To the casual glance it looks like a normal police car — same markings, same lights, same faces at the wheel. Only the two small yellow circles, one at each of the top corners of the windscreen, tell you that this is a mobile armoury. It will often be a BMW X5: a SUV’s suspension copes better with the weight of the weapons, the gun safe, the ballistic shields. Inside, the occupants will be wearing Glock 17 pistols and have access to weapons which could include, in ascending order of bullet size and ‘penetrative power’, the Benelli Super 90 shotgun, Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun, the G36 carbine, the Sig Sauer automatic gas-piston operated rifle, and the G3 sniper and assault rifle.
There is nothing a government in a remotely free country can do to stop a suicide bomber in a crowded space. As a weapon, he has the precision of a drone missile. The only preventive task open to the police and security service is to penetrate and destroy a terrorist cell in advance. This means assiduous intelligence. It has clearly held the key to disarming some 50 ‘terror plots’ known to the police over the past decade.
In La Crosse, Wisconsin, on Monday night, Donald Trump said, ‘If we do well here, folks, it’s over.’ He was right in theory. There were signs that the billionaire’s crusade against the Republican party establishment and the plutocrats who run it might find an ear in Wisconsin. The state has an industrial working class. It has lately seen plants close and good jobs flee. On the other hand, there were signs that Trump might go up in flames.
As an old man, well past my Biblical sell-by date, I cannot for the life of me understand why increased longevity is received as such a universal blessing. One thing’s for sure; its celebrants are not the oldies themselves, so it is time someone challenged this assumption.
Let me start with a parable. It concerns an Eastern European country whose parliament was considering a total smoking ban. In response, a consortium of tobacco companies demonstrated that the savings made in healthcare as a result of the decline in smoking-related diseases were chicken feed besides the reduced payout in pensions as the result of premature death — not to mention the fiscal increment from the habit.
Ruby Wax makes the point (repeatedly but it still gets a laugh) that the British discovered the practice of brushing their teeth in the 1980s. I dare say our dental hygiene is the butt of more jokes throughout North America, where wearing a brace is something of a fashion statement.
But something strange is happening on our side of the pond. This struck me — in fact, almost blinded me — a couple of weeks ago when a hotel manager introduced himself at a central London gathering and dazzled me.
When Laura Rennie was told that the cat she lost as a kitten had been found 18 years after it wandered off, she was overjoyed. An animal welfare officer turned up at her home to say the tabby had been located and traced to her, thanks to its microchip. Toby had been hit by a car, but was alive and at a local vet’s. Even if it were just to say goodbye, or take charge of his veterinary care, Ms Rennie would at least be able do the best for Toby.
On 21 April Queen Elizabeth II marks her 90th birthday, the first of our reigning monarchs ever to do so, and it will be a very happy occasion, just as her Diamond Jubilee was in 2012. Five years ago there had been a more sombre milestone for the queen’s eldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales. He passed the mark of 59 years spent as heir to the throne set by his great-great-grandfather, Victoria’s eldest son, the Prince of Wales who became King Edward VII in 1901.
A letter appeared in the Independent a few weeks ago signed by various environmentalist grandees — heads of green lobby groups, former chairmen of eco-quangos and the like. It warned against Brexit on the grounds that EU laws had ‘a hugely positive effect’ on the environment. It didn’t explain why a post-EU Britain wouldn’t retain, replicate or even improve these ‘hugely positive’ laws. As usual, it implied that voters needed to have such things dictated to them.
There’s a certain kind of Englishman who falls hard for Los Angeles. Men such as Graham Nash, who swapped the Hollies and rainy Manchester for Joni Mitchell, David Crosby and Laurel Canyon. The LA of beaches, semi-rural hills and freeways can work wonders on an English heart. But the city has another side — a place most Angelenos never venture. Downtown.
The old heart of the city is a vision of how LA might have turned out.