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[/audioplayer]Hell, as one of Jean-Paul Sartre’s characters said, is other people. Unless, that is, you happen to be British and born after about 1980, in which case hell is the opposite: being alone for more than about five minutes. As for the absolute pit, the eighth circle or however else you describe the geography of Beelzebub’s kingdom, that is being left alone without a 3G mobile phone signal.
The mask has been torn away. Supposedly anti-Israel protests over the Gaza war have convulsed Europe in the worst scenes of open Jew-hatred since the 1930s. In Paris, predominantly Muslim mobs screaming ‘death to the Jews’ have repeatedly tried to storm synagogues, torched cars and burnt Jewish-owned shops to the ground. In Berlin, demonstrators shouted ‘Gas the Jews’ while an imam beseeched Allah to ‘count and kill Zionist Jews to the very last one’.
In 1912 Kaiser Wilhelm had an ambitious task for my great-great-great uncle Karl Max von Lichnowsky. He sent him to London to be our ambassador there, with orders to try to ensure Britain’s neutrality (at the very least, in cases of conflict with Russia and France). Although Lichnowsky already had a sympathetic relationship with Britain’s foreign minister, Edward Grey, who also hoped to avoid a war, his mission failed.
Sometimes I have a quiet time as a voluntary hospital visitor. But recently I’ve witnessed a lot of distress from people of all ages and types. The other week I saw an elderly Middle Eastern man bent over a bin in a ward corridor, crying almost uncontrollably. I asked him the problem and he stuttered out that he had been watching his daughter sleeping, and he believed she was going to die.
I went off to find a nurse as I felt I didn’t know enough about his situation or hers to help.
The centenary of the start of the first world war is getting much more attention than the tricentenary of the accession of George I, which also falls this week. As far as I can tell, no new biographies of the first Hanoverian king are imminent, whereas books on the great war are pouring forth. You can see why. The replacement of a plump, if benign, queen by an ‘obstinate and humdrum German martinet with dull brains and coarse tastes’ (Winston Churchill’s words), who presided over a huge financial scandal and died unlamented after a short reign, need hardly detain us.
One day in 1959, the Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre was putting the finishing touches to an abstract sculpture in wood. The work, entitled ‘Last Ladder’, was carved on only one side. When he had finished, Andre’s friend the painter Frank Stella walked in, ran his hand down the smooth reverse side and remarked, ‘You know, Carl, that’s sculpture too.’
For Andre it was a eureka moment. In a flash, he realised that he did not need to carve his sculptures at all.
I met a nice, middle-aged, middle-class mother at a dinner party who told me that she was very worried about the effects of internet porn on adolescent males. What, she wondered, was all this internet porn doing to the young? Did we really want a generation of teenage boys whose idea of emotional intimacy was anal sex?
Weeks later we ended up in bed and it left me wondering: what is all that internet porn doing to nice, middle-aged mums you meet at dinner parties? Do we really want a generation of forty/fifty-something women whose idea of emotional intimacy is anal sex?
Society’s anxiety about internet porn has been so focused on how it affects the young that its impact on the older generation has gone largely unnoticed.
Pity the folk at Gleneagles. They have the misfortune to host the Ryder Cup this year. Nothing, surely, can surpass the drama of the previous contest between the United States and Europe, held at Medinah Country Club near Chicago in 2012. The Yanks dominated for two days before Ian Poulter, an Englishman who plays golf with an intensity that borders on divine possession, marched on to the 18th green late on the second evening.