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Prioritise the good things in life
THERE aren’t many things I can claim to be a real expert on, but the history and culture of Barclays Bank just happens to be one of them.
I even wrote a book on the subject, called Falling Eagle. If Barclays is in the headlines, as it was recently, my opinions are suddenly in demand in the newspapers, on radio and occasionally on television.
Sky News sent two satellite trucks to Helmsley to interview me, but couldn’t get them connected up in time so I never appeared on screen.
A Dutch television station booked me for their equivalent of Newsnight on the mistaken assumption that because my surname is Flemish, I must speak fluent Dutch.
That’s the life of a freelance journalist, and I’m not complaining. It’s good to be busy and it’s a privilege to have a voice in public debate.
But I was glad to take a breather on Thursday evening and take in a concert at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall.
The conductor was Yan Pascal Tortelier, whose French good looks caused quite a lot of sighing among the ladies in my section of the audience even before they heard him speak.
As a student orchestra waited for him to beat them into Holst’s The Planets, he turned and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, sometimes we get our priorities completely wrong.
“We heard news yesterday of one of the great scientific discoveries of all time, confirmation of the existence of the elementary particle named after Professor Higgs. And what do I read about on the front of your newspapers? Andy Murray. Bob Diamond. Bad weather. Incident on the M6.
“But tonight, let’s get our priorities right and celebrate the achievement of Peter Higgs.”
It was both a charming gesture and a profound thought. Like those of you who aren’t nuclear physicists, I really don’t know why the Higgs ‘boson’ is so important.
But I can see it is an addition to the sum of human knowledge that is hugely valuable for being just that.
Likewise, the spectacle of 100 students playing their socks off for the sheer joy of making music felt important too.
Both these things stood in contrast to all the rubbish and gloom and disappointment that filled every crevice of the rest of last week: the Barclays scandal, the bickering politicians, the sinking economy and the constant rain that all somehow made it inevitable that Murray would bomb in the fourth set.
So, with the Ryedale Festival and the Ryedale Show to look forward to this month, that’s my simple message, or at least the message I’ve borrowed from Maestro Tortelier.
Most of the news is a dismal conspiracy of trivia and nastiness, designed to depress us. But what matter more are the things we do for ourselves, large and small, to make life better: science, art, music, gardening, cooking, laughing.
For what’s left of this miserable summer, let’s get our priorities right.
Sounds trite? Not in a smouldering French accent it doesn’t, I promise.