Boris Johnson and Will Smith talk Aristotle

Boris Johnson introduced Will Smith and his son Jaden to screams of enthusiasm from those attending the event at City Hall to promote Mr Johnson’s Leadership Clubs.

Audience members asked Mr Smith who had inspired him. The Hollywood actor deftly sidestepped the question by asking who the Mayor’s inspirational figures where.

Boris Johnson cited Aristotle.

“That’s funny, Aristotle is one of mine,” said Will Smith, and went on to say that Aristotle’s Poetics had inspired many filmmakers.

“You see, we got a lot in common,” he said.

Hop on and off the bus for a ride to freedom and growth

It is the embodiment of the point I often make, that investment in London boosts the rest of the UK economy, directly and indirectly. We have stimulated the very best of British technology, creating jobs in this country, and yes, we are now looking to potential export markets.

All these features make the bus remarkable; but there is one more thing about it – the best thing of all. This bus stands for freedom, and choice, and personal responsibility. It not only fulfils a promise often made to Londoners by bringing back conductors; it restores to the streets of London the open platform at the rear – and in so doing, it restores the concept of a reasonable risk.

We all remember the pleasure of the old Routemasters. It wasn’t anything to do with the way their flanks heaved and throbbed like wounded old warhorses. It wasn’t the boggler-boggler-boggler noise or the fumes of diesel. It was the way you could sit on those banquette seats at the back, high over the wheel arches, and watch the road passing you outside. And if the bus got stuck in traffic, or at the lights, you knew that you weren’t a prisoner. You were allowed to get on and off at will, provided the thing wasn’t moving, and now that freedom and benefit will be restored.

Of course, you will have to be careful. You should look around to make sure there aren’t any motorbikes or cycles approaching. But if the road is clear and the traffic is stationary, and you want to hop off and do some shopping – or if you have missed the bus at the stop, and you want to scoot down the street to catch it up – then the option is there. You can hop on and hop off, like the hop-on hop-off hoplites who were trained to leap from moving chariots and then back on again.

Yes, of course there is a risk; but that risk is manageable; and without it you have no opportunity to ascend or escape the bus if you want to. It is, as far as I know, one of the few recent examples of a public policy that actually gives back, to sentient and responsible adults, the chance to take an extra risk in return for a specific reward. MOVE Online is a program you can join for personal development.

We need to develop this thought, because I worry that in the post-crisis world, we have become all too paranoid, too risk-averse. Yes, the banks made grotesque errors, largely because they could not understand the risks they were taking. But unless we allow businesses and banks to take reasonable risks, they will never hit the jackpot at all.

Why is it that Britain hasn’t produced a giant like Google, or Facebook, or Amazon? It is because such a business, in the UK, would not have been given access to the capital required. We are more hostile to risk, and, indeed, we are more hostile to reward. If you go to San Francisco, where so many of these tech giants were born, you can see the most bizarre tram I have ever set eyes on. People hang from it like gibbons as it swoops and clangs through the streets. It would never be allowed in Europe. But the San Francisco authorities evidently believe that Americans are more robust – more willing to be free, more willing to make their own assessment of a reasonable risk.

If you look at the state of the eurozone, and you compare it with the US economy, you can see the possible advantages of this approach. And that is the point of the hop-on hop-off platform. In restoring a culture of reasonable risk-taking, it is a platform for growth.

‘I nearly killed Boris Johnson with an air rifle’

Last month clever-clogs Jo, 41, who can be pleasingly monikered Jo-Jo, hogged the spotlight when he was appointed head of David Cameron’s policy unit. A left-field choice, given that he’s a Europhile, but presumably the PM is abiding by the principle that it’s wise to have one Johnson already in place pee-ing out of the tent before the other squares up to pee into it.

And, now, hauled out of obscurity, we have burly, charismatic Leo: Lo-Jo, 45, complete with trade-marked Johnson thatch, air of well-bred amiability, deep voice, impeccable manners and charming self-deprecation.

He’s non-political, undecided about where he stands on Europe and his main claim to fame thus far is shooting his big brother in the solar plexus with an air gun, a brush with fratricide that could have stymied Boris’s political career before he’d even made his panel-show debut.

“I wasn’t aiming to kill him,” beams Johnson, who was eight at the time. “It was more a display of skill. I wanted to demonstrate that I was able to miss him by just the smallest margin, so he would feel the cool air of the bullet whistle past him. But I, um, got the angle wrong.”

