Wednesday 11 December 2013

A brief glimpse of the high life

The depression that really troubled me last week was not the Atlantic one that caused a storm surge over Newcastle Quayside, but the personal one imprisoning me in a black fog of self-centred gloom.

This always happens at this time of year. I used to put it down to the approach of another lonely Christmas, usually spent totting up my non-achievements in another wasted year.

Yet now I have two delightful little boys who very much believe in Santa Claus, and all the joys of a family Christmas to come. Including Charlie’s first ever school nativity play, in which he is playing the key role of a sheep.

(We seem to have got over his initial violent objections to his costume, centring on his refusal to wear tights “like a GIRL”.)

So I tentatively conclude that my depression is purely seasonal in character, related to the lack of daylight. My London doctor came up with this diagnosis years ago, and prescribed a winter break somewhere dry, hot and sunny. He suggested Arizona or Dubai.

Unfortunately I detest going abroad even more than I dislike being depressed, so I have never taken his sound advice.

I realised last week that the invention of email is a decidedly mixed blessing for the depressive. On the one hand I can just about muster up the energy and mental clarity to dispense advice electronically, even when I am far too miserable to answer the phone.

On the other hand, it is all too easy to ping off a costly “I resign” message when one is simply too enfeebled to drive to a meeting.

A change of scene often helps to lift my mood, I have found over the years, so much hung on a planned brief glimpse of the high life in London over the weekend. Unfortunately my East Coast rail tickets mysteriously got lost in the post, a hurdle that almost induced me to give up.

Though, to be fair, they did organise replacements after a certain amount of bureaucratic palaver.

Then not only was the station car park full, but also the only obvious alternative car park. I was all for going home, but Mrs Hann would have none of it, and we did eventually find somewhere to leave the car, with no more than an average chance of finding it up on bricks with the engine removed when we got back.

Saturday’s lunch at the celebrated Wolseley restaurant in Piccadilly lifted my spirits more than a bit, though I enjoyed equally outstanding (and, in the case of pudding, distinctly superior) fare at Jesmond Dene House the previous weekend, at around half the price.

Then I took Mrs Hann to Covent Garden to see the Royal Ballet’s classic production of Prokoviev’s Romeo and Juliet, as choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan, with the famed Carlos Acosta and a Russian newcomer called Natalia Osipova in the title roles.

Both were fantastic. As were the company, sets, costumes and orchestra. I wrote in my Bluffer’s Guide to Opera that the Royal Opera’s Turandot is the ultimate test for those who claim to dislike opera, because if that does not win them over, nothing will. Romeo and Juliet is its balletic equivalent.

Yet it did not work on all. Before us in the stalls sat an immensely fat man who slept soundly through the first act until jerked awake by the famous dance of the Montagues and Capulets, an intrusion he clearly found most unwelcome.

He spent the first interval swearing loudly at his immensely fat wife, apparently on the edge of reinforcing his points in a Saatchi-Nigella sort of way.

Mercifully at the second interval he stormed off, never to be seen again.

Meanwhile to our right during the first act were two empty seats, occupied for the remainder of the evening by a woman loudly informing her male companion that it was “ruined” and “all spoilt” by his failure to get her there for the start.

So much talent on the stage and in the orchestra pit; so much misery in the auditorium. I can’t quite decide which cheered me up more, but either way it was worth every last penny of the ticket price!

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

I have seen the future, and it does not work

It does not seem to be the start of April, so I guess Amazon must be serious when they claim to be exploring the possibility of having their products delivered by unmanned drones.

This creates the attractive possibility of having the latest best-seller precision-dropped through the panes of your cold frame, or your beloved dog cut to shreds by an Octocopter as it descends onto your lawn. 

But it’s progress, isn’t it? And surely exactly what the City’s teenage scribblers had in mind when they trashed Greggs’ share price during the dotcom boom of the late 1990s, on the grounds that the whole idea of a “shop” was dead.

They will surely have the last laugh as miniature helicopters fly through our office windows bearing sausage rolls and cups of coffee.

Even if the Air Traffic Control implications seem more than a little disturbing.

This was the future as predicted in the pages of my favourite childhood comic, in which a lucky boy called General Jumbo had a vast miniature air force, army and navy at his command.

I always related to him, not so much because I had a particular interest in model armed forces, but because I shared his tendency to stoutness.

Who would have expected The Beano to turn out to be a more reliable predictor of the future than Tomorrow’s World?

If the futurologists of the 1970s were to be believed, by now we would be working no more than 20 hours a week, retiring at 50, enjoying limitless free nuclear power and subsisting on vitamin pills.

None of which seems likely to come to pass apart from not working very long, as pretty much every job in the country is outsourced to India.

Still, not to worry. “Dave” Cameron and an assortment of his family and friends are out in China as I type, opening up a new golden age of export-led growth. Though his decision to put Jaguar Land Rover at the forefront of promoting UK plc does make me wonder whether he is not secretly in league with the Dalai Lama to bring the Chinese weeping to their knees, if personal experience of my hugely expensive and totally unreliable Land Rover Discovery is anything to go by.

Sorry. I should have put a warning at the top of this column for my new Wednesday audience. (Which, research tells me, is larger, richer and more business-orientated than the bunch of dullards who pick up the paper on Tuesdays.) This is the weekly update from the bloke who hates “progress” in all its manifestations, from Ed Miliband to trendy church services by way of wind farms.

A fine example occurred last week when I received a letter from my four-year-old son Charlie’s school informing me that he would no longer be required to wear a shirt and tie. Even though the pleasingly reactionary dress code had been pretty decisive in my choice of school in the first place.

Even worse was the reason for the change. The pupils had requested it at the “school council”. The oldest of them is 11, for heaven’s sake. If you consult them you will end up with whole classes in Spiderman costumes and school lunches supplied entirely by Cadbury’s.

It’s the daftest thing I have heard since Alex Salmond extended the vote to 16-year-olds as part of his attempts to rig the Scottish independence referendum, with the hugely pleasing outcome that their teenage contrarian instincts apparently make them one of the groups likeliest to vote “No”.

Where will it all end? In five years’ time I expect that Charlie (aged nine) will be voting in a referendum on Northumbrian independence, all our high streets will be boarded-up and filled with tumbleweed, and the news websites will be dominated by heartbreaking stories of all the Christmas presents destroyed as “Cyber Monday” segued seamlessly into “Drone Crash Tuesday”.

Of course it’s never going to happen. At least not until they have perfected an Octocopter guaranteed to flutter down in the five minutes you have chosen to nip to the loo. And trained it to write a “Sorry You Were Out” card and leave it wherever you are least likely to find it.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.