Friday, August 31, 2012

Why would The Economist cut its best writing?

I know all the pieces in the Economist are unsigned but from time to time they produce passages of prose that you want to read more than once. A few days ago they published on their website an obituary of Neil Armstrong, which contained this paragraph:
Perhaps the most unexpected consequence of the moon flights was a transformation of attitudes towards Earth itself. Space was indeed beautiful, but it was beauty of a severe, geometrical sort. Planets and stars swept through the cosmos in obedience to Isaac Newton’s mathematical clockwork, a spectacle more likely to inspire awe than love. Earth was a magnificent contrast, a jewel hung in utter darkness, an exuberant riot of chaos and life in a haunting, abyssal emptiness. The sight had a profound effect on the astronauts, and photos of the whole Earth, which had never been seen before, nourished the nascent green movement.
I found the thought really striking and the image of the jewel hung in utter darkness particularly memorable. I tweeted about it. Quite a few people agreed and re-tweeted it.

This morning I was reading the print edition and there's the obituary. It's been cut, partly for fit, but also presumably to dampen down its lyricism. The above paragraph now reads:

Yet the flights had one huge unintended consequence: they transformed attitiudes towards Earth itself. He too had been astonished to see his own planet "quite beautiful", remote and very blue, covered with a white lace of clouds. 
I know Samuel Johnson said you should read your work back, find the bit you like best and strike it out, but this is ridiculous.

What Mick Jagger knows that Obama doesn't

Interesting short piece here saying that Obama isn't very good at schmoozing wealthy donors, which you have to do when running in a Presidential election. He particularly finds it tiresome to pose for photographs with them, which is basically what they want. Clinton didn't find it tiresome.

The grip-and-grin on the wall of the office, den or lavatory says more about the person who put it there than cash ever can. It costs the gripper no more than a few seconds. For the grinner it's beyond price. The grip is firm, practised and over before it's begun. The grin makes the junior partner in the pairing look vaguely foolish, as if they've been goosed and quite enjoyed it.

As Obama's disbelieving fundraisers say “They just want a picture of themselves with the President that they can hang on the bathroom wall, so that their friends can see it when they take a piss.”

Obama could learn here from Mick Jagger, who has had a slightly longer career. There's a sequence in the film about the Rolling Stones playing Copacabana Beach in 2006 in which they lurch from room to room before the gig purely to have their pictures taken with groups of clearly thrilled corporate sponsors. Each interaction takes about a minute. The Stones know it could be worth a zero on the cheque on some future tour. Not for nothing do Mick and Keith call themselves the Glimmer Twins. They know the power of giving people just a glimmer of stardust.

Even Bruce Springsteen, who used to avoid this kind of thing, appreciates glimmer power. When he turned up at the BFI to launch The Promise a couple of years ago he was installed at a stool in the bar afterwards as a queue of hacks, media powerbrokers and even Rob Brydon lined up to have their thirty seconds of joshing conversation before getting what they'd come for, a souvenir of having occupied the same actual physical space as him.

Earlier this year our son was involved in organising an event at which Bill Clinton was speaking. Make sure you get a picture taken with him, we joked and then never thought any more of it. Then it arrived. In focus. Everybody smiling. Bill knows.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Who remembers actual pay packets?

The man from the BBC was interviewing Martin Sorrell this morning about his "pay packet". Considering this is almost seven million pounds a year I assume he was being flip.

But then I hear about Premier League footballers "putting in a shift", busy midfielders described as "grafters" and Adebayor's £150,000 a week referred to as "wages" and I wonder how long that whole world of factory work and weekly wages will have to be dead before people stop reaching back to it as a source of metaphor. It's as if we can only deal with silly money by comparing it to the dimly-remembered serious sort.

 Sorrell is probably old enough to have done a holiday job where he was paid in a brown envelope. I doubt the same thing could be said of his interrogator.

When I worked "on the bins" in the early 70s the Securicor van would draw up in the yard on Friday morning. We would queue at the van's window to be handed our money in sealed envelopes. These had a cellophane panel through which you could count the carefully folded notes. There were also tiny holes through which you could check the coins, all without breaking the seal. I can remember the heavy breathing of the men as they counted.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

50 years ago this week the Fifties ended and the Sixties began

Fifty years ago this week, in the last week of August 1962, the last summer of the old world was drawing to a close. Nobody knew it at the time. Nobody knew that the following year, 1963, was going to see Beatlemania, Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and Bob Dylan singing “Blowing In The Wind”.

