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[/audioplayer]So it now seems pretty clear to me that we can no longer send women photographs of our genitals without worrying that we might be the subject of some horrible sting operation and consequently suffer public humiliation and possibly lose our jobs.
On 17 June, a meeting of the Henry Jackson Society, held in the House of Commons, discussed (according to the minutes published on the society’s website) how a tribal elder in northern Cameroon who runs a car import business in Qatar has become one of the main intermediaries between kidnappers from Boko Haram and its offshoot Ansaru and those seeking to free hostages. It was alleged that embezzlement of funds going to Qatar via car imports might be disguising ransom payments.
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[/audioplayer]I am a divorced and remarried Catholic. I attend Mass every week. When my children want me to take them up to Holy Communion, I walk along behind them and cross my arms over my breast. My youngest is particularly keen on going up for a blessing, although he wants to know when he can get ‘the bread’.
For Beijing, the tens of thousands of protestors choking the centre of Hong Kong are such a dangerous outrage that mainland media cannot report on them. The real outrage is this: China agreed to hold free elections in 2017, but now a Beijing-appointed committee will determine whether candidates for chief executive can be relied on to toe Beijing’s line.
On 6 September, a Chinese embassy official wrote to the Times that in 2017 there would be a one-man one-vote election in Hong Kong.
There’s a nondescript building tucked away near my house, about the size of a college dormitory. Sometimes I wave from my roof to the scrawny boys having a smoke on the balcony; they wave back enthusiastically, since foreigners are a rare sight in their home villages. They are soldiers; the building is a barracks, one of many scattered through the city after the murderous crackdown on protestors in 1989.
Two years ago this week, my stepson came home wearing an Arabic black thawb. He walked into the sitting-room, smiled defiantly at me and at his father, and asked us how he looked. We were a little shocked, but being English of course we said he looked very nice.
Our boy had never shown any interest in religion before he found Islam at 16. We’re atheists, and we raised him to be tolerant of all faiths but wary of anyone selling easy answers.
Clive James has published a new poem days before we meet. It opens, ‘Your death, near now, is of an easy sort’. It is about a Japanese maple his daughter has planted in the garden of his Cambridge home where we are sitting, and whether the poet will live to see the leaves flame red this autumn. The poem has made news.
‘At the moment,’ he says, laughing, ‘I am in the slightly embarrassing position where I write poems saying I am about to die and I don’t.
It is the early hours of the day that Parliament votes on whether to bomb the so-called ‘Islamic State’ — and we are sitting cross-legged on the floor of a Kurdish smuggler’s house. He has a picture of Mecca on his wall, a gold watch on his wrist, and an open bottle of whisky by his side. His main business is running guns — we are offered a Beretta pistol for $1,000 — but last night he smuggled 70 cows from Syria into Turkey.
The days when horses and humans lived cheek by jowl in the capital are unarguably over. Brewers’ drays have disappeared, and most people would argue that the black cab does a far better job than the hansom cab ever did. But the ghosts of horses past still inhabit the city. Statues of kings atop their chargers take pride of place in squares and parks, water troughs are scattered about the place, and the more recent Animals in War memorial on Park Lane is a reminder that our dependence on them lasted until less than a century ago.