High life

High life | 17 March 2012

Who first declared that nothing counts a lot and very little counts at all? The cynic and sesquipedalian Alastair Forbes claimed it, but he spoke with a forked tongue. Iris Murdoch hinted that it was hers, but she, too, was known for bending it. It doesn’t really matter because the saying is utter crap. A

Low life

Low life | 17 March 2012

It’s that time of year again. The Cheltenham festival. And I’m not talking about books.  Once again I am a guest at the legendary racing tipster Colonel Pinstripe’s week-long country house party, and during the day at his racecourse hospitality chalet, where we might have an occasional small sherry or two. It is my eighth

Real life

Real life | 17 March 2012

Before Wayne and Waynetta Slob pretended I had run into the back of their car, my annual insurance premium was £372. Now that Mr and Mrs Slob’s ludicrously spurious claim for ‘soft tissue damage’ is well under way, can you guess what my renewal premium is? I’ll give you a clue. I rang Aviva to

More from life

Status Anxiety | 17 March 2012

Things haven’t been going particularly well for the Conservatives lately. The bounce we received in the polls from the Prime Minister’s wielding of the veto proved to be short-lived, the fault lines in the coalition are growing and Steve Hilton has left the building. The odds of us winning an outright majority at the next

The turf: Paintball by number

The first I heard of the recent death of Norman St John Stevas was from a questioner after I had delivered a lecture on Margaret Thatcher aboard a liner off the Chilean coast. What came immediately to mind was the story of Mrs T. dispatching one of their fellow Cabinet ministers to tell Norman that

Dear Mary

Dear Mary | 17 March 2012

Q. A bachelor colleague is in great demand as a spare man. He often regales us with details of the fascinating people he has met at dinner. Our view is that he should occasionally have people back, but he seems to feel that, as everyone knows he has no one at home to cook, he


Drink: Queen of Burgundy

I sniffed and sipped and concentrated. It was a wine to savour, drop by drop. A Grands Echézeaux ’98 from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, this was not a mere bottle. It was an epiphany. ‘Great hatred, little room’: so Yeats summarised Irish history. We could paraphrase him for the DRC: great prices, little room.

Mind your language


The back-page notebook in the Times Literary Supplement the other week was pondering whether the word obnixely had ever really been used. It means ‘earnestly, strenuously’, but I can see that there is not much point using it if no one knows what it means. The prefix ob- generates a goodly store of seldom used

The Wiki Man