During the summer of 1962, in Liverpool, Chelsea, Jamaica, Los Angeles and New York, a handful of odd young people were plotting their careers, although they wouldn't have called them that. They didn’t dream that anyone would care the following year, let alone fifty years later.

On August 16th 1962 The Beatles sacked their drummer Pete Best. EMI said he wasn't good enough. Ringo Starr was in bed at home when his mother announced Brian Epstein was outside. In 1962 not everyone had a phone.

On July 12th 1962 the Rollin' Stones played their first show at the Marquee Club. Their eighteen-song set featured six tunes by Jimmy Reed. Ian Stewart said at the time Mick, Keith and Brian were literally the only people in the UK at all familiar with this music. It’s difficult to convey today just how far underground Chess rhythm and blues was in America at that time, let along in the UK.

Peter Stringfellow started the Black Cat Club in summer 1962, in St Aiden’s Church Hall in Sheffield. 15-year old David Jones was in a group called The Kon-Rads, who played a few shows around Bromley in Kent. They made a single at Decca's studios in West Hampstead on August 30th 1962. He left soon after because he wanted to play rhythm and blues and changed his name to David Bowie.

Mick Jagger moved into a flat in Chelsea where he was joined by Keith Richards and Brian Jones. Jagger was still a student at the LSE at the time, though he wouldn’t go back in September. He wasn't the only young person that summer trying to choose between higher education – just 4% of 18-year-olds went to university in 1962 – and a future for which there was no template. In California Al Jardine left the Beach Boys, who had already had a local hit with Surfin', to go to college and study dentistry. In New York Paul Simon was studying English Literature at Queens College while making demos for music publishers in his spare time.

In August 1962 Robert Zimmerman, who had already made a whole long player, changed his name legally to Bob Dylan. There was no way he was going home to Hibbing with that name.

In July 1962 Andy Warhol unveiled his first one-man exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. The exhibition consisted of thirty-two individual canvases of cans for different flavours of Campbell's soup. A young actor called Dennis Hopper bought one for $100.

In the summer of 1962 Joe Orton was serving his six-month sentence for defacing library books. Wilfred Brambell, star of the BBC’s comedy hit of the year Steptoe and Son, was arrested in a gentlemen’s lavatory on Shepherd’s Bush Green, not far from where his fictional character collected rags and bones.

In Jamaica, which became independent on August 6th 1962, the 16-year old Bob Marley released his first record, a cover of a US country and western hit called One Cup Of Coffee, under the name Bobby Martell.

The communications satellite Telstar was launched on July 10th 1962. Within days producer Joe Meek had his Holloway Road studio working on the instrumental of the same name, which came out on August 17th. This was just two weeks after Marilyn Monroe had been found dead at the age of thirty-six.

Edward and Florence, the honeymoon couple in Ian McEwan’s novel On Chesil Beach dined in their hotel room in July 1962, possibly even on the same night the Rollin’ Stones were playing Jimmy Reed at the Marquee, in “an era when to be young was a social encumbrance, a mark of irrelevance, a faintly embarrassing condition for which marriage was the beginning of a cure.”

In the summer of 1962 nobody guessed youth was something you could prolong. The events of the coming winter, a cold one, would change all that. Not all the people who shivered through that winter, hatching plans for their own little careers, became as famous as The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Andy Warhol, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson. Not all of them had a name which still resounds into the following century. Obviously there had to be a time when the rest of us hadn’t heard of them. What’s more amazing, given the way they and the sixties remain yoked together in the public imagination all these years later, is that there was ever a time when they hadn’t heard of each other.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My ten laws of record collecting

I've spent the weekend trying to tidy up my vinyl. This exercise forced me to admit to myself that I've got too much. I don't mean too much in the sense of "you can't possibly listen to it all", as my mother used to say. I mean too many records that I'm not all that bothered about and quite a few that I don't think I'll ever listen to. To give you an idea, a flick through the F's yields albums by Floy Joy, The Family Stand and Friends Again plus a solo album by Andy Fraser.

Of course, you just accumulate records over the years. You buy some. In my job you get given others. Then you start hanging on to the third album because you quite liked the first one, which is no way to carry on. If you were born in a certain era you never shake off the feeling that records are precious even when they're clearly not.

