Monthly Archives: July 2016

KEEPING ON TO THE END OF THE ROAD

Old age is not fun unless by a miracle you are athletically fit and your brain functions have maintained their ability to serve you well. Anything that scientists can produce to hold back old age would be the greatest discovery that people of a certain stage would welcome with great enthusiasm. It’s certainly been a long time coming if it materialises. But a ‘fountain of youth’ drug could now be just a decade away. Experts say bathroom cabinets could soon be stocked with a pill that helps us live longer. By slowing ageing, the medicine should be able to prevent many of the ills of old age – and even a single dose could be effective. It means people could work for longer or simply make the most of their retirement.

The remarkable predictions follow experiments in which Lithium, a drug normally used to treat bi-polar disorder, was found to significantly extend life. The work was on fruit flies, but the British and US researchers believe it holds out real hope for humans. The team from University College, London, and Harvard Medical School, studied the effect of various doses of Lithium on flies. Despite their appearance the insects are very similar to us genetically. And, with lifespans of just 2 to 3 months they are ideal for experiments in which health needs to be tracked from the cradle to the grave.

Low doses of Lithium extended life by up to 16 per cent – and stopped flies on a sugary diet from putting on weight. What is more, treated flies remain supple well into old age, suggesting any extra years for humans may well be healthy ones. The study, published in the journal Cell Reports, found Lithium works even if given for the first time late in life. This is important, as it could be difficult to persuade people to take an anti-ageing pill for their entire period on earth.

Professor Dame Linda Partridge of UCL, said: ‘Our aim is to identify ways to intervene in ageing, with the end goal of keeping us all healthier for longer and compressing the time at the end of life when we suffer from physical decline and disease. This can be done by diet, genetics or drugs, which is why we want to identify promising drug targets.’ She added: ‘The response we’ve seen in flies to low doses of Lithium is very encouraging.’

The chemical was found to work its magic by switching off a gene called GSK3 that is linked to age-related illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, Parkinson’s, some cancers and heart disease. Switching off this gene activates another gene which helps detox the body and protects cells from damage. Lithium itself may be too toxic for widespread use. However, pharmaceutical companies have already developed similar chemicals which may be safer. Claire Bale of Parkinson’s UK said the findings can provide ‘significant insights into how we could potentially treat or even prevent conditions of ageing like Parkinson’s.’

Project Leader Dr Jorge Ivan Castilio, of Harvard Medical School, said the miracle medicine could be 10 years’ away. ‘It’s not that long. If there was a pill to extend the healthy period of life I would take it.’

So do I, only because, as you get older, knowledge becomes an obsession and since technology and the sciences are discovering remarkable things in every sphere, we Oldies don’t want to miss the enrichment that such discoveries await the next generation.

WILLY WANKER AND THE SEX MACHINE

Are robots going to galvanise human beings and replace many a task that will revolutionize our way of life in the not too distant future? Believe it or not, a robotic life is on the verge of taking over the world. Humans are determined to manufacture a machine that will do their bidding to prove their unlimited ability to eventually create life, which hitherto has been the domain of the Almighty. It is perhaps a far-fetched possibility, but one that can reach stages that will cause some benefits, negated however by a greater harm if ill-used by some for their own absurd gratification.

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A leading expert predicted recently that teenagers may lose their virginity to sex robots in the future. Professor Noel Sharkey, Emeritus Professor of Robotics at Sheffield University, warns that Android sex dolls may have damaging consequences for society. He said that just as the rise of internet porn took the government by surprise, a similar seismic robotic revolution is on the way with far-reaching consequences.

Professor Sharkey, speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, explained that he was fairly liberal about sex. But he added: ‘It’s not a problem having sex with a machine but what if it’s your first time… your first relationship? What do you think of the opposite sex then? What do you think a man or a woman is?’ He went on to say: ‘It will get in the way of real life, stopping people forming relationships with normal people.’

Life-like sex robot dolls with limited speech recognition are already on sale in the US and Japan. Professor Sharkey said these dolls should not be sold to under-16s, but would inevitably fall into the hands of teenagers. He said: ‘Sex robots are accessible now and certainly will be common within the next 10 years. I think there should be an age limit, but if your dad or mum had one, you could sneak in and use it.’

