LOVE YOUR LIVER

Milk thistle
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After all the excesses of the holiday season, stomachs start to groan and crave cleansing food. Too much meat, booze and sugar makes our livers scream out: “No, please, no more!’ You know your liver is screaming when your head feels like you are in a wool sack. That, combined with horrible grumblings in the nether regions, should be your wake-up call.

I always promise myself that I won’t over indulge at Christmas and every year I start the holiday by refusing food, but by the time New Year comes, I have given in and I’m shoving rich food down my throat as if there is a famine on the horizon. To be serious for a moment, there are famines in many countries yet the Western world throws millions of tons of food away every day…

So, how to redress the balance and show sympathy for your poor beleaguered guts? Here is a good starter recipe for the first week of the new year. You will need a blender, time to drink the concoction and more time take bracing walks during the day.

New Year Save Your Liver Drink.

1 large carton of natural live yoghurt.

A handful of blue berries and raspberries. (Frozen will do)

1 crushed Milk Thistle tablet (available at any good pharmacy)

1 apple, peeled and chopped

1 banana

3 apricots (dried or tinned or fresh)

1 small spoonful of good honey

Whizz in the blender and drink immediately. Drink this slowly. You can make it last a good few hours. Then for the rest of the day, drink plenty of water. You can eat as normal but NO fast food, no meat and no sugar. Maybe have a light supper of grilled fish and watercress. Lunch should be a large salad and some nuts. Skip the coffee and tea, too.

Remember: NO ALCOHOL.

You will feel great the next day and your live will love you again.

REAL CHRISTMAS MAGIC!

A Danish Christmas tree illuminated with burni...
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Done it! Bought the presents, dragged the turkey out of the freezer and felt very guilty looking at its frozen carcass, sent cards, cleaned house, made mince things – they don’t look much like tarts as the pastry imploded –  and cleaned very old silver knives and forks that only come out this time of year! I know I have forgotten something very important but I really don’t give a toss. There is snow in the garden for the first time in many years. The sun is shining and we could be in Switzerland

The only thing missing are a gathering of all my family, but as it is with many others, our kids have departed to foreign lands to seek their fortunes and I am very happy that at least one of my four is nearby with his lovely wife and gorgeous kids. So nothing to moan about… Er, yes! Yes there is. Four in the morning is not the best time to wake up on  the day before Christmas and realise you have forgotten to buy your significant other a decent present. Too late for internet purchases and anyway, the snow would stop the parcel getting here. The local shops are the only option. Now, I live near a small and pretty market town, but there are an awful lot of charity shops and not much else. So my beloved will get something second hand and why not? I feel very virtuous. That’s how it should be. No more trudging about for hours in the big city, just a quick shop at the nearest Oxfam and I’ll be sorted.

And such choice! I could have bought him any number of china bowls, vases, cups and strange looking hand thrown things. I could have bought him a dozen jumpers for the price of one M&S jumper. I could have bought him an old, worn black leather jacket for a tenner. But what did I find?  A prize. the gardening book he has always wanted. Out of print but available at most charity shops, I’m, sure! Tidings of comfort and joy!

I am changing the way I see this happy season as I grow older. Most of my cards were hand made this year. Okay, they were a bit amateurish – I’m no graphic designer, but they were made with lots of love and happiness inserted with the cards into their envelopes. Why? Because they took time to make and time is something we have forgotten how to give. It’s been replaced by commercialism. And it was fun. I loved making a mess with glue and tinsel and sequins on my kitchen table. I was transported back to childhood Christmases and it was lovely!

If the sun continues to shine on Christmas day, we’ll go to the sea and walk along the beach and check out the snow on the cliffs. We’ll feed the gulls and meet friends and talk about the snow, of course! Then we will come home and enjoy our Christmas meal with friends. What could be more wonderful!

