What do we learn from the Weinstein affair?

DO we learn from Harvey Weinstein or is it just a thing – a media thing that burns from its own energy and then dies?

I was wondering about this when talking to students this week about the disgraced film producer who is accused of sexually harassing and assaulting more than 50 women.

The matter was an aside rather than the topic of the day but many of the students were well informed about the accusations against Weinstein, as well as angry and indignant.

They knew as much as I did about what the vile man is said to have been up to for years in Hollywood. They believed that good would come from the exposure of his behaviour, and they also felt that the #MeToo hashtag was a positive way for women to register that they too had been sexually abused or harassed.

I paraded some front pages of the newspapers and pointed to the Daily Star. The right-hand half of the page was given over to a ‘sex pest’ headline in a follow-up to the Weinstein story. And the left-hand half of the page contained a photograph of woman who was just about naked.

That grubby juxtaposition said a lot about newspapers sometimes wanting to have their outrage while also celebrating the very thing they are outraged about. OK, the Daily Star is hardly a template for our times. But still. Do these people see what they are doing? Serious face for that “pervert story” – and “Fwoar! Look at her” for the daily scanty next door.

Of course, much serious discussion, reporting and commentary has been stirred by the allegations against Weinstein. And if all the talk and all the anguish changes attitudes in Hollywood and the wider world, then this will have been more than a media thing.

That is not, I recognise, a very exact phrase. But “a media thing” seems to sum up what can happen when a story becomes all-consuming, a fire that rages day after day. Until one day that media bushfire burns itself out. The smoke lifts, the view clears. Then someone sets fire to something else and everyone forgets about the first fire.

There has been so much heat, so much acrid smoke, over Weinstein that it seems fair to suppose that some good will come of so many famous women claiming to have been abused. If attitudes change in society, if women feel embolden to speak up, then that is to the general benefit.

Because it must add up to more than a grisly parade of what one deeply unpleasant man is said to be have been up to for years.

This morning, the director Quentin Tarantino is quoted as admitting that he was aware about instances of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein for decades but did not act to protect women, saying: “I knew enough to do more than I did.”

Isn’t it often the case that people know enough to do more than they do? Yet if Tarantino now regrets his lack of action, it is still an uncomfortable truth that Weinstein did much to create his career. And that’s where the moral strands become tangled.

As I said, my students believed in the power of the #MeToo campaign and perhaps they are right. My only concern is that this is, to continue with the imprecision, a “social media thing” – something that gets everyone excited, then disappears.

It also worries me as a man that somehow all men are tainted by this hashtag. But then I know that this isn’t about me: it belongs to women who have been harassed or abused.

The many women lining up to accuse Weinstein of sexual misdemeanours or worse include the British actress Kate Beckinsale, who was 17 when she encountered Weinstein at the Savoy Hotel. She said: “He opened the door in his bathrobe. I was incredibly naive and young and it did not cross my mind that this older, unattractive man would expect me to have any sexual interest in him.”

And that’s a lesson for older men in this tawdry affair. You might be young in your head, you might see yourself as vital and desirable. But you’re not. You’re just another old guy. The sexual interest is all one-sided. And you need to grow up, even if that isn’t easy.



A Brexit poser, dead voters and has anyone seen the NHS?

SO, how’s this Brexit business working out for you? An awful lot of nothing has happened since we voted, so it seems timely to have a catch-up.

First up, and it’s all gone a bit fuzzy now, let’s look back at the question we were asked. Here’s a test for you. What did the ballot paper ask?

Below you will find two options to choose from in my memory ballot.

Option one: Should the UK remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Option two: Should the UK engage in an endless squabble while the rest of Europe, and indeed the world, looks on in bafflement, wondering what the hell the supposedly sane and sober Brits are up to as assorted tin-eared Tories rattle on about jumping over the cliff-edge while singing Rule Britannia and chuntering on about how great the Empire used to be, or so they heard from their nanny, and anyway Europe’s foreign and we have to watch out for foreigners, apart from those we want to flog stuff to, and everything will be rainbow marvellous once we break the European shackles – and please don’t forget our sweet little lies about £350m a week coming back to prop up the NHS?

