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[/audioplayer]Last week President François Hollande, following his party’s humiliation in the European parliamentary elections (his Socialists won roughly half as many seats as the National Front), decided to cheer himself up. He left Paris and travelled to Clairefontaine to mingle with France’s World Cup football squad.
By any standards Mary Soames was one of the most remarkable women of her era: close confidante (possibly the closest) to Winston Churchill throughout the second world war, dedicated political wife, one of the most outstanding British ambassadresses sent to Paris, successful (against all reckoning) chairman of the National Theatre, and — later in life — a prize-winning author. She was also one of only three non-royal Ladies of the Garter in recent British history, and a Spectator contributor to boot.
Vladimir Putin has won in Ukraine. Russia is on the verge of getting de facto control of eastern Ukraine, destabilising the remainder, and establishing its president’s cherished Eurasian Union. The West is nowhere — weak, disunited, and out-strategised by a master of geopolitics.
Hang on, that’s all wrong. Crimea was the high-water mark of Putin’s neo-imperialist vision. He lost control of all Ukraine when Yanukovych fell and most of it voted firmly to stay outside his control in the recent presidential election.
Porky, flabby, lardy? Obese — and morbidly so? Yup. That’s us. We knew already that two out of three of us weigh more than is healthy, and last week the scales of shame revealed further cause for dismay: Britain has more obese girls under 20 than anywhere else in the West. Something, as the hand-wringers say, must be done.
And so the scene was set for the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) to bring out some advice.
Attending public executions, whether beheadings or stonings, is not my predilection, yet one does come across them in the course of life in Arabia and Pakistan. Beheading and stoning are the accepted penalties for a range of presumed offences in much of the Muslim world, and the all-male crowd — especially the old men — push and shove outside Riyadh’s main mosque after Friday morning prayer for a better view of offenders losing their heads by the ceremonial sword.
The phrase ‘ring of steel’ hardly begins to describe the operation here in Calvados country as we await the 70th anniversary of the pivotal moment in modern history. Some world leaders are bringing warships as well as jets to the D-Day commemorations. The exclusion zone not only covers a chunk of northern France but even extends to cross-Channel ferries. Every Normandy veteran has had to be cleared for a pass although, as many point out: ‘We didn’t need a pass on 6 June 1944.
I might have had chance to visit the famed Wexford Opera Festival when I was walking out with Bernard Levin — who was mad about the annual October event — but he never took me along, on account of calling me a ‘vile fidget’ during opera performances. Still, Wexford is a grand place to visit at any time, often having been, for me, a handy overnight stay after reaching Ireland at nearby Rosslare.
Yet a more beautiful way, I think, to get to Wexford is by train from Dublin, which takes just over two hours.