Late Life Crisis - March 2021

Law firms have always been vulnerable to being lampooned as a result of gaffes. On International Women's Day 2017 a law firm suffered through advertising that salads in the staff restaurant that day would be half-price for women....

It is fun looking out for gaffes, but the question is how determinedly should one look. So is it my innuendo-ridden mind, or is the photo below of Boris Johnson (with Richard Desmond) unintentionally unfortunate?

Boris Johnson

'Boris Johnson attempts to emulate Vladimir Putin in machismo'

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I have been educated on the term 'luxury beliefs' The excellent journalist Janice Turner says that it was coined in the US  to describe '...opinions that confer status on the holder at no personal cost'. 

An example she gives is a person calling for the police to be defunded when the person lives in a safe area and not one that would risk exacerbated criminal behaviour if the invocation were seen through to reality. As ever, there are rings of different language used before in similar vein, for example the 'champagne socialists' of the Blairite era. In both the personal and corporate world I suggest a rough rule that the more the protagonist lectures the world on how it should behave, the more that person's/organisation's own behaviour will be subjected to scrutiny for any whiff of hypocrisy. 

In days past when I read management textbooks, this was known corporately  as 'walking the talk'; it may be that the language has moved on since.

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To understand this next one  it would be helpful to have a passing familiarity with the opening of The Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special, 2019:

Corden: 'Hazelar!'

Harry: 'Smithelar!'

Corden: 'Welcome to this location, my fine friend'.

Harry: 'Are you asking me to step?!

Corden: 'Step?!

Harry: [Sings]

'Step back from Windsor, step back from Windsor,

We love California 'cos the press pack is nicer.

Out of the Palace, what could be better?

Step back from Windsor, step back and we can be free....!'

Corden: 'No Harry, I want you to step on to this open-topped bus so we can do a contrived interview where you publicise your new commercial interests'.

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I have been sent a message by my 'email administrator', saying that my password will expire on 27th August 2020. If someone is trying to spam me, at least they could be a little more competent.

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First-hand knowledge from my mother - born Mary Kelly -  that the story of guest house signs that you could once find in England, 'No Blacks, No Dogs, no Irish', was true. Thank goodness I did not retain my mother's maiden name as part of my own name, as I might have been precluded from booking a holiday at Pontins. A serious lost opportunity...

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I have been educated, this time by Matthew Parris, on a further topic, the concept of 'stickiness'. This is apparently a scientific term, so with my Grade E in 'O' Level physics I am on a loser trying to explain it. Best to leave it to Parris for an example, this being that if you try to pull a brick using a length of elastic the brick will refuse to move and refuse to move....until it finally flies forward and hits you in the face. 

Parris was more into talking about cultural/societal change than the world of bricks: he discussed the build-up of pressure for change, perhaps where those seeking change felt that it would never come...until eventually the change happened at speed. His example was reform of the law on homosexual relationships, that led eventually to the Sexual Offences Act 1967. I am ill-researched at this moment on the detail of the two instances I now suggest, but tentatively we might think of the Arab Spring (whatever the upshot in the countries affected) or the dismantling of the Berlin Wall?

Parris makes an observation on the workings of the human mind, an organism where our unconscious is constantly re-evaluating and taking stock of information that we process and that might lead us finally to take a big decision eg stop smoking or do some serious weight-loss - I could call this the app always working in the background. Nothing groundbreaking here, I admit, but still interesting. 

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I am setting up a charity to fund my next major overseas trip after having spent so much money on a home move. In last month's Late Life Crisis I  promised some reflections on the conveyancing marketplace - I am still working on this.

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Once upon a time, Haringey Council discovered CPZs - Controlled Parking Zones. In my then area they started in central Crouch End. We rapidly became alarmed as more cars started to appear in the road outside my family home, our road sitting just outside the CPZ perimeter. We hated the idea of the CPZ, but what did we then do?....Like others we petitioned to get our area made a CPZ. And so it continued, until the whole of Crouch End residential was CPZ (and from where I lived, joined up with neighbouring Islington CPZs).

How might this relate to footpaths on Hampstead Heath? Journalist Caitlin Moran provides an answer. In our dutiful 2m apart effort (substitute any paths you know for this) we stray out on to the margins, turning grass into mud flats, edging out further and further, and killing more grass in the process until the whole effort becomes futile.

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Ms Moran made another useful observation about lockdown life. Here I should not project me into you, but a question I have been asking myself over the last year (and it's a serious Late Life Crisis issue) is what value each of us has added to our existence since March 2020, in our quasi-cryogenically preserved existence aka life on hold. Moran's insightful point is that if anyone (she suggests this is the minority) has driven weight down, or learnt that new language, or finished that unreadable book, then they may be unwilling to publicise that to others for fear of being despised. I think I have sort of touched on this area before: if you have had  'a good lockdown', do you tell everyone else about it, through social media or otherwise?

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Those of us of a certain age may believe that we are successful in keeping in touch with the views of at least Millennials. This makes even more painful a right old skewering, attributed to Alastair Campbell's daughter and concerning pro-EU demonstrations: 'It used to crack me up at those People's Vote rallies, lots of old white people with their ham and cheese baguettes from Pret, singing along to the chants'. I am especially hurt as I rather enjoy a ham and cheese baguette (Arnold Ridley voice for anyone who gets this).

