Health advice leaves me running round in circles…

Health advice is as abundant as it is confusing. A skim of today’s headlines reveals that I am going to die early thanks to bad sleeping and live longer because I play squash. I wonder if one cancels out the other?

If you wish to believe the front page of the Daily Express – well, that’s a slippery slope for a start. Scientific studies have shown that believing the front page of the Daily Express is the first sign of succumbing to a marble-free mind. This study was conducted by me and for me, and wasn’t perhaps scientific in the strictest sense. But the findings still hold.

“DRINK COFFEE TO FIGHT DEMENTIA,” it says today on the front page in big shouty capitals (perhaps Express readers are a little hard of hearing). Three cups a day does the trick, “cutting the risk of Alzheimer’s by more than a quarter, research shows”.

‘Research shows’ is such a useful phrase for newspapers as someone is always researching something or other. Sometimes the findings are important and sometimes they are not. Perhaps you should make yourself a coffee and have a think about this one.

The Express likes the “coffee beats dementia” story, as the review of the papers on the BBC website points out this morning. Three days ago, the tabloid ran a different three more cups of coffee for the road story – and on October 4 it reported that three cups of coffee “can stave off dementia in women”.

Perhaps the editor hasn’t been drinking enough coffee lately. Incidentally, you can tell when the editor of the Express has been drinking too much coffee: that’s when those rabid, anti-Europe, pro-Farage stories break out like a nasty rash (probably got from going abroad – dangerous place, abroad).

In the Guardian, tennis is reported to be the best physical activity to help you “stave off death”, citing a study from the University of Oxford. Andy Murray is pretty much immortal then. The Daily Mail’s headline to the same story says squash is the best activity, while the Times suggests that tennis, swimming and aerobics “are the secrets to a long life”. Meanwhile, the i cautions that the positive impact of running and jogging may have been underestimated. As too perhaps has the impact of running around in circles while trying to follow health advice in the newspapers.

I like coffee and have no wish to succumb to dementia, so perhaps I should believe the Daily Express for once. The only thing is that all that coffee keeps you awake. Which brings us to another survey.

Research firm Rand Europe reckons that sleep-deprived workers are costing the UK economy £40bn a year – and they “face a higher risk of death”. Well, I don’t wish to get all morbid on you, but strictly speaking we all face the same risk of death. Sleepless people may face a greater risk of an early death, but sleeping is not the route to immortality. Because if you’re sleeping you can’t be playing tennis or squash. Or drinking all that coffee as prescribed by the Daily Express.

The BBC reports this finding from Rand and says the “calculation is based on tired employees being less productive or absent from work altogether”.

Bad or interrupted sleep has seen me miss one day’s work. Years ago, I stayed awake all night until 15 minutes before the alarm went off at six. It was a busy day so I went into work. That night wasn’t much better, so two awful nights added up to one day off work, and I still feel guilty about that.

I don’t feel inclined to believe that figure of £40bn as such calculations always appear to have been scribbled on the back of whatever it is people use nowadays instead of a fag packet.

Sleeping badly is a bind and some days are shrouded in a headachy fog, but you get used to it. Apologies about those wasted billions, even though I calculate that my poor slumber has cost the economy approximately £1.53.


If Newsquest ran a restaurant…

I have been wondering what sort of a restaurant my old employers at Newsquest might run. After all, no newspaper job is secure nowadays and everyone must prepare for new opportunities.

As it happens, reports have reached me of an exciting new venture based round a “simplified” dining process in the Newsquest Bistro.

I shall let the dining manager explain: “In an effort to get even more your food on our plates, we would like to invite our customers to cook their own food at home and then bring it along to our restaurant. Cook your food as close to the style of food that you wish to eat and then bring a container to our restaurant. We will then put the food on a plate for you and you can dine with us for a minimal charge.

“This streamlining process should give this restaurant the chance of a bright new future. Working together in this manner, we can bring food and diners together in an exciting new venture.”

As any passing journalist probably now knows, this story is true – expect that for food you should insert a different ingredient: news. Press Gazette, an online-only trade magazine, reports that in south London a Newsquest editor, Andy Parkes, has invited his readers to submit their own news and photographs for publication in his newspapers. These publications have been hit by “widespread editorial cuts, redundancies and industrial action”, reports Press Gazette, and are not in a good shape.

