Not long ago Cyril Ramaphosa, probably South Africa’s future president and ANC leader, attempted to buy a buffalo.
It was at an auction for hunters and game ranchers. He bid £1.3 million and, incredibly, lost out to another tycoon. At the same event he still managed to spend another million pounds on game species for his ranch — but later he apologised in light of the fact that South Africa is a ‘sea of poverty’.
Seeing Julie Burchill sitting at the back of the restaurant near Victoria Station, I feel a surge of affection. Chin up, sunglasses on, lips fixed in a pout, she is presenting her usual defiant face to the world. In the past, I’ve always thought of her as being like a screen goddess from Hollywood’s golden age — Marlene Dietrich, for instance. Now, she seems more like a fading Broadway diva and I half expect her to break into a rendition of ‘I’m Still Here’ by Stephen Sondheim.
The scandal of official reluctance to develop Britain’s shale gas potential is at last beginning to surface. It may prove to be the dress rehearsal for the ultimate drama — the inexorable collapse of our whole energy strategy.
Most of us have by now heard about the US shale gas revolution. In little more than six years, shale gas has reduced America’s gas prices to a third of what they are in Europe, increased huge tax revenues, rebalanced the economy, created tens of thousands of jobs, brought industry and manufacturing back to the country’s heartlands, and given rise to a real prospect of American energy self-sufficiency by 2030.
Last week, the European Commission voted to ban three pesticides which are said to harm bees. Everyone loves bees, so perhaps we should all be rejoicing? Well, I’m afraid my reaction was not joy, but to think: here we go again, this is bound to mean more dead bees. It’s inevitable: whether it’s a ban, an order or a reform, it doesn’t matter. When governments act they almost always forget the golden rule of public policy: the Law of Unintended -Consequences.
You do not need to have read the book or even seen a film adaptation to feel a thrill at the word ‘Gatsby’. More than a novel, a film or a character, ‘Gatsby’ is an aspiration. The golden age of jazz, cocktails and evening dress, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is one of those works which has been subsumed and overtaken by its own myth.
Such is The Great Gatsby’s enduring glamour that even the release of trailers for the latest film version (starring Leonardo di Caprio and Carey Mulligan) made news.
As we landed at Houston, I suddenly thought of my first visit to America, in 1965 during what we didn’t then call my gap year. Forty-eight years does seem a long time, but my fascination with this country is undimmed. The occasion of this trip was to talk at the British Studies seminar at the University of Texas, which has become a regular gig over the years, and Austin is now a nest of old friends.