In the last few years lawyers have begun to gush about the ‘Sumption effect’. They were not thinking of Jonathan Sumption QC’s fine legal mind — which was of such a quality that the Supreme Court elevated him straight from the Bar to a seat on the highest court in the land. Nor were they praising his history of the Hundred Years’ War, a conflict of such violence and duplicity that perhaps only an English lawyer could do justice to it.
Once, I met Priscilla Tolkien, the daughter of J.R.R. Tolkien. It was at the Oxford Catholic chaplaincy, and she was giving a talk about her father. She was charming, something of a hobbit herself with her neat figure, and an engaging talker. But she seemed taken aback by some of her audience. It was divided into two distinct parts. Some were the ordinary Tolkien admirers, the normal, slightly shabby young people you get at chaplaincy talks, and the others were, well, a bit scary.
I dread attending meetings on Congo. At almost every one a Congolese will stand up and start to rail, then scream and weep. Some get very aggressive. The police were called to one meeting. For a while I was embarrassed and irritated. Now I think it is absolutely understandable, appropriate even.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, the vast heart of Africa, endowed with some of the richest ores and most fertile land on the planet, lies broken and ungoverned.
Some Cabinet ministers develop airs in office. Eric Pickles isn’t one of them. Sitting at the head of a conference table that looks like it’s been purchased from a discount office supplies catalogue, he explains his outlook on life. ‘There are two kinds of people,’ he says. ‘There are those who open that door and courteously speak to people, and there are those who bellow. There are those who write long memos on the temperature of your cappuccino and those who are just grateful if you get a warm beverage, and I’m the latter.
There are many weird things about Las Vegas, from the truck that drives around offering ‘Hot Babes Direct To You’ to the entrepreneurial hard-up young man on the Boulevard who holds a placard saying: ‘Kick me in the nuts for $20. No joke. No protective cup.’ But the thing I find weirdest is that you can still smoke in bars and casinos, even in some restaurants. Where most American cities, and European ones too, have imposed upon their populations what the New Labour government described in brilliant doublespeak as ‘smokefreedom’, Vegas remains gloriously smokeunfree.