The hazards of living in London

London, the great metropolis, is going through a crisis. A slowing market and pollution, as well as a burgeoning standard of living are driving homeowners in wealthy areas to swap the city for commuter belts. On top of it all, we have a rickety administration determined to stay in power at all costs in defiance of a future riven by political uncertainty and a world that seems to have lost standards of behaviour, the likes of which we have seldom seen before.

Given all this mishmash, record numbers of homeowners in select areas of London are selling up to quit the capital as price growth slows, a new report revealed recently.

Last year, 42% of people who sold in London bought outside the capital, whereas in 2013 the figure was just 33% according to the comprehensive analysis of sales in affluent areas by LonRes Data Service and Hamptons Estate Agents.

Uncertainty over the past ten years has created ‘a huge, bent-up bulge of people who would have moved out of London but haven’t,’ said James Greenwood of Stacks Property Search, a buying agency. ‘We’ve had the financial crisis, a hung parliament, Brexit and Trump… People are saying, “Let’s just get on with it”.’

In fact, to my own way of thinking, they have given up – what we are seeing today makes no sense whatsoever. People are confused, they have lost confident in their leaders, and have given up caring of what goes on.

Marcus Dixon, head of research at LonRes, added, ‘In 2014, the gap between prices in London and elsewhere peaked. As it has narrowed, London sellers have taken an opportunity to cash in on previous gains.’

Overall almost half (48%) of the 2,000 householders who left prime London areas last year moved to the commuter belt in the southeast of England, followed by the east of England (23%). While many kept some of the profit from their sales by buying a cheaper home, about one third spent more on their new property.

‘We’ve been thinking about selling for four years,’ said Vicki Mirta, 39, who is about to move to a £1.6 million Buckinghamshire barn conversion three times bigger than her £1.26 million home in Maida Vale, northwest London. Her husband, Rana, 40, a digital strategy manager, was ‘horrified’ at the effect of the air pollution from Marylebone flyover on their sons Harrison, 6, and Daniel, 4. ‘Now I’ll be able to watch them from the kitchen as they climb trees,’ Vicki said.

Belinda Aspinall, founder of the website lifeafterlondon.com said members of her forum for London leavers increasingly cite pollution as a reason to go. ‘For many, London just feels expensive and crammed full. There is supposed to be a rush hour but in the words of a taxi driver, “They are like ants all day and all night. There are just so many people everywhere”.’

LonRes and Hamptons found that most prime London leavers headed to towns or suburbs (51%) rather than the country (38%). The other 11% went to cities – almost double the figure in 2010.

In August, Betty and Andrew Towler moved with their daughter Georgia, 2, from Wandsworth to Pewsey in Wiltshire. They traded a three bedroom terrace for a five bedroom Georgian house bought via Carter Jonas for ‘pretty much the same money,’ said Betty, 43, an interior designer. She works from home while Andrew, 53, a property consultant, commutes to London three days a week.

‘I don’t have to be in London at 9 a.m. every morning. We wanted a less frenetic life, waking up to sheep instead of car alarms. It has been a really good move.’

Well, unless pollution becomes a priority, London will ultimately lose its popularity and end up a health hazard for families and their children.

 

My friend the late Brian Sewell

In August of last year I wrote about my friend Brian Sewell whose many books we were proud to publish and whose death two years earlier had left a deep gap in my own life. He was indeed a one off, a man you would hardly dream of meeting in a world where, unfortunately, mediocrity has taken precedence and talent become a rarity.

Here is what I wrote about him then.  See if you agree:

A Literary Giant to Reckon With

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When Quartet became his publisher, we were warned by many of his detractors that he would prove to be hard to handle and will ultimately cause us no end of grief . The reverse as it happened turned out to be  untrue and without foundation.

Having been a publisher since 1976 and encountered many rather pompous and presumptuous authors, I can easily vow that Brian was a meticulous professional who invariably endeavoured to give his best in everything he touched and as a consequence was a joy to deal with.

What was remarkable about him, despite being the most accomplished art critic in the western hemisphere, was his total loyalty and devotion to his friends often to his detriment financially.

I can cite many examples of his generosity and grandiose spirit but feel deep inside that had he been alive today, he would have not wished me to do so.

His death two years ago marked the end of an era where men of his calibre are now rare to find. He was a one-off who defied the establishment and had the courage to call a spade a spade unperturbed by the circumstances that followed many of his pronouncements.

