To understand what Xi Jinping wants from the Winter Olympics, look at the man chosen to direct the opening ceremony. Zhang Yimou is one of China’s most famous film directors, but his hits (such as Hero and Raise the Red Lantern) are better loved by foreigners than by the Chinese. His job is to wow the outside world with images of China’s power and culture. In a deeply controversial Olympics — already being boycotted by ministers and officials from Britain, the US and many others — he is Beijing’s secret artistic weapon.
Princess Elizabeth was 25 when her father died. She was on the first leg of a Commonwealth tour and she spent the night of 5 February 1952 at Treetops Hotel, set in the branches of a large fig tree in Aberdare National Park in Kenya. ‘For the first time in the history of the world,’ wrote the British naturalist Jim Corbett, who was a guest at the hotel at the same time, ‘a young girl climbed into a tree one day a princess and, after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen.
Two-and-a-half centuries ago in 2015 I had a video call with a Canadian friend who lives in my hometown of Toronto. As we spoke, she was putting together a Middle Eastern spice box for the Syrian refugee family she’d sponsored through her daughter’s school, carefully printing the labels in Arabic. Canada had recently committed to accepting 25,000 refugees, compared with the UK’s 10,000, which we both agreed was stingy.
Nigel Inkster, a former director of MI6, has described China as an ‘intelligence state’. This was true even before the Chinese Communist party (CCP) passed laws that all individuals and organisations must help the security forces when asked. Chinese officials, party members and citizens have long been active across a broad front in advancing the interests of the CCP, seeking out political, military, scientific, technological and commercial information.
‘Use the past to serve the present,’ declares the website of the China Centre of Jesus College, Cambridge. It seems a sensible motto, until you know that it’s the first half of a maxim of Chairman Mao’s, and that the second half is ‘make the foreign serve China’.
The China Centre is directed by Professor Peter Nolan, a fellow of Jesus and an expert on China’s economy. In the 1980s, he studied China’s collective farms and edited a volume that referred to itself as ‘a preliminary attempt to construct a new socialist political-economic strategy for Britain’.
Last time I wrote in these pages, I mentioned I was embarking upon a Herculean fundraising campaign for HM the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Pageant this June. After six months of anxiety and toil, the target has at last been reached, thanks to two dozen patriotic individuals and 20 British companies. The hit rate was one in three. Each time a potential donor declined, a little piece of me died inside; when they donated, I felt a surge of gratitude.
Who let the dogs out? That’s the subject of a Whitehall probe into the recent Afghanistan debacle. When the Taliban took Kabul, an estimated 1,200 people who qualified for evacuation to the UK had to be left behind. But on 28 August, waiting Afghan families were left helpless on the ground as 173 cats and dogs were escorted past them into the airport and off to safety. The big question: on whose authority were animals put ahead of humans? And did any of this have the Prime Minister’s backing?
As ever with Johnsonian drama, the truth is elusive, but one minister seems closer to it than others.
The other morning, my wife Carla was driving home after the school run in her battered old Renault Trafic people-carrier when through the fog she saw what looked like a wolf. It was ambling across the fields, which were covered in white ice.
The wolf was only about 50 metres away, so she pulled over and took a picture, which she texted to the local dog rescue centre. She then followed the animal as it continued on its way, parallel to the road, in the direction of our house.
Spring is the season of supermarket daffodils. At a pound a bunch, you can deck out your home like Elton John and still have change from a fiver. From January until April, daffodils burst from village greens and quiet churchyards. The wild daffodil found across Britain is the Narcissus pseudonarcissus, known also as the ‘Lent lily’. Native to northern Europe, the hardy bulbs followed the British empire around the world and can now be found in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the Falklands.