It’s a while ago now and to be honest, I can’t quite remember.

A Twitter user called Stephen Lawrence has done a spot of research about how many Leave voters have died since the referendum. Basically, if you want to ask some of them how they think Brexit is doing, you’ll have to tap on a coffin. Sifting data from Eurostat, the British Election Study and data journalism carried out by the Financial Times and the Independent, Steve predicts that “Remain would now win by 52.08% if a snap referendum was called today”, according to a report on the Short List website.

And the coffin-knocking comes into it because he estimates that 123,411 Leaves voters have died since the referendum – set against less than 30,000 Remain voters who have left the auditorium.

My presiding memory of that sad morning we learned we were quitting Europe solidifies around footage on the BBC news of an elderly man caught in a bout of euphoric tottering as he said: “I’ve got my county back.”

Has anyone checked up on that old fella lately? Knock once for “I’ve still got my country back” and twice for “It’s dark in here.”

Right now, we have hit a Brexit brick wall. The rest of Europe doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to cooperate, and who can blame them: we’re the ones leaving the club, while also having a petulant foot-stamp about our demands.

Now I know the Leave option was supported by some Labour as well as Tory voters. But the whole Brexit business is being conducted on Tory terms – and as a matter to be settled by the Conservative Party, rather than by the whole country.

And sorry to be a Remoaner about this, but it is still the truth that a squeak of a win for Leave has been belligerently repackaged by Eurosceptic Tories and their backing vocalists in the right-wing press as the voice of the whole country. Rather than the voice of a narrow majority – some of whom are dead already.

Two thoughts from this morning’s headlines. The Tories are still squabbling among themselves, with home secretary Amber Rudd saying that leaving the EU without any Brexit deal is “unthinkable” – while cheery David Davis says the cliff-edge route must remain an option.

Then again, Davis does remind me of a coach driver trying to reassure his passengers after one wheel falls off – “Three wheels are fine, three British wheels will get us there…”

Second thought: According to a BBC investigation this morning, the performance of hospitals across the UK has “slumped with targets for cancer, A&E and planned operations now being missed en masse”.

While we are locked in a plummeting Brexit lift with the squabbling Tories, nobody is paying proper attention to the state of the NHS – you know, the service that was meant to be £350m better off once we left Europe.

Thoughts on local news and living in York…

NOT far off 30 years ago, and how can those words be true, we left London to live in York, intending to stay two or three years. It was part of my plan to slightly delayed greatness; or, at least, to climb a little higher up the journalism pole.

We never left and instead succumbed to the lovely trap that is York, often described as a graveyard of ambition. Is that true? I have no idea, but the city did eventually sap my determination to move on up.

As for that journalism pole, it began to lurch. I clung on for many years, before falling off when the money men shook the tree and dislodged the redundant apples. I was a bruised apple for a while, but found my way again; a different way; a more complicated way – but a path is a path and a bruised apple can still roll.

Life in York has much to recommend it and I’ll return to that in a moment. But let’s look at the shaky pole of local journalism. According to a report on the Press Gazette website – itself once a news magazine available on good paper – only 17 per cent of London’s local newspapers are based in the community they serve, and around half have only one reporter for each borough they cover.

The Press Gazette research found also that five newspapers had only one reporter covering several boroughs. My old newspaper, the South East London Mercury, was swallowed whole years ago by the South London Press, once mighty but now less so.

According to the Press Gazette research, the SLP has one reporter covering six boroughs; just think of that – six boroughs, massed together, add up to a large town, even a small city. “Its sister paper the Mercury” – oh, what a poor relation to the old girl I knew – “covers Greenwich and Lewisham with only one reporter.”

