Late Life Crisis - August 2021

Reports continue of how easy it is to steal high-tech keyless cars. Apparently Jaguars, Land Rovers and Range Rovers are especially popular for nicking. As manufacturers' technology develops, so does the capability of thieves to respond. Great British innovation at play here.

However, the technology of car locks has definitely moved on. My first car was a second-hand yellow Ford Escort. It stood out, so was easy to find in a car park. After a visit to a stately home, we returned to the field where the car was parked. There it was, viewed sideways on and spottable from a hundred metres away. I took out the trusty key, and using the heritage technique of putting implement in lock, opened the driver's door and sat inside.I then noticed a pair of woolly dice dangling from below the windscreen. I was never averse to a bit of tat in the right situation, but did not recall this adornment. 

A confirmatory inspection of number plate with pit of stomach feeling revealed that I had indeed been sitting in a different yellow Ford Escort. No sight of the true owners, so I carefully locked the driver's door and guiltily ran away.

And yes, I did find my own car, in fact not that far away, so there had been every possibility of the other owner reciprocating...

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A clip emerged of Prince Charles supporting a 'Bring in the Crops' initiative, where the Great British Public would be encouraged to take to the fields this year to replace the former EU nationals who strangely felt a little less welcome in this country. Of course one would have had to disturb one's cufflinks carefully affixed by one's lackey, in order to do a spot of picking oneself; nevertheless it's the thought that counts.

But a farmer has just gone on air to brand the initiative a disaster, with Brits willing to commit the odd hour or two in a day, but not to do a full back-breaking shift. Surprise surprise. Pop Larkin in The Darlin' Buds of May is but an ephemeral memory. And there is the money issue. 'Could not you pay more?', the interviewer asked. The farmer explained that this is a low margin business, so if you pay more then prices have to go up, yet we all require cheap food. I got distracted at that point, so cannot say whether the logic in the conversation extended further to discussing whether the public would be happy instead to buy cheaper from overseas. 

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It looks as though Bunter could have usefully rolled up his sleeves and done a shift in the fields. 'Bunter', you say. Outrageous! Yet this does seem to have been the code word used for Johnson (quite innocently of course...) on his visit to Scotland. From photographs it looks pretty clear that the personal training has not worked. Is Boris bovvered? I suspect not. I suspect that in fact he prefers the Bunterish look (with hair) to a slimmer profile. Although caution should be exercised, Prime Minister. There is a sleeker, more physically pleasing specimen living next door to you. And he is after your job. 'Carrie, get those jam doughnuts back in the fridge, smartish!'

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Random acts of kindness. I taught myself about the feelgood benefit of these eg helping a mother with a buggy up some stairs. Another time I directed a distraught young woman in the City, possibly making the difference to her arriving on time for an interview.

It doesn't always work. A while ago I offered assistance to two women who appeared to be lost in the Beech Street tunnel in the City. I was 90% certain that they would be looking for the Barbican main entrance.Their tart response was in terms 'No thank you very much, we know exactly where we are!'

Yet on some occasions it is good to have a moment of circumspection before diving in. Waiting for a bus in North London I noticed a woman who seemed to have fallen to the pavement. For a minute she looked to be doing back exercises of the sort you should follow when recovering from a slipped disc (I should know). She then rolled over and lay on her side. Had she been taken ill? Should I ask if she needed help?

But hold on. She got up and went to the front door of a small block of flats. The door opened. A man appeared and she started to argue with him. He slammed the door on her. She responded by trying to kick down the door, reinforcing her violence with a slew of expletives. After a few minutes a police car arrived. My bus also arrived. I was relieved.

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There it was, at the entrance to Kentish Town station. A gleaming copy of Time Out London, held out by a vendor. And gleaming, not the recycled toilet paper that economic constraints have forced since pandemic-stricken central London emptied out of people. And paper, not a bloke with a sign giving the website address. I grabbed my copy with relish. For me, no better sign that London is back, battered and bruised but not dead yet.

Later on a leaf through, I found an excellent article. Twenty 21-year old Londoners had been interviewed on how they see life. It's too easy for someone of my age to practise insouciant disdain for this generation, so far removed from mine that our lot could barely hazard what 'Gen' they are. I would not do justice by picking out individual stories - the article is headed 'Meet the Future' and I am sure you can find it...online - but there were intriguing lists. On the question of what you would do 'If you were Mayor', I noted 'more rights for renters', 'put funding back into youth clubs', and 'improve financial education in schools'. On 'Overrated' there there was 'Cocktails; the amount they cost in London is frightening'; 'Piccadilly Circus. I don't know why you just go there to look at screens', and my favourite: 'Buckingham Palace. As great as it is to see guardsmen, you're just stood outside the gates of someone's house, basically.'

