You can’t sit out the dance

You can’t sit out the dance

For this little homily song on our journey through life, I have chosen a few pictures from my own travels.  This song niggles at me whenever I’d rather hide away from the world, trying to “sit out the dance”.  Perhaps subconsciously we write about the challenges we know from experience are hard to meet.  Having spent much of my working life helping people deal with the future, it’s always been worth remembering that whatever the future, or present, you have to work with it.  That way you also have a chance of shaping it! It’s not the first song I’ve written that has made me think I should practice what I preach!

Decisions, decisions

So we start with an obvious train-track image setting out clearly the long journey ahead: but I just love the chap standing bang in the middle of the tracks as if he is wondering what to do next – well, he is on the phone to someone trying to find out perhaps.  Of course the alternative could be to take the road on the left….



Some like to know where they’re heading

Some rather just leave it to chance

But however you tackle the future

You know you can’t sit out the dance

Rich or poor, you still have to play the game

Whoever you are, you still have to play the game you are in.



It may be a ball, with champagne on ice

It may be a barn dance, with the straw and the mice

Whatever your fancy, whatever your home

You can’t sit out the dance

Life keeps you jumping

I love this photo of the boys playing cricket on the endless beach of Chennai, India.  Wherever the ball goes or is coming from you have to play the game.  Though sometimes when you are young you are directed where to go, like these Japanese schoolchildren.


Life keeps you jumping, rest when you can

Between boredom and surprises, between dry toast and jam

Keep smiling and look forward, celebrate and applaud

All those who keep dancing, sweet lady, sweet lord

The dance of life follows many rhythms

 You can be on your toes, you can wallow in the mud, but you are still in the dance.


You may like the polka and wear little red shoes

Or something much slower, dance to the blues

Whatever you do, dance!



Move with your partner, sway with the band

Take your place for the dance

Thank you for reading and listening!  Enjoy the dance!

Ok, life’s a puzzle….

3. IMG00072-20100214-1332

Stop the obesity/Type 2 diabetes epidemic now

Stop the obesity/Type 2 diabetes epidemic now

In 2007 I was writing four future scenarios for tackling obesity as part of the Government’s Foresight project.  A number of key points have remained with me ever since. 9 years on the latest BBC Panorama programme underlines the urgency of the need to tackle the problem in all ways possible. Without referring back to the work six major points still stand out in my mind.

1. Maximum efforts on all fronts

Tackling the problem requires maximum effort on all fronts: changing diets, changing what is in our food, more exercise, more education and doing what we can through medicine to treat the consequences. There is no easy silver bullet coming from medicine. Sugar taxes etc may be crude but we have to throw everything we have at this.

2. Costs escalate exponentially

The cost of more people with Type 2 diabetes doesn’t just put up the health cost for tacking diabetes itself, but makes treatment of every other problem people may have rise: so called  the consequence of co-morbidity. Probability of heart problems goes up, ability to improve life style worsens when you are obese and when you are having to treat the disease: the costs escalate exponentially.

3. Government must regulate

It will require government action to regulate things that can’t self-regulate: the food industry may talk of change but it won’t.  Businesses don’t self-regulate when their primary responsibility is to maximise shareholder profit. So rules have to be put in place to ensure a level playing for all businesses so they compete on a level playing field. You won’t get the food industry self-regulating any more than banks self-regulate.

4. Last chance to save the current new generation

We are in a last chance saloon to stop the current young generation from facing an epidemic: we seem to be losing that battle already.


5. Resistance to change is enormous

It’s just like climate change: there are clear warnings but the resistance to change is enormous. So we debate and debate while the clock ticks.

6. The future is proven: just look at America

You don’t have to be a brilliant forecaster to see the future: the future is in America (as in some many things). The US is already in crisis.



From self-help to regulation

The four scenarios were differentiated between two major uncertainties: whether we would be a society that relied on individual action or on social action, and secondly, whether we would anticipate and act to stop the crisis happening, or whether we would be reactive. We are still far too in the camp of leaving it up to individual action, to people to change diets, to food providers to change  through self-regulation. The odds on that approach leading to success, even if it ever was there, is disappearing fast: we are going to have to regulate and act now, not later.

Money talks

At the time a free-market acquaintance asked me what was I up to and I said, “writing scenarios on the future of obesity for the government”.  He grumbled, “what’s that got to do with the government?  Why are they spending taxpayers money on that?”  I said, ” because if we don’t do something, the NHS will go bust and your tax bill will escalate.”  “Ah,” he said, “now I understand.”

Money talks.

Great Great Uncle Horatio

Great Great Uncle Horatio

From the multitude of forebears I have unearthed through amateur family history sleuthing, one character stands out: Great Great Uncle Horatio, my grandmother’s uncle. Two years ago I never knew he existed but now he continues to surface in the archives of the past.