One of his books Naked Emperors, which we published in 2012, is a selection of Brian’s criticism during his tenure at the London Evening Standard and was the first collection to be published in over twenty years and was chosen from his art reviews of exhibitions by English contemporary artists. Most first appeared in the London newspaper for whom he first wrote for in 1984. They are gathered chronologically under artist or institution and discuss nearly every important contemporary English art exhibition for the past quarter of a century. Besides being a record of one man’s developing response to the explosion of blockbuster contemporary art shows and multi-millionaire artist escapades of the past two decades, the reviews’ sequence also reveal how much this often maligned critic did, at first, wish the new establishment well. How he came to see so much as dross or fiddle-faddle, is written with such knowledge, style and humour, readers will also come to understand why mugs with ‘Brian Sewell is fab!’ are on sale in gallery gift shops.

Brian Sewell became a devoted friend with whom I spent many a good time and learnt a great deal from him. As a consequence I miss him terribly.

It is time now, you buy a copy of this book for your library or to give away as a gift. This will give the receiver an insight about a great man who lived for his art in deciphering the good and the mediocre for the benefit of us readers.

May his legacy remain as bright as the full moon on a beautiful summer night.

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NO LONGER WITH US

Pamela Gems was a English playwright. The author of numerous plays, as well as of adaptations of works by major European playwrights of the past. She is best known for the 1978 musical play Piaf.

She was a very good friend of mine and I miss her terribly. She dies aged 85 in May 2011. Here is the substance of an interview I did with her in 1987.

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THE EARLY INFLUENCES

Pamela Gems: My grandmother was a great influence. I spent a lot of time with her. She was widowed in the First World War. My mother was also widowed very young, but I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. She was a witch really. You imprint at a very deep level, and I imprinted from her. My mother was, still is, a melancholic from the loss of her lover husband. But my grandmother was very strong, very wise, very tough and unmalicious. She was a little bit frightening, and I don’t know why, because she was very benign. We were, in a way, sisters. Just before she died, she used to come to me and say things like, look after Else, Pam. Else is my mother, whom I neglect. My grandmother was very important woman, but quite uneducated and very funny. She had three sons and three daughters, no money, lived by poaching – all that kind of thing. But she was formidable.

I had two younger brothers, but one had a heart defect and the other was severely asthmatic so missed most of his schooling. I was the eldest of the three. And we were told that neither of them would survive. Once, when we all had measles, they told us to lay my baby brother on the bed, because he was going to die. In fact they are both alive and well. My mother was told, when she was widowed, to put two of us in a home. And she refused. She was very beautiful, still is, in her seventies. She looks like Garbo, and I’m still frightened of her. I’m a plain daughter of a beautiful woman. I am in love with my mother- we all three were- but we had to placate her constantly. She sang contralto beautifully. In fact she was taken up by the local gentry. We had no middle class where we lived, only ourselves and people with titles and huge houses and thirty servants. So I grew up knowing the difference between an Aubusson and a Chinese carpet, for example. I saw the end of the feudal life. You see all this and yet you are not part of it. Of course, you are full of hatred, really. You’re full of resentment, because it’s so unfair. We lived, seven of us, in a coach-house. Next door lived an old lady with, i guess, seven or eight servants, counting the outdoor- one woman in a house with fifteen bedrooms. It was a house where Scott had written some of his books. So this collision was very dramatic; it was a dramatic childhood. In fact I didn’t know that the middle class existed until I grew up and went into the WRNS, when I realized that there were gradations rather than snobs and slobs. I was a terrible snob myself, and still am a bit, because of that early hierarchy and knowing how to behave. My uncle was an under-gardener who got the sack because he refused to bow when Queen Mary went by. The servants had to line up and bow, and he said, I can’t do that, and they said, well, I’m sorry, but you must. But when she came he hid behind a bush. He voted Labour, secretly. It had to be secretly in those days, or you lost your job. But he was seen and he lost his job.

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES

Pamela Gems: I think, for a long time, I thought I was a boy. We lived on a marsh during those years, and I was still very wild, I was just like a boy. It’s hard to imagine now I am old and fat. But I fought as a boy, and I always had a stick. When you are the lowest, you are despised in the social hierarchy in a small town, so I was always very aggressive. As my brothers grew older, they became stronger than me because of the sex difference, and there came a day when I couldn’t beat up my brothers if they misbehaved, so that was a rather bad day. I’m not so much motherly as older-sisterly; that is, that has always been my attitude to men: protective and bullying. You find it hard to lose those patterns.

