One Sunday evening, while I was trying to avoid ironing my shirts, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to take Nigel Farage to Bulgaria or Romania. The Ukip leader is convinced that hordes of people from these countries are poised to pour into Britain when the rules are relaxed next year, so why not go there with him to see if he’s right?
A few weeks later, I put my proposal to him. ‘But nobody will come here from Romania,’ said Nigel.
When my parents received a thank-you letter from a good friend recently, we all read it with (I’m afraid) not affectionate pleasure but a rising sense of indignation. The trouble with the letter was its extreme banality. It had been a lovely party, wrote the friend, the food delicious and the company great. The nerve, we all thought. He must think we’re mindless, to send us such a string of clichés.
Ukip hope that this week’s county council elections are just the fireworks display before the big bang. In 2014 they think they can blow open British politics by winning a nationwide election. If they can succeed in doing that, they would almost certainly force Labour into matching the Tories’ pledge to hold a referendum on the EU after the next general election. This would guarantee the public its first vote on Britain’s EU membership in 40 years.
Ghadi had spent the past two years on the run from the Syrian regime but it was the rebels fighting against the government, the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) who finally caused him to abandon the revolution and flee Damascus. He had made the mistake of speaking out against one of the big FSA brigades running the Yarmouk district of the capital. ‘They are thieves and gangsters,’ he told me. ‘One Facebook post about what they’re doing will get you killed.
It is more than ten years since I first sat down with members of the Syrian opposition. Back then they included real moderates, but even these didn’t predict a bloodless transition. ‘We will have to unite the country against the Alawites,’ I remember one saying, referring to the minority from which the Assad dynasty comes. ‘Kill them?’ I asked nervously. ‘Or chase them into the mountains,’ he replied.
The first couple of evenings there was just me and a middle-aged couple swimming decorously up and down. On the third day it changed. There were three more people, spread out at the shallow end. You would not have thought that an extra three people in a decent-sized pool could have caused such irritation and havoc.
They contrived to occupy an inordinate amount of space and move around in a way that caused maximum disruption.
My name’s Freddy and I’m an online gambling addict. The problem started a few years ago when I opened an account on Betfair.com. At first it was small bets on football games, maybe the odd greyhound. A fiver here, a tenner there. Click, click, click. It was fun. Pretty soon, however, the hobby had developed into a minor obsession. I moved on to the harder stuff: cricket, tennis, even X Factor results.
Few assets are more misunderstood than gold. I might even refine that statement — if you’ll pardon the pun — and say that few assets are more misunderstood than money. Gold happens to be both. Technically, of course, we are constrained by government edict to use pounds sterling for the payment of our taxes and debts. My take on this dismal state of affairs, but also my optimism, can best be summarised in the title of Nathan Lewis’s recent book, Gold: The Once and Future Money.
Thank goodness for Shinzo Abe. Back in 2007, I wrote here that ‘over the next two to five years Japan will turn out to be one of the best investments UK-based investors can make’. By the middle of 2012, nearly five years on, that wasn’t looking like much of a prediction.
Then prime minister Abe appeared on the scene. Since his election in November the yen has fallen 20 per cent against the dollar and the Japanese stock market has risen not far off 50 per cent.
In recent months I’ve read at least ten articles about French malaise — all of it apparently due to some mysterious Gallic trait that makes the world’s luckiest people unable to make the best of things. Granted, unemployment is over 10 per cent, the Germans are again running Europe, and François Hollande’s ‘socialist’ government is coming apart at its hypocritical seams. But I don’t buy the thesis that the French are generally ‘miserable’, as Paris School of Economics professor Claudia Senik argued last month in the Financial Times.