There is nowhere better to plot than the Palace of Westminster. There are alcoves to conspire in, little-used corridors and discreet watering holes. And no group enjoys plotting more than Tory MPs. Add a general election result that made the Tory leader a lame duck and you have the perfect ingredients for political mischief. But the Tories aren’t just plotting against Theresa May — that would be too simple, since her departure is a question of when not if.
Political scandals sometimes throw up deliciously eccentric minor characters. Trump-Russia — a scandal or merely a crisis, according to taste — now has one: Rob Goldstone. He is described as a British former tabloid journalist, a music promoter, former Miss Universe pageant judge, and friend of the Trumps. Facebook videos reveal a short, tubby man with a northern accent and voice that seems a couple of octaves too high for his bulk.
‘This is not about punishing Great Britain,’ declared Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s interim foreign secretary, on his recent visit to London. I fell about laughing, because this is precisely what’s going on. It is as obvious to us Germans as it is to the Brits: the EU cannot tolerate the thought of a successful United Kingdom outside the Brussels sphere of influence because, if that were allowed to happen, others might dare to start thinking about leaving the club too.
Have you been cheering for the excellent Johanna Konta at Wimbledon? Go, Jo! Or should that be Go, Yo? Johanna (pronounced Yo-harner) was born to Hungarian parents in Sydney and came to Britain when she was 14; her parents moved to Eastbourne while she went to train in Barcelona. She became a British citizen in 2012.
Is she really British, then? Or is she a Plastic Brit, exploiting our great nation for what she can get? Greg Rusedski came from Canada to represent Britain at tennis in 1995, aged 22, even wearing an ill-advised Union Jack bandana.
Dear Uncle James
Thank you for your thought-provoking comments on my last letter (8 July). I accept that personality played a part in my deciding who to vote for. However it also seems to me that your own criticism of the Labour party is centred around personality — i.e. based on Jeremy Corbyn’s personal view of socialism rather than the actual policies put forward by the Labour party, which are not socialist.
Food programmes are having a strange effect on me: I watch them and feel nauseated. Masterchef, The Great British Bake Off, Great British Menu, half a dozen others. In the past I’ve watched and loved them all, sharing the exhilarating triumphs and gut-wrenching despair of the trembling hopefuls. A thousand times I’ve held my breath with them, waiting for the axe to fall: ‘The person leaving us this week is… Wendy.
Liu Xiaobo, China’s only Nobel Peace Prize winner, has died, eight years into his 11-year prison term. He was the greatest champion of democracy in a country where there are many others also detained by the Communist Party, which insists those convicted are not dissidents but criminals.
Tried in 2009 for subversion, Liu had just been moved under police guard into a hospital and diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer.
Japan is the only developed country where people openly espouse two distinct and incompatible religions at the same time — Buddhism and Shinto. The Japanese go to Shinto shrines for weddings and children’s celebrations. They go to Buddhist temples for funerals. Shinto shrines are sometimes found within the precincts of Buddhist temples, and vice versa, so it’s possible to beseech Buddha and the fox god in the same ten minutes.
The Southwold Sailors’ Reading Room is a gorgeous bit of Inside. Like any coastal town, Southwold has an awful lot of Outside, which it can throw at you very hard and very fast. So the small redbrick building tucked away near the seafront is both charming and useful.
It was built in 1864, in memory of Captain Charles Rayley. He’d been in the Royal Navy since Trafalgar, fighting pirates in Borneo and privateers in the West Indies, one of whom gave him a sabre cut across the cheek.