STICKS AND STONES…

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Okay, so now I am fed up with talking about SNOW.  There are other, more pressing things happening. Poor Vince Cable seems to have made an enormous gaff and is paying the price. Like a naughty schoolboy with his hand in matron’s purse, he’s been sent to the bottom of the class.

How could he have been so crass? Why didn’t he guess that those pesky journos are everywhere, posing as strippers, policemen, constituents? What could have possessed him to use words like ‘I am declaring war on Rupert Murdoch’ – even to a bona fide constituent?

I have always had a soft spot for Vince. Out of the three monkeys; Clegg, Cameron and Cable, I thought he came across as the voice of calm sanity. He seemed a man you could rely on. A man with integrity and wisdom… Well, maybe this was just a pre-Christmas blip? Maybe the Westminster office party served up one too many glasses of mulled wine? Never mind. We all make gaffs and I still like the man.

This country desperately needs reassuring behaviour from our politicians. We need to know that they are intelligent and can handle a world that is increasingly manic and complicated. After all, that’s what they are paid to do and WE pay them to do it. Easy to forget that bit. But now, Vince’s responsibilities for checking out the media, telecom and the broadcasting companies has been taken away from him. He was the man who might, just might have shifted all that dangerous power that Murdoch has accumulated over the years and now he has scuppered his chances and we shall have to wait and see what his replacement, Jeremy Hunt will do.

It was The Daily Telegraph that blew the whistle on Vince. They sent two of their reporters pretending to be constituents to see him and then taped his words. If you listen to the tapes, as I did on the BBC news, there is embarrassed female laughter as background noise. This is in itself bizarre. Why were they giggling? Is that what The Telegraph teach their reporters in their lets-pretend-to-be-someone- else school of journalism?

According to The Telegraph, this is what Vince Cable said: “You may wonder what is happening with the Murdoch press. I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we’re going to win”. Is that such a terrible thing to say? Many people would like to declare war on Mr Murdoch. I for one, would not in a million years subscribe to his method and madness. I think the man has  TOO MUCH POWER! At least Vince showed his hand. What would the Tories have done? Rolled over and said: do what you like Mr Murdoch? Yes, I think they would have said just that.

According to The Telegraph, Vince also said: “I didn’t politicize it, because it is a legal question, but he (Mr Murdoch) is trying to take over BSkyB, you probably know that. He has minority shares…And he wants a majority. And a majority-control would give him a massive stake.” I’ll say it again: MURDOCH HAS TOO MUCH POWER and to allow him to have even more is more than foolish!

Murdoch was a staunch supporter of the Conservative party during the run-up to the general election and Vince Cable’s comments may make him grind his teeth in fury. Of course his people say they are: ‘shocked and dismayed’. Well they would, wouldn’t they? They are also probably delighted, because now they can play the sympathy card and Murdoch can become a martyr, fighting for more and more power?  Very jolly.

Vince has apologised and will be eating humble pie for some time to come. However, perhaps The Telegraph should stop gunning for anyone who isn’t Conservative and maybe Cameron and Clegg should value Vince Cable more and realise that many people think he was right to speak out against Murdoch, whatever the circumstances. Hang in there, Vince.

ARMAGEDDON OR JUST SNOW?

Don
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So not only are we up to our ears in the white stuff but an oil tanker overturned on the A38, there’s been a terrorist bust by police in the midlands, Heathrow is like the left side of hell, Matt Cardle won the X Factor and the birds in my garden look hysterical.

Watching BBC Breakfast Time this morning, did I sense an air of resignation mixed with slight panic in the presenter’s faces? What was the director yelling into their earpieces? Keep the punters happy! Talk more trivia than usual! Interview the winner of The Apprentice so viewers can be reassured that business is alive and well even if they haven’t been to the shops or spent any money for a week, interview Kara Tointon and her new boyfriend/dance partner and make everyone feel gooey and warm inside!

