The House In London Road: 1.7

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The house at number 1755 London Road always loomed over our lives. It was a presence even stronger than our own house, a crowded inventory of many things that seemed to tell us who we were, a memory palace reaching far back in time to some ancient period of foundation. So at least it seemed to me as a child when every Saturday afternoon we made the journey from our house to London Road, stopping at Woolworths on the way.

One Saturday afternoon in Woolworths when I was still very small I became separated from my parents.

The House In London Road: 1.5

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I did not have many friends. There was Steve in Hall Park Avenue, who attended my school and who had a copy of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Steve was a conformist like me. We would conspire together to do things – such as running away to somewhere – that we knew would never actually happen. We would also look at the women’s magazines such as Elle and Nova that Steve’s mother collected, which had information about girls that I was unable to get elsewhere.

The House In London Road: 1.4

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In the photographs of my own parents’ wedding there are no pictures of my father’s parents. I was told later that for days before the wedding my grandmother had become increasingly hysterical, and in the end retreated to her bedroom at the top of the house at 1755 London Road. On the day she refused to leave the house and both she and my grandfather missed the wedding.

The House In London Road: 1.3

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Although I knew the exact location of the house at 1755 London Road, I was never sure where George and Grandma’s house was. The situation was complicated because they had moved from place to place before ending up in this Essex suburb. To my knowledge no one else in my family had ever moved – why would they? But my maternal grandparents had moved from somewhere in Kent where my grandmother ran a boarding house, to somewhere else where she ran a shop. My only memory of the boarding house – apart from not liking it for reasons I cannot remember – is of stairs with linoleum instead of carpet and the frosted glass panel above the front door with the name of the house – ‘Rocklands’ – visible from the stairs in reversed lettering.

The House In London Road: 1.2

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There was another significant house in our lives, which was the house of my maternal grandparents. This house was small and modern, as bare and antiseptic as an operating theatre. Compared to the cluttered house at number 1755 it seemed something like a companion moon, distant and dwarfish and cold.

The House In London Road: 1.1

My grandparents’ house at 1755 London Road still seems present to me, as if I could walk through the shadowed corridors today and throw open the brocaded curtains.

I can see the ancient dust that would swirl above the dining table with its green velveteen cover, descending on the desiccated fruit in the fruit bowl (my grandparents believed that fresh food such as fruit could be displayed but was dangerous to eat – the only really safe food was tinned food, or biscuits, or else something that had been cooked for many hours).

Planks of dusty light would populate the room. They would fall on the coloured cut glass vases on the sideboard, vases that themselves contained more dust and dead flies. They would play on the yellowing embossed wallpaper and the pre-war fittings for gas lighting. They would touch shelves where herbal-smelling cigar boxes and Dresden china figures stood, and pass over the framed photographs of Thames barges and tugs of the kind that my grandfather’s company owned and operated in the waters below Tower Bridge. There were no books – in another room my grandmother kept a library of Christian evangelical religious books and pamphlets, but books of any other kind were not to be found and to the very end of his life my grandfather maintained as a point of honour that he had never read a book.

The End Of Confidence


The Covid-19 crisis is approaching its economic peak. Most Western economies are largely closed. Stock markets have been in freefall for several weeks, and despite recent rallies may yet test deeper lows. Companies are in shell-shocked reaction mode, scrambling to protect what remains by cutting commitments across the board. Yet that instinctive reaction – to conserve by reducing risk and locking away cash – might well be the worst possible thing they could do …

Published On CapX – Read More Here


The Melting Of The Markets


In the world of financial markets and global economies the really big things rarely change rapidly. The last few weeks have proved to be an exception to the rule. In the space of days large economies have all but closed down, and financial markets have bounced up, down and side-to-side like a pinball. When change is this rapid there is a natural tendency to think that a return to the status quo ante will be just as rapid. That may prove a rash assumption …


Published On Capx – Read More Here

Those Dirty Electric Cars


Last month the UK government sprang a surprise by announcing a ban on the sale of all internal combustion engine cars and vans from 2035 – five years earlier than previously planned. No petrol, no diesels, and (depending on consultations) most likely no hybrids either. It sounds like a progressive, even daring, pro-environment policy. There is just one flaw: electric vehicles alone will do little to meet carbon emissions targets and restrain global warming. In a worst-case scenario, they could even increase emissions …

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The Chatbot’s Tale


I’ve spent much of the last year in my day job investigating the applicability of artificial intelligence. The question I’m always being asked is, ‘but does it work? The answer is…‘sort of’. It really depends on who you are …

Published on CapX – read more here

How To Trust The Internet


Earlier this month the inventor of the worldwide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee called for an online bill of rights. That’s not a bad idea. But the devil is in the detail – or rather, the lack of it.