In a column for readers, Andy says: “…write your article as close to the style of a news story as you can, making sure you include details of the what, who, where and when. Attach any photos you’ve got to go with it and then click send.”

Naturally enough, the National Union of Journalists is not impressed, with executive member Andy Smith saying: “If Newsquest believes it can substitute experienced journalists, who understand media law and know how to put together a news story, with contributions from readers and produce a quality product, it must be very foolish and desperate.”

Foolish and desperate for sure – but experience shows us that this union, however well intentioned, has little effect in halting such unhappy ‘advances’ in the newspaper world.

Here are two ways of looking at this latest piece of nonsense. One: asking readers to write the news for a paper they then shell out money to buy (in some cases; free in others) is an act of evil genius brilliance. Two: Andy Parkes is a pragmatic man who has put a brave face on the only way he could see of putting something in his newspapers.

By chance, I met Andy on a training session for young journalists earlier this yet. From that brief acquaintance, he seemed like a decent man, so I suspect that the second point is more likely than the first. Nevertheless, this remains another step down into the damp of basement of newspaper decline.

In fairness, I should point out that none of the three Newsquest dailies in the north, including the one I worked for, are following suit. At least not yet, although something similar has already happened with photographs, which is why newspaper photographers are rare beasts nowadays.

The seeds of such thinly sprouted newspapers were sown in the early days of the internet. At the time, newspaper managements couldn’t decide whether the internet was a threat or an opportunity and this put them into a panic (understandably). In headless manner, newspaper bosses lost faith in newsprint too quickly, while never quite working out how to put the business online.

Early optimists saw great money-making potential in the internet, only to then discover than the likes of Facebook and Google had all the money sewn up, leaving more meagre pickings.

Facebook hoovers up the money – and then hoovers up the news, too. And as more people turn to Facebook for news, they are served clickbait news ‘chosen’ by algorithms designed to favour clicks over news value. The more people click, the more money is made by advertisers – so the truthfulness of a story can be of secondary importance.

In the social media world, if someone clicks on something it counts; and if they don’t, it fails to register.

In this value-free, unregulated sphere, fake news is as relevant as actual news, hence the rise of misinformation online, as illustrated by Mr Misinformation himself, Donald Trump, being elected president of the US.

Please take your seats now in the self-service canteen of news (health warning: the management accepts no responsibility for any upsets caused by the consumption of post-truth stew).

The girl on the plane (if not the train)… an Airbnb update…

ANOTHER Sunday, another guest. We haven’t met yet. She was in her room by the time I returned last night.

I was going to ask the young Californian woman about Donald Trump, if the energy could be summoned up. The trouble is, thinking about Trump is beginning to sap my optimism about the world. Thinking about Farage sees my hope drain almost away. And thinking about the pair of them in that golden lift dispenses with the last drop.

There they were, grinning in grisly unison. We are not going to hell in a handcart, as the old saying has it, but in a gold-plated lift – a lift that rises to a tower of monstrous bad taste, home to a man of monstrous bad views. Going up – or perhaps down.

Anyway, I can’t ask the young Californian about her president-elect, as she changed her booking, moving from two nights to one, then cancelled at the last minute. Something about the cost of train tickets (expensive, I know, but not yet as prohibitive as flights across the Atlantic, but there you go). This sort of thing happens sometimes with Airbnb. People come and go sometimes before they’ve even been. As she cancelled late, we will still be paid for the one night.

This seems fair enough. The bed was made, the room was clean and I had spent time sending email messages to the eventually non-appearing girl from California.

I wish they all could be California

I wish they all could be California

I wish they all could be California girls

Or perhaps not. Instead of the young American, our guest is a middle-aged writer from Hebden Bridge.

I wish they all could be Hebden Bridge…

Not sure that works as well. Maybe this replacement guest will have an opinion on Trump when she finally comes downstairs.

