Buying a Language School in Spain

It’s 8:30pm, on Sunday 21 May 2023. I’m sitting, alone, on a bench in Puerto De La Cruz, North Tenerife. The photo above is my current view. I landed just a few hours earlier.

By this time tomorrow, when this blog has been emailed to my subscribers, following a meeting with a Spanish notary, which will be interpreted by my translator (whom I’m yet to meet), I’ll be the owner of this premium English language school, here in this town – a town that I barely know.

Whilst pondering my unusual predicament, a white transit van, fitted with loudspeakers, crawls past me, electioneering. I love this place! The van is promoting the coalition candidate, I think.

Despite what Brits might think about Tenerife, I haven’t heard anyone speak English for some time. In a nearby rock pool two small boys are looking for treasure. This town is both familiar and unfamiliar. I wish that my family was here with me.

The scale of my impending obligation gives me pause for reflection. The academy, formed by a highly capable English couple 15 years ago, currently educates 90 students. My first task is to ensure that the high levels of tuition are maintained.

But what do I know about education? Not so much. Although my mum was a teacher, and my dad runs children’s nurseries. My in-laws were both teachers. And I used to work as a classroom assistant in Salford (before choosing law). And my awesome wife taught English in Greece. And I have trained hundreds of doctors, and represented dozens of teachers. But does any of this qualify me for this role? Only time will tell. Certainly, I don’t have any formal teaching qualifications.

Not too long ago, I was on other the side of the fence – selling my main business (although I had previously sold two other businesses). When it’s been your baby, I know that the founders will want to ensure that I don’t trash their legacy. That’s how I felt, for sure. If, for them, they felt like I did, the moment of sale is a time of melancholy. A time for pause. A time for freedom – freedom from obligation. I extracted no pleasure, no pride, from selling. For me, it was necessary – necessary laced with monumental sadness.

At times like this, I follow the Quaker instruction to “live adventurously”. I wonder what the Spanish is for that expression. My Spanish is too immature to translate it.

This purchase is six months in the making. It feels like the right thing to do. Logically, it makes sense, too. I do hope that this bold purchase works for me, for my family, for the founders, and for the students and for the teachers. Please wish this venture, luck.

CategoriesHarrogateThought of The Day

What have we done?

It’s 4:30pm on Thursday 27 April 2023. I am walking across the vast expanse of The Stray, in Harrogate. The temperature is around 10 degrees. No rain. My dog is behaving himself, reasonably so.

I took this photograph to remind me of this profoundly sad moment. Look behind the dog: over hundreds of acres of freshly-mown grass, in this lovely setting, there isn’t a child (including my own) using this space. Where are they all?

To compound matters, today is yet another strike day, which means that homework hasn’t been set for most of the children in Harrogate.

I won’t and don’t blame the children: this is a societal problem. We have conditioned our children to be scared of too much. We have filled their calendars with clubs and homework, stifling any spontaneity. We should hang our heads in shame. I don’t know how to change this. I do know that this is wrong.

CategoriesInternational AffairsPoliticsThought of The DayBusiness


I’m typing, 36,000ft in the air, on my return flight from Milan to Gatwick. Guess how much my flight cost, just for me, without a bag? £12. Two hours, plus taxes, for £12.


A few weeks ago in Harrogate, I bought two drinks in a bar: a pint of beer and a large glass of red wine. Guess how much I paid? £15. And it wasn’t even table service.


In Tenerife, a few weeks ago, at a locals’ restaurant, I paid £5 for half a chicken, chips, salad, bottle of water and a glass of wine. And remember that Tenerife has to import the overwhelming majority of its goods, from mainland Europe.


None of this makes intuitive sense to me.


In 1998, when I started university, the average salary for a solicitor was around £42,000. Fast forward twenty-five years and the average has increased to £50,000. In the same period of time, the average house price has leapt from £70,000 to £276,000, yet wage growth has been miniscule. During this time, petrol prices have trebled.


A few months ago, due to my poor health, I sold my business. I paid a tax rate of 9.5% on the sale price. In contrast, high income earners – as opposed to sellers of capital – pay tax at 45%. As switched-on readers of my blog might have spotted, a few weeks ago, Prime Minster Sunak released his tax returns on the day that Reckless Boris appeared before the Privileges Committee over Partygate. On substantial earnings, Sunak paid a tax rate of 22%, because his earnings came from capital gains, at a rate which he voted to lower. As I discovered and as Sunak knows, the system is rigged in favour of the owners of capital. Employees, generally speaking, get hammered by tax.


A few weeks ago, my primary school-aged son received a lesson about money. The key takeaway was that debt is bad. Although 11-year-olds might not grasp the finer points of macroeconomics, the lesson was deeply flawed (and he knew it). As the statistics above reflect, the higher the inflation, the faster that debt is eroded. Therefore, if being rich is your goal, it is usually prudent to borrow as much as you can and let inflation erode away your debt.


High inflation is a gift to owners of capital, but disastrous for those who are least well-off. This, in part, accounts for the rise in the number of billionaires and the widening disparity between the super wealthy and everyone else. Owners of assets benefit most from rising prices. If you therefore think that the powers that be want lower inflation, I suggest that you think again.


Psychologically, many people dream about paying off their mortgages, but this is quite often financial madness. Furthermore, in the UK, if, say, a couple, whose children have left home are living in a £500,000 house, with four bedrooms, if they then want to downsize to a £250,000 house, if house price inflation is at around 10%, then by moving home to something more sensible, each year their financial pot is depleted by around £25,000. The system, as configured, favours house-blocking, with millions of vacant bedrooms in the “wrong” hands. I am not proposing a fix – as I don’t have one – but I am pointing out how ridiculous our system has become.


During the pandemic, we saw second hand cars – not classic cars, by any stretch – change hands for more than the equivalent new version of the same car, even though VAT isn’t payable on second-hand vehicles. This hasn’t occurred before. A new car for less than a second-hand version! And readers might recall that, for a time, oil had negative value – i.e. the producers of oil had to pay people to take it off them. Read that again: not just free oil, but oil producers would pay you!


The recent spike in inflation appears to have caught the Bank of England by surprise. This is bizarre given that the only iron law of economics is that if money is printed – as it was during the pandemic to pay for furlough etc – inflation will inevitably rise. Hey presto, that’s precisely what happened. If printing money was always the answer, no government would need to levy tax and every political party would run on a manifesto of zero tax.


