As a 15 year old, I broke a big school rule: no gambling. Like most teenagers, I knew everything about everything and had no concept of danger nor of my responsibility to others. But I did know I was good at poker, which meant that even though I played with my friends only for pennies, I would usually emerge from a game with more money than when I started. Repeatedly winning while gambling creates a dangerous delusion of infallibility, especially in someone who is quite immature.
A few years ago I had the great pleasure of spending some time with Bruce Forsyth at his home. He was generous with his time, delightful, funny and full of stories about his career. I was very amused to see in his downstairs loo he had a poster from the 1960s with him at the top of the bill (of course) at the London Palladium. Underneath was a long list of other stars, and near the bottom of the bill an obscure pop band called .... The Beatles. Brucie was a great entertainer for years and for the generations. Much missed.
1 The most virulent trolls are always anonymous, too cowardly to identify themselves.
2 The most stupid comments come from those with the silliest phoney Twitter names.
3 The abusers usually have few followers but Tweet incessantly.
4 The less the troll knows, the greater the certainty with which he (and it is usually a "he") claims to know it.
5 And women on social media receive the worst abuse.
One of the great puzzles of life is why people who know nothing about a subject are so keen to demonstrate their ignorance by sounding off about it. Perhaps there is nothing new in this, but social media and international TV broadcasts mean stupidity is now globalised. Ignorance can go viral, publicly, loudly and worldwide before Knowledge gets its boots on.
We have reached Peak Populism. (Probably.) With populism, the caveat is necessary because the wave of discontent which swept the world in 2016 remains unpredictable, but the evidence is clear. Populism worldwide is waning or mutating, and is certainly not the force it was a year ago. Britain voted for Brexit in 2016, and populist discontent with ailing economies, stagnant wages, and government failures brought us Trump in the USA, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and a host of new parties and groupings apparently edging towards power across the world.
The National, the leading English language newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates, is read all over the world. It offers a view of events and culture from what has become the crossroads of the world. I'm pleased to say I will be contributing a weekly opinion column to the paper and its website. They are also on Twitter @thenationaluae
My most recent columns have included reflections on whether we have reached Peak Populism, and how to pay for a university education. Let me know what you think (email@example.com)
I'm delighted to say that the University of Kent is hosting a new series of IN CONVERSATION with some absolutely terrific guests. Coming up we have Polly Toynbee, Michael Gove, Owen Jones, Terry Waite and Francesca Simon all in the schedule and other top names have confirmed they want to take part but we are juggling dates. Francesca Simon will be spending the afternoon on the University of Kent's lovely campus overlooking Canterbury. We expect a very big demand for tickets from her many loyal readers.
In the 1990s I travelled around 48 of the states in the United States and was astounded by the level of anger I found among ordinary middle income Americans. I wrote a book, published by Penguin in 1998, about my experiences called THE UNITED STATES OF ANGER. The themes of that book explain why Donald Trump is to be the next President of the United States. I thought that sections of the book would appeal to readers today, and so I have begun to place some of the text in the BOOKS section of my website.
Our IN CONVERSATION at the University of Kent with Louis de Bernieres was an evening of great wit and insight. It began with Louis describing how he had been at school for a time in Kent, a school in the county of Charles Dickens which sounded as if it could have come from a Dickens novel. As Louis put it, the head teacher was a paedophile and the deputy head was a sadist. Louis said he prefered the paedophile. "At least he liked us." I'll put the video of our hour long (and often very funny) conversation up on the website when it becomes available.
I'm pleased to say that in my role as Chancellor of the University of Kent we have been able to attract some big names to the Chancellor's Conversation series which has just begun - Mark Kermode, Ian Rankin, Lord Kinnock, Gerald Scarfe were among the pioneers. Forthcoming attractions include Alistair Stewart, Louis de Bernieres and Robert Wyatt, with (we hope) more excellent guests joining us in Canterbury when the new academic year begins in September. Do take a look and let me know what you think. >>
Hermann Goering, Hitler's deputy and chosen successor, plus the man who led the Luftwaffe into the Battle of Britain, had a younger brother, Albert. And Albert was a very different Goering. But was he - as some claim - the "Good Goering?" I've been finding out for BBC Radio 4, and if you want to listen to "The Good Goering" please follow the link HERE.