The woman I haven’t yet met was coughing in the night, as was I. She coughed in her room and I coughed my way out of bed and came downstairs at around 4.30am. Warmth and comfort came with a mug of tea with honey and a dash of whisky. I coughed some more and then fell asleep until 7.30pm: result – or it is if you are restless me.

Coughing doesn’t much improve your chances of a good night’s sleep. On this occasion, honey and whisky did, although I should point out that I don’t usually do that. I was feeling sorry for myself and the whisky was medicinal. If I am coughing again tonight, the early-hours cuppa will remain unfortified. I leave early on a Monday morning for my weekly workshop on magazine journalism with first-year students. At least half of whom will be coughing. One or two might be yawning.

“The trouble is, you know, it’s first thing on a Monday morning,” one of them said to me one week. He’d stayed behind for reassurance about a ‘homework’ task that was proving difficult for him. I think I cleared the problem up for him; and he cleared something up for me, the sight of all those pale faces first thing on a Monday morning. That explains the occasional yawn, or at least I hope it does. Things warm up towards the end of the first hour and can even approach lively by the end.

It’s a good gig, by the way, and one I enjoy very much, especially seeing shy or awkward students come out of their shells to write something good, which they are starting to do as the end of term looms.

Coughing through the night means I have not been out for a run this Sunday morning. That run usually clears my head, so this entry from my ledge is written with an unclear head.

As for the state of the world, sometimes I wonder whether worrying about the ups and downs of politics is even worth the energy. It’s an old habit, though, and you need to connect somehow, even if you’d rather unplug yourself for good.

If you do detach yourself, you leave the world to the terrible Trumps and the foul Farages and their itchy ilk. So, we stay interested or at least we should try to.

The woman who isn’t Californian has not come downstairs yet and we want to go out in half an hour or so. This also sometimes happens with guests, wherever they are from.

Mail’s Brexit battle bus versus the Guardian tandem…

“Who are they trying to kid?” it says all down the side of the Daily Mail battle bus this morning. This vehicle from the Middle England coach-builders is fully fuelled and conflict ready, with immigrant-dispersing bars fitted to the front as an extra. The seats are sofa-comfy and the view from the windows is always blinkered.

The Guardian tandem, meanwhile, is trailing a gloomier banner proclaiming: “Pay squeeze will be longest in 70 years.” The view from the tandem is bracing and unimpeded on the way down, but the hills are a bugger. Sometimes that tandem never seems to reach the top.

The difference of opinion has been caused by analysis of Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the independent economic think-tank.

The institute, having picked over the steaming entrails of Hammond’s budget, concluded that by 2021, “real wages in the UK – pay adjusted for inflation – will still not have recovered to their 2008 level before the global financial crisis hit” reports the Guardian.

The paper adds that young people have been worst affected by a squeeze on wages since the crisis and now the effects of the Brexit vote look set to prolong that pain. Pensioners, meanwhile, would be largely protected thanks to projected rising inflation on the back of a weaker pound.

Over on the Mail coach outing, the “top economists” are accused of “Brexit doom-mongering” by the driver/editor for declaring that families faced the biggest squeeze on living standard since the 1920s. The paper accuses the institute of having its “Brexit doom glasses” on and of Remain-backing economic forecasters being involved in a “race to the bottom”.

A “race to the bottom”? Hold on there, Daily Mail man – that sounds rather suggestive. Ah, that sort of bottom. Rock bottom not bottom-bottom. Glad we cleared that up.

Who is right? Let’s ask former Chancellor George Osborne, who put so much energy into all that pre-referendum gloom-mongering. What’s that, George? Ah, too busy earning a fortune talking to American bankers to have an opinion. And when you told us that Brexit would put Britain up shit-creek minus the paddle, you forgot to mention you had a rocket-powered life-jacket anyway.

More than £320,000 in a month – that’s what Osborne earned talking to American financiers. So much for austerity, eh, George.

So are we in fact in Shit Creek Avenue or are there roses round the door at Mail Cottage (nice village, but we don’t what none of that sort round here, not that we’re racist or anything, but you’ve got to look after your own).

But who is right? Well, I worry that the driver of the Mail coach can’t see a thing sometimes as his glasses do become awfully steamy, what with keeping up all that indignation.

