PROPERTY AINT WOT IT USED TO BE…

Arab property investors are now entering London’s property market in the hope this time of snapping up bargains from distressed sales. Areas outside the centre of the capital, namely Vauxhall and Nine Elms, are being targeted according to property industry sources. In the South London area, new-build luxury apartments continue to flood the market. Figures from LonRes reveal that there are 10,937 homes currently under construction, or with planning permission there, many of which are luxury flats priced out of the reach of ordinary Londoners.

With low levels of transactions and high prices, there is a dearth of buyers. The average price per square foot of homes for sale in the area was 6.2% lower in the second quarter of 2017 then the same period last year. Investors, many of them wealthy individuals looking to buy apartments in bulk, off-plan, directly from developers, are biding their time and waiting for the market to become even weaker, according to Charlie Ellingsworth, of buying agent Property Vision. He said, ‘low interest rates have meant that there are few distressed sellers yet, nor any pressure to take losses.’

Samuel Bikhit, chairman of buying agent Kay & Co., said: ‘There is an oversupply of properties in this area,’ adding,’ that when construction completes, there will be an oversupply of rental properties, meaning investors may not see the return they are hoping for.’ Across London, more newly built homes will complete unsold this year than at any time over the past decade, according to data from Molior. This is due to low level of sales and a record number of homes that are being built this year in the capital.

Camilla Dell, MD of buying agent, Black Brick, said: ‘the Middle-Eastern buyers are largely from the UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt,’ adding that recently she ‘has had far fewer enquiries from Qatari investors due to the ongoing crisis there. Some foreign buyers, particularly Europeans, have been put off by higher levels of stamp duty and uncertainty surrounding Brexit.’

 

My view is that this situation is unlikely to improve unless a united government is in place pretty soon and more hopeful signs in the economy begin to emerge, and a flicker of entente cordiale were to appear in the negotiations taking place with the EU. Let’s at least pray this will manifest itself in the coming months.

QUEEN OF THE DESERT

Valerie Grove, the distinguished journalist, has reviewed Lesley Blanch’s new book, published by Quartet, in the August issue of the Literary Review.

She has devoted time and energy to read the book thoroughly and come up with a spell-binding deciphering of Lesley Blanch’s words, which she says: ‘you just have to recline metaphorically in your turban and beads among tasselled cushions under a fretted moucharabiyeh and be engulfed by the rich colours and textures, the elegance and drama of her writing. Like the heroines of her first book, The Wilder Shores of Love, which catapulted her to fame in 1954, and follows the four remarkable 19th century women who travelled eastward in pursuit of romance, Blanch herself was lured by the exotic. “I’m like the pine tree of Heine’s famous poem, forever dreaming on some desolate Northern shore of a distant palm tree in the Eastern Lands.”

‘Until her death in 2017 aged almost 103, she retained a powerful sense of her “darling self” and remained a brilliant raconteuse with the face of a baroque angel.’ Valerie adds: ‘I will never forget my one visit to her pink-dashed villa on a hillside above Menton, taking the train to Garavan, the last station before the Italian border – built for the convenience of Queen Victoria – and discovering Blanch behind a green jungle of jacaranda, fig, bamboo and cypresses. “It is always useful to be near a frontier in case you need to make a dash for it,” Blanch said… ‘When I enquired how many husbands she had, she threw her hands in the air and cried “You mustn’t ask. I am bad with figures,” while hinting at love affairs beyond number… She has so often dashed off reckless like her heroines to Afghanistan or Persia to meet someone and it was all divine she said, “but it’s not seemly to talk about it.” And she was so funny about her frail bones: “I’ve knocked abaht, as in the music hall song,” she told me. “I broke a vertebra just opening a sun umbrella.”’

Valerie ends her long masterly review saying: ‘Blanch was a romantic and sometimes a fabulist but she was also tough and firmly rooted in early reality. She admitted to marrying Robert Bicknell, her first husband, to get her hands on his Georgian house, the Paragon, by the Thames at Richmond. When, on “one evil night” in 1994, her French house with its treasured icons and Persian carpets burned down, she watched from her garden in her nightgown, cradling her cats – she recreated it from the ashes. That is a testament to the force of her powerful egoistic will.’

Blanch was truly remarkable, and this beautifully written collection of her work, wonderfully edited by her goddaughter, Georgia de Chamberet (incidentally one of Quartet’s most valued and much missed employees), is certain to be the most entertaining you are likely to read this season. Buy it, and ensure your summer holidays will be engrossed by it.