While visiting the court house in Nuremberg, the site of the Nuremberg trials, one of the excellent historians at the related museum was scheduled to record a BBC interview with me. Unfortunately she phoned to say she had been delayed. She needed to visit her doctor. When she eventually turned up she revealed that she was in considerable pain -- as a result of the bust of Hitler that, in Nazi times, had once stood at the courthouse.
Thanks to the Defence Academy at Shrivenham for inviting me to lecture to senior military officers, MoD staff, and others. What an engaging, interesting, tough minded and experienced audience. I was especially delighted with the feedback, which I reproduce below. Most importantly, from my point of view, the audience understood why PowerPoint and similar lectures can be a turn off. I just talked about leaders and leadership and answered questions to the best of my ability. Here's a flavour of the responses.
The long campaign is becoming a medium-sized one, ahead of the start of the short campaign at the end of March. In truth the parties have been electioneering for months. But after Saturday’s speech from Ed Miliband, which launched Labour’s now-complete pledge card, and the Budget on Wednesday, the general election is on. There are less than eight weeks to go.
What is on offer, from the two main parties, are two competing stories. What are they?
You narrate stories. It’s one of the ways you link up with your families, trade partners and friends. It’s how you impress prospective employers when you apply for jobs or make deals with potential clients. It’s what you do on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, and even how you go about the business of dating and finding a love life. Leaders tell stories, too. They do so to draw in, amaze, manage and generate the loyalty of their constituents. Leaders need to acquire many different skills, including the ability to enlighten people through engaging narratives. Without such power, leaders would be lacking in followers.
I spent part of today with Jimmy Page, someone who appears on everyone's list of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. We were talking, among other things, about his re-mastering of the Led Zeppelin double album PHYSICAL GRAFFITTI to be released this month in time for the 40th anniversary of its first release.
I don't usually get nervous before interviewing people, but I was very nervous before meeting Meryl Streep this week. The reason is not that she is formidable - although she plays some very formidable characters. She was in London to promote her role as the witch in Into the Woods - but the witch character is a pussycat compared to Streep's role as the matriarch in August: Osage County. She also played Mrs Thatcher in The Iron Lady but -- as she reminded me -- she was also in Mamma Mia.
Alan Turing's niece, Inagh Payne, came in to the BBC studios to talk about Benedict Cumberbatch and The IMITATION GAME. She was immensely proud of her uncle's work in World War Two in cracking the Enigma code. She remembered Alan Turing as a bit scruffy, a bit of an absent-minded professor, much loved by his family and friends. It was only in 1975 that the family began to learn what Turing had done for the British war effort - 30 years after the war ended and 23 years after Turing's death. He broke so many codes in so many different ways.
Spent the day at the lovely British Grove studios in Chiswick with Pete Townshend and a host of performers preparing for The WHO at 50 - their gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire. Had a long chat with Roger Daltrey about why he works so hard for the Teenage Cancer Trust (the charity is benefitting from the concert) and of course we talked about how a band who sang "hope I die before I get old" made it to 50. But the killer fact emerged that one of my favourite albulms of all time LIVE AT LEEDS was supposed to be LIVE AT HULL. Unfortunately they failed to record the bass ....
The era of hope is over. If the results of the U.S. mid-term elections have been a huge setback for the Democrats, they were a personal catastrophe for Barack Obama.
They were even worse than the most pessimistic forecasts of his party’s strategists, amounting to a comprehensive rejection of his governance.
With the Republicans now in control of both the upper and lower Houses of Congress, the twilight of Obama’s presidency has begun.
In my new role as Chancellor of the University of Kent I am delighted to be giving this year's Foundation Day lecture celebrating 50 years since the university was founded. It has come a long way since the 1960s. The title for the lecture is TRUST ME: How trust has been diminished in the Suspicious Century.
