When I negotiated the Good Friday Agreement nearly 20 years ago, no one foresaw a day when the -United Kingdom would be leaving the European Union. It was impossible to imagine how the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, from which the barriers were removed as part of the agreement, would again become an issue of such political importance.
We have the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, threatening to veto the Brexit negotiations unless Theresa May gives a formal written guarantee that there will be no hard -border, and we keep hearing the argument that a departure of the UK from the single market and the customs union would put at risk the peace process and Good Friday Agreement.
‘The thing is,’ said my friend, after the broadcast of the engagement interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, ‘you can’t imagine actually bowing or curtseying to her, can you?’ That is pretty well the crux of the engagement issue: can you see yourself doing either in the case of the newest prospective member of the Windsor family? Personally, I would curtsey to the Queen and I have done to Prince Philip; I would draw the line at Camilla, and I wouldn’t dream of curtseying to Meghan.
Whatever their views about the monarchy, most people will warm to the news of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement. Sentimental as it sounds, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the last royal wedding and how happy I felt for Prince William and Kate Middleton, as she was then. It was one of those rare events when you felt lucky to live in a good country with a bright future. A marriage is, after all, the ultimate statement of confidence in the future — and God knows, we could all do with that right now.
I suspect George Blake, the MI6 officer turned KGB double agent, would enjoy toddling over to the Hampstead Theatre to see himself in the new production of Simon Gray’s play Cell Mates. The problem is that the instant he landed at Heathrow, he’d be arrested and made to serve the remaining 37 years of his 42-year jail sentence, which was rudely interrupted by his escape from Wormwood Scrubs in 1966.
I had an all-day ticket for the Lewes Speakers Festival at the All Saints Centre on Saturday. I was keen to hear the writer Damien Lewis on the wartime Special Interrogation Group who’d disguised themselves as German soldiers and stormed Tobruk, Andrew Monaghan on his book Power in Modern Russia, and Theodore Dalrymple, ex-Spectator columnist and a former prison psychiatrist. The last speaker, scheduled for 6.
To me, the strange words ‘Marsh Gibbon’ once meant I was nearly home. My heart lifted as we creaked and shuddered into the little station at Marsh Gibbon and Poundon, on the slow and pottering line between Cambridge and Oxford. Usually it was dusk by the time we got there, and I can remember seeing the gas lamps lit and flaring, a pleasing moment for anyone who likes a little melancholy.
But equally remarkable was the lowness of the platform.
Standing in sweaty silence for an hour on a precipitous sliver of muddy footpath above a waterfall may not be everybody’s idea of fun, but for a small cluster of birders anxious to see the Sri Lanka whistling thrush it was a small price to pay. Eventually, as the cicadas shrilled and the dark closed in, the little blue-black bird appeared — and flitted away almost as quickly. Another evening, we scrambled 100 heart-pumping yards up a rainforest jungle slope for a view of the Serendib Scops owl, a reddish bird so rare it has been known to science only since 2004 and is one of 34 species endemic to the Beautiful Island.