Two big boroughs, one no doubt over-pressed reporter. A solo scribe cannot ‘cover’ such a patch in any meaningful manner, which is why, with deadlines snapping at their backs, those who run today’s surviving local newspapers rely too often on press release and official news; the news put about by those who can afford to pay to have it put about.

Without reporters recording, prying and watching out; without reporters scratching away at the curiosity sore, local life goes unreported, unrecorded, unexamined – and in extreme cases, terrible events such as the Grenfell fire happen when, with good grassroots reporting, the early signs of something being wrong may have been spotted.

The Press Gazette report is not entirely gloomy, with Tom Oxtoby, editorial director of City Matters, a new weekly newspaper covering the City of London, saying: “I think there is strength in grass-roots journalism and whilst many larger organisations are swinging the axe and closing titles, there is a case for independent titles like ourselves to fill that void.”

Well, I admire his inky optimism.

In an age when journalists are roundly disparaged by everyone from Donald Trump to ardent supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, and many others in between, it is worth recording that journalism can be a tough gig. Worth recording too, as is the habit of this blog, that the sometimes criticised Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor, has one of the toughest gigs around, and does the job with unflagging energy.

Here in York, we have my old newspaper and a weekly version of the same. The paper does better than many others around the country, but whether that will be enough to secure a future is anyone’s guess; a decision for the dreaded tree-shakers.

From what I hear, everyone works harder than they ever did to keep that newspaper and website afloat. And, yes, the print edition is reduced from what is was but it is still there, still trying to do the job.

This city also has a good independent website in YorkMix. That, too, strives to survive and to reflect life in this city, and plays a good game with few players.

As for York, life sometimes pushes you in the right direction, even as you try to pull against the geographical elastic and move elsewhere. I tried to leave but now York has me; it’s where our three have grown up, and where we have grown a little older. And I’m not planning on living anywhere else.

The city has changed in nearly 30 years, and it’s a more cosmopolitan place to live, with many more bars, coffee bars and restaurants, and feels less monocultural than it did.

To me this is almost all for the good, although it is a worry that local businesses struggle to survive as all the big names bustle in. But the place has me now, whether it wants me or not.

Do we become more sentimental as we age?

woodI’VE been wondering if we become more sentimental as we age. My conclusion is that we do, with evidence offered from my own behaviour and that of others.

First into the soggy witness box is a song by Chris Wood, seen above, taken from his latest album, So Much To Defend – best thing I’ve heard all year.

If you want a label, Chris is a folk singer, although that doesn’t truly embrace everything he does on the album. And who needs labels anyway?

Chris has been at the job for a long time, as he suggests in More Fool Me, a self-searching song that begins: “This pen will be worn out before too long. There’s a mile or two in every single song.”

First up on the album is the title track, a song that sweeps together many characters in an everyday swirl, a song so good you want to play it again and again.

After that comes This Love Won’t Let You Fail. And that’s when the emotion starts for me. It’s a song by a father to his daughter, and more broadly, it is a song about being the parent of a child who grows up and goes their own way. Connections times three for me there.

In the song, Chris is feeling emotional about his young girl being all grown up and off at university, living the life of the night – “A little drunken text now and again/ Lets us know you’re alright.”

Then he introduces a photograph from the family album of a tired little girl up on the Downs, flying a kite with her dad – “She’s all grown up now but he’s still there/Trying to let go with all his might/Catch the wind now darlin’ and run like hell/Over hill and over dale/You’ll be a speck on the horizon before too long/This love won’t let you fail.”

Gets me every time; even got me just now typing out that snatch of lyrics. I love the way Wood joins together flying a kite with letting go of a grown-up child. I don’t think that song would have moved me so much when I was young, and maybe it’s about being a dad; or maybe you are more susceptible to emotion when you are older. I know that on the quiet I am.

It’s a lovely bit of music too, with swirls of Hammond organ from Gary Walsh.

The film to have moved me most is perhaps an unlikely contender. It’s a while now since I watched Mr Holland’s Opus, in which Richard Dreyfuss plays a high-school music teacher, whose emotional farewell ties in with a performance of the piece of music he has been writing for years.