The view from a bicycle is always better, so I might just stop and help push the Guardian tandem up that big hill. With luck, it might wobble to the top.

What worries me about the Mail’s charabanc is that the old thing is batting down the road nicely, and everyone is saying how smooth everything is. “What’s all the doom-mongering about,” everyone says, tucking into their sandwiches.

Yes, the reason it’s smooth running is that we are heading for a cliff and we haven’t gone over yet. Only once we have shot over the edge will we even begin to know what sort of a landing there will be. Or if, to mix transport metaphors, anyone has bothered to pack a parachute.

If you have a hunch you’d like to munch, please don’t…

OH, I won’t tarry long with the Budget. Was it good or bad and is Britain fit for life post-Brexit or lumbered with a £60 billion bill for stubbornly casting ourselves adrift from the Continent? Who knows, but a skim of this morning’s headlines offers assessments to suit all tastes and prejudices.

Not for the first time, my favourite summing up comes from the Telegraph cartoonist Matt. A man watching television says to his wife: “I am one of the people who are Just About Managing to stay awake.”

Time now for a weightier matter – the social sinfulness of people who rustle wrappers, chomp on sweets, rip the ring-pulls on cans of fizzy drinks, munch sandwiches and even eat fish and chips or fried chicken while sitting in the theatre.

I’m with Imelda Staunton on this. In the Radio Times, she has a pop at theatregoers who can’t survive for two hours or whatever without eating and drinking.

The Bafta-winning actress tells the Radio Times that there is a proper time and place for food and it isn’t in the theatre seat. The star of Vera Drake and Harry Potter, who recently did a run of Gypsy on the London stage, says she would welcome a ban on eating and drinking in theatres.

“I don’t know why people can’t engage in just one thing,” she said. “I don’t understand this obsession with having to eat or drink something at every moment of the day.”

This has long puzzled me. All that constant grazing, chewing and swallowing while watching a play or film just seems unnecessary.

The other day at City Screen, York we watched The Innocents, a wartime drama in which nuns raped in their convent are helped to give birth by a young French woman doctor. A beautiful film but, oh dear, what a glum one. Over to our right a couple survived the ordeal by unwrapping sweets throughout. As these things go, it was a minor infringement, but still irritating. There is no way to quietly unwrap a sweet.

I am not sure when this sort of behaviour began. It seems to be a modern problem for an incontinent age when eating has become the main purpose for our mouths. It seems there are few barriers to eating. Want something in your mouth? Just go ahead and eat, on the street or in the theatre.

Quite when we lost our inhibitions about eating in public is open to debate, and some will point to evidence that audiences at the Globe in Shakespeare’s time ate and drank their way through his plays.

A feature on the BBC website quotes the producer Richard Jordan claiming that his trip to see Doctor Faustus in the summer was marred by “possibly the worst West End audience I have ever encountered”. He spotted takeaway chicken nuggets in the first half and “talking, eating and taking pictures throughout”.

The actor John Partridge told the BBC his most off-putting munching moment came when he was playing Zach in a production of A Chorus Line, a role which involves sitting with the audience.

“One show, I’m in the middle, delivering my lines and a guy two seats from me, goes into his bag, rustle, rustle, rustle, pulls out this kind of bucket of Chinese-style chicken wings. It’s not only the noise, they stink.

“He’s like, ‘Do you want one?’ I think: ‘I am immersed in my character right now. You’ve paid £80 to come and see this. Why would you want to come and eat?’

“People actually bring lunch, pre-packed in a Tupperware box. What is that? I am with Imelda. No eating in the theatre.”

Yes, Imelda is right on this. Incidentally, many years ago, she sang in a band with my university friend Mike Orchard in which a weighty and grumpy violinist used to sing a version of The Laughing Policeman. Also in that band was the noted stage designer William Dudley, and an actor called Jack (the surname has slipped away) who ended up in EastEnders for a while.

As for Imelda’s complaint, if you have a hunch you’d like to munch during a show, don’t take anything in with you. Just sit there and watch. And don’t fiddle and fart around with your mobile phone either. And I say that as someone who is always fiddling and farting around with his.