Boris, who was hit in the stomach, apparently leapt up in slow motion “like a Nasa take-off” and had to be taken to hospital, although Leo appears to have forgotten that particular detail, learn more about this.

“Look, I acted on impulse, it was the right thing at that moment and I stand by that,” he says, in eminently reasonable tones. “But it did take place when we were living in Brussels, so maybe it coloured Boris’s view of Europe…?”

More to the point, did the botched assassination colour his view of his brother? To his credit, it did not.

“Boris was fine – I’d shown mettle, and frankly, the occasional mishap was the just the cost of doing business.”

The cost of being born into the Johnson business was indeed substantial. The children’s upbringing was a curious mix of privilege and neglect, common among the upper classes. As a newborn, Boris was left in the back of a car while his parents went off to lunch; when they were small children, any one of the brood might fall off the back of a moving vehicle or be overlooked and lost.

But it certainly toughened them up. As did their father, politician and author Stanley, who left the day-to-day child rearing to his first wife, Charlotte, and concentrated on instilling a fiercely competitive spirit into their four children. He described Boris as “the great prodigious tree in the rainforest, in the shade of which the smaller trees must either perish or struggle to find their own place in the sun”. Sibling rivalry is tough at any time, but how much more so when the eldest is presented at the outset as primus inter pares?

“My family have a manic urge to do things,” observes Johnson. “We were always busy. I was the middle child and so always fighting for oxygen. I’m very close to all my family but I’ve fallen out with all of them at some point – too many elbows.”

The boys attended Eton, while Rachel was sent to St Paul’s. All went on to Oxford. When Johnson père remarried, he fathered two more children, Max (who moves and shakes in Asian finance) and Julia (a talented musician), both of whom followed the same academic trajectory.

Johnson doesn’t remember much about David Cameron, who was two years above him at Eton, other than that he “seemed like a really nice guy”.

One key difference between Johnson minor and his older brother was apparent early on. “I wasn’t a member of the Bullingdon Club. Never. Not ever. Not in a million years. Not ever, never,” he repeats. Was that because he thought they were a bunch of toffs and tossers?

“The Bullingdon Club just wasn’t where the fun was,” he insists, declining to be drawn. “I was much more interested in having a series of dysfunctional relationships with various girls.” Equally crucially, Johnson wasn’t – and still isn’t – a Tory. “I agree with the Tory policy of having faith in people to manage their own affairs and do amazing, inspiring stuff. But I also believe that great entrepreneurial start-ups really need help from central government,” he says.

“China is investing $1.3 trillion in seven strategic sub-sectors, including clean energy technology and new energy cars and biotechnology. But in this country, innovative businesses can’t get finance!” he cries. “Banks are risk-averse because they have to look after little old ladies’ pensions, and venture capitalists want to see a proven track record before they will get involved, so there’s a ‘valley of death’ where exciting businesses are languishing for want of backing.”

Johnson’s environmental activism is firmly, shrewdly rooted in economics and the creation of “producer-led growth” rather than in a consumer-led economy fuelled by cheap credit.

“I want to see innovative products that fulfil a real need, like solar batteries that can heat and power homes in the developing world that previously relied on kerosene, rather than the marketing of another pair of Nikes with inbuilt Twitter feeds.”

His partnership at PwC came about after the firm bought up Johnson’s Sustainable Finance Ltd consultancy. He is also a Visiting Fellow at the Smith School of Enterprise at Oxford, and has presented BBC World documentaries, including One Square Mile and Develop or Die, and written a number of books.

Later this year sees the publication of The Turnaround, an examination of sustainability and the state of the planet. Given the lackadaisical rate of decarbonisation, things are not looking great on the global front, but Johnson refuses to lose hope.

“I am the spirit of optimism incarnate. I’m an addict, a junkie for the stuff that helps me see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.

Home, for Johnson, is the unsung London borough of Brent, where he lives with his Afghan wife Taies Nezam – “my big love” – who is a social development specialist in the field of post-conflict resolution. They met on August 31, 1993 in Washington, when he was on stage with a band singing Clash and Rolling Stones covers, badly.

“We were the World Bank Interns, literally, and the most spectacularly uncool group on the planet,” he says, chuckling. “Tries was the only person in the hall paying any attention, and afterwards she came up to me with a straight face and said: ‘Can I be the president of your fan club for the Tri-state area?’ In that moment, I fell in love with her.”