If I was starting again now, this is what I'd do:

  1. I would have fewer records by more people. There are a couple of dozen rock acts who have made more than two great LPs. In most cases two is plenty.
  2. Buy more singles and fewer LPs. Anybody worth their salt can condense their talent into a hit single. As a genre rock albums get far too much reverence and pop singles don't get nearly enough.
  3. Don't worry about formats. They're all provisional. They go in and out of favour. Look at all the people who "let their vinyl go" and have kicked themselves ever since.
  4. Don't bother with Greatest Hits albums. Nobody ever fell in love with a Greatest Hits album. Now that everything is going to be in the Cloud for ever there's really no reason for them at all.
  5. Don't bother "keeping up" with music. In general the best music is the oldest. As you get older you appreciate music that once seemed merely quaint. Louis Armstrong's been dead since 1971 but he'll never be as dead as [insert name of overrated contemporary artist here].
  6. Don't say "I like all kinds of things". Everybody thinks they've got broad taste. The more music you listen to the more you're aware of how much you've yet to hear.
  7. Buy more records by black musicians. Records made by black musicians are usually better than records made by white musicians. Most record collections have too much of the latter and not enough of the former.
  8. Don't bother alphabetising your records. Now that any tune you want to hear is a couple of clicks away you should approach your shelves in search of inspiration rather than enquiry.
  9. Don't worry if you let a record go. There is an angel watching over record lovers to ensure that you never ditch anything you are intended to hang on to. 
  10. Don't waste time trying to like things you don't like because you think you ought to. It's supposed to be popular music, for God's sake.

Friday, August 24, 2012

So I went to the Proms at the Albert Hall

I went to the Proms on Tuesday night, to hear the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra play Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony. It's the first time in my life I'd been to a classical concert. I've been to the opera and the ballet quite a few times but this is the first time I've seen and heard a full-blown 100-piece orchestra playing in front of devotees.

The quality of the silence is different. During the quiet passages - which achieve a quietness which would be impossible at even the most sympathetic acoustic rock show - the only noises that six thousand people make are the involuntary ones: a cough, a shifting buttock, a stomach gurgling.

There are almost a hundred players on the stage but only rarely are they all playing, even in a piece as kitchen sink-inclusive as the Shostakovich. The idea that whole sections of a band can be held in reserve for such long periods of time would be anathema to the average rock outfit, which uses all its instruments all the time for fear of upsetting anyone who's left out.

And finally, the audience is so motley it would be impossible to not fit in.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The shop window is the only place to be in the digital high street

Here's a funny thing. When we launched The Word iPad app back in spring of this year Apple got in touch and asked us to supply some material. The app had been well-received in the press, there was no comparable music publication on the "shelves" of Apple's Newsstand and we thought we had a chance of having it featured in the tiny shop window through which the outside world makes its choices. While Apple obviously couldn't guarantee they were going to feature it on the front page we took the request as a very good sign. We waited a few weeks. Nothing happened. Yesterday, two months after we announced that we were closing the magazine, this appeared on the App Store under "What's Hot".

I'm not saying that if we'd had this prominence back in May it would have saved the magazine. It might however have helped indicate whether we could have reached a new, potentially international readership with a digital version that we could have never reached with a physical product. As it was we were largely appealing to people who already knew the magazine and wanted another way to access it. The sales figures were good but they weren't good enough to justify pinning everything on an app future.

This is the crowning irony of the digital distribution of anything. Unless you can get in the front window of iTunes, of Amazon, of Spotify, of whatever comes next, you are condemned to spend your days in the stygian gloom at The Back Of The Shop, where few shoppers venture, where everything is available and nothing actually moves.

In the old days of Borders, book publishers would pay large sums of money to have their paperbacks stacked on those tables near the door because they knew that only by creating the illusion that something was already selling could they get it to sell in quantities big enough to pay for the stacking.

In theory people want limitless choice. In practice they want as little choice as possible.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Does anybody have this much fun in the media nowadays?

In 1992 I was doing a weekly music show on Friday evenings on GLR, as the BBC's London station was called at the time. When the host of the morning show went on holiday they asked me to sit in.