As for those giant buckets of popcorn in the cinema, oh don’t get me started on those…

Just about managing not to explode over ‘Ambassador Farage’…

AND the patronising acronym of the day is “Jam”. Prime minister Theresa May likes to spread the ‘jam’ and is always mentioning people who are “just about managing”.

Whether this translates into real and useful action, or is merely a spot of acronymic annoyance remains to be seen, whatever tinkering we see in today’s Budget.

Still, it does present a theme. Personally, I am just about managing not to ignite with irritation every time I hear whatever Nigel Farage is up to now. I thought that man wanted his life back. So why is he still fulling his role as the inflamed pimple on Britain’s arse? Every time we try to get comfortable, we become aware that the Pimple is back.

The interim leader of Ukip is in the headlines after President-elect Donald Trump called in a tweet for Farage to be made Britain’s ambassador to Washington. The only possible response to this suggestion, short of swearing, is: You what?

Perhaps this is what people mean when they say admiringly that Trump is a deal-maker: there The Donald goes again, making another deal on Twitter. Is he going to run his presidency on Twitter; and will he be declaring war on countries in 140 characters? Or is deal-making merely a businessman suggesting that one of his mates should get the job? God, what a world.

Strangely, there are people who warm to the idea of Ambassador Farage, and in the Daily Express the columnist Leo McKinstry says that “conventional wisdom” has “been found wanting”, and that: “New thinking is necessary… the idea of Mr Farage taking charge at our Washington embassy should be treated with seriousness rather than a shudder.”

New thinking? Well, I just tried that. And no thank you. Shudders all round, I’m afraid. It is none of Trump’s business who we choose to have as our ambassador for Washington. I have just discovered that we have one already and he is called Sir Kim Darroch. A spokesman for Theresa May said that he was “an excellent ambassador who only took up post in January and traditionally they serve for four years or even longer”.

Good luck to Sir Kim, whoever he is, and please don’t appoint Farage to anything at all. Unless there is a vacancy on Mars

Interestingly, there are parallels between Britain post-Brexit and the US pre-President Trump. You will recall, possibly with that shudder again, that all sorts of rash promises and dire threats characterised the referendum debate in this country. And once the unexpected result was in, the hasty promises – wasn’t it £350 million a day for the NHS if we left? – evaporated in an instant.

In the same way, Team Trump is now quietly dropping various policies and promises that helped him win: that Mexican wall might not be built; Obama-Care will stay in some form; oh, and Hillary Clinton won’t be imprisoned after all because she isn’t a criminal but just needs time out and some ‘understanding’.

Oh, and those racists and white supremacists of the alt-right whose rabid backing helped Trump win the presidency? Trump doesn’t support them one bit, telling a group of New York Times journalists: “I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group. And if they are energized I want to look into it and find out why.”

He might have to give that one an inwards glance, as the so-called alt-right were inspired and somehow legitimised by his candidacy.

As for that jam, The Sun is in favour of Philip Hammond’s proposals for Budget day, declaring in a headline: “What, jam, thank you Hamm” – which is as snappy as it probably is misleading

Today I am sticking with the Guardian view: “While Mr Hammond’s giveaways may be considered rabbits out of a hat, they are rather small bunnies. In the UK, the richest 1% own a quarter of the country’s wealth… if Mr Hammond were serious about evening up the economy, he would try to tackle that giant gap.”

Time to pierce those big fat jammy doughnuts.

How that German car overtook us in life’s fast lane…

I FANCIED a German-German car but ended up with a Spanish-German one. A Chinese-Swedish car was beyond my reach and I didn’t look at an English-Japanese model. With purely British cars, as opposed to cars made here, the choice is limited to Morgan, Caterham or McClaren, at least from what I could discover on an AA website.

The Spanish-German car is good and cheaper than its German cousin. We got the newish car under a sort of complicated lease deal, and shortly afterwards I went for a drink with two friends, one of whom said: “That’s a terrible way to buy a car.”

In truth, it was the only way we could pull off buying anything decent. The old car had become a liability and I need a car at present. For the first time in my life, I am driving some distance to two different jobs, and can no longer cycle three miles into York (this is not an improvement).

Perhaps the need for a motor explains my probably fleeting interest in cars.

