In early February, when Vladimir Putin’s troops were on the Ukrainian border and much of the world thought he was bluffing, the Russian military’s guidance on mass graves was changed. Bodies should be covered with chemicals, diagrams showed, and then rolled over by a bulldozer to flatten the ground. The advice seemed so grotesque as to be a decoy: surely a brutal invasion would not be so clearly signalled?
The story of the mass grave found in Bucha shocked the world because it represents how fast things have deteriorated and that we are now seeing the kind of barbarism Europe thought it had left behind.
The waging of war has never been a pure free-for-all. Every culture has had a sense of limits: when war could be legitimately declared and how it would be legitimately waged. For ancient civilisations, war was a means of preserving the cosmic order. The ancient Egyptians believed their wars had to be sanctioned by the gods. Under the Zhou dynasty, Chinese armies would wage war only after oracles were consulted. Similar patterns are observable from the ancient Hindus to the North American Indian tribes.
Most of my women friends work hard to keep ancient friendships alive; the seasonal lunches, shopping trips and afternoon teas are observed as scrupulously as the feasts of the liturgical calendar. ‘Friends make all the difference in life,’ my mother used to say. In her late eighties, she would defy the wobbles of Parkinson’s and haul herself on to a bus for the all-important ‘Tea with Daisy’, inscribed with a shaky hand in her diary.
A young man wearing combat fatigues and an extravagant moustache, and carrying a heavy machine-gun over his shoulder, nods towards some burned-out armoured vehicles. ‘We smashed the orcs today,’ he says, using the Ukrainian soldiers’ term for the invading Russians, a reference to the sub-human legion in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He goes on: ‘Putin, you are a dickhead – your Greater Russia will die together with you.
As soon as Emmanuel Macron was sure that Joe Biden had won the American election, he tweeted: ‘We have a lot to do to overcome today’s challenges. Let’s work together!’ There was no effusive tweet this week from the Élysée when 54 per cent of Hungarian voters re-elected Viktor Orban as Prime Minister for a fourth term.
The silence from Macron was deafening. Not so his principal rival in France’s impending election. On Sunday evening Marine Le Pen tweeted an old photo of the happy couple shaking hands with the declaration: ‘When the people vote, the people win!’ Le Pen will hope that Orban’s victory is a good omen ahead of Sunday’s first round of voting; they have much in common – a shared vision of the future, what Orban described in his victory speech as ‘Christian Democratic, middle-class conservative and patriotic politics’.
A house around the corner is on its fourth kitchen in a decade. Every two or three years, the house changes hands, the pristine kitchen comes out and a newer, pristiner kitchen goes in. They are always white, they are always shiny, and when I peer through the basement windows there is nothing in the way of signs of life. I reckon I can predict the next kitchen.
Think homespun, think rustic, think scullery maid in mobcap and pinny.
As Westminster grapples with the P&O scandal, a very different farce over ferries has been playing out in Scotland. In the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, a Glasgow shipbuilder went bust and was rescued by a Scottish National party adviser. It was later awarded a £97 million government contract to build two ferries. Neither emerged. The cost now stands at £240 million and last month Scots learned that there will be another eight-month delay to the boats.
In the brief interlude of Chechen independence between the Russia-Chechen Wars of the 1990s, I travelled with Imran Khan from Grozny to Baku, where we were due to meet Azerbaijan’s finance minister. We had different reasons for our visit. I was interested in the business potential of the countries of the Caucasus, while Khan, a former cricketer turned fledging politician who had recently formed the Pakistan Movement for Justice party (PTI), was keen to support the then independent Sufi Islamic state of Chechnya.
I was sitting alone at a small table in the Wolseley, Piccadilly, waiting for my supper and feeling a sense of absolute contentment. The evening buzz in that theatre-set of a restaurant has always been slightly more subdued than the lunchtime one. The lighting is lower; there are candles, there is calm. On my right, a duke dined with his family; on the left, two celebrated actors next to a young rising star. There were elderly couples from New York who believed in dressing for dinner in glitter and diamonds; there were discreet lovers, old friends.