15/12/2007
15 Dec 2007

15 December 2007

15 Dec 2007

15 December 2007

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Features
Boris Johnson
How, as Mayor, I would help our brave troops

Even if the story is exaggerated, the underlying psychology is convincing. It is reliably reported that last month a woman in her thirties was doing her daily laps of the pool in Leatherhead, Surrey, when she became aware of an obstacle.A section of the swimming-pool had been roped off to allow 15 wounded soldiers to receive the therapy needed for their rehabilitation. It is hard to know what went through the young woman’s mind, but she must have grasped that these disfigurements had been incurred in Iraq and Afghanistan.

How, as Mayor, I would help our brave troops
William Boyd
Humiliation

London is the first city of humiliation: London does it better than anywhere else. I should know, its latest victim. First my divorce — you would think, what with war in Korea and the death of King George — that the Times would have more newsworthy events to report than my decree absolute from my wife of 18 months. ‘Novelist Yves Hill divorces, confesses to adultery’. Of course I confessed — only to spare myself the further wounds, the death by a thousand cuts, of admitting to Felicity’s adultery with that zero, that nul, that parvenu nonentity Gerald Laing-Turner.

Humiliation
Tony Parsons
It is will, not greed, that makes you write a bestseller

When Ernest Hemingway met Harold Robbins, the grand old man of American literature asked the alpha male of the bestseller list why he wrote. ‘Wealth,’ said Harold Robbins. ‘And I got it.’ Of all the lies that Harold Robbins told in his life — the fantasy most often repeated as fact is that his first wife was a Chinese dancer who died of a parrot bite — this was the most outrageous. Harold Robbins — who liked to boast that he was the only author ‘with his own goddamn yacht’ — did not write for money.

It is will, not greed, that makes you write a bestseller
Celia Walden
The reason we drink is that we think it’s naughty

As we become ever more steeped in Protestant guilt over the next week or so, each additional glass of wine swelling the self-loathing, redemption is in sight. New Year’s Day looms in all its stark innocence, symbolising enforced abstinence, a return to purity and, for a few weeks at least, the weight of our sinfulness will be lifted. Only then, as we all know, around 7 January, when virtue becomes boring, a friend offers us a glass, we accept, and the whole contorted mindset starts again.

The reason we drink is that we think it’s naughty
Barry Humphries
Christmas notebook

The trouble with living in London is that apoplexy is always just around the corner. A few weeks ago my telephone developed a funny sub-aqueous rustling noise sufficient to drown all conversations, so after a few stiff cups of tea, and setting aside several hours for the task, I phoned BT to have it fixed. The next day a nice man appeared with a name a bit like a Sudanese teddy bear, and within a mere hour had found and fixed the problem — a corroded wire outside the house.

Christmas notebook
Anne Applebaum
In Poland you can’t get hold of a Polish plumber

Warsaw‘Hmm, let me see,’ said Tomasz the painter, rubbing his temples. He was trying to think of a plumber who could install a new bathroom shower. ‘Well, there’s Jacek — no, sorry, he’s gone to Dublin. There’s Lech — no, I’m afraid he’s away, I think in Bristol. There used to be that guy, what was his name, Jackowski — no, he’s in London.’ He thought for a few more minutes. ‘Sorry,’ he said at last.

In Poland you can’t get hold of a Polish plumber
Tina Brown
New York Diary

I’ve always loved the Christmas (or rather Hulliday) season in New York because it’s so unapologetically, materialistically over the top. You want tinsel? No tinsel is fatter and furrier than New York tinsel. You want twinkling lights? It’s Vegas on 57th where we live. Even tangerines here are shinier and fatter, although some of those groaning fruit baskets that arrive look suspiciously familiar. ‘Re-gifting’ — as the practice of putting expensive presents into instant turnaround is known here — has become as openly acknowledged a seasonal custom as baking gingerbread houses.

New York Diary
Rod Liddle
God’s role in politics is not to underwrite bad ideas

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews XI 1 Ah yes; things not seen. A little while ago this country had itself a Prime Minister who received rather more guidance from things not seen than any of us had imagined at the time. That thing not seen was, according to Tony Blair, God; apparently these two important figures in world history would fairly regularly commune, chew the fat, put the, er, world to rights.

God’s role in politics is not to underwrite bad ideas
Matthew Dancona
Christian virtue: a man in the prime of his second act

The night before I meet Christian Slater I am lazily channel-surfing and, a little spookily, on comes True Romance, the 1993 Tarantino-scripted love story and gangster movie that cemented the actor’s stardom. There is much to enjoy in the film: Brad Pitt as a stoner, Gary Oldman as a scary white pimp who thinks he is black, and Tarantino’s dialogue at its best, never better than in a scene between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper.

