On the anniversary of Britain voting to leave the European Union, the Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, found some words to sum it up. ‘An entire society crucified by the delusional ambitions of Brexiteers chasing moonshine,’ wrote Will Hutton. ‘An anniversary to mourn.’ One might agree or disagree with his position on the European Union, but has British society really committed suicide? It’s a theme we have heard rather a lot recently: that Britain is a mess, an international laughing stock, leader-less and futureless.
Could there be a better metaphor for the corruption that now pervades all top-level sport than the use of motors in professional cycling? It’s so perfectly shameless. If you’re going to cheat by finding illicit ways in which to enhance your performance, as virtually all sportspeople today are forced to do (we’ll come back to that), why mess about with half-measures? Find a motor and strap it on. Undying glory and unimaginable wealth are just the other side of that mountain.
A thread runs through several of the stories that have defined this turbulent summer: reporters have been shocked by the levels of hostility they have encountered. ‘They hate us,’ one seasoned producer told me returning from a Grenfell Tower protest. ‘I haven’t felt anything like it in 20 years.’
When the battalions of the media descend on any big story, the experience rarely leaves those caught up in it feeling warm and fuzzy about the fourth estate.
Meeting men used to be so easy. I don’t mean that in a Grindr sort of way. I just mean that when a chap bumped into a chap, you knew what to do. Stick out your paw and shake his hand and everyone could move on. Now, though, the everyday occurrence of being friendly to a fellow male is a minefield of potential slights. And it is all the fault of the man-hug.
The handshake, once such a simple act of courtesy, now seems too stiff, too formal, too English.
Few events have appalled London liberals so publicly as the surprise emergence of the ten MPs of the Democratic Unionist Party as a force in UK politics. The metropolitan horror has been given full expression in the Twitter railing against ‘misogynist dinosaur homophobes’ and the press caricatures of DUP politicians as overfed, bowler-hatted Orangemen slyly looting government cash. Words such as ‘vile’ and ‘disgusting’ are flung around exultantly, as all nuance is shed.
It is a sunny Saturday afternoon in Covent Garden and we are all learning how to kill ourselves. The venue is a nondescript community centre in Stukeley Street. It usually hosts activities for children, so there are crayon drawings and anti-bullying posters on the noticeboard. Today, however, a purple pop-up banner displays the Exit International logo and its mission statement: ‘A peaceful death is everybody’s right.
I once spent three months living in the Languedoc, writing my first novel. The highlight was the few days I allowed myself away from my monastic schedule to visit Cathar country. I’d been dying to see it because the castles and the landscape are so stark and dramatic, the history is so dark, bloody and weird, and because I wanted to try cassoulet in its proper location.
I can’t remember much about the various cassoulets I tried except that, though it’s impossible to go wrong with goose, sausage and beans, none of them was quite as good as the one I laboriously recreated at home from a recipe in my Larousse Gastronomique.