What is happening in the 300-mile stretch of sea between Sicily and Libya, day in and day out — in other words, what ‘we’ are doing there — is beyond reasonable doubt insane.
A sane person would assume that the 181,436 migrants (a new record) who made it by sea to Italy last year had done so under their own steam in flimsy fishing boats and dinghies at least some of the way across the Mediterranean.
Most diplomats in Brussels will tell you that Theresa May has just embarked upon a fool’s errand, that Britain might wish for a free-trade deal with the European Union but will have to learn that it can’t cherry-pick. Anyway, they say, nothing of any value can be agreed in two years. This received wisdom can be heard, under various iterations, in most capitals in Europe — and it’s natural that the EU will be sore, perhaps a little defensive.
On 29 March 2019 the Queen should have a state dinner and invite the European Union’s 27 heads of state and its five presidents. The evening’s purpose would be to toast the new alliance between the United Kingdom and the EU: one based on free trade, security cooperation and shared democratic values.
This celebration of the new alliance will be especially welcome after two years of negotiations which are bound to be fraught and, at times, ugly.
Middle age is OK by me. National Trust membership, a Waitrose loyalty card, lying on the sofa drinking red wine and yelling at the telly — since I turned 40, this stuff all just feels right. But by a mile, the best consolation of middle age I’ve found is the cagefighter Conor McGregor and living vicariously through his kicks, punches and verbal smackdowns.
How dull my previous enthusiasms for cricket, tennis and football now seem by comparison with the heroic derring-do of this 28-year-old killing machine, a former plumber from Crumlin in Dublin.
It is one of the great mysteries of modern British politics: how public schools managed to survive three periods of Labour government with their tax breaks intact. How was it that an education secretary, Anthony Crosland, could say: ‘If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England, and Wales and Northern Ireland’, and yet do nothing to make life difficult for independent schools? Suzi Leather, Tony Blair’s appointment as head of the Charity Commission, demanded private schools do more to justify their charitable status.
The new film The Lost City of Z is being advertised as based on the true story of one of Britain’s greatest explorers. It is about Lt-Col Percy Fawcett. Greatest explorer? Fawcett? He was a surveyor who never discovered anything, a nutter, a racist, and so incompetent that the only expedition he organised was a five-week disaster. Calling him one of our greatest explorers is like calling Eddie the Eagle one of our greatest sportsmen.
It is delightful to be writing for a magazine I’ve read, man and boy, since I was 15. Such is my affection for The Spectator that I felt a particular puff of pride when my name appeared on the cover a few weeks ago. The fact that the words in question were ‘Simon Callow’s Wagnerian disaster’ barely dented my pleasure. It advertised a quite collectibly horrible review of a short biography of Wagner I had written.
My home town is better than yours. Don’t take my word for it. This month North Berwick was crowned ‘best place to live’, at least in Scotland, thanks in part to its good schools, community spirit and low crime. The news hasn’t come as a surprise to locals — it’s a town perched between an extinct volcano and the North Sea on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, so we know it’s something special. But there’s more to us than pretty streets, beaches and fish and chips.