Ian Fleming understood the attractions of an English summer. At the end of Dr No, James Bond is in Jamaica, his arch enemy dead, his knockout girlfriend, Honey Rider, about to leap into their double sleeping bag. And yet, despite being in paradise, Bond longs for ‘the douce weather of England — the soft airs, the “heat” waves, the cold spells — the only country where you can take a walk every day of the year.
A few years ago, I spent a month in Damascus. I arrived late in the evening but was so eager to see a city I’d long wished to visit — getting a visa had proved nightmarish — that I soon found myself in a little coffee shop round the corner from my budget hotel. I was well aware of Syrians’ reputation for being extraordinarily welcoming and friendly, even by Arab standards; but even I wasn’t quite prepared for the frank opening salvo from the handsome young guy sitting next to me.
What do you suppose the chances are of this being the coldest June since records began, or maybe the dampest June since records began? My guess is that it will almost certainly be the most dramatic of some climatic variation since records began; paradoxically, every other month is. Every season is. Every year is. Every year is something. The weather is on a roll, it keeps breaking records, nothing can stop it.
Michael Gove’s plans for education don’t allow for a moment’s pauseWhen I walk into his office on the seventh floor of the Department for Education, Michael Gove is sitting behind his desk with his jacket off. He is hunched over, writing a note on House of Commons letterhead. His left arm is pushed right out across the desk and the lines on his forehead are showing as he rereads what he’s put down so far.
An afternoon’s diversion on the way to Constantinople, 75 years agoOne day when we were invited to luncheon by some neighbours, István said, ‘Let’s take the horse’ and we followed a roundabout uphill track to look at a remaining piece of forest. ‘Plenty of common oak, thank God,’ he said, turning back in the saddle as we climbed a path through the slanting sunbeams, ‘you can use it for everything.
When I was asked to select a passage from his work that encapsulated the spirit of Paddy Leigh Fermor, who died last Friday, a crowd of images leapt to mind, from his encounter with the grotesque burghers of Munich in A Time of Gifts to the eerie vespers of A Time to Keep Silence, to the gongs of Byzantium and the gambolling of dolphins in Mani.When I was asked to select a passage from his work that encapsulated the spirit of Paddy Leigh Fermor, who died last Friday, a crowd of images leapt to mind, from his encounter with the grotesque burghers of Munich in A Time of Gifts to the eerie vespers of A Time to Keep Silence, to the gongs of Byzantium and the gambolling of dolphins in Mani.
‘William Shakespeare was the most influential person who ever lived,’ is the audacious opening line of Canadian writer Stephen Marche’s recently published book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything. It’s the sort of bold claim that makes you immediately think of other contenders: Jesus? Muhammed? Newton? Freud? Oprah? And while we’re at it, how exactly should influence be measured? Is it counted in literary references and Google hits — or is it something less tangible, more magical than that?Marche suggests the latter but conveniently skips over the criteria for determining his thesis.