Ron’s Rambles

Housing Crisis
The budget did not really do very much to help those people living in rented housing and paying exorbitant rents. Easing Stamp Duty could easily result in sellers raising their prices nullifying any benefit. The Tories persist with the idealistic aim of producing a nation of home owners, they are promising to build more houses and in the long run that might satisfy the demand for houses by those that can afford them but the truth is that there is a very large section of the population who are struggling to pay the rents that are demanded by their landlords with no hope of ever saving the deposit for a house even though their rent might be enough to pay a mortgage on a modest house. There was nothing in the budget to help these people. There is little likelihood of a significant drop in house prices except and unless there is a major depression. Too many people are keen to maintain house prices at or above the present level. Home owners have no wish to see the value of their property fall, especially if it is heavily mortgaged, those that invested in houses to rent do not want the value of their investment, or the rents they are receiving, falling. Builders wouldn’t want to see the value falling, although they might be happy to see land prices go down.
In recent years we have been building 220,000 homes a year and that has had little impact on prices but our ability to build at a much faster rate is doubtful in terms of the skills available and the supply of materials, already there is evidence of shortages of bricks and roof tiles.
What is needed is a really big increase in public housing at moderate rents so that those at the bottom of the economy might have a decent home and those who are more prosperous might be able to save towards a deposit to enable them to move up the ladder. The only way of achieving this in the short term that I can see is with a large investment by government in prefabricated houses, combined with compulsory land purchase. This is what happened in post-war Britain with great success and has been used in other countries. Such actions would not be popular with most conservative politicians although I believe there are some that are beginning to realize that something quite drastic is necessary.
Farce or Tragedy
Recently I saw Brexit described as a farce but using the theatrical analogy I would describe it as a tragedy. Almost every day there is further evidence of the undesirable consequences of leaving the EU. The recent budget revealed a very dismal economic future for our nation, no financial body or independent financial expert that I have heard has suggested a bright future for us outside of Europe. In just one day’s newspapers I read that the European Medicines Agency is moving from London to Amsterdam and the European Banking Authority is moving from London to Paris. I also read that British Banks and financial services concerns will lose their passporting rights. Currently they have the right to freely offer their services across the whole of Europe, to 500 million consumers and 22 million businesses. The loss of those rights will be a bitter blow for our financial services sector. We have also lost our seat on the International Court of Justice, the first time ever.
Only a few days later, on the day of the budget, we learned that the age of austerity and falling real wages would be with us for another ten years, we also discovered that we are no longer the fifth largest economy and have dropped to sixth, below France.
More and more I see us becoming a less significant island off the coast of Europe as a consequence of Brexit. When people voted in the referendum they were voting largely in ignorance of the consequences, they were promised that there would be £350M/week available for the NHS, what they are now learning is that they will be paying money billions to the EU for years to come. I note that an internet poll has revealed that the majority would like to see a second referendum and I am sure that, as the consequences become more apparent, that majority will grow. Such a referendum would need to be a choice between the terms negotiated and remaining in the EU. It must not be a choice of “do you except the terms or not” because a no-vote might imply leaving the EU with no terms.

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Meet Kit Hesketh-Harvey

My father, Noel Harvey, was District Commissioner in Nyasaland (now Malawi) in Africa. His final job there was transferring British Rule to Independent Rule in the mid-1960s. Mother was the daughter of a timber merchant. During WW2, her father was the Chief Fire Officer for Surrey. They have now retired to Swaffham, and Dad, at nearly 90 and a keen birdwatcher, spends much of his time on the marshes peering through binoculars or swimming with his old school mate, the Reverend Kit Chalcraft. My widowed and much loved mother-in-law, Jane Rabbett, also lives nearby, in Northwold. My sister Sarah lives at Marham (Abbey).
I was born in the Officers’ Hospital in Zomba, a stunning Dutch Colonial town on the slopes of a high, misty plateau reminiscent of Scotland. There were three of us children, of whom I was the eldest. We spent weekends on the Lake shores amid the fishermen, and the crocs and hippos. It was a magical childhood from which I learned a great deal, and for which I am very grateful. A few years ago, my sister and I visited this second poorest nation on earth. It is run down these days, but the people remain the same – beautiful, positive and sunny.
My sister Joanna is married to a charming Scotsman. Sarah is editor of the BBC ‘Today’ programme. Her son lives at Bodney Hall, on a bend in the Wissey by the military training area. It’s wonderful to have them all so close.
In the tradition of my family, I was sent to the Cathedral Choir School at Canterbury where I served as Head Chorister. In those days, with 30 masters for 50 pupils, it was an intense, extraordinary education. I feel privileged to have lived and worked amidst that magnificent architecture, to be exposed to such great music, to learn Latin and medieval history and to be a professional musician at the age of 12.
From there I went to Tonbridge, an independent school on the other side of the county. Although noted for sport, I preferred literature, drama, and music. Afterwards I spent a gap year touring the Middle East, working on a kibbutz and riding in North Africa, as well as teaching English and music. That’s when I learned to appreciate Islamic culture, which has, of late, been so sadly misrepresented.
I then went to Clare College, Cambridge as a music and English scholar, where I sang under the guidance of the great John Rutter. And spent far too much time in the ‘Footlights’ or undergraduate theatres. With many now well-known and distinguished actors there at that time, including Stephen Fry, High Laurie, Emma Thomson and Gryff Rhys Jones, both were going through a Golden Age.
After graduating I worked for five years as a Staff Producer in the BBC Music and Arts Department. The playwright Ronald Harwood, a genial man, was my first boss. Later, it was Alan Yentob. It paid badly, so I began singing in the growing cabaret scene in London’s Soho. When film producers Merchant-Ivory asked me to co-script their next project, the award-winning film ‘Maurice’, I took the job gladly.
After which, during the past 30 years, I have worked variously in cabaret as Kit and the Widow, later Kit and McConnel, and on several West End shows and Channel 4 TV Specials, as well as touring alongside the late Joan Rivers. Fringe theatres in N. London pubs, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden have made use of my directing. I still get royalties from script writing for ‘The Vicar of Dibley’. I’m looking after Alexander Armstrong’s upcoming National Tour, and I’m a feature writer and ‘Agony Uncle’ for Country Life magazine. For a seventh season at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, I’ll tackle the panto villainy.