The comforting pictures of animals and vets followed Breakfast Time in a programme about animals and vets. Then, if you were still awake, Homes Under The Hammer came next. This is fifty minutes of smug people buying rubbish houses and flats on which they work miracles. The two bright and glossy presenters (although one is losing his hair and developing a paunch) are full of so much forced enthusiasm that you can’t fail to be spellbound and wonder which one will fall through the floor boards of the newly refurbished house. It makes compulsive watching.

Day time TV is one of the ways you can amuse yourself while waiting for the snow to melt and life to return to normal. Reading a book is a better option, unless you want to be stressed, bored or sent into a coma. Good books for snowy weather include any or all of Jane Austin‘s work, Philippa Gregory‘s wonderful historical novels, anything by Dickens – very seasonal, The Art of Good Housekeeping – something to beat yourself with, or a good Agatha Christie, always worth revisiting on an icy afternoon. Actually, any book is better than day time TV…

So when the path has been swept ( a thankless task as more snow is on the way…) and the birds fed, coffee is made and the central heating turned up (makes me feel guilty but who thought this country would become another Arctic Circle…) I will snuggle down with a stack of books and wait for the Spring! I suggest you do the same…

THE BEAUTY OF SNOW

I woke up this morning to a white world . Snow had fallen in the night and turned the world into a Christmas wonderland. I opened the front door of my house and listened to a glistening silence. No cars, no birds, no human voices, no cacophony of sound. Just white silence. It was so beautiful, I could have cried.

I made myself a cup of tea and turned on the TV. There it was; noise. All about the weather noise, the panic noise, the cars stuck by the motorway noise. All about how difficult things were, how the shops wouldn’t have any shoppers, how people weren’t spending enough money,  or didn’t have any money to spend, hardship and fear, loneliness and misery. I turned off the TV. I needed just a few more moments of the white silence before I joined the world again. I got dressed and put on my walking boots, coat, hate gloves and grabbed my camera. Down the lane I walked, crunching on the new snow, watching robins dart in and out of the hedgerows, looking for food. The sky was bright blue. The sun reflected on the white landscape, turning it into a diamond encrusted carpet covering the sleeping fields. I walked on, breathing in the sharp cold air, feeling my cheeks sting and my eyes water. I took lots of photos and made my way back to the house. Once inside, I made a mug of hot chocolate, fed the robins on my lawn with bird seed and settled down to look at the view from the window. I will treasure the beauty of this snow for a long long time. I want to share these beautiful scenes with everyone!  I turned on my PC and found that my family had also been taking photos .These photos were taken on 18th December 2010 by Lyn Ferrand and Dominic Ferrand. How beautiful the earth is? How fragile. Please use the precious resources we have left with great care. Please appreciate the wonder of nature.

THEORY OF EVERYTHING?

Towel with the words "Don't Panic" o...
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You need Quantum Mechanics to manage Christmas these days. Spend a day in December watching TV and you see that Douglas Adams was right; everything, but everything is interconnected. That means that when the adverts come up while you are watching a really good film and you feel totally pissed off, it forces you to get off the sofa and make yet another cuppa and guzzle a few more biscuits which causes your gut to grow which then gives you high blood pressure which then turns into a stroke and throws you into hospital where you lie in a bed watching films on TV and getting furious with the adverts while a flat-face auxiliary offers you a cup of tea and a biscuit….

Actually, staying in bed over Christmas isn’t a bad idea. The stroke should be avoided at all costs, so put those biscuits down and chew grapes and nuts instead; much healthier but watch you don’t choke or allow the shells to pierce the electric blanket that must be on to keep out the cold, but will then electrocute you so you will end up in hospital, receiving visitors who will bring you grapes and possibly nuts…

I like the idea that what I am doing at any given moment will have an affect on someone or something on the other side of the world or even the universe. I love the idea that no matter how much we feel isolated, especially at this time of year, we are not. I’ve often mused on the idea that we are part of some superbody, each of us making up the whole; the sinews and veins, the heart and lungs of some enormous ‘thing’ that is floating around in space, possibly disappearing down a black hole every once in a while,  until spat out at the other end like a rat shooting out of a drain pipe during a rain storm, whereupon all the threads join up while the whole process starts again…. Hmmm. My brain hurts now.