Internationally, what has escaped scrutiny in the UK is the rise of the organisation BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. These countries are hatching a plan to create a new currency to supplant the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Such a currency will likely be tethered to precious metals, akin to the gold standard, and therefore such a new currency could not be printed, willy-nilly.


And with Saudi Arabia selling oil to the Chinese in Yuan, rather than in dollars, the dollar’s dominance is under attack. As a by-product, any nation whose economy is tethered to the US will be in trouble. Here, in the UK, with the highest inflation in the G7, with Brexit battering our economy, with an economic cycle which follows the US, and with our reputation for financial prudence destroyed by the Truss Budget, we should expect further financial craziness.


Let’s consider physical money. These days, most payments are made by contactless. As a result, our relationship with money is changing: we don’t get the feel of handing over money. Money, therefore, is becoming less real. What will accelerate this is the creation of digital currencies by nation states. Such government-sanctioned digital currencies – as opposed to the Wild West of cryptocurrency – will lead to greater government control of what we can and cannot purchase.


With high inflation proving sticky, with most people experiencing below inflation pay rises, with the near total dominance of contactless payments, and with asset prices out of kilter with incomes, we now live in a world in which what we – the majority – think about money is wrong. Money – we should never forget – is just a means of exchange, and units of currency come and go. My advice: be prepared for rapid change.




Sometimes, it’s your turn

(I take no pleasure in writing this blogpost. I write – for my kids – to record what happened. I have only read one of the 10 news articles about me – the one in The Guardian)

In February 2022, with my health still rubbish, I asked my local Nuffield gym – which I had been a member of twice before – whether they would offer me – and all other disabled people – a lower priced membership fee, given that I cannot use most of their facilities. They refused. Reluctantly, I complained, arguing that their policy was a breach of the Equality Act 2010. They rejected my complaint. Either, I could let it rest, or do something about it.

I decided to act.

First, before “lawyering-up”, I researched the law surrounding disability discrimination in the context of a supply of services. Sadly, there was little case law on this issue. I therefore paid my own law firm – a law firm which I have since sold my interest in, for health reasons – to send a letter of claim to the Nuffield.

As the limitation period to issue the claim of six month was nearly up, I instructed my solicitors to issue court proceedings. Thankfully, sensibly, Nuffield settled the claim, agreeing to establish a panel so that disabled people could apply for cheaper membership. The settlement allows disabled people – which make up over 20% of the population – to apply for cheaper membership in over their 114 gyms. I haven’t received any compensation and I don’t intend to re-apply for membership.

Frankly, I don’t like talking about this matter because, as I wrote here, I struggle to use the “D” word when talking about myself.

andrew guardian

After the story was published by The Guardian, ITV national news arranged an interview, which was subsequently cancelled (as there was a better story out, they said). Although I feel duty-bound to spread this news – in the hope that other gym chains copy Nuffield – I was relieved that ITV cancelled. I recorded quite a lot of radio pieces, though I do not know whether they were aired.

Given that I ran a law firm for a decade, which was committed to providing access to justice, it is ironic that the case which has had the biggest impact was the case where I was the Claimant. Back then in 2022, I knew that if I didn’t take on this matter – me, a disabled litigation lawyer, who was selling his law firm and therefore would have some financial firepower at my disposal – then it was unlikely that anyone else would risk running-up massive legal fees – and the threat of paying the other side’s legal costs – in order to secure cheaper monthly gym fees. Even if I had won at first instance, Nuffield might have appealed. The case could easily have gone up to the Supreme Court.

Sometimes, it’s your turn.

Although there is reference in the following news stories to pensioners being offered cheaper gym fees, this remains disputed and unclear. I must also record that Nuffield deny that there was discrimination. I also want to place on record my gratitude to Nuffield, and to their lawyers, for the way that they responded and handled this case. I wish Nuffield every success. Of course, I wish that I hadn’t needed to “go legal”, but once I did, they have made the right decision.

News Reports of the Case

Here it appeared in The Yorkshire Post. I haven’t read it – I can’t bring myself to read anything other than The Guardian piece.

andrew yorkshire post

Here are other news outlets’ take on the story:

andrew tnm

Harrogate Advertiser


Topic UK andrew topic uk


Yorkshire Times 

andrew yorkshire times


The Stray Ferret

andrew stray ferret

News from the North


North East Post


Wellbeing News

andrew wellbeing news

Cumbria Times


Lancashire Times


What follows are my spoken answers to questions asked by Greatest Hits Radio. I don’t know whether my answers were aired.


Question 1:Tell me about your case against Nuffield?


When I was fit and active, I was a happy member of my local Nuffield Gym, just around the corner from my house here in Harrogate. I quit my membership just before Covid.


Over the last few years, my health deteriorated quite considerably. I was therefore forced to give up running and football, as well as having to go down to part-time hours with my work. My declining health had a huge impact on my family, my life and my work. Eventually, I had to quit my work.


Quite clearly, I met the definition of a disability as set out in the Equality Act. Under this legislation, service providers, such as private gyms, need to provide reasonable adjustments to disabled people.


In February 22, I asked Nuffield whether there was a concessionary rate for disabled people. Although they were sympathetic, they refused. I personally pushed some more, and they still said no. I either had to leave it, or instruct solicitors. I really didn’t want to push it, but if it wasn’t me – a disabled litigation lawyer with some resources – then I wasn’t sure anyone else would contest it. Frankly, not many people are daft enough to risk vast legal costs and years of litigation, over the issue of monthly gym fees. So, I could see that nothing would change unless I did something. Sometimes, it’s your turn.


After issuing court proceedings, Nuffield settled the case. What’s going to happen is that Nuffield are setting up a committee to allow disabled people to apply for cheaper membership. This means that throughout their 114 gyms, disabled people now aren’t priced out of becoming members. I’m absolutely thrilled by their decision.


Q2: How often did you use the gym and how did that change following changes to your health?


I was previously a member of my local Nuffield gym for a few years, but my membership lapsed. In Feb 22, I wanted to re-join in order to improve my symptoms. I’ll do anything to get just a little bit better. With my fluctuating health, I simply didn’t know whether I would be able to use the membership often, or even at all. I also knew that I was restricted to perhaps just using the spa facilities, for only a short time. It would be financial madness for me – and for most disabled people – to pay a high monthly fee in those circumstances. Millions of disabled people were in the same boat.