For 'rated', there were predictable things on vintage shopping, underground music, and alleyways and tiny shops. However, what struck me was more than one mention around a theme. First there was a note that 70% of people interviewed 'are really into walking around London'. Then we had 'Walking around the city, especially the river'. And finally, shock horror, there was 'Learning about the city's history'. 

Can you believe that last one? Surely the stereotype of the audience for London history-related talks (face-to-face or online) or guided walks, is white; middle-class; middle-aged plus; comfortable in life. What exactly to disseminate to a different generation about our wonderful City, and how to disseminate it, might need thought - this is not the generation of 'I've mastered that Zoom thingy during lockdown' - but I am wondering whether a trick is being missed here. 

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More on cheap food, Surely short supply lines must help. But where these would be from the dratted EU then this is politically inconvenient. Since Brexit we have been up and out into the world (and if you think those last words are an invention then I can assure you they were used heavily in the aftermath of the Referendum result). That means longer supply lines. Ah yes, but what about that climate-change issue, and that we appear to be hosting the COP26 summit?. A big dose of bluster will be needed there.

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Better to write the minimum on Afghanistan and leave it to those such as Tom Tugenhat and Rory Stewart who know the country. The best image I have registered is that painted by journalist Chris Mason, of Dominic Raab managing the crisis in his flipflops from his luxury hotel in Crete (perceptive guests only). The only question I would add is when our Government will put two and two together over potential immigrants with humanitarian needs? There is big face-saving noise over what we will do for displaced Afghans, but on the other hand an even bigger Home Secretary-led noise over 'unacceptable' levels of illegal attempts to enter the UK...which come from people desperate to flee war-torn or economically deprived countries, the difference being that by now we have internalised the sufferings of the second category and found appropriate alienation techniques. The Afghan category is in our faces. 

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Have you heard of Yungblud (not a spelling mistake). It's a 'he'. You might not know of him. He is a musician. He is 24, and his real name is Dominic Harrison, although he probably would not have had breakthrough without adopting a professional persona. His parents are Justin and Samantha, and he comes from Doncaster. How do I know of him? Well, I have come up fairly close to his fans. And no, it was not an awful experience, quite the opposite.

Explanation: I live not that far away from the O2 Forum, Kentish Town. Yungblud, who emerged around 2018 and so is not a pandemic special, was doing a five-night residency. From my observation of fans camping out overnight to get a good place, I deduced that his primary fan base was girls of 14 to 20.

Yep, girls of 14-20 camping out overnight on the street. And, it appears, not all as a one-off, with some there for every performance, such was the devotion. Safety? The Dad in me was concerned. I thought I should investigate.

This was not straightforward. I was worried that if I marched up to engage them in conversation I would be shushed away as a suspected member of the local Pervs Society. Help came in the shape of two males chatting to each other on the edge of the group. One was older, a member of the security team, the other a teenage boy. I did the line of saying that maybe they thought I was coming up to complain about the litter on the pavement, but that this was not the case. It worked as an opener.

The lad gave me the intel that has enabled me to write this item. I asked him if he was one of the five-night camping out faithful. He explained he was not, as he was staying in a local hotel. This did not come as a surprise as, how can I put it, he looked a little cleaner than most of the others. The guard, a genial man in his early sixties who I suspect was engaged for being genial and potentially able to connect at some level with the fans, said that they were lovely and had caused no problems.

"But what about safety?', I said. The guard told me that the fans looked out for each other, and assuming that no kid was daft enough to detach themselves and sleep elsewhere, they were likely to be ok. A more punchy factor is that the location is just up from Kentish Town police station, something that is well-known to all we residents who have clocked that the boys and girls in blue love nothing better than banging the sirens on and doing a slalom through the main road traffic.

And the litter? Well it happens, but the guard also pointed out that as Camden Council had not felt able to provide additional temporary facilities, the fans had relocated some bins from inside the venue for daytime use.

Saturday night was clearly the big one. Out and about early in the evening, I noted an enormous queue for the show snaking up the Highgate Road, the people blissfully well-behaved. You would not have got better for the wait to get walk-up tickets for the Proms. There was litter, but nothing compared with what a bunch of oiks of any class might be able to produce on Hampstead Heath a stone's throw away.

I did have one last conversation with the security guard on the Saturday morning. I joked that the fans were still there. He said that they were waiting for me to go past so that they could get my autograph. You don't get that interaction on Zoom.