The other night I was wrapping Christmas presents when I noticed that the ball of coloured twinkle string I was using to tie up my parcels was coming to the end. The theory of string came to mind. Some famous physicist somewhere is still pushing the theory of string. He has equations to prove his point. I have no string. That’s how my theory of string works; my equation equals coat on, walk to stationers, open purse, hand over money, grab ball of string, walk home, continue wrapping presents…  My theory works. But, big but… it’s not the same theory that the physicist thinks about  is it?  Yet, I am connected by the word : ‘string’ aren’t I?  Yes I am! (I was never any good at science.)

I am now beginning to sound like Saturday night television. Meaning well, but stupid. Time to stop twittering on and give my brain leeway to settle down to achieving serious things; buying Christmas turkey… Creature in field somewhere, man with killing machine, turkey dispatched, plucked and put in a plastic bag, turkey in my oven, in my mouth, in the sewer, in the sea, into a fish’s stomach, into a net, into the ice, into a factory, becomes turkey food, creature in field, man with a killing machine…. See? The theory of everything! Yes! Yes! Yes!  We are all interconnected!

Happy Christmas.

HONESTY IN BUSINESS

Some of my recent experiences have led me to think about the way businesses behave towards their customers. There are certain sectors of the population that are exceptionally vulnerable to dishonest businesses. Take for instance the boom in private housing for the over 50’s. I recently heard of a very rich man who managed to get planning permission to build a gated community of houses for older people. It’s unlikely he would have obtained consent from the planners had the development been for an ordinary housing estate because of where the land was situated. But  no doubt he portrayed himself as caring and concerned individual, creating a safe, secure and supportive community for all those gullible, retired people. Glossy brochures promised a support centre on site if you bought into his scheme. Buyers were told a warden would live at the centre and be available 24/7. This was a real incentive to older people buying houses on the development. Of course, there would be a monthly charge for all this but this seemed justifiable when you read in the brochure what would be on offer.

However, the building designated as the support centre quickly changed it’s use and became a restaurant, opened to the general public. It looked as if the security of the gated community would be compromised by the world and his wife using the restaurant, and the original idea of a warden and a centre especially geared up for older people appeared to have vanished. The good news is that the residents formed themselves into an Association and are fighting this man’s presumption that elderly people will roll over and accept anything rather than make a fuss. This developer’s attitude towards his customers is not only cavalier but also a clear case of misrepresentation and breach of contract.

In another case, a firm of builders continued to market their houses even though the Administrator had been called in as the company were in serious financial trouble. The agent acting for the firm denied that they knew anything about their client’s financial demise and continued to act for him and take reservation deposits from buyers. Now, maybe the agents really did not know that they were selling houses that might never actually be finished, but it seems unlikely as most estate agents work closely with their clients, after all they will get a hefty fee for their trouble.

In business reputation is everything and that means being straight with everyone we have dealings with. Integrity is paramount. It builds trust with customers and it encourages creative thinking in a workforce. In these difficult financial times the most important thing for customers is that they feel they are dealing with an organisation that works to an ethical code, has built a reputation for this and is reliable and honest.

Finding the way to make your contact with clients, staff and others as honest as you can, can be challenging. Making unrealistic promises about deadlines or expectations, the wishful thinking approach and denying that things are going pear shaped are all ways to make an organisation fail and lose a previously good reputation. Competitors are out there, waiting for the next mistake, and some of them will, themselves be just as unprincipled.

Honesty in business is the only way to create trust. But what sort of honesty? Is it comparable to the honesty we promote in our own personal lives? Once, there was a notion that business was like a card game and standards were different. A statement in the Harvard Business Review, January 1968 was entitled ‘Is Business Bluffing Ethical?’ Albert Carr, the author put forward his theses that some measure of deceit was pretty much acceptable. He wrote: ‘Executives from time to time are almost compelled, in the interest of their companies or themselves to practice some sort of deception when in negotiation with customers, dealers, labour unionsgovernment officials or even other departments of their companies. By conscious misstatements, concealment of pertinent facts, or exaggeration – in short, by bluffing – they seek to persuade others to agree with them.

