Tuesday, 30 June 2009


We are heading off tomorrow, around 6 am for Scotland. We will visit Andrew's Uncle and Aunt in Perthshire, pick up my Dad in Keith and then stay in Ballater. On Saturday we are planning to climb Lochnagar.

My Mother was born at the foot of Lochnagar and climbed it many times as a teenager. When she died last year, and I realised that I had never done the climb. I was determined to do that before I got too old or decrepit.

The weather forecast is not good, so that my put the kybosh on the attempt. But if we do reach the summit, it will be emotional realising that I am seeing the view that my mother (and indeed my grandparents) saw on many occasions.

I'll report back here in due course.

Sunday, 28 June 2009


Yesterday we went for a walk from Moorgate, via Spitalfields Market, Ledinhall Market, Monument, Southwark Cathedral, The Globe, Tate Modern and the South Bank Centre (where I used to work). I took the film shown below.

Afterwards we met some friends at the St Alban restaurant in Lower Regent Street which is rapidly becoming my favourite restaurant in London. The meal was excellent.

All in all, a good day.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Sow and Reap

Last summer, Amro Worldwide, our travel company, ran a series of adverts on the London underground. They were an attempt to reclain the phrase 'so gay' as a positive phrase whilst at the same time bringing our company to the attention of the gay community in London. We ran these ads in conjunction with 6 American states - 'California is So Gay' South Carolina is So Gay' etc.

And there the campaign would have ended. Except that Mark Sandford, the Governor of South Carolina, found out about the campaign, took exception to it, and demanded that the ads be removed. He sacked the employee of South Carolina Tourism with whom we had been working and ensured that we were not paid. He did this on grounds of morality.

Now, one year on, his own morality is laid bare for all to see. He has been having an affair in Argentina. He has a wife and four kids. And he may have to resign as Governor.

It serves him right for moralising at others. As ye sow so shall ye reap.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Dirt and Dust

In Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinajad had described the protesters as 'Khas o Khashak' which is translated as 'dirt and dust'. This arrogant put-down is now been taken up by the demonstrators and used for their own purposes. One of Tehran's newspapers has now described the situation as the 'Epic of Dirt and Dust.' One of Iran's top singers has asked that his songs are no longer broadcast because 'apparently my music is the music of dirt and dust'.

The phrase has backfired on Ahmandinajad. But I guess in the scheme of things, this will make no difference. I was in Teheran in 1979 when all the demonstrations against the Shah were taking place. I saw them on the television and witnessed some of them at first hand. I remember one day there was a demonstration outside our office in downtown Teheran. As was often the case, the people in the front of the demonstration were unarmed women wearing their black chadors. The Shah's troops arrived and set up a machine gun post on the flyover above the demonstrators. Through loud hailers they told the crowd to disperse. They didn't. The troops opened fire. Some of the women in the front line fall to the ground. The other women simply stood firm. More shots were fired. More women fell to the ground.

It was at that moment that I knew that the Iranian revolution was going to succeed. The people were simply too numerous and too dedicated to the cause to be beaten. I don't have the same feeling today, though. The Shah had very little support and was only being sustained through force. Ahmadinajad may not have majority support from the people, but he has sufficient support from some of the people combined with support from the ruling mullahs and, of course, from the supreme leader. I suspect that the protest is doomed to fail.

But Iran cannot go back to the way it was. The authority of Khameini has been damaged. The strength of the opposition is there for all to see. The young people of Iran will continue to demand freedom. And slowly, bit by bit, they will get that freedom.

The world is a global village, now more than ever. And ultimately it is that aspect of the world which will, in my view, topple dictatorships all over the world. Iran, North Korea, China. They cannot last forever. But blood will be spilt; brave men and women will die for the cause of freedom. And we should be grateful to them for their ultimate sacrifice. It's not just their freedom. It is our freedom too.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Genie in the Bottle

In 1978 I was living and working in Iran. The Shah was in power and any resistance to his regime was brutally suppressed by SAVAK, the secret police. Then he was forced by the West to relax some of the excesses of his regime. This allowed some protests to start, fuelled by the Ayatollah Khomeini from his base in Iraq and then in Paris.