I didn’t really find disadvantages in being a woman. You have only your own life to go by. I am a feminist by condition and through politics, but war came when I was fifteen. Now, during wartime, men and women suddenly have amazing equality. Suddenly women are quite capable of ferrying large Liberator aeroplanes and becoming spies, or being dropped by parachute, and the camaraderie between the classes and between the sexes is amazing and wonderful. Of course, we all thought, after the war we’d have to get rid of the public schools and everything else. We didn’t expect to revert. At that time, I didn’t come across discrimination, and I was happy to be a woman in that I didn’t I didn’t have to fight and actually kill someone, though I guess I would have done it then. I couldn’t have done it after having children; then you change. It takes too much of your life to produce a human being; the sin of killing becomes total.

The first thing I learned when I came into the theatre was that, if you open the Radio Times or the TV Times, there’s twice as much work offered to an actor as an actress, week by week, year by year. That means, five years out of drama school, the boy is twice as experienced therefore twice as good as his sister. The parts offered to women are written by men mostly, and they always are of an object, a sexual object- what I call the girl in the front seat of the car. I watch it like a hawk every time. She has no lines, she’s not a protagonist. It’s the man who has the action, who has the challenge, who is changed by his experience, who wins or loses. The girl is there to smile and be there and greet him, to be saved by him. I don’t mind that, I quite like being saved. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But when I came into the theatre, the lack of opportunity for actresses absolutely astonished me.

I have a young woman friend who is black, a very bright girl, got all her exams and wanted to be a vet. The most right-wing group of surgeons you can imagine is in the veterinary school. They tried very hard to discourage her; she had to get very, very good marks. When she applied, her marks were so much better than the boys’ that they had to say yes. The day she went to register, the woman at the desk looked up, saw she was female and black and said, my dear wouldn’t you be happier doing secretarial work? Can you believe it? Now that’s an extreme example. Some women are lucky. Some women are foxy, they will succeed on a man’s back, or become his mistress and get a job that way. I worked in the BBC and I’ve seen that happen. Sometimes the man gets drunk so the woman does the job, the woman does the job again, and suddenly she has the job. But there aren’t enough jobs to go round. We have such a problem to get woman directors into the theatre; we need them for various reasons, to explore certain kinds of work. But how can the men move over? I can’t say to Ron Daniels, do you mind giving up your job because, fair dos, you don’t have any women working there? Men say, we’re glad to have a woman if she’s good enough, we’re not chauvinist, she just has to be good enough. But she can’t be good enough until she’s done the number of productions that men have done, with the privileges they have for production. It’s impossible. In the theatre, it is really impossible. I see no sign of it changing. I’m very depressed about it, actually.

There is no doubt that, if you are to succeed in anything, you must be persistent and dedicated. And a lot of that is to do with whether you are lucky with energy, whether you have a good adrenalin, a supersonic system. I don’t. I think there is a way and I think a lot of women haven’t found it. I have just been in America, and women there do it at a great cost, the ones who become mock men, the ones who become strident. Almost worse are the women who go, as it were, into drag. They become super-female, you know. They’re very honeychile about everything, and their urine would etch glass. That is really frightening to live with, and men and women are, I think, repelled.

I couldn’t dream of being a man, because of having a child, because it is such an ecstatic experience. On the other hand, I do believe in reincarnation and I would like to be a man next time to experience that.

SEXUALITY

Pamela Gems: There is a very wide sexual spectrum. My doctor friends tell me people still come into the surgery and say, we’ve been married six months and haven’t got a baby yet; and it turns out they haven’t been doing it. Amazing. On the other hand, there are people who are the opposite, and it’s just as difficult for them. I’ve known men whose desires have been uncontainable. A dog’s life. What do you do? Such a man has to find an answer. And I’ve known women like that. So we have this very wide spectrum. I have often thought, because I myself never had a lot of energy, and it happens I have a husband with very high energy, that some of the rules about marriage are silly. I mean, some men should definitely have three or four wives. It would be really kinder for the woman, too; occasionally, not so often I don’t think, the other way round. It is a problem. In America, they have serial marriage. They are a high-consumer country: every five years you have another hat and a wedding, and a new deal, and lawyers have been paid off, and you have a new one. Liz Taylor is the arch example. It’s romantic, and very immature. In France, it’s the menage a trois, which is a very good system, a very good system. Of course, the French do everything best. But we’ll never do that are because we are Anglo-Saxon and we’re puritans, you know. England, I think, has always been a mess sexually. We send our boys away to school, and all that.