The producer was the late Chris Whatmough. Chris said to me, if you're interested in guests, I'll get you guests. In the two weeks I hosted the programme he delivered Michael Palin, Julie Burchill, Roy Jenkins, Anthony Burgess, Michael Winner, Nick Hornby, Malcolm Bradbury, Brian Eno, General Sir Peter de la Billiere, Imran Khan and the two fat ladies, Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson. There were others but those are the names that stick in my mind.

He didn't have to go out of his way to get those people, some of whom seem almost historical figures twenty years later. They were all on the publicity circuit, plugging new books or TV programmes. All the interviews followed the same form. Twenty minutes of chat, interrupted by a couple of pop records. As I look back it's the combination of serious chat with pop records that amazes me most. I'd go from asking Roy Jenkins about representing the British government at JFK's funeral to playing some record by Crowded House and then come back to ask him about wine. Many of them were people not used to hearing pop records. Anthony Burgess winced and said to me off-air "how can you listen to this kind of thing?"

Nonetheless it worked. Nobody came in with minders. Nobody tried to lay down "ground rules" for the interview. Nobody asked whether the guests were relevant to the audience or what the London angle was. Obviously it couldn't last and it didn't. All these things - radio formats, magazines, ways of doing things in different areas of the media - pass, which is as it should be. However what I can't help but mourn is the fact that there seems to be a determination nowadays, in every area of the media, that nothing quite as freewheeling as this should ever happen again. If things similarly freewheeling and odd are going, I must have missed them. If they aren't, well, I was even more privileged to have had the GLR experience.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Could millionaire footballers end up poor?

Interesting piece about Michael Owen in today's Guardian. The Premier League kicks off today and he doesn't have a club. Manchester United let him go after having hardly played him. Was that because of fitness or has he lost his appetite for the game? I was interested in this line:
...there are people within Owen's circle who freely admit he wants to work because he needs money for his horse racing empire at Manor House Stables.
Before the days of the Premier League it was quite common for top footballers to have money problems after retirement. It's always been assumed that since millionaire footballers became relatively common this would no longer happen. As long as they invested some of their peak earnings they need never work again. They used to run pubs and sports shops. These days they play for higher stakes. It's all fashion labels and football schools. And there's always the divorce court, which is the reason so many rock stars stay on the road.

 If Michael Jackson could spend his vast pile of loot then Michael Owen could certainly spend his.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What the magazine business learned from Elvis Presley's death

When Elvis Presley died, thirty-five years ago today, People was already America's most popular magazine. Amazingly, they didn't put him on the cover. The issue that was on the stands when he died featured an interview with actor Tom Bosley, which gave them an excuse to go with a picture of the new Charlie's Angels
A week after, when Presley records were topping charts all over the world, it was Sissy Spacek and a story about Keith Jarrett. The week after that they actually had his former girlfriend Ann-Margret in a two-shot with Marty Feldman but still, amazingly, they restrained themselves.
It wasn't until the September 5th issue that they allowed themselves the small panel top-left saying "Elvis - his last live-in lover raps".
The people running People aren't fools and they weren't fools then. However the things that seem clear with hindsight were not clear at the time. People had a number of guidelines. It preferred to lead with females. It tended to avoid sleaze. It had found musicians as cover subjects to be divisive. Elvis was more popular in the south than the north. In what we now realise were his later years he didn't matter to many people beyond his shrinking constituency of original fans. And celebrity death wasn't the guaranteed seller of copies that it is today. When John Lennon died, a mere three years later, everybody in the media had learned the lesson of Elvis Presley, that dead celebrities are actually more popular than living ones, and the magazine covers poured forth in an unending flow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why it's a good thing your children won't be rock stars

In his New Yorker profile of Bruce Springsteen, David Remnick suggests that Springsteen's father Doug, the shadowy figure at the end of the kitchen table in so many of his songs and stage monologues, may actually have been bipolar. Springsteen confirms that his own disinclination to take drugs was because of a deep-seated fear of turning out like his father and adds that his parents' struggles are "the subject of my life".

Such looking over your shoulder is not what we expect from a young rock and roll star, which may be why rock stars actually become more interesting as people as they get older, by which time their music tends to be less interesting. It's only in late middle-age that people realise how much of themselves has been inherited from their parents and grandparents and how little is their own invention. When you're the same age as your rock star heroes you accept them on their own estimation. That airy way they describe themselves into the microphones of journalists and DJs is the way you would  describe your own life if only anybody was bothered to ask about it. More to the point you don't have enough experience of life to be able to wonder about the little gaps in the narrative or the incidents which may have grown in the telling. For instance, you don't question the surprising number of rock stars who claim to have been expelled from school.