Read more on CapX here.

The End Of The Gig Economy?


The ‘gig economy’ may be a horrible phrase but it manages to capture a lot of what is good and bad about the way the economy works now. Whether the world of ‘portfolio’ careers, ‘contingent’ employment and mobile working is a blissful liberation from the toils of nine-to-five or a trap designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer is certainly a question many like to ask, but it may be yesterday’s question. The gig economy might not be where we are headed after all.

Read more on CapX here.

Who Owns The Sky?


Who owns the sky?

It’s not such a crazy question. For the last hundred years or so – as long as aircraft have been an important part of economies – governments have claimed ownership of the airspace above our heads. Individuals or corporations may own land and use it as they see fit, but the sky belongs to the state. You may travel the airways but you do so at the government’s pleasure, on terms the government decides, and at a price the government sets.

That has been the way of things ever since aviation began. But it may not be the way of the future. Coming changes in demand and new technologies that already exist are picking away at the old order.

Read more here.

First Catch Your Lobster


It is May. The North Sea temperature has just crept over 10 degrees centigrade. The sand on the beach is almost warm. In short the lobster season is here. Time for me to push that boat out and catch some of these ineffably strange and ancient crustaceans (they’ve been around for 360 million years), these creatures of mysterious and fugitive habit (the lobster may have  limitations in the brains department but will never be domesticated – she’s a wild one). Although when I say ‘catch’ I am being optimistic. Your life as a lobster hunter is likely to be marked by expense, frustration, disappointment and blind chance. They are in their element, you are not. At some point – assuming you have not drowned – you will certainly think of giving up the trade.

But no, you won’t give up. The magic is too powerful. And because one day, perhaps today, you will haul up that lobster pot and there it will be, that speckled flash of deep blue-black rising from the sea …

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Building The Artificial Future


Artificial intelligence was the business story of 2018. But here is why I think 2019 is the year the story will unravel. Companies will start to question the cost and effectiveness of their expensive AI programmes. Financial analysts will stop awarding investment ratings based on ‘digital strategy’, and go back to looking at good old-fashioned cash flow.  Journalists will start to lose interest in the machine-driven future. The AI bubble is about to burst.

First published on CapX: read more here

Seeing A Photograph


The only reason I was at Clarke & Simpson’s country auction in Suffolk was to buy a desk for my office. The Art Deco and Design auction in Campsea Ash is a good place to find handsome furniture that is not Victorian and not brown, and last Monday there was just such a desk in the auction catalogue. True, I also had an eye for one or two other lots that looked like they might go cheap, like the cast iron Christmas tree stand and perhaps the green enamel angle-poise lamp – open an auction catalogue and you are already sliding down a slippery slope with an invoice at the bottom. But the desk was top of my list. I certainly had no intention of buying a print by one of the acknowledged masters of twentieth century American photography.

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South Sudan: a lesson to the world in how not to build a nation


There is no standard definition of what makes a country viable as a country. What are the materials, the history, the culture, the institutions that allow a territory to grow into a something more than just a geography of resources? What are the building blocks of an accountable and democratic state?

Whatever these ingredients are, we know what happens when they are not present. And nowhere is this lesson clearer than in the case of South Sudan.

Only five years ago, South Sudan was the newest and most optimistic member of the community of nations, a state-building project backed by the goodwill and expertise and cash of well-intentioned supporters around the world.

Today, the country has imploded into a fireball of violence and suffering, an off-the-radar disaster comparable in its scale to Syria (the number of refugees recently passed the one million mark). In other words, the outcome of the project has been as disastrous as its ambition was great. But why?

First published on CapX: read more here