When Nissan announced it would not, after all, produce its new X-Trail in Sunderland, this was reported as proof of an impending Brexit disaster. A Labour councillor in South Wales even suggested that ‘all those who voted to leave should be laid off first’. But Nissan’s decision has little to do with Brexit, and everything to do with the turmoil of the global car industry.
It is not that overall car sales are plunging — they grew by a modest 0.
‘Can I get you a cup of tea?’ asked the lady as she sat beside me in the caravan. The old farmer, a horse dealer, sat on another seat looking stunned.
‘You look exhausted,’ she said. I was. I’d driven hundreds of miles looking for horses I had seen seized from the horse dealer’s farm. But I didn’t want to worry her by telling her where I thought I had found them.
I had set off in pursuit of a fleet of lorries marked with the address of a Yorkshire company, after 123 horses were seized by the RSPCA and the police in a joint operation with Trading Standards, from Hurst Farm, just down the road from my house in Surrey.
No one is in any doubt about the problem facing Britain’s railways. Over the past decade, rail fares have risen twice as fast as salaries. Yet across the national network, overcrowding is at record levels, cancellations are spiralling and passenger dissatisfaction is at a ten-year high. Yet ministers are about to start pouring £4.5 billion a year, every year for a decade, into building a single new railway route: HS2.
I interviewed a prominent 1970s women’s liberationist recently and ended up discussing the sexual culture of her political heyday. ‘Everyone was sleeping with everyone,’ she said. ‘You had to have a good reason not to sleep with someone.’
I felt a stab of envy, a sharpened version of what I feel browsing black-and-white snaps from back in the day. There is often a dishevelled sexiness. There are the gleefully knowing expressions from women newly unafraid of unwanted pregnancy, and the ‘why not?’ insouciance of slouching shaggy-haired men and their slender sheepskin-coated girlfriends leaning against doorposts.
My husband, usually a cool customer, watched Free Solo from behind his fingers, sometimes jumping up from the sofa and backing away from the TV. Audiences at Imax showings have behaved the same way, rising to their feet, clenching their sweaty fists as they watch Alex Honnold, a 33-year-old rock climber from Sacramento, make his way up El Capitan, 2,700 vertical feet of granite in Yosemite National Park.
What can the EU do to help the Britons out of their Brexit quagmire? Until very recently, the answer would have been ‘little, if anything’. There is a deal on the table, which Theresa May herself pronounced to be non-negotiable. Well, parliament directed her — and by implication, the EU — to think again and to reconsider the vexed question of the Irish backstop. Does anybody on either side of the channel really want to wreck the future relationship between the UK and the EU over the unsolved issue of the Irish border, as well as risk creating renewed enmity along it? God forbid.
One of the few pleasures of advancing age is that, no matter how awful some looming catastrophe may be, you can always remember a time that was worse. On hearing the polar vortex was headed for Chicago last week, my wife and I smugly reminisced about having survived the coldest night in the city’s history — 20 January 1985 — when the mercury fell to -27ºF, or -33ºC. (Temperature scales are a nuisance in accounts of this sort — more on that below.
The woman on the path has come to a dead stop. She’d been shuffling along in that bunched-up posture we all developed when we bought smartphones, a two-fingered salute to the millennia of evolution that managed to pull humans into an upright position. Now she’s staring, open-mouthed, at her surroundings.
I rather enjoy the shocked faces of passers--by who catch sight of us Serpentine swimmers in our flimsy costumes as we lower ourselves into the cold water each morning.