That film certainly brought on the tears. Partly, I guess, because it touched something inside me; touched that nub of hope and frustration and lack of achievement – as it should touch anyone who feels like that; just about everyone, then.

The happy parallel to all this is being reduced to tears by laughter. That can happen for surprising reasons, sometimes just a shared joke. I was the butt of such hilarity on our holiday, when my wife and daughter became giddy with giggles at my expense, and I honestly cannot now remember why.

The other night, we were watching Mitchell and Webb’s delicious squirm of a sit-com, Back, on Channel 4. The David Mitchell character, a man who wears disappointment like an old duvet with half the feathers gone, said apropos of something or other – “Shit the bed!” The way he spoke, the way he looked, the context – oh, I don’t know what it was for certain, but it reduced me to tears for quite a few minutes.

Incidentally, Mitchell’s other comedy, Upstart Crow, in which he plays a much put-upon Will Shakespeare, is a real delight – and a bounce back to form for its writer, Ben Elton.

To return to Chris Wood, on his website you will find this warm tribute from Chris Difford, of the band Squeeze: “If I had a towel I’d throw it in.”

High praise from another spinner of musical short stories cut from everyday cloth.

Where would we be without eggs and Edwina Currie?

EGGS are safe to eat and isn’t that a relief. In all statistical likelihood, they always were safe to eat, and we have Edwina Currie to blame for a food crisis that lingered for 30 years.

Much as you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, you can’t break an egg without remembering Currie.

It is now three decades since Currie put her foot in that big mouth of hers; three whole decades. For half my lifetime eggs have been under a shadow thanks to her unguarded comments as health minister on December 3, 1988, when she said that most of Britain’s egg production was contaminated with the salmonella bacteria.

Ministry of Agriculture ministers were angered by her comments, with a spokesman pointing out that 30 million eggs were consumed every day in the previous year. During that time there were 26 outbreaks of salmonella.

Tellingly, the BBC reported at the time that: “Mrs Currie’s officials in the Department of Health have been unable to provide evidence that most chickens are infected with salmonella.”

Now the Food Standards Agency says that pregnant women, babies and elderly people can now safely eat runny or even raw eggs. The only proviso to this that the eggs should be stamped with the lion, indicating they were produced under the British Lion code of practice.

What lessons do we learn from the way Edwina Currie hard-boiled the poultry industry? Mainly that a big mouth can be a costly orifice in political terms. A storm blew up, egg sales plummeted and the government had to spend millions in compensation for the surplus eggs and to pay for the slaughter of unwanted hens. All to cover one minister’s unguarded moment.

Mrs Currie survived for two weeks, then resigned. She remained a MP until she was ousted in 1997. Should you be wishing to hear that her reckless scrambling of the egg industry blighted her life, you will be disappointed. Mrs Currie now has a lucrative career as a novelist and broadcaster.

Infamously, she also revealed in her autobiography of 2002 that she’d had a four-year affair with former Prime Minister John Major in the late 1980s. And if that memory is not enough to put you off your boiled eggs, I don’t know what is.

Major was not proud of the affair, saying when the story emerged: “It is the one event in my life of which I am most ashamed and I have long feared would be made public.”

Interesting that Major should refer to a four-year affair as “one event” – and this, remember, from a man known for banging on about “back-to-basics” morality.

Before leaving that affair in the history cupboard, it is worth recalling a splendidly snobby remark from Lady Archer, wife of the then disgraced Tory peer Lord Archer. Is Archer still disgraced or do these matters have a shelf-life? Anyway, here’s how Lady Archer expressed her opinion of the affair on the BBC Today programme: “I am a little surprised, not at Mrs Currie’s indiscretion but at a temporary lapse in John Major’s taste.”

Not only eggs can be poached by being dropped in gently boiling water.

