Monday, 25 April 2016

Several trips to the theatre.....

My plan to try and do less / slow down is really not working at all. I have been lucky enough to feed my theatre habit quite a lot in the last few weeks and thought I would share some of it with you.

Deliciously Stella

Comedian Bella Younger has created a parody account Deliciously Stella on Instagram. I started following her last summer and she now has 120,000 Instagram supporters! I went along to her first ever stand up “in role” performance. She hadn’t quite learnt the material and it will invariably chop and change as the character develops, but I can see her being a much loved and popular face in the next few months / years. I guess she was also testing material for her Edinburgh show later this year. Do follow her on Instagram – she brightens up any grey morning with her FAB ABS.

Billy Elliot the Musical

Perhaps one of the greatest ever pieces of theatre to hit the West End stage has been the musical version of Billy Elliot. Three hours long and a total roller coaster of emotion – soaring (literally) highs and crashing lows. Very sadly, it has now left the London’s Victoria Palace theatre to start a big UK tour (which I think has already started?). But I spontaneously went to see it just one more time with a friend and I am so so glad I did. I have seen it maybe three times before but not in the last 5-6 years so had forgotten how incredible it was. All is not lost – you can buy an incredibly well filmed version of the stage show (unbelievably cheap given the quality of the performance). I have already bought it and watch it once since I saw it live. Mind blowing.

Felicity Ward's stand up performance at the Soho theatre was highly entertaining and Ralph Fiennes in The Master Builder at the Old Vic deserves a blog post all of its own. Such a privilege to see him live.

In the coming weeks, I am seriously excited to see Elegy starring Zoe Wanamaker and the much talked about play called People, Place and Things. Denise Gough has just won the Olivier award for Best Actress and gives “the greatest stage performance since Mark Rylance in Jerusalem” so it is not to be missed...

Theatre is definitely NOT a summer thing – unless you go to the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park, which I did a few years ago on a glorious summer’s evening - but when there is seriously good theatre around, its hard not to miss out. Also, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival happens in August which is also the middle of summer and I did that last year in (mostly) glorious sunshine. Hoping to go again this year....

This might sound mad but I’m a big fan of paying as MUCH as I possibly (and reasonably can) when I go to the theatre – there’s no point in sitting on a tiny and cramped balcony with a restricted view for £15 and if you think of all the work and complexities that go into putting on a mammoth production, and how hard actors have to work to “make it”, I always try and pay as much as I can afford, to sit in a good seat in order to remember it for the right reasons and not for feeling uncomfortable or being distracted throughout.  Having said that, I do think it’s important that theatre should be affordable for everyone..... and it often isn't. 

London's Wonderground is starting on the Southbank soon - often affordable and some really high quality shows. 

I'm also getting back into reading and really enjoying the time I'm spending away from a screen - and it forces me to sit down. Will save another blog post for books at a later date !

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Happy Birthday Ma'am !

Anyone who knows me (or who was there at the time!) will know that I screamed the house down with total joy at the news of the Royal Wedding in 2011 and that I am the most patriotic person and the biggest lover of the Royal Family.... 

A recent documentary about her remarkable life so far had me tearing up before it had hardly started.

In 2012, one of her Diamond Jubilee Celebrations involved her coming to Richmond Park and I hopped, skipped and jumped down there faster than ever (see here and here!). A really memorable afternoon. In 2002, she visited Ipswich as part of her Golden Jubilee Celebrations and my dad took me to work with him that day and we snuck out for an extra long lunch hour to see her. 

So it is only fitting that today's blog post celebrates HM The Queen's 90th birthday... We are so fortunate to have her as our Monarch - truly the most remarkable woman alive.


Monday, 18 April 2016

Darling Wife


There is much talk about the upcoming EU Referendum - in fact, its the ONLY thing we are really hearing on the news at the moment along with November's US Presidential election. 

Our vote on this really matters - particularly for the young as its our generation who will be affected by whatever the outcome is later on. It has cost £9 million for the government to produce a leaflet and distribute it to every household in the UK explaining the importance of voting to stay in. Mine came yesterday. 

Before this arrived, a family friend wrote the following open letter to his wife setting out his views and thoughts - personally I think its much better than the leaflet ! 

With his permission, I am sharing it here for your interest - do pass it on:

Darling Wife,

You said you felt you wanted some facts about this whole European business in order to make up your mind which way to vote in the Referendum. And to hear the positive arguments about why to stay in Europe.