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Robot sex dolls currently available vary, but a variety called ‘True Companion’, which come as ‘ROXXXY’ for the female model and ‘ROCKY’ for the male, sell for £6.900 in the US. The dolls can be customised, and the firm offers a plethora of skin tones, faces and hair colours which clients can choose from. However, truly autonomous robots that can ‘think’ and act like human beings are still some years away.

Another expert, Dr Catherine Richardson of De Mountforth University, called for the sex dolls to be banned from being imported into Britain. She told the BBC last year that:‘Sex robots seem to be a growing focus in the robotics industry and the models that they draw on – how they will look…what roles they will play – are disturbing indeed. We think the creation of such robots will contribute to detrimental relationships between men and women, adults and children, men and men and women.’

I’m glad that I’m of a certain age for I am unlikely to witness a world when machines do all the fornication, and rob human beings from the role of instigators to being the passive, degrading incipients to what a mechanical instrument can blandly give them, i.e., an orgasm minus the real magic of natural copulation.

THE PUMA I NEVER HAD

A recent item in a newspaper about the number of wild animals being privately kept – 8 leopards, 7 cheetahs and 13 tigers lurk in British homes – reminded me about  my own unfulfilled desire to have a puma as a pet. The whole obsession took birth at a time when I had an office in Wellington Court, Knightsbridge, overlooking Hyde Park.

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It seemed to me that my having a puma as a pet would give Wellington Court a certain cachet and would also provide me with a loyal companion. Yorkshire Television had just completed The Arab Experience, and I discussed the question with one of the makers of the programme, my friend Michael Deakin.

The idea did not come as a surprise to him for he had always thought I was a bit crazy, and on my behalf he managed to locate a young puma at a private zoo somewhere in the north of England. When my secretaries at Wellington Court got wind of the proposal, there was general uproar. They were concerned for their personal safety with a puma roaming freely about the office. It only increased their consternation when I told them they would have to take it in turns to exercise it in Hyde Park. At this point they made representations to my wife Maria pointing out that our son Ramsay, then about ten years old, could be in equal danger. Maria took the whole idea with a pinch of salt. She assured the girls it was very doubtful that Westminster Council would allow anyone to walk a puma in the park, since it would constitute a danger to the public. Her advice was simply to ignore this sudden whim which would probably come to nothing.

I had a chauffeur named Nigel who lived with a wife much older than himself who he claimed was very domineering. According to him, she regularly intimidated him. As a peace-loving man he bore it with graceful resignation.

Nigel drove a long-base Rolls-Royce to ferry me about town and was never far from my elbow. He was like his master’s shadow and hardly ever complained. By now I had had the idea of converting the front passenger seat of the Rolls-Royce to accommodate the puma and asked Nigel for his suggestions. Perhaps we could purchase a suitable rug for the purpose? The normally sanguine Nigel became distraught. How, he demanded, could he be expected to drive the car with a wild animal seated beside him? I appealed to his masculinity, putting the view that no real man would ever allow an animal to put him off his stroke. The puma would warm to him in no time, I reassured him; they would soon become inseparable. Nigel was a simple fellow who lacked sophistication and liked his job. He wasn’t going to lose it over the small matter of a puma. By the time our conversation ended, he seemed to have simmered down and promised he would think about it seriously over the weekend.

On Monday he arrived for work a different man. He was jubilant and full of confidence, entering the office with a slight swagger. By all means, he said, he would be happy to have the puma riding beside him in the car, but he had one request to make. Would it be possible for him to take the puma home one weekend? I was so taken aback by this complete turnaround that for a moment I was speechless. When I had recovered my equilibrium, I casually asked him the reason behind such a request. He laughed as if it should have been obvious to anyone. If he took the puma home, he explained, then his bossy wife was sure to start pushing the animal around and with any luck would get herself eaten by the beast. This macabre sense of humour was something Nigel had kept under wraps until then; or was it that I had underestimated him? At last he had shown how he could rise to the occasion when challenged.

Sadly Maria was right. The City of Westminster would not countenance the idea of having a puma as a resident of the borough, let alone allow it to be promenaded in Hyde Park. My whole entourage were delighted with the outcome. Nigel was disappointed, and I felt a deep chagrin for having my dream shattered.

As for the authenticity of this drama, my old staff at Wellington Court would certainly bear witness.

The Economy after Brexit

Those who claimed that a Brexit vote was unlikely to cause the British economy some hardships in the short and medium term are now in the throes of reassessing their earlier predictions.