What else do we learn? Oh, that we eat an awful lot of eggs and production of so many eggs can only take place on such a massive scale that moral qualms arise. I confess that the figure quoted above, of 30 million eggs being eaten every day, seemed crazy; so I did an exhaustive check (or quick Google) and it seems to be right.

According to the Vegetarian Society, 31 million eggs were eaten in the UK every day in 2012, produced by nearly 35 million laying hens; nearly half of those eggs came from caged hens and 48 per cent from free-range eggs.

We only eat free-range eggs, usually bought from the health-food shop where my wife works. And bully for us. Good eggs for sure, but such good eggs cannot supply everyone. I guess you pick and choose your food morality.

Eggs are good to eat, scrambled, boiled, fried, in an omelette, or as the boosting agent in a cake or as the wash on bread rolls. I couldn’t be a vegan because of eggs; or come to that because of butter, milk and cheese; oh, and meat.

Like many of us, I’d be lost without eggs.

Going backwards with Rellik and Brexit (or Tixerb)…

This blog contains Rellik spoiler alerts…

WELL, I hope you enjoyed today’s upended blog about how a backwards crime drama reminds me of Brexit.

Time now for breakfast and the rest of the day. Oh, hang on – I’ve come over all strange as everything speeds into reverse. Now I am back at the beginning, scratching my head and wondering what to write this morning.

If you’ve been watching the time-challenged crime drama Rellik on BBC1, you may grasp what I am talking about; if not, tough luck. Even if you have been watching, feel free to raise your fingers in a head-scratching direction.

Rellik suggests all that TS Eliot stuff about in the end is my beginning. We are one episode from the end or one episode from the beginning – it’s hard to tell in a story that goes forwards by going backwards.

It’s a grim tale about a serial killer who uses acid to disfigure – spoiler alert, read no further if you’ve not watched last night’s episode – her victims. And, yes, I was surprised that the killer appears to be DI Elaine Shepard, chief cop Gabriel’s bit on the side. Gabriel has/had acid thrown in his face at one point, and sometimes he is handsome in a rough and sweaty manner; sometimes he is badly scarred; and sometimes his face is hidden behind a plastic mask.

Gabriel is, we learn by snatches of plot offered to us, then snatched back, an unlikable guy, known for ruthlessness and shagging around. But he has no idea that his latest shag is in fact the killer they are hunting; or that’s how it appeared last night, as in the last shot she was shown slicing the throat of the drunk Jonas Borner, a colleague of psychiatrist Isaac Taylor – a weirdo with an intense stare who had himself seemed a likely suspect for murderer.

This rewind-rewind drama often has the look of a graphic novel, with a heightened sense of colour, and a feeling that these characters have been drawn by an artist with a good but cruel pen. In the final shot last night, Shepard was revealed as the killer by the light of welding sparks, for no likely reason other than that it looked good.

As well as the confusion, there are plenty of sex scenes as Gabriel and Shepard get it together in assorted locations: a safe house, in the men’s toilets at work – just after, it now seems, she’s been out and about murdering and disfiguring.

There have been clues to Shepard being the killer, but only if you’ve been watching carefully, and I missed a few thanks to looking away at the newspaper or my phone. She is shown visiting her father who is in prison for murder; and then also seen at home with what appears to be her flatmate – but now, and this is just my theory, we can take as her dead mother, killed by her father (a guess that may be proved wrong in next week’s first/final episode).

It’s vivid and interesting stuff, but I’m glad not all dramas are written this way.

Rellik is ‘killer’ backwards and ‘Tixerb’ is Brexit backwards and for some reason that notion pleases me. Yesterday the Prime Minister made a Commons statement about the progress on Brexit with this morning’s headlines suggesting Mrs Yam is prepared to go ahead without a deal.

Europe has long been a curse to the Tory Party, and now Mrs Yam is being pulled into the Europhobic vortex, a sucking vacuum with Jacob Rees-Mogg at its dead centre. Well, other ghouls congregate there too, but the appalling Mogster seems to stand for everything unpleasant about the Europe-hating Tories. And, please, let’s stop regarding him as a quaint throwback: he’s a nasty piece of work hiding behind a PG Wodehouse caricature.

