Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Plight of the Elderly

It is a disgrace the way we treat old people in this country, and how little we pay them to survive in this climate of austerity.

Even the NHS does not show them the courtesy and attention their age truly warrants. We hear disturbing and excruciating incidents of their being left unattended on hospital trolleys for as long as twenty-four hours, as if their welfare is of no paramount importance to the nation.

Maltreatment is not uncommon and it seems to occur in institutions and old age homes, where supposedly shelter is provided to shield them from the cruel world outside.

It is an irony of the worst kind that those whose task it is to protect them are the very people who sometimes abuse them. And the authorities do little to punish those responsible.

To make matters worse, our politicians are now falling over themselves in their quest to deprive the elderly of some of the benefits they have managed over the years to secure from the state. Cancel their free travel passes, they bellow. Abolish their entitlement to winter fuel, and a free television licence.  And any supplementary benefits that can save the exchequer an astronomical sum of money, which they claim involves billions of pounds.

For what? may I ask.

Presumably, I guess, in order to finance the dreadful war in Afghanistan and in the process sacrifice the lives of our young soldiers, for no valid reason whatsoever. What a waste!

They even go as far as to discard the lessons of history to justify a useless and unwinnable conflict.

It is an outrage in a civilised society to have our priorities upside down, and bereft of any human consideration or compassion. Those who clamour to castigate old age pensioners from having a comfortable life after spending decades in hard work are themselves well provided for, and the majority born with a silver spoon in their mouths. They have never experienced want, and are therefore immune to the concept of poverty. To pull the Devil by the tail has never been a pattern of their lives.

Be that as it may, their rhetoric is indecent to say the least, and their overstretched gobs too ugly to behold or listen to. I despair.

The Scourge of Unemployment

The campaign launched by the Evening Standard to highlight the plight of a young generation of Londoners unable to find work has unveiled a lamentable state of affairs, which the government has so far ignored.

Instead of trying to cope with this serious social problem, they put it aside hoping with time it will simply go away.

That’s always a dangerous attitude to adopt, because sooner or later it will come to haunt them.

Party leaders are beginning to recognise the interminable harm that youth unemployment in the capital will bring in its wake, and are now talking about the need for urgent measures to remedy the situation before it takes root and imparts no end of difficulties in the long term.

The key to resolving it is not to inflict further taxes on individuals and businesses, but to reduce them so as to encourage people to work much harder and earn more.

Crucially, and that’s the crux of the matter, is to oblige banks who have the habit of defying authority to lend to small businesses to enable them to expand, create more jobs and trade profitably instead of finding themselves short of capital and struggling to survive on a daily basis with an uncertain future.

The government should also encourage companies to open new markets overseas and instruct their embassies abroad to bolster the efforts of British enterprises, rather than spend their time arranging diplomatic parties which by and large are a waste of time.

A good example to follow is the United States, whose embassies’ main targets the world over are commercially driven while diplomacy is relegated to second place. This I have witnessed first hand during the course of my extensive business travels in a career that has spanned over six decades.

Another factor worth considering is that the Treasury becomes richer when taxes are lower. It’s a myth to think otherwise. A country’s prosperity lies not in its punitive taxes, but in its ability to achieve a good working relationship with its citizens.

And the lesson to be learned is that the more complicated you devise a tax system the more you are likely to encounter those who find loopholes to evade some aspect of it and manage to pay less.

Youth unemployment in general is a cancer that spreads quickly unless caught in its early stages. Let us therefore be alert for once, join forces irrespective of our political creed, and help the young – the very backbone of our society – to become real and effective participants in formulating the future destiny of our nation.

The Perils of Back-Peddling

Despite the overwhelming evidence that his chief whip in Parliament abused a policeman, who prevented him from cycling through the security gates leading to Downing Street, the Prime Minister is steadfast in his support for his boorish culprit – notwithstanding the public outcry that followed.

If he continues to back-peddle before taking stern action to demonstrate to the nation that his government will not tolerate such appalling behaviour ,under any circumstances, then he will pay a heavy price for his misplaced doggedness, which he should use to more dignified and important causes.

I say that with all the goodwill in the world, for I feel that his record so far in choosing members of his inner circle has been flawed on a number of occasions, which leads us to believe that he is less than streetwise.

A PM requires a multiple of skills and should not be swayed by outward appearances of success, or the old school tie.

We have had enough of Labour and their ideology for over twelve years, and it would be much too painful if they were to return to make our lives unbearably regimented and dull.

Bryan Forbes

With the publication of Bryan Forbes’s latest novel, The Soldier’s Story, I cast my mind back to 1975 when I first met Bryan on the set of The Slipper and the Rose, which he directed with David Frost and myself being the principal motivators and backers in collaboration with the Sherman brothers.

The film was highly successful, and received its premiere in the Odeon Leicester Square having been selected as the Royal Command Performance film for the year.

