I discovered I was pregnant the same day I met the Queen. It was one of those lightless December afternoons when the sky clamps down on London like the lid on a cast iron pot. I went straight from my doctor’s surgery in Shepherd’s Bush to a media reception at Buckingham Palace where I was ushered up the stairs into a large drawing room hung with Old Masters and rammed with journalists sucking back free champagne, trying to look blasé.
‘You can’t imagine how insecure it makes our politicians when they consider that they haven’t been elected.’ The man in the Savile Row suit and the hand-made shirt gave me a shrewd grin. Even the price of his haircut would have kept a Chinese farmer going for a year. ‘What’s the answer?’ I had to whisper, because Tony Blair was at the lectern, going on about how important China was. The man beside me shrugged and spread his hands.
John Bellingham dressed fastidiously. On the day that he committed murder, he wore exactly what the fashion magazine Le Beau Monde advised for a gentleman’s morning wear in 1812 — a chocolate broadcloth coat, clay-coloured denim breeches and calf-length boots, the whole set off by a waspish black-and-yellow waistcoat. By contrast, his victim, clad in the equivalent of a business suit — blue coat and dark twill trousers — was almost anonymous.
The last time I met Roy Hodgson, at Le Café Anglais, Rowley Leigh’s restaurant in Bayswater, I drew a king from the pack. I presented Roy — the West Bromwich Albion and now England manager — with Colm Tóibín’s wonderful novel The Master. Roy smiled as he laid down an ace: ‘Is this the one about Henry James? I’m afraid I’ve read it.’
Make that one-all. At a previous lunch I had given him Stefan Zweig’s masterpiece, Beware of Pity, a novel so close to my Habsburg heart that I wanted him to love it, too.
Women of the world unite: a sinister patriarchal plot is out to get us. Evil tobacco companies are conspiring to seduce us by wrapping up ‘our poison’ in shades of ‘pale or pastel colours’. There is concern in public health circles that the dark arts of design, armed with images denoting ‘femininity, style, sophistication and attractiveness’, will result in us losing our pretty little heads. Or so says Cancer Research UK, keen to save us from our womenly weakness, with their latest research report published yesterday.
With the life and literature of the whole ancient world spread before us for our pleasure, we classicists can be said to lead lives of unparalleled hedonism. But the secret is leaking out. The whole world seems to want a taste, and we cannot blame it in the slightest. History has its Schama, maths its Du Sautoy and environmental studies the grand-daddy of them all, the great David Attenborough.
The high street’s double-dip winners and losersAs austerity bites, competition in the high street grows ever more ferocious. Only the nimble and well-financed can thrive. While January and February showed some improvement and sunshine helped boost sales in March, the trend looks likely to be lower again in April. ‘The situation remains fragile,’ said Judith McKenna from Asda, chair of the CBI retail survey panel.
Here is something you may have missed if your eyes have been focused on the gyrations in bond and equity markets as euroland crises have come, gone and come again. The S&P 500 telecoms and IT index, the bellwether of digital stocks, has climbed 120 per cent from its 2009 low.All of us who lived through the exuberance of the tech bubble of 2000, when all you has to do was add ‘.com’ to a company name and watch the fireworks, have a right to be sceptical about this latter-day boom.
These are dark days for investors. Interest rates squat at historic all-time lows in order that the Bank of England can continue to bail out our errant banks and government. Western economies toil under a monumental burden of public and private-sector debt, to which austerity is merely the latest desperate political response. Securities and currency markets are all being manipulated by extraordinary and highly inflationary monetary stimulus.