RELATIONSHIPS

Pamela Gems: Discrimination is at a very deep level. There is an awful lot of lip-service paid to feminism, particularly if it sells newspapers or whatever you’re involved in selling. We live in a buy-and-sell society. But the discrimination is there, and it is there au fond, because a man is stronger than a woman and in the end he can hit her. That is one of the major differences, and one men and women both find it difficult in different circumstances to deal with. The honour between men and women which began in the twentieth century – this code of I am stronger than you, therefore my role is to protect you- is an incredible code. This was fine when men and women were together in a static feudal society. Now we smash men to pieces and people are surprised at this venomous increase in rape. There is a terrible sex war going on. The hostility between men and women is dreadful. It’s terribly difficult for men. Iv’e spoken, and been regarded as reactionary, at many feminist meetings, because I’ve agreed it isn’t in men’s interests to give up being looked after, first by the mother and then by the wife, while they shoulder the responsibility for the family. You know, I have never seen a good production of A Doll’s House because it is always played as though Nora is escaping from this silly husband, he’s a perfect husband. They are in the middle of their conjugality, they are in love. They have three beautiful children and he is doing his best. She gets into debt, she can ruin him, and if she ruins him how can he look after the three children? This is a wonderful subtext in the play which is not ever dealt with. He is played as a wimp, and what woman wouldn’t want to run out of that house from such a silly man? But all of those systems of protection started to go when the machines came in and muscles weren’t necessary anymore. Man is in a tragic state in the West because his heroic qualities are no longer needed and not revered.

The difficulty for a woman is the deception. You see, it’s a moment’s thought for a man. I know, because I was complaining to my son the other day about my husband, and my son said surely now you can accept the fact that we are not like you; when we see it, we have to have it. He was actually talking about himself and his father. And I said, yes, but I still can’t get over it. I’ve lived with this man forty years, I love him, he’s the father of my children, and he comes in with a bland face and a bunch of flowers; and the bunch of flowers always gives him away. Why has he bought those dreadful daffodils, which cost him 50p? I know why he bought them, and so they go into the bucket. He has no charm, no style. He’s not going to buy a jewel, he’s already got me. Anyway, I’m older. I used to say to him twenty years ago, cant you say, oh, Pammy I’ve met this wonderful woman and she’s gorgeous, and you know you’ve never been good in the legs, and she’s got wonderful legs. I wouldn’t mind if he had the odd kid elsewhere, but he could never tell me. My son says, don’t you understand, thats half the fun. But my husband is making me into his mother, and I don’t want to be his mother. That’s the dilemma. I see no way out of it, for men or women in the society structured as we are. I started to think in the 1960’s, the communes are going to work it out – it’s going to be an extended family, like a gipsy group, there’s going to be little bits of love here, and maybe a kid, and then they’re going to move on. But the shotgun comes out at some point. There is always one who breaks it up, not two. In any of the normal daily papers, there is always somebody who has shot himself or his wife because she has been having it off with the man at the pub.

I always fall in love with men who look like my Uncle Ted, who was not my favourite uncle, but he was the best cricketer in the village, and he had a very English face, and fair hair and blue eyes, and if anybody looked like that, I fell in love. But I never went near him, because I was too afraid of rejection. I tended to go with men whom I felt needed me. I guess it was maternal, though I was a bookish girl and hated to be thought of as that. You spend your twenties finding out about sex, being concerned about sex, but mostly getting it wrong, but when I came to maturity in my thirties, I found that my sexual taste was for rather repressed men, almost perverse. And I think it is something to do with the English, and something to do with being brought up in the kitchens of these very lah-di-dah men who were also terribly repressed because the only relations they knew were power relations. They had no relations with their parents, whom they rarely saw. They were brought up by nannies, nursery governesses, with whom they had relations of affection, but also they had power over them. I like that. I like men who are kind of spies, and I like moody men. I had a friend who, alas, lost her husband who died on the operating table. It was twenty years ago, and she went to a marriage bureau. You had to write down what kind of a man you wanted and what sort of personality, and my friend Ann wrote, moody. She has this lovely moody man, never boring. I think to be married to someone boring must be the worst thing.