The narrow ‘yes’ vote in the referendum seems to have been interpreted as a massive go-ahead for the likes of Mogg to insist on the hardest Brexit possible. And now we have spent 18 months since the vote standing by as the Conservative Party engages in an endlessly inwards-looking squabble about Europe – the same one that saw off David Cameron, the man responsible for this bottomless, backwards mess.

Will Mrs Yam turn back into Mrs May; or is she still doomed, her end foretold from the beginning? The beginning of Brexit seems to be the end of all sense, but there you go. Tixerb it is, with only the Tory jokers in charge, cheered on by their supporters in the right-wing press.

When Boris Johnson is the poster boy for Brexit, it’s time to tear down that poster.

Anyway, I seem to have reached the beginning, so it’s goodbye from me.


A quick look at the headlines and some forgotten toast…

I GLANCE at this morning’s headlines and in the background people on the radio are discussing the same headlines. Sometimes it seems that my life has be laid out in big print.

Many of this morning’s headlines concern Theresa May, roundly mocked for her terrible conference speech, complete with a comedy heckler and the fridge-magnet letters of her slogan slipping off her noticeboard as she spoke.

In a weak moment, I felt sorry for her, an unaccustomed feeling. We all get colds and coughs and she was battling through. Was the ridicule she faced another example of the misogyny that stains our politics? Maybe a bit, but it was a terrible speech, cough or no cough, a rotten speech from a rotten speaker.

Mrs Maybe, that cough lozenge on wobbly legs, is splashed all over the Sunday papers, supported by John Major in the Mail, told to sack the old guard in the good old Observer, and said to be planning to demote Boris in the Sunday Time. The trouble is, Boris Johnson is like one of those toys that can’t be pushed over: he just bounces back every time, shirt artfully untucked, hair ruffled, and ready to carry on being Boris, a seemingly playful sort who is in truth as ruthless as he is undependable.

Anyway, politics. What a lot of it there is in our lives. Wall to wall politics, and yet a great many people take little notice. They just shrug as Mrs Maybe says: “It’s never been my style to hide from a challenge and I’m not going to start now.” Dull even when showing determination, that’s Theresa May and…

A voice cuts in… “Are you making me toast?” Ah, yes, sorry. One of the Polish musicians, the one who turned out in fact to be Portuguese, came down mid-blog and I made him breakfast, but left the toast in the kitchen. You’d think I’d have the hang of this breakfast lark by now.

Anyway, politics. My favourite headline of the morning, the only one that really stirs these laptop fingers, is from the Sunday Mirror – “Exposed: Cons partying on drugs, vodka and fast food.” Oh, that’s more like, just the sort of scandal we need. Sadly, a skim of the words reveals that this headline refers to prisoners and not Conservatives. The wrong sort of ‘cons’, although both have perhaps been guilty of cons. The story is about the high life being lived by prisoners. If it’s true, it’s probably a disgrace, but not one I can work myself into a lather on this Sunday morning.

A voluble guest, a Chinese visitor, a sleeping musician and a busy birthday…

OUR Airbnb guest is holding a voluble late-night conversation. He is pushing 70, has led and still leads an interesting life, and has had a drink or two.

Now he has a mug of tea and is chatting to my wife. I am sitting at the dining table with my laptop. We’ve just been to see Pride and Prejudice at York Theatre Royal and I am doing my best to write a review for the Yorkshire Post before bedtime.

After a sleep not long enough to guard against the ill effects of not sleeping enough, it is my birthday and we are all downstairs again. I chat with our guest, who loves the toast made from my sourdough and orders a second round.

He’s an interesting man who has done a lot. We felt guilty about saying he couldn’t arrive until 10.30pm and awkward that we both had to be out of the house by not much after eight. As it happens, he came in a cheerful bustle and this morning he is whirling off to catch the 8.30am train to King’s Cross, so everything works out.

