This is the Time’s Up Oscars, the first one where the #MeToo movement is a major player, and no one can predict just how the tricky balance between celebration, industry penitence and the host Jimmy Kimmel’s jokes will pan out on 4 March. This being Hollywood, however, already the chief speculation is about the clothes. The previous dress code of Time’s Up — that actresses should wear black to protest against sexual harassment — dominated both the Golden Globes and the Baftas: only Frances McDormand decisively broke ranks at the latter, and she got away with it because so many of her screen roles are about being stubborn.
I have not trusted a celebrity activist since 2014, when I read the headline ‘Angelina Jolie and William Hague tackle Bosnia war rapes’.
They didn’t really tackle Bosnia war rapes — that is still pending — but Hague got to meet Jolie and Jolie got to meet the Queen and collect a damehood for the activism ‘I wish to dedicate my working life to’. It was a classic example of what the writer Paul Theroux calls ‘mythomania’, a condition that afflicts celebrity activists ‘who wish to convince the world of their worth’.
In September last year, official figures showed a startling rise in the number of young British men turning up at A&E with painfully persistent erections. The number of admissions for priapism, to use the medical term, has increased by 51 per cent on the previous decade. Medical experts suggested that the cause was young men taking Viagra in combination with other illegal drugs.
This may come as a surprise to anyone who assumed that taking Viagra was the preserve of older men who want to keep their sex life going for as long as possible.
Amid relentless propaganda about Italy being in the grip of fascism, Italians go to the polls on Sunday. It will be an attempt to produce their first elected prime minister since 2008, when Silvio Berlusconi won. Since his resignation in 2011, Italy has had four unelected leaders.
Italy’s migrant crisis has dominated these elections, especially after the discovery of the chopped-up remains of an 18-year-old Italian girl in two suitcases by the side of a road in the picturesque hilltop city of Macerata in Le Marche.
Familiar, depressing images emerge from Ghouta in Syria: rows of tiny white shrouds, children killed in relentless airstrikes, makeshift hospitals, families huddling in basements, empty streets heaped with rubble. ‘People are too afraid to go out to bury their dead,’ said a medic identifying himself only as Dr Mohammed. ‘Even the cemeteries are being targeted.’ Hospital workers had to keep the day’s bodies until after dark, he went on, then they hurried out to put them into a single mass grave.
Within an hour of our arrival, someone had tightly tied a turban around my head and I was told to hurry up and join the procession. I found the groom, Professor James Tooley, looking shell-shocked, which was not surprising. Far away from British academe, he found himself wearing shiny gold robes and an enormous gold turban, sitting in one of those extravagant American cars from 1960s gangster TV shows.
‘Don’t sit down too long my duck, you might be doing nothing,’ reads the inscription memorialising Barbara Joan Austin (4 July 1929–21 September 2004). I have no idea who Barbara was, but I often sit on her lonely bench in the middle of Otmoor.
Otmoor is an ancient watery landscape just a few miles north-east of Oxford. I am always surprised how few people know of it, although many will have travelled there in the pages of fiction.