Horror films occasionally use the device of the deceptive idyll. An apparently restful place — a clearing in the woods, a pretty cottage — is the site of a fiendish atrocity. A goodie escapes and breathlessly reports the matter to the police. Next morning the authorities race to the scene, and find nothing. Wickedness has been concealed. The deceptive idyll has returned.
Such a place is Chambéry airport in south-east France.
On 19 June 1815, after the battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington declared that ‘nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won’. Two hundred years later, David Cameron or Ed Miliband might feel the same way as they sit in Downing Street. Any elation over victory will be quickly overshadowed by the thought of troubles to come — in all likelihood insurmountable troubles for either man.
At this point in the war between the jihadist group known as the Islamic State and a US-led international coalition, many observers are wondering how Isis keeps winning. Isis is up against western air power and powerful regional opponents, and yet has apparently seized a territory larger than the United Kingdom, and is expanding into Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, and elsewhere. It seems incredible.
The issue of immigration won’t go away, because it threatens the soul of the nation.
Nobody in political authority uses such language today, because they are unsure of the validity of ‘soul’ and of the political safety of the term ‘nation’. They will use the term ‘we’ in the context of Britain and its people, but would surely dodge defining it. Try as he might this election year, neither Cameron nor Miliband can do anything to persuade anxious voters they care about immigration, because they don’t use language which reaches the soul.
Stephen Hawking is a misogynist; and also, quite possibly, a narcissist. You wouldn’t know it from watching The Theory Of Everything, the new biopic from Working Title, in which you are invited only to weep when he discovers he has motor neurone disease at 21, and then marvel at his achievements in physics. It goes wild on the obvious cognitive dissonance of Hawking’s life and work — trapped in his body, yet transported in his mind to the stars.
I’m standing with Sir Ivan Lawrence QC in a narrow room at his Pump Court chambers, examining an oil painting sent to him from Broadmoor by his former client the late Ronnie Kray. It is a naive depiction of a house in a field which could, at first glance, be the work of a worryingly forceful five-year-old. Yet what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in emphasis: the signature ‘R Kray’ is daubed in thumping capitals.
You know how it goes with corporate speak. A strange new habit grows and spreads, creeping largely unnoticed into the language, until one day you hear a sentence so bizarre, so divorced from normality, that it brings you up short. It happened to me the other day. A call centre operative, in the middle of a prolonged display of not being able to help, had to check something with a colleague. Before doing so she said: ‘Would it be OK if I put yourself on hold?’
Just stop and consider that sentence for a moment.
Every day the Isle of Wight becomes England’s smallest county: when-ever the tide comes in, the island steals the crown from Rutland, if only for a few hours. Taking the Wightlink ferry reminds you that the isle gave us the hovercraft, Christopher Cockerell’s early experiments there involving a hairdryer and some empty cat-food tins. Less successful as a seafarer was Lord Lucan, who once sank a powerboat off the Needles.