There is no time to unwrap my presents, as I am off to Leeds in my new this-and-that life, to talk to students about stories and structure. I put my phone on silent for the lecture, but not my mouth.

Back home, a chef calls but I miss him as the phone’s still on silent. For a session next week on food writing, I want to ask how it feels to be reviewed by a sniffy critic (the same sniffy critic who won’t talk to me).

Two guests are due to arrive this evening, an Airbnb visitor and a musician we are putting up as a favour. I go off for birthday badminton and return to find that the Chinese guest has arrived, shivering in the cold, and say hello to her on the landing outside her room.

Presents are opened, a meal is eaten and two glasses of school-night white wine are enjoyed as a birthday treat. The musician is still not here when I go up to bed.

Now it is morning again. The Polish musician, dead on his feet when he arrived, is still asleep upstairs. At least I think he’s Polish: I ask wife and she isn’t sure. Anyway, he’s here to play in a concert at York Minster and another musician is coming tonight, to go into the Airbnb bed soon to be vacated by our Chinese guest. My wife sings in a choir and the musicians are in the ‘band’.

The Chinese woman seemed shy last night but now she is chatting away over breakfast, telling me that she is the middle child and that both her sisters are married, putting her under parental pressure to do the same. She doesn’t seem keen on the idea. She tells me that she lives in an apartment and her parents come to live with her, before moving on to stay with first one of her sisters, and then the other.

The possibly Polish man is still asleep and the definitely Chinese woman says she’d like to have a look around the garden. “In China only rich people can afford a garden,” she says.

First, she wants to do her washing up. I say there is no need, but she insists.

When she leaves, I’ll keep an ear out for the visiting musician, while getting ready for my other job at the Press Association, and trying again to speak to the chef. He’s willing but we keep missing each other. Oh, and I mustn’t forget to change the bed for the other musician.

I used to spend too long hanging around on this ledge, worrying and wondering, planning my brilliant future at an age when even an optimist must admit that the future is shorter than what has gone before.

Now I fit in a bit of worrying and wondering, while working four days a week, two here, two there, plus bits of freelancing. Oh, and the Airbnb.

Our Chinese guest returns from her wander. “I hope one day I have a garden,” she says. I stand to chat but she says, “You go ahead,” motioning to my laptop.

So that’s what I do; what I always do.

Boris Johnson talking sexy to Theresa May…

THE sight of Boris Johnson bigging up Theresa May in his conference speech stirs an image you may not thank me for sharing.

Mocking the buoyant mood of Labour and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, at their Brighton conference, Johnson said: “He didn’t win. You won – we won. Theresa May won.”

Boris was building bridges. But the thing with a Boris Bridge is that you ever know where it’s going to touch ground. Or indeed if it will even get built: that preposterous garden bridge across the Thames, now abandoned, had £37m of public poured into it: who’s going to stump that up? Not Boris, for sure.

Anyway, BJ was giving TM the big treatment. “She won more votes than any party leader and took this this party to its highest share of the vote in any election in the last 25 years and…”

Well, my concentration wandered after that. Something about Mrs Maybe getting a fantastic Brexit deal – you know, the one she has so far failed to make any progress on.

Listening to Boris, I couldn’t shift this thought from my mind. He sounded just like a faithless husband who was talking sexy to his wife – “You’ve still got it, baby!” – having just returned from an extracurricular shag with his secretary.

As an already suspicious wife might be wary of an unusually offered bunch of flowers, so Theresa May should poke those warm words from Boris with a sceptical finger. What really lies beneath that pile of colourful blandishment? Boris playing faithful, while pushing himself forward as a rival leader, that’s what.

His speech went down well with the party faithful, but they’d not had much to lift the glum mood all week. There was only Theresa May’s conference closing speech to look forward to, and as she’s the dullest speaker around, and half of them don’t much like her anyway, Boris was all they had to enjoy. They stood up and cheered, and the Daily Telegraph dutifully portrays Boris Johnson on its front page today as the “roaring lion”.

