Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Orwell Essays

Brian Sewell, who is no longer with us, is sorely missed by those who knew him well and had the privilege of working with him. He was a man who relished friendships while at the same time was a formidable art critic who spared no one he considered to be a charlatan or who claimed to be above his station. He admired exceptional talent and would not give credit to anyone unless it was well deserved.

Working for the Evening Standard for many decades, it was the then editor Max Hastings who gave him a general comment column to write and some of these writings eventually won him the Orwell Prize.

A selection of these essays are now published by Quartet Books in a paperback edition.


Mike Parker, in his review for the Tribune magazine, had this to say about the author, who he referred to as fogeyish but humane: ‘He often had interesting and insightful things to say about the art he liked. He was elegant, idiosyncratic often predictable, sometimes surprising and equally humane in a privileged, admittedly old fogeyish, sort of way.

‘Sewell’s subjects ranged from child labour to addiction, fishing to Zionism, even Turkey in the EU. This selection offers a pretty comprehensive portrait of the author who died in 2012.’

Apart from being his publisher and friend I urge people who haven’t secured a copy of this little gem of a book to acquaint themselves with a man who is uniquely readable and a talent of exceptional dimensions.



Saunas Might be the Answer

I have always considered sauna sessions to be a good way to cleanse the body and keep the skin glowing. But now it seems that visiting the sauna regularly has other more important benefits. It could reduce the risk of dementia, a new study has found. Scientists in Finland followed the lifestyles of more than 2,000 middle-aged men for twenty years to find out what factors influenced the development of cognitive problems in later life.

The study in Age and Ageing found that those who used the sauna between four and seven times a week were 66% less likely to be diagnosed with dementia compared to those taking a sauna once a week or less. It’s the first time a link between sauna use and dementia has been discovered, although previous studies showed regular use appears to improve heart health.

Professor Jari Laukkanen, the study leader at the University of Eastern Finland, said that sauna bathing may protect both the heart and memory in similar ways: ‘It is known that cardiovascular health affects the brain as well,’ he said. ‘The sense of wellbeing and relaxation experienced during sauna bathing may also play a role.’

Dementia charities said saunas might work by reducing blood pressure and improving circulation.

Doctor Clare Walton, research manager at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘With dementia now the biggest killer across England and Wales, finding ways to reduce the development of the condition is a top priority. Saunas are thought to improve circulation and reduce blood pressure, both of which could go some way in reducing your risk in getting dementia.’

Doctor Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK added: ‘Although sauna bathing isn’t a common hobby for men in the UK, this study suggests men who use saunas several times a week may also have a lower dementia risk.

‘These kinds of studies can’t unpick cause and effect but they are important for highlighting trends in how lifestyle factors may influence our risk of dementia.’

Well, having a sauna is rather pleasant in itself, but since it might also arrest the possibility of developing dementia then it is worth the effort. Like they say, nothing ventured nothing gained.


Improvise and Live Happily Ever After

Whoever has said that old age is a time to relax and reap the benefits of decades of hard work must think again and try to improvise ways and means to make it as comfortable as possible.

Soaring property prices and planning restrictions are driving growing numbers of people to live in ‘posh sheds’ at the bottom of gardens experts have said.

Campaigners for homeowners have said customers are ‘getting creative’ and saving thousands by picking larger cabins to use as permanent homes.

There was a 15% increase in mentions of log cabins on UK property listings between 2015 and 2016 according to figures from website Rightmove.

Unlike so-called ‘Granny annexes’, cabins are often deemed outbuildings and so do not usually require planning permission. Provided they are an extension of the main home and not a separate residence they are also not liable for stamp duty or council tax. Among those to become a shed dweller is self-styled ‘lady in the lodge’ Val Dawson who moved into a lodge in October last year.

The 70-year-old chose to live in a cabin which has a shower and a double bed and seating area, in her son Chris’s garden in Cheshire. ‘My son had the idea of getting me in before I needed any caring.

‘At first, being a very independent lady, I didn’t really want to sit in his garden for the rest of my days, however the more we thought about that I wouldn’t have to pay council tax it seemed to make sense,’ the grandmother of seven said.

‘I think overall it was around £50,000, so much cheaper than a house.’

