Anybody hunting for Britain’s lost summer need look no further than Iceland. I spent last week there salmon-fishing, in torrid sunburn conditions caused by a northward shift of the Atlantic jetstream which means that the place has scarcely seen rain since spring, and not many salmon. I failed to hook a single fish, which caused unkind critics to mutter that it is lucky I write books rather than cast a fly for my living.
The prominent story of London 2012 has been that of a country which was once an underachiever in the Olympic games but which, through sheer hard work on the part of its athletes, has hauled itself to the top of the medals tables, producing in the process one of the most dramatic world records in Olympic history. I refer, of course, to the People’s Republic of China. At the time of writing, China has just won its 32nd gold medal, putting it firmly at the top of the medals table.
Britishness was supposed to be finished, its last flickering embers to be snuffed out by Alex Salmond when he holds his 2014 referendum on breaking up the Union. The London Olympics, the Nationalists claimed, would be the last at which the Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish would be teammates. The Scots, supposedly on the brink of a nationalist awakening, would cheer on their countrymen but feel no more pride in an English win then they would a French one.
Considered historically, debt and fat are twin phenomena. Thirty years ago neither was a problem; today, they are two crushing burdens on the western world. Britain has a trillion pounds of debt. A quarter of our population is obese. If you were to remove the excess fat from our bloated citizens and put it on scales it would weigh about 400 million pounds. The gloomier official projections show Britain’s national debt rising until at least 2030.
Recently, I took my baby daughter to the park. When I pulled out a bottle to feed her, some nursing mothers a couple of picnic blankets away stopped their conversation to gawp. They exchanged derogatory looks and clutched their suckling children closer to their bosoms. The message was clear. The sooner I left, the better. I have a similar experience in the park almost every day. Breastfeeding mothers see me bottle-feeding, and they disapprove.
It’s hard to tell which is the more absurd over-reaction to Pussy Riot’s 51-second performance of political and religious blasphemy in Moscow’s St Saviour’s Cathedral in February — that of the Russian state or that of the western media. It should go without saying that the treatment meted out to the three retro-punks — five months’ pre-trial detention at the mercy of unkind jailers, isolation from their families, heavily embroidered charges, their display in an aquarium-style dock under threat of a seven-year maximum sentence before a clearly biased judge — has been cruel, oppressive and grotesquely out of proportion to the offence they committed.