Knightsbridge London 1826

kinnerton place

The youngest child in a family of four, Horatio was christened George Horatio on 25th June 1826, when his parents George and Ann, my great great grandparents, were living in Kinnerton Place South, a mews in Knightsbridge London. His father died when Horatio was five and by the 1841 census he is still living there with his eldest brother (my great grandfather) and his two half-brothers, his mother having remarried. My great grandfather went into the printing business, a compositor, the second son went to sea, the one daughter went into service and Horatio, as befitting a young man named, most likely along with many of his contemporaries, after the hero of Trafalgar 21 years before Horatio’s birth, joined the army.

Crimean War

3 clasp medalIn the year after his mother’s death George Horatio was in the Crimea, receiving a number of campaign medals, serving at the battles of Alma, Inkermann and Sebastopol. I choose my words carefully as he probably was indeed serving, being a quartermaster sergeant in the 30th Regiment. He avoided Balaclava and the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Join the army and see the world

Fermoy gateHis peripatetic life as a soldier solved the puzzle I had in understanding why his children were baptised in Montreal, Canada, in Parkhurst, Isle of Wight (where he joined the Freemasons), in Dover, Kent, in Westminster and in Dalston, London. An early posting, critical for his life story, was at the large Fermoy Barracks in County Cork, Ireland. Here Horatio married the young Irish girl, Isabella, the mother of his seven children. The still-standing walls of the barracks, witness to the once large British military presence, now encircle in a more peaceful fashion a large sporting complex. A new museum in another barracks in Dungarvan Castle mocks up the typical billet of a British soldier in 19th century Ireland, as in our first picture.

Civvy Street, trader and landlord

After 21 years and 176 days of military service, the 40 year old Horatio had to supplement his army pension with other income. Records of the dissolution of companies in a bonnet shape manufacturing and in coal trading preceded a final career behind the bar – for which an army quartermaster was no doubt well trained. You can picture Horatio regaling his customers at The Waterman’s Arms in Lambeth (now buried under St Thomas’s Hospital) at the Hicks Coffee House and Tavern in Soho (now a Curzon cinema), at the York Minster public house in Marylebone and at The Black Lion in Bloomsbury (all long gone). Further witness to his life as a licensed victualler can still be seen the Court records where Horatio gives evidence when asked about the dodgy champagne the man in the dock had sold him. Not clever to mess with a former army sergeant.

 Like father, like son


As to his children, son Horatio George (not be confused with father George Horatio) went on to serve Queen and Country in the 2nd Battalion of the 24th Regiment in the Boer War. Horatio George may well have counted himself lucky to make it home. The 1st Battalion was virtually wiped out by the Zulus at Isandlwanda and it was Company B of his own 2nd Battalion who defended Rorke’s Drift with only five surviving. Most likely HG was one of those in the main part of the 24th that arrived the evening of the battle and, after the gruesome task of cleaning up the battlefield, spent a few months holding Rorke’s Drift.

And finally

Sadly Isabella died shortly after giving birth to her seventh child (who also died then), and sadly at least three of her children died in their first year. Horatio remarried widow Rebecca, presumably acting as “mine hostess” in his watering holes. With a little hunting in the undergrowth I was delighted and lucky to discover her final resting place in the splendidly extravagant Victorian Kensal Green Cemetery of West London (whose owners went bust as a result of the extravagant speculative venture). I have not been able to ascertain the last resting place of Horatio’s eldest brother, my great grandfather, but their brother found a place with one of their half-brothers in the even more spectacularly overgrown Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington. For all his service to Queen Victoria, Horatio lies unremarked in a public grave in Lewisham. His Crimean medals were put up for sale in 1893, not long after his death in 1888.

For a couple of generations more boys in the family were christened Horace (Horatio sliding out of fashion) and most of them went in World War One or Two.  These Horatios live on in the records left behind and through the events they participated in and witnessed.

Rio: 10 Memorable Moments

Rio: 10 Memorable Moments

As everyone comes up with their memories of Rio, here are my 10 most memorable moments – on and off-field –  in no particular order as they are all very different.

1  The Olympic spirit personified

21 year old heptathlete gold medallist Nafissatou Thiam applauding her fellow competitors as they strive to outjump each other… and as they take their Bolt-selfie

2  Boxing’s brutality

In an early round mismatch, the sight of a boxer’s head whipped by a targeted blow. Is this really sport?

3 Jolly hockey sticks

The GB/Netherlands women’s final shoot out: never seen a hockey shoot out before, much more fun than football’s one shot system.

4 High tension farce

The repeated on-off disqualifications in the Keirin cycling final: the inability to judge right from wrong, the unbearable tension for the watching partner and thank goodness for the the sanity of not disqualifying anyone when it couldn’t be proven. High drama on and off the racetrack.

5 The ugly fall

The Netherlands’ Annemiek van Vleuten tumbling into the ditch with her Olympics hopes in the downhill stretch of the women’s cycling road race – emerging with “only” spinal fractures and minor cuts and bruises.

6 Mo’s Moment

Back to back Olympics, back to back Worlds, doubled: 10K final got me out of my seat. Dedication personified.