Q3:How did Nuffield react to your request?


When I first asked Nuffied on the telephone to reduce their rates for disabled people, they were sympathetic, but said no. Candidly, I was told that I wasn’t the first disabled person to make this request. I then sent a polite letter of complaint to them, explaining that I thought that their policy of charging disabled people full rates, was disability discrimination. Nuffield replied, explaining that they disagreed with my views. That’s when I had to send a solicitor’s letter and then issue court proceedings. Eventually, we reached a settlement with Nuffield, which will apply to every one of their 114 gyms, and to anyone deemed disabled under the Equality Act. That could be around ¼ of the population.



Q4: How did that discrimination make you feel?


With so many people across the country with chronic illnesses, particularly Long Covid, Nuffield’s initial decision to refuse my request seemed ridiculous and short-sighted. It left me feeling really low. All I wanted to do was to see if I could improve my symptoms.

Around 1 in 4 people are deemed disabled under the Equality Act 2010. What most people don’t know is that you don’t need a blue badge or a disability payment from the government to be regarded as disabled under the act. Given how fit I used to be – I used to run marathons and play football – I still find it hard to talk about myself as disabled.



Q5: What does this ruling mean for others in a similar position to you?


This sensible settlement, by Nuffield, means that up to ¼ of the population, who fall under the category of disabled under the Equality Act, can approach Nuffield about getting cheaper membership rates. This means that millions of people have the chance to improve their health. I suspect that this means thousands more people will become members of the Nuffield. Now that Nuffield have taken this brilliant step, other gym chains will have to play catch-up with Nuffield’s pioneering stance, or risk losing customers and getting sued. This is a win-win story for the health of the country.



Q6: What is your response to the changes Nuffield is now promising, following your case?


Although I am disappointed that I needed to “go legal” to make this change, I am full of respect and admiration to The Nuffield for these dramatic changes that they are making. My hope is that their business grows and that they open more outlets, so that far more disabled, as well as non-disabled, people can access their facilities. Disabled people stand to gain massively from this sensible change in policy.


Q7: Anything else to add ….


After nearly two decades of being a lawyer, I never would have thought that the most impactful case that I would ever be involved in was where I was the claimant, not the lawyer. I am grateful to my tenacious lawyer at Truth Legal, Katherine Swinn, for securing this monumental victory. As I had to quit my work due to my chronic health complaints, this has been a good way to go out.


Sometimes, the stars align and it’s your turn to do something meaningful. I encourage all people to use the laws, which we have voted for, to enforce our lawful rights.



Fiction: Anywhere But Bangkok


What follows is pure fiction, written by me twenty years ago when I was running a backpacking NGO, Voices for Burma, and after completing a travel writing course at the University of East Anglia. This is not my usual type of blogpost. I encourage readers of a sensitive disposition to read no further. The views expressed by the narrator and the characters are not my views. The views are anachronistic, but real to the time that I wrote this. 

I am publishing this on my blog now as a record of what I wrote – but didn’t publish – many years ago. I write primarly for my children, so that they have a digital record of who their dad was and how I changed. By reading, you acknowledge that you are reading fiction, rather than an opinion piece.


Chapter One


I have changed their names to Rob, Kris and Jen. They are this story.

During one summer in the early noughties (I am never going to tell you which one), my bus ground to a halt in Chang Rai, a small, pointless town in northern Thailand; that’s where we met. This trio were arresting and rare – rare like rocking horse manure. I was bewitched; haunted if you like.

After much persuasion from me, and with the contractual obligation to share the book’s sale proceeds with them, I now have their diaries. Based on my acquisition of their innermost thoughts, I have written this book. I now know them, intimately. I write to explain what they had going; to tell their tale.

But first, let me explain how I came to meet these three intrepid travellers.


Arriving at any bus station in the 1990s in Asia is a nauseating experience – any Western visitor will tell you that. But, as a seasoned traveller now-turned writer, I should have been inoculated against the haranguing meted-out to every Westerner, by desperate tuk-tuk drivers, clambering for custom. I had fallen for their scams many times before: “So my guesthouse is closed, is it?” “Too expensive, you reckon?” “Out of town, you say?” “Get stuffed, the lot of you.”

Back in the late 90s, when I was new to this game, on countless times I had been out-foxed by the head-haranguers – bulky men who control tuk-tuk allocation. Late that afternoon, after a tediously long journey, I just wasn’t ready for them.

Having spent several unmemorable days in Chiang Rai before, this northern outpost held no particular fascination for me – or anyone at all, unless you had a penchant for blandness, bad driving and food that reeked of Japanese encephalitis. Returning to Chiang Rai was like going through labour knowing that you’ll produce a stillborn.

Stepping down from the bus, I was instantly surrounded. My best tuk-tuk-rejecting gestures got me nowhere. Irked, I came close to committing a cardinal sin in a Buddhist land by losing my temper. Fortunately, for the tuk-tukkers, I was stopped in my tracks.

Where did she come from? A genetically-blessed Western girl of remarkable femininity, whose face could have been designed by an Estee Lauder focus group, stood before me in the crowd. She must have been a late teen, just. She had long auburn hair tied taut in a high ponytail. She wore hearing-aid-beige shorts, down to her knees and a white, strappy top. With her skin the colour of frightened milk, she was a modern-day pre-Raphaelite beauty. She smiled – well I think she did – and sensed that prior to her manifestation, I was about to rage. Then, she said something in Thai, with a North American twang, and the tuk-tuk drivers skedaddled (she must have told them that they would be on the next plane to Guantanamo).

At this time, I was sweating like a darts player, for the humidity in these parts is unbearable and no matter how long I had been in the area, I couldn’t acclimatise. The girl thrust her water bottle into my hand. I drank. The ice-cold water was indescribably refreshing.

‘Jen,’ she said and extended her hand. I wanted to kiss it, but I played it cool, and squeezed it slowly. ‘Rough journey, heh?’

‘The roughest,’ I replied.

‘I’ll introduce you to the gang.’

She must be Canadian, I thought: Americans don’t travel. She beckoned me to follow her. I did what I was told: first down the main street, which I remembered, then a third right and a second left, down a backstreet. I struggled to keep up with my new tour guide. My backpack chafed like a jockstrap during a cricket match.

