Wodehouse comes home

“Into the face of the young man … who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to speak French.”

Thus P.G. Wodehouse in The Luck of the Bodkins — one of the quotations in the Observer‘s scoop that the great man’s archive is coming to the British Museum. Hooray!

That sinking feeling


According to Jennifer Senior, reviewing Salvatore Settis’s If Venice Dies in the New York Times, Venice

“had 174,808 inhabitants in 1951. By 2015, the number had dropped to 56,072. That’s about 2,000 fewer residents than Venice had in the aftermath of the plague of 1348. Maybe the ancient records can’t be trusted. But you get the idea.”

I do. Better book that holiday now.


Horse’s Ass elected President of the United States

“In the old days”, said Liz Smith [who was once New York’s leading gossip columnist], “Donald reminded me of my brothers in Texas. He was attractive and dynamic and took up all the oxygen in the room. When he saw me he’d give me a big hug and tell me I was the greatest. I never took him seriously. I didn’t even think he would last in New York, because people hated him once they got to know him. He was a horse’s ass. Still is”.

As told to Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker, September 5, 2016, p.19.

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize

Naturally, I’m delighted to see him honoured. Not everybody is, though. Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting (and many other memorable works) is enraged. “This is”, he fumes,

“an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies”.

You always know where you stand with Welsh.

Cabinet told to watch it

According to the Torygraph (so it must be true) Theresa May has stipulated that her senior ministers will be barred from wearing Apple Watches during Cabinet meetings amid concerns that they could be hacked by Russian spies.

Under David Cameron, several cabinet ministers wore the smart watches, including Michael Gove, the former Justice Secretary.

However, under Theresa May ministers have been barred from wearing them amid concerns that they could be used by hackers as listening devices.

Mobile phones have already been barred from the Cabinet because of similar concerns.

One source said: “The Russians are trying to hack everything.”

Apparently Michael Gove (who was once a serious politician, apparently) used to wear an iWatch and once treated the Cabinet to a few bars of a Beyoncé song while surreptitiously checking his email.

It’s a logical precaution. Mobiles have been verboten in Downing Street for a long time. Many years ago, when I was doing some consulting work in Whitehall, I once had to go to 10 Downing Street to see a senior civil servant. Upon entering through the front door, I was instructed to leave my mobile phone on the hall table and given a post-it note on which to write my name. I did so and went to my meeting in the warren of rooms behind No 10. When I got back to the entrance hall I went to reclaim my phone. Next to it was another handset (a Nokia, I think) with a post-it note saying “First Sea Lord”.

Subduing wishes to possibilities

An excerpt from Francis Spufford’s Backroom Boys, a memorable history of the early British personal computer industry. He’s writing about how two Cambridge students, David Braben and Ian Bell, used ingenious mathematical tricks to get round the limited memory available on the BBC Model B when they were creating their trailblazing computer game, Elite:

Whether the components are atoms or bits, ideas or steel girders, building something is a process of subduing wishes to possibilities … A real, constructed thing (however dented) beats a wish (however shiny) hands down; so working through the inevitable compromises, losing some of what you first thought of, is still a process of gain … But sometimes the process goes further. Some of the best bridges, programs, novels – not all the best, but some – come about because their makers have immersed themselves in the task with such concentration, such intent openness to what the task may bring, that the effort of making wishes real itself breeds new wishes. From the thick of the task, in the midst of the practical hammering, the makers see further possibilities that wouldn’t have been visible except from there, from that spot, from that degree of engagement with the task … This is what happened when Bell and Braben wrote their game … It became great because they saw the possibility of it being great while they were just trying to make it good.

This is wonderful, insightful writing about the creative process.

How to make better decisions: consider two options rather than just one

It’s not rocket science.

Ohio State University professor Paul Nutt spent a career studying strategic decisions in businesses and nonprofits and government organizations. The number of alternatives that leadership teams consider in 70 percent of all important strategic decisions is exactly one. Yet there’s evidence that if you get a second alternative, your decisions improve dramatically.

One study at a medium-size technology firm investigated a group of leaders who had made a set of decisions ten years prior. They were asked to assess how many of those decisions turned out really well, and the percentage of “hits” was six times higher when the team considered two alternatives rather than just one.


That 70 per cent figure is interesting.