As I stood waiting to be presented to the royal patrons, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, the press camera lights flashing all around, I felt I’d entered a new world of show business.

So it was a sentimental journey back when Bryan approached me for the publication of his novel, which I read in manuscript form and enjoyed tremendously.

Bryan’s opening blurb on the book jacket declares:

It will be so simple to pretend this is just a story of lost illusions, of wrong choices made. Human experience, I am told, is only understandable as a state of transition. Whether or not that’s true, I am not clever enough to decide. All I know is that, years ago, in a foreign country, I lived through events and a love that changed my life…

In the uneasy post-war peace of occupied Germany, a British soldier is billeted to a bombed Hamburg hotel. Alex’s days are spent investigating Nazi war criminals, but it is a chance meeting with a German university professor in a shabby back-street bookshop that changes his life. Having befriended the professor and his wife, Alex falls in love with their only daughter, Lisa, only to discover that the professor may not be as innocent as he first appeared.

The stale aftermath of a long and hideous war has left the old society in ruins. There are still many secrets to uncover and Alex has to ask himself what is more important – love or truth? As he digs deeper into the professor’s past Alex is forced to recognise that he cannot have both…

I urge people who appreciate a good story and a rip-roaring saga, which has all the ingredients to hold the reader in total suspense throughout, to buy the book and tell their friends about it.

Nick Clegg on the Precipice

The Liberal Democrats are committing hara-kiri.

Not only have they an issue with the leadership but they are widely divided on policy. The seething struggle for top job between Nick Clegg and Vince Cable will soon make the division unpalatable.

Their problem is whatever ideology they preach looks fine on paper but is unworkable in real terms. They hardly ever differentiate between theory and practice. They undulate with what they believe is the public mood but seem to get the whole equation wrong.

Their obsession to eradicate wealth – or at least substantially decrease it – is the dream of lunatics. It has been tested since the Middle Ages but proved unenforceable. The Communist empire disintegrated after the Second World War when for a while it seemed to gain credence and power, but only through the application of force. Nature itself dictates otherwise. We are all born unequal, whether in health or wealth, but eventually through death suffer the same fate.

Nick Clegg, who came to prominence as a result of his successful television debates with the other contenders at the last general election, is now fighting for his political career. Whereas he appeared reasonable before, well balanced with his policies, he is now swimming against the current and is likely to drown. His ratings have plummeted, according to the latest polls even lower than that of Gordon Brown in his darkest hours. And yet Clegg continues with his ludicrous campaign against the middle classes, trying to squeeze every penny he can get by clamouring for punitive tax policies against them.

Make no mistake, the rich will not suffer. They are much wilier than he is and are well defended in their fortified castles to repel any of his attacks. So there is no point in masquerading with the nonsense that his targets are the mega rich when he bloody well knows that because of the system they are beyond his reach.

Wake up Nick! And be more sensible – otherwise you risk being dumped by the electorate and your own party, which would be a very great shame.

Rushdie and the Sea of Whingeing

Salman Rushdie is a novelist whose books have been highly praised around the world, and yet I find his style of writing hard to get to grips with.

I always struggle every time I pick one of his books up, determined to read it through to the very end but failing miserably to do so.

Perhaps I’m not learned enough to appreciate such august literary works of the great man, acknowledged by a majority of critics to be a genius. He himself is not shy to rate himself alongside Joyce, Bellow, Roth and Proust, who he cites in his memoirs as his equals.

I have come across Rushdie fleetingly at one or two cocktail parties but cannot claim to know him well. His high profile, however, does little to endear him beyond the circle of friends and devotees who fawn with admiration every time his name is mentioned.

To them, he’s the flag bearer of freedom, courage and defiance in the face of adversity. To me, he seems prickly, arrogant, ungrateful and full of his own self-promoted glory.

Reviewing his latest book, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, my friend A. N. Wilson calls it ‘a most peculiar book written like the works of Julius Caesar or General de Gaulle in the third person. If this comparison seems grandiose to you, it would not necessarily do so to the author, who in the first twenty pages has compared himself to King Charles I – who like Rushdie, did not acknowledge the legitimacy of the judges who condemned him – and Voltaire’. Rushdie naturally refers to Ayatollah Khomeini who sentenced him to death in 1989.

The book records in detail his plight as a fully protected person who felt that his precious liberty was taken away from him. Nevertheless, the saga catapulted him to world fame and in many ways glamorised him as a victim of free expression, which many believe is the cornerstone of true democracy.

But what I found rather unpleasant about the memoirs was his list of grudges and scores paid off. Nobody escapes his vindictive nature including his four wives and some of his fellow writers.

The book is over long and becomes tedious and not, in my estimation, worthy of a writer of his calibre. He could have done with a much shorter version and avoided unnecessary rants which do not enhance his image.