Paula Higgins chief executive of the Home Owner’s Alliance said: ‘Thanks to stamp duty the cost of moving is so high that it just loses people money so instead they are being creative with their space.’

What a wonderful and resourceful idea to live in a cabin in one’s garden, save money and enjoy retirement with much lower overheads.






The Chinese are the new travellers the world over. Wherever you go you see them in large groups of tourists, scouring shops and places in search of items to purchase or notable sights to visit. As the soft dawn light rose over Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the bulky shadows of ancient temples sharpened and came into focus. So did another sight: thousands of tourists lining the grass, packed together in rows, poised to be in a perfect picture. They were travellers from all over the world, but most were Chinese.


It was the Lunar New Year, a two-week holiday, celebrating the start of the Year of the Rooster, which began recently and ended last Saturday. The event always prompts a tourist boom but this year it reached new heights.

‘I came here because China is so busy over the New Year,’ said Zhang Shuyu, a Beijinger in her 30s. ‘But I found there were just as many Chinese people here the same as back home.’ The holiday is always a time of a huge internal movement that clogs China’s railways. But now, with more disposable income than ever, the Chinese are also venturing –in ever greater numbers – into other countries. They have now become the biggest outbound tourist flow in the world.

In 2016, more than 130 million Chinese visited 174 destinations – 6 million of them during the New Year holiday – for an average of just over nine days. The most common destination was Thailand, followed by South Korea and Japan. Britain was also a popular choice.

Next to the ticket queue at Angkor Wat were rooster balloons and special banners for sale, while on the plane trip over Cambodia, flight attendants wished Chinese passengers a Happy New Year. The staff at Zhanj’s Hotel laid on fireworks for the occasion. Paay, 39, a tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap, said there were twice as many Chinese over the Lunar New Year, but complained they took buses rather than tuk-tuks.

It is not just the famous Khymer ruins that get the tourists excited. Two groups also visited the Cambodian Killing Fields at Phnom Penh’s abandoned school turned torture camp, Tuolsleng. In Hanoi, Henry from Guangdong in southern China, who was enjoying a bowl of Pho, said he had left home on the first day of New Year to escape the crowds – only to find himself in the thick of them.
In Bangkok, shuffling around the Emerald Buddha Temple and Grand Palace, were Chinese tourists in matching baseball hats, following a guide waving a coloured flag. The guide pointed out an official building due to be visited by Daddy Xi Jing Ping, the Chinese President, on his next state trip to Thailand.

Not everyone welcomed the influx. A temple in Northern Thailand is introducing separate lavatories for Chinese tourists after groups left the existing ones in a bad way. But whatever the reputation of Chinese visitors, countries are more than happy to pocket the revenue.

More than ever, the Lunar New Year seems to going global. Western celebrities and world leaders have the habit of delivering New Year Wishes in video messages. This year’s crop including Theresa May; the UN Secretary General, Antonio Gutiérrez; the IMF Director, Christine Lagarde and the prime ministers of New Zealand and Denmark. There was even an effort in faltering Mandarin from Tom Brady, the US football star. ‘There are Chinese all over the world,’ said Zhang, as the first sunbeam struck the tallest tower of Anwar Wat. ‘Wherever you go, they will be there taking photos.’

The Chinese, it is true, are everywhere. The might of China has become a phenomenon you can no longer ignore. The USA must watch out, for China’s economy is upbeat and will remain unsurpassable so long as the United States keeps squandering a large part of its wealth on waging unnecessary conflicts the world over. This is so costly and beyond comprehension.

Love Reignited in Old Age

Living apart after so many years of marriage but still being together seems to be a formula which is catching on very quickly. The Japanese have even coined a phrase to describe it: ‘graduation from marriage’. Now the phenomenon is said to be spreading to South Korea where older couples who still love each other, but want fresh adventures, opt to live apart.


With careers reaching an end and children gone, more married couples are choosing to live apart and pursue the dreams they were earlier denied in a society governed by strict Confucian values.

According to a survey by one matchmaking service in Korea, 63% of women and 54% of men like the idea of greater independence in later life, a gender divide also reflected in Japan.