By now, we were in the fag-end of town. I was about to make a joke about women and directions, but my better judgement kicked in. I followed her into a bar, which was ablaze with fairy lights, and she presented me to her two friends – both men. How disappointing.

‘The gang,’ she said.

‘What’s up?’ I replied.

‘I’m Kris, with a “K”,’ said the bearded one, who looked like a 10-months pregnant Star Trek fan.

‘Good to meet ya Kris,’ I said, and we shook hands heartily. I recoiled at his vice-like grip.

‘With a handshake like that I’m sure you’re not an Israeli,’ he said. I had no idea what he meant.

The other lad, who was scratching his crotch through his denim shorts, looked at me like a cowboy looks at a horse. It was awkward.

Surveying my new surroundings, the bar suffered from gentle decay. The white plastic seats were mismatched – the cheapo Western-garden furniture type. Plants grew majestically around the higgle-de-piggle-de veranda. From a photograph on the wall, the Thai King surveyed his subjects.

The locals in the bar were glued to the boxing on the TV, except for one couple who were plotting adultery – the real Thai national sport. The menu was in Thai, and, unlike everywhere else in Thailand which I had been to, we were the only non-Thais.

‘So, where are you from, Kris with a K?’ I asked.

‘Does it matter?’ said the other lad.

‘No, I suppose it doesn’t,’ I said.

‘Rob,’ he announced, opening his force-field, ‘But call me “Voice of Reason”, and I’m English, if you’re still wondering.’

He had a well-to-do accent, no manners and a chip on his shoulder. This could mean only one thing: a St Effing Andrews University grad.

Evidently, by arriving with his dream girl, I was invading his territory. And before I could introduce myself, the supercilious sod launched into a tirade:

‘Let me guess: you’re English. You’ve just finished media studies at the University of Toy Town. You’re doing the whole “South-East Asian thing”.’ He said, using his fingers to emphasise “South-East Asia thing”. ‘You email, email, email home and survive out here on a diet of banana pancakes. You don’t go anywhere that isn’t recommended in the bloody Lonely Planet. Nice. And Kris’s from Holland for your information, and perhaps the only fat Dutch traveller you’ll ever meet.’

The acid-tongued Englishman was right about the emails and his chunky friend, but this was no way to talk to me. I would have to handle him as if he was radioactive, I thought. I looked to Jen for moral support, in the foolish hope that we had established a rapport and she said:

‘Rob, do you always have to be like that?’

I turned to him, and he eyeballed me. He raised his whisky in his right hand and gave me one of those single nod-of-the-head apologies, which, I would have been more inclined to accept, had it not been demanded by Jen and executed with a sly smile.

I was wounded: battered by a bus journey and bewildered by conversation. I could have made a sharp exit, but I didn’t, as on a cost-benefit-analysis, Jen was there and, although Rob was blunt, I admired his honesty and shared his distain for fellow travellers.

The table was quiet with all eyes on me. I had to impress. The stage was set for my comeback.

‘I’m Vincent,’ I said. ‘And yes, I am from bloody England; but I haven’t just graduated, actually. I’m researching a book – actually – about Laotian drug-smugglers operating in the Golden Triangle, just north of here.’

They were impressed. I turned to the waiter, who was watching the boxing, and ordered myself a Chang beer.

‘Do you have a guesthouse?’ said Kris.

‘Not yet. I was gonna crash at the place I used last time.’

‘Stay with us,’ said Jen. ‘We’ve got the only four-bed dorm in town. The walls are thin, but the owner is a nice guy. A friend recommended it to us.’

Like shopping on Christmas Eve, I had no time to think: ’Why not!’ I blurted.

My first gulp of beer jolted me with a little frisson of pleasure, and boy did I need it. With every subsequent mouthful helter-skeltering down my oesophagus, I could feel my vital signs gradually returning; but, the booze went straight to my head and rendered me less able to verbally defend myself from their searching questions about my book. Each time I made a dog’s dinner of a reply, my spirit dipped in instalments. To make matters more humiliating, their knowledge of Laos was better than mine.

‘Why are you really here, mate?’ said Rob. ‘The Dickens you’re an effing Bryson,’ he said, as if he had been injected with a truth serum.

‘You know, I’m just doing a spot of writing and getting away from it all.’

‘From what? Getting away from what?’ said Kris.

I paused, cogitated and replied: ‘Career, or middleclass slavery, as I prefer to call it.’ I then peeled the label off my Chang bottle. I must have cut a sorry figure.

‘Gonad,’ whispered Rob, and then, without asking us, he ordered another round of drinks with regal aplomb. He spoke to the waiter in pigeon Thai – his pronunciation was all over the place – but the smiling, pockmarked-faced waiter, who could have been anything from sixteen to forty, beamed back at him, and leapt off to fetch the order, like a dog chasing a ball. I didn’t recall subcontracting my beer choice to Rob.

It is a curious fact – isn’t it? – that when any group of strangers meet, anywhere in the world, one wannabe-demagogue masterly manipulates his minions, while the minions passively permit their own subjugation. However, later, I discovered – much to my sheer delight – that I had misunderstood the group dynamics.

The phone behind the bar rang and the waiter went over to answer.

‘If it’s for me,’ shouted Kris, ‘Tell them I was never here!’ and we descended into a frenzy of laughter, even though, objectively, it wasn’t in the least bit funny.

As Chiang Rai dissolved into darkness “The Gang” explained how they had all met a month before on the Khao San Road (KSR), Bangkok – the backpacking Mecca. Describing their first impressions of each other, they rolled around laughing. They waxed lyrical about their foray into Burma. Jen recounted the minutiae of their trip to a hilltribe, somewhere. But of course I outdid them with accounts of my own travels, adding a smattering of anecdotal license to good effect.

I took note of the Dutch guy: he was thickset, with the slowness of movements that only those who are sedentary workers develop. He wore a white T-shirt with the McDonalds logo rewritten as “McShit”, in a lame pitch to anti-consumerism. Kris had an inoffensive face when talking, but, when he was thinking, he looked like he was swallowing a fly – and enjoying it, too.

Conversation flowed in multifarious directions. Why is it, we wondered, that western women rarely date Thai men, but Western men date Thai women in high numbers? Puzzling. Then, Jen nearly stormed out when Kris duped her into believing in a country called Absurdibaijan. She is, of course, gullible, uneducated and young. Jen eventually calmed down when we agreed with her – under duress – that the best way to travel round the world was from East to West.