Plenty of cars are made in Britain by foreign-owned companies, from Mini, Honda and Toyota, to Jaguar/Land Rover and Bentley, which is owned by the German-German company whose car I couldn’t afford.

It was all very different after the Second World War. I say this not from memory – please – but thanks to reading David Kynaston’s Austerity Britain 1945-51. This thumping book of 600-plus pages is a memorable and marvellous piece of social history, and despite its weight is only the first part of a series than runs all the way to 1979.

There is so much of interest in this book, which maps Britain after the war, and runs the memories or ordinary people alongside the political ups and downs of the day.

Towards the end, there is a section on the British motor industry, and this reminds us that once this was a mighty beast indeed. On the eve of the first post-war Motor Show in October 1948, the Minister of Supply, George Strauss, told the annual dinner of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders that the industry had “confounded the wiseacres who foretold that the industry would die a lingering death in the post-war world”.

It is one of gnarled ironies of history that the wiseacres are right in the end. This pleasing noun, by the way, refers to “a person with an affectation of wisdom or knowledge, regarded with scorn or irritation by others; a know-all”.

By 1950, “the British motor industry enjoyed a staggering 52 per cent of world motor exports”, Kynaston writes. Tellingly, in the same year now mighty Japan only produced 2,000 cars in total.

A report for the British motor industry did concede that this rosy situation would not continue for ever, and identified Germany as an important “potential future competitor”.

The report loftily declared that the competition would not come from Volkswagen, which was reckoned by British standards to be “uncomfortable and noisy”. Look around on our roads today and nearly every other car seems to be a VW Golf. You will be looking sometime for a Morris Oxford or whatever.

Kynaston points to the beginnings of cracks in the industry even at its peak, with reports from abroad that British cars were becoming a byword for unreliability, although it would “take a lot to shake the industry’s complacent assumption that British was still best”.

Perhaps in a sense that was Britain’s problem at the time: being a winner in terms of the war turned us into losers in other ways. Germany certainly won the ‘car war’, or it had until last year’s emissions scandal, which placed VW under huge pressure.

Our motor industry did die a lingering death, although the end came a little later. Today it is a different world and motor companies are tangled up in multinational complications, and many cars are made here. People seem to like driving these international cars so, away from sentiment, it isn’t all bad.

A few weeks ago, in the swirling post-Brexit chaos, Theresa May promised Nissan that the company wouldn’t lose out when Britain leaves the EU. The terms of her pledge have not been elaborated. But in essence, a multinational company worth untold billions was offered a sweetener of some sort, or so it seems – a reminder of where complacent attitudes can lead us.

More tales from the Airbnb bunker…

“You’ve not written about Airbnb for a while,” a friend says. That is true, so here goes.

Bookings are down a bit lately. There is a Chinese guest with us now and a Californian due next weekend. I am typing at the dining table and can hear our visitor moving around upstairs.

Here is how this guest arrives at our house. I am miles away at one of my part-time jobs. No one is in. Our visitor has been told not to arrive until after 6.30pm. Settling in at work, I check the emails on my phone and see a message: “Hi, Julian. I already arrived. Is your house number 88?”

Well, no it isn’t and you shouldn’t be there now anyway. I panic for a second, then send an email explaining the situation. By the time I arrive home at 10pm, she is here and everything seems to be all right.

When we meet, she doesn’t mention the early arrival or the emails. Like many Chinese guests, she is quiet and polite, a little nervous at first, and seems serious. After a while, she warms up and chats a lot, and is friendly. She apologises for her ‘bad’ English (which is good) and I don’t bother apologising for my Chinese (which is non-existent).

We have many Chinese guests and most of them say they love our house. It’s a medium-sized semi on three floors, the top one being a quirky attic room where we sleep. The guest room is at the front on the middle floor. An ordinary sort of house, got up the way we like it, or so far as finances allow.

Chinese guests sometimes take photographs of the house and garden to show their friends. This weekend’s visitor says that she shares an apartment of four rooms with three other people. “Your house is very big,” she says.

The funny thing is I always wanted to live in a big house, a properly big house, although there is no need. This house is big enough and sometimes it takes a visiting Chinese woman to point out what should be obvious.