The term ‘sotsukon’, which combines ‘sotsugyo’ (for ‘graduation’) and ‘kekkon’ (for ‘marriage’), was coined there in 2004 in a book by the author Yumiko Sugiyama, recommending the graduation from marriage.

In a nation with an ageing population where the longest period in a woman’s life is increasingly after her children are grown up the idea took hold. It also has celebrity endorsements. In 2013, Japanese comedian Akira Shimizu and his wife announced they would graduate marriage and produced another book, Sotsukon – A New Form of Love.

Doctor Jason Danely, senior lecturer in anthropology of Japan at Oxford Brookes University, said it was little surprise that the phenomenon was now gaining ground in Korea. ‘They’re both facing similar problems: rapidly ageing populations and issues of family and gender.’

With the advancement of medicine and the improvement of living standards, the elongation of life has become a reality which requires a different kind of outlook. Traditional ways of living give way to a less defined love life in order to reinvigorate what was once an adventure that has run out of steam. A new one is then likely to offer an extended dimension.



The Académie Française is up in arms regarding a decision by Paris to use an English slogan in its bid for the 2024 Olympics. It claims that the slogan ‘Made for Sharing’ is unpatriotic and sounds like a junk food advert.


The institution, which has been policing the French language since the 17th century, said: ‘The Académie Française unanimously express its disapproval of the decision of the committee to give priority to the English language.’ Since the foundation of the modern games in 1894 by Pierre de Coubertin, French has been the first official language of the movement, it noted. English was added later as a second one.

The Académie, which consists of forty members elected from the country’s most august thinkers, has had mixed success over centuries of fighting to keep the purity of the Gallic tongue. Its events to stem the invasion of English since the 19th century have scored some victories. It promoted new words for computer ID and software which were universally adopted – ordinateur, informative and logiciel.

To add insult to injury the organiser has chosen a trite advertising tag, the Académie argued. ‘This slogan has already been used in advertising campaigns for sweets (Quality Street, Cadbury’s snap biscuits and sliceable pizzas from the Burger King Chain,’ it said).

The bid committee defended the move before the slogan was projected on to the Eiffel Tower two weeks ago. It argued: ‘We have a slogan in English to allow us to address the world and the eighty per cent of the International Olympic Committee who speak English.’ The Committee has also launched a French version – ‘Venez Partager’ [Come and Share].

Marine le Pen, the National Front leader, denounced the slogan as ‘linguistic treason’. Three French language defence groups have started legal proceedings to force the committee to abandon a phrase that they argue constitutes ‘a serious insult to the French language’ and ‘a breach of the constitution.’ Bernard Pivot, a host of TV literary shows, called the slogan ‘an error and a stupidity.’ He said that it was probably too late to cancel it, but added: ‘I suggest that they invent a French slogan and add it on. We can have two slogans.’

I agree with the French that the slogan is unimaginative and does sound like a junk food advert, but to go as far as to call it unpatriotic is stretching the elastic of common sense to breaking point.

The Odd Couple

I always loved Lulu. She is bright, has a good voice, looks happy and invariably brought merriment wherever she happened to be. But I never knew she had a crush on David Bowie.


They seem an odd couple but as she wrote in her 2002 autobiography I Don’t Want to Fight: ‘When he focussed on me I felt like the only person in the room, in the universe. Bowie was so cool and I wasn’t but he singled me out. I found him intoxicating. It was the sexual chemistry which drew us together.’

Despite her secret affair with a man that her mother saw as an anti-Christ figure, she told a Saturday newspaper magazine this weekend that she spent her early life craving convention and normality: ‘I was programmed to think that the answer to life was a white picket fence and three children, you know, to be happy ever after and it’s unrealistic. When I was younger I was probably ruled by my emotions but now that’s not the case because I put so much work into looking at myself objectively.’

Today she still feels very flattered that Bowie singled her out. ‘A thousand billion times,’ she says. ‘I was not cool and he was, so I was unbelievably flattered.’

‘I think it influenced my life. But then I married celebrity hairdresser John Frieda.’

Lulu’s marriage to Frieda lasted 14 years until they divorced in 1992. She refuses to comment on whether she’s single at the moment but does own up to a celebrity crush on Barack Obama.

From Bowie to Barack Obama – that seems a clumsy diversion of sorts. But crushes by their very nature are not always comprehensible.