Long after it was dark and following a delicious meal, which was entirely chosen by Jen, was washed down with bottles of metallic-tasting Chang, Jen licked her plate clean and ordered the bill in Thai. I reached for my wallet, but Rob grabbed my arm with his sweaty hands and said drunkenly:

‘Allow us, alright. You’re our guest.’

I was perplexed by the offer: travellers don’t do this. And, to top it off, when the bill arrived, Jen divided it into three, even though she had consumed only a modest portion. This was weird: travellers are the type of people who remove the light bulbs when moving house.

With the bill settled, allowing a tip for the waiter, I followed my new friends through Chang Rai. We walked in silence, in respect of the locals, who had largely turned in for the night, in a hark back to the days – not long ago – when electricity hadn’t made its way to this back of beyond.

We passed packs of feral dogs lying in the road feigning sleep. Every time one barked, I froze. Jen – much to my horror – had the audacity to feed one a titbit of food, which she had surreptitiously taken from my plate, as she later admitted. It seemed like The Gang were accustomed to the vagaries of South-East Asian life. Me, however, had much to learn.

Although we were merry, it was unlike any other stumble home that ends my typical Saturday nights back in Blighty, for we didn’t shout any ‘wayyyyyss’ at passers-by. The lads, quite unbelievably, took turns to carry my backpack, which further compounded my alcohol-induced paranoia as to where I was being taken. This was the first and only time I had ever allowed a fellow traveller to carry my backpack. (Although, once, I did let a Nepalese Sherpa carry my bags up to the Everest base camp, but that was different.)

The sublime enveloped my drunken body and my inner-anguish evaporated. I was at one with the moment. Like so many other runaways before me, I had “gone travelling” in search of something – a something that I didn’t have the wherewithal to comprehend. At this moment, as I recalled it, thoughts of Laotian drug-runners were far, far from my mind. I was finally at peace with myself. I needed some time to think about my life, about my purpose. I realised that this writing lark was doomed to failure. This revelation was like the popping-open of a corset. Who was I trying to fool?

I turned to Jen, who had remained close by, and smiled. She is the kind of person with whom one has an understanding without having to communicate with words; the type of person who you could make eye contact with on the Tube and not feel alone; the kind of woman who would be described by her friends as a “people person”. Sober, she was entrancingly pretty; drunk, she was jaw-dropping.

We traipsed along the road parallel to the river for ten minutes. Fortunately, the gang had brought torches, which illuminated our presence and protected me from the kamikaze driving of the locals. We passed numerous wats (temples) which, had they been in a First World country, would have been floodlit.

The murmurings of hushed whispers bought my attention and, to the left, I saw some Thais, living in reduced circumstances, eating in the ground-floor room of a three-storey concrete block. They’re always eating, I thought.

When I heard some English travellers on the other side of the road, I shouted over a customary and time-honoured ‘Hello’, unaware of the faux-pas that I had just committed.

‘Vincent, why do you only say hello to the whites?’ asked Kris.

‘Well that’s bloody obvious: they’re travellers and so are we. Travellers say “hello” to each other. English is the lingua franca, my friend.’

Kris continued: ‘Vincent, my problem with you is not that you say “hello” to travellers, or that you spend all your time with them, but it’s because you don’t greet locals. You only have contempt for them. You don’t speak with love for any of the countries you’ve been to. This is my observation.’

They all stopped, encircled me and Jen continued the verbal assault:

‘Today, I was just walking back from the market when I saw you. Frankly, I couldn’t miss you. You looked like a hunted animal. I felt so sorry for you, Vincent.’

I turned to Rob in the expectation of another blitzkrieg on my character, but he just nodded and added: ‘Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty.’

Like a British squaddie in Iraq, I was the victim of friendly fire. They were right, though. Their onslaught made me realise that I needed to reconsider my whole approach to travel. Somewhere along the line I had become battle-hardened to locals. I guess that duplicitous locals – from Hamburg to Hanoi – had burnt me so many times before that I now gave them all short shrift.

My new friends ambled off down the road, so I composed myself and returned to following the travelling circus.

The moon was almost full and cast a pale light over us. All of a sudden, they veered off down an ominous-looking path, which was potholed like the surface of the moon. I found myself following Jen in an S-shaped motion in order to avoid the puddles. The boys, however, ploughed straight through without a care. By now, I could barely hear myself think, as militant insect sounds filled the air.

Just as my feet were going to mutiny, we happened upon a clearing, with paddy fields on both sides. I made out a large hut fifty yards ahead: it was not the instantaneous relief I had expected. Jen pointed at it with her torch. I stopped to contemplate my next move: I could either endure the Third World accommodation that would surely ensue, or I could flee back to town, alone. It was Hobson’s choice.

‘Can you tell what it is yet? said Rob in his best Rolf Harris impression, pointing at the hut. ‘Can you? Can you tell what it is yet?’

A solitary light flickered outside the hut. There seemed nothing guesthouse-like about it, not even any signage to depict the presence of a guesthouse. I walked onto the veranda, which squeaked, creaked and wobbled under our combined weight. I followed Kris’s lead and removed my boots. Rob tutted at me for the delay caused by my socks.

In the front room, a Coca-Cola fridge provided the only light. I made out a table and two more doors. Jen opened the fridge and helped herself to four bottles of water, and handed them out like guns to conscripts. She then led the way down a corridor.

I opened the bottle and it hissed: fizzy water! Come on, I thought, the 1980s are long gone. Who drinks fizzy water these days?

Kris then poked me in my back and pointed at a door and whispered: ‘Psssssssssss. Toilet.’

Jen opened a door – our room – flooding it with light. I was pleased by the dormitory, as it was large enough to house a family of refugees. An un-shaded bulb provided the only light.

The room was tidy, as the occupants’ clothes had been folded and placed neatly upon their open backpacks. The room felt lived-in. I noted that, like dogs resemble their owners, so too do backpacks, as Rob’s looked pristine; Kris’s was tatty; and Jen’s had a USA badge affixed to the front.

Four single mattresses – just mattresses – had been spread out on the floor with accompanying mosquito nets, giving it the feel of a World War Two jungle hospital. Rob’s mattress was nearest the door; Jen was in the middle of her boys; and mine was at the end, next to a small window.

I brushed my teeth with fizzy water – which was a novel experience that I can recommend – and clambered into bed. The sheets smelled fresh.