There must be times when telling the complete and utter truth is not apposite? You wouldn’t tell your wife  that her new dress didn’t fit her and she looked ungainly and fat in it, would you? Maybe you would…  But you might suggest she wears something warmer, cooler, more conservative, with a jacket?  In business, could tact sometimes become little white lies? Establishing when this is apt is the secret. The notion of clarity should be your priority because it is only one step from all that careful tactfulness to telling downright lies.

Where staff are concerned, how open should you be? Giving away every last detail is not a good plan, especially when things start to unravel. Uncertainty is threatening and while every business goes through periods of doubt, employees like to feel that it will succeed in the long run. A vision is crucial when times are hard. Openness in staff meetings creates a sense of working together and sharing the good and bad times. Every business has its bad times. A workforce who work in an atmosphere of trust and inclusion, will be ready to be there when the chips are down. The payoff is respect and loyalty. Resolving problems may need confrontation. But this can be creative, too. In a safe open arena, anything can be discussed. Even if bad news is the outcome.

There are so many good things that come out of honesty that it is hard to believe that some people will discount it. In the current global culture of seeing what you can get away with, for as long as you can get away with it, it is quite a challenge to motivate change. Finally, it’s as well to remember that clients can be dishonest, too. Making promises to honour contracts and then pulling out a day before those contracts are signed, is often seen as acceptable. All good relationships are based on trust and business is no different. It can only thrive and prosper when there is a true belief that what one is doing is truthful.

 

MY ITALIAN CHRISTMAS

In our house, Christmas was the one time we could push the boat out and eat! In the late 40’s and 50’s when I was growing up, the UK was in the grip of rationing. We were lucky. My Dad worked in the clubs and restaurants that served the rich in London. He was the leader of a small jazz combo called the Quaglino Quartette; he put the band together while he was working at Quags.

Giovanni Quaglino, who opened the hotel in 1929 was a wonderful host. His clients included the Duke of Windsor and Princess Margaret, who allegedly took my brother’s guitar (he often played with my Dad) and tried to play a tune on it.  Other famous people include Evelyn Waugh and Barbara Cartland. My Dad knew them all.  Sadly Quags shut its door in 1981 and they stayed shut until Sir Terence Conran and his partner, Joel Kissin reopened it. Quaglino’s now salutes Thirties glamour. The restaurant is opulent and contemporary and I think my Dad would have been thrilled to see how it looks today, with its sleek bar where a pianist plays. There is still a dance floor and trios and quartets play during the evenings at weekends.

We opened our presents on Christmas morning, after all we were living in England and my parents respected and wanted us to learn English ways and traditions. Most Italians used to open their presents on the Epiphany, l’epifania, January 6th. As was the tradition, we received a stocking filled with small toys, an Amoretti biscuit that we unwrapped immediately and threw the tissue paper wrapping into the fire where it burned bright, the  remains floating up the chimney, carrying our wishes with it. We also found a small orange in the toe of the stocking. This was a real treat in those days and I suspect my father managed to get them from the chef at the club where he was working!

Although in Italy it was traditionally the kind witch, La Befana, who brought the gifts and sweets, in our house it was Santa. I remember so clearly the magic feeling of staying awake in my bed with the curtains open, looking up at a star studded sky, waiting to see the sleigh and the reindeer. One Christmas when I was about five years old, I swear I saw him!  I was told that in Italy the wise witch was followed by the wise men that got lost and have been wandering ever since, handing out presents to children! In Venice and Mantova, it’s Santa Lucia who brings the presents, while in some regions it’s Baby Jesus, Gesu’ Bambino, who bears the gifts. But nowadays, 90% of Italians also believe inSanta Claus, Babbo Natale.

