‘Beep!’ This is one of the most maddening computer games I’ve ever played. I’m tracking a flock of birds, and when I hit the right one, it explodes with a satisfying ‘phutt’. But as I get better at spotting them, the birds scatter ever more wildly across the screen, and I hear that unforgiving ‘beep’: you missed.
Frankly, I feel like giving up. But many players don’t dare. For this is HawkEye, a brain-training programme that claims it can sharpen my brain beyond simply getting faster at mouse-clicking.
‘I grew up in LA where we all thought fame was a joke,’ says Bret Easton Ellis. ‘My class was filled with people from Laura Dern to the girls in Little House on the Prairie. And it always seemed a bit of a joke. I never really imagined that was on the cards for me. And I really haven’t done a lot of the things that you’re supposed to do to stay famous.
‘I haven’t published anything in ten years. I haven’t tried to write that novel that’s going to give critical acclaim or a prize or two — which I’ve never won.
As any parent of young children will tell you, toddler groups exist as much for the adults as for the kids, and my local meet-up is no exception. We knock back coffee and compete to see who has had the least sleep while the children run riot on trikes. The small talk always winds its way round to nursery: which ones are good, which ones are near work, how much they charge per hour. You’d be forgiven for wondering why any of us chose to have children, such is the zeal with which we plot our escape.
Have you noticed how nearly everyone in the media has won an award? Is there even such a thing as a documentary maker who isn’t ‘award-winning’? Most journalists my age have picked up some sort of bauble. I sulked about this for years until a colleague reminded me that I did have an award: Private Eye’s ‘drunkest person at the Spectator party 1991’. I’d forgotten, perhaps because there was no awards ceremony.
Britain’s hunting estates were once beautiful. Walking through the New Forest, we can all appreciate how the purchase of land for hunting can radically protect our countryside. Almost a thousand years after William the Conqueror set aside this wooded wonderland, we can still enjoy its aged oak pastures, Britain’s largest herds of free-roaming grazing animals, and a chorus of birdsong that has been lost in most other corners of our land.
In the past few weeks, on three separate occasions, I have met three different women who for years (one for more than 30 years) volunteered for the Samaritans. All three have now quit. One, Sarah Anderson, said: ‘Chad Varah [the founder] must be spinning in his grave.’ The Samaritans has changed, they say. It still provides a vital service, being the only 24/7 helpline for potential suicides or other desperate people — but it’s become a one-number call-centre, where the call goes to the next available volunteer, probably hundreds of miles away.
‘A love of boats and sailing is the surest of all passports to a happy life,’ wrote Arthur Ransome. Standing on Windermere Jetty on a crisp clear morning, gazing out across the cool grey water, you can see what he meant. Sailing around England’s largest lake is a great way to spend a lazy day, and the new Windermere Jetty Museum is the best place to embark.
There’s been a boating museum in Bowness since the 1970s, but it used to be more modest — a collection of old steamboats saved from the scrapyard by a local builder called George Pattinson.