I wanted to stare at Jen, but I couldn’t muster the audacity. In order to refocus my mind, I stared at a healthy-looking gecko, which had taken up prime mosquito-hunting territory above my window. Then, in the corner of my eye, I could discern that I was the only one not writing a diary.

‘What are you going to say about Vincent?’ said Rob.

‘Not telling,’ said Jen.

‘I’m telling my journal that I want to swap him for you,’ said Kris.

What were they really writing about me? What were they writing about each other? Each had experienced a similar day, and yet, each would have a unique take on events, shaped by their own experiences, prejudices, genders and nationalities. My mind popped, like a teenage boy’s zit! That was it!

When Rob turned the light off, I reached for my mobile phone (hardly a distinguished writer’s tool of choice) and saved this message to my Outbox ‘CHANGE OF PLAN! I WILL WRITE ABOUT TRAVELLERS – THESE THREE. I WILL GET THEIR DIARIES. I SHALL WRITE THE TRAVEL VERSION OF BRIDGETT JONES’ DIARY. £££££££. BRILLIANT.

I couldn’t sleep as my mind fizzed with thoughts of my new book (and what car I would buy with the royalties). Jen talked in her sleep; Rob snored; and Kris whimpered, like a dog having a dog dream.


CategoriesInternational AffairsPoliticsThought of The Day

Trump and the Massacre in Goa

Oops: I should have applied sunscreen today. My face is red. Silly me.


I’m typing in a hotel bar, then sipping my first Venezuelan rum. Here in North Tenerife, it’s raining, as it has done for most of the day, but with a brief interlude – hence my mild sunburn. I haven’t stayed in such a basic hotel since I holidayed in Albania, ten years ago. It does the job, though. Just.


Over the last few days, I have spent my time with a British couple, who are selling their business. I’m interested, very interested indeed, in acquiring it. If nothing else, here in Tenerife the ambulances, hospitals and emergency call-handling, all function.


Back home in Broken Britain, good luck getting medical care today. “Don’t do anything remotely dangerous today” instructs Sunak’s Government – (such as allowing 50,000 excess deaths). In more sensible times, presiding over so many unnecessary deaths and a falling life expectancy would be grounds for a lengthy custodial sentence. But most of the public are distracted by Prince Harry.


But enough about that. Over the last few weeks, I have been chewing over an issue which vexes me.




Let me tell you a story.


Twenty-one years ago, on 9/11, an hour or so before those awful events, my good friend – let’s call him “J” – collected our Iranian visas from the Iranian embassy in London. We were going to Iran!


Then, two planes later, our travels plans were changed, as was the world. Instead of travelling from Greece to Burma/Myanmar overland, given that travel insurance to most of the Muslim world was voided, we went to India instead.


By the third week in India, we found ourselves – as a backpacking cliche – in Goa. We hired scooters – of course we did – bumming around the beaches and bars, before retiring to our 50p per night hostel. Rinse and repeat, day after day.


Everything changed one fateful day when J ordered a chicken sandwich from a hut – a hut which didn’t have a refrigerator. We had been the first – and last – customers of that day. We both recall the look on the faces of the staff as J bit into that sandwich.


Delhi Belly beckoned: horrendous for him and vicariously for me, given that we were sharing a crummy room. As J’s condition deteriorated, I summoned a doctor: pills were prescribed, so was the strong recommendation that we checked into accommodation more salubrious.


Not far from our lodgings, I found better huts, with intermittent warm water in the shower. Unusually, these new digs had a swimming pool. At £5 per night, shared between us, it was comparably expensive. This attracted a different sort of backpacker.


As the days passed, J’s condition improved. Eventually, he was well enough to swim. In the pool, the could-have-done-with-some-filtration water was far too low, making it quite taxing to clamber out.


One sunny afternoon, J noticed that there were dozens of frogs drowning in the pool. They were, he thought, marooned, unable to get out. Ever the nature-lover, J swam around, carefully scooping the frogs out of the pool, depositing them safely on solid ground. Mission accomplished.


Listening to my Walkman, I watched with fascination, proud of my friend’s good work. Then, almost imperceptibly at first, the surrounding trees became increasingly lively with movement: birds – lots of them and goodness knows the species – began to assemble, like onlookers to a playground fight.


In sync, the birds dive-bombed towards the pool, scooping-up every last frog, before returning to the trees to devour lunch. It was a feeding frenzy. J was crestfallen. Every frog met its maker.


(Only later did we appreciate that the frogs were, in fact, cooling down, and could easily get out of the pool when they wanted.)


Loosely, tangentially, this incident reminded me of, one, Donald Trump.


Trump is vile, with every unpleasant description of him, justified. He’s the very worst example for children. But notwithstanding his awfulness, dispassionately, we should remember his many good deeds and sound predictions.


Trump crossed the DMZ between North and South Korea, which delivered a short-lived rapprochement between these two warring parties. For a time, “Little Rocket Man” stopped firing rockets. Now, under Biden, North Korea routinely fires its rockets over Japan.


In the Middle East, spearheaded by Trump, several Arab nations signed peace deals with Israel, under the Abraham Accords. More Arab countries will follow suit. On Trump’s watch, let’s not forget that the Taliban didn’t control Afghanistan and Russia didn’t invade Ukraine, nor did China routinely fly into Taiwanese airspace. Although Trump was addicted to tweeting childishly, the world was more peaceful on his watch. A prospective nuclear exchange was not, as it is now, a possibility.


And we should be fair to the Donald, for on multiple occasions Trump demanded that other NATO countries paid their fair share for their own defence, reasonably asking: why should US taxpayers pay a disproportionate sum to protect Europe from Russia? And most presciently, Trump repeatedly advised Germany not to rely upon Russian gas. If only Germany had listened, Russian might not have felt emboldened to attack Ukraine. He was a vile embarrassment, but on the international stage – and I cannot believe that I am writing this – the world was safer with him in the White House.


I won’t comment on Trump’s tenure from an internal US perspective, for I don’t feel suitably qualified to express a fair view. And, before any reader point it out, Trump was wrong on environmental issues.


I remain troubled that my friend – J – with the very best of hearts and with impeccable motivation, inadvertently killed dozens of frogs. Conversely, Trump – whom I detest on a personal level and was most probably erroneously motivated – performed acts worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize. Obama received a Nobel Prize for his vision and oratory, but deeds are infinitely more powerful than words. Internationally, do we need Trump again? Do you feel safe today? I don’t.


