Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Inside The Economist

February 6, 2021

It’s a funny paper. The wags at the firm called it, when ensconced in a tower in lower Mayfair, the Tower of Truth. That is the gaffe that I remember. Now it has moved.

What made me laugh the most was when they decided to try Economist tv. Ho Ho Ho. Suddenly, it was just a bunch of public school boys pontificating to a tv camera. The hijab was off. They canned that idea pretty fast.
Day is not dumb.

But, I would say, The Economist has a soul.

And, if that soul were encapsulated by a single person. It would be a woman. Called Ann Wroe.

She is an earth mother. An extraordinary editor. And who knows what else. She just, somehow, understood, something.

This week, she did a digital interview. If you watch nothing else in your miserable life, watch Ann.

The young are hard at work

January 27, 2021

A friend of mine moved back to the UK many years ago and started a branding business. I asked him how it was going, and dealing with employing younger people, and he said: ‘The thing is, Joe, young people are better than us. We need to accept that. All we have is experience.’

I do hope so. That would be progress.

In this context, I offer up a couple of South London bands just now breaking:

Fat White Family:

To be honest, Fat White Family have been around for a while, and played a memorable Glastonbury set.

Newer is a band of Polish Roman Catholics called Children of the Pope:


September 2, 2014

So here is the last blog post of the holiday season. Turn away now if you cannot cope with the f-word. 

What follows is a verbatim rendering of a conversation that took place last week in the car, driving down to the Isle of Wight. Me driving. Wife in the front. Three kids, 11, 9, 7, in the back.

9 year-old boy: ‘What does fuck mean?’


Wife: ‘It’s very rude and you must never say it.’

9 year-old boy: ‘I know that. But what does it mean?’


Me: ‘You’ll find out in Year 6 sex education.’

9 year-old boy: ‘But I don’t want to wait for Year 6. Tell me what it means now.’

Wife: ‘Look, I’ll talk to you about it later. We can’t do it now — daddy is driving and I have to do the directions.’

9 year-old boy: ‘Why can’t you just tell me what it means?’

[long pause] 

Worldly-wise 11 year-old sister, feeling very pleased with herself: ‘Look, It’s like a hug.’


9 year-old boy, turning to 11 year-old sister: ‘Can I fuck you?’

7 year-old girl, turning to 11-year old sister: ‘I want to fuck you too.’



Here is a funny video I saw this summer, on how to assess the marriageability of women. It is funnier for me because my wife is called Tiffany. It is probably funnier for anyone when you have had a couple of drinks.

Here is a funny song about learning Chinese (in Chinese, so skip it if you don’t speak any). In case you are wondering, it was done in Taipei. Can’t imagine something like this being done on the mainland.



Just now in the car…

9 year-old boy: ‘I know what fuck means.’

Me: ‘Oh yes?’

9 year-old boy: ‘It means sex.’

Wife: ‘How do you know that?’

9 year-old boy: ‘X and Y [friends at school] told me.’


9 year-old boy: ‘But why can’t you say: “What fuck are you?”.’


5,000 years…

August 10, 2014






After three weeks here, I stand by the assertion that Taipei is the world’s most interesting and liveable Chinese city. However it would be wrong to suggest that Taipei’s free society, strong sense of community, respect for other people, good manners and superb food are not undergirded by the fundamental and immutable laws of a deeper Chinese culture, the one with 5,000 years of continuous history.

The quotidian evidence of this is surely the piety shown for small dogs, as demanded by the Analects of Confucius  (‘Exemplary persons would feel shame if their small dogs were not well-dressed, or their perambulators not in working order.’) The mainland has begun to rediscover its ancient respect for small pooches in recent years, but Taipei reveals how far there is still to go. Here, pooches are properly dressed in dresses, vests and nappies, and wheeled around in high-end canine perambulators purchased from designer doggy shops that can be found on almost every street.







I have been told that the real reason why the tomb of Qinshihuangdi at Xi’an — close by the terracotta warriors — has never been opened is that this would disturb the souls of 8888 Celestial Poodles who were buried with the first emperor. All the stuff about mercury poisoning is a red herring.




China comes to my home

July 9, 2013

We are having a Chinese primary school teacher to stay. She and a bunch of other Chinese teachers are supervising 40 Shanghainese kids on an English language immersion trip to Cambridge. Since our teacher (the senior one) doesn’t speak much English, I figured it would be good for our kids to have a week practising their Chinese.

It turns out that our kids also get a cultural lesson thrown in for free.

The Chinese teachers and schoolchildren have been billeted with Cambridge families around town. So far so good. But in order to consolidate them in the morning  so as to get everyone to school, they are not using one of the regular Cambridge taxi firms. Instead they are using a Chinese taxi firm I have never seen before. It’s a guanxi thing, you see.

Sure enough the driver gets to our house already half an hour late having gotten lost. Being Chinese, he doubtless also left half an hour spare in case of mistakes, so the group has likely already wasted an hour this morning going to wrong places. Plus, of course, the actual origin to destination driving time.

