One of the patients I see regularly as a voluntary hospital visitor, who has been in hospital for weeks, seems to be getting better. Still skeletally thin, he is now sitting up and complaining. His problem is that he longs for a jacket potato with just butter. He hates beans. But he might as well ask for gravadlax and dill. On the hospital menu, baked potatoes only come with baked beans.
I asked one of the Thai ladies who deliver the food if he could possibly have a plain spud.
Now that the forces of evil have transformed Silvio Berlusconi into a condemned man, there remains just one person on the planet who can save Italy: Roger Scruton.
If the famous philosopher were just to come to Italy to deliver a single speech, his very words would be enough to set in motion la rivoluzione. That at least is the view of the Circolo Culturale Margaret Thatcher, a group whose mission it is to establish at long last, after all those centuries lived without one, a proper Anglo-Saxon Tory party in Italy.
The one and only time I met Seamus Heaney, in 2007, he was making tea in the kitchen of his Dublin home when he asked — more modestly regretful than coy — ‘Did you have to do the poems at school?’
I grew up in Belfast, and certainly we had to do the poems at school. Even in the early 1980s, in a disputatious city that was frequently contemptuous of life but rarely of poetry, it was Heaney whose reputation already seemed cast in bronze.
It was to Fort Belvoir that President Barack Obama repaired on Saturday, minutes after he announced that attacks by the Syrian government on a rebel stronghold in Damascus constituted ‘an assault on human dignity’ and a ‘serious threat to our national security.’ By using what the US government says was sarin gas, Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad crossed a ‘red line’ that Mr Obama had laid down a year before.
President Obama’s decision to seek the endorsement of Congress for an attack on Syria fits into one or more definite patterns of behaviour, if not strategy. His preference, much praised by the media until recently, for ‘leading from behind’ suggests at least some aversion to risk and responsibility. It also fits into the general zigzag of his Middle Eastern policy since his Cairo speech reaching out to Islam.
It could be, in Sicily, there comes a time when you’ve had your fill of seaside calamari and cheap white wine. The sheer thrill of lying on a beach without goose-bumps never really fades, but by day four you may need a break from all the nakedness: Italians blackening in rows like sausages, or Brits, more lumpen, clumped in ones and twos, turning pink.
If you can bring yourself to turn your back on the Med, it’s well worth it.
They should have seen it coming. A government defeat on an issue of war may be unprecedented, but defeat on the Syria vote did not come out of the blue. You can certainly blame poor party management, failure to prepare the ground, underestimating the poisonous legacy of Iraq — but such failings are common enough. The biggest single factor is one that ministers, the media and MPs themselves have failed to understand: Parliament has changed.