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[/audioplayer]For all its difficulties, Europe is prosperous and safe: one of the best places on Earth. Many other societies have yet to achieve this happy state: some are murderous and poor. Two of the most troubled zones in the world are near Europe: the Middle East, and the Sahelian belt which spans northern Africa.
In November 2013, the campaign group Abortion Rights announced their first-ever student conference. It was, they explained, in response to ‘many student unions reporting increased anti-choice activity on campuses’. Societies such as Oxford Students for Life, which I’ve been part of for the last couple of years, don’t tend to think of themselves as ‘anti-choice’, but it’s true there are more of us around.
Homosexuality may not be tolerated in today’s Russia, nor political dissent. Polygamy, though, is a different matter. Ever since news broke this summer of a 57-year-old police chief in Chechnya bullying a 17-year-old local girl into becoming his second wife, Russian nationalists and Islamic leaders alike have been lining up to call for a man’s right to take more than one wife.
Most vocal has been Ramzan Kadyrov, the flamboyant 38-year-old president of Chechnya (part of the Russian Federation), who advocates polygamy as part of ‘traditional Muslim culture’.
By the kind of uncanny coincidence that would tickle his psychogeographically minded friends Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd, Michael Moorcock’s publishers have recently moved offices to the same corner of London occupied by his latest novel, The Whispering Swarm; and just as their rather swanky embankment premises are called Carmelite House, so does the religious order provide Moorcock with one of his key characters.
On 31 March, I walked out of the Royal Marsden Hospital in London for the last time, after 28 years as a consultant cancer surgeon. At the age of almost 69, I had given six months’ notice of my wish to resign my contract by Easter, but to remain on staff in order to complete a research project on malignant melanoma.
That request was initially considered favourably, then withdrawn after I wrote a series of articles in The Spectator and the Daily Mail about what I thought was wrong with the NHS.
What a terrific summer of sport it’s been: a wonderful Wimbledon, a rollicking Royal Ascot, an absorbing Ashes series that still has the best part of two Tests to go. And now along comes football, barging its way on to the back pages, shoving the other sports aside, sniggering all the way to the bank.
Every August, the ‘beautiful game’ reasserts itself as the playground bully. Football is the most popular sport in this country — and the nastiest.
‘When he’s away, the thing he misses about Porto is the tripe.’ I was talking to Eduarda Sandeman, wife of George Sandeman, chairman of the eponymous port firm. Despite his illustrious name, George Sandeman isn’t from Oporto (as the British call it). His family are from Jerez and he was educated in England. He speaks English and Spanish fluently but he told me that he is still teased by his wife for his imperfect Portuguese.