There is one carol that has particular resonance for Londoners: ‘Silent night, holy night’. Just the idea of it can bring on an involuntary shiver of pleasure. In the 36 or so hours between Christmas Day and Boxing Day, after a solid month of the eldritch screeches of office parties and Westfield shopping, we city slickers are suddenly granted something more valuable than gold. The profound quiet — both in the darkness and the daylight — gives us a glimpse of the unsuspected soul of the city.
A Christmas short story by Anthony Horowitz
Illustrated by Carolyn GowdyThey were spending their first Christmas together in Antigua, Simon and Jane Maxwell, enjoying not just a holiday but a honeymoon after a courtship that had taken them both by surprise. It was his second marriage, her first — and perhaps it was because she had waited so long that she had jumped into it so readily. Of course, she was a modern woman with a perfectly successful career… in publishing, as it happened.
Andrew Lansley stands on the concourse of Euston station cracking jokes with a gaggle of civil servants. Lansley, who must be at least 6ft3, towers over the group. He looks relaxed. The contrast with how he looked a few months ago could not be sharper. Then, the Health Secretary seemed to be carrying all the troubles of the coalition’s NHS reforms on his shoulders. He had developed a stoop and he would talk to you with his arms crossed.
It’s never been easier for a single mistake to define a whole lifeOccasionally, as a television presenter, you come across stories that make your blood run cold. The last time it happened, I was live on air and I virtually stopped speaking. I wish I could say the story was about some appalling human rights abuse or a new threat of global recession. But no. It was about a Russian newsreader, Tatyana Limanova, who committed a spectacular act of career self-sabotage by apparently flipping her finger at the camera live on air, immediately after a reference to President Obama.
You don’t go to North Norfolk in winter for good weather, but we had it — vast blue skies, sunshine and a couple of wild gales. North Norfolk in summer, like the Cotswolds in which I live landlocked, mingles the horribly overcrowded with quiet spaces about which locals keep schtum. In late November it had been reclaimed by them and was half-empty. Staying in a peaceful converted barn, we were there to work but also to walk on near-deserted Holkham Beach, where Poppy the border terrier thought she had died and the sand and sea were heaven.
Life is about choices. You can explain your lot away as bad luck, but I face you with the possibility that your lifestyle is the result of choices you have made.
Said the therapist I went to see last week. Before leaving I made another appointment to see him so that I wouldn’t appear to have the problem with commitment that he had identified. But I don’t think I’ll go. I went to see him because, with the combination of the end of a relationship and George Osborne’s well-named autumn statement, I’ve been finding it hard to get out of bed.
When I was 13, my school cricket team received a visit from a top professional cricket coach, an intoxicating visit from the big leagues. I tried to hear what the great man was saying as he watched us, how he advised our teacher. ‘Never praise kids — they only mess it up next time,’ I overheard him say. After pausing to berate me for a below-average cover drive, he whispered to the teacher, ‘It’s different with criticism — that really works.
When you hire a morning suit for a wedding, you count on being photographed a few times on the day — for photos that will be quickly buried in wedding albums. But by now, half the country will probably have seen pictures of me as Liam Fox’s best man at his wedding, six years ago. Had I known, I’d perhaps have hired a suit that fitted a little better. But I’d never have imagined that I’d end up in a Force 12 political storm.
This year has seen a sombre centenary, which passed almost unnoticed. It was in August 1911 that Members of Parliament voted to pay themselves for the first time — an annual stipend of £400 a year. What was meant to open parliament to all ranks of society and allow men of low birth but high gifts to sit as MPs has proved a fine example of the law of unintended consequences. A seemingly modest innovation began the process which has culminated in what we now have: the professionalisation of politics and the creation of a new class of full-time but mediocre politicians.
Video games are an ideal gift – especially the violent onesNot long ago, Salman Rushdie took to Twitter to say, ‘Passed this billboard: “From the Makers of Doom… Rage!” What does it say about us that these are the names of games?’ The author of Fury had a point. Video games are now bigger business than movies, and the biggest business in video games is war: exploding aliens, terrorists being shot in the spine, guns, guns, guns.
‘The Iron Lady’ and the Iron Lady I knewThe Iron Lady is a cruel film: brutally unsparing in its depiction of the hazards of old age. I was ready to be angry and to believe that, like jackals, Hollywood lefties were closing in on an aged lioness, safe in the cowardice of assailing the vulnerable, overlooking in their sniggerings the obvious point. In her prime, one roar, and they would all have fled in terror.
Dear Father Christmas, please fill my stocking with the following goodies:
A referendum on Britain’s future in Europe... Or, a Linguaphone course to brush up my German.A new shadow chancellor. The old one doesn’t really work any more.A straitjacket to stop George Alagiah waving his arms around so much when he is presenting the BBC News.During the Jubilee celebrations, a minute’s standing ovation, nationwide, for the Duke of Edinburgh.
Suddenly, the tiny Gulf emirate is the Middle East’s superpowerIn late October, Syrian state television aired a 17-minute documentary unmasking what it said was the real force behind the country’s seven-month-old revolt: the tiny Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar. ‘The name of Qatar surfaces once a disaster or conflict breaks out in the Arab and Muslim world,’ the programme begins. ‘Qatar intervenes in major and minor issues, seeking to wield influence by backing rebel and extremist movements as well as armed Islamic groups.
My ‘literary spat’ with the London Review of BooksEconomic history is not politically correct. Many on the left therefore struggle with its findings. It is indeed astonishing that, from the beginning of the 16th century until the third quarter of the 20th century, the West (Europe and its settler colonies) did much better than the rest of the world and came to rule over it. But that’s what happened.
At this time of year you’ve probably had it with festive planners, Christmas countdowns and those magazine features about what presents to buy — as if picking presents, rather than paying for them, were the problem. So when I say that the Christmas season is actually too short, and that we should round it off with a second, mini-Christmas, you may get a bit restive. But bear with me.Let’s get onto the second idea first, viz, the mini Christmas.
Going to see the new smash hit show Matilda the other night, I was once again reminded that, as a creative musical force, the contemporary West End musical is dead. It contains the sort of music you only find in musicals; it has no relevance to contemporary music; it exists in a creative ghetto. The musical has become divorced from popular musical culture.
Theatre critics seem to have no value system for judging the music in musical theatre.
Martin Rees is sitting in the Master’s Lodge of Trinity College, Cambridge, with a laptop balanced on his knee. ‘I want to show you this,’ he says, tapping the keys with long, neat fingernails. Two red swirls appear on either side of the screen, gliding towards each other. When they meet it’s messy, like two ripe tomatoes smashing together in mid-air. We are watching one of the most violent events in the universe.
My recollections of Christmas Past are dominated by the fabrication of the family card. It was one of my father’s principles that Christmas was a family event and that any cards sent out should be created within the family. It was quite wrong to buy one. Happily he was an artist of the old-fashioned sort, skilled at all the various methods of reproduction — etching and drypoint, engraving, photogravure, lithography and various abstruse methods of printmaking.
For as long as I can remember, the word ‘conservative’ has been used in intellectual circles as a term of abuse, while to call someone ‘right-wing’ has been the next thing to social ostracism. This habit has persisted throughout 50 years in which the Conservative party has had the largest overall share of the vote. But the habit is not new. It took root two centuries ago, when the French Revolution excited British intellectuals to think that they too might get the chance to cut off the heads that contained less brains than their own.