It’s become a given: we are all stalkers now. Thanks to Google, Twitter, Facebook and the fact that absolutely nobody seems to have the faintest idea about privacy settings, it is easier to keep track of people on the other side of the world than ever it was to snoop on a village neighbour from behind the safety of a lace curtain. But a strange and sinister new phenomenon has begun to emerge. Call it secondary stalking.
It is ‘immoral’, asserted Michael Fallon at this week’s Spectator energy conference, to force basic-rate taxpayers to subsidise wealthy landowners’ wind turbines and the solar panels of well-off homeowners. It is hard to remember the last time a minister was so frank about something which had been government policy until a few hours earlier.
As a result of changes announced by the government this week, consumers will save £50 a year compared with what their bills would have been.
Question: what do you call several dozen pop-up shops, all freshly popped up together at the one time of year when they might actually be useful?
Answer: a Christmas market.
Once upon a time Christmas markets, like many English Christmas traditions, were something we borrowed from Germany but did a little less well. And if you enjoy Glühwein and sugared pretzels, there are plenty of those ones still around, often run by borrowed Germans.
What happened to the cheese-eating surrender monkeys? Just over a decade ago, the French, having refused to join the allied adventure in Iraq, were the butt of every hawkish joke. (Remember ‘Freedom fries’? Oh how we laughed.) Now, as America and Britain are beating a retreat from the world stage, France has turned into the West’s most reliable interventionist. Its President, the disaster-prone François Hollande, rattles his sabre at any despot or war criminal who dares to stand in the way of liberté, egalité, or fraternité.
Another month, so it seems, another super-head rolls. Not that many would have noticed the latest. Greg Wallace’s resignation as executive head teacher of five schools in the east London borough of Hackney was drowned out by the hubbub surrounding the Revd Paul Flowers. Yet the departure of Wallace — much lamented by pupils and their parents, according to tributes in the local newspaper — deserves a closer look.
Twenty of us are gathered in the management suite of a shopping centre to learn about benchmarking grotto deliverables, exceeding customer expectations and, inevitably, Elf-and-Safety. Most are tiny teenage girls; they will be the elves. I gravitate to the only other middle-aged man. ‘Santa?’ he asks, nodding in the direction of my stomach. I nod back towards his.
It’s 1 November. It couldn’t have been any earlier, as some of the elves have been engaged as scary monsters until Hallowe’en.
‘So RBS say we are in breach of our loan agreement?’ asks the chairman, looking at me over his glasses in that way he has. We have arrived at that moment when we cease to be ignorant of the finely crafted double-speak involved in dealing with RBS. How, in skilled hands, a loan agreement can become a loan removal agreement; how an ‘arrangement fee’ can become an ex-gratia donation to the bank as things are disarranged; and don’t get me going on the ‘commitment fee’.
You probably have no idea how much of yourself you have given away on the internet, or how much it’s worth. Never mind Big Brother, the all-seeing state; the real menace online is the Little Brothers — the companies who suck up your personal data, repackage it, then sell it to the highest bidder. The Little Brothers are answerable to no one, and they are every-where.
What may seem innocuous, even worthless information — shopping, musical preferences, holiday destinations — is seized on by the digital scavengers who sift through cyberspace looking for information they can sell: a mobile phone number, a private email address.
The winner of the first ever Michael Heath award for cartooning is Len Hawkins. One of his drawings appears below. He receives an original drawing by Michael Heath, a bottle of Spectator gin, a year-long contract with The Spectator and a pair of handmade shoes from John Lobb, who kindly sponsored the competition.
At the back of every drinks tray or cabinet there are always some stray bottles. Some deserve to be lonely, others just end up that way. But it is occasionally worth sifting the wheat — or at least grain — from the chaff. Here is a guide for doing so.
Vermouth Only keep your bottle if you make your own martinis. If you drink them as they should be drunk you will need so little that only a martini alcoholic could ever reach the bottom of the bottle.
I’ve just received my latest energy bill and it appears that I’ve been living this last year in a draughty manor house rather than a three--bedroom ex-council flat. This winter, I’m going to have to choose between a warm flat and decent-quality booze. Of course it’s going to be the booze; I’ll just have to wear a woolly hat and fingerless gloves whilst drinking.
At times like this, I thank God for the ingenuity of the British.
G and T, the favoured cure for gyppy tummy in Himalayan hill-stations, bubbled home from the Raj to the English suburbs to become the aperitif of choice in Betjemanic golf clubs and panelled bars from Altrincham to Carshalton. There is a particular pleasure in being in a London pub at the end of an office day, and hearing the clink of ice in glass, as barmaids ask ‘Do you want lemon in that?’ and office workers, happy that the tedium of toil is done, say, ‘Yes, and make those doubles.
When I’m gathered, as my granny used to say, I’d like to be remembered as the man who reintroduced the imperial pint of champagne. I’m not an ambitious creature, by and large. But we all want to leave our mark upon this world somehow, and that’s where I’ve set my sights.
I’ve been trying for over 30 years, and sadly I’m no closer to winning this particular battle. But, as my old granny also said, pointing to a picture of Robert the Bruce and the spider, ‘If at first you don’t succeed…’
The imperial pint makes for a perfect-sized bottle.
Scottish people, known to be a bit touchy on occasion, sometimes wonder if that customary attitude of jocular condescension displayed towards their country by, in particular, the nearest neighbours, does not disguise something like envy.
Jealousy would be forgivable: as a brand, Scotland has all the trimmings: the scenery is fabulous in what Alex Salmond likes to call ‘the undisputed home of golf’, the beef and raspberries first-rate, the knitwear coveted around the globe.