After a week away, with no broadband access and days spent birding rather than scanning my Netvibes page, I am having some trouble getting back into blogging. While we were away, the builders have been hard at work, first taking up the dining room floor, then removing it all together, plus plaster, joists, ten tons of soil and rubble: we not only have the full set of deathwatch, wet and dry rot, but (at least for the moment) our very own Time Team experience. I also now know why we have no cellar: the house is built on sugar granite. But back to the dining room (or lack of it): according to Sophie Borland in the Daily Telegraph last week, Open-plan living leads to death of dining room. We will not be going that way, and I expect (and am paying for) our dining room to be back from the dead sometime soon. Her article suggests that dining rooms are disappearing because we want bigger living areas and because ‘lifestyle changes mean that fewer families sit down and eat a meal compared to 30 years ago, when it was common for households to sit round a table several times a day’. There is certainly some truth in this, but perhaps the real reason is that in the old fashioned kitchen there was a cooker, a sink and draining board and cupboards. Not much space was needed. There was usually a larder for food; and a wash room for the mangle and twin tub. Today most kitchens have dishwashers, microwave ovens, conventional ovens, hobs, a wide range of kitchen appliances, double sinks, food preparation islands etc. etc. Try getting all of that into the old sized kitchen. Plus for convenience most people like to eat close to the microwave, so people eat at the kitchen table. As the dining room was invariably next to the kitchen, what is more natural than knocking through to provide the space a modern kitchen needs. As for us? We have a hatch linking the two.
A fascinating Point of View on BBC Radio 4 this morning: David Cannadine talking about the changing art of giving. As Cannadine reminded listeners, “the practice of giving money away has been around for as long as there have been people possessed of more wealth than they required for their own immediate needs”, and his talk ranged in its all too brief 10 minutes from Sir Thomas Bodley to Warren Buffett, via Tate, Carnegie, Rockefeller, the Sainsburies and Bill and Melinda Gates. Cannadine identified a number of reasons why the rich are prepared to give their money away, including “the imperatives of religion, the desire for social recognition and acceptance, the need to assuage feelings of guilt, the craving for immortality, the pleasure of handing out large sums of money, and the genuine passion to try to do good, and make the world a better place.” To which I would add, at least as regards the great art collections assembled by the North American robber barons, the desire to prevent anyone else getting their hands on them. Walking around the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Frick Collection last year, I had the overwhelming feeling that whatever the reasons that drove them to collect, the last thing they were going to allow to happen was for their collections to be acquired by one of their rivals.
A postscript to yesterday’s comments on the London Eye fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Cost to the London council tax payers? £1.2M if the papers are to be believed; and I cannot think that there was much off set from letting the BBC film them as (a) the display was public and (b) the quality of the BBC OB was so indifferent that they must have been employing people on work experience. Or perhaps it was yet another case of “insufficient skilled people” (yesterday also saw a somewhat overhonest admission by Network Rail that the reason for the overrun in repair work this holiday is that they simply couldn’t get sufficient specialists contractors in; and why? Because having been kept busy the last five or so years over the Christmas break by Network Rail, they had all decided enough was enough and they were going to see Christmas and the New Year with their families this time.) Back to Ken and his fireworks: if you live in London I hope that you feel that you got your money’s worth.
Reading Charon QC’s Blawg, he was “Impressed by the London fireworks and usually I have no interest in fireworks.” Perhaps he was in the crowd. If he had had the misfortune to watch them on TV (don’t ask: a sad admission that one doesn’t get out and about as much as others), he might have felt differently, not least because the BBC’s OB was very certainly not up to scratch. A banal commentary, camera angles that obscured the display, cutaways to unnecessary shots of fairy lighted pyrotechnicians in rubber dinghies, and no real sense of what any of this was about (other than to get across the subliminal message that this is Ken’s re-election year: but would you re-elect someone who authorised such a hideous waste of money? Thank God I live in the South West). They do it so much better in Sydney!
This year will be different to last year. No doubt very obvious but the real difference is that this year people are prepared to talk about hard times coming; and they are. If property is an indicator of recession, then we are already well into one. In the South West the developers stopped buying land some months ago, and a number of transactions that with a fair wind would have completed well before Christmas were turkeys long before that. It is not all bad news. Read Luke Johnson’s The Entrepreneur column in today’s FT. I am sure we are at his grim moment of reckoning, but he quotes Euripedes, “There is in the worst of fortune the best of chances for a happy change”. As for whether the experience (of a more sober and testing time) could be character forming, probably: but don’t forget that a lot of us have been there before, and are even now getting out the T Shirt.
Another example of raising revenue by pleading climate change. Norwich City Council are reported as about to introduce a scheme under which drivers of longer cars will face higher parking charges. This, the council claims, will help reduce carbon emissions. Quite how they reach this conclusion is beyond me. Clearly another instance of NFN (Normal for Norfolk).
Read The Economist’s article on The Future of Futurology (December 30, 2007), and in particular note the advice, “Think small, think short – and listen”. Some things don’t change: you will still (global warming notwithstanding) find Golden Plover on Dartmoor at this time of year. Other things you know will (more lap tops are sold now than desk top PCs). The difficulty is predicting what. The Economist’s third piece of advice, (the title to this post) is the one I use, even if it sounds somewhat negative when everyone else says they do! But as the Economist says, uncertainty looks smarter than ever before.