Why do Tories all look the same? This year, having never been to a party conference before, I went to the Labour one in Brighton, then the Tory one in Manchester. At each, the political weather was what you’d expect. What struck me most, however, was the difference in clothing. In Brighton, I saw women with pink hair and men wearing T-shirts that read ‘Stop the war’ or ‘Never kissed a Tory’; scruffy young Corbynistas rubbing up against nervous-looking Blairites.
When Russia entered the Syrian civil war in September 2015 the then US secretary of defense, Ash Carter, predicted catastrophe for the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin was ‘pouring gasoline on the fire’ of the conflict, he said, and his strategy of fighting Isis while backing the Assad regime was ‘doomed to failure’. Two years on, Putin has emerged triumphant and Bashar al-Assad’s future is secure. They will soon declare victory over Isis inside the country.
To my embarrassment, ever since my novel We Need to Talk About Kevin was published in 2003, I’ve been a go-to girl regarding American mass murders. I’m embarrassed because my credentials are so poor — I’m only an expert on a school killer I made up — and because I’ve so little to say. That’s one of the standard reactions to these things, whose scale seems only to escalate: being struck dumb. That’s why Sky News and the BBC ring me up.
Have you heard about the invention that cures your smartphone addiction? Whereas normally you can’t go more than a minute or two without checking your phone, this invention allows you to sit with the thing safely tucked away in your pocket or bag, not giving it a second thought. The invention is known as the ‘quiz’.
You’d have thought that smartphones would have killed off this British institution.
It is terribly important whenever an atrocity occurs to scour the internet for information — however specious — that proves you were right all along about something. It is best to do this before the authorities have made their official statements about the outrage, but also while they are doing it and afterwards. But speed is of the essence — if you can do it while people are still bleeding to death, so much the better.
It’s been a long journey for Imran Khan. He founded his political party, PTI (Pakistan Movement for Justice), in 1996, and for many years made no real progress. Many mocked him. The Guardian journalist Declan Walsh dismissed him as ‘a miserable politician’, whose ideas and affiliations had ‘swerved and skidded like a rickshaw in a rainshower’.
PTI did make a limited amount of progress in the 2013 general elections, when it emerged as the second largest party by national vote and with 30 parliamentary seats.
You may have noticed that we’re in the throes of a 21st-century Gin Craze. It’s not as serious as the one which began in the 1720s, when London was awash with the stuff, much of it adulterated with turpentine, alum and sulphuric acid, but it’s still an irritation with no signs of an imminent hangover.
The big difference between then and now is that sales and marketing ‘creatives’ have been let loose to talk up ‘boutique’ distilleries with fancy names, trendy bottles and romantic back stories about Uncle Jack dusting off his great-grandfather’s rusting stills down a remote back alley.
My first sight of Colin was as a lanky manifestation lying on a desk in the Dartmoor prison education department where I was working as the writer-in-residence. He looked a bit like Ian Curtis; he was mid-twenties, clever and funny. He was also on an IPP — imprisonment for public protection sentence — for GBH, and because IPPs were indeterminate sentences, he had no release date. When he was 18 he had got drunk on a train, beaten a man up and kicked him in the head.
In October 1936, on the anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World, a ceremony was held at Salamanca University, in the heart of the nationalist Spain, to celebrate the ‘Day of the Race’. The Bishop of Salamanca, who had recently offered up his episcopal palace to be Franco’s headquarters, stood in the great hall next to the founder of the Spanish Foreign Legion, General José Millán Astray, a one-armed and one-eyed thug of a man.
To Skibo Castle for a four-day wedding, a dream of super-luxury and great good fun. I was struck by how the American rich are saving the Highlands. Skibo is supported by a band of mega-wealthy Americans, some of whom have invested heavily in the nearest town of Dornoch, which is thriving as a result. They are following a great tradition: Andrew Carnegie, having made his fortune in the US, returned to Scotland and rebuilt Skibo.
When someone says ‘Let’s go for a drink at my club’, what do you imagine? A grand St James’s establishment like Boodle’s or White’s, or perhaps a media hangout such as the Groucho or Soho House? What you probably don’t think of is an unmarked door and a flight of rickety stairs. Yet through unpromising-looking doorways in and around Soho are little clubs where you can take a break from the 21st century.