Ilyas was, he told me, the very last Christian to flee Qusayr. He had been one of just a handful in the town to join the revolution — an odd thing for a Christian to do because the Free Syrian Army (FSA) were and are mostly Sunnis, and the Christians mostly sided with Assad. Still, it didn’t save him. One day he heard banging on the door and saw men with Kalashnikovs standing there. There were familiar faces, some he had known for years.
I was sitting on some rocks by the Cornish coast when a teenager swanned by on the sun-warmed boardwalk in front of me. The boy stood on the burning deck, preparing to dash across the sand, dive. Then his phone rang.
‘Luce! Yes, I’m at the sea... Was just going to plunge... Ran back to my mobile... Ha ha!... No, didn’t forget, will share that file on Google Docs... How’s France?... Awesome... Ha ha!’
Rage washed over me.
Island-hopping is for backpackers and binge-drinkers; if you want a real Greek holiday, the place to go is Koroni, Messenia, on the southwestern tip of the Peloponnese. It’s an old town — founded by the Greeks before Christ, absorbed into Byzantium, then squabbled over by Ottomans and Venetians. Its geography is ancient history: Olympia to the north, Sparta across the bay, and Nestor’s Palace, Corinth, Mystras and the amphitheatre at Epidaurus all nearby.
Sometimes the really obvious take on history turns out to be the right one. For generations, we all assumed that the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans in Belgium at the outset of the first world war and enthusiastically reported in the British press were Allied propaganda. Yet recent research suggests that quite a lot of it was true.
Well, the same goes for the Vikings. For almost half a century, the academic line on Vikings has been that our old idea of them as raping, pillaging bastards who’d sack a monastery as soon as look at it was a childishly transparent bit of propaganda, perpetuated by Christian monks who were obviously biased against the pagan Northmen.
Queuing to gain admittance to the pavement of Westminster Bridge on a ferociously hot Sunday afternoon recently, I found myself trapped. Pinioned by a road to one side, a stall selling models of Big Ben and snow-dome Buckingham Palaces to the other, and bordered by the great bronze statue of Boudicca, I was caught in a corralled mass of tourists and going nowhere fast. It occurred to me that the last time I experienced such a peculiar blend of urban misery was in Venice.
Who inspired Who? Leave aside for one moment the hyperventilating BBC enthronement of Peter Capaldi, though we shall return to him later. I mean way back at the beginning, 50 years ago. The Doctor was invented by a committee of middle-ranking BBC executives — but who was the role-model for this anti-establishment, vaguely dotty but distinguished figure?
Come on! With hindsight, the inspiration must surely have been Tony Benn — and I’ll prove it to you.
Carla, my Italian wife, has a small house in a little town on the Adriatic near Ravenna called Lido di Dante, right next to one of the last unspoilt beaches in Italy.
But we cannot go to this spectacular beach because even though it is una spiaggia libera (open to all and free) and therefore di tutti (everyone’s) it is infested with nudists and their related sub-species: guardoni (voyeurs), scambisti (wife-swappers), group-sex freaks, transsexuals, bisexuals — plus several other creatures yet to be classified by scientists.