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[/audioplayer]Sometimes it is easy to understand why countries break up. Some founder on the rocks of their internal contradictions. Others are historical conveniences that have simply run their course. Czechoslovakia was an artificial construct, a country with two languages and cultures, which split soon after the Iron Curtain fell.
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[/audioplayer]‘What country, friends, is this?’ We’ve been wrestling with Viola’s question almost from the moment she asked it. It was barely a year after Shakespeare had scribbled out those words, in the first Act of Twelfth Night, that James VI of Scotland inherited England’s throne, beginning a 400-year confusion over national identity that has led to the present referendum on partition.
‘Surprisingly’, writes Geoffrey Lean (Daily Telegraph, 4 April), ‘two thirds of the country support onshore wind turbines’. It should not surprise him: those would be the two thirds who live in towns and cities, the people whose distinctive, familiar skylines are on the whole safe. When proposed city structures reach the height of St Paul’s they are the subject of deliberation and careful design. Not so in the country.
Ihor Miroshnychenko, a parliamentarian from Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party, is an ‘emotional’ man. That is the word that he and his colleagues use to describe his raiding the headquarters of the country’s state television broadcaster last month. Accompanied by five other Svoboda bully boys, Miroshnyschenko berated and beat the station director before forcing him to sign a resignation letter.
As Michael Bloomberg approached the end of his time as Mayor of New York, Americans expected him to run for the White House. He had the money, the profile and the ego to be President. But the problem, as it turned out, was his ambition — he had too much of it to settle for the Oval Office. As he put it: ‘I have my own army, the seventh largest in the world. I have my own state department and I don’t listen to Washington very much.
Last time I was allowed to write a story for The Spectator, I managed to get away with a frankly smutty and boastful piece about sex. Well, it’s been a while, so... I do hope nobody minds if I do that again.
If I’m honest, when young, one of the reasons I decided to mortgage my life to showbiz was because I thought that if I did, I would get more than my fair share of bedroom action.
Hang on. Sorry, not more than my fair share.
Everyone knows somebody who belongs to a book club. From informal gatherings of bookish friends in living rooms and cafés to ticketed events organised by newspapers, publishers and hubs like the Southbank Centre, and including rather more off-piste groups such as my own walking book club on Hampstead Heath, book clubs have become an integral part of our cultural landscape.
At first glance it’s somewhat puzzling as to why they’ve become such a phenomenon.