I am compelled to conclude that the world is even more complicated than I had thought. Good people can – by commission and by omission – cause mass suffering and, conversely, dreadful human beings can do so much good. My homework? To re-evaluate what I look for in a leader.


CategoriesLegalHealthThought of The Day

Ignore the Bedside Manner    

During my 18 years practicing law, I have worked with hundreds of lawyers. I have also hired, managed and fired quite a few lawyers, too. Through my work I have also trained a few hundred doctors, and sued over 100 medics for medical negligence. And with my never-ending – and very boring – chronic health dramas, I have been treated by dozens of medics. I’d like to think that I have sufficient authority to express a view about doctors and lawyers. But the principle upon which I will write applies to most realms of work.

My thesis is: that the bedside manner of a professional is usually misleading to their client or patient. Yet most patients and clients simply don’t get this. The best example of this is Dr Harold Shipman: his wonderful bedside manner masked his 250 murders. Even after news of his crimes came to light, many residents of Hyde, Manchester said that they would still have had him as their doctor, because he was so lovely.

And just because a lawyer answers the phone and replies to emails in a timely manner, it doesn’t follow that sound legal work has taken place. Sure, it is a good sign that correspondence is courteously and quickly dealt with, but it doesn’t indicate that the advice has been accurate. The legal advice is the key element, not how it was presented. And just because a doctor appears understanding and thorough it doesn’t follow that their advice has been appropriate. Professional regulators only ensure a minimum level of professional competence – that’s all. Professional indemnity insurers charge higher sums to incompetent professionals, but remember that Dr Shipman wasn’t priced out of the market!

Over the years, I have witnessed incompetent lawyers, who have prepared a case poorly, only to succeed in their case, to the joy of their client. Conversely, I know of excellent lawyers, well prepared in their case, who have lost, to the ferocious disappointment of their client. In the first example, praise is misplaced and, in the second, criticism is unwarranted. Even the outcome doesn’t tell the full story.

When training medics about clinical negligence law, my number one tip for avoiding a claim is to ensure that they are transparent and extremely helpful with the patient who had just been damaged through their negligence. The last thing that a patient wants to do is to sue their doctor, even if the wrong kidney had been erroneously removed. Evasive, unhelpful doctors are the ones who bear the most complaints.

Many people don’t know this, but lawyers have forever been duty-bound to report to their client errors which have damaged their client. Rightly, we fess-up when we have blundered. However, in medicine, astonishingly, it is only since 2014 that medics have been subjected to a duty of candour. Yet the public trusts medics more than lawyers. Another example of misplaced trust.

In my experience, the only – though far from fool-proof – way to improve the odds of seeing the right lawyer, or medic, is to ask other professionals for their recommendations. And if you can get a few recommendations, from various professionals, then this will improve the odds that you are to see the right person for your issue. Ask the professional: if they had the [insert type of legal case or symptom] that you have, who would they want to see and why? And even if you see the very best professional, you won’t know if they are having an off-day.

All this assumes that the patient, or client, has ready access to other lawyers or doctors in their social circle, usually as part of their middle class advantage. Of course, online reviews and your own instinct have some place in judging the merits of various professionals, but know that, unless you are an expert in the field yourself, you simply don’t know whether your professional is any good.


So, good luck!

CategoriesTechThought of The Day

Mark My words: The World Has Just Changed Forever

Like many forty-something-year-olds, I spent the first 18 years of my life without the internet, or a mobile phone. In the last quarter century of online usage, like most people, I have had my mind blown by some of the online developments. Google Streetview remains most impressive.


But nothing has shocked me to my core as the artificial intelligence tool, Chat CPT. I beg all the readers of this blog to have a play with this free tool. I have barely scratched the surface of its capabilities.


Life on earth will never be the same again, as mainstream, free AI has just landed. Ask it anything. Try it!


Some examples below:


My question: Which jobs are most likely to not be made obsolete by AI in the next 20 years?


It is difficult to predict with certainty which jobs will not be made obsolete by AI in the next 20 years, as developments in AI and automation technology are constantly evolving. However, there are some jobs that are less likely to be automated, such as those that require creative or critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and social skills. These may include jobs in the arts, education, health care, and social services. Additionally, jobs that require a human touch, such as hairdressing or massage therapy, are also less likely to be automated. Ultimately, the best way to protect yourself against job automation is to continually develop your skills and knowledge and stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies in your field.


My question: Write a rhyming poem about Rosa Parks meeting William Shakespeare in space


Rosa Parks and Shakespeare meet in space, A moment so out of place, But as they converse, they both see, That in each other, they share history.

Rosa, the civil rights queen, Who took a stand, and made a scene, And Shakespeare, a master of words, Whose plays and sonnets are still heard.

Together they marvel at the stars, And all the planets that are far, They ponder the mysteries of the universe, And the paths that they both traversed.

Rosa speaks of the struggles she faced, And the courage it took to take her place, Shakespeare listens with great care, And offers words of wisdom and repair.

For in their conversation, they find, That they both have fought for what is right, And though they come from different times, Their hearts and minds are intertwined.

So they continue their chat in the night, Two trailblazers, shining bright, Rosa Parks and Shakespeare in space, A meeting that will never be erased


My daughter’s question: Write a poem about Andrew Gray and Truth Legal


Andrew Gray is a man of truth, A lawyer who knows the proof, He fights for justice every day, In a world that can sometimes be gray.

With words and laws as his tools, He fights for what is right and true, He stands up for the weak and oppressed, And never lets injustice go unrest.

For Andrew knows that truth will win, And that justice always finds a way in, He stands strong and never falters, For he knows that truth will always conquer.

So let us all learn from Andrew Gray, And never be afraid to speak our truth and say, That justice and truth must always prevail, And that with courage, we can never fail



I bet you are wondering about the weird image which accompanies this blogpost. Well, I used another AI tool which generates free images. Try: Stable Diffusion.

In this instance, I asked for an image of “3 Quaker lawyers eating food”. Not bad, heh?

CategoriesHealthEnvironmentInternational AffairsTravelPolitics

The Sick Man of Europe

(Written during take-off from Tenerife South, Airport)


Travelling on a rickety bus in rural Thailand, back in 2000, I had my only epiphany. The vast distance from home – turbocharged by the cultural punch in the face that South-East Asia delivers with aplomb – afforded me 20:20 insight into how my life was going, and what the future might look like.