Christmas day for me was all about family, love and food; la famiglia, l’amaore e il cibo. We didn’t stick to the tradition of fasting on Christmas Eve, but my mother would cook a supper of Salt Cod and Polenta. After eating, we would get ready for church and midnight mass. This was sheer wonder for a small child. The candles and incense, the crib with its painted plaster Jesus, Mary and Jospeh, the Wise Men and their gifts, the shepherds and angels, all amazing and magical to a child. To be allowed to stay up until after midnight and accompany my family to church was so exciting. We would put on our Sunday best and walk to church, the frosty night air pinching our cheeks. (I remember it always as frosty!) If I was cold, I would travel on my brother’s shoulders or be wrapped in one of the grown-ups coats. Inevitably I would fall asleep during the latter half of the mass, but I would force myself to stay awake and see the Consecration of the Host and watch people receiving communion.

After opening the presents at about 8am, despite not getting to bed until 2am, the women would start to prepare for lunch. Lunch on Christmas day was a theatrical performance!  It was a long show! My elder sister and I would lay the table. We would cover it with a spotless white and starched linen cloth, napkins, silver knives and forks, crystal glasses and most important of all for me, Christmas Crackers! There would usually be 12 around the table, a mixture of cousins and aunts, uncles and musicians! We would start the meal with an anti pasti of vegetables and meats that would include salami, coppa, mortadella and liver pate. A good wine would accompany this and all the courses and I was always allowed a small glass of my own. Then Mum would serve a soup or brode with home made ravioli floating in it. Copious amounts pf Parmesan cheese would be sprinkled on this and my Dad would pour a good slurp of wine into my plate to ‘liven up’ my soup!

Because we were in England, Mum would always cook a turkey, but it was liberally stuffed with an Italian stuffing made with cheese, breadcrumbs, lots of garlic, onions, mushrooms and herbs. It was delicious and I still stuff my turkey with a version of it today. Sometimes Mum would make two stuffings, one with chestnuts, but I found that too rich and preferred the cheese one. For desert, Christmas pudding was always served. The lights would be turned off and the pudding would be brought into the room, flaming! By now it would be about 4pm so the light outside would be failing, making it even more magical for a child. The meal would end with oranges and nuts, liqueurs and chocolates. Mum’s sweet filled ravioli would be bought to the table, a mound of glistening fried pasta squares filled with chestnuts, liqueur and spices, doused in honey! Then the sugared almonds and cigars would come round with the indoor fireworks, a must for us on Christmas day!

We would move to our large sitting room where the grand piano stood and my sister would play and sing for us. Tradition has it that in Italy pipers – zampognari, perform  songs on bagpipes, flutes and oboes. These travelling musicians come down from the mountains in the regions of Abruzzo and Calabria and typically wear bright red jackets and broad-brimmed hats with red tassels. In Rome, the pipers play at the market in the historic Piazza Navona, on the Spanish Steps and at the entrance to St. Peter’s Square. Figures of the zampognari often feature in nativity scenes. But my family came from the North of Italy and I think the family made their own music using accordions, my father’s instrument. It was all wonderful to me!

Here are the words to an Italian carol – Un Canto di Natale. Astro del Ciel, Star of the Sky (same tune as Silent Night)

Astro del ciel, Pargol divin, mite Agnello Redentor! 
Tu che i Vati da lungi sognar, tu che angeliche voci nunziar, 
luce dona alle genti, pace infondi nei cuor! 
luce dona alle genti, pace infondi nei cuor!
Astro del ciel, Pargol divin, mite Agnello Redentor! 
Tu di stirpe regale decor, Tu virgineo, mistico fior, 
luce dona alle genti, pace infondi nei cuor! 
Luce dona alle genti, pace infondi nei cuor!
Astro del ciel, Pargol divin, mite Agnello Redentor! 
Tu disceso a scontare l’error, Tu sol nato a parlare d’amor, 
luce dona alle genti, pace infondi nei cuor! 
Luce dona alle genti, pace infondi nei cuor!

