth is wasted on the young

You just drink, smoke and fritter it away

Or at the first obstacle, call life a day.

But who asked you to cure cancer?

Just don’t be an a**ehole and look when you cross the road.

That’ll do for starters.

Maybe a random act of kindness here and there?

If you can tear yourself away from your smartphone long enough.

But if you can’t manage life’s basics, hand your meat suit to me

Let me try on that all over tan for size.

I’m sure it’ll fit.

I’ll pout for the rest of your selfies

Send your friends updates so they’ll never know

And you do carry a donor card, right?

What, you’ve decided not to jump after all?

Bugger!


©LS King 2017

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Eternal Youth At My Mother's
























Eternal Youth At My Mother’s 

In the bedroom of my childhood home I fall, I fail, I flail
In fitful draughts of sleep
Wind howling to a whistle
As it sharpens itself
On eaves and chimney corners
Long forgotten creaky floorboards and door hinges
Remembered once more
By the angst-ridden teenager
Now almost middle-aged.
The house has hardly changed
80s Buck Rogers wallpaper and all.
Perhaps if I had stayed, I wouldn’t have either.
Downstairs, I hear my mother burrowing
Through her hoard to the kettle in the kitchen
She wakes early these days
Me? I go back to missing exams in my sleep
And turning up to school
With no bottom uniform half
For a final hour before the alarm bell relieves me
Of another shift of nocturnal incompetence.

 ©LS King 2017

Saturday, 17 June 2017

A Needless Tragedy

According to Wikipedia Leonardo De Vinci designed a sprinkler system in the 15th century. Da Vinci automated his patron's kitchen with a super-oven and a system of conveyor belts. In a comedy of errors, everything went wrong during a huge banquet, and a fire broke out. "The sprinkler system worked all too well, causing a flood that washed away all the food and a good part of the kitchen."

The Americans then reinvented the idea in the 1870s and started installing sprinklers in their public buildings.

The first tower blocks were built in Britain in 1951.

Why then was it not both possible and a mandatory requirement to install sprinkler systems in all blocks from the very first? It must have been crystal clear that a fire in one flat posed a risk to all other flats in such a building and a risk to the entire structure itself. In addition fire retardant materials were in their infancy in the 1950s and fire alarms, at best, rudimentary.

Aside from the risk of tragedy, there would also be the likelihood of scores of survivors who would need immediate re-housing, as is now the case following what is being described as 'the greatest loss of civilian life in Britain during peace time since WWII'  (70 fatalities confirmed so far with many more individuals still missing). Even before we had a 'national housing crisis', this would have been a real challenge, let alone managing to re-house all the survivors in the same area.

The lack of a sprinkler system in Grenfell Tower was only the start of the horror though. The block did not even have a working fire alarm and nor did the residents seem to ever have known a fire drill. There was also no Fire Certificate. Perhaps worst of all, once the fire was underway, the emergency services started giving out the standard large building advice to 'Stay where you are and await rescue' (advice I have always found profoundly stupid in my career in buildings management). Sadly many residents obeyed and stayed in their flats, only to perish. People who could have lived had they got out the moment they were aware the block was on fire. How in reality would they have been rescued anyway? The PVC windows were fusing in the heat on many flats, there were no balconies and the heat of the fire prohibited helicopters going anywhere near enough to rescue anyone. However many residents (if awoken) would have been unable to see the scale of the fire until it actually reached them, so it is not their fault that they decided to stay dutifully put, assuming it was an isolated flat fire which would be dealt with. The lucky ones were those who listened to their instincts and were in a position to be able to escape from the lower floors just in time, much as there were some horror stories of the single stairwell being blocked by people trying to hump suitcases down with them.

To compound everything, it now emerges that this whole tragedy could have been the result of an aggressive carbon reduction initiative requiring all old blocks to be refurbished at great expense with new boilers, windows and exterior cladding, cladding which far from being fire retardant, appears on film to be acting as an accelerant and combining with the vents underneath to create a 'chimney effect' spreading the fire at a horrifying rate. Indeed these panels have already been banned in the US and Germany, not just owing to their fire weakness, but to the toxic fumes they give off when burning, which can also cause injury and death.