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I am writing this article a couple of weeks before Christmas. We are living in absolute chaos, preparing to move house in January and February (Yes, a two phase move!), assuming we manage to exchange contracts before then, surrounded by packing cases and furniture all in the wrong places. I still have my desk and my computer in their usual places, so all is well with the world. Not having moved house for 40 years, the whole process has come as a terrible shock to the system, not helped by the fact that I have to protect my tender current (4th) artificial hip and cannot bend or lift. Management will tell anyone who will listen that I am a control freak who firmly believes that all committees should have one member and that everyone should get a second opinion, especially when it is mine! Absolute tosh, of course.
However, there may be an element of truth because the most stressful part of the whole process has, for me, been the lack of control over events. Having eventually found a buyer and bringing the process towards exchange of contracts, everything has ground to a halt because the pack sent by the buyers’ solicitors to the buyers has got lost in the post. They have now sent out a replacement pack, not by Hermes or next day guaranteed delivery, but by snail mail! As the solicitors will all close for nearly a fortnight over the holiday period, I would like exchange of contracts to have happened before then but it is a process over which I have no control. However, it doesn’t stop me telephoning all the parties daily and, no, I am not a control freak. I hear your screams of “He’s in denial”.
We have bought a new house on a new estate in Hagley, Worcestershire. All the other new residents have formed a Whats-App group on their telephones. As were were founder members, we have watched the number of members grow as people move in to the new houses. Messages deal with the modern equivalents of “Can we borrow a bag of sugar”, “Should we hold a street party?” etc. but the recent cold snap down to minus 13 degrees and a lot of snow, caused a real flurry of messages. I had never thought about it, sepsis and hip problems being what they are, and not having seen our new house since July, but we shall be living on quite a steep hill with a sharpish bend just down the road. It suddenly dawned on the other residents, who are actually there and not in Norfolk, that the roads have not yet been adopted by the county council so there has been no official snow clearing or gritting. The estate ground rapidly to a halt as the compacted snow turned to ice and the Blitz mentality took over. The Whats-App burst into life with requests from the active snow-shovellers for assistance and the estate teemed with activity, with teams of resident blokes clearing the snow and wives plying them with mulled wine and cookies. A plaintiff cry for help appeared this morning from a lady whose house had flooded throughout because a pipe had frozen and burst. All sorts of people responded to tell her that they do not own a pump but one of the chaps said he would go round with some towels after he had walked the dog!
I am quite looking forward to mucking in with the crowd, some of whom have atrocious spelling, but Management is rather dreading it, worrying that it will be like the TV soap “Neighbours” with people dropping in all the time and being really sociable. We shall see.
Walking up to a department store’s fabric counter, a pretty girl asked, “I want to buy this material for a new dress. How much does it cost? “Only one kiss per yard, ” replied the smirking male clerk.”That’s fine,” replied the girl. “I’ll take ten yards.” With expectation and anticipation written all over his face, the clerk hurriedly measured out and wrapped the cloth, then held it out teasingly.The girl snapped up the package, pointed to a little old man standing beside her, smiled and said. “Grandpa please pay the man.”
Two men were walking through the woods and came across a big deep hole. “Wow…that looks deep.” “Sure does… toss a few pebbles in there and see how deep it is.” They picked up a few pebbles and threw them in but there was no noise. “That is REALLY deep… here.. throw one of these great big rocks down there. Those should make a noise.” They picked up a couple of football-sized rocks and toss them into the hole and waited… and waited. Nothing.They looked at each other in amazement. One got a determined look on his face and said, “Hey…over here in the weeds, there’s a railway sleeper. Help me carry it over here. When we toss it in, it MUST make some noise.”The two dragged the heavy tie over to the hole and heaved it in. Not a sound came from the hole.Suddenly, out of the nearby woods, a goat appeared, running like the wind. It rushed toward the two men, then right past them, running as fast as it’s legs would carry it. Suddenly it leaped in the air and into the hole. The two men were astonished. Then, out of the woods came a farmer who spotted the men and ambled over. “Hey, have you two guys seen my goat out here?” “We certainly did! Craziest thing I ever saw! It came running like crazy and just jumped into this hole!” “No”, said the farmer, “That couldn’t have been MY goat. My goat was chained to a railway sleeper”
Deannie joins me in wishing you all a very happy and healthy New Year Ian Nisbet