When the Shah tried to stop the protests, he could not do this. The genie was out of the bottle. So the protests mounted and eventually in February 1979 the Iranian Revolution happened, the Shah was forced to flee and the Ayatollah returned. I was in Teheran during all of this time.

Now the same is happening again. The people were given limited freedom during the election campaign. When the result was announced and it turned out to be fraudulent, the regime assumed that they could carry on as before. But once again the freedom genie was out of the bottle and could not be put back in. So the protests have mounted and the regime does not know what to do.

Now of course I do not know how it will all end up. The power lies with the state and if they use this in a violent manner, no doubt they can defeat and terrorise the people into meek acceptance. But for how long? Once a people have tasted freedom, they remember that taste. And one day that freedom will come. Often many lives are lost in the gaining of the freedom. But remember, there is not enough darkness in the whole world to extinguish the flame of a candle.

My thoughts are with the brave demonstrators on the streets of Teheran and other Iranian cities. I hope they retain the courage of their convictions but also the sanity to remain true to their non-violent aspirations. They have my admiration. I am fearful but fascinated by what is happening. Keeping my fingers crossed for the democratic process in Iran is a feeble gesture.

But, at present, it is all I can do.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Alas, poor Gordon

On Thursday I went into the polling booth without a clear idea for whom I would vote. That has never happened to me before. I am a paid-up member of the Labour party and I have voted Labour in every recent election. So the dilemma should not have arisen.

But in the end I could not vote for the Labour candidate this time. I am so disappointed, not necessarily in the policies, but in the inability of the party, and the leader in particular, to communicate its ethos and achievements to the British public. Franky the current leadership are pathetic. And Gordon Brown, for all his intellect, simply lacks the rounded skills necessary for a Prime Minister.

So I voted for the Liberal Democrats. They have the right blend of economic and social policies. Their leader is persuasive, their Treasury Spokesman is calm and rational and their support of minority causes is admirable.

My vote made no difference of course. The Liberal Democrats did not make any advance. They remain as far away from government as ever. But by voting, and by giving serious consideration to who is deserving of my vote, I feel that I have earned the right to criticise those who I feel are worthy of criticism.

Now I expect more of all mainstream political parties. Partly this is to halt the growth of the far right. And partly this is to improve the level of political debate generally. So go to it.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Backyard Culture

It is strange, but very true, that it takes the visit of some faraway friends to prompt us to see what is in our local area.

Yesterday two very dear friends from South Beach in California came to visit us in Hitchin. Having joined English Heritage just a week ago, we decided to show them out three nearest properties, none of which we have ever visited. These were Houghton House near Ampthill, De Grey Mausoleum in Flitton and Wrest Park near Silsoe.

It was a really enjoyable day. The stark ruin of Houghton House, the inspiration for John Bunyan's 'House Beautiful', dominated the surrounding landscape, the Mausoleum of the De Grey family is a huge sepulchral chapel and the gardens at Wrest Park are vast and impressive.

We also had a great lunch in Ampthill and an excellent dinner in Hitchin to round off a varied and interesting day.

As ever, I took the flip video, and here is the result -

Thursday, 4 June 2009


I have just come back from a very successful couple of days in Stratford upon Avon where we have been putting together the programme for the annual AGI Conference which will take place there in September.

It's been a bit like baking a cake. We had 120 ingredients in the form of submitted papers. We selected the best of these ingredients, decided on the order in which these should be used in the cake and on the layers of that cake. Then we looked at the overall look of the final product, akin to the icing on the cake. It looks good and will taste excellent. In other words we have a fantastic conference to look forward to.

I took some video shots but in the editing process I managed to inadvertently delete all the shots I took this morning of the River Avon and the swans. I am pissed off about that. In future I will save all clips before I try to edit them. So I am left with just a shell of the video of some of the moments during the process of discussing the content of the conference - and the food.

Here is a short extract.