Strange how Green Issues were considered more of a priority than basic fire safety provision and coroner recommendations regarding sprinkler systems following the deadly Lakanal block fire in 2009 had been sat on since 2013. There is also no requirement to retrofit the older blocks with sprinkler systems as all blocks erected post-2007 are required to have. Allegedly fewer than 1% of council and former-council blocks possess a sprinkler system and there are many thousands of such blocks throughout the country, at least 50% of which have now had similar cladding fitted to help meet local authority green targets. To retrofit sprinklers to all is said to be 'impractical' and 'economically unviable', even though the money was found to refurbish the buildings to meet green standards without evacuating the tenants (a friend in Coventry has just been subjected to such inconvenience which took nearly two years and left a lot of shoddy snagging works to be dealt with after).

The Grenfell Action Group residents had repeatedly tried to raise issues about fire safety in the block with their benevolent-sounding management company Kensington and Chelsea Tenant's Management Organisation (KCTMO), but their concerns fell on deaf ears. They also took up their fears with their local MP and the Fire Brigade and were desperately trying to get an enforcement order placed on the building.

Having worked in buildings management for some years, I am entirely on the side of the tenants. I once administered a historic wood-framed former hotel in the middle of Oxford which dated from 1474. It was a huge rabbit warren of a building comprising around 100 rooms with many floors and roofs at crazy angles. Our Surveyor had his work cut out to install a fully-addressable fire alarm system throughout the winding corridors and landings and work out complicated maps of fire escape from each room. On the plus side it was only 4 storeys tall and had at least half a dozen fire exits into internal courtyards and onto the roof. For many years there was a live link to the local fire station so that if the fire alarm went off, it would automatically summon the fire brigade owing to the nature of the building.  I remember how horrified we were when the Fire Brigade cut this link saying we now had to take full responsibility for our own Fire Risk Assessments and for calling out the Brigade ourselves in the event of fire. As a result of this the College had to provide a 24-hour Porter's Lodge as we couldn't afford to take any risks and our insurance wouldn't insure the building otherwise.

While it is suspected the Grenfell fire was originally started by a faulty fridge in a flat on the fourth floor, it will take time for a Public Enquiry to get underway and possibly several years for a full investigation of the entire sequence of events and factors to be completed and the results to be known, let alone for the appropriate heads to roll over this tragedy, preferably with corporate manslaughter sentences ensuing. 

Meanwhile anger is building and it looks increasingly likely this could result in a riot in the richest area of London. Wealthy 21st Century philanthropists; now is your moment if you want to show you care, to open your mansions, wallets and hearts, offer your spare rooms and you could potentially avert the start of a great civil unrest in the capital. A 'war' between rich and poor to put it crudely. Do you really want another Brixton riots in Kensington?

On a final note let's have no more tower blocks in the future as they will never be 100% safe to live in, never mind the enablers of social cohesion, equality, good health and upward mobility their utopian socialist devisors once dreamed in the days when the first residents were only too happy to enjoy the luxury of an indoor bathroom for the first time, after being re-housed from insanitary slums.

Let's have mansion blocks for all -  a proven model of safe, healthy, high density urban living. And with an average lifespan of 200 years, these dwellings are about as sustainable in their carbon construction footprint (a factor conveniently overlooked in this throwaway world) as buildings get. 60% of high rise blocks built pre-1975 have now demolished and few even made it to the 50 year mark before being deemed 'unfit for purpose' and condemned. 

*Edinburgh is a good example of a historically high density city. Granite being so hard to cut in olden times that they had to make the most of every block by building tenement style dwellings from the outset. Another advantage of Granite is that it is one of the best natural fire retardant building materials there is and good at containing fires.





Friday, 9 June 2017

Stop Gaslighting Me!

A few days ago I was walking past a campus bus stop when I heard a young American couple arguing. I slowed my pace in case the girl needed assistance as she was quite a bit smaller than the guy and heard her yell 'Quit gaslighting me! We're done!' before stomping off. The boyfriend looked shocked and eventually walked slowly in the opposite direction.

