It is almost mandatory, if you want to discuss grammar schools, to swap personal histories. Here’s mine: I am the beneficiary of three generations of social mobility, three generations of academic selection. My grandfather won a free scholarship to a public school (Christ’s Hospital) and left school at 16: his family needed him to work. But his education allowed him to become achartered surveyor. Both of my parents enjoyed free, selective education in schools that now charge about £16,000 a year.
The fit, or fugue, that Hillary Clinton suffered during a 9/11 memorial service in Manhattan on Sunday left mysteries in its wake. One concerns Mrs Clinton’s apparently serious medical problem. Another concerns her opponent Donald Trump, who appears eager to run her campaign for her while she convalesces.
When felled, Mrs Clinton was two weeks into a public-relations blitz designed to tar Trump as a bigot.
The new consumer obsession of my generation isn’t white goods, trainers or designer labels. It is — whisper it — quiet. We, the under-30s, are almost allergic to noise, so much so that many of us would happily pay extra to sit in a quiet carriage, or in the café seat furthest from the speakers, or drink in an upholstered alcove in a bar.
Two of the three things — privacy, space, quiet — that our parents wanted when they bought houses with gardens in leafy streets and town suburbs are lost to us.
It’s been going on for months now and I must make a confession. I secretly endure a nightly battering in the privacy of my home; it’s been relentless, torturous and psychologically damaging. But before anyone rushes to rescue me or phones a government helpline, fearing I am the victim of some dastardly wife beater — I should explain that the culprit is Radio 4’s The Archers and its relentless and addictive domestic abuse storyline.
Earlier this year my partner paid several hundred thousand pounds for an Aga. There’s no other way of putting it. A major cause of her excitement about our new house was the presence in its kitchen of the whacking great oven. I, on the other hand, was unsure how I felt about it — Aga-nostic, if you like. Six months later I’m sick of the bloody thing. What’s more, I’ve worked out why Aga lovers go on about them so much.
Most nights Saudi bombers fly low over the Yemeni capital of Sanaa dealing out random destruction. High up in the Yemeni mountains, Sanaa claims to be the oldest inhabited city in the world. Its old city, a Unesco world heritage site, is at least as unique, ancient and priceless as any western city. Many of its buildings have been destroyed or damaged by Saudi bombs. Imagine the outcry in the West if Venice or Florence were being targeted in this way.
I found my first of London’s many lost rivers when I walked across Holborn Viaduct, looked down at the sweep of Farringdon Road below and realised that it had to be the path of a river, not just a road. Indeed, I was soon to learn that the river Fleet runs directly beneath, coursing down to meet the Thames by Blackfriars Bridge.
The Fleet is perhaps the most famous of London’s lost rivers; it was once large enough for boats to navigate it, and an anchor has been discovered as far up as Kentish Town.