But next to the guard was one of his mates, looking like a product of a Les Dawson gurning competition. He was less genial. I suggested that he was probably looking forward to the Yungblud shows finishing. "Too bloody right,' he said.

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The pandemic is over.'No Time to Die' is finally being released.

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A British man is reported as having been first jailed (30 day job) in Singapore and then deported, for failing to wear a mask. He could not understand why the judge remanded him for psychiatric reports. The chap must have failed to realise (1) he was in Singapore and (2) he is British. 

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If The Hundred means nothing to you then please ignore next piece. 

A younger cricket journalist bemoaned that Hundred innings were overrunning, They are supposed to conclude in 2 hours 30 minutes; they are taking up to 2 hours 50 minutes. 'Southern Braves regret the late running of their innings, and apologise for any inconvenience caused'.

The journalist's other complaint was that the positioning of the entertainment stage (edge of boundary) with band/DJ as appropriate, meant that the performance was being projected out into field rather then direct towards any body of spectators. Answer is simple. Create an apron layout, where the stage is on one side of the ground and projects out into the field. No spectators behind, but a screen that could show stuff on the game but alternatively present music videos for those bored with a faltering pace. A four for the ball hitting the edge of the stage from along the ground, but ten runs if a batter (word now required for gender neutrality) could hit the ball directly on to the stage without injuring anyone or putting the equipment out of use. Now that's entertainment...

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At the Paralympics, a spoken word journalist's nightmare, as success for Jodie Cundy is followed by gold medals for Neil and Laura, the Fachies.

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We are told that Tube numbers are returning. My anecdotal experience leads me to request that TFL brings more trains back into play. I have noted some gaps in service that are well out of line with the service at equivalent pre-Covid times. I wonder if Sadiq Khan (he of the diesel driven gas guzzler that takes him and his entourage for a dog walk in Battersea Park - I like this bit, so Mail Online) is just softening us up for a return to sardines.

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The Arsenal manager, Mikel Arteta, says, 'We can get a result at City'. Mr Arteta is Spanish, and has previously played football in England, for the self same club. He can thus be forgiven, or perhaps even congratulated, for heartily adopting football speak.

'We can get a result at City'. Well, there will be a result. It could be a win, it could be a defeat, or it could be a draw. Manifestly he is not thinking of a defeat. That is GCSE level analysis. 'A' Level students of the speak would be required to consider whether a draw would be a result, in the sense that the team did not lose, although for higher quality students the draw would be discounted.

"Quality' is another word, used quite accurately in phrases such as 'a lack of quality in the final third'. But once you have grasped the vocabulary of 'quality', you need to throw the word around indiscriminately, eg 'He needs to put some quality into the box' (that refers to crossing the ball). We have now reached undergraduate level.

However, better still is where you ensure you never simply refer to a 'club'. This would be wrong. You should always say 'football club', even if you are talking about a football club, as someone could otherwise be misled into thinking that you are talking about a golf club or a knitting club.

If you can pass the last milestone you will be postgraduate, and fully able to understand Ian Wright and Alan Shearer as they move players around on screen during Match of the Day in a bizarre form of Subbuteo. Go for it, my son.

PS Arsenal lost 5-0 to Manchester City. Mikel will be as sick as a loro (and for the older generation, no, that is not Mark Lawrenson).

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In a bout of Mid Life Crisis around 20 years ago, I started to learn guitar. Although my teacher played in bands, he had a classical background, so required rigorous attention to fingering; lazy chord stuff was out the window. I progressed to c. Grade 3 (so he told me), even doing a couple of concerts with a guitar group, but stopped when the fingering stuff became too much of a nuisance, and also my work schedule changed radically. 

My teacher wrote and performed songs. As we got to know each other he explained that he had written a lot of material around and after the break-up of a long-term relationship, but once later he got together happily and securely with a new person, the impetus to write dried up. So, the song-writing had its time and place.

Which is a tortuous link to my deciding to have a "pause' (as one fashionably says) on these monthly articles. I got into them in earnest around February last year when the world was starting to realise that the Coronavirus world was not confined to cruise liners, and in a way they have been a therapy for me in responding to lockdown and to all the other nonsense to which we have been subjected. We are now in a fascinatingly paradoxical time, where cases are rising, but with mega vaccine roll-out we are going for a return to pre-2020 life and crossing our fingers that this trajectory can continue.

It is not the end of my scribbling (sorry), but I intend now for a while at least to write more focussed pieces on things that interest me. If you have read any at all of the Late Life Crisis output, thank you..

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