DIFFERENCES

Pamela Gems: In my own personal history, I see men equally oppressed, for different reasons. That’s not to say that there aren’t men who aren’t absolute monsters, but I see as many women who are monsters, witches – bad witches – that destroy children’s psyches before they are out of the cradle with their coldness and hatefulness. But I think that the male dilemma is particularly acute. I have had men say to me, in a way you’re lucky, you have a cause. It’s true.

The more I talk to my sons and other men, and the more I talk to women, the more I think we see things differently. I say this particularly after having seen women, often younger than me, doing for what I would call the masculine style of behaviour that is gaining pace, living a free sexual life, exercising the right to choose a partner, to ditch a partner, the right to choose not to breed from a partner, the desire to have a child but not want to marry – you know, all these radical choices women have been making. And the concomitant unhappiness has been very defeating for a lot of women. Iv’e seen that unhappiness. I know women, very well-known women, who’ve spent years in the London Clinic trying to breed. I know a woman who had a hysterectomy because she wanted to be an artist. Is art to be the cost of mutilation? That can’t be right. My own perception now is that women and men are far more different than I used to think, when I grew up with brothers. Particularly sexually. Particularly where sexual loyalty is concerned. I suppose I was nearly into my forties before I realized that to expect sexual loyalty from a man is to expect and abnormal man. You know, there was something bloody well wrong with him if he didn’t lust after something that was absolutely fascinating out there in the street. It’s very hard for some women to accept that, because most women do breed at some point in their lives, and it changes you utterly. You are hostages to fortune then. You are dependent on the goodwill of the world; particularly, if you are wise, on a man, and if you are very wise, on the father of your children. We haven’t discovered any really good substitute for the family unit, boring and reactionary and traditional as it’s regarded. Children have a right to their own genetic inheritance. Take the surrogacy case in America – the woman who had a baby and then couldn’t give it up. The father lost all his relations in the Holocaust, so he badly needs a child. One can imagine his need. His wife has multiple sclerosis, so it would obviously be unwise for her to have a child. So they found a surrogate and the surrogate couldn’t give up the child. What judgement does one make? The father is middle class, the child would have a very good life with him. The mother is working class, rather shaky background, without culture. Do you simply say, it is better for the child to be with the father? It’s quite simple for me, because I am a woman. You cannot take the child away from its mother. It’s an insanity. She can’t give up the child and the child has a right to her. But the judge will give that child to that father, to what he thinks is the best environment and consider he’s solved it. There’s a surrogate case in England where twins were born and the woman didn’t want to give them up. She’s accepted £5,000 and the judge has ruled that the father may adopt the children and the mother now must be deprived of them. In other words, she must legally stay by her bond. It’s nothing to do with what happens in the uterus and the bonding between a mother and child. If you start to break those laws, we might as well give up. Really I believe that. I think its terribly dangerous not to honour the fact of natural family. You might as well go to the Nazis. You cannot say, look, you’re a poor woman, you’re a working-class women, you can hardly afford to bring up your three children; we’re an infertile middle-class family, we’ll give you £10, 000, please have a baby for us. I would love to have a baby for you; I already have my children and I need that £10, 000. But now I have the baby and there’s milk coming through, of course I can’t give him up, he is me. I can’t give up my arms and my legs. This is the difference between a man and a woman. But most judges are still men, and the few female judges are in the masculine mode. Otherwise they wouldn’t have got there.

A Balls-like Stamina is the Key

I met Lady Lucan about five years ago when she became a rather tragic and lonely figure. Our encounter took place when she came to see me with a view to publishing her side of the story about the disappearance in 1974 of her husband and the death of her children’s nanny. Alas, nothing came out of the few meetings we had, as her depression and lack of decorum turned her into a trampish figure who became erratic and hard to deal with.

To my surprise I read in the Mail on Sunday of last week that my friend the socialite and author Basia Briggs – whose book was serialised recently by the Daily Mail – had met Lady Lucan every fortnight in her final years. She said it was a relief that Lucan left everything to charity rather than the ‘unsavoury characters who would swarm around her.’