If he’s a roaring lion, Theresa May is a limping gazelle. And if you ask me, behind the carefully choreographed bluster, he’s more of a boring lion, but never mind.

While the overnight reviews from the faithful weren’t bad, Boris Johnson immediately undid the good of talking sexy to Mrs Maybe by having one of those Boris moments. Asked at the conference what it was like visiting Libya, he said that the city of Sirte, where Gaddafi was killed, could become a world-class tourism and business centre – once they “clear the dead bodies away”.

That will be the bodies of those who died in the battle to reclaim the city from Isis. His remarks are reported to have drawn gasps and embarrassment laughter from the audience – and a call from fellow Tory MP Heidi Allen for him to lose his job in the cabinet.

She said it was “100 per cent unacceptable from anyone, let alone the foreign secretary. Boris must be sacked for this. He does not represent my party.”

What Boris Johnson gives, his big mouth then takes away. Could this man really end up leading his party? Stranger things, and all that.

Imagine a world without guns…

ANOTHER mass shooting in the US, more disbelief and the sad knowledge that nothing will change.

Liberal-minded Brits, and even those whose minds are not so inclined, don’t really understand America and guns. The need for gun control just seems so screamingly obvious to us – yet the US is so crammed with weaponry, with an estimated 150 million people carrying arms, that control seems almost impossible.

The right to carry arms is written into the second amendment of the US Constitution, and that seems to be where the argument ends, and never mind how many deranged men use these weapons to kill the innocent.

The headlines of this morning’s British papers call on President Trump’s words as the addressed the mass shooting in Las Vegas, in which Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retired accountant, took fire from the windows of a hotel room, killing 59 people who had been attending a country music festival below. A further 500 people are estimated to have been injured.

“An act of pure evil,” the headlines say, borrowing the phrase from Trump. Hearing his statement on the radio first, Trump sounded unusually presidential for him, saying what needed to be said, even if the saying of it led nowhere much.

Watching him give the statement on TV, it seemed odder, but maybe just because Trump is so odd, making that strange zero shape with his fingers as he speaks. And watching him, hearing those words for a second time, this thought arose: he may say that now, but Trump became president with the support of the gun lobby, and strongly supports the rights of gun owners.

Trump is also obsessed beyond reason with the threat of foreigners, painting “terrorists live here” on wide parts of the globe – while ignoring the threats that lie within his own borders. And if a terrorist is one who inflicts terror, then Paddock was every bit as much a terrorist as any deranged ideologue. In a sense, such a man is even scarier, as his acts are stirred not by belief but by a strain of malignant nihilism; he killed people not for a reason, however warped, but for no reason at all, or so it seems.

Yes, what Paddock did was an act of pure evil, yet to British eyes it his actions were aided and abetted by America’s obsession with carrying arms. Following that line of argument, Trump was condemning as evil an act he tacitly condoned: not the killing itself, but the way those murders occurred.

The right to carry arms is portrayed in frontier terms, as if American men and women were carrying a single gun to protect themselves. Perhaps that’s how it started, but this right has spawned a domestic arms industry, with obscene amounts of weaponry as easily got as the weekly supermarket shopping; and possibly with the weekly shop.

Stephen Paddock had a stockpile of 42 firearms, explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Such a gruesome arsenal was not bought with defence in mind; it was seemingly gathered to inflict military-style death on masses of people.

And that’s where the American system seems crazy to British eyes, and to the eyes also of Americans who have witnessed such mass killings.

One such witness is a guitarist who was playing at the Route 91 Harvest festival when the shooting broke out. Remarks made on Twitter by Caleb Keeter are being reported here this morning, and for good reason. Keeter tweeted: “I have been a proponent of the amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was.”

More Americans need to come to that realisation, but that seems unlikely. Meanwhile, this Brit thinks that if no one had any guns, then no one would be shot. Sadly, such a thought, however damn fine, is nothing but pointless idealism when it comes to the US.