I once shared a car to the airport with a French MEP, a member of the Front National (FN). He spoke that very correct French which, across the Channel, serves in place of accent as a social signifier. He casually mentioned that the Holocaust couldn’t have happened, at least not on the scale claimed: the volume of the ovens, he creepily explained, was insufficient.
The European Parliament has always had its fair share of extremists, eccentrics and outright, drooling loons.
I have always longed to get on a plane and command, ‘Take me to Cuba!’ Well, the other week I did just that. Sadly, it fell a little flat, the stewardess’s wintry smile telling me that she got a lot of that on the Gatwick-Havana flight. Still, it kept me chuckling for the next eight and a half hours between movies, meals and snoozes in Virgin Upper Class.
Havana was humid and sticky and it was as stifling inside my elderly rust-bucket of a taxi as it was outside.
It was lust at first sight and love after the third martini. Over a get-to-know-you-dinner I discovered all I needed to know: I had found the Perfect Woman. All the boxes were ticked and the taxi was winding its way to my bedroom when she said: ‘You should know that I’m bisexual.’
She must have seen the frown on my face because she quickly added, ‘But everyone is bisexual.’
‘No. I’m not,’ I said gently.
My frail elderly mother has recently moved in with us in Epsom and in so doing has joined the 15 million people worldwide who spend their days sorting through rubbish. Mum, however, does not get paid $1 a day. She does it for nothing. This is because we now have five separate bins and every morning she and the other 10,000-plus members of Surrey’s army of housewives sort through their rubbish to make sure it all goes into the right one.
When pressed for a statement of their beliefs, conservatives give ironical or evasive answers: beliefs are what the others have, the ones who have confounded politics with religion, as socialists and anarchists do. This is unfortunate, because conservatism is a genuine, if unsystematic, philosophy, and it deserves to be stated, especially at a time like the present, when the future of our nation is in doubt.
Yad Vashem, Israel’s vast Holocaust memorial complex, dominates a hillside above Jerusalem, surrounded by bare rock and pines. Vast though it is, it manages to be both harrowing and restrained; both rooted in the times it commemorates and thoroughly modern — not just in style, but in the way it harnesses the most advanced technology to its cause.
As an enterprise, let alone a monument, it is impressive: a testament to the commitment of Israel and the survivors of Europe’s Jewry to ensure that what happened is never forgotten.
Who would have thought of staying in a factory? My view is of a grey industrial building, a gravel pile and a crane standing like a metal giraffe at the end of the pier. It’s not your usual picture-postcard hotel vista, but it’s oddly beautiful.
Instead of following the masses to the Mediterranean, we had headed north to the Baltic islands off Sweden’s coast. Gotland is Sweden’s biggest island, and it’s here that the Fabriken Furillen hotel sits, on a remote peninsula in the far northeast of the island.
In the bar of the Hotel Suisse, perched above the lake in Kandy (pictured), high up in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, a driver touting for business smiles to reassure me that the British ‘left us many good things’. Trains, roads, the English language. And cricket, I remind him, ‘Oh yes, sir, cricket.’ I wonder what he says to French or Australian tourists.
The Hotel Suisse was used as Louis Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command headquarters in the second world war; these days it has something of the feel of an old-fashioned and slightly eccentric English prep school.
As I pick my way around the debris in Zhongyi market in Lijiang, our guide points out the yak section. Windpipes, cleaned intestines and huge wobbly magenta livers are neatly laid out on the filthy floor, while the more expensive cuts are arranged on trestles. My eyes are drawn to a row of small boys enthusiastically slurping up noodles swimming in a dark beefy-looking broth. ‘Would you like to see the dog section?’ our guide asks politely.
I recently decided to move house. It started with a resentful yearning to own two bedrooms, but I quickly discovered that to afford a spare room, I must leave my seedy area of west London for a worse one, or leave London altogether. Not easy after 30 years.
Since I made up my mind to move, my normal life has disappeared. In the ceaseless hunt for houses I have no time for blogging, writing, painting, exhibitions or sociable lunches: the things that used to give life its shape.
Call me a trencherman or worse, but I tend to think of the Dordogne as a giant restaurant-cum-farm shop, set in a wooded riverside picnic park. And I have a feeling that’s how its native residents think of it too, so central is the well-filled table to their traditional way of life.
‘Dordogne’ of course refers both to the department of south-west France and to the river, famous for the medieval châteaux along its cliffs, that rises in the Massif Central and flows into the Gironde near Bordeaux.