Monthly Archives: October 2013

Is Hugging Enough?

A new research claims that modern man enjoys a hug as much as women. Since gender differences seem to become less and less pronounced, we tend to behave and feel more in tandem, both physically and emotionally. The gap that once existed is no longer as relevant as it may have been. It diminished as the sexes intermingled and shared common objectives which were at one time associated specifically with either men or women. Even bisexuality has become trendy and no longer carries a stigma in the more traditional echelons of society.

The men of today, far from being macho characters who suppress or conceal their feelings, now admit they frequently need a cuddle amid their busy lifestyles and hectic work schedules, says the study published recently. Other comforts to which men turn to in their hour of need are music, fresh air and a get-together with friends.

I’m not so sure that the comforts the study designates apply to most men. For example, I admit to being tactile, a habitué of warm hugs, a music freak and a compulsive opera addict – not the usual run of the mill. My only way of unwinding after a stressful day at the office is to sit in total seclusion at home, or in the silent company of my wife and watch a concert of classical music on television or a Wagner opera to lift me to the world beyond. Fresh air does nothing but irritate me nor does a getting together with friends, unless I feel totally relaxed and free from the exhaustion of a hard-working day.

Women however, according to the above mentioned research, reach for a cup of tea when they are glum while chatting to a friend on the telephone, or watching their favourite TV programme also featured highly.

The survey suggested that we are more likely to flick the kettle on rather than opting for an alcoholic drink to cheer us up.

The research in what can improve our mood was carried out amongst 5000 adults by the insurance group AXA. Chris Jones, a spokesman, said: ‘We know it’s the little things that mean a lot to people. We often make assumptions that grand gestures are how we cheer each other up, but this shows everyday things are what really makes the difference.’

Donna Dawson, a psychologist, said: ‘Little things mean a lot in life and many of them are free: walking outdoors or lisening to our favourite music both work by calming us, through using our senses of sight, sound , smell and taste… And heightening our senses can in turn lift our spirits, especially on those dark miserable days of winter… As touch is the most powerful sense of them all, this explains why a hug is the number one mood-changer. Also in the top ten was spending time with a partner, comfort food and a call or text from a relative.’

As a man who is physically alert, I would like to add that the best remedy for stress is to feel the warmth of a naked female’s body brushing your own tantalisingly, transporting you to an elixir of sensuality that makes your heart flutter with delight. If anyone is able to prescribe something better than this please come out of your shell and share your secret enigma with your fellow mortals.

You will no doubt be rewarded in heaven.

The Journey to Maturity

In my early twenties I lived in Acton, courtesy of the Polish mother of a good friend of mine at a time when my hedonistic habits were at their most pronounced.

The mother was a notable Polish historian with whom, despite my wayward ways, I struck up a close friendship unimaginably unique for its tolerance and understanding given the wide gap both culturally and ideologically that divided us.

I was unemployed and spent my spare time chasing women in coffee bars, then the places to meet, and the rest of the time indulged in a morose sort of writing. One piece in this sequence of writing, A Pause Among the Graves, was typical in its gothic, over-the-top, possibly hashish-induced imagery:

I thrust at the gate of the dead and walked in the lair of ghosts with lurid face and broken heart. I entered the placid cemetery where the bitter secrets of many poor souls flapped as leaves in the wind.

The phantoms of life, like the nocturnal beasts, quit their dens in the darkness of the night.

They terrified men of feeble heart and abducted their will to a hell of dumbness.

These creatures are the slaves of humanity – the slaves of their passion and enjoyments.

I stepped along the clumsy, sinuous parts and stumbled on the skulls and bones of the wretched people who had died under a veil of pain, love and patriotism…

I sat in the place of rendezvous where I could mourn my beloved and kiss the earth she dwelt in.

I sat and heard the floating whispers of the soft breeze swaying with the flowers mutant with reverence and awe…

There I bent over the grave of my spirit and watered the lilies, the symbol of her soul, with a flood of tears – tears of the fragrant blood of the victims of love.

There was much else in the same vein but the words were signposts on the road to maturity, however obscure the goal remained. In Acton, while I sat for many hours reading and writing, I also pondered philosophically. Were we predestined to follow a given path? Or could we truly be masters of our own destinies, irrespective of time and place? I asked the questions repeatedly. Was a person, cast into the wilderness, ever likely to achieve the small measure of success as someone born into a thriving society which offered opportunities every step of the way?