When I had my own children I tried to recapture some of the magic of those family Christmases for them, But it was difficult. We have made Christmas so commercial and church is no longer part of the celebration. Although I admit to being a lapsed Catholic, those midnight masses were so special to me. I think we managed to attend a couple of times when my kids were growing up and I know it made an impression on them.

I was in a store last Christmas when standing beside some christmas cards with pictures of a cross and a Nativity on them, I heard a woman say: ‘Look, they’re even bringing religion into Christmas now!’

The magic of those family Christmases will never fade for me and every year, I take a moment to think about all the hard work and love my Italian family put into making it so special for all of us. I love them all so much for that. Buon Natale!

ARE YOU ON THE TREADMILL OF ENVY?

The first printed illustration of a rhombicubo...
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What do we mean when we say we want to be rich? We fantasize about winning the lottery, about some old relative popping their clogs and leaving us a few million, about a life without money worries. In my life, I’ve lain awake in the night, wishing for money. Not so that I could buy a villa on an exotic beach or for a diamond necklace. Far more prosaic wishes for me; money to pay the electricity bill, the water rates, new clothes for the kids. But I have to admit that occasionally I wanted money for the status I thought it might give me. I could be up there with the Royals; be on their level, because to my mind, it is money and not years of tradition and heritage that make them powerful. So money equaled power and status.

I recently read about a woman who’d won enough in the lottery to buy a small country. How her neighbours, relatives and others would envy her. She sought to appease them, saying she would give a large dollop to charity. That was after she’d bought a mansion, a yacht and a load of jewelry. She played down her win, but I suspect she knew she would lose friends rather than gain them. No doubt, she would acquire many acquaintances a she moved up the money ladder, but she could no longer live in her council house or join in the bingo sessions at her community hall. That wouldn’t be seemly  for someone with 2.5 million in their bank account, would it? Do I sound envious? Her marriage broke up and her kids grabbed the money she gave them and ran. But she was rich.

La ricchezza e una ragione tra due persone : Richness is a relationship between two people. So said the Italian economist Ferdinando Galiani. So, are relationships the true riches? Most of us think that to be rich is to have more than everybody else and to make that known to everybody else. It’s about comparing what you have with others and feeling better because you perceive you have more. Envy is part of our nature. To earn more than your neighbours makes you feel better. I suspect this is about famine and loss. We eat too much and put our bodies into famine mode. We yearn to be rich because we are terrified of having nothing in a consumer riddled world.

Money is just a commodity but it has a huge emotional significance.  Offer a poor man a painting by Da Vinci or a million pounds. Which do you think he would take? The poor man sees a future through the money. When he looks at the painting he sees a square with colours on it. He is loss-averse. We all are. In the end each and everyone of us will lose the most precious thing we have; our life. We cannot prevent death with money, but we can pretend we can. So relationships become like the Da Vinci painting. Yes, it’s a marvellous piece of art but will it delay the thoughts of your own demise like spending a few thousand on a new car, house, holiday will?

The very rich invest in art as just that, an investment; a way of protecting their money. But a man who wins the lottery will use the money to buy things that will make him feel better about the days when he was poor and just like everybody else.  When we see our neighbours acquiring things that we cannot have, we feel a sense of loss. As a species we seem to need to desire stuff. What if we could change and want nothing? Unfortunately this would be catastrophic for the way our world currently works. Envy is how capitalism works. Envy is what advertising is based upon. Being prosperous means that you will want more and more stuff, that new stuff must replace old stuff on a regular basis and that you need to feel that your neighbours envy you, so the cycle of need and want and envy continues and that, in turn, makes the wheels of capitalism continue to spin. We have to ask the million dollar question. How long is this way of living going to last? Can it ever be sustainable?

