Family legend has it that when I arrived in Durham, a fresh-faced ingénue from deepest Somerset, I called home. ‘This is the life,’ I said, after a bare 24 hours in the frozen north, and they hardly heard from me again.
I would have expected my first daughter to have a similar experience, but by the time she set off for university I had already learned how very different the new generation is from ours.
Don’t delay — this is the year to visit the National Arboretum. Thanks to the long hours of sunlight we had this summer, followed by the cooler and shorter days of recent weeks, this autumn is going to be one to remember. Fruit, hops, hips and nuts hang heavy on the bough, but there is still much to look forward to.
Reserves of the green pigment chlorophyll in our deciduous trees and shrubs have been exhausted, allowing the hidden yellow pigments of xanthophyll and the orange of betacarotene to come to the fore.
Twenty-one years ago this week a sitcom arrived on British television involving three characters so improbable that they held the nation in thrall. It had started as a French and Saunders comedy sketch about a hedonistic ‘modern’ mother (Eddy) and her appalled, straight-laced daughter (Saffy). To spin this out into a series, Jennifer Saunders added Joanna Lumley as a hard-nosed, hard-drinking best friend (Patsy) and two essential props: Bollinger champagne (Bolly) and Stolichnaya vodka (Stolly).
Firoozeh Bazrafkan is frightened of nothing. Five foot tall, 31 years old, and so thin you think a puff of wind could blow her away, she still has the courage to be a truly radical artist and challenge those who might hurt her. She fights for women’s rights and intellectual freedom, and her background means her fight has to be directed against radical Islam. As a Danish citizen, she saw journalists go into hiding and mobs attack her country’s embassies just because Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Muhammad that were so tame you could hardly call them ‘satirical’.
From repentance to restitution, Germany has done an exemplary job of facing up to its Nazi past — with a little help, it might waspishly be said, from the victorious Allies. Every aspect of life, from education and philosophy, to science, politics, music and the law, was held up to the light early on and thoroughly cleansed. There has, though, been one puzzling exception; a place where shadows linger.
Hook nose, blue chin, Arab headdress: the tomb robber resembled a villain from a Tintin comic. His friend was packing a big pistol and behind them it was sunset over the pyramids at Dahshur, south of Cairo.
Looting’s been rife in Egypt since antiquity — but there has been an alarming acceleration since the 2011 revolution, and Hook Nose and Big Pistol are in up to their respective necks. I met them as they were about to set off for a night’s work: excavating holes in tombs right up to the foot of the famous Black Pyramid outside Cairo, built around 2,000 bc by a Pharaoh called Amenemhat III.
It is now 35 years since Deng Xiaoping gained mastery of China and launched a process that changed the world. The diminutive, chain-smoking ‘paramount leader’ adopted market economics to make his nation a great power once again and to cement the rule of the Communist party with no room for political liberalisation. The formula he adopted at a Party plenum after winning the power struggle at the end of 1979 that followed the death of Mao Zedong has been amazingly successful by its own lights, but is fast running out of steam.
That Malala Yousafzai, the girl the Taleban tried to murder, is a brave and resolute young woman is not in doubt. The youngest person ever nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, she has won many awards, including the Sakharov Prize and an honorary degree from Edinburgh University, in her campaign for ‘the right to -education’.
But something curious is going on. Something crucial to her experience is always omitted when her life and mission are described by international agencies and the media.
‘Such anti-cyclist anger reminds me in many ways of the feelings about gypsies that I would hear expressed when I lived in central Europe. In Hungary, people would tell me they disliked gypsies because they were lazy and dishonest. The truth was that gypsies — like, I would suggest, cyclists — were unpopular principally for being different.’
—The Invisible Cyclist, anonymous blogger
Like many people, I am worried that too few cyclists are being killed on our roads each year.