Since the Russian invasion of Crimea last February, many different phrases have been used to describe the tactics of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Some have spoken of a ‘new Cold War’. Others have described him as ‘anti-western’ or ‘anti-American’. But there is another adjective one could also use to describe his behaviour: ‘experimental’. For apart from everything else he has said and done, Putin has, in effect, launched a vast experiment into whether it is possible to extract a large and relatively well-integrated country from the global mainstream, and to reject the rules by which that mainstream runs.
Is the Pope a conservative? After the papal zingers which landed in Strasbourg last week, some — Nigel Farage, writing in the Catholic Herald, for instance — seem to think so. Europe was ‘now a grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant’, Pope Francis told a startled European Parliament, before saying that, to reconnect with ordinary people, the EU had to respect national values and traditions. ‘In order to progress towards the future we need the past, we need profound roots,’ he told the Council of Europe, a phrase redolent of Edmund Burke.
Nelson Mandela was so much the father of our new democracy that when he died a year ago South Africans felt like orphans. The joyful moment when he became our president 20 years ago has been replaced with a sombre mood now. South Africa has political stability, a fairly healthy democracy and has lifted millions of her people from the lowest rungs of poverty, but economic growth has been pitifully low, unemployment is at 37 per cent, and dreadful levels of violent crime terrorise the whole population, particularly the poor.
Waiting to appear before a Commons select committee, my father turned to me. ‘This was not on my bucket list,’ he said.
My father should be enjoying his retirement. Instead, he and my mother are still working full time in their seventies because they cannot sell their home due to the blight of HS2. And here they were now, about to present themselves to Parliament to petition the High Speed Rail Bill.
Anyone making the journey to Westminster by public transport will be confronted by a series of posters warning them about the state of British media. The word ‘redacted’ is in large letters, and readers are advised to look up a website for ‘the ad we can’t show you here’. If you do, you see a picture of Tony Blair advocating war. ‘This is what happens when there is no second opinion,’ the webpage says, advising people to ‘question more’.
Recent text from a female friend. ‘I’m in love with Neil MacGregor.’ To which I reply, ‘But of course! Up there with the Dean of Westminster and Frank Gardner.’ The same day, walking in Kensington Gardens, another friend admits, ‘I think I’m in love with Neil MacGregor.’ We mourn the fact that MacGregor’s Wikipedia entry tells us he’s ‘listed in the Independent’s 2007 list of most influential gay people’, so the director of the British Museum is, sadly, out of reach to womankind.
The first time it happened was at the cinema. I was queuing for my ticket-for-one when the woman behind me exploded. ‘Omigod I saw you on television!’ ‘Oh, er, yes,’ I mumbled. The next time was in the cinema, as I squeezed down the row: ‘Sorry, but I have to say, I saw you on that show,’ grinned the young man. I suppose we were on the King’s Road, so it wasn’t surprising everyone had been watching Posh People: Inside Tatler.
Looking back, it seems astonish-ing that the metropolitan middle classes took so long to embrace beer snobbery. The craft beer habit combines the characteristics of three long-established sources of small-scale social distinction: the farmer’s market, the tasting, and the sweet little café one knows.
Take the farmer’s-market side first. Even in the age of climate change, and after all those competitions in which some unlabelled bottle from Sussex defeats the best of Champagne, very few places in Britain can claim a local wine.
We asked our writers to write about their favourite cocktails, from aperitifs to nightcaps, all the way through to the hangover cures. Here’s what they said.
The Iron Lady
For years in the 1980s I tried to develop a cocktail to be called the Iron Lady. There were problems: the signifier for iron is really red, while she was clearly blue; and the only blue liqueur I could find was Blue Curaçao.
Michael Seresin claims, rather modestly, to ‘have no palate’, choosing instead to describe wine with light, colour and form. These are not your typical winemaker’s terms, but they make perfect sense given his unusual back story.
Born and raised in New Zealand, Seresin emigrated to Europe in 1966 to pursue a career in cinematography. Movie buffs will know what happened next — Seresin, in his own words, ‘did really well, really quickly’, making a name for himself with a series of Alan Parker flicks: Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express, Fame.
Music and booze go together. Just think of Keith Richards in the 1970s with his Jack Daniel’s. There’s the love affair between hip-hop and luxury French booze: Busta Rhymes wrote a song called ‘Pass the Courvoisier’. And think of Puff Daddy and his Cristal champagne, though he later changed his name to P Diddy and started drinking Moscato d’ Asti — not so cool.
What about reggae and rum? As Jamaica’s two most famous exports, you expect them to have an affinity.
Head upstairs. That’s my tip for thirsty play-goers during the interval. Most West End theatres are sunken affairs built in scooped-out craters, and this quirk of their design places the stalls 20 feet beneath the earth’s crust (hence the belly-rumble of Tube trains that wakens sleepy-heads during Twelfth Night or The Winter’s Tale). So the stalls bar is invariably a cramped dungeon with flock wallpaper and a ventilation system that pipes fresh air in from the Gents.
I blame my mother. Although gin wasn’t her ruin, I have to admit, she did enjoy a gin and tonic. And as any student of the spirits industry will tell you, you never drink what your parents drink.
The problem, I now realise, was that gin in the 1970s wasn’t very good. Tonic water was even worse: the primary aim of even the best known (Ssssssh — you know who you are) being to disguise the roughness of the gin.
Even in the driving rain, the Isle of Islay is a heart-stoppingly beautiful spot. High in the hills behind the Bruichladdich distillery, there are sweeping views east across Loch Indaal, and I fancied I could just about pinpoint Bowmore distillery across the foaming grey waters. The wind was gusting, the sheep were bleating, the geese were honking: it was wild, magnificent and dramatic.
The lure of Bruichladdich was too strong, however, and moments later I was in the warmth of the distillery shop itself, getting a dram of the Laddie Valinch, a limited edition release available only in the shop.
After lots of practice, I’ve reached the stage where I can usually tell a good wine from a bad one. But there’s an awful lot of bluffing involved. If I’m asked for an assessment, I mutter something about ‘tannins’ and ‘structure’, while eyeing the bottle for the alcohol content and price. A good-looking label helps too: simple but classy, with a hint of grandi-loquence lurking at the periphery.
It’s people like me who are likely to benefit most from the spate of wine scanner apps hitting the market, challenging the expertise of wine buff show-offs.
The fabulous October weather is now just a memory but it made for a golden, old-fashioned apple day down in Somerset. The plan was to pick and convert a mound of sugar-rich Redstreaks — about 400 kilos — into a rather special vintage. We would pour the apple juice into an oak hogshead, freshly emptied of its whisky, to make a cider tinged with a 20-year-old malt. How good does that sound?
The idea of the get-together was the idea of designer Bill Amberg and publisher Damian Jaques, who is a cider boffin.