When you're old enough to have children of rock star age and you look at life through the prism of family rather than the prism of self, you become more sceptical about the claims they make for themselves and start to get more interested in the circumstances of their upbringing. You realise that people are shaped more by their childhood experiences than by anything that came later. Elvis Presley's still-born twin, Lennon and McCartney's lost mothers, Joni Mitchell's months in the polio ward, David Bowie's disturbed half-brother, Brian Wilson's martinet of a father - these are the things that were driving them long before they were aware of having drives. These were the wounds and sensitivities that shaped their families and in turn shaped them. It's this that makes them run and keep on running.

I read a story about a tennis agent who said that when he was seeking fresh talent he kept a lookout for crazy parents. He wasn't looking to avoid crazy parents. He found it helped to have them. Think of that next time they cut away to the players' box during TV coverage of Wimbledon.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Olympics won't make us better because we're not like that

I'm not sure you can learn a lot from the Olympics other than the fact that, having invented sport, the British seem to love it more than anyone else.

In the run-up to the Games the nation seemed to be full of Private Frazers. Since it started we've all suddenly become Pollyanna. The papers today are full of portentous pieces about how we can use the experience to bring about some change in the national character.

I came across this extract from a speech made in the House of Lords by the late Lord Longford:
I asked Sir William Beveridge to come to lunch. I was meeting with Evelyn Waugh, an old friend and famous writer. They did not get on at all well. Evelyn Waugh said to him at the end, "How do you get your main pleasure in life, Sir William?" He paused and said, "I get mine trying to leave the world a better place than I found it". Evelyn Waugh said, "I get mine spreading alarm and despondency" — this was in the height of the war — "and I get more satisfaction than you do".
Beveridge invented the welfare state. Waugh wrote some great books. I like to think of Longford sitting there listening to the pair of them, admiring the mischief of the latter almost as much as nobility of the former. That's the national character. And if it isn't, it ought to be.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What these Olympics need is John Arlott

If I was a commentator at the Olympics I would avoid saying "what can I say?" for fear someone might ask, isn't that your job?

Maybe the reason they can't think of anything new to say is that they don't try, preferring to flail around for superlatives when a little description is what's really called for.

All the commentators agreed that David Rudisha, who won last night's 800 metre gold, was a beautiful runner but none of them tried to tell you why or how.

John Arlott, the great cricket commentator of my youth, would have done. Arlott likened a Clive Lloyd shot to "a man knocking a thistle top with a walking stick". He described Ian Botham running in to bowl as being "like a shire horse cresting the breeze". Asif Mamood approached the wicket "like Groucho Marx chasing a pretty waitress".

He was good at describing cricket because he hadn't wasted time playing the game. He was a policeman. He was also the only commentating genius we've ever produced.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Two brilliant magazine profiles from the archives

I've just read two genuinely great magazine profiles. One is Gay Talese's story about Frank Sinatra which appeared in Esquire in 1965. The other is Janet Flanner's three-part piece about Adolf Hitler which The New Yorker published in 1936.

Both men disappeared into myth in the years that followed. The profiles probably mark the last point at which it was possible to see them as human beings. Frank wasn't yet the man devoted to acting out his own legend. Hitler was clearly a bad lot but in 1936 he was far from the incarnation of the brand evil.

Both profilers get a lot of mileage out of the things we are always interested in: what they eat, how they organise their wardrobes, their taste in cars, the nervousness of the immediate entourage, the difference they make to a place when they arrive. The profiler hangs around so that we don't have to, recording the details we would be too flustered to notice.

We learn that Hitler didn't take a salary and walks in "a hurried dogtrot" and that Sinatra is followed around by an inconspicuous grey-haired lady holding a tiny satchel containing his sixty hair-pieces.

Neither of them contain an actual interview with the subject. It wouldn't add any illumination if they did.

Interestingly, they both appeared under the kind of unpretentious headlines that wouldn't be considered big enough for a profile of even a run of the mill celebrity today. The Esquire piece is called "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold". The New Yorker piece is called "F├╝hrer".

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

I don't know how Olympic parents do it

P&G have been running a campaign around the Olympics celebrating the mothers of athletes. This was very shrewd. It's a way-in to the subject for people who aren't bothered about sports and it doesn't depend on picking winners.

