I have never met Donald Trump, but I knew his parents. A fact that makes me feel about 100 years old. Which was actually nearer the age Fred and Mary Anne Trump were when, as a teenager, I made my first trip to New York. I remember riding backwards in their limousine on the way to lunch with the extended Trump clan and the lovely Mary Anne apologising that her son Donald would not be joining us. ‘You know about Donald?’ she inquired. I nodded, and recall her adding rather wistfully, ‘He’s always been the outgoing one.’
One of the great pleasures of life, I now realise — and a fine compensation for slowly greying hair — is watching other people navigate the slalom of their careers. The other day I turned on the television to watch a friend who is competing in Strictly Come Dancing. I was briefly detained by another channel on which a former employee was being interviewed about becoming the next leader of Ukip. I returned to Strictly. After all these years I have become strangely interested and am lobbying my friend to be taken backstage. Partly to show support. Partly to see the stars up close. And partly to continue an argument with Ed Balls about an Islamist sect which kicked off during his time as education secretary. I somehow feel that Balls is more likely to finally concede he was wrong if I can catch him in spandex.
My soon-to-be-completed book on the migration crisis has entailed even more travel than usual. This throws up its own juxtapositions. A couple of weeks ago I was in a meeting at the Bundestag with one of Angela Merkel’s supporters. He was trying to persuade me that it was all going fine. Then why were the Paris suburbs I was in the day before filled with tents? Why had a Greek refugee camp I was at in the summer just been burned down by some of its occupants? Each time I return to Britain I find the debate here ever more idiotic. Celebrities and other grandstanders make out that if we just took in the 6,500 occupants of the Calais camp everything would be solved. They seem to have no conception that 6,500 people is an unexceptional day’s arrivals into Italy alone. Last week a single backbench MP (David Davies) tweeted that dental checks might be necessary in order to check the age of some of the Calais ‘child migrants’. The whole nation seemed to go into a frenzy. To demonstrate her virtue, Stella Creasy MP claimed to feel shame at sitting in the same parliament as Davies. The man himself was invited on to morning television to be harangued by — of all indignities — Piers Morgan. Before long the British Dental Association felt impelled to come out and denounce tooth checks as ‘unethical’. All of which compels me to ask: where precisely have all the adults in Britain gone? When did we become this nation of preening cowards? One solution for getting out of this mess is for those who think there is no cost to behaving in such a way to experience the downs as well as the ups of moral culpability. So next time Benedict Cumberbatch effs and blinds to laud the evaporation of borders, his audience might point out how lucky he is that he was performing at the Barbican in London last year rather than the Bataclan theatre in Paris.
Twice in the last week Sky have asked me to come on to discuss this issue, and twice paired me with the same strangely ill-informed ‘human rights’ barrister. Aside from having the now-common social justice warrior, schoolmarmish manner (‘I’m shutting you down’, ‘How dare you?’ etc), she appeared to believe that anyone in the world who wants to come to Europe should come here. When I point out that our continent is in a crisis, she corrects me that ‘the world is in crisis’. Just one strange thing about such people is that they think it outrageous to have a special interest in protecting one’s own home.
My cat — an exceptionally beautiful ragdoll — has taken to urinating on the floor beside the lavatory. At first I took this to be a touching act of (approximate) imitation. However, the vet informs me that tests may be needed. After expensively proving that they were not, he suggests that she may be suffering from stress. This strikes me as remarkably unlikely. My cat’s days are filled with sleeping, snuggling, eating somewhat better than I do and the occasional foray to stare dementedly at a fly. However, according to the vet — who recommends a feline behavioural therapist — cat stress can be caused by a range of things. It is true that my ragdoll met a dog for the second time the other week. But I am now informed that other variations in the life of a cat can also cause stress, including, apparently, seeing their owners packing a suitcase. I am racked with guilt and have taken to packing my travel bags in a locked room.