In 2003, during a long night of swilling fine French wines in Beijing, talk turned to China’s rising economic fortunes. Old China hands at the table reminisced about camel trains clattering through the capital’s dim 1970s streets. Then a mysterious American chipped in with an extraordinary tale. Back in 1983, he said, China’s coffers were so low that starving officers in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were reduced to selling off the country’s heirlooms.
Tom Bower, the Prime Minister’s biographer, says that Gordon’s reinvention as the socialist who can save capitalism is just the latest in a series of convenient masks he has donnedGordon Brown would probably prefer to forget his magic moment in the crowded House of Commons exactly 20 years ago, on 1 November 1988. In the midst of a withering attack against Nigel Lawson’s management of the faltering economy, the Labour front bencher pierced the Tory’s façade with deadly accuracy: ‘This is a boom based on credit.
Two Sundays ago, I was sitting in the café in the Borders on L Street in Washington, a table away from a couple of middle-aged black men who were discussing politics over cups of coffee and great piles of books. One of them, wearing a black T-shirt with a Union logo on it and the kind of motley pillbox hat that was popular during the Afrocentric clothing fad of the early 1990s, raised his voice.
Double-dealing female agents. Secret ciphers. Car chases. Now that we have all ingested rather more than a quantum of publicity for Ian Fleming’s gaudy fictions, it might be time for the true inventor of the modern spy novel — and the original purveyor of the above-named elements — to take his bow. The name was Le Queux. William Le Queux. He is almost totally forgotten now. But between the 1890s and the 1920s, he was one of Britain’s most phenomenally popular authors.
The grandson of the King told my wife and me at dinner that we were ‘the only two tourists in Kabul’! In fact, we nearly did not arrive because on the eve of our flight, the aid-worker Gayle Williams was shot dead by the Taleban in broad daylight. The incident made world headlines and the Afghan capital suddenly more dangerous. I was at a shoot and all my fellow guns thought I would be mad to go.
Rod Liddle says that the row over their radio ‘prank’ has exposed the fact that these two smug, overpaid performers aren’t really that popular. There are no fans to defend themThere’s this new deal being offered by the telephone inquiry service 118 118. If you answer a question correctly, you get to ask as many questions as you want all day, free of charge, and they will answer them. The test question they asked me was: ‘What pop star was born in Finchley on January 21, 1971?’ The answer, obviously, is Emma Bunton, also known as Baby Spice.
At this juncture, my best credit-crunch advice is to keep beside your armchair at all times an atlas of the world, a modern American dictionary and a bottle of whisky. If your constitution is strong, you might also want a copy of the Financial Times but do keep the television zapper handy, so you can hit the ‘mute’ button when the news comes on. You can tell from the order of the silent pictures whether markets have plunged or rallied, which is really as much as you want to know.
The French President’s strop is more eloquent than any policy or speech, says Celia Walden. He is a pint-sized de Gaulle regularly made to look a fool by his wifeThe truth, invariably, is in the detail. Theresa May’s leopard-print shoes, Jon Snow’s refusal to wear a poppy, Prince Andrew’s bedful of teddy bears, Nick Clegg’s arithmetic (he counted up the women all right but got the weekly pension wrong by two thirds, at 30 — wait for it — ‘quid’), and Catherine Zeta-Jones’s decision to take OK! to court ‘because they made it look as though all I did on my wedding day was eat’.