The UK economy has in fact suffered a dramatic deterioration in the wake of the Brexit vote with a closely-watched survey showing activity drop in July at the fastest pace since the financial crisis.

Sterling fell against the dollar and euro after Markit’s ‘Flash’ Survey of private sector businesses suggested the UK economy was on course to contract by 0.4% in the third quarter putting the UK on course for a recession with negative growth to be repeated in the final quarter of the year.

The first poll of its type since the Referendum result in late June showed the biggest contraction in Britain’s dominant services on record. Optimism about future growth also fell at the fastest pace since records began in 1996.

The services purchasing managers’ index (PMI) dropped to 47.4 in July from 52.3 in June, well below the 50 level that divides growth from contraction. This represents the slowest level since April 2009. Economists had expected a reading of 48.8.

The manufacturing PMI dropped to 48.7 from 52.1 in June. While this represents a 41-month low, the data also shows the sector was reaping the benefits of a weaker pound. New export business rose for the second straight month and for the greatest extent for almost two years.

‘July saw a dramatic deterioration in the economy, with business activity slumping at the fastest rate since the height of the global financial crisis in 2009,’ said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.

‘The downturn, whether manifesting itself in order-book cancellations, a lack of new orders or the postponement or halting of projects, was most commonly attributed in one way or another to Brexit.’

Markit said its readings signalled the economy would shrink by 0.4% in the next quarter. This would be the biggest contraction since the first quarter of 2009 when it contracted by 1.6%.

The pound fell by as much as 1.6% against the dollar to $1.3080 and 1.4% against euro to €1.2047after the data was released.

On a trip to China last week the chancellor, Phillip Hammond, signalled that the government was prepared to borrow more to boost the economy.

Let’s hope that the new chancellor will, if need be, cut taxes including the rate of VAT to stimulate the economy and give comfort to people whilst Britain is adjusting to its new role outside the EU.

Confidence is vital in troubled times, especially when the world is undergoing a spate of violence and the kind of instability that can cause havoc on a scale which we have seldom experienced before.

 

 

DOWN MEMORY LANE 4

About two years ago I had a most delightful and unexpected reunion with Julia Lemigova, the Russian beauty queen who become my illustrious model and friend during my tenure as Chief Executive of Asprey PLC, a conglomerate that included Garrard, Mappin & Webb and Watches of Switzerland, to name but a few of the famous companies within the group. Julia, now married to the famous tennis star Martina Navratilova, she resides in the USA. We chatted happily of bygone days when our sense of adventure and creativity were the instigating factors in our lives.

On 2 October 1991 Mappin & Webb, in association with the World Gold Council, held a ‘Celebration of Gold’ exhibition at 170 Regent Street. Exhibits included a seven-kilo nugget prospected in Brazil, a Japanese 24-carat-gold dress and a Lau Dynasty Chinese bowl. Seven jewellery designers, including myself, created unique pieces for the occasion. Among the many items I was responsible for were two centrepieces, a 22-carat-gold egg weighing four and a half kilos, priced at £66,390, and a 22-carat-gold tiger weighing in excess of two kilos and retailing at £34,950.

My jewellery ensemble for the exhibition included bracelets, rings, earrings and gold hearts; all had a discreetly erotic feel to them, the emphasis being largely on weight and a simple concept of fine lines. My pièce de résistance, however, was a gold wishbone choker that had matching bracelet, ring and earrings. Tatler described this set as having ‘a bold design whose greatest virtue is a striking, contemporary simplicity’. Much credit for my personal endeavours in producing these fine pieces of jewellery and the two centrepieces must go to John Nix, the manager of the Asprey workshop, whose professionalism and tireless pursuit of excellence gave the finished products an added lustre.

The exhibition was a grand affair, and I was delighted when the choker was snapped up by a discerning client on the first night for a cool £10,860. It was beginner’s luck, John Asprey teased me, when a number of the items I designed sold very quickly. The press came to the opening night in force and found themselves dazzled by the sheer glow and collective impact of the gold. Patricia Miller, in the Evening Standard, remarked that,

When he was a student Naim was so poor he lived on Weetabix . . . now he has his breakfast egg out of a £2,775 golden stand he designed himself and uses a silver egg as a doorstop. (It is so heavy you could hardly lift it and it retails at £5,500.) When he shows off his golden prizes, he will have 24carat-gold leaf sprinkled in every cup of punch. Naim traces his love of the arts to his childhood in Palestine, where his father collected paintings, miniatures and carpets. His first design [for Mappin & Webb] was a platinum heart about an inch long, set with a single diamond. He meant it for Valentine’s Day and sold it for £7,950. He designed his own wedding ring, which he wears on his little finger and calls ‘a bond’. ‘When you love someone a ring is a bond. I never had one when I got married. I would have felt chained then.’