Finally the car pulls up outside our house and disgorges two panic-stricken occupants, both teachers. Spotting Senior Teacher Zhang, who is staying with us, they head for our front door. ‘We need the toilet!’ they exclaim, pushing into the house and straight past me in the corridor. ‘Hello!’ says one, as he locates the downstairs toilet under the stairs and heads in. A female teacher, beaten to the downstairs toilet, scoots straight off upstairs in search of another one, quickly locating it.

I wander into the street with my espresso to take in the scene.

After a couple of minutes the toilet-seeking teachers reappear becalmed and join Senior Teacher Zhang and the others in the taxi.

‘Sank you!’ says one.

And with that the people who are taking over the world are off.

Thought food

January 31, 2013

Here is a rather powerful piece of writing – particularly the historical analysis in the first half — encouraged by The Guardian’s George Monbiot having turned 50.

It connects up to this article about Nick Clegg who, I think, fails to recognise that if the Liberal Democrat party cannot be more principled than the Labour party, then there really is no reason whatsoever for its existence.


Completely separately

Have I entered a parallel universe, or did I just give a speech to a large conference in the US at which these were the newspapers people were reading?


Books about Salem I

September 19, 2012

Raffaele Sollecito’s book about his experiences in Italy’s witch-burning capital (and until recently my provincial capital), Perugia, is out. I haven’t read it, but The Guardian has an early review.

There are no surprises about the tales of police brutality and incompetence, which I have discussed at length under the ‘Italy to Avoid’ tab.

The one thing that grabs me is that Sollecito says both his family and his lawyers urged him to not to provide evidence in support of Amanda Knox in the hope that the police might let him off (because all they really wanted to do was convict a witch). That is the Italian parenting and the Italian lawyers we know and love. It also explains Sollecito’s evidence in court that he ‘couldn’t remember’ precise details of Knox’s movements the night of the murder. He found some sort of moral half-way house between honesty and the demands of his family and lawyers.

Amanda Knox’s book, out next year, will be much more interesting than this one. It looks like she is taking the time to give Perugia and the Italian judicial system the deconstruction they deserve.

Liberal parenting II: blending seamlessly into Cambridge

October 31, 2011

I have gotten into the habit of taking the kids on a very beautiful walk in Cambridge. We cycle five minutes down to the west gate of Kings, lock up the bikes, and enter the college via its back door. We walk down to the college’s internal bridge over the river Cam, survey passing punts and geese, take a loop around the gardens, and exit the front gate to a tiny cake shop down an alley opposite. This is the pay-off for the children. Caked-up, the three of them gambol merrily around the corner to Clare College — to me the most beautiful — via whose courtyards, bridge and fellows’ garden we return to the other side of the river and our bikes.

It is hard not to feel pleased with yourself in such august surroundings with three attractive children behaving with reasonable decorum. I am normally too nervous of them to enter any of the college buildings. But today, seeing there is a service in Clare chapel I accept the request of the eldest to take a look. Arriving early, we mill around with devout, serious-looking old people in the narthex. After a couple of minutes, I am summoned animatedly by the eldest child, eight, to view a large book displayed in the middle of the room in which people are writing names.

‘What is this?’

[I ponder.] ‘It is an ‘In Memoriam’ — in memory — book where people are invited to write the names of those who have died in the last year so that they can be remembered in prayers.’

‘Grandpa died three years ago. Who can we write in the book?’

[Pause.] ‘I don’t know anyone who died in the past year.’

‘I do — Gaddafi.’

‘You are not writing Gaddafi’s name in that book.’

‘Why not? He died this year and someone should remember him.’

‘Because, because…’

‘He died a few days ago… How do you write his name?’

Luckily, at this point the eight-year-old’s younger male sibling butts in with a very loud ‘I don’t like churches’. Before the four-year-old — who originated this refrain and caused a major scene in St Peter’s in Rome last year — can join in, I herd them out.


English honeymoon

September 6, 2011

Last week I loaded a child into the car and headed north, through Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Belgium to the UK. The wife and other kids joined us this week. We will spend at least a year in Cambridge. I cannot say that I am sad to have moved my base away from Italy at this point, although we will be back regularly and there are friends we miss.

It is the first time we have lived properly in England for 20 years and there are forgotten marvels to remember, as well as new ones to behold.  I have been enough of a regular visitor over the years to know how much chocolate is sold in petrol stations. But on family visits to Marks & Spencer and Tesco we are dumbfounded by the number of refrigerated aisles containing those processed foods that Brits eat so much of. (At least six in a row just in M&S, versus two in our Italian supermarket. Many, many more in a hangar-size Tesco.) On a hot September day we are suddenly desperate to wrap up warm while inspecting the rows of chilled curry dishes, mezze, pasta favourites, pre-cooked joints of meat and the rest. The stuff is staggeringly expensive when you think how much veg you can buy for 10 quid. And yet for people not habituated to daily fresh food preparation, these offerings are compelling.

