Friday, 31 October 2008

Could this man make you laugh?

I was at an awards evening in London last night. Former MP David Mellor QC was the after dinner speaker.

What I was expecting was an entertaining account of some of the seamier (and widely publicised) episodes in his life. Instead he told jokes - few of which I think he'd written himself.

It was as if he was trying too hard to be an 'after dinner speaker' and give people what he though they might be expecting. He should simply have been himself . . . . . in my view.

In many ways his lacklustre performance was just what I needed to witness. It's so reassuring to find that even those much further up the professional speaking ladder than me have off days and get it wrong.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Our daughter's flown the nest

Ruth, our daughter has just landed in Addis Ababa after an overnight flight from London. She's working for at least a year for The Malaria Consortium as an intern, having completed her MSc at the London School of Hygiene this summer.

She emailed from her office to say that a) she had arrived, b) the coffee's excellent and c) she arrived to find her name was on her office door - a lovely touch.

We're planning to visit her there early next year and I for one can't wait to explore Ethiopia. I'm already wondering what happens there on an entrepreneurial nature and if it's going to be possible to combine holiday and work. I've come close to visiting Nigeria a couple of times and Africa and its economic challenges and opportunities fascinate me.

I guess it's inevitable that my travels now will be focused on visiting the kids . . . . yet another sign that middle age has arrived!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Bodyworlds is back!

As a signed up body donor I got an invitation to the pre-view of the new Bodyworlds exhibition at O2. The show opens today and runs for several months. It's well worth a visit.

We walked round behind a couple of journalists from the Evening Standard. One was telling the other that the bodies were all 'Ukranian mental patients'. I had to but in and point out that he was wrong.

There are now 104 UK body donors (my daughter Ruth is the latest) who can see lots of merit in being recycled as an exhibit/teaching aid after death. The alternatives, burial or cremation seem to be rather wasteful.

The exhibition had several old favourites, the pregnant lady, a muscular athlete and lots of smokers' lungs. There were some exciting new exhibits too, the most striking of which is a giraffe.

Gunter was in fine form and we caught up on each others' news before he was dragged off for yet another press interview.

It's such a shame that controversy and misconception constantly shadow this man. He is simply following his personal vision of making anatomy and good health education accessible to all. One day I'll join him at an exhibition where we'll both be on display. Providing it's not for another 30yrs, I'm happy with that. It certainly beats rotting in a cemetery!

Bandits approaching the next roundabout

I was in London with my daughter Ruth yesterday and we visited the Cold War exhibition at the V&A.

The most exciting exhibit was a Messerschmitt KR200 just like this one. Understandably there was little demand for fighter planes in Germany after the war and so the remaining stock of cockpit canopies were used to make these wonderful bubble cars.

Ruth could not believe that people really used to drive them. I had to explain that to graduate to a bubble car from motorbike and sidecar was a huge advance in comfort and convenience.

If you're in London, the exhibition is fantastic. It runs until the end of Jan and costs just £9.00 to get in. For those in their 20s, it's a revelation about how us baby boomers lived. For those in their 50s, it's pure nostalgia.

Where was Lady Penelope?

I spent last weekend on Lanzarote speaking at a travel trade conference.

It was my first visit to the island so I had no idea what to expect. Of course I'd read that it's volcanic, but little could have prepared me for what I found. The place is totally surreal and reminded me instantly (and constantly) of Tracey Island, home of Thunderbirds.

Our hotel had a pool just like the Traceys' and I was convinced that at any moment we'd see TB1 emerge from underneath.

If you've not visited Lanzarote let me tell you it's perfect if you want to eat fish, lay in the sun and drink cocktails by the pool. If you want history, culture, greenery then it's not your place.

There's miles and miles of lava fields, volcanic peaks, and scruffy vines growing in the lave behind lava-rock windbreaks. There are also plenty of places you can eat an full English breakfast for just three euros, watch Sky Sport over a pint of Stella or simply strut along the prom, showing off your beer gut and tattoos. Having neither of these I felt rather conspicuous.

It was a great conference though and once you'd retreated into the darkened, air conditioned conference room, you could have been anywhere - even Birmingham!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Simple pleasures

I spent Sunday afternoon fetching a load of horse manure for my garden. I have an arrangement with Julie who keeps horses and lives about three miles away. She makes a muck heap, rings me up and I go and collect it.

It's a great chance to take my tractor out for a drive and to use the front loader and tipping trailer. My tractor was built in 1963 and this summer benefitted from a complete engine overhaul. (I have still not owned up to what it cost!) I also have a five foot grass cutter for it which provides further opportunities to play with it.

I first drove this model, a Fordson Super Dexta, when I was 16 and have been driving them on and off ever since. It is pure nostalgia. All the chaps driving big modern tractors on the fields I pass give me a wave. I know they'd really like to swap places.

On this trip, I passed another Dexta on the road. This one had a plough on and had been re-sprayed as well as restored. Proof that I'm not the only guy who invests vast amounts in keeping 45yr old tractor on the road.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Mental Health Week

Last week was World Mental Health week. This was appropriate for me as my depression 'black dog' bit my arse hard and refused to let go. I started waking at 3am and then when I got up later, feeling like life was not something I wanted to continue.

The tension and arguement between the rational and the suicidal continued in my head all week. What broke the spell and released me was a dinner on Friday night.

TV and radio personality Helen McDermott was guest speaker and I was MC. The event was a celebration of mental health charity Meridian East's 25th anniversary and the retirement of my friend Alan it's founder.

Helen talked about her own 'coming out' as someone with wavering mental health. She described in her talk so many of the things I experience that it was clear that how I feel is not unique. The evening, the wine, the conversation and the chance to further hone my presentation skills all helped.

Today I feel fine again. Which is just as well, as I'm facing a very busy week

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Ever been thrown out of a cafe?

I was last week, from this place in Spitalfields. It was one of my favourite haunts, just five minutes walk from Liverpool Street. A really creative space to talk, drink coffee eat cake and if they're not too busy, whip out my laptop and spend an hour writing on my current book.

All this changed when I suggested it as the perfect venue for Korean film journalist Soo Kim to interview me. As soon as she set her camera up, clipped a mike to my shirt and started filming, we were ejected. The owner told us in no uncertain terms that he doesn't allow filming in his cafe.

Now I would have though that all publicity is good publicity and that even a square metre of his cafe wall, behind my head, on TV in Seoul would be better than a poke in the eye. Clearly not.

We had to decamp and move from a delightful (once friendly) place with character to a modern, soulless cafe just over the road.

I'd love to know why we were really thrown out. Surely no one can be that publicity shy?