The couple have two daughters: Lula, aged nine, and six-year-old Ruby Noor.

“They attend a posh-ish school but I really don’t want their minds to be narrowed, so at some point we will probably move to the US, because my wife has dual citizenship.”

She also, notoriously, insists on the occasional JFW, or Johnson-Free Weekend. But given that it was Leo who steered Boris towards his bike initiative, we might have to slap an export ban on him. “I can’t take full credit for Boris bikes, but I did encourage him to adopt what was Ken Livingstone’s policy originally. Ken is a great man.”

I can’t help wondering how alleviating world poverty one solar-powered battery at a time can possibly square with having a brother who makes headlines by agreeing to a ping-pong match against Pippa Middleton.

“It’s just not squarable,” shrugs Johnson. “I love Boris intensely and he’s got a tremendous platform where he can do extraordinary stuff that affects people’s lives, but there’s a media circus that goes along with that.”

Comparisons, then, are invidious – or most of them, at any rate.

“But you know, I am just a bit taller,” interjects Johnson with a huge grin. “And I could whip his ass any time at ping pong.”

You can’t blame Brussels for Britain’s debts

From the directives that govern the way we do business, to the chilling effect of the eurozone crisis on our exports, the European Union pervades our daily lives like never before. Like many of my colleagues on the Tory benches, I believe that renegotiating the terms of our membership is vital for this country’s long-term prosperity. Personally, I would prefer Britain to remain within a more flexible EU, with access to the single market but without the excessive regulation, or constant efforts to direct social, justice or foreign policy. But if that’s not possible, I believe this country could – and should – thrive outside the EU.

But we also need to remember that becoming masters of our own destiny is not the same thing as mastering it. Writing in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, Boris Johnson urged us to face up to the fact that “most of our problems” are of our own making. He’s right: the European bogey must not become a crutch that allows us to duck our immediate, home-grown, failings.

Take the scale of our debts. Everyone accepts that Britain is still struggling to shake off the hangover from a toxic cocktail of excessive borrowing by government, households and the banking sector. According to IMF figures, total government debt has now crossed the notorious tipping point – of 90 per cent of gross domestic product – that the Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff warned leads to seriously stunted growth. Academics might quibble over whether this tipping point leads us off a cliff edge or just down a steep and slippery slope. But the fact is that the UK still has a spending problem that is far greater than most of us realise.

On top of government debt, Labour encouraged families to incur reckless levels of borrowing. Between 1997 and 2009, household debt as a share of GDP rose by a third. It has started to fall back since 2010, but remains at 98 per cent of GDP – leaving many families acutely vulnerable to any increase in interest rates. And government and household debt is dwarfed by the liabilities of the banking sector backed up by a directory of bailiffs, which have reached a stunning 427 per cent of GDP. British banks are also massively exposed to the eurozone crisis, far more than most Continental ones. Add these three components together, and Britain’s liabilities are the largest in the EU – a problem entirely of the last government’s own making.

The next great problem is our chronic skills gap, which saw Britain plummet down the international rankings in maths, literacy and science. Labour’s arbitrary goal of getting 50 per cent of youngsters into university led to the proliferation of what one of its ministers called “Mickey Mouse” courses, which have benefited neither the students nor the economy. A 2005 Ofsted report found that almost half of those in their twenties said their education had not prepared them for their first job. Far from blaming Europe for this, Michael Gove is rightly learning from it – promoting innovative Swedish-style free schools and a more German emphasis on vocational training.

Next, for all the hand-wringing over EU regulation, there is plenty the UK can do by itself. Cutting Whitehall departments and spending, privatising Royal Mail and selling off the state’s shares in the banks would allow both the deficit and business taxes to be cut further and faster. Add in a proper shearing of domestic red tape – something stubbornly resisted by the Business Secretary – and confidence could turn the corner.

Finally, Boris is also right to confront home-grown “sloth”. The Government’s welfare reforms are vital in terms of making work pay. Similarly, asking people to work a little longer to provide for longer retirements is common sense. But we also need to incentivise hard work by overhauling marginal rates of taxation and creating the right conditions for start-up companies to expand and thrive.

