To understand how the Tories ended up in such a muddle about who they are and what they stand for, take a walk down any of the nicer streets in Boris Johnson’s constituency. North Hillingdon is as idyllic now as it was a generation ago: spacious houses, with large drives, built before the war. The houses were, once, more or less affordable. One property on Parkway, for example, was bought for £175,000 just over 20 years ago.
The Taliban Cultural Commission sounds a contradiction in terms but for all foreign journalists it’s the first stop in the new Afghanistan. There, in a dusty office on the first floor of the old Ministry of Information, I was handed a letter which allowed me to go anywhere in the country, except Kabul airport or military installations. In a neighbouring office I met Anamullah Samangani, a Taliban commander from the northern province of Samangan.
The British often complain about an invasion of Americana, from burger joints to twangy accents picked up from television. I love my adopted countrymen, but for an American living far from home, these complaints can be tiresome.
However, there is one Yankee invasion I hate as much as the locals do: American candy stores. There are now nine of them on London’s Oxford Street alone. A guy called Chase Manders is to blame; he started importing and selling American candy to Britain 18 years ago and opened Kingdom of Sweets on Oxford Street in 2012.
It’s hard to remember a time when politicians have so publicly put pressure on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. Even the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said this week that the booster programme is his ‘absolute priority’ as it will ‘help us to transition the virus from pandemic to endemic status’. So why is the JCVI so against booster jabs in all but the rarest of cases? My understanding is that its thinking has three parts.
Late one soft summer night in 1966, my brother Christopher slipped out of our north Oxford house and bicycled to the centre of the city. There he spent a worryingly long time with a spraypaint can, inscribing the words ‘Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?’ on a long builders’ hoarding outside Trinity College in Broad Street. You will have to work out for yourselves how I know this, but I do. The punctuation was perfect, and a handwriting expert could easily have told it was him.
From this month, in an extension of a personality cult not seen since Mao Zedong, ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ is being incorporated into China’s national curriculum. School textbooks are emblazoned with Xi’s smiling face, together with heartwarming slogans telling readers as young as six that their leader is watching over them. ‘Grandpa Xi Jinping is very busy with work, but no matter how busy he is, he still joins in our activities and cares about our growth,’ reads one.
I trudge up the concrete stairs of a council block of flats in west London. Up three floors. Then along one of those outside corridors, past several doors until I reach the final one. It is already open and there she is — smaller than I remember and with a charming, friendly smile. I guess that is because Ivanna knows me better now. She trusts me more. After what she has been through, it’s not surprising that it takes time to gain her trust.
Of the many challenges cartoonists face — rejection, money, drink, or lack of — one of the trickiest is the growing pressure to depict diversity. Nowadays readers often write to publications complaining about the dearth of ethnic minorities in our drawings and demand for cartoons to be more inclusive.
It’s like being trapped in a bad political cartoon, walking a tightrope above a minefield. A quick survey of my colleagues in the Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation highlighted the following:
Cartoons involve laughing at someone.
You can’t (and probably shouldn’t) design a treehouse. Treehouses should grow organically, in every sense: they must be made of wood, obviously — one definition of a treehouse is that it is a tree holding its dead friend — and the footings for the platform must be the knots or branches that are footholds when climbing the tree. Besides, it is only when you are halfway through building that you can work out where you need to fit round branches and add noggins — unless you build it between the trunks of two separate trees, or use some sort of 3D mapping software, both of which sound very much like cheating.