Impressed by the female student's assertiveness I found myself intrigued to know what 'gaslighting' meant and looked it up (well you've got to keep up with the lingo when you work with students!). Were these two part of some obscure Victorian re-enactment society or something?

I was astonished to find that 'gaslighting' means psychological abuse and takes its name from a period drama film called Gaslight above (1944) in which a man tries to make his new wife think she is going mad by constantly interfering with the gas lighting, among other devices, and then causing her to question her own sanity by denying he has altered anything.

Which reminds me of how Lord Lucan apparently terrorised Lady Lucan in similar vein, trying to get her to accept that any odd incidents were all in her mind as part of his campaign to get her committed as an alternative to an expensive divorce and her being awarded custody of their children. We know the rest of the story from there when that didn't work.

The Yellow Wallpaper was a famous Victorian short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which illustrated the syndrome long before it had a name and in the novel Jane Eyre, we are surely left with many unanswered questions about the crazy wife locked in the attic and what manner of man Mr Rochester truly is, not least since his wife would have to die before he could marry Jane (divorce being considered scandalous and therefore virtually unheard of in those days). As literary scholar John Sutherland so insightfully poses the question in his famous essay on the novel: 'Can Jane Eyre Be Happy?'

In days of yore, many a man on the make would marry a wealthy widow for her money (both the woman and all her worldly goods becoming his goods and chattels upon marriage) and then seek to have her committed, (divorce being scandalous and ruinously expensive and murder being a capital crime). It was only post-WWII that divorce became possible and available for the majority.

So what exactly IS gaslighting and how does one recognise it? The first thing I read is that it's far more common than we think  The second is that you can be gaslighted (or should that be 'gaslit'?) by anyone - a parent, a friend, a boss, a partner, a business associate. It may occasionally be accidental such as a parent snapping 'Now look what you've made me do!' to a child who interrupts them at an inopportune moment, but usually there is an intent to undermine or manipulate someone at the heart of it. It always starts slowly and gently builds up, usually over a long period of time so it will be someone who knows you well and knows what your buttons are.

Signs to look out for:

  1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself and making 'silly' mistakes if you don't double-check everything.
  2. You feel continually wrong-footed or that you are being dealt curve balls. 
  3. There may be a dim awareness that someone in your life always has to have the upper hand or the last word, as if to keep you in your place, but if it's trivial stuff or the rest of them seems to be 'a good person' you let it pass as it's not worth mentioning.
  4. You start to question if you are too sensitive and emotional. Or not sensitive enough.
  5. You often feel confused and demotivated and have a hard time making simple decisions.
  6. You find yourself apologising far too often.
  7. You can’t understand why you’re unhappy or having feelings of nerves or dread you can't quite put your finger on, or for no apparent reason.
  8. You often make excuses for your partner’s behaviour (if it's your partner).
  9. You feel like you can’t do anything right or that anything wrong that happens is all your fault, even if it isn't.
  10. You often feel like you aren’t good enough
  11. Your abuser will use phrases like 'I am only doing/saying this for your own good' and convince you that everything they say/do is with your best interests at heart. They are often paternalistic in attitude towards you so beware the 'father figure' - unless you are in genuine need of one.
  12. You have the sense that you used to be a more confident, relaxed and happy person
  13. Your run down state may result in health issues such as repeated digestive problems, colds or throat infections - usually signs you are having trouble digesting what is happening to you or speaking up for yourself. A bad back may indicate feeling a lack of support. Physical symptoms are often directly related to your feelings.
  14. You withhold information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain things
  15. You may start to become socially isolated as your confidence evaporates or your abuser may encourage you to distance yourself from people, particularly loved ones, who might notice you've changed and attempt to rescue you or de-program you.
  16. Your abuser will encourage your dependence on them, typically with the belief that they are the only one you can trust.
  17. Worst case scenario: You will question your entire sanity, giving the other party complete power over you.
Some examples.

