Every prime minister is a sociologist. Theresa May drew a distinction between citizens of somewhere and ‘citizens of nowhere’, a sort of riff on David Goodhart’s distinction between Somewheres (rooted, provincial, less well off) and Anywheres (snooty, international, at home on planes and in the corridors of power).
Now Boris Johnson segments the country in a fresh way. He talks about the existence of both rural and ‘oppidan’ Britons feeling ‘under-invested, excluded’ and that ‘their lives and their futures weren’t as important’, and he implicitly opposes them to the elites.
‘I’m going to stick ruthlessly to script,’ says Boris Johnson. ‘This is not the stage of the campaign when you innovate.’ He’s right to worry about the timing. The new Tory leader won’t be chosen for just over two weeks but the ballot papers go out this weekend. Boris is the odds-on favourite. This is the most important week of the campaign and he’s determined to come across as a serious, game-changing leader, not the loveable yet unreliable joker.
As I get older I find the idea of wanting to be in a couple more and more bizarre. I’m not talking about sex — which anyway often becomes less frequent after years of familiarity — or marrying for financial security. No, I’m puzzled about people’s obsession with getting a permanent companion. There are all sorts of websites and advice columns purported to help us reach this goal. I used to receive ‘taster’ emails from Rori Raye, a bubbly American lady with blonde curls, author of How to Have the Relationship You Want.
When so much of the Brexit debate has consisted of slogans and unexamined assertions (‘cliff edges’, ‘crashing out’ and the rest), it is welcome that a more substantial argument has been made by Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK ambassador to the EU. He has been making a series of well-received speeches, some of which have been so popular that they have been published as a book (and recently, on The Spectator’s website).
I was recently treated to a small taste of the real China. It was in the incongruous setting of a vast conference centre in east London, directly under the flight path of City airport. On assignment for the BBC, I found myself wandering the stalls of Europe’s largest international security technology exhibition, filming for a new series on criminal justice.
As soon as I arrived in the main exhibition hall with the production team, we were greeted by roving cameras, high-definition displays, drones and every variety of audio and video surveillance kit.
Northern Italians often speak of Sicily as a Saracenic darkness — the place where Europe ends. The Arabic influence remains strongest in the Mafia-infiltrated west of the island, where the sirocco blows in hot from the deserts of North Africa. When the Arabs invaded Sicily in 831 they introduced mosques and pink-domed cupolas, as well as the sherbets and jasmine-perfumed ices for which Sicily is renowned.
Is there any invention as ancient and as fundamental as soap? Traced to Babylonian civilisation around 2,800 bc (handy for scrubbing down after all that gardening), it almost certainly goes back millennia further than that. It is mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah and by 1550 bc the Egyptians were marketing it as a medicinal aid for sores and other skin ailments. There was a soap factory buried in Pompeii — although the product is believed to have been used more for washing clothes because visitors to Roman bath houses preferred to scrub themselves with olive oil.