I understand your difficulty as for the last twenty years the British media coverage & UK political headlines on Europe have been of the “I read it in the tabloids so it must be true” variety with sound bites about ever more ridiculous regulation, about outrageous rulings from the Court of Human Rights, about expense scandals by MEP’s & about attempts by perfidious continentals to force mass immigration on Britain. Rarely do we hear talk of the very real positives of our membership of the European club.

So let me proffer you first some global context, secondly some positive arguments on why we must stay in & finally some observations on the weaknesses in the Brexit case.

A.    Global context
a.      We are a small country of 65 m people. 1% of the world population of over 7 billion. The Eu has a population of over 500m. The choice is to standalone as a small entrepot –at best like a Singapore - or continue as part of a bloc that is more populous than the USA & with a collective economy as big as the biggest economy in the world- the USA.
b.     45% of our export trade is with Europe. They are our biggest customer by far (whereas we are but 10% of the export of the rest of the Eu). So we have a lot, lot more to lose from Brexit than they do & our leverage with them is proportionately weak.
c.      From the perspective of those outside Europe, the UK represents a English speaking base giving access to a 500m people market & a nation that is a positive free trade influence on the Eu. In fact more than a half of all non Eu companies have their European HQ in the UK. Would they still choose to be based here & use us as a springboard if we were out of the Single Market? And we are singularly dependant on inward investment. Some £400bn has come our way in the last ten years. Would it continue?
d.     For those reasons & more, the leaders of the USA, China & India have all overtly encouraged us to stay in the Eu. Both as a springboard , as a free trader influence on the Eu & as a key player in Western security. For instance U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Washington has a "profound interest" in Britain remaining a member of the Eu.
e.      History has bestowed us seats on the G8 & the G20. How long will economics & politics allow such a small nation to have a seat on the top table & how long before the Eu –which already has a seat on these tables- is seen as an adequate & proportionate representation for Europe at large? In time we will be kicked off the global top table. At least through the Eu –if we stay- we will forever retain an influence.

B.    Positive reasons to stay in the Eu
a.      First it must be understood that we were not founding fathers & the Eu was shaped by continental countries who have different historical perspectives to ours & who come from different legal, political & cultural traditions. That & the nature of compromise required to run any enterprise of over 25 different entities, means there will inevitably be aspects of the venture we don’t care for & at times downright dislike.
b.     But that should not deflect us from the fact that our geopolitical goal for centuries has been to engage in Europe & to keep peace & prosperity in Europe. Our forefathers fought two wars in the last century to achieve it- not just to defend our narrow island security. And peace, the fundamental unwritten goal of the EEC/EU has been achieved for 70 years. We should be chary of the risks of returning to 19thc Nation State politicking.
c.      The Eu has given us tariff/trade bloc free access to a 500m market on our doorstep. The Single Market is the biggest tariff free zone in the world.
d.     It is often forgotten that the Eu ‘red tape’ has included positive new legislation & regulation that has made us a safer, fairer & more civilized place than we were forty years ago.
e.      It has helped make us culturally more outward – think ‘Twinned with’, the explosion in travel to Europe & the vast improvement in British food since the 1960’s.
f.       And remember the support the environment & rural enterprise has had from Europe. Brussels has been much more consistent & long sighted on these matters than Whitehall. Remember what our beaches used to be like!
g.      Immigration from the Eu has been a huge positive for our economy & is one of the major drivers of our current relative economic success. You see the Poles in our fields & in our restaurants- not in the Benefits Offices. The Eu & freedom of movement has given us access to huge numbers of enterprising, ambitious & well educated young people. When did Britain –once the byword for tolerance & quiet welcome for immigrants- become so un self assured & intolerant? Clearly uncontrolled open doors to every waif & stray south & east of the Mediterranean would be madness but nor should we allow the dark voices of xenophobia to roam the streets of Britain.
h.     Much is written of ‘what we pay into Brussels’ : less about what we get back in subsidies for the more deprived areas of the UK
i.        Staying in the Eu we stand a good chance of calming the Scottish cries for independence. If the English were by a big majority to vote to leave -despite a majority vote from Scotland to stay in -Brexit would surely precipitate the break up of the Union.
j.        Of course the Eu is far from perfect & it is currently much shaken by the (foolish) Eurozone project & by the immigration “crisis” following Merkel’s (equally foolish) “willkommen” policy. Whether Eu would survive a British exit is a profound worry. Certainly Brexit would leave Europe a less stable & less safe neighbour- an own goal of monumental stupidity.
k.     This is not a battle between Europhiles & Eurosceptics : it is more like between Europragmatics who wish to Stay & Europhobes who wish to Leave.