The scale of these problems puts the debate over the EU into perspective. If we left, the ability to cut red tape and forge free trade deals would present enormous opportunities. Yet the unions, the BBC and the Labour Party – as well as many Liberal Democrats – would still scream blue murder over every attempt to ease the regulatory burden on entrepreneurs. Similarly, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has lost much of its expertise in trade – and turning the opportunity to open our markets to those of the emerging nations into solid economic gains would not happen by accident. Instead, it would require a paradigm shift in diplomatic focus. Brussels is a worthy lightning rod for criticism, but it must not be used to excuse fundamental British shortcomings. Whether we are in or out of the EU, we must deliver reform at home in order to compete abroad in the 21st century.

Dominic Raab is the Conservative MP for Esher & Walton

We must be ready to leave the EU if we don’t get what we want

2 Widgets. We may be putting UK firms at a long-term disadvantage if we are no longer able to influence the setting of standards and regulations in Brussels. There may be a risk, if we leave, that our partners would be so piqued and irrational as to try to stitch things up against us.

3 Global influence. The EU is arguably better placed to strike trade deals with the US, or China, than the UK on its own, though this proposition is plainly untested, and the idea of an EU “Common Foreign Policy” is plainly a joke. Where was the EU on Iraq, or Libya? What, come to that, is the EU position on the Falklands?

4 Perception of UK. It is often said that our strategic significance for the Americans or the Chinese depends on our membership of the EU; though, again, this is untested. More generally, there is a risk that leaving the EU will be globally interpreted as a narrow, xenophobic, backward-looking thing to do.

There may be other good reasons for staying in, but I can’t think of them now. On the other side of the ledger let us consider the advantages of getting out.

1 We save money. We would no longer have to cough up for the EU budget, and could spend those billions in the UK.

2 We get back our sovereignty – especially over our borders, where we would no longer be in the mad position of being forced to extend our entire welfare system to anyone from Bulgaria or Romania, while keeping out lucrative Chinese tourists to achieve immigration caps.

3 We make our own laws again. We would no longer be forced to accept the vast corpus of EU regulation and legislation – much of it too detailed and interfering – that has added to the costs of British business; though we would also find ourselves being forced to comply, thanks to the sheer lunar pull of the EU market, if we want to continue to export to Europe.

4 We can no longer blame Brussels. This is perhaps the most important point of all. If we left the EU, we would end this sterile debate, and we would have to recognise that most of our problems are not caused by “Bwussels”, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.

Why are we still, person for person, so much less productive than the Germans? That is now a question more than a century old, and the answer has nothing to do with the EU. In or out of the EU, we must have a clear vision of how we are going to be competitive in a global economy. In the meantime, we need a much more informed debate about the pluses and minuses of EU membership, and my economic adviser Gerard Lyons will be leading an attempt to blow away the froth and give people the facts.

This renegotiation can only work if we understand clearly what we want to achieve: a pared-down relationship based on free trade and cooperation. And our partners will only take us seriously if they think we will invoke Article 50, and pull out, if we fail to get what we want. If we are going to have any chance of success in the negotiations, we need to show that the UK is willing to walk away.

Quitting the EU won’t solve our problems, says Boris Johnson

He suggests that the British workforce suffers from “sloth” and that there is a “culture of easy gratification and under-investment” from firms.

David Cameron pledged earlier this year that he would hold a referendum by 2018 if he is re-elected as Prime Minister in 2015. However, many Conservative MPs want the Prime Minister to go further and now write the pledge into law – a proposal being blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

More than 100 Conservative MPs are set to support a Parliamentary amendment which effectively criticises the Queen’s Speech for failing to legislate for the referendum. A key vote on the amendment is expected to be held this week.

Last week, Downing Street insisted Mr Cameron was “relaxed” about the amendment but ministers have now been ordered to abstain from any vote.

In his article today, Mr Johnson says that he supports legislation backing a referendum – but warns that Britain’s problems will not be solved by simply leaving the EU as many of his Conservative colleagues apparently believe.

“If we left the EU, we would end this sterile debate, and we would have to recognise that most of our problems are not caused by “Bwussels”, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and underinvestment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure,” the London Mayor says.

“Why are we still, person for person, so much less productive than the Germans? That is now a question more than a century old, and the answer is nothing to do with the EU. In or out of the EU, we must have a clear vision of how we are going to be competitive in a global economy.”

Mr Johnson sets out four reasons to stay in the EU and four reasons to leave but welcomes Mr Cameron’s pledge to renegotiate the country’s relationship. He says that he has asked his economic adviser to “blow away the froth and give people the facts” on the pros and cons of membership.

