For a jihadi, Britain is one of the very best places in the world. In Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, overhead drones kill terrorists on a regular basis. In most democratic countries, politicians try to limit their enemies’ ability to operate — so one runs the risk of being thrown into prison, if caught mid-jihad. But not in Britain. Here, the Islamist insurgents have found that there are a hundred ways to run rings around our police and justice system.
Years — actually decades — ago, a gentleman from the British civil service, interviewing me as a potential candidate for a job in the European Commission, explained that ‘all the important decisions in Brussels are prepared by the chefs’. As he spoke, I had a vision of men in tall white hats stirring dishes on a large stove in the middle of the Berlaymont.‘Chefs?’ I queried.The man quickly explained that he meant the ‘chefs de cabinet’, the Commissioners’ aides, who basically ran the show while the great men had long lunches at expensive Brussels restaurants.
‘To tell the truth,’ says Peter Myers, his Cumbrian baritone untouched by four decades of life in Manhattan, ‘I’m glad it’s all over.’ By ‘it’ he means Christmas and new year, when Myers, the sausage-knotter and purveyor of pies to New Yorkers, is at his busiest. ‘It was bedlam. They began to queue up outside the shop ten days before Christmas for their mince pies. We were making thousands a day.
The Nanjing Yangtze river bridge is four lanes wide and four miles long, a monument to Maoist endeavour clogged with the traffic of China’s economic boom. And every weekend, at one of its two towers, you can see Chen Si. He is 42 years old, with spiky black hair, a rasping cough from cheap Nanjing-brand cigarettes, and a baseball cap bearing the slogan ‘THEY SPY ON YOU’. Around his neck is an oversized pair of binoculars, through which he watches the crowds unceasingly.
Pete Postlethwaite, with whom, sadly, I never worked, belonged to that group of journeymen actors who command the respect and admiration of their peers but are denied the wider honours until death claims them. How amazed he would have been by the enormous photograph that graced the front-pages of the newspapers — his unique, craggy face that had never known botox or cosmetic surgery, displaying more character than many of his more vaunted fellow thespians.
America’s love of the ancient republics has had military consequences in the presentIf you’re 40 or older and I ask you to think back to the worst moments of your life as a schoolchild, memory will probably take you straight to Latin class. Remember how it was taught by a wizened old beak in a faded gown, who favoured merciless drilling, responded to grammatical errors with a rap of the cane, and squeezed the fun out of even the most heroic Roman tales? Latin has largely disappeared from English schools and I dare say that 19 out of every 20 among you don’t miss it.