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SUPER-EARTH, 39 LIGHT YEARS AWAY

Alien life is a subject that baffles more people, especially now with the advancement of science that triggers off more capacity for research and technological means, which will enable us to travel far beyond outer space where all the mysteries of a gigantic universe seem almost impenetrable.

A super-earth discovered 39 light years away could be the best candidate yet for a world that harbours life beyond our solar system, according to scientists. The planet circles a famous dwarf star in the constellation Citus and lies at the heart of the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ where it is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist. It has been designated a super-earth because it is 1.4 times the size of our planet, but its mass is 7 times greater, implying a dense world made of rock with an iron core.

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Scientists say it is 11,000 miles in diameter, compared with Earth’s 7,918 miles. The exoplanet – a term for planets that orbit a star – other than our own – has been named LHS1140b. Lead scientist Dr Jason Dittmann, from the Harvard Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Massachusetts said: ‘This is the most exciting exoplanet I’ve seen in the past decade. We could hardly hope for a better target on one of the biggest quests in science-searching for evidence of life beyond earth.’

LHS1140b is 10 times closer to its parent star than Earth, but because a red dwarf is far cooler than our own yellow dwarf sun, the planet still sits in the habitable zone. Its star also emits less radiation than many other red dwarfs, making the planet more likely to have preserved an atmosphere.

Astronomers estimate the planet to be at least 5 billion years old, about the same age as the Earth and long enough for life to have evolved. The discovery, reported in the journal Nature, was made using the MEarth-South telescope Array and the Cerrotololo inter-American Observatory in Chile which detected tell-tale dips in light as the planet passed in front of its host star. Follow-up observation studied the star’s ‘wobble’ caused by the gravitational tug of war with the planet and confirmed the presence of a super-earth.

Another earth-sized planet recently discovered, orbiting a second red dwarf 39 light years away, could be a steamy water world, scientists believe. Recent months have seen several important announcements in the hunt for life outside our solar system. In February, scientists said they had found a solar system strikingly similar to ours, which they called Trappist-1. It contains seven Earth-style worlds. Last year it was revealed the nearest star beyond our Sun, Proxima Centauri, is also orbited by an Earth-sized planet.

Much closer to home in cosmic terms, NASA announced recently that practically all the elements for life have been found on one of Saturn’s icy moons, around 800 million miles from Earth. Hydrogen cover – a so far missing ingredient – was uncovered on Enceladus by spacecraft Cassini as it dived into jets of water shooting through the moon’s surface from an underground ocean. It means Saturn’s six moons may have the same single-celled organisms with which life began on Earth; these creatures, still found on our planet within the darkest depths of our oceans, use hydrogen and carbon dioxide as fuel.

All I can say is lucky are those of us who have a long life and subsequently bear witness to the marvels that constitute the unthinkable, where infinity unveils the enormity of a creation which defies the comprehension of us mortals.

STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS?

An apple a day is meant to keep the doctor away. Now it’s an orange a day that is likely to cut dementia risk by a quarter, a major study shows. Daily intake of any citrus fruit such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons or limes can cut the chances of developing the incurable brain condition by almost a quarter, it suggests. The findings, by a team of scientists at Tohoku University in Japan, surmise that tangy fruits could be a powerful weapon against a disease that is emerging as modern day epidemic.

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Numerous studies have suggested that citrus fruits can protect the brain against the damage that leads to dementia or Alzheimer’s. Citric acid contains a chemical, Nobiletin, which in animal tests has been shown to slow or reverse impairment of memory. But the new research, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, is the first major study to investigate the effects citrus fruit consumption might have on large numbers of those most at risk. Scientists tracked more than 13,000 middle-aged or elderly men and women for several years and found those with a daily intake of citrus were 23% less likely to develop dementia than those eating it less than twice a week. The results come days after experts warned that Britain faces an epidemic of dementia.

Researchers, led by University College, London and Liverpool University, said the total affected will jump 60% to 1.2 million in England alone by 2040. Without suitable health campaigns to raise awareness of how to prevent the brain disorder, experts said this figure could hit 1.9 million, up from 800,000 currently. New cases of dementia are actually falling in Britain at a rate of over 2% a year but an ageing population means the number living with it will carry on rising for at least the next twenty years.
In the latest study, scientists tracked older adults for up to seven years to see how many developed dementia. Rates of dementia amongst those eating citrus fruits at least once a day were significantly lower than in volunteers having them less than twice a week. In their report, the scientists said: ‘Some biological studies have indicated citrus may have preventive effects against cognitive impairment. But no study has examined the relation between citrus consumption and rates of dementia. Our findings, such as frequent consumption, are linked with a lower risk of dementia.’