What could have become of me in Nazareth? Could I have lived happily near to nature and survived the vicissitudes of everyday life as my grandmother and great aunt had done in the past? Times had changed, I argued. Their sort of Spartan existence – pitted against the elements, winning nature’s benefits only through constant struggle was no longer regarded with the same degree of respect and admiration.

At least my tendency to dwell on these things sharpened my awareness and made my mind more analytical. All the time I was adding depth to my perceptions of beauty and ugliness, which to me represented the poles of good and evil. Their contrasting differences were another dimension that I needed to dissect if I were ever to understand the true meaning of life.

The morbidity in my writing sprang from the noticeable change in my lifestyle that happened with my move to Acton. I was perceiving things through the perspective of jazz music intermingled with the occult. It was a weird period in my life when I was lost between distorted imagery and the real world. The one thing I knew was that nothing was forever. The world’s conventional forces must eventually compel one to turn back towards conformity. How this would happen I could not foresee.

Looking back, conformity gradually happened organically, without my being aware of it. The road was rough, but I got there eventually and gained some wisdom as the journey became clearer with the advent of maturity.

A Great Father and His Remarkable Daughter

I was very sorry to learn of the death of Augusto Odone, the father of my friend, Cristina. A celebrated Italian economist, he prolonged the life of his gravely ill son, Lorenzo, by developing a medicine after the young boy had been robbed of his faculties by a devastating progressive degenerative disorder known as ALD.

The Odone’s story was so remarkable that it touched the heart of all those who read it and both Augusto and his wife, Michaela, became famous for their incredible efforts to keep their son alive. It was subsequently made into a Hollywood film, Lorenzo’s Oil, in 1992, starring Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte as the parents.

At the time the film was made Lorenzo was fourteen. A little over eight years earlier, when he was five, his school reports had highlighted the fact that his attention span was becoming poor. A once bright, precocious child, he had been having violent tantrums, suffering hearing loss and experiencing problems with balance and coordination. By January 1985, he could neither speak nor respond in any way, his mother recalled. His sight was impaired and he could not move as much as a finger. He was incontinent; he could not swallow, and he had been fitted with a nasogastric tube.

Lorenzo miraculously survived until he died of pneumonia in 2008 one day after his thirtieth birthday, having outlived his mother who died eight years earlier.

I had the great privilege of meeting Augusto when Cristina introduced me to him at the premiere of the film in London. I could not help being bowled over by his unsurpassable dedication to keeping his son alive, no matter what the cost and self-sacrifice such a task entailed. Cristina is blessed to have had a father whose faith was rock solid and so supreme that it defied comprehension. In her hour of grief, her great consolation will always be his memory, towering above anyone else she has ever encountered.

For those who have not met Cristina, here is what I wrote about her in 1998 in an article for the Daily Express:

Greatly enjoyed Monday evening when I was invited to the Ivy for cocktails. The occasion marked the publication of Cristina Odone’s second novel, A Perfect Wife, which promises to be a polished successor to The Shrine.

Her first novel was full of passion, dealing intelligently with sex and religion. The sacred and the profane – a combination which has proved irresistible to many writers. Cristina Odone is well placed to write with conviction and authority on the theme. As a Roman Catholic with a strict convent education behind her, she struggles to live a disciplined life. But she is the first to admit that lust can exert a fearsome power, even on the devout. (The men who fall at her feet find it quite powerful too.)

From her Swedish mother and Italian father she has inherited that tantalizing mix of northern poise and Mediterranean ardour. It is the southern heat which prevails, however. She exudes a deep sensuality and flirtatiousness, and has always said that she would be a very bad girl were it not for her faith. Just the sort of statement which is guaranteed to feed a man’s fantasies. Her vocabulary is enchantingly biblical – sin, temptation, evil, grace, are all regulars.

I have always felt a natural sympathy with Cristina Odone. We are both Catholics, highly volatile, both conscious of the challenge of the faith. I also attended a convent where one learnt the seductive power of religion. Indeed, there’s nothing quite like being taught by nuns to put the hormones into overdrive. There is such emphasis on the sinfulness of everyone, the carnality of the world.

