In a theatre in central Athens, over a thousand tax inspectors have gathered to shout crossly about the latest cuts to their pay and pensions. Eventually the argument, between the government-affiliated union leader and his members, spills out on to the street. The rank-and-file feel betrayed: they were persuaded to accept the first wave of pay cuts earlier this year, and now they are being asked to take even more.
Like the original Madonna and child, the young woman on the Tube has her beloved draped around her, his head nestling on her shoulder. As he snoozes, she texts idly with one hand, while the other absentmindedly strokes his arm, soothingly, maternally. But this is no serene scene of mother and son — this is a couple. A couple of adults. If you are forced to use public transport, you see them all the time.
Outside London, at least, there are still officers who have their priorities right – as I discovered when my home was burgledThe moment we stepped through the front door we knew that something was wrong. There was a bitter coldness in the hallway, accompanied by a faint sighing of the wind. On walking into the dining room, my wife and I found the cause of the chill. The main back window had been broken and opened, and shattered glass left across the floor.
Madame B has dressed up for our visit. She’s sitting on a bench with her back to the orphanage wall, talking about just how much she loves each child, but it’s her get-up that’s most impressive: black silk dress, hair done, make-up just so; finger and toenails painted hot pink, each with an elegant white scalloped edge.Everything else here, at the Mpore Pefa home for children, is muted: grey walls, grey kids, blurred by dirt.
Diana Athill, now nearly 94, lives in what must be the nicest retirement home in London, a large red brick house at the top of Highgate village, run by a charitable trust and populated by former writers and doctors and psychiatrists. On this unseasonably warm day she has on a flowing Kenyan kaftan — the residents’ summer clothes get packed away in autumn to make space, and she is worried about what to wear if the heatwave continues.