He always insisted on a novelist’s right to offend but is sensitive to criticism himself and does not take it gracefully. This will surely have the effect of diminishing him as a writer even in the eyes of his most loyal friends.

What the memoirs shed is a great deal of light on his complex character, his name-dropping and above all his excessive pursuit of seeking the limelight no matter the cost or the hurt it might cause others.

He’s self-involved beyond the realm of acceptability. It is, nevertheless, worthy of note to mention that it was Mr Blair who gave him his knighthood.

That in itself would be another story to tell.

My Weekend Review

The Tory toffs who believe in their right to rule are coming out of the woodwork.

Not at any time before have we seen such arrogance displayed by second-rate politicians who think they are of a privileged class above the rest of us. And is it coincidental that they form the coterie of a close rank of MPs, who make up the PM’s circle of advisers and hangers-on?

What has gone wrong when the emergence of David Cameron at the outset, with his youthful zest, was the hope of the nation after having endured the likes of Tony Blair for ten years, to be followed by Gordon Brown, whose tenure was as divisive and catastrophic as his shameless predecessor.

Cameron’s reckless choice of people to fill high positions in his government is at the root of the problem.

The latest incident involving the Chief Whip is the coup de grace, so to speak, in his litany of mishaps. According to press reports, Andrew Mitchell – a foul-mouthed, rather unpleasant fellow, who it seems inhabits a world of his own – abuses a policeman when stopped from cycling through the gates of Downing Street. The rant that followed was apparently so disgusting and threatening that it has caused uproar, not only in Westminster but throughout the land.

His neighbours in Islington, where he lives, talk about him in a derogatory fashion because of his insolence and rather haughty manner.

How can we possibly, I ask, tolerate such people who hold high public office, and let them off the hook as long as they apologise for their actions?

The Prime Minister will certainly shoot himself in the foot if he does not sack him without further ado. Any contrition shown by his chief whip will not in this case wipe the slate clean.

* * *

Lady Gaga is a phenomenon that now betrays signs of fading.

Her excesses have so far appealed to a new generation of hedonistic admirers, who worship those defying tradition and bringing something new to the world of entertainment. The more outrageous they act, the more their fans multiply.

Lady Gaga’s latest gig in Amsterdam, showing her smoking cannabis on stage, is to some a provocative extension of her groovy antics. To others, perhaps, a liberation of some sort.

However, what I found intolerably off-putting was her semi-naked outfit, showing her black leather thong and fishnets, surrounded by rolls of fat, revealing a most disgusting bottom that would give sexual desire a bad name.

I am glad I’ve reached an age where such an ugly spectacle has a negative effect on me – unless, of course, a beautiful feminine form in all its glory invades the eyes, to rekindle a passion that has become rather dormant but remains still a dreamy and lingering one.

* * *

Karl Lagerfeld is going potty in his old age.

Once the great arbiter of taste, his egotism is now leading him to areas where his views cannot be taken seriously.

Apropos the Middletons, he thinks Pippa should expose her back and not her front. As for her mother, he regards her as a very sexy woman.

Is he by any chance talking out of turn?

Pippa’s front is not to be sneered at, although her back – especially her pert, wiggling bottom – is certainly more enticing. What he should have said is that her greatest asset lies at the rear.

On the subject of her mother, how can a gay man assess her sexual appeal – unless he is sexually ambidextrous and keeps it under wraps.

What is beyond doubt about Mrs Middleton is the fact that she is well dressed, competes with her two daughters to look as young, which does not always work – but at least she makes a conscious effort.

However, her looks do not quite betray her sexuality as he seems to indicate – but who knows? Sex and gay men are a phenomena of nature, hard to understand or decipher. They are definitely more creative than heterosexuals, who lack their stamina, sexual thrust, and improvisation.

Flora’s Glory

Here is my speech from last night’s launch party for Flora’s Glory, by Vanessa Hannam, at Daunt Chelsea.

Lady Vanessa Hannam is a joy to know. As a Quartet author since we published A Rose in Winter some two years ago, she has proved herself to be amiable, pleasant and professional to the core. We could never wish for a more cooperative or easygoing author, unlike some who prove difficult and often impossible to please. So it is with great pleasure that I introduce her latest novel which I found to be as entertaining, well researched and historically intriguing as A Rose in Winter.

Flora’s Glory’s main character is the beautiful and independently minded Lady Flora, who arrives at the newly formed court of King William of Orange and Queen Mary after James II has fled England with diamond buckles sewed into his waistcoat. Having grown up against the backdrop of the Glorious Revolution in the seclusion of the countryside, surrounded by a world-renowned garden on which her family’s considerable fortune was made, romantic love is not the first thing Lady Flora has on her mind, but her world is turned upside down when she meets the roguish and devilishly charming Lord Edwin Grandley, who is on the lookout for a wife. Is Flora the life raft that will stop Edwin from drowning, or will he drag her down with him?