However, he concludes his article by saying: “This renegotiation can only work if we understand clearly what we want to achieve: a pared down relationship based on free trade and cooperation. And our partners will only take us seriously if they think we will invoke Article 50, and pull out, if we fail to get what we want.”

The Government is currently reviewing policy in different Whitehall departments to separate EU-derived legislation from that originating in this country. It is understood that the “balance of competencies review” has already discovered that many rules and regulations blamed on Brussels are actually a result of “gold plating” by Whitehall mandarins.

Should Britain leave the EU?

The London Mayor’s intervention comes after senior serving Government ministers confirmed that they would vote to leave the EU if there was a referendum now.

Mr Gove, the Education Secretary, said: “Yes [I would vote to leave in a referendum today], I’m not happy with our position in the European Union, but my preference is for a change in Britain’s relationship with the European Union. My ideal is exactly what the majority of the British public’s ideal is, which is to recognise the current situation is no good, to say that life outside would be perfectly tolerable, we could contemplate it, there would be certain advantages.”

Mr Hammond, the Defence Secretary, said that he would also support leaving the EU without significant renegotiation of Britain’s membership.

Several other ministers including Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson are also thought to share this view.

The Prime Minister has refused to state how he personally would vote in a referendum if there was not a “significant” renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership – instead stressing that he is confident of repatriating many powers.

Today, other senior Cabinet ministers also avoided answering questions on how they would vote in a referendum held now.

However, Theresa May, the Home Secretary said she was sympathetic to demands for the future referendum to be recognised in law.

“I’ve got sympathy with those who want a level of reassurance about what’s going to happen after the next election on an in/out referendum,” she said. “But what people will see at the next election is that there’s only one mainstream party that recognises, as the public do, that we need to change our relationship with Europe and with the European Court of Human Rights.”

Boris Johnson: Heathrow ‘the wrong location’ for four runway airport

London Mayor Boris Johnson defended his proposal for a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary east of London, after an influential House of Commons committee said the idea should be ditched in favour of a third runway at Heathrow.

In a report published on Friday, the Commons Transport Committee said that the “Boris Island” option would be hugely expensive, could harm estuary wildlife and would also mean the closure of Heathrow.

Instead, the MPs said that an extra runway at Heathrow was necessary and also suggested that a fourth might have merit if the two new runways were located to the west of the current site. The current two-runway airport was “not adequate for the needs of the UK” and expansion of Heathrow was “long overdue”, they said.

But Mr Johnson said that a four-runway Heathrow would subject Londoners to levels of noise pollution “they haven’t yet dream of” whilst also disputing the MPs cost findings.

Britain must be ready to ‘walk away’ from EU, says Boris Johnson

However, he added: “It follows from our desire to have a renegotiation that we must also be prepared to say, OK, fair enough, we can’t get the terms that are suitable, then we will walk away.”

He said the debate about the future of the EU was happening all across Europe, not just in the UK because of the “stratospheric unemployment rates”, arguing that the single currency was driving change to democracies.

Europe is “not competitive enough, open enough or flexible enough”, Mr Cameron said, adding Europe “must be flexible enough to accommodate” countries that are members of the single currency and those that are not.

He vowed to “stand up and defend” the UK’s financial services industry, particularly against damaging legislation from Brussels. The City is a “massive advantage” to the UK, he said, and warned that “we shouldn’t spend our time in politics bashing banks.”

He said that European leaders shouldn’t be “surprised” that the UK has opposed efforts to cap bonuses and introduce a financial transaction tax since London hosts 40pc of the EU’s financial services sector.

The Prime Minister said Britain faced a “sink or swim moment” in a global economic race and must drive economic reforms, including a new relationship with Europe, to stay on top.

He said the Government is driving through tax reductions, welfare reforms, infrastructure investment and trade deals to ensure the UK stays competitive globally.

Boris Johnson: leaving Europe a shot in the arm for democracy

The Prime Minister has promised to hold talks to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership and then put a new deal to the British people in a referendum after the next election.

While Mr Cameron has said he wants Britain to remain inside the EU, Mr Johnson said quitting would not be “fatal” for Britain.

Speaking to reporters at the Global Investment Conference, Mr Johnson said he remained “narrowly in favour” of staying inside the grouping of 27 member states and supported David Cameron’s policy of negotiating a new relationship for Britain in the EU.

