Woody Allen said of crime that the hours were good and you meet a lot of interesting people. I don’t know about the hours, but you do come across some fascinating types in my line of work. Among the strangest are those who resort to extreme violence at the flick of a mental switch — people whom, if they possess a gun, simply cannot avoid firing it.
I’m a criminal barrister, and I remember a case in which a man changed his baby’s dirty nappy and went to put it in the bin.
It’s tempting for a Brit to look over the Atlantic and smugly conclude that, after 240 years, the American experiment of self government has failed — that this ingenious country could not even find two decent people to run for the White House, and has instead laid on a political freak show that’s best watched from behind the sofa. British politics has its faults, we say, but we’re nowhere near as bad as that.
At the end of Sunday night’s US presidential debate, the moderators snuck in a final question from a slightly shell shocked looking member of the audience. After an hour and a half of brutal, bitter exchanges, a man asked Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump if they could think of ‘one positive thing that you respect in one another’. In the resulting pause and exhalation it felt as though the country had seen itself in a mirror and realised it looked hideous.
Understand what this government is trying to get away with, and think about how it is trying to get away with it, and you will see it is reconstituting the oldest and dirtiest alliance in Tory-history: the alliance between snobs and mobs.
I accept it takes a while to see our new rulers for what they are. Theresa May represents the dormitory town of Maidenhead. Although Eton College is just a few miles down the Thames valley, she could not be further socially and intellectually from David Cameron’s public school chumocracy.
Ever since it was founded in 1895, the National Trust has been considered a good thing. That oak tree sticker on the windscreen isn’t just a passport to some of the country’s finest heritage. It is a middle class status symbol declaring that you are cultured, a lover of the bucolic, someone who’d rather their children went out collecting tadpoles and tramping round nature reserves than staying in glued to an iPad.
‘Come up, slow down’ is the official slogan for Gstaad, but they seem to have forgotten one last important phrase — ‘and blow some serious cash.’ For most visitors, money is no object.
But Gstaad is making an effort to attract people with less giant budgets. While chalet owners such as Madonna give the resort its showy reputation, there is another side to it — a sleepy Swiss village where the cows outnumber people.
‘When you’ve shouted Rule Britannia, when you’ve sung God Save the Queen, when you’ve finished killing Kruger with your mouth…’ So wrote Kipling derisively of the domestic cheerleaders of the Boer War. The lines came to mind this week as the Commons again strained at the leash of war. Horrified by the Aleppo atrocities, MPs dug deep into the jaded rhetoric of a superannuated great power.
They vied for abuse to hurl at the Syrian and Russian forces laying siege to the wretched city.
On a windswept square beside the river Spree, across the road from Berlin’s Museum Island, there is a brand new building which epitomises Germany’s shifting attitude to its imperial past. For 500 years this was the site of the Berliner Schloss, seat of Prussia’s royal family. After the second world war it was demolished, and now it’s being rebuilt from scratch.
The Berliner Schloss has always been a barometer of German history.
The secret to keeping any relationship going is, of course, to see as little of each other as possible. We all know what familiarity breeds, so there’s no point pushing your luck. Imagine my delight, therefore, on discovering a holiday company that specialises in separating you from your other half while you’re away. Well, for a couple of hours anyway.
Footballbreak.co.uk offers trips to European cities whose teams play the beautiful game particularly beautifully: Madrid, Munich, Paris and the like.
The brilliant thing about Hong Kong is that you don’t have to worry for a second about all the culture you’re missing. That’s because there’s absolutely nothing to do there except shop (I got a seriously nice bespoke dinner jacket for just £400 from Lafarfalla Tailor) drink and, most importantly, eat.
Oh all right, so there are some half-strenuous walks you can do in the surprisingly uncrowded countryside just outside the city (you can cab it from the centre to the pretty Shek O beach — which on weekdays is half-deserted — in just 25 minutes) but even then the main purpose of the exercise is to end up in another restaurant.
A white van pulls up outside St Giles in the Fields, an imposing 18th century church in central London, around the corner from Tottenham Court Road station, for a couple of hours every Saturday afternoon. St Giles is known as ‘The Poets’ Church’ because it has memorials to Andrew Marvell and George Chapman, but this humble van makes the nickname more fitting. It’s a library.
To be homeless is to have no fixed address, which means you can’t borrow books from a public library — but it doesn’t mean you’ve no desire to read.
Fernand Léger’s old studio now has squatters living on the doorstep. They’re an unusual sight in the new New York, especially around Bowery. These ones, at no. 222, are African and live in a huge cardboard box decorated with industrial plastic. As a pioneering modernist, Léger would have appreciated their geometry — and poverty. He’d have been less sure about the building opposite: the New Museum of Contemporary Art.
On Sunday evening a British motorist, Abraham Reichman, 35, from Stamford Hill, north London, hit two Eritrean migrants who were trying to block the A16 outside Calais. They had leapt in front of his car, he says, as he slowed down to avoid dozens of migrants on the motorway. Terrified, Mr Reichman drove off at speed to the police station, where he later found out that one of the Eritreans had died.
Driving into Greenwood after dark, we pull into a gas station and ask directions to a late-night grocery store. ‘Sir… I have a suggestion,’ says a young man in the queue. ‘I’ll be going that way in this big old box.’ He waves towards a magnificently clapped-out Chrysler at the fuel pumps. ‘Y’all just follow me.’ Our convoy proceeds to the store at 25mph with no turn signals. Then, with another wave, our Good Samaritan turns and rumbles back towards the gas station.