Vanessa’s captivating fifth novel is a tale of extraordinary bravery and deadly political intrigue set in the courts and gardens of seventeenth-century England.

The reader of her latest novel will find it delightful to read and a welcome change from the present trend of sexually-charged books which seem to dominate a large section of the book trade market at the present time. Let us therefore applaud her courage to continue with the old tradition of storytelling without the gimmicks of sexual depravity in order to enhance its sales potential.

Having said that, all I need is for this illustrious gathering to show their appreciation by purchasing copies of her book – and I mean more than one copy – in order to encourage authors like Vanessa to entertain us the old fashioned way, despite the grim state in which the book trade finds itself today.

In conclusion I would like to mention the memory of Vanessa’s dedicatee, Shirley Eskapa, whose passing deprived Quartet of a much loved and remarkable novelist who, hand on my heart, we will never forget. She would have loved and enjoyed this party.

Uranus and the Moneymen

Why, you may ask, are banks shielded by the law to the extent that they can do what they like, pay themselves vast sums of money for robbing the public and not normally be accountable for their actions.

Their prominence and influence increased substantially during the Thatcher years, due to her strong conviction that the City of London was the hub of the financial world and should be given a free hand to bolster the economy through its wide expertise and be amply rewarded for its efforts.

The City became the sacred cow, untouchable and an almost independent entity, yielding great power and enjoying its new stature by considering itself the financial aristocracy of the nation.

Those who manipulated its working practices were revered, honoured and had the additional benefit of being protected by a government whose policy ran in tandem with the United States’ almost religious belief in the probity of making money at all costs, irrespective of social priorities.

Mrs Thatcher’s comradeship with Ronald Reagan was a motivating factor for she, too, became a propagator of hard capitalism and wanted to transform our society and thinking to embrace money as the most important tool to achieve prosperity. In so doing she starved our libraries and our cultural institutions in favour of money-making enterprises, and devoted her energies to shift the emphasis from manufacturing to financial services that the City would provide.

Subsequent governments headed by Tony Blair, one of her secret admirers, followed her example and gave the City even greater privileges, aided and abetted by his adversary Gordon Brown. The banks in the meantime, by exploiting their position and acting in a greedy and reckless fashion, nearly bankrupted themselves as well as the economy and had to be bailed out later by Brown’s shaky government.

The Big Lions that roared with impunity had to eat humble pie for a while – but not for long. Once out of immediate danger they reverted to their old practices and shamelessly rewarded themselves vast bonuses for their failure. The present coalition government, supposedly a reforming one, did very little to restrain or contain their excesses. Instead they fell on their swords to avoid a bitter confrontation for fear that the City’s powerful lobby would topple them.

The banks still hold the nation to ransom and no one dare challenge them. Their arrogance is perhaps entrenched now in their DNA as they believe so strongly that they still have limitless powers to move mountains without being hindered.

Weakness breeds contempt and unless the government reins in the banks’ power and legislates against their immoral practices there shall be no prosperity in sight. Members of the present government are well advised to find their balls before the bankers castrate them.

The Plant Hunter’s Tale

Here is my speech from last night’s launch party for The Plant Hunter’s Tale, which took place at Loulou’s in Mayfair. Many thanks should also go to Heywood Hill bookshop, who supplied and sold the book.

When the manuscript of The Plant Hunter’s Tale landed on my desk at the beginning of the year I had no idea who the author was, except that I knew her daughter, Tara, as we had worked together on another book we had recently published. I always read manuscripts over a weekend and diligently give my answer whether we will publish or not during the course of the following week.

I was truly enchanted by The Plant Hunter’s Tale and felt rather sad when the manuscript ended. I wanted to read more and more but alas finality beckoned, like everything else we enjoy in life.

However, I could not wait to meet the author. Caroline, as you can well see, is an attractive woman who is as talented as she is charming. She bowled me over at our first encounter and I could not resist inviting her to lunch.

Needless to say, my first impression was overwhelmingly confirmed at our luncheon date and I found her seductive and difficult to resist. So is her book, which in a way reflects the richness of her personality. Caroline has written a beautiful tale of love and intrigue which will delight every reader with a thirst for adventure and the unexpected. Suffice it to say, the book is a little gem that will never date.

As it is her first novel we must certainly encourage her to write more. Given the state of today’s book trade which is threatening the very existence of enterprising independent publishers such as Quartet, I urge those who appreciate books of quality, and are assembled here this evening, to celebrate the publication of Caroline’s book, dip deep into their pockets and buy as many copies of her book as they can afford.

What a triumph it would be if her first novel was to reverse the grim trend that is engulfing the book trade and give us all hope for better days to come. Your generosity will be much appreciated!