  • A parent promises their child an ice cream if they wash the car and then later that day when the child has washed the car and asks if they can have the ice cream, the parent denies ever promising it.
  • A woman kicks or punches her partner in his sleep on a regular basis but claims it is an accident or he imagined it.
  • A man has a row with his girlfriend over a trivial matter, but half an hour later denies it ever happened.
  • A woman pretends to like her partner's family and then comes up with all manner of trivial excuses for cancelling visits until much time has gone by and the partner suddenly realises they no longer see their birth family.
  • A boss promises a promotion and then keeps adding new caveats and conditions which have to be met before the employee gets it.
  • A friend does you a favour and then regularly reminds you of the fact indefinitely, conveniently forgetting you have also done plenty for them.
  • A parent withholds love and approval and only grants it when a child does their bidding (ie it's conditional love)
  • A friend says 'You're so pretty (name). If it weren't for that ski slope nose, you'd be perfect.' (beware the back-handed compliment/the compliment with the sting in the tail.)

So if you've experienced any or all of these signs/types of scenario in someone's orbit, ask yourself if you are being gaslighted. I know I have been at various times in my life and I now realise by who and what pattern to look out for.

Finally serious gaslighting is apparently almost exclusively the preserve of the narcissist, so it is most informative to familiarise oneself with this personality type.

We hear a lot about Health and Safety and its unquestionable importance but in this modern world of skyrocketing mental health issues, I think we need to pay a lot more attention to emotional health and safety, both our own and that of those around us. And we need to do this for 'our own good' as well as theirs. We all know the rudiments of bullying, but seldom the subtleties of this dark art and what motives may lie behind it.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Lady Lucan - her story


Lord and Lady Lucan. They look like an iconic 60s British couple, possibly even minor Royalty, with their photogenic looks and well-styled clothes. At one point Lord Lucan was offered a screen test for James Bond. 

Perhaps that is why Lady Lucan clearly finds it hard to let complete go of the glamorous dream which became a nightmare, just as some people struggle to accept that the apparent fairy tale of Charles and Diana should never have happened, and may even still sup from their Royal Wedding commemorative cup.

Yet Veronica Lucan alone emerges from this tragic tale of financial ruin, madness and murder like a 20th Century Victorian heroine, against all the odds, her voice finally heard, to tell her story in full, 43 years after that fateful night.

Some have passed judgement on her, saying she has 'just done it for the money'. I disagree. She has had 43 years in which to cash in on one of the most notorious crimes of the 20th century if that were the case. Why wait until she is an old lady and live so frugally and privately all this time when she could have been in clover? It seems more likely that she wants the world to know her side of the story before she dies. Plus she probably could do with a few quid for her twilight years. She may live in a small mews house in Belgravia, but you can't eat bricks and mortar, and she is apparently wholly reliant on her state pension. 

Some have accused her of being 'cold'. Again, I disagree. Not only is she a product of her class and times when the stiff upper lip and farming your children out to nannies was the norm for posh people, but she has necessarily had to build a high wall around her emotions over the years for the sake of her sanity and survival. Her devastation is evidenced in the fact she still lives in her husband's former bolt hole, a stone's throw from the murder house, has never remarried or recommenced a career. She has battled brain injury from her husband's attack and entirely understandable depression from his psychological and physical abuse of her, even before his attempt to murder her. As if all this weren't bad enough, she was subsequently ganged up on by his friends and family who blamed her for 'driving him to it', (if they admitted he had anything to do with it at all - some tried to insist the crime was committed by an unknown intruder), by contesting him for custody of the children following their separation. She then saw her children eventually turned against her by the wealthy relations who offered to look after them for a while as Lady Lucan tried to come off her medications so that she has now not seen them for 35 years, never mind meeting her five grandchildren. 

As for being 'a bad mother' - was she ever given a chance and the right support following the tragedy to become a good one? And let's not forget this is a woman whose husband repeatedly tried to get her declared insane and committed to a mental institution as part of his psychological abuse of her in the years leading up to the crime, with the compromise that she at least agree to take the heavy medication prescribed by his doctor friends to regulate her anxiety and depression for her 'own good' and despite crippling side effects. Certainly she was a financially impoverished mother following the crime and not able to keep her three children in the style to which they had become accustomed, unlike her relations, who were.