Well, I’m glad to hear that citrus fruits are likely to decrease the risk to dementia in old age. For my breakfast invariably starts with an orange on a daily basis, as I find it very refreshing, especially given that I eat it at 4.30 am every morning without fail. Do you reckon I’ve gone crazy in my old age?

CONSIDER THE FRUIT FLY…

In the past it was usual for women to say to their husbands or lovers, ‘Not tonight darling… I am too tired.’ But a role reversal is now more the domain of men. It seems that when it comes to a night of passion or a night of nod, it’s men who are more likely to enjoy snoozing than engaging in sex. And to whom do we owe this myth-breaking scientific finding? Come forward fruit flies.

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Experts who believe that the fly’s brain operates similarly to ours discovered that females will still respond to male advances even when they are tired. Sleep-deprived males, on the other hand, showed little interest in courtship. Michael Nitabash, Professor of Genetics at Yale University, who co-wrote the study, suggested that is because males looking to pass on their genes cannot afford to fall asleep in the act. But females cannot afford to pass up an eligible suitor, no matter how tired they are. He said: ‘It appears that whichever behaviour has the highest biological drive suppresses the other behaviour. Humans could possibly have a similar mechanism for adjudicating when the drive for sleep and sex collide.’

But the findings contradict human behaviour studies that have found almost two thirds of married women would rather go to sleep, watch a film or read a book than have sex with their partners. The fruit fly study published in the journal, Nature Communications, involved depriving the flies of sleep for 12 hours, to see if they would be more amorous afterwards. And if you are wondering how to keep a fruit fly from nodding off, the scientists apparently shook them every now and then to keep them awake. The research team, which included the South East University in China and the University of San Diego, also found sexually aroused males got little sleep, while aroused females slept more.

Previous research in humans has shown that women’s sex drive gets stronger the longer they sleep, with each extra hour of a lie-in putting them more in the mood. In another study, it was found that poor sleep could make you fatter. People who sleep for 6 hours a night have waists 3cms thicker on average than those who manage 9 hours. Scientists compared sleep patterns and waist circumference in 1,615 adults. They found shorter sleepers not only had wider waists but were heavier. Sleeping for shorter periods was also linked to reduce blood levels of the good form of cholesterol, HDL, which helps to keep arteries healthy.

Lead researcher Dr Laura Hardie, from the University of Leeds said: ‘Our findings highlight the importance of getting enough sleep. The current consensus is that 7 to 9 hours is the best for most adults.’ The findings are published in the journal, Public Library of One.

I have always regarded the importance of sleep as vital to keep a healthy body in great working form and boost sexual desirability in both male and females. So my advice – get cracking, sleep more and enjoy life to the full in competition with hovering fruit flies around you who, apparently know more about sex than humans do!

LIES AND STATISTICS

The middle classes in Britain come out the worst in a recession since they invariably feel the brunt of higher taxation, whereas the rich find ways and means to avoid its crippling effect, always ensuring it will neither decrease their wealth nor lower their standard of living. Far from it: Miraculously, their wealth seems to multiply and their extravagance shows no sign of abatement.

However, we are told life expectancy improvements are ‘grinding to a halt’ because of our ailing NHS and social care system, experts have warned. And believe it or not, the middle classes are predicted to be hardest hit by the phenomenon as they struggle to afford rising care bills in old age.

Researchers also blame the toll of dementia for the sudden stagnation of increases in life-expectancy. A team of academics from UCL have found that since 2010, historical increases in life-expectancy have dramatically stalled. Before then, average life-expectancy at birth in the UK, for women, was going up by one year every five years. For men – who have lower life-expectancy – it was increasing at a faster pace of an extra one year every three and a half years. Since 2010, the women’s rate is increasing by one year every ten years. For men, average life-expectancy is going up by an extra year every six years. Research was led by Professor Sir Michael Marmot – a global expert in the field of health inequalities – who predicted life-expectancies could soon start to decline.