Our guest is here to learn English and sit an exam. She is a teacher who has come all that way to improve herself, leaving her eight-year-old daughter at home. Today she heads to Edinburgh before flying home to China in a week or so.

I am not sure what I learn from having guests. Maybe it’s just that wherever people come from, their lives are not that different to yours. I also learn that people are people, and other clichés.

I learn that we are all human together, even that strange man who said that he felt safe knowing that David Cameron was running the country. Well, he isn’t now, Sir. He’s buggered off with a shrug, leaving the country in a mess so he can earn £100,000 for giving one speech, or so I read the other day.

If I had untold millions, I’d pay that much not to hear a speech by David Cameron, but there you go.

I wonder whether it will be safe to ask the Californian girl about Donald Trump? My guess is that she would have been for Hillary, but you never know

Airbnb is often criticised these days for the way it can upset the property market in cities. That’s because too many people have cashed in and started buying up whole blocks of flats to let out to guests.

We operate at the simple sharing end of the market, letting out one room to visitors, including the one who is in the kitchen now, talking to my wife, and making her own breakfast. Normally I do breakfast.

“Before I come here I never eat cheese,” our guest is saying.Now my wife is showing a picture on her phone of my cousin’s son’s new baby. He is married to a Chinese woman and they live in Shanghai. Same human race, different lives. Time now for toast with marmalade, for me if not this guest.

A girl frozen in time and the boy who ran away…

SHE wanted to be frozen after her death, he just wanted to disappear because he was bored with his life.

The wishes of two teenagers are much reported on today. The more prominent case involves a dying 14-year-old girl who wanted her body preserved in the hope of a cure in the future. It has been revealed that the girl won an historic legal fight shortly before her death from a rare form of cancer in October.

She was supported in her wish to be cryogenically preserved by her mother, but not by her father, with whom she had little contact.

A High Court judge visited the girl in hospital and later ruled that her mother should be allowed to decide. Following her death, the girl’s wishes were granted and her body was taken to the US to be preserved.

The teenager, who cannot be named, lived in the London area and used the internet to investigate having her body frozen after her death, in the hope of a future cure. It is reported that her grandparents paid the estimated £37,000 cost of the process.

The judge asked the girl to explain in a letter why she wanted “this unusual thing done”. It is certainly unusual, and you can’t help but worry that the whole process is some sort of pseudo-science scam mostly designed to extract money from the wealthy and gullible.

However, we should let the girl speak for herself. She was not someone old perhaps greedily wanting more of life. No, she was young and had not yet had much in the way of years, and this adds a tragic dimension to her wishes.

Here is some of what she wrote: “I am only 14 years old and I don’t want to die but I know I am going to die.

“I think being cryopreserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up – even in hundreds of years’ time. I don’t want to be buried underground. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they may find a cure for my cancer and wake me up.

“I want to have this chance. This is my wish.”

As you can see, her thoughts are clearly and simply expressed, and it is hard not to be moved by her faith that science may find a way to bring her back from the dead, as it were. Unsurprisingly, the headlines in today’s newspapers cannot escape a lurid coating: “Dead girl, 14, frozen so she can live again”; “Girl wins right to return from the dead”; “The frozen girl”, and so on.

The human dimensions of this case are complex, worrying and heart-wrenching. What must her disunited parents now feel about their daughter? If this unlikely miracle could be brought off, would she awake in a 100 years’ times, 200 years’ time, to a changed world in which she knew no one and understood little?

It’s like a science-fiction version of the Moral Maze, that tedious BBC Radio 4 programme in which assorted talking heads become righteously cross with each other.

In a sense, this girl will live on in her story and in her words. The granting of her dying wishes confers on her a sort of immortality. It is hard not to be moved by someone so young having to face up to what awaits us all – even if mostly we pretend otherwise.

Life is a denial of death, and so long as someone keeps on living, so long as life continues after us, you could say that life wins over death in the end.