Tesco now has self-checkout counters which allow your children to experience at an early age the type of employment they can expect if they do not pay attention at school. First time round they find the work invigorating, especially when an item fails to scan and they have to call for assistance. But I reckon that by Christmas they will have figured out that it is worth up-skilling somewhat.

On Sunday morning we rise early for a ‘car boot’ sale — and it does not disappoint. About 100 people have their car boots open by 9am, offering up the most indescribably useless tat in return for money. A pair of low quality circa-1970 skis catch my eye. Imagine actually turning up to a ski resort with them. To be fair, the stuff is not that much worse than some of the junk displayed at the monthly ‘Retro’ Citta di Castello antiques fair — but whereas the Italians display their crap with a little finesse on tables in a beautiful piazza, here it is simply dumped on the Tarmac of a car-park. The children find the car boot sale as perversely interesting as I do, and when we leave I realise that we have acquired two serviceable children’s bikes for just £35. This could become a habit.

Part of the reason I came to England ahead of the rest of the family was to do appeals for school places. Our two eldest kids were offered places at their second choice primary school — 20 minutes by bike instead of five for the closest one — while the council wanted the youngest child to be shipped across town every day in a taxi to a new school several miles away. Cambridgeshire has the fastest-growing population in England and school places are failing to keep up. The appeal process was everything that Italy is not: immediate, decided by fairly sensible rules, and binding on the participants. The council puts its case, I put ours. The notion of sending the youngest child miles away by taxi was shot down and the council representative instructed to create a place at her first choice school. The other two kids were left with their second choices. We will have to cope with two different schools for now, but the situation is far from dire.

What else is immediately pleasing? Apart from the fact that Cambridge is very cosmopolitan and people are dedicated to getting stuff done in an unfussy way, I would say fast internet access. It really is another world after Italy. With connection speeds like these you could spend all day messing around on the InterWeb…

If you did, here are some examples of what you might find:

Bob Marley plays acoustic Redemption Song.

Brian Ferry covers Dylan’s A Simple Twist of Fate rather well.

A 12-year-old child plays You Shook Me All Night Long in his bedroom rather well.

ACDC’s Angus Young and Brian Johnson are interviewed by German TV while Angus nurses a tea mug.

Bob Dylan proves he is capable of smiling and having fun at Farm Aid in 1985.

Moreover Dylan keeps enjoying himself.

And Dylan really likes playing this song.

Bob Dylan is portrayed on the Simpsons.

Bob Dylan is portrayed on Family Guy with Tom Waits, Popeye and Ali.

Various interviews with people believed in some religions to sit on the left hand side of God the Father Almighty

Mr Dylan.

Mr Young.

Mr Waits.

Mr Cale.

Meanwhile back in Italy:

If this crisis were a movie, half the audience would be asleep. The government changes its mind every day about austerity budgets, there is no traction on structural reforms, the unions strike without offering any policy agenda of their own, Italian bank stocks are back in free-fall, and Italian bond yields are rising again despite the ECB having swallowed over Euro40 billion of government debt — much of which must be Italian — in the past three weeks. We all know the ending, so why not just cut to the IMF?

(Almost) nowhere to run to

February 22, 2011

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya… the list of north African countries to which Italian politicians may no longer be able to flee in exile gets longer every day. Bettino Craxi, the politician who ‘made’ Sivio Berlusconi, fled of course to Tunisia (here he is, all remorseful, on the beach). Italian spooks assisted the coup which brought the lately chased out Mr. Ben Ali to power.

Silvio himself might have been expected to skip off to his friend Muammar Gaddafi in Libya if things had gotten really nasty at home. But the way it is looking in Tripoli just now (here is some text from the first US tv crew in), there may be no north African option left. One feels for Silvio after all the effort expended smoothing the path of Gaddafi’s third son Saadi into Italian Serie A football, where he ‘played’ for four seasons and managed a cumulative half an hour on a first-team pitch. It is a wonder that Perugia, Udine and Sampdoria dared to leave him on the bench after his bodyguards in Libya had in 1996 killed eight opposing fans and wounded 39 for mocking this (please note) much underrated footballing prodigy.

Berlusconi has made multiple trips to Libya, including to Benghazi (search ‘Cooperation with Italy’) where the current rebellion started, but he likely won’t be going back soon. Gaddafi came to see Silvio in Italy several times, including just last August when he paid a modelling agency to supply him 200 nubile young women he could give a lecture to on the merits of (his version of) Islam. Muammar and Silvio were such a great team, but the former’s (liberal, London-educated) second son Saif going on telly and promising to keep shooting until the last bullet has put the relationship in a rather poor light.

I guess that in a worst case scenario Silvio can always go to Russia and see his best mate Vlad. But how would he keep his suntan up in Moscow? He could call in some of those unpaid holiday letting favours from Tony and Cherie (‘Flowers for me, Silvio?’) Blair, but he won’t get any more bronzed in north London. Surely there must be somewhere hot and dodgy left in the world where a man on the run can put his feet up? I know. Singapore!

Meanwhile: Stanley Ho, if you are watching, check this out. Perhaps you and Muammar should swap family management tips. Well, you both like ballroom dancing…