The most spectacular event of the evening occurred when Julia Lemigova, the beautiful ‘Miss Soviet Union’ (the last before the collapse of the Soviet state), the daughter of a high-ranking KGB official, aged nineteen, appeared on the scene. She was wearing the 24-carat-gold wedding dress by the Japanese designer Yumi Katsura. It was worth £180,000 and made from twenty-five metres of pure gold brocade, with a tiara, veil and long train. As Julia moved between the guests she was like a vision from a world of tsarist fable – a princess arriving for a coronation. Her wonderfully formed features were in harmony with the whole effect. It was a moment of pure theatre – and the gold was real!

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I had met Julia only three weeks before the exhibition and we became friends almost immediately. The exhibition was a great success in London. Tributes kept pouring in, but the one I most appreciated was in a letter from Sally Goldsby, the public relations manager of the World Gold Council, who was the driving force behind the whole project. The exhibition, she wrote:

… had undoubtedly been a huge success. Firstly the magazine promotion featured probably the best photographed gold jewellery ever seen in this country. Secondly the gold artefacts initiated by you are some of the most exciting ever made. Also, the displays of the shop and the overall presentation of the exhibition were of a very high standard. Your own enthusiasm and support have been second to none!

After that glowing accolade, the exhibition moved to Mappin & Webb, Edinburgh. Sally Goldsby joined me and Tania Foster-Brown (Mappin & Webb’s publicity manager), with of course our golden girl Julia Lemigova, who became closely associated with the exhibition. Her parading in the sumptuous gold dress caused the biggest sensation in Scotland. She was mobbed by onlookers together with an army of photographers who flashed their cameras in a frenzy of excitement. On a personal level those three days I spent in Scotland in company with Sally, Tania and Julia would have been any man’s dream of a heavenly escape from the daily round. We returned to London fully reinvigorated and proud to have achieved such a remarkable feat. Julia was hailed as the beautiful Miss Russia who had brought a sparkle to grey Edinburgh. All in all it felt like a job extremely well done.

Julia, with her dark hair and brown eyes, was a quintessential Caucasian beauty and knew exactly how to present herself in every situation. It was a safe prediction that she had an international modelling career ahead of her. During her time in London she modelled the kaleidoscopic range of silk scarves I had designed for Mappin & Webb, and also my ‘friendship’ rings and bracelets of intertwined bands, of which John Swannell took the photographs. In the advertising for the rings, both her hands and mine appeared together in the photograph.

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What no one could have foreseen for her was a darker episode when she became emotionally involved with Edward Stern, a prominent member of an eminent Jewish banking family. After Stern was shot in Geneva in 2005 by a mistress with one of his own guns – he had reasons to fear enemies, including some in the Russian mafia – Julia came forward to tell her story. She claimed Stern had been the father of her son, born in 1999, though he never fully accepted the fact. When the child was five months old she advertised for a nanny and engaged a Bulgarian woman who applied in person. Within days the baby became seriously ill and was taken to hospital, where he died. The doctors found evidence of injuries that suggested he had been shaken, but a subsequent inquiry was inconclusive and the nanny disappeared. Later Stern’s mistress contacted Julia to try to prise details of their sex life out of her, and at one point, said Julia, offered to tell her ‘the truth about the death of your son’. When Stern was murdered he had been wearing a latex body stocking and his mistress confessed to having shot him during an argument about money after a sado-masochistic sex session. Julia came to believe that Stern had arranged for her child to be killed and that his mistress had been trying to blackmail him over the baby’s death.

I could never have imagined it possible that my sweet Julia would become embroiled in such a cycle of high international drama, where the main players were unsavoury characters out to use their wealth and power in the ruthless pursuit of illicit and immoral ends.

But Julia, now full of zest and joie de vivre has fully recovered from that horrible ordeal and is now her bubbly self again. She’s a woman whose strength of purpose and in-born joviality is a delight to behold and whose friendship I shall never forget.