C.     The weakness in the Brexit case
a.      The Brexiters argue that a Leave vote would be followed by a negotiation between Britain & the Eu which would allow us to retain free trade access to Europe without belonging to the political aspect of the Union nor being bound by Eu regulation. There are fundamental flaws in this hypothesis:

i.      Why should the other 27 Eu countries –terrified of isolationist parties in their own back yard- wish to be seen to reward the UK for walking out the exit door?

 ii.      The ‘economic access but not membership of the Eu’ is precisely the situation Norway & Iceland are in today. To secure economic access these countries have had to agree by much of the Eu regulation -93 statutes of it to be precise- & pay £300m into the Eu coffers to be granted that access. And they have had to accept free movement of Eu migrants - the very control the Brexiters wish to have! Why should it be different for the UK? So the only real difference would be losing our seat at the table in the Eu & our capability to influence the decisions that impact us

 iii.      What chance of improving the Eu & making it the forward looking economic powerhouse on our doorstep that we all want, if we stand outside it?

 iv.      The very weaknesses the Brexiters see in the Eu are those that it would make it extremely difficult for all 27 to come together to find the practical political will to offer an ‘out Britain’ the deal the Brexiters want- whether as a ‘re-entrant with swathes of Eu exemptions ‘or as an ‘Out country with economic access’ to the Eu market

v.      And were we to fail to negotiate tariff free access to Europe, we would be back to protectionism with prices of food & other goods rising –in some areas dramatically

vi.      To withdraw from the Eu we would have to exercise Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which specifies that it is the (by then bitterly offended) Eu that would settle the terms of any new deal with the withdrawing party - & Article 50 is explicit that the withdrawing party (in this case Britain!) is not part of the discussions on those terms.

vii.      God help us if we have to spend the next five years renegotiating our institutional, financial & economic relationships with the Eu. Think of Turkey knocking fruitlessly on the door for over twenty years. And remember de Gaulle’s “Non”.

b.     These Brexit MP’s make much of “national sovereignty” ignoring the fact that all forms of international collaboration by definition cede some absolute sovereignty- whether as members of NATO, of the IMF, of the UN, of the WHO etc etc. These MP’s interest in sovereignty has much to do with their own power- & since I am suspicious of political agendas of change, I am delighted if their power is compromised & hedged in! (PS. And if you want expense scandals look no further than Westminster!)
c.      The City is our major global asset. Would an Eu without Britain not take steps to build a rival on the Continent-? in Frankfurt. Indeed would any post Brexit free trade deal with the Eu include services?
d.     The Eu has 33 trade deals with other countries around the world. Try negotiating that lot as ‘Newly Isolated UK Inc’! And it would remove us from the US/Eu trade negotiation currently in hand.
e.      The Brexiters imagine a world free of red tape & bristling with enterprise. They clearly have short memories & don’t recall the stifling bureaucracy of Britain pre-Europe. Our Civil Service have entrenched habits & our politicians an enduring taste for meddling. In fact I am reliably informed that a disproportionate % of Eu legislation has its origins in proposals from Britain.
f.       It is hard to believe that at a time of heightened security risk from ISIL & from Putin that we would be safer ‘going it alone’

In short I see Brexit as lunacy. A huge gamble & the road to global irrelevance for Britain, which would lead quite probably to the break up of the Union & grave troubles on the Continent.

The European Union may one day fall apart but it is not in our geopolitical interest to be the catalyst for it. We are better together & would be considerably the poorer apart.

The weakening of the pound in recent weeks gives the world’s markets’ view on the balance of the argument but is I fear just the beginning if we were to sleepwalk out of Europe. This is a historic moment & we should not play poker with our future.

So Darling Wife please vote to Stay In!

To try and be fair - I am going to try and find a comprehensive "reasons to leave" article and post it here too.

Please share the above with anyone who is interested.....

Friday, 8 April 2016

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Hilarious !

The hilarious Miranda de Barra sent me this quote recently with the suggestion of meeting for Afternoon Tea - my answer was a big YES!