The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 4 August 2012

Portrait of the week | 4 August 2012
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After an opening ceremony going on into the early hours, directed by Danny Boyle and watched at one point by 26.9 million viewers in Britain, the Olympic Games in the Lea valley settled down to its sporting business, with only marginal complaints about empty seats, food queues, over-protective branding and the loss of the keys to Wembley stadium. The locks were changed. Two hundred and four copper petals attached to steel tubes had risen into the air without a hitch to form an Olympic cauldron of flame, to the designs of Thomas Heatherwick. The Queen had co-operated in making a jokey film sequence with Daniel Craig in the character of James Bond, during which she pretended to parachute into the stadium. Predictions of medal numbers for Britain seemed initially over-optimistic.

Business leaders visiting London for the Olympics asked David Cameron, the Prime Minister, what was happening to Britain’s economy, according to the FT, as figures showed a shrinking of GDP by 0.7 per cent in the second quarter. HSBC set aside $1.3 billion for compensation for mis-selling payment protection insurance in Britain and $700 million for fines in the United States following accusations of money laundering. Santander, successor to Abbey National, which had offered small businesses free banking ‘forever’, wrote to 230,000 small businesses telling them that their accounts will cost them at least £7.50 a month. House prices in July were 2.6 per cent lower than a year earlier, according to the Nationwide building society. Pershore Plum Festival opened with purple balloons and a Plum Princess, but no plums, which are late this year.

An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Stoke-on-Trent infected 19 and killed one. An attempt is to be made to recover the bell of the cruiser HMS Hood, sunk in 9,000ft of water by the Bismarck in 1941, with the loss of 1,415 men. The late Sir Jimmy Savile’s kilt went for £280 and his Rolls-Royce for £130,000 in an auction of his possessions that raised more than £320,000 for charity.


Syrian government forces attacked Aleppo, a city of two million, with artillery, ground forces and helicopter gunships. Red Cross and Red Crescent sources estimated the number of civilians who had fled Aleppo as 200,000, and those remaining faced a lack of water and food but terrible danger. Syria’s chargé d’affaires in London resigned because of his government’s ‘violent and oppressive acts’. Mitt Romney, the Republican US presidential candidate, on a visit to Jerusalem, to which he referred as the capital of Israel, said that the United States had ‘a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions’. Photographs taken by Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show that flags planted on the Moon’s surface by Apollo astronauts are still standing, apart from one displaced by Apollo 11’s departing blast.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and Mario Monti, the Italian Prime Minister, said they would do ‘everything possible to protect the eurozone’, echoing remarks made by Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, which the markets interpreted as an indication that Spanish bonds would be bought through the ECB. The scheme faced legal challenges in Germany, where an opinion poll in Bild am Sonntag found that 51 per cent believed the country would be better off outside the eurozone while 29 per cent thought it would be worse off. Four people were sentenced to death in Iran for their part in a bank fraud that secured loans of $2.6 billion. The American writer Gore Vidal died, aged 86. The Irish novelist Maeve Binchy died, aged 72.

In India, 600 million were affected by a power cut that stranded 350 trains, left hospitals relying on generators and put traffic lights out of action. The failure came a day after 300 million on the north-eastern grid were left without electricity. Separately, at least 32 died in a fire on the Tamil Nadu express. Gu Kailai, the wife of the disgraced Chinese political leader Bo Xilai, was charged with the murder last November of the British businessman Neil Heywood. Three members of the women’s punk band Pussy Riot went on trial in Moscow on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for singing an obscene song in the sanctuary of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, criticising President Vladimir Putin. At least 14 died of ebola fever in a three-week outbreak in Uganda. CSH