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I decided that the photographing of Prince Philip leaving hospital was gross and insensitive papping, until the venerable BBC put it up on the Ten O'Clock News. The paparazzi's effort might even have made me move a little towards that couple. What do you think?

Prince Philip

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Now there is a man for gaffes. A report on the BBC website: 'Prince Philip's gaffes from decades on royal duty', 4th May 2017, listed 25 between 1966 and then. An analysis of the report shows a wide variety of areas into which he has strode. He has dallied in misogyny, ageism, obesity and deafness. He has railed at the unemployed. He did a jibe about suicide bombers - the ethnic origin of the group was not expressed, but one suspects that he had brown skin in his mind. In fact racism seems to have been his speciality, with targeting (in no particular order) of individuals from Kenya, China, Australia, Hungary, The Cayman Islands, Scotland, India and The Philippines. 

So how did he get away with it? The article mentions excuses that have been put up: he was speaking 'off-the-cuff'; he spoke to 'lighten the mood'; and the worst one, 'he was speaking his mind' (just think of the consequences of that for anyone else in the public spotlight). There was also incy wincy tiptoeing by the BBC in the piece: his remarks were 'teetering on the edge of being offensive'. 

To me the answer to the question is simple: Prince Philip holds a Get Out Of Jail Free card, and on it is printed 'Queen'. He has 'stood by her side for over 70 years'. 'Nuff said. However, I suggest it is pretty obvious as to why Prince Harry underlined that neither the Queen nor Prince Philip were the authors of the claimed speculation over the colour of Archie's skin. HM Queen served as useful bracketing cover with the man who might otherwise have been the prime suspect for an 'off-the-cuff' remark.

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An article in the Ham & High on birds spotted on Hampstead Heath was written by....Jeff Waage. I kid you not.

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Cancel the Beatles. Issues are often best examined by testing them at the margins. So I give you the second verse of 'A Hard Day's Night':

'You know I work all day to get you money to buy you things

And it's worth it just to hear you say you're going to give me everything

So why on earth should I moan, 'cause when I get you alone

You know I feel ok.'

A cruel, sexist and materialistic stereotyping of the woman in a relationship, whose role is to receive gratefully what the man buys for her and then to reciprocate by catering to the man's selfish sexual desires...   ??

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Having been sent sprawling on an off-road run a few weeks back, by a loopy off-the-lead Dachsund that charged straight under my feet, I have decided that when running I will now display a sign saying 'Dognapper'. That should keep the owners away.

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'Darling, do you know that I'm having my jabs at Westminster Abbey? Only the finest of arms go there'.

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Remember how Michel Barnier's surname was supposed to be pronounced phonetically 'Varnier'? For want of anything better to do I was messing around with names of UK Cabinet Ministers, to see what we could get on transposing first letter of first name with first letter of surname (occasional support from a second letter).. As a result I give you:

Joris Bohnson: a minor character in 'His Dark Materials'

Sishi Runak: a future winner of Masterchef

Rominic Daab: professional tennis player

Landon Brewis: farms 200 acres in Scotland (although others do the work)

Triz Luss: polar explorer in the mode of Bear Grylls

Piti Pratel: politician following in the Peter Principle tradition of people in a hierarchy tending to rise to their level of incompetence

Then we get to Matt Hancock. Best to stop....

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A febrile atmosphere, as news emerges of people booking up restaurants months in advice. I feel that we need a member of the Python team to come in and say: 'This is all very silly!'

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I was amused at how, after the company had spent some five years battling drivers, a senior Uber executive did a media appearance in a tone of academic musing, as if the company was just fascinated as a matter of interest to find out whether the Supreme Court thought that its drivers were 'workers' under employment legislation. Less amusing though for users of the service was a note in the following weekend business pages that it would 'significantly scale down its British operations over the next 12 to 18 months'. Shurely shome connection? Black cab drivers will, however, be raising a glass.

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I am online, trying to book a visit to the gardens at Cliveden. National Trust. I have my newly acquired membership card at the ready. I have put on a cardigan especially, as a good luck crusty's charm. But no use. I am in a waiting  room with all the other crusties. For all I know, it could be God's waiting room. 

This is our world, still starved of recreational outlets. We are a pathetic lot.

PS. After an hour, and on the edge of recourse to the sandwiches and flask of coffee I had prepared, I got through.

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To close. And for this imagine it is 2019. Someone tells you that in March 2021 you would walk into the Brent Cross Shopping Centre in North-West London on a Friday afternoon and find a scene as per the photo below. Virtually all retail outlets closed; a smattering of masked shoppers, there principally because M&S (food only) and Waitrose are open; one-way signage, enforced by security guards; the only thing of note being the line outside the Apple shop where folk queue for 'customer service' from a table barring the entrance. Unbelievable isn't it?

Brent Cross

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The author is a writer, speaker, historian, occasional tour guide, and former Managing Partner of a City law firm.