Gavin Esler: Why I love prog rock
The writer and BBC journalist talks about his love for rock’s most varied – and derided – genre, and how it’s about much more than silly capes and 10-minute drum solos
Let me say it up front: I don’t like bad hair or capes. I’m not into witches, warlocks or elves. I would never try to claim prog rock is cool. But I love it. And I know I’m not the only one.
It's not a revolution of course, but ....
So much has changed. People engaged in politics. Attending meetings in village halls, discussing the future, thoughtfully. A tripling (as of today) of membership of the SNP. But one trend is very difficult to understand: in an independence debate of such importance lasting two years (or more), how can it be that there were almost no undisputed "facts?"
It's not a revolution of course - but the decision of 45% of Scots to vote for independence has created a new political dynamic whose end none of us can foresee. I travelled from Shetland in the north to the borders, Islay in the west to Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. One of the most memorable encounters was in Shetland. I tried to encourage an older local man to give away his political views.
"So is it Britain's oil?" I asked. "Or Scotland's oil. Or Shetland's oil."
Without missing a beat he said: "No, it's the oil companies oil." Then he added: "The bastards."
I’ve been cycling around Berlin for the past week, and I noticed something very strange. Car drivers, even the German equivalent of white van man, are very polite to cyclists. But that’s not all. The cyclists are very polite to each other, and to pedestrians. There is a cascade of on-the-road politeness, with the bus, car, van and lorry drivers giving way to those of us who are on bicycles, and the cyclists giving way to pedestrians.
I have been receiving anti-semitic hate mail over the past couple of years, which is a bit odd. I am a Presbyterian.
So were my parents, grandparents and -- as a recent genealogical study carried out by Strathclyde University informed me -- my family have been Presbyterian since the 17th century when -- as Protestant Lutherans during Germany's 30 Years War -- they fled southern Germany and came to Scotland and Ulster to find a home in a suitably Protestant land.
This is from the European Commission website. It offers guidance on what happens when a new candidate member state to the EU seeks to join the European Union, and also the position affecting member states of the EU. It clearly states that two member countries have an opt-out on the euro: Denmark and the UK. Sweden does not have an opt out but has yet to fulfil all the criteria for joining the euro. Since an independent Scotland would not be either of the two opt-out countries, the presumption in the European Commission guidance is obvious. Here's a selection:
After almost seventy years the men of Bomber Command are finally to have their own official memorial. It's in the heart of London, near Buckingham Palace. Of the 125,000 'Bomber Boys' as they were called a total of 55,573 were killed -- almost one in two. The average age was as young as 22 years old, and for some of the volunteers the life expectancy was a mere six weeks from the start of the first mission.
A review of a talk I held at The Big Green Bookshop in December 2012:
Back in 1979 whilst I was at Warwick University, I went along to see a very much younger Jon Snow give a brilliant expose of what was happening behind the headlines in Nicaragua. That was a memorable experience that has stayed with me to this day.
I dared to hope that Esler might offer another memorable experience at The Big Green Bookshop tonight. I wasn't disappointed.
I was walking across a bridge over the river Spree in the heart of Berlin, hoping for a rare meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and thinking about a strange coincidence involving Germany and grand European projects. Exactly five hundred years ago one of Europe's greatest thinkers was getting increasingly worried that good German money was being wasted. Cash was heading to the Mediterranean, subsidising a bunch of badly behaved foreigners.
My alphabet book at Duddingston Primary, Edinburgh, began traditionally with "a is for apple", but when it came to "g", it was "g is for gas globe". This was in the late Fifties; there hadn't been gas globes for decades. The textbook must have been 30 or 40 years old! Whatever we say about the resources today, the good old days were bloody awful. Apart from that, it was a wonderful school. I loved both it and my first teacher, Miss Darling, an elderly lady in her last year of teaching.
Donald Trump's apparent eagerness to run for the presidency of the United States enlivens the Republican race. But the history of big business tycoons getting into politics has not been encouraging for Mr Trump. Steve Forbes (of Forbes Magazine) flamed out a few years ago. Ross Perot was much more impressive in 1992, but still only managed 19% of the vote. In an AV system that would almost certainly have handed the presidency in 1992 to George H W Bush since Perot took more votes from Republican-leaning types than from Bill Clinton.