For a millennium and a half now, one of the great pleasures of being a commentator on current affairs has been comparing a political crisis to the fall of the Roman Empire. Nothing recently has quite so turbo-charged this perennial trend like the presidency of Donald Trump. The flamboyant egotism, the patent amorality, the porn stars: all seem conjured up from the reign of a peculiarly depraved Caesar.
When the Lisbon Treaty was signed in 2007, the inclusion of Article 50 was hailed as a concession to British Eurosceptics. For the first time there was an exit clause: a clear, legal way for a country to leave the European Union. Whatever concerns Britain had about the federalist direction of the EU, it was now at least enshrined in treaty that this country had a right to get out should MPs vote for it to do so.
Should university students really feel ‘satisfied’? Or would we rather they felt challenged? For the honchos of higher education, the answer is clear — and alarming.
The National Student Survey (NSS), which was introduced in 2005, collects data that allows crude comparisons to be made between universities. The survey asks 300,000 final-year undergraduates to answer 27 questions about their experience of teaching, academic support, assessment and feedback.
Emmanuel Macron was elated when France won the World Cup in July. The photograph of him leaping out of his seat at the Moscow stadium showed a leader at the peak of his power. Or so he thought.
Ever since then, he has been bumping back to earth. Last week, the French President took the unusual step of retiring to Honfleur for four days’ rest and recuperation. ‘His face has changed, he is marked by the weight of power,’ confided one of his team; another expressed concern about the President’s weight loss.
On Sunday morning, in Puy-en-Velay, I climbed the 275 volcanic steps to the tiny chapel of Rocher Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe. There, in the gloaming, among the silent stones that have stood on this site for 11 centuries, it was almost possible to imagine the awe of those very first Christian pilgrims who in the 10th century… CLICK! CLICK! CLICK!
Ah yes, the sacred selfie, now as much a part of the modern Camino de Santiago de Compostela as the rosary, the walking stick and the scallop shell.
The story is part of family lore. How, during the Battle of Mons, on 23 August 1914, two long columns of men from the Royal Field Artillery passed each other. One column was withdrawing from the frontline, the other heading into what was the first action between the British Expeditionary Force and the German army in the first world war. A shout went up: ‘Is Mulholland there?’ A reply in the affirmative from somewhere along the lines; a swift exchange of greetings between two brothers, Danny and Patrick; a mutual exhortation to ‘look out for yourself’ — and then they moved on.
My wife and I have a set routine after landing back at Gatwick. We collect our bags, clear customs and are reunited with our car (Meet and Greet parking is by far the best value for money and avoids an hour or so of inhaling a mini-cab’s ‘vehicle deodoriser’). Then we head for the McDonalds ‘Drive-thru’ restaurant next to the BP garage, where Joanna normally goes for the Big Mac meal, while I vacillate between the McChicken sandwich and a bucket of chicken nuggets with a side order of fries.