‘I used to have tea with her every other week at the Goring in London and she always had a lot of unsavoury character attending with her trying to take advantage,’ said Basia. ‘Veronica was terribly vulnerable and fell for men who promised her things and then let her down when they realised she didn’t have much money. It was all terribly sad.’

It was typical of Basia to help people who, like herself, have seen the worst of life but decided to overcome the vicissitudes of time and regain their place in society.

Lord Lucan’s tragic widow cut her three children out of her will and left all of her possessions to the homeless charity Shelter, as revealed by the Mail on Sunday’s diary last week. Veronica, the dowager countess of Lucan who was found dead at her Belgravia home last September, was estranged from her son George, and daughters Frances and Camilla.

‘Mummy left her estate to the homeless charity Shelter,’ Camilla, a QC, told the press as she attended her mother’s inquest last week during which it was revealed she had killed herself with a cocktail of drink and drugs after wrongly believing she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Basia’s most harrowing book Mother Anguish is a prime example of how to overcome calamites as well as to fight the elements with vigour and tenacity and the willpower that lifts ones spirits to beyond the realms that are often considered impenetrable.

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Basia’s book is a gem which should not be overlooked. At £20 a copy it is really worth a flutter. In a chaotic world such as ours today, her book is bold and candidly overpowering. It is indeed a gripping chronicle hard to match.

 

 

 

 

THE SECRET OF THE STONES?

I never knew that phallic shadows cast Stonehenge as part of a fertility cult. It’s never too late to learn even at my age.

Apparently Stonehenge was built as part of a fertility cult with the stones positioned to cast phallic shadows inside the monument during midsummer, a new study suggests. Professor Terence Meaden, an archaeologist, examined nearly 20 stone circles throughout Britain, filming their changing silhouettes during sunrise or ritually significant dates of the year.

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Experts already knew that the 6000 year-old Neolithic monument was aligned on the solstices, but this is the first time it has been suggested that the orientation of the stones was specifically designed to create a ‘moving spectacle’. Professor Meaden said: ‘The builders of Stonehenge in Wiltshire and other megalithic circles, have created a “play without words” in which one special stone cast a growing phallic shadow which penetrated the egg-shaped monument before hitting a central “female” stone symbolising fertility and abundance. The circular shape of the monuments allowed the same “play” to recur at important dates in the Neolithic farming calendar…. My basic discovery is that many stone circles were built at a time of a fertility religion and that stones were positioned such that at a sunrise on auspicious dates of the year, phallic shadows would be cast from a male symbolic stone to a waiting female symbolic stone’ said Professor Meaden. ‘At Stonehenge on days of clear sunrise the shadow of the externally sited phallic Heel Stone penetrates the great monument in the week of the Summer Solstice and finally arrives at the recumbent Altar Stone, which is symbolically female. Devised in the late Neolithic, this could be a dramatic visual representation of the cosmic consummation of the gods between a sky father and the earth mother goddess.’

Professor Meaden also discovered that a similar light show happened at Drombeg Stone Circle in County Cork when he spent 120 days photographing sunrise at the site over five years. He found that the fertility ‘play’ occurs on eights dates throughout the year starting on the Winter Solstice. He believes that those eight days represent important milestones in the farming calendar which include the solstices – the longest and shortest days of the year – and the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, when day and night are the same length.

However, other experts were less convinced by the theory. Barney Harris, an archaeology doctoral student from UCL said, ‘If it was so important to cast shadows back into the Henge, then why not do it during the midwinter sunset or at the midsummer sunrise.’ Professor Mike Parker Pearson, also of UCL, said: ‘Why would phallic stones have lintels on top? It’s just bonkers.’ The research was published in the Journal of Lithic Studies.

All this research I find fascinating, even if it’s just bonkers.

The Belgravian Resident’s Journal

Sir Desmond de Silva indeed has nine lives. If you read his book, recently published by Quartet, you will see why.

‘A brilliant lawyer and former United Nations Chief War Crime Prosecutor in  Sierra Leone, Sir Desmond de Silva has released his memoir Madam, Where Are Your Mangoes?

The Belgravian Resident’s Journal, in their interview with him this January, is not only a masterly and highly entertaining journalistic gem but also reveals a most remarkable man, whose life, apart from its dangers, would be the envy of many of his contemporaries.

His picture, which I must presume must have been the work of a great artist embellishes the stories he had to tell the magazine.

For the benefit of those who have not yet acquired a copy of his book, that’s a good start.