Martina, her loving partner is a very lucky woman to have had the good fortune and taste to capture such a gem.

 

Moderation is the Secret

Medical research keeps unravelling the most unexpected results that are baffling to say the least. Potatoes, which have always been considered safe and healthy, have been found to raise blood pressure if consumed more than four times a week. Surprisingly mashed, boiled, or baked potatoes are nearly as likely to raise blood pressure as chips, the research reveals.

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Researchers from the Harvard Medical School said they suspected that the starch in potatoes was to blame. Because potatoes have a high glycaemic index these starchy carbohydrates rapidly transform into sugars in the body, triggering a sharp rise in blood sugar levels.

In the long term this may cause blood sugar problems, exacerbating diabetes. The experts, whose work was published recently in the British Medical Journal analysed data from 187,000 men and women tracked in three large US projects for 20 years. The results suggest that women who regularly eat potatoes may be at slightly higher risk of blood pressure than men.

Overall, however, they found that men and women who ate four or more servings of baked, boiled or mashed potatoes a week had an 11% increased risk of high blood pressure compared to those who ate potatoes less than once a month. Those who ate chips four or more times a week had a 17% higher risk of high blood pressure.

Replacing one serving a day of potatoes with one serving of non-starchy vegetables led to a 7% drop in the risk of high blood pressure, they found. Eating crisps had no effect the experts discovered. The researchers said that potatoes should no longer be included as vegetables when the government issued health advice, just as they aren’t in the UK.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘This type of study can only show an association, not cause and effect. Although a higher consumption of potatoes such as mashed potatoes or French fries, was associated with high blood pressure, it is still possible that other factors in the diet or lifestyle are also affecting the results.’ She added: ‘In the UK white potatoes are not included in the five a day recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption.

‘Nearly 30% of adults in the UK have high blood pressure, so it is key that we understand the condition and its causes.’

Professor Tom Sanders of King’s College London said: ‘Being overweight, a high intake of salt and alcohol, and a low intake of potassium are all known to increase blood pressure, but the effects of individual foods are less certain.

‘Generally, fruit and vegetables are associated with low blood pressure, with the exception of pickled vegetables. However, potatoes – especially chips – are often consumed with added salt which may be part of the explanation for this association with raised blood pressure.

‘I don’t think this study should be used to discourage people from eating potatoes. In the UK potatoes are more widely consumed than in the US and make an important contribution to the intake of Vitamin C and potassium.’

Now you have been told. Food in general taken in small quantities is, in my view, the key to a healthy diet and the less you eat in the evening, the better sleep you get and the more fit you become. Obesity and gourmandise are the scourge of it all.

 

 

Virginal White Is Best

I was not surprised to read the other day that painting your home white can, in some way, act as a sort of natural air conditioning to keep the home cool and protected from heatwaves.

Health chiefs believe that such a simple way of counteracting a clammy atmosphere is beneficial. Other advice includes installing metal blinds and dark curtains, and putting a damp cloth on the back of the neck in hot weather.

A forty-six page document issued by NHS England and Public Health England (PHE) also recommends that people eat cold food such as salad and fruit and avoid alcohol and caffeine. It aims to prevent seasonal deaths and prepare officials in the event of a heatwave.

Temperatures need only rise to 76.1 Fahrenheit (24.5 Celsius) for people to start dying, the document reveals. It is part of the response to the devastating pan European heatwave of 2003 which saw more than 20,000 people die including 2,000 in the UK after the warmest summer in 500 years.

Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, warned that such heatwaves could be ‘normal by 2040’. She said: ‘as a result of climate change we are increasingly likely to experience extreme summer temperatures that may be harmful to health. We want to make sure that everyone takes simple precautions to stay healthy during periods of hot weather and when in the sun.’

Doctor Angie Bone, head of extreme events at PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, reminded Britain that exposure to excessive heat can kill. She said: ‘While hot weather is enjoyable for most people and uncomfortable for some, sadly experience tells us that exposure to excessive heat can kill, with most cases of illness and death caused by heart and lung disease.’

I know for a fact that, miraculously, white paint and high ceilings are almost a natural deterrent for a heatwave. Our apartment, which fortunately has both of these factors, is as cool in the summer  and healthier than any air conditioning can provide. So there is perhaps some madness in the latest discovery but I can assure you it works – at least for us!