And every day. Every day she is haunted by the murder of her nanny, Sandra Rivett, a good and decent woman, who shouldn't have even been in the house on that fateful November night in 1974 were it not for the fact she had asked to switch evenings off in order to spend time with her new boyfriend and Lady Lucan had agreed.  Lord Lucan, having watched the house for some weeks to observe the pattern of comings and goings had been floored by this and assumed the woman making tea in the kitchen - of similar height and build to his estranged wife in the gloom - was his wife. However his horror at realising his mistake once he had bludgeoned the nanny to death did not stop him trying to murder Lady Lucan in the same manner, and it is only by dint of her quick-wittedness, that she managed to distract his attention long enough to flee the house and summon help at the nearest pub, despite severe injuries. However, prior to her escape, he was confident enough of the fact she wouldn't live to tell the tale to admit to her that he had killed the nanny.

I didn't know what to expect when I watched the ITV television interview with Lady Lucan last night but I found myself transfixed by her elegance, her grace, her unflinching honesty and her unfashionable lack of self-pity. There was even a little flash of humour here and there, hints of the sparkling woman she could have been. Even more impressive was her absence of hatred towards all those who had conspired to control her, badmouth her, kill her and finally desert her during her adult life. Ultimately as she admitted, all she had wanted was to have a family who loved her and whom she loved. 

Yet, this simple wish shared by so many, turned out to be an impossible dream which eluded her.  She is a woman who was unlucky in love, and all the other bad things in her life emanated from that simple fact. But like many abused wives, presumably she always lived in hope that Lord Lucan would change, just as he undoubtedly always hoped for that 'big win' which would set him up for life. 'Lucky' Lucan, it turned out, was an ironic nickname as he was never that lucky after his beginner's luck ran out and he subsequently fell under the thrall of John Aspinall and the Claremont Club

Aspinall is said to be the key to the whole mystery of what happened to Lord Lucan, but Aspinall died in 2000 taking any secrets to the grave.

And though Lady Lucan knew Lord Lucan (aka John Bingham) best of all, her theory of what happened to her fugitive husband (she believes he committed suicide by throwing himself onto the propellors of a cross-channel ferry from Newhaven, shortly after the attack) is not even in the top three.

What seems remarkable is that there are still people out there who continue to avow Lord Lucan's innocence of the crime or make excuses for him. As if a blue-blood can do no wrong or should not be expected to live by the same rules as everyone else. Many individuals face financial ruin through gambling addictions and other ill luck, but they don't go around killing people.  Nor had Lady Lucan obstructed his access to the children following their separation to offer any justification for his unconscionable rage. If anything she still loved the idiot and hoped for an eventual reconciliation.

Lady Lucan may not be perfect (she freely admitted she often verbally retaliated quite cruelly herself when her husband provoked her or stayed in bed all day when she was depressed) but what she gave in her television interview was a masterclass in human dignity and survival against the odds. So let's hear no more of this 'victim blaming'. If it's not acceptable to blame any other victim of domestic violence for their fate, why should it be acceptable in Lady Lucan's case, just because she is well spoken?


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Mass Meditation for Peace and Plenty


As random atrocities become an increasingly regular visitation on the Western World, perpetuated by self-appointed agents of their god or, no less horrifically, psychopathic individuals who fancy some copycat notoriety on their way to the grave, perhaps the best thing we can do as individuals psychologically is to focus our attention away from what we don't want (thus helping to attract more of it according to the Law of attraction) and concentrate on what we do want (thus helping to attract more of it according to the Law of attraction).

For most nations, the main want would surely be 'Peace and Plenty' so that we all have a quality of life and choices which do not force us down paths we don't wish to go down or to treat each other harshly as a result of life brutalising us into constant 'fight or flight' survival mode. Nor do most of us wish to be driven out of our own countries or forced to leave them (and our communities, friends and families) behind in search of a better life, and all the hardships and risks that entails. We want the option of a good life in our own nation as well as the option to travel or work abroad.