Christian virtue: a man in the prime of his second act
Theodore Dalrymple
My goose was cooked — and it wasn’t very good

Unlike Wagner’s music, which is better than it sounds, roast goose is less good than it sounds. For a reason that I have not been able quite to fathom, it is really delicious only in Germany. Or so I, at any rate, have found. Whether this is because the Germans cook it better, or whether it is because it is a dish that is appropriate to the country, I am not sure. Perhaps you need to be near dense and dark pine forests, with clearings for witches and wicked stepmothers who either devour small children or send them out to find strawberries in the snow, to appreciate the comforts of roast goose.

My goose was cooked — and it wasn’t very good
Fergal Keane
Old Ireland lives on in a frozen Christmas swim

On Christmas morning the entire village will gather on the beach at the end of the main street. I think the ‘main’ is probably superfluous here. There is really only one street with a series of small roads and paths stacked above it on the hill of Ardmore. If you were to stand at the Storm Wall, just above the beach, you would see a hundred or so hardy folk dressed for a sweltering summer’s day and waiting for the order to charge.

Old Ireland lives on in a frozen Christmas swim
The Spectator
Do you believe in the Virgin Birth?

The Spectator asked a select group including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Charles Moore, AC Grayling, Jonathan Aitken and Christopher Hitchens if they believed in the Virgin Birth. Christmas is not just about shopping and flirting, eating and drinking, anger and remorse. It is also about the Incarnation. But how many people believe in the Christian story of Christmas, and how strong is their belief? To find out, The Spectator approached leading public figures in the Churches, in the arts and the media and in politics, and asked them: ‘Do you believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ?’ Here are their challenging â” and sometimes surprising â” answers.

Do you believe in the Virgin Birth?
John Osullivan
Republicans must heed the voters to beat Hillary

WashingtonAfter almost a year of the candidates manoeuvring for position in the national and state polls, one aspect of the 2008 presidential election campaign remains as constant as the North Star: Hillary Clinton is the favourite. She is backed by most party regulars, supported by a national machine, advised by the most brilliant politician of her generation and perched on a consistent lead in the national opinion polls.

Republicans must heed the voters to beat Hillary
Joan Collins
A star at Christmas

In Los Angeles last month we were wined and dined and mulligan-souped up to our eyeballs. Los Angelenos love entertaining their visitors and even though I’ve lived on and off in the hills of Beverly since I was 21, I’m still welcomed happily by the natives. I started Christmas shopping early in LA and New York, but it doesn’t seem that early as the decorations go up immediately after Hallowe’en. I’ve never quite understood why our American cousins like Hallowe’en so much.

A star at Christmas
Beryl Bainbridge
The Liverpool that I loved has gone for ever

In June of 2003 Tessa Jowell, the then culture secretary, announced that in 2008 Liverpool would become the European Capital of Culture. The city beat five other hopefuls — Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Newcastle and Oxford.In welcoming the result, the head of the judges, Sir Jeremy Isaacs, declared that it was Liverpool’s stunning dockside development, its city centre and ‘strong visual arts’ that had boosted its chances.

The Liverpool that I loved has gone for ever
Steven Berkoff
I’m like a nervous schoolgirl with my stuntman

The stunt double does all the hard stuff that you the actor either cannot do or should not do lest you injure yourself, and are out of the movie. I have a very pleasant stunt double, a ‘Berliner’, he confides to me proudly, a real one, he adds. I am running from my tormentor and leap from the balcony on to some scaffolding but there is a gap of about four feet and a drop of about 20 feet, so real injury should he slip, and I sweat just at the thought of it.

I’m like a nervous schoolgirl with my stuntman
Christopher Caldwell
An American conservative who loves the Constitution

A Republican debate in Florida in late November marked this electoral season’s debut of Adolf Hitler, that reliable presence in American presidential campaigns. The Arizona senator John McCain, struggling to draw even with the garrulous ex-New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the Mormon technocrat (and former Massachusetts governor) Mitt Romney, decided to burnish his pro-war credentials. The problem was, there was almost nobody to burnish them against.

An American conservative who loves the Constitution
Geoffrey Willans
How To Be Topp: Ding-dong Farely Merily For Xmas

Xmas all grown ups sa is the season for the kiddies but this do not prevent them from taking a tot or 2 from the bot and having, it may seme, a beter time than us. For children in fact Xmas is often a bit of a strane wot with pretending that everything is a surprise. Above all father xmas is a strane. You canot so much as mention that there is no father xmas when some grown-up sa Hush not in front of wee tim.

How To Be Topp: Ding-dong  Farely Merily For Xmas
Murphy O'Connor
In Umbria the truth of the Nativity was revealed to me

One of the perks of studying for the priesthood in Rome was the gita, an Italian word meaning ‘holiday’ or ‘trip’. We students rarely returned home in our seven-year stint out there, so we were given a list of places to visit during holidays, like Subiaco, the birthplace of Benedictine monasticism, Fiesole near Florence, where we would stay with the ‘Blue Nuns’, and many other places with religious resonance.

In Umbria the truth of the Nativity was revealed to me
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