It’s hard not to feel sorry for Leo Varadkar. He positioned himself as Ireland’s champion and even ended up with a decent deal. He expected some kind of electoral dividend in the snap election as he urged voters to stay away from the dangerous fringes occupied by Sinn Fein. Instead, they turned to Sinn Fein in record numbers — ending the two-party system that has governed Irish politics for a century.
Like the Trumpton fire brigade, Britain’s disaster planners have had precious little opportunity to show off their skills over the past few decades. Plans for a nuclear war merely gathered dust. Global pandemics failed to arrive, as did a no-deal Brexit. Just about the only crisis requiring nationwide emergency planning concerned foot and mouth disease in 2001 when six million animals were slaughtered and Labour ministers announced ‘the countryside is closed’, killing off rural businesses, yet still failed to prevent the spread of the disease from Cornwall to Northumberland.
It’s been only six weeks since the death of the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, but already there are a number of local hardmen vying to take his place. Most notable are his sidekicks, the Kray twins of the Shia world: Qais al-Khazali and his brother Laith.
Qais and Laith who? Unless you’ve scanned Washington’s latest list of designated global terrorists, these two names won’t be familiar. Yet when I mentioned the brothers in a Baghdad teahouse a few weeks ago, folk lowered their voices and looked surreptitiously around, as if discussing the Krays in a pub in 1960s Bethnal Green.
Saatchi & Saatchi started it. ‘V&A: An ace caff, with quite a nice museum attached,’ said the ad campaign of the late 1980s. Other slogans in the series played on themes of taste and tastiness — ‘Where else do they give you £100,000,000 worth of objets d’art free with every egg salad?’, ‘All right, the mirror’s seen better days but the currant buns are very tasty’ — but it was the ace caff quip that stuck.
If you think that Boon Jong-ho’s Parasite (which won four Oscars this week, including Best Picture) is pretty black as comedies go, you should try the South Korean film The President’s Barber. Set in 1970s Seoul, a working-class hair clipper is appointed to tend the dictatorial leader Park Chung-hee, and tensions grow between his family and the upper-class presidential entourage. The barber becomes convinced that the head of state is a vicious, violent maniac, and his son ends up as the victim of an electrode punishment — played onscreen for laughs of the bleakest kind.
Pangolins are in the news. It may be that the small ant-eating mammal covered in armour plating was the source of the virus striking fear into the heart of the Chinese state and giving us all a nasty turn elsewhere. I rather hope it does turn out to be the pangolin, for if that is the case I may have inadvertently acquired immunity, and the pangolin some timely protection.
The Chinese are catholic eaters, free from the taboos we have erected around the food we eat.
Any florist will recognise the look of furtive shame, the shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to buy flowers. Some of them try to make it easier for you. I used to go to a splendid florist in Ealing who talked to me about rugby for no less than five minutes each visit. But most florists are more interested in flowers than people, and let it show.
For some reason, you’re never allowed to write the card yourself.
It’s a quiet Wednesday afternoon in Britain’s most expensive market town, and there’s a sense of foreboding in the air. Well, there is if you’re a G.K. Chesterton fan. South Bucks District Council is about to decide whether Overroads, the house where the author lived from 1909 to 1922, will be demolished and replaced with a block of flats.
A Londoner until the age of 35, Chesterton moved here on a whim.