And it wasn’t a pretty picture.


For context, I had just finished my second year at university: a year I could barely recall due to too much booze, insufficient studying and little progress on the friend front. Frankly, I was a mess. As I realised, to continue on that trajectory would lead only to a 2:2 degree – or worse – with the resulting deleterious impact upon my career.


Encouraged by the bone-jangling bus – where only moronic backpackers sit at the back, being the most bone-jangly seats – I made myself a solemn promise. On return to the UK, I’d get my act together, and achieve a 2:1.


One year later, it was mission accomplished.


Travel does that, doesn’t it? It provides the gift of perspective. Perhaps perspective is the best reason to just go – and to go anywhere. And it’s from my literal vantage point, as I type, 30,000ft up, zooming away from Tenerife, that I feel confident to write the following.


The UK is poorly, not irreversibly sick, not yet on life-support, but we are in desperate need of a reset. Deep down, I think all Brits know this. Naturally, we have much to be proud about; the high net migration figures is sufficient proof that we live in an enviable land. But we are on the decline.




One week earlier, leaving the UK, from Leeds-Bradford airport (which is it: Leeds, or Bradford?), is a traumatising, harrowing experience. A national embarrassment. Twice now, in a matter of months, I have nearly missed my plane due to the unfathomably lengthy queues to get through security. And neither time was I travelling during peak season.


This time, with the knowledge that another horrible queue awaited me, I had ummed and ahhed about having special assistance at the airport, for I had been feeling somewhat unsteady on my feet those preceding days. I opted against help. I’d brave it, I thought.


Big mistake.


Feeling like something that you would scrape off your shoe, standing for 90 mins, with heavy hand luggage, it was tougher than a marathon. And I’ve run two. All around me, patient Brits – and all other nationalities – queued without grumble, for this is the national sport.


Conversely, at the far busier airports of The Canary Islands, security and passport control is so speedy that I do not recall the experience. Financially, the longer people wait in queues, the less that they can spend. Intellectually and economically, how can British airport operators justify such a delay? And why should we highlight our incompetence to the world by making travel to the UK so disagreeable?


Anyway, after a mad dash to the plane, setting-off over gorgeous, awakening and misty Yorkshire, several – just a few – relentless, small wind turbines, brought me joy. But within an hour, my joy had turned to despair, for we were flying over rural Ireland, which was carpeted by far larger, functioning glorious wind turbines. Why does Ireland get it, but we don’t? Growing up, Ireland was the butt of every joke. But who’s the fool now?


Never forget that David Cameron essentially banned onshore wind turbines, and no Tory leader since has changed the policy since (though Truss had covertly planned to do so). Future generations will be rightly furious. I’m enraged now.


To compound my misery, arriving in Tenerife, I was greeted by legions of massive turbines, standing proudly, purposefully, environmentally. See: Brits are the odd ones out! Onshore wind is a no-brainer.


What’s more, wind turbines and airports aside, in The Canaries I have repeatedly observed that the traffic flows; the hospitals function; ambulances arrive, with the utmost haste; pavements pose no danger; parking is easy and free; the people are warm and polite; the children are driven and respectful (I witnessed a language school in operation); there are public electric charging points, unlike in Harrogate; inflation is lower; life is slower; and the general costs are cheaper. Sure, not everything is better, but this isn’t the world’s 5th largest economy I was travelling in.


And what really hammered home the difference between the two countries was a sign outside of a lawyer’s office which stated that the firm closed at 2pm every day! Just imagine that, lawyers.


Perhaps the Spanish mainland has the same sort of problems that we have in the UK; I cannot say. Possibly, until recently, the blank canvas provided by The Canaries – for they are volcanic islands – allows for more sensible policies, uncoupled to outdated ways. Perhaps what we need in the UK is a metaphorical volcanic eruption of our own; to let us start over, taking the best bits of the UK and scrapping the worst parts. Perhaps Brexit was that eruption. Only time will tell.

CategoriesHealthThought of The Day

Cuando In Tenerife

It’s 8pm on Saturday night. I’m alone, in Puerto De La Cruz, Tenerife. Two guitarists serenade the busy restaurant. I have a table in the corner, squinting at the TV, watching Argentina V Mexico in the World Cup. The delightful smell of garlic wafts over. The night isn’t balmy; it’s quasi-balmy, if you know what I mean.

I await la comida sin gluten. Wish me luck. My Spanish – though improving – lets me down, repeatedly. Perhaps I will be served a plate of gluten. Yummy.

I booked this trip on Thursday, for the Friday. Solo. I simply had to do something to arrest the deterioration in my darn (yawn) health.

As I type, a lady, twice my age, with pink hair, takes the mic and begins to sing in Spanish. She’s good. The audience – all Spanish – of a certain age, begin to clap in tune.

The steak is chewy, just about dead. In a first for me, here’s a photo, true Instagram-style. My new theory is that the health of the modern human is damaged if we depart too much from what our ancestors did. I doubt that we are meant to spend our working day on a chair, tapping away on a keyboard. I doubt that our brains are able to cope with the constant bombardment of emails, WhatsApps and tweets  I doubt that we should eat three square meals per day.

It’s still 0-0.

All day, I have been thinking about how long I have felt so rough. For the last two years, if not longer, for every waking minute, I haven’t felt quite right. Sometimes, I’m at 90% health and nobody could know anything was wrong. At other times, I’m down at 20%. That’s quite the thing, isn’t it?

I don’t know whether to treat this illness as a battle, a marathon. Or, I wonder, perhaps I should make peace with it. Certainly, many parts of my life have been better for me and my family since I couldn’t work as I once did. Certainly, many aspects of life are worse. I don’t feel sorry for myself. But I would like to run again.

The Stoic in me knows that I shouldn’t expend any energy contemplating matters outside of my control, but elements of this illness appear to be within my control. Surely there’s a cure? So I should keep fighting, right?

Then I realise – again – that there’s no medic who has my back. Nobody is trying to make me well. It’s all on me. Chronic illness is unsexy; and ones caused by big pharma aren’t being fixed by big pharma, because there’s no money in it. Oh, and it’s better for them that’s there’s no admission of blame  

The guitarist duo start to play the Spanish classic “Cuando, Cuando, Cuando”. When, indeed.

Messi scores.