Until she resigned last year, Cristina edited the Catholic Herald, a previously moribund organ that she transformed into a smart read. During her reign she fanned the flames of fundamentalist fury against trendy liberals in the Catholic Church… Some might say that Cristina gives Catholicism a bad name. Not me; I think she is its very lifeblood. At thirty-seven, she is still searching for the man of her dreams. The lucky devil who marries her will gain a wonderful wife and excellent breeding potential.

A few years ago she found the man of her dreams, married him, and created three children. God bless her.

The Story of Mrs Thatcher’s Bag

My first baptism of fire following my takeover of an ailing Quartet Books in July 1976 happened thirty-five years ago, in 1978 – three years after Mrs Thatcher gained leadership of the Conservative Party, and a year before her election as Britain’s first woman’s prime minister.

The publishing of Mrs Thatcher’s Bag was conceived in the public interest and as a reaction to a wave of adulation that reached messianic proportions. Its intent was to create a satirical parody of her particular brand of political fundamentalism (then a more friendly word than now), which was already dividing political attitudes in the UK into two very clear camps: those who thought her dynamic, potent and brave, and those convinced her conviction in politics were destructive, extreme and all would end in tears. Given the provenance of most of Quartet’s staff and its radical reputation there was little comfort for those who loved her. But few of us could realise then how iconic she would become or what a vivid champion she would be for the poujadist remnants of Great Britannia. Love her or hate her, she was a formidable defender of her class. No wonder it was a handbag that we chose to contain among other things, a guide to managing, a mask and cut-out doll, a poster adorned with her pearls of wisdom and a flexi disk with both her song and that of the Silent Majority.

On publication the handbag caused a torrent of public indignation among the Tory faithful, and placed me in an unenviable position of being cast as a renegade with a left-wing bias which was not the case. I lost many a friendship for a time until the dust eventually settled – and the old English tradition of fair-play emerged when my so called sacrilege was not as it seemed to be.

Things have moved on since then, but Mrs Thatcher’s Bag remains contentious – and is worth regarding in a different light by a new generation whose views are certainly not as rigid as those who worshipped at her altar in a period of radical political change.

The Story of Mrs Thatcher’s Bag, published this month, deserves a much wider circulation than the original – for it packs humour as well as a useful guideline for future politicians whose inflated ambitions might overshadow their true capabilities.

Buy The Story of Mrs Thatcher’s Bag and find out for yourself. You cannot afford to be without it. In a period of political turmoil it might prove the tonic one needs to elevate our spirits in a world gone mad with platitudes and lacking self-parody.

The story of the Bag is a compulsive book to read. It sheds light on how the establishment works and how when it suits its purpose dispenses with its sense of humour once a great British tradition.

Saudi Arabia at Loggerheads with the UN Security Council

Saudi Arabia is not in my view a country that believes in democracy as we understand it or practise it in the West.

They have their own system of government based on tribal allegiances, which is by and large elitist and does not necessarily keep pace with the march of time.

However, their refusal of a seat on the UN Security Council, saying that the Council is unable to resolve international conflicts because of ‘double-standards’ among its five permanent members, rings true and shows a measure of sophistication and courage which had hitherto been lacking in some of their political thinking.

It was the first time that the Kingdom had been elected as one of the ten non-permanent members which sit for two years.

The Saudis are frustrated that since the Syrian conflict began in 2011 Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions to intervene against President Assad. Riyadh also resents the repeated use of the US veto to block calls for Israel to leave the Occupied Territories on the West Bank. It refers to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 without a specific UN resolution as confirmation of the Council’s impotence. ‘The Kingdom has simply no faith in the Security Council as an arbiter in world affairs,’ one Saudi official said. ‘The veto system effectively makes it redundant. And we saw in Iraq in 2003 that the Council can just be ignored anyway.’

Whatever people may think or say the veto system is antiquated and undemocratic and can be, as  is often the case, by-passed by the Big Powers at will.

What a waste of valuable time – to engage in hours of heated debate with the knowledge that, ultimately, nothing would be achieved if one member of the permanent Council was to use their veto to scupper the whole proceedings.

