Did the Trojan War really take place? The Foreign Secretary certainly thinks so. ‘The Iliad must have happened,’ Boris Johnson once told me. ‘That description of the Trojans attacking like birds is so chilling, it must be true.’
Boris was referring to the beginning of Book 3 of the Iliad, where the Trojans ‘advanced with cries and clamour, a clamour like birds, cranes in the sky, flying from the winter’s storm and unending rain, flowing towards the streams of the ocean, bringing the clamour of death and destruction to Pygmy tribes, bringing evil and strife at the break of day’.
One of the oddest things about the Oxfam sex scandal is how little we all seem to care. Even now, the talking heads on TV find it hard to summon much outrage. On Facebook and on Twitter, the Presidents Club exposé caused a far greater fuss. Much was made of the way the Club’s entitled fat cats abused their power over hostesses. But the imbalance of power between a starving child and an aid worker with access to food and cash is immeasurably greater.
What a scandal for our times. Oxfam, that upholder of modern-day virtue, unassailable in its righteousness, buried for seven years that its aid workers exploited young girls. The men abused their power to have sex with desperate victims of the Haiti earthquake — the very people they were supposed to protect.
Michelle Russell of the Charity Commission is clear about the deception. ‘We were categorically told by Oxfam; there were no allegations of abuse of beneficiaries.
Virgin East Coast, reneging on its franchise, is not in anyone’s good books at the moment, but since it is the only direct service available from Newcastle upon Tyne to London, many in the north-east have no option but to use it. The service in my experience is pretty good, and even better when it is possible to book well ahead and thereby, with use of the Old Gits’ railcard, treat oneself to a seriously cheap first-class advanced ticket.
This time last year, it seemed that life couldn’t get much better for me: I had a new book out to appreciative reviews, had just returned from a literary festival in Mumbai and was en route to a few more, in Galle, Jaipur and Lahore.
The Galle festival is small and cosy — a little paradise of sun and sea and authors and books — and I loved my first event, with the lively Sri Lankan writer Ashok Ferrey.
There are two Trump-Russia ‘conspiracies’. In one, the US President is bought or blackmailed by the Kremlin. In the other, the FBI and the intelligences agencies — the ‘deep state’ — commit a monstrous abuse of power to try to overturn the election result. The first conspiracy is described in the ‘dossier’ written by a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele; the second, in a series of memos and leaks over the past week, from Congressional Republicans defending Donald Trump.
According to the latest recorded crime figures in England and Wales, there has been a steep rise in violence. Knife offences are up by 21 per cent in the year to September 2017; in London alone the increase is 30.2 per cent — that’s 13,715 incidents.
How should police deal with this disturbing trend? One view is that they need to target likely offenders, especially through an increase in the use of stop and search.
‘Trier hates you,’ reads the graffiti outside the Karl-Marx-Wohnhaus in Trier. Actually, that’s a bit unfair. Trier doesn’t hate Marx, but it’s always had mixed feelings about its most famous son. Marx’s 200th birthday will be marked by several lavish exhibitions in Trier, which is ironic, for this quaint Rhineland city has never known quite what to make of the author of Das Kapital.
Marx was born in Trier on 5 May 1818, in a handsome house on the edge of the medieval old town that now houses the Karl Marx Museum.