A long time ago (sadly I can no longer find the source) I read about a 10.30pm world mass meditation initiative. That wherever everyone was in the world, at 10.30pm each night they would commit to a couple of minutes either meditating or praying for world peace. With the various time zones, that would mean an enormous number of people asking their god (or the universe) for world peace at various times throughout the clock. I would like to resurrect this daily idea if it has fallen by the wayside to include 'Peace and Plenty' as peace without enough to eat does not quite fit the bill for a balanced and wantless world.

Here is a link to a once a year initiative of similar ilk called Earthdance, which takes place on 23rd September 2017 and has an incantation to go with it (see above). Or if you'd rather do the 10.30pm each night thing with a simple wish for Peace and Plenty throughout the world, please Like my Facebook page here.

Quantum physics is now telling us we are entering the Age of the Mind and the next generation of discovery will be a voyage around our minds and realising the power we all have if only we were to utilise our full mental capacity and energy and take control of our own minds. So strength in numbers folks. It's up to us to ask, meditate (and vote) for the world we want and visualise a bloodless revolution. Otherwise one thing is for sure. We will 100% continue to end up living in a world we don't want, hapless victims of other people's agendas, egos and mental illnesses, individuals who didn't hesitate to go after what they wanted, however warped or self-serving their particular vision.

So let's give mass mind power a chance and see what we can achieve. But let's avoid words like 'fight' or 'war' against want as aggressive words are counter-intuitive. 'As some wit once said: 'Fighting for peace is like f***ing for virginity!' Mother Teresa also once said: 'I will never come to an anti-war rally, but invite me to a peace rally and I will come.'

Strangely enough religious institutions seem uninterested in mass world prayer, except for sparing a thought for the sick of their parish once a week. Perhaps it's time to demand their involvement too.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A Tale of Two Stuarts

This was the view from my office window for twelve years in an Oxford College.
Well not my sole office, for I shared it with two wonderful Surveyors over the years, both called Stuart, first as a secretary and latterly as a Surveyor's Assistant.

Stuart I and Stuart II were very different characters but I had an excellent giggling chemistry with both.

Stuart I was dynamic and mercurial with a natty taste in bow ties and expensive brogues and could whinge for England, particularly about 'this country going to the dogs' but nearly always holding forth with a twinkle in his eye and a ready laugh. He could crack the whip and had cleared the workshop of the 'dead wood' as soon as he arrived which meant he ran a tight ship by the time I was appointed (the final in a long list of secretaries).

Conversely he could be incredibly kind and compassionate. He was also meticulous about getting every detail right. His friend Robin, a Surveyor as well, worked with us part-time and the two made a tremendous double act, but a tremendous professional partnership as well. Stuart I took the view that he wouldn't ask anyone to do anything he couldn't do himself, so he had trained in carpentry, plumbing, electrics etc. He could literally turn his hand to almost anything. However he also had Robin and myself on our knees with vacuum cleaners when building works overran and the students were about to move in!

By rights we shouldn't have got on for Stuart I was a hunting. shooting and fishing man with a love of 4 x 4's and good beer whereas I was a lifelong vegetarian and teetotaller, but somehow we 'got' each other and clicked, possibly because we were both Sagittarians and spoke our minds with birthdays only days apart. He also had an eye for the ladies and liked the window boxes to be kept short so he could admire them going past the windows!

We worked on amazing projects like the restoration of one of the oldest working mediaeval kitchens in England without compromise to its structure, wall painting restoration, chapel window restoration, roof and parapet repairs and restoration of a mediaeval internal courtyard, almost untouched for centuries.

Stuart I's downfall was that he wasn't much of a professional networker and not very good at compromise. After three years of my working with him (seven years at the College for Stuart I) and a change of Bursar, sadly Stuart had a disagreement with the college and ended up walking out.

I held the fort for a while after Robin also left (to pursue a year abroad to turn his hand to making his sporting activities into a career). The new Bursar (not a buildings man) eventually asked if we really needed another Surveyor to which I replied, shocked; 'Of course we do.'