The TV coverage has briefly made stars of a handful of proud mums and dads, from the South African Burt Le Clos through the twitchy parents of American gymnast Ali Raisman (watch how he has to lift himself out of his seat so great is his suffering) to Chris Hoy's mum and dad who are so nervous they only get out their home-made banner (above) when it's clear he's won.

Most of us who are parents have had a very distant taste of what it must be like to watch the whole world watching your child try to do something unbelievably difficult. I've stood on touchlines in earlier years watching some of mine take part in team games. They're the most intense experiences of my sporting and parenting life because on top of the usual team loyalties you have the ties of flesh and blood. There are few sterner tests of your unconditional love than an own goal or an intercepted pass that lets the whole side down.

I genuinely don't know how the parents of top athletes stand it. How they can contain the joy when it goes right. How they can disguise their disappointment when it goes wrong. I can certainly understand why Jonny Wilkinson's mother was in the supermarket at the moment her son slotted that drop-kick.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Why the Olympics on TV is making us cry

The truest thing I ever heard about TV came from a senior broadcasting executive. TV, he told me, is all about the human face going through a moment of disclosure.

It's obviously the case with the traditional TV favourites. From Mastermind to The X-Factor, the camera is ravenous for the face of a person undergoing triumph or disaster. All successful TV formats revolve around a basic money shot like this.

The interesting thing is it's also the case with televised sport. Match Of The Day is nothing without the close-ups of the player who's either scored or missed. The action is great in its own way but the drama comes from the narrative and the narrative depends on the close-up.

Jude Rogers has been at the rowing today and she reports it was exciting. I've been watching it on the telly box and the temptation to cry has been almost irresistible. That's what telly wants you to do.

Friday, August 03, 2012

The Victorians didn't just invent sport - they finished it

In The New Yorker this week:
Twenty-six sports will be played in London this summer, with medals awarded in three hundred and two events. The majority of those medals will be given in sports that originated, in their modern form, in Britain: archery, athletics (track and field), boxing, badminton, field hockey, football (soccer), rowing, sailing, swimming, water polo, table tennis, and tennis. Britain is also the birthplace of curling, cross-country, cricket, croquet, golf, squash, and rugby—which is scheduled to become an Olympic sport in 2016. No other country comes close. Three Olympic sports originated in the United States: basketball, volleyball, and the triathlon, which was invented in 1974. Two originated in Germany: handball and gymnastics.

This causes me to once again reflect on the fact that most of the world's sports were invented or codified by British people in a quite brief period of the 19th century. And since then, what? Nothing that's had even the slightest effect on the dial of public enthusiasm. It's a staggering achievement. Nobody ever invented anything as completely as the Victorians invented sport.

And given all this evidence, how come we dare to characterise them as people unfamiliar with the concept of fun? Didn't they actually invent it?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

It's happened. The Olympics have made London quieter than usual

In the months leading up to the Olympics Londoners divided into two groups: the first thought it was bound to make the city unbearably busy; the second thought London couldn't get much busier and that it might well get quieter.

I've been back in the country 24 hours and it seems clear to me the second lot have won the argument.

The gardens of Camberley are probably resounding to the noise of sit-upon lawnmowers driven by civil servants "working from home" at the moment. Well, if any of them feel like popping into the office they could probably drive that lawnmower into town, so little traffic is there.

We arrived back at Folkestone at six o'clock on Monday evening and breezed round the M25. I have literally never seen the road so quiet, not even in the middle of the night.

This evening we went into town to see Eugene Onegin at the Holland Park Opera. (Fantastic. Go. Oh. Too late.) There were fewer people on the tube than usual.

Of course, large numbers were on the move. 70,000 people were on their way to Wembley to see football. This is 10,000 fewer than usually go.

The waiters in restaurants on High Street Kensington were looking dolefully out of the windows in the hopes of tempting customers in. You could hunt buffalo inside most dining establishments.

On the way home we changed at King's Cross and the extra LT staff were massing around the barriers looking for any exotically dressed visitor they could help.

Don't listen to those people on the radio, warning you to stay at home. They've all gone to work, haven't they? And if you're thinking of going into town for any reason, give the whole "London's impossible" crowd two fingers and go. Those restaurants and theatres will be glad to see you.