Arthur Heeler-Frood finds himself in the headlines for different reasons. The sixth-former from Devon disappeared after posting a letter to his parents saying that he was “bored with his life”. Boredom is not unusual among teenagers. Being bored can teach you that you should be doing something, so in that sense can be creative; adults tend to regard being bored as a waste of time, but teenagers – or the fortunate ones – have a lot of it to waste, and there is a sort of muggy deliciousness to teenage boredom, at least in memory.

Anyway, Arthur wanted an adventure, and for him that entailed sleeping rough for ten weeks in London, Birmingham and Manchester. In that letter to his parents, he said he would see them in a year. His holiday away from his life didn’t last that long, but you can’t help feeling that Arthur has something about him.

Most teenagers would just talk about bunking off or whatever the favoured term of the moment might be. Arthur didn’t just talk, he did it. And that shows a certain, perhaps perverse, initiative.

The few teenage atoms still skittering around inside my ageing self rather admire Arthur; the father in me worries what his poor parents must have been going through.

But I can’t help feeling that we will hear from Arthur again when he is older; whether the same can be said for the ‘frozen girl’ is another matter.

Old Turbo Mouth Clarkson and the clickbait culture that harms newspapers…

BEFORE writing this blog I often have a quick laptop-surf to see what news foam catches the eye.

Jeremy Clarkson’s row with an employee at Stuttgart airport distracted me for a moment. Old Turbo Mouth claimed in the Sun yesterday that he and his fellow onetime Top Gear presenters were refused on to a flight by an Argentinian worker.

The newspaper reported Clarkson’s claim that Manuel Pereira had shouted: “I’m from Argentina so fuck you!” during a dispute over James May, Richard Hammond and himself being barred from boarding a flight to London.

Clarkson characterised this as revenge for his Top Gear row over the Falklands (the presenters and crew had to flee the country in October 2014 after a rumpus over an apparently provocative number plate on Clarkson’s car).

Now Stuttgart airport has challenged Clarkson’s account, saying the employee was Spanish rather than Argentinian. Further details need not detain us, other than to observe that Clarkson’s new show, The Grand Tour, debuts on Amazon on Friday.

What we have here is another of those self-promoting rows that follow Clarkson around. Behaving badly is how he keeps himself in the public eye, and if he hasn’t been in the headlines for a while, he stirs up a storm over something or other.

In this case, whatever the details might be, if the worker isn’t Argentinian then the whole story is nonsense. It’s nonsense anyway, but without the Argentinian angle it’s not even a story. Just the usual egotistical rantings of an ageing toddler trying to be noticed by throwing things out of his pram.

Now to the next bit of news foam. A letter to the Guardian on Saturday, signed by various academics and the National Union of Journalists, called for a one per cent levy to be imposed on Google and Facebook “with the resulting funds redistributed to non-profit ventures with a mandate to produce original local or investigative news reporting”.

The letter described the likes of Google and Facebook as “digital intermediaries” that were amassing “eye-watering profits and paying minimal tax in the UK”, but also “bleeding the newspaper industry dry by sucking up the advertising revenue”.

One paragraph read: “As national and local newspapers try to cut their way out of trouble by slashing editorial budgets and shedding staff, journalistic quality is becoming a casualty” – and if that wasn’t written by the NUJ, then I’ll eat the trilby I used to wear to work.

The letter adds that public interest journalism has been hit hardest as newspaper are “lured into a clickbait culture which favours the sensational and the trivial”.

All of this is true. As I suggested yesterday in a different context, Facebook has become an accidental provider of news by passing on reports generated elsewhere. As a user of Facebook, this is useful in that your digital friends – who sometimes but not always overlap with your flesh-and-blood friends ­– pass on stories and snippets you might not have seen.

The obvious downside to this is that Facebook doesn’t pay for the journalism it shares, which is why the letter to the Guardian uses the phrase “digital intermediaries”.

Facebook benefits from news written elsewhere by journalists being paid (if they are lucky) by someone else. The social media giant gets the benefit of the news without paying for it, and then hoovers up all the advertising money that used to be spent on newspapers.

It’s a tricky modern mess, and I say that as a fan of old-fashioned newsprint, digital newspapers and Facebook. But, sadly, there won’t be much or any news to put on Facebook if all the journalists have been laid off by cost-cutting newspapers.