Cue for Stuart II to appear several weeks later, a man in his early 60s with the bushiest and scariest white eyebrows I had ever seen, but equally dapperly dressed. He was much more laid back than Stuart I but I noticed things still got done and the pace of conservation and refurbishment soon picked up where it had left off. Stuart II also had the benefit of being a big cricket fan which meant he was never short of sporting banter to help him bond with the senior staff and fellows. Moreover he was generous with his time (not wishing to work full-time) and quite happy to help staff with projects on their homes, whereas Stuart I couldn't get home quick enough to spend time with his young daughter at the end of each day.

Perhaps because I had to hold the fort for at least one day a week, if not two, Stuart II started making it his business to teach me everything he knew. I also went on courses and gained an NVQ in Interior Design which I could then immediately apply to whatever project we were undertaking. Together we designed a new (but traditional looking) Porter's Lodge, numerous WC's, two luxurious academic house kitchens, en-suited various staircases, refurbished Fellow's rooms, offices and other areas. We had a rule that if we couldn't agree on a carpet, a colour or some other detail, then we hadn't found the right product yet. I came to be very grateful to Stuart II for his interest in my professional development and mentoring.

There was no such thing as staff development in our College. I didn't have a single appraisal in 12 years and only went on the courses I went on owing to Stuart II's urging. I also ended up writing the first ever Green Policy for the College.

Like Stuart I, Stuart II had an eye for the ladies and liked to joke he was a 'silver fox'. I bought him a silver fox badge for his birthday and he was delighted.
His wife suffered from a chronic illness so I also ended up giving him a lot of emotional support. Eventually she sadly died after a brave seven year battle. About a year later I found myself being consulted for dating advice and lo and behold, the Silver Fox was back on the dating scene for the first time in 45 years! One of the first things I remember saying to him was - 'Just remember, you don't have to marry them all! You can just date a lady!' He seemed quite surprised by this.

One of the most amazing things Stuart II did for me was defend my position when the Bursar (not a buildings man) decided to make me redundant after 12 years for the spurious reason that the building programme was coming to an end and I was no longer needed (though strangely, the programme of improvements and refurbishments subsequently continued following my departure to encompass many further projects).

Sadly my redundancy still went through, but I will always have fond memories of the college and both Stuarts.

This all came to the fore last week when I attended the funeral of Stuart I. A particularly sad occasion since he had taken his own life. Stuart I could fix everything it seemed, except himself. We'd kept in sporadic touch over the years and he had seemed his old jovial self the last time I saw him a couple of years ago, but apparently a few demons lurked behind the scenes. The only positive note was reconnecting with some welcome familiar faces. There was an unspoken feeling that it had been an intense and 'special' time when we were all together at the college and tackling so many core projects (sensitively) after so many years of neglect. On the other hand so many years of neglect were also to be thanked for making our college one of the best preserved Oxford colleges in the city, whereas others had let the most hideous brutalist buildings creep into their quads.

Certainly there are few jobs that you look forward to going to each day knowing you will be working in the most beautiful built environment and have at least one belly laugh per day if not several with your line manager and colleagues. There is something refreshingly down to earth about the world of Surveyors. There's no side to them. Not the ones I've worked with anyway. The workshop was great for camaraderie too and we worked with some wonderful contractors for years including a certain stonemasonry company, to the extent of replacing the worn gargoyles (designs repeatedly rejected by our blue-blooded benefactors for being 'too ugly!) Then there were the regular visits by film companies to use our quads for Morse and assorted costume dramas, so more than once I became a set dresser and met the likes of actors Nathanial Parker and Kevin Whately. Finally there was that most welcome 'conference bonus' each Christmas for putting up with some charming mature Americans over the summer undertaking a literature conference in Oxford and who would always invite me to one of their special dinners.

As for Stuart II? Well he stayed on at the College for another few years, though he complained it wasn't the same without me, before being retired in his early 70s on grounds of age. He now lives nearby with his second lady friend since being widowed.

Happy days in a unique workplace which, unlike some, will still be standing years after we are all long gone, weaving us into their fabric and making some sense of our toil in them.