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Lost in Libya

Tripoli ‘We have some civilian martyrs for you,’ said the Libyan government minder, with the triumphant look of a Soviet housewife who has just found a bottle of Scotch in the state-controlled supermarket. He pulled aside a blanket to reveal a charred, twisted corpse, blackened arms fixed stiffly upwards, skin seared away to reveal the

Junk Bonds

Writing a James Bond novel? What could possibly be simpler? Surely all one needs is an arch, semi-meaningless title — something like ‘Never Kiss Death Goodbye’ — then a villain with a camply sinister name, a heroine with an even camper double-entendre for a name, a seasoning of sadism and you are away. But it’s

The men who killed New York

If you had to think of one city on earth where the rulers should not try to impose a standard of ‘good behaviour’, it would surely be New York. Who in their right mind would seek to sanitise this concrete jungle, to sedate the city that never sleeps, to demand conformism and obedience from the

A touch of clarse

There aren’t many things on which John Humphrys is undecided, but one of them shows itself nearly every time he presents the Today programme. It’s a trait shared by many broadcasters, and indeed people from all walks of life, and constitutes one of the great social barometers of our time. It’s the inability to decide

Meeting Mladic

I once became obsessed with a huge boil on the back of General Mladic’s neck. We were in Pale — the Bosnian Serb ski-resort turned capital — at a meeting of their parliament, in the summer of ’94. I was there as the Balkans correspondent of the Observer and had, by that time, met Ratko

The power of a pocket

In 1951, Winston Churchill, then leader of the opposition and aged 77, scored a humiliating Commons victory over the new chancellor of the exchequer, Hugh Gaitskell. Not for nothing did Aneurin Bevan call Gaitskell ‘a desiccated calculating machine’. His dry Wykehamist tone made his financial statements seem interminable, and this one soon had the House