7 I just wanna make you cry

A low point for the media every time interviewers seemed intent on making competitors cry.  “You’ve just lost the most important race of your life…..Can you tell us what you are going through.” I’m paraphrasing their rubbish.

8 Rowing rows

Wonderful live competition in the rowing commentary box as Redgrave rebukes BBC interviewer Inverdale for dishonouring protocol by trying to sneak first reactions from a New Zealander winner before he has be interviewed by his own country’s media.

9 Blinkered partisan commentary

The unwillingness of BBC commentators to pay much attention to the clear ascendancy of Thiam as they focused on the Jessica vs KJT context.

10 Dogged resistance

Mountain-man Juan Martín del Potro just wasn’t going to give in, was he? And to have defeated Djokovic and Nadal en route and then to lose the final was close to unfair.

A new game for the summer?

A new game for the summer?

This week’s Picture Post extract, from 29th July 1950 (66 years this Friday) focuses on a then little known summer sport, rugby netball “a game that can be as exciting as the best football that could have a great future. They play it on the London Commons. Up in Lancashire, they talk of starting a new league.” The discovery set me on a challenging little internet research journey to find out more about a game they now call Netrugby.

picture post netrugby

The best introduction I have found is a 1937 British Pathé film of a match, in the old Wimbledon Stadium, between the then two leading proponents of the game, the Wayfarers and Russell House. Listen for the commentator’s cheeky suggestion that the 9 point winning margin might have something to do with “being one over the eight.”

“A patriotic duty”

Picture Post Sports editor Denzil Batchelor begins “You will agree that it is our patriotic duty to discover a new game at which we haven’t been beaten by every other country in the world. It is a game for men – fast, open, spectacular. Though 43 years old it may count as new, for hardly anyone knows it exists, except for the crowds (up to 4,000 for a big game) who gather to watch it, free of charge, on summer evening on Clapham, Wandsworth and Mitcham Commons..”

I loved the picture editor’s subbing:  “Spectators don’t feel cheated of the entertainment tax they haven’t paid.” The pictures for this article were by W G Vanderson ( a distinguished war photographer) and John Chillingworth -a collection of his Picture Post work – one of the magazine’s star photographers – was released in 2013.

Have you heard of it?

Well, until I opened my Picture Post that has lain in family attics for 66 years, I’d never heard of it either. Quick googling will tell you it is still played each summer at least on Clapham Common.  Do they still have 4000 watching?  Only two weeks ago intrepid photographer David Tett took some great shots on Clapham Common: calling it “one of the most exhausting sports I’ve shot so far.” Not sure if he meant himself or the players. Doesn’t look like the crowds needed many stewards.

They say it was invented around 1906 to give rugby players some off-season exercise. No kicking. Forward passes allowed. 10 a side, positioning like soccer, but no goalie. Oval rugby ball. No offside. No scrums, just a ball bounce by the referee (yes there is a referee). Jersey tearing is a special offence. The first league was founded in 1909.

Rebranding …. at last

Back in 1950 Denzil Batchelor suggested two things were keeping the game back.  The first thing was the second half of its name. “Though America considers basketball the most virile of all sports, the word netball has a feminine ring to British ears, which does an injustice to a game tough enough for Wembley.” I’m quoting verbatim, I didn’t write that, this is 66 years ago, remember.

Well, looks like this first bit of advice finally kicked in:  in the early 21st century it was rebranded as Netrugby. Which is why googling Rugby netball doesn’t get you as far as it might.  But there doesn’t seem to have been a tweet since 2010. Netrugby News back in 2014 kept up the hard man’s image with its subheading “no pulling of shirts, and absolutely no skirts.”  Not quite sure who that is supposed to appeal to. Not going to get the beach volleyball crowds in either.

For a moment my research suggested it was catching on Down Under, when I googled the Suburbs Rugby Netball Club, but that looked like netball played at a rugby club in New Zealand.  What gave it away was the abundance of skirts and the round ball. Just as well, for if the All Blacks take it seriously, goodbye to the patriotic ambition of finding a new sport with which we can dominate the world. And I found a further false trail in South Africa, when Net Rugby seems to be about talking about rugby on the internet.

Too amateur?

Netrugby’s second handicap was “the sport is coyly amateur. It doesn’t advertise, collect subscriptions, or charge for admittance. The four leagues in existence finance themselves from an annual dance in Lavender Hill which brings in as much as £40 or £50.” – when I suppose some were “one over the eight.” As Batchelor put it “Not much to support a game that might be made into a major sport of tomorrow.” Do they still have the dance?

It seems to be still strictly amateur. I can’t find any evidence that the 1950s talk “up in Lancashire” about a new league has got very far. Maybe Rugby League was too well entrenched. But it looks like those who play this “alternative sport” enjoy themselves and for those on the treadmill of today’s professional sports it would be a welcome break in the summer. If they still get any days off that is. So if you want to have a go, here’s how. See you this summer on Clapham Common?