You may not have heard of Janet Paraskeva, but she is one of the most important people in Whitehall and also one of the most highly regarded. She is private both by temperament and by design, enjoying the freedom this gives her to get on with her job as First Civil Service Commissioner: head of the independent body that reports directly to the Queen to ensure open and fair recruitment to the Civil Service and investigate appeals from officials.
New York is a city of superlatives. It’s a point of pride. New Yorkers believe that their city and their city alone holds the mantle for being the place with ‘the most. . . ’ â” the most crazy folks, the most intense lifestyle, the most fashionable restaurants â” you get the picture. There’s a belief that nothing can compete. Nowhere else on earth could possibly come close. Cindy Adams, the famous New York Post gossip columnist, always ends her articles with the celebrated phrase: ‘Only in New York, kids, only in New York’, and people believe it.
Something very important is going on out there, and I’m not sure that anyone has really noticed. Just look out of your window and you are likely to see fundamental changes happening to the place where you live. Cranes are out in force, a great metallic forest of them; our roads are populated by concrete mixers and lorries full of demolition waste; white vans full of electricians, plumbers and carpenters clog the streets, and their skips are two-deep on the roadsides.
‘The nation had the lion’s heart. I had the luck to give the roar,’ Winston Churchill said of his role in achieving victory in the second world war. The idea that the British people were united, steadfast and resolute in the face of adversity is one of the enduring themes of our island story, still cherished more than 60 years after the war ended.A central figure in this narrative of wartime glory is the Spitfire fighter, which became a much-loved symbol of national defiance through its heroic exploits in the Battle of Britain in 1940.
‘Prayer books are the toys of age,’ wrote Pope. Maybe so. But it’s surprising how many old people â” grown-ups â” like children’s toys as well. This Christmas West End shops have stocked up with expensive toys to attract the Russian new rich, what is called the Fabergé Trade. It was always thus. In the New York Metropolitan Museum there is a beautiful dog, carved from ivory, shown running and with a bouncy strip underneath it so it can be made to move â” a mechanical toy in short â” which dates from the Egyptian 18th Dynasty (1554-1305 bc).
It was true in Orwell’s day and it’s no less true now: there is nothing the British public likes more than a good, old-fashioned, grisly murder. Sixty-odd years ago, when Orwell wrote The Decline of the English Murder, the crucial ingredient was some hidden, shameful, sexual misdemeanour - almost always adultery, but sometimes homosexuality. The implication being that back then committing murder, and thus risking a possible death sentence from the courts, was preferable to some sordid secret leaking out.
So this is how my average weekday morning goes. Give briefing to a telly researcher on a subject I have written sum total of one article about, complete long Q&A for self-publicity purposes for a magazine (which will appear under someone else’s byline), supply a written quote to help a reporter on a daily broadsheet fill space, update my website in case the one person who to my certain knowledge has checked it out ever visits it again, post blog for this magazine’s Coffee House, then break for lunch, hopefully somewhere nice and near like Rowley Leigh’s new Le Café Anglais (plug, plug), where the Parmesan custard and anchovy toast is not merely vaut le voyage, but possibly worth Eurostarring over from Paris for.
A little after 2 a.m., in the small town of ad Dawr, south of Tikrit, Captain Ahmed of the Iraqi army was leading his troops on one of their regular arrest raids. Half a dozen men from one particular house were dragged out, hands bound with plastic flexi-cuffs, and lined up. But the man they’d come for wasn’t there.‘Listen, donkey-f---”,’ said Captain Ahmed, addressing the head of the household, ‘I know your eldest son is with the terrorists because he keeps sniping at my men.
My wife tells me that my present state reminds her of the famous Thurber cartoon of a woman crouched on top of a wardrobe with the watching man captioned as saying: ‘For ten years I’ve known peace with you, Mildred, and now you say you’re going mad.’ If you substitute the genders, and the fact we have been together more than ten years, my wife is right: I used to be such a benign, adorable character and now, apparently, I have developed into a cantankerous old man who shouts at the television every night.