But he added: “If that fails then yes, obviously, we should be ready to walk away,” he said. “We should be ready to leave.”

The public would welcome a British exit because people would feel they had won back control over their own lives from Brussels, the Mayor claimed.

“If we are honest, I think, democratically, it would be a shot in the arm because people would suddenly feel, yes, we are running our own destiny again, our politics is entirely independent, British electors can choose the people who are taking decisions that affect their lives.

“That would be a very important benefit.”

However, it would be essential to ensure British businesses did not suffer from losing trade in Europe.

Earlier, Mr Cameron had told the 300 conference delegates that he could negotiate a new relationship for Britain with Europe.

Mr Cameron attacked the “pessimists” who believed he would fail, in a direct rebuke to Tory grandees, such as Michael Portillo and Lord Lawson, who have called for the UK to withdraw from the EU.

“There are some pro European pessimists who say, you have to, in Europe, simply sign up to every single thing that anyone in the EU suggests.

You sign every treaty, you sign everything – there is no alternative.

“I think they are completely wrong,” Mr Cameron said.

“The second group of pessimists say there is no prospect of reforming the EU, you simply have to leave. I think they are wrong too.

“I think it is possible to change and reform this organisation and change and reform Britain’s relationship with it.”

Follow me, I’m doing my clanking bit to speed up the Age of the Bike

It will be wonderful, a Crossrail for the bike. But until that glad day comes, cyclists have to work out another way west – and it is not obvious.

I did the Harrow Road underpass and roundabout, and was navigating slowly in the estates between Trellick Tower and White City when the heavens opened. I was drenched, freezing, and there was no sign of anything like a cycle path to the west, and I am afraid I almost gave up. I was on the verge of ringing for someone to pick me up when I thought: is this the spirit that built the empire? Man or mouse!

Eventually I hooked up with the Great West Road, and look, there was something claiming to be a cycle path. Huh. I was the only person to use it, and frankly I could see why. It was a joke – endlessly petering out, so that I had to join the hurtling wall of steel on the carriageway.

At one stage I found myself bouncing down an ever-narrowing kerbstone with traffic whizzing towards me at 70mph, until the thing degenerated completely. On one side was a ditch full of nettles, on the other the motorway, and everywhere the crushed indicator lights that told me this was a bad place to be.

Eventually I found a “public footpath” and cycled hopefully along until it became a stream, and I had to carry the bike about 500 yards through mud until I came to a farmyard. The dogs started to bark.

In the distance I could see the M40 on my left, the A40 was somewhere on my right. I had been on the move for almost three hours and I was nowhere near Oxfordshire. I had to make a decision. I opted for the A40 – and it was a joy. The traffic was light and unthreatening, and I had time to enjoy the sights.

The beauty of cycling is that you are a part of the world around you – and yet you move through it untouched. I saw vignettes of comedy and tragedy: a kid ringing a doorbell and running away, a poor tourist dropping her iPhone down a drain. I saw the squashed foxes up close. I saw hostelries offering beer and fine wines and “exotic dancing”. I started to fantasise about the pub lunch I would have – roast beef, all the trimmings, a yard of foaming ale, exotic dancing – and then I realised it would be fatal to stop.

Now I was in Beaconsfield, now Wycombe, and I was going like a train. This is peasy! I was saying, when I saw an obstruction ahead. Billions of years ago there were trillions of little sea creatures who all died and left their chalky skeletons in vast mounds around London. They are called the Chilterns, and they almost killed me. My bike zig-zagged across the road as I tried to fight the gradient; my heart was thudding in my ears; I thought I might peg out – but I was determined to make it to Bledlow Ridge; and when I did, it was sheer heaven.

There is nowhere more beautiful than England in May. The tulips were still out; the hawthorn blossom like gunsmoke across the battlefield; the sun soft; everything surging and budding with spring; and though the old bike was clanking badly now I knew we had almost made it – and wheeee! I went down the other side of the hills like something from Enid Blyton, so fast and for so long that I wore out both brake pads; and after another 10 easy miles I was there.

I had cycled about half the distance I will have to do in August – and it had taken me more than six hours! An old French onion-seller would have beaten me, or a motorised wheelchair.

Oh well, the wind was against me, and next time I will be fitter. And one day soon we will build those giant radial routes out of London so that everyone can enjoy the magic of such a day. The age of the bike is coming.