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Watch out

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

A whole new Boris

‘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 social politics of Eton

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

All by myself

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

Fatalist error

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


Sicily Notebook

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

Notes on...


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