Here is the article in full:

I’ve had a house in Belgravia for 40 years and also have a house in the country, but Belgravia, to me, has always been my home,” Desmond de Silva tells me, when I meet him at The Carlton Club. The prominent British lawyer and former United Nations chief war crimes prosecutor in Sierra Leone, has recently released his autobiography, Madam,Where Are Your Mangoes? It’s a fascinating insight into his life and took him almost a decade to pen. “I decided to start writing it about 10 years ago, but I left it to one side for a while. I do hope people enjoy reading it.” Born in what was then known as Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – during World War II, de Silva details how he travelled by ship halfway across the world when he was 11 years old to attend Dulwich College Prep. He says of the journey: “It took three weeks to get from Colombo to Southampton, but it was all great fun.”

Did he know, even as a child, that he wanted to work as a lawyer, I ask. “Since 1828, there has been a whole succession of barristers in my family. It was inevitable – I was born into a sort of genetic prison from which I couldn’t escape,” he jokes. His memoir provides a fascinating insight into his career, which includes what de Silva describes as his “most important case from a legal point of view” in bringing the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, to justice for war crimes. “He was the first head of state to be convicted for war crimes since 1946 – that’s something that I can’t beat.” During more than 50 years of legal practice, de Silva has lived through IRA bombings and been imprisoned and shot at – “one heard the shots hitting the wall around one” – and there have been many attempts on his life, including when he was working on a case in The Gambia in 1981, when he realised – luckily, thanks to turning a light on – that when he poured a glass from his half-finished bottle of brandy, it had changed slightly in colour: “soft lead had been poured into it.” He tells me these stories somewhat matter-of-factly, but he does go on to say he’s been “very lucky and grateful to have survived it all.” As well as working on war crimes, spy trials and murder cases, de Silva has defended household names such as footballer John Terry. “A false allegation of grievous bodily harm was made against him and if he had been convicted, he would have gone to prison for a long time. But he was vindicated and went on to captain both Chelsea and England.”

In 2007, de Silva received a knighthood for 94 services to international law, an honour of which he is “extremely grateful and proud”, and he was sworn in as a Member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in 2011. “Most people receive these accolades at the end of their careers, but I’m still practising law and, nowadays, I spend most of my time advising governments,which is very rewarding.” Finally, I ask, when he’s not working, where’s his favourite place to relax in our neighbourhood? “La Poule au Pot is a wonderfully romantic restaurant, where the food is exquisite and totally delectable.” After all, even the greatest legal brains must, on occasion, satisfy their stomachs.

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Now that you have seen the picture above and read the article from the Belgravian Resident’s Journal, is it not time to buy the book? At £25 a copy it is a bargain which no one in his right mind would let go, especially today when the craze of bargains is the topic of the moment.

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POLLUTION IS HEALTH’S NEW DEVIL

Pollution in London is becoming a real health hazard and it seems to be spreading to most areas of the capital. Even Notting Hill is now among the places to watch before it becomes heavily polluted; the signs are already indicating its vulnerability.

But a school has almost wiped out pollution in the classroom by fitting high tech air purifiers. Notting Hill Preparatory School, which is near a busy road with seven bus routes, installed the purifiers, resulting in a decrease of 86% in the level of soot particles associated with diesel engines, in three classrooms.

Long term exposure to the particles, known as PM25, is estimated to cost 29,000 premature deaths a year in Britain and children who inhale them are more likely to develop asthma.

Carol Armstrong, the school’s bursar, told the Evening Standard, ‘We were concerned about the high levels of pollution in London and wanted to do something to protect our pupils.’ She said that the school decided to install IQAir units because they could be set up with minimal disturbance. ‘The units offer all-important peace of mind for parents that their children are being looked after.’

Christian Lickfett, managing director of Commercial Air Filtration which installed the purifiers, said, ‘Air pollution in classrooms across the capital regularly exceeds the World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines.’

AirVisual air quality monitors were also installed at the school. They use a laser sensor to measure PM25, carbon dioxide, humidity and temperature in real time.

The Mayor of London’s air quality fund is paying for audits of the air quality in fifty schools in London’s most polluted areas. Results are due to be published in March.

It’s high time. At least somebody is doing something about it at long last. It’s shameful that London is now one of the most polluted cities in Europe and we have the audacity to claim to be health conscious which is, in this case, a silly joke.