A friend of mine at university had a rule: he didn’t want anything to appear online that might ruin a future political career. On nights out, when photos were being taken, he’d quietly move out of the picture. While we were all wittering away to each other on social media, he kept schtum. Strange, I remember thinking. Why so paranoid?
I thought of my friend when Toby Young started making headlines.
In George Bernard Shaw’s play The Doctor’s Dilemma, written early last century, the knife-happy surgeon invents a nut-shaped abdominal organ, the ‘nuciform sac’. It is situated near the appendix, ‘full of decaying matter’, and requires removal, assuming the patient can afford the fee. The surgeon, Cutler Walpole, has the line: ‘The operation ought to be compulsory.’
Bernard Shaw labours the point that removal of the nuciform sac equals 500 guineas, and not removing it equals nought guineas.
While walking or riding on the beautiful heathland near my home, I have noticed a growing number of signs telling me to respect ground-nesting birds.
I keep the dogs close. I don’t let the horses trample through the undergrowth. But that is not proving good enough for the wildlife authorities who have begun to spend millions of pounds on a bizarre programme to divert human beings from large areas of heathland — not only where I walk but in dozens of other places across the south-east of England, so that these popular beauty spots can be left for the birds.
The world is blessed with a brilliant and industrious UN secretary-general, and it was certainly worth tuning in last week to watch António Guterres deliver his New Year message to the planet. As season’s greetings go, it was not exactly festive.
Intercut with shots of attack choppers and bombed-out cities, the UN secretary-general discharged a one-and-a-half minute jeremiad in which we learned that inequality was deepening; global warming was out of control; xenophobia and nationalism were on the march, not to mention war, famine, pestilence and other afflictions, as though 2018 were beginning with a positive cavalry charge of apocalyptic horsemen.
Authoritarian regimes love grand international sporting events. There’s something about the mass regimentation, the set-piece spectacle, the old-fashioned idea of nation states competing for glory that appeals to leaders who wish to show off the greatness of their country to the world. Berlin ’36, Moscow ’80, Sochi ’14 — nothing says ‘we’re here, get used to it’ better than a giant sporting jamboree.
Philip Pullman’s latest missal, La Belle Sauvage, once again features the boat-dwelling Gyptians. Rough and honourable, they emerge from the waterways of Brytain to help the heroine Lyra, before disappearing back to their watery world, one that runs through Lyra’s, but is separate and different from it. After a long weekend on the canals in the heart of Britain, I feel I have been drifting in Pullman’s wake.