It seems, as always, the concept of justice is invariably dictated by the mighty.

How to Become a Snail Addict…

It’s welcome news that we in Britain are about to export snails to France.

With consumption at home for molluscs booming and the four snail farms in the UK struggling to cope with demand, snail farming could become a most lucrative business for the future.

Sophie Wharton, who owns Aylesbury Escargots of Wendover, Buckinghamshire, with her husband, Mike, reports a massive increase in snails. Having produced 1.7 tonnes last year, they have already reached more than three tonnes this year.

The farm has a one-thousand-square-metre field for the snails, protected by a bird net. The Whartons had previously kept their snails in plastic boxes indoors, but decided that a free range approach would be more natural. ‘As far as we know we are the first doing it on this scale,’ Mrs Wharton said. They currently sell to Michelin-starred chefs and restaurants, but are hoping to expand across the channel – if the French can stomach it.

David Walker, an accountant who became a snail farmer in 2006, said that he was also struggling to keep up with demand for his molluscs produced in Dorset.

For someone like me who relishes this delicacy all this drive and initiative is music to my ears. Whenever I feel the urge to have a plate of twelve escargots, swimming in a delicious sauce of butter and garlic, garnished I presume with a secret herb, I make my way across my office to the sumptuous Le Boudin Blanc in Shepherd Market, Mayfair – which I consider home from home during weekdays – and indulge myself with a glass of Chablis and freshly baked bread and end up with an espresso and two small biscuits to follow.

For those of you who have not had this experience I recommend you ditch any food inhibition you may have and cross the rubicon of this culinary delight. You will not regret it; on the contrary you will become a snail addict.

A Bright Light on the Horizon

ESTHER MCVEY

Oh well, David Cameron has for a change delighted the nation by appointing a cutie as the new employment minister in his recent re-shuffle.

Esther McVey has succeeded in rising swiftly through the political ranks with a lowkey determination. It wasn’t so long ago that it seemed she had little more than bare ambition, which has now propelled her to greater sights.

Photographs of the former GMTV presenter in racy poses were flashed across the pages of the Daily Mail recently for the first time. These were taken to launch her television career at the time.

Miss McVey, forty-five last week, became Iain Duncan Smith’s number two at the Department for Work and Pensions after impressing the PM with her work and her ability to charm all those who meet her.

Law graduate Miss McVey, who was privately educated at Belvedere Girls’ School in Liverpool, modelled for the saucy photo shoot in 1999 soon after landing the spot on the GMTV sofa that made her a household name. She did a four-month stint on the breakfast programme alongside Eamonn Holmes while his co-presenter Fiona Phillips was on maternity leave – and cheekily declared at the time that she was celibate because the 3.45am starts were not conducive to ‘rumpy-pumpy’. Her choice of words, which shows a humorous and appealing side to her character, will no doubt catapult her political aims to much greener pastures.

However, viewers got more than they bargained for when she accidentally flashed her white knickers to the nation courtesy of a rather unfortunate camera angle on her first day. And to add to it all, Miss McVey was unabashed when it came to showing off her slim figure during the photo shoot.

A source said: ‘The pictures were taken when GMTV was at its height really and shoots with the presenters were quite common. Esther was the new girl on the sofa and she agreed to do this rather glamorous and sexy shoot in a studio. The photographer remembers her being charm personified. She was lovely, very down-to-earth and really helpful. She loved the shoot and trying all the different outfits on. She will probably be a bit embarrassed that the pictures have been unearthed, but she shouldn’t be – she looks fantastic in them.’

Miss McVey went on to front BBC’s Heaven and Earth, and made a programme on naturists before deciding to scale down her television career in favour of politics eleven years ago.

Her first try as a Tory MP failed when she was narrowly defeated in the 2005 general election. Five years later, however, Miss McVey was victorious and took the Wirral West seat.

She has had relationships with BBC producer Mal Young, and Conservative culture minister Ed Vaizey, but has never married and is currently single.

She is definitely a woman after my own heart – unlike some women in politics who turn to extreme feminism in order to make their mark and get attention, and in the process be ridiculed. Perhaps the coterie of enlightened women such as Miss McVey will elevate the political scene to a much more popular perspective, while retaining their femininity to allure the rest of us for our full and positive support.