There is an interesting debate doing the rounds at the moment: should we allow faith schools in Britain? The debate has been occasioned by our tortuous and interminable wrangling with all things Islamic; it has suddenly occurred to us that allowing children to be inculcated into an ideology which may be antithetical to our national culture is a dangerous and divisive thing. And during the course of filming a two-hour documentary for Channel 4 about the translation of the Bible into English, I was struck by the strange, almost perverse nature of this debate.
When he’s not starring in comedy shows, performing stand-up or picking up awards, Ricky Gervais is master of the world of the Flanimals — crazy and spectacularly ugly creatures, many of whom eat each other. Here is a brand new Flanimal, exclusively for Spectator readersLumby Spud(Chavius Brum)This Brumboidian Chavloader is scuppered. He tries to shorten the depressing gap between birth and death by eating till he bursts.
Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. One would think that the turmoil in Iraq is all President Bush must think about when planning his last two years in the Oval Office. Yes, the manner in which he extricates himself and America from Iraq will affect his legacy. But it need not determine it, or his place in history. There is little he can do to affect the outcome in Iraq, short of giving his generals the 30,000 additional troops they now confess they need, and which the President is unlikely to commit.
One of the great joys of my life has been to spend nearly 14 years living in Rome, first as a student and then as Rector of the Venerable English College. I suppose the best way to know a strange city is to walk everywhere. As a student, I rarely took public transport and would remember at night my day’s walk, piazza by piazza, church by church, from Pantheon to Forum to Colosseum. Those years were in many ways a delight and I can honestly say, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, that I learnt nearly as much from viewing the city of Rome as from my studies in the Gregorian University.
Jon Cruddas belongs to a rare breed of politicians who believe the best view of the House of Commons is through the rear-view mirror. He glances at it as we head to his Dagenham constituency in his non-ecologically friendly Land-Rover. ‘Gordon Brown will be taxing you for this soon,’ I say. He replies with a look that suggests 1,000 expletives. Reverence for the Labour hierarchy is not his strong point, yet it is on this very platform that he is staking his claim to be the party’s deputy leader.
Paddy Kavanagh died with Christmas only a few weeks away. The poet was taken down by a virulent bout of pneumonia, aided and abetted by his addiction to strong drink. He had once cuttingly remarked that the ‘standing army of Irish poets never fell below 20,000’. His death robbed the country of one of the very best of them. Kavanagh had battled alcoholism all his adult life. But by the end of November 1967 he had lost any strength for the fight.
With the possible exception of charades, no element of a British Christmas rivals the Brussels sprout when it comes to dividing families. In any well-ordered family, the sprout is a source of fierce disagreement, with those that love the vegetable on one side and haters on the other. There is no Third Way of the sprout. This gulf of opinion is highly satisfactory for those of us who love sprouts.
Having toured all over the East Coast of North America for the past four and a half months, I am more than a touch jetlagged, but incredibly impressed with the modernity, beauty and excitement of some of these US cities. Although Toronto is not in the US, it still is to me American in flavour (although I’m sure I’d be lynched there for saying that). In the seven weeks that Legends played there, we stayed in a divine section known as Yorkville.
The opening scene in Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It has our heroine distressing supermarket mince pies with a rolling pin in the hope that other parents at the school carol concert will presume them home-made. I loved her for that, just as I did the Calendar Girl who wins the cake competition with an M&S sponge. It’s years since I made a mince pie. And a fair few since I boned the turkey, stuffed it with ham and chestnuts and got up at dawn to set the pudding boiling.
The three of us were sitting around a table in the parlour of a small public house. The pub had an old-fashioned appearance, one of those strange survivals you find in the City. It was dusty, and it smelled of stale beer. The setting, however, is not important for this story. My companions were not mournful men, but they were not merry. They seemed preoccupied, and occasionally glanced towards the door as if they were frightened of being overheard.