How will Vladimir Putin’s hold on power end? Will he be quietly retired by Kremlin rivals angry at a national humiliation, like Nikita Khrushchev after the debacle of the Cuban missile crisis? Deposed by KGB men even more hawkish than himself, like Mikhail Gorbachev? Overthrown by a popular revolt, like Tsar Nicholas II? Or will he die in his bed still the undisputed tyrant of a police state, like Joseph Stalin?
Prediction has become a risky business in Russia ever since Putin threw his usual calculation and caution to the wind and launched a rash and fundamentally unwinnable war against Ukraine.
It’s hard to overstate the pace of the change now under way in Germany. A country that had been defined by its reluctance to deploy military force is now sending lethal weapons to Ukraine and promising €100 billion more in defence spending. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would have ferried more Russian gas to Germany, has been abandoned. Germany has accepted Russia’s exclusion from the Swift banking system, in spite of the collateral economic damage.
I spent my last night in Kiev in the ‘Presidential Suite’ of the city’s Hyatt hotel – what used to be known as the underground car park. The general manager, a man whose name I never knew but who I hugged tightly before leaving, had promised to make it a shelter for guests who hadn’t checked out by the time it was clear that war was looming. We stayed there with his staff, their young children and elderly parents, their dogs and cats too.
Huntsman, at No. 11 Savile Row, was once an understated beacon of good taste. But if you visit today, you are likely to be met by a gaggle of tourists posing for selfies in front of the window across which is splashed in very large letters: ‘The King’s Man, only in cinemas now.’
The tailor, which dressed the Duke of Windsor in his bachelor days, provides both the inspiration and location for this fun, if silly, spy movie franchise, the latest of which stars Ralph Fiennes.
The phrase wuxin gongzuo – ‘working with your mind on Ukraine’ – has been trending on Chinese social media network Weibo. Essentially what it means is ‘distraction from work because you’re obsessed with the war’. One blog that monitors the site, What’s on Weibo, reports that shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a page with updates on the conflict had received more than two billion views. Censorship, of course, limits what Chinese social media commentators can say, but there is clearly plenty of sympathy for the dying civilians and fleeing refugees.
I can count on the fingers of one hand the people I know who still have a landline telephone, and I am not among them. Getting one installed in my new home is feasible but why, my children ask, would I bother? I have a mobile phone, albeit a very basic one, and what more can a person need?
To anyone under the age of 50, retaining a landline seems like a fogey-ish affectation. Indeed, one of my daughters has a rotary-dial handset, not as a back-up phone but as an ironic décor item.
If Brighton and Hove Council has its way, children as young as seven are to be taught about the ‘white privilege’ supposedly derived from 500 years of colonialism. But is it true that the history we have been learning from childhood has been infused with the great isms of our day – colonialism, imperialism and racism? I thought I would test this on a small scale by going back to the first history books I read.
H.E. Marshall, who wrote Our Island Story, was also the author of the knockabout book Kings and Things.
About ten years ago I was interviewed in Tokyo for a job as a fake Catholic priest, performing wedding ceremonies for Japanese couples who wanted the aesthetics of a Christian service without all the hassle of actually being Christian. In a room cluttered with tacky plastic religious paraphernalia I watched a training video of the company’s ‘top man’, an American Tom Cruise-lookalike in a cassock, ‘marrying’ a young couple.
No wild animal is closer to the hearts of the British than the hedgehog. In poll after poll, it has been voted our favourite mammal. This is hardly surprising. Hedgehogs naturally inspire affection. Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, the companionable washerwoman created by Beatrix Potter, is only the most celebrated of a whole host of them who trot and snuffle through our national imagination. They are familiar to us in a way that few other wild creatures are.