Whatever anyone’s views on the enterprise, there was one question always begging to be asked of the European Union: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ At an early stage it wasn’t clear to everyone. Then the purpose and direction of travel seemed agreed — under the stewardship of Angela Merkel. She was there to settle disputes, authorise bailouts, offer German help to struggling nations and protect the project as it led to ever-closer union.
Shortly before his death, the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote that capitalism crushed the integrity of artists and intellectuals. Assessed only in terms of their commercial appeal, they became ‘a sub-department of marketing’. In a touching display of filial loyalty, Julia Hobsbawm seems to be proving her old dad right.
The former head of New Labour’s favourite PR agency, Hobsbawm Macaulay, now runs an outfit called Editorial Intelligence, ‘a tool for… bringing together key journalists and PR professionals through networking clubs’.
Autumn’s wild bounty is a cause for celebration across the Continent. In France and Germany, people rush into the woods, motivated largely by greed. Families drink, eat and forage, while the elderly show their grandchildren what is — and isn’t — safe to eat.
In Britain, attitudes are different. Even conkers now seem suspect. We are particularly nervous about fungi, because we are told that picking mushrooms is both dangerous and bad for the environment.
You probably haven’t heard of the loan charge. I hadn’t until a couple of months ago, when I told listeners to my LBC radio show that I would soon be interviewing Mel Stride, the financial secretary to the Treasury. Following this, I was bombarded by texts and emails from something called the Loan Charge Action Group and its many, many sympathisers. I then became acquainted with what might be the next storm to hit the government.
It says something about the level of political discourse in America that Donald Trump decided to trumpet sanctions on Iran not with a speech, but a Twitter meme in reference to Game of Thrones. 'Sanctions are coming,' he says - in a picture that might be funny if it were not so serious. The White House is, in its head, playing out a drama where it imposes sanctions and brings the Ayatollahs to heel.
How to explain Theresa May’s resilience? As Prime Minister, she has survived mishaps and calamities that would have finished off her predecessors. She has no shortage of rebels keen to succeed or denounce her, but all seem oddly unable to act. Why? The answer might lie in a group messaging service which seems to have disabled the ancient art of the Tory coup: WhatsApp.
Tory backbenchers are so addicted to this app that these days they cannot tear themselves away from their screens.
J. A. Baker, an arthritic and short-sighted birdwatcher from Chelmsford, compared the British wilderness to ‘the goaded bull at bay, pierced by the lance of the picador’. Baker found solace in the unblemished solitude of the Dengie Hundred, where he wrote one of the strangest and most influential nature books ever written, The Peregrine, which tracks the daily lives of a pair of peregrine falcons. He died in the 1980s but the wilderness of the Dengie Peninsula, 50 miles east of London, where Essex marshland meets the Northern main, is still largely as it was.