‘The British government is not turning anybody around,’ Priti Patel told her French counterpart last weekend. ‘Ukrainian refugees are welcome in the UK.’ She doubled down on her claims in the House of Commons on Monday: ‘It is wrong to say that we are just turning people back; we are absolutely not.’ You don’t have to spend long in Calais to disprove the Home Secretary’s claims. As we checked into our hotel at 1.
Things fall apart. Moscow friends call to say that I have to urgently send my 19-year-old son out of Russia. He is travelling on his Russian passport and a new law says that he is obliged to register for the military draft. Nikita is on a gap year working at a Moscow theatre and he begs not to be sent away. I dismiss the warnings. A day later, a friend’s nanny shows up at our door and hands me an inch-thick packet of high-denomination euros to take out of the country for her employer.
One night in December 1977, when Saddam Hussein was deputy leader of Iraq and already the strongman of the government, Nadhim Zahawi’s father was tipped off that Saddam’s secret police were after him. Zahawi, a Kurd working in Baghdad, decided to leave right away. He phoned the office to say that he was travelling to the north of the country for work and quickly set about his escape. The Baathist secret police did come for him that night, but by the time they arrived at his house, he was at Baghdad International Airport with a ticket to London.
In matters of sex, Philip Larkin was late getting away. On his 23rd birthday, he wrote defeatedly to Kingsley Amis: ‘I really do not think it likely I shall ever get into the same bed as anyone again because it is so much trouble, almost as much trouble as standing for parliament.’ His 2014 biographer, James Booth, adds that Larkin was ‘still effectively a virgin… [and] Amis was puzzled that his friend failed to follow through his pursuit of sexual satisfaction’.
The Polish government has for years been something of a pariah on the liberal international stage. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, which is firmly on the political right, is at odds with the EU establishment, particularly over its judicial reforms, which critics say will threaten the key democratic principle of separation of constitutional powers. The EU accuses Poland of undermining the ‘rule of law’ and the European Commission is, as a result, withholding the billions of euros that Poland is due from the Union’s coronavirus recovery fund.
Many people around the world were glued to their screens in horror on 4 March, as they watched Russian shells raining down on Ukrainian cities. On a trading floor in central London, the oil traders at Shell were also glued to their screens – but watching the price of Russian oil. It was becoming a lot cheaper than normal (Brent) oil, due to the understandable reluctance to support Putin. But then again, everyone has their price.
Conventional wisdom dictates that Vladimir Putin has ‘miscalculated’ in his invasion of Ukraine. His blitzkrieg has been poorly executed. He has reinvigorated the Nato alliance and the EU and triggered heavy sanctions. And he has lost the ‘information war’ to Volodymyr Zelensky, the TV comedian turned global hero.
But what if the West has ‘miscalculated’ in reading Putin’s intentions? What if the West’s sanctions, along with intensified military aid to Ukraine and a courageous local resistance, encourage Putin to double down? What if he decides to use a weapon of last resort, a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon, even at the risk of World War 3?
At Emmanuel Macron’s latest bout of telephone diplomacy, Putin was intransigent, insisting that all Russian demands are met.
The dominant wolf gets the liver, at least according to the American podcaster Joe Rogan. In one episode, a bodybuilder called ‘CarnivoreMD’ (real name Paul Saladino) tells him: ‘If you eat liver, you get to be an alpha male… or alpha female.’ Offal has taken a markedly macho turn in recent years. No longer resigned to memories of the postwar school canteen, organs have become the preferred food of a certain type of gym bro.
The earliest cars were technically convertibles because the technology to fit a roof did not exist. Now the dedicated retractable hardtop roof convertible is a century old – invented in 1922 and transported to America after the war because GIs loved them. These are cars of pleasure, and we know it: less than 2 per cent of cars sold are convertibles, which seems to me insane. The early ones – the MG Midget, the Triumph Roadster, the Jaguar XK150 – are the most beautiful, but they are not as safe as a Volvo.