According to the Office for National Statistics’ predictions analysed by UCL, a girl born between 2013 and 2015 can expect to live for 80.3 years. A boy born in the same period will live for an average of 75.6 years. These estimates are based on complicated calculations which take into account current death rates among the elderly and overall standards of living.
Professor Marmot said the recent increases in life expectancy where ‘pretty close to having ground to a halt.’ He blamed the ‘miserly funding of the NHS and social care systems’ which has left them unable to meet the needs of the ageing population. He also highlighted that the leading cause of death among the very old was dementia and Alzheimer’s. He said: ‘Dementia on the death certificate is the tip of the iceberg. If people are dying of dementia that means there are a lot of people living with dementia. Dementia could have played an important part in the stagnation in increases in life-expectancy,’ Professor Marmot added.

Other factors involved patients being denied the latest cancer drugs, waiting time for routine operations on the rise and thousands facing lengthy delays in ambulances or in A & E departments. Social Care services are said to be on the brink of collapse and severely ill elderly patients are being refused council-funded home visits.

Professor Marmot and his team, from UCL’s Institute of Health Equity, said: ‘The middle class would be most affected by the stagnation. Unlike the wealthiest households, they will be unable to pay for their own social or private health care. Poorer adults meanwhile tend to die before reaching their late seventies or eighties, which is when the deficiencies in NHS and social care provision have the greatest effects.’

Professor Marmot said: ‘I am deeply concerned with the levelling off. I expected it to just keep getting better. I would say it is a matter of urgency to examine why this has happened. I am deeply concerned that if we do not fund health and social care, people will lead much worse lives. If we don’t spend appropriately on social care, if we don’t spend appropriately on health care, then certainly the quality of life will get worse for older people and maybe the length of life too.’

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Just last week the NHS was rated the number one health service in the world. Life expectancy continues to increase. We continue to invest to ensure our ageing population is well cared with £6 billion extra going into NHS over the last two years and an additional £2 billion for the social care system.’

It is hard who to believe. The government tells a different story. The NHS in the view of most experts is desperately in need of additional funds in order to function properly and the present government, as it stands today, does not know the difference between its head from its tail.

The Brexit drama is yet to reach its climax and who knows what will happen in the next few years. But what is certain is that the poor middle-classes are in for a proper thumping.

STOP THIS NONSENSE!

If you cast an eye on the present Tory cabinet, there is one individual so far who could emerge as the only credible PM to replace Theresa May whose tenure at 10 Downing Street must surely come to an end before Christmas. If not, the present chaos within the cabinet is bound to get worse as divisions within its ranks seem to accelerate with the passage of time.

Philip Hammond has proven to be the most sensible man to lead the nation now that the Brexit negotiations will reach its most critical stages when cool heads need proper direction, and wise decisions to be taken to ensure that Brexit does not harm the economy and isolate Britain from the rest of Europe.

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Any deal with the rest of the world will not fill the gap if the European Free Market is no longer available to us. I believe that Boris Johnson’s behaviour as Foreign Secretary has shown that he is incapable of keeping his mouth in harness and his flippancy on major issues under control. He has become a boisterous figure of fun, rather than a wise politician who can lead the nation, at a time when a joker such as he is better placed as a music hall comic rather than anything else.

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Yet a Boris ally, who must think otherwise, is leading a campaign to discredit Hammond’s Brexit plan. Gerald Lyons, a leading City economist writing in the Sunday Telegraph, demands that any transition phase is just two year’s long – a year shorter than outlined by Mr Hammond. And he compares warnings of a Brexit ‘cliff-edge’ for businesses to the hysteria over the millennium bug, which never came to pass. ‘There is alarmist talk of a cliff-edge,’ he writes. ‘It reminds me of the Y2K where computers were apparently going to stop at the millennium. Many of the risks being highlighted about Brexit are perceived risks, not real risks. And a two-year transition would alleviate many concerns.’

The intervention from such a close ally will inevitably fuel speculation that Mr Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, disagrees with elements of Mr Hammond’s Brexit plan. Mr Lyons, who worked for 3 years at City Hall while Mr Johnson was Mayor of London, was said to have played a key role in convincing him to back Brexit. Mr Johnson continued his public silence on the proposal with aides saying he would share any views privately with the Cabinet.

In more signs of concern about the plans, sources from the most powerful Tory Eurosceptic block – the European Research Group – demanded more clarity over Mr Hammond’s proposals. One central figure warned that the transition’s phase must not be ‘a bridge to nowhere’, saying any attempt to water down the final terms of Brexit would trigger revolt.

Now, one can purely say that members of the present administration are each singing a different tune, which does not bode well for any resolution whatsoever that makes Brexit a viable proposition to be embraced by the nation as a whole. The dangers are immense, unless politicians stop squabbling and come to their senses, and stop this perilous game where what matters is clearly not the future prosperity of Britain.