The developing world economies are full of new consumers who see images of the western way of life and want it.  In the slums of the poorest countries, televisions shout out their messages of envy. The drug barons feed their toxic wealth pills to the millions and grow fat on the proceeds while millions die in the gutter from addiction. Everyone aspires to being rich.

In the developing world, it appears that millions of people are rising out of poverty for the first time. They will all want our western life style, but we are using it up faster each day. The resources that have made the western world rich are diminishing by the minute. So what do we say to the third world newly aspiring middle classes? It’s all gone, so apologies but you’ll have to accept poverty again?

We have to find a way to be content with less; less stuff, less envy, less greed. We have to realise that as Galiano said: Richness is a relationship between two people… For me, true richness is exactly that. It’s how we love each other; how we live in harmony, how we look after each other and care. The world is running out of resources. We have to stop and say in a united voice that enough is enough.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pu3IT1kGavE This man does not mince his words!

CLASS OF 2010

Seen here in a classic comic strip from 1977, ...
Image via Wikipedia

Human beings are a strange bunch. We put ourselves into classes and need to define where we fit in our local tribes. I think I am middle class. Why? because I have a tendency to panic? It seems that to label oneself as middle class these days is to be at the bottom of the pile. This can cause panic.

The baby boomer middle class generation had it good. Our university fees were paid, we were able to get mortgages and our pensions were safe. We lived through riots and uprisings, but not two world wars like our parents did. We also watched Margaret Thatcherdecimate our unions, something many of us fought tooth and nail to preserve and we saw socialism dwindle into what Mr Blair renamed New Labour.

Now, Cameron and Clegg want us to form a new type of class. Egalitarian? I guess so. Willing to do the work that our Council’s did for us and do it unpaid? Yep. Accept huge cuts in public spending while rolling over quietly in resignation? Not sure about that one. And what has happened to the working classes who aspired to buy their council houses and join the middle classes? Those who made it were lucky. Those who just aspired, as Thatcher said they must, are now likely to be turfed out of their homes if the government think they have lived in them for too long. They must move over for the lower working classes, who have nowhere to live. So now we have lower working classes, upper working classes, upper lower working classes, lower middle classes, upper lower middle classes, middle middle classes and the upper class…? And what’s to become of that label ‘working class’ anyway, when there is no work?

You can see this cyclone of class structure if you join a committee of any sort. The Brits have always loved committees. There is a great thrill to be had from pushing bits of paper around on a table while complaining about the price of fish. A committee is democracy in miniature.  (At least it used to be). In the end, we all knew it would come out right, because the Brits were always very good at resolving issues by being ‘nice’, even though might include a large dollop of hypocrisy in the process. But these days, you may see a different side to a committee. There is a lot of self-preservation going on. People are protecting there own patches. Compassion and awareness of the neighbour’s situation has vanished. Yet our PM wants us all to pull together and form the Big Society?

I’ve chaired many a committee in my time and now I can see the changes. The cracks are showing. People are scared and this shows up when you are trying to run a resident’s association or a PTA. The feeling that it will all come right is no more. All of us are having to look at the bigger picture; a picture that is no longer made up of only our own community and maybe the one up the road, but the wider world, the universe et al. TV programmes tell us we are in danger from an asteroid strike any day, newspapers tell us that deadly viruses are about to mutate and use our airlines to spread, and people like Sarah Palin are taken seriously!  No wonder many of us are slightly panicked!

So how do we move forward and keep our heads? Reduce our global view on a daily basis; that’s my advice. I’m not advocating a head in the sand stance. No way. But a little cleansing of the mind by an every day doing of  those old fashioned things like loving someone, talking to a child, laughing, seeing the countryside and walking through it, cooking a simple meal and enjoying every mouthful, listing to Mozart, looking at old photos, helping a neighbour… And when you sit on a committee, using a little humour and compassion to get your way. I’m sure I can think of many more, but this will do as a start. The terrifying global view won’t go away and we will all have to address this fast changing world in our own way and make the best of it, but a little respite is always good.