It is almost exactly a decade since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, transformed the country into what Private Eye would call a ‘cellotaph’: grottos everywhere, great and small, full of cellophane-wrapped bunches of flowers, teddy bears, candles, the scenes of unrestrained emotion and group trauma the like of which had never been seen before. The mood of the week preceding the Princess’s funeral shook the ancient institution of monarchy to its foundations.
‘Oh God, not more Diana.’ We’ve all heard it this summer and Di-fatigue is unlikely to be reversed by the official programme of remembrance. The Wembley concert was truly moving in parts, especially the video inserts which recalled Diana at her spontaneous, compassionate best. I’ll admit they reduced me to tears, and not just because here and there I caught glimpses in the background of a younger, slimmer, more idealistic me.
When a man falls to his death from a balcony, some cynics wonder: was he pushed? When that man happens to be the most infamous spy in the history of the modern Middle East, it’s the first question on everyone’s lips.On 27 June the body of Ashraf Marwan was found on the pavement below his flat in Carlton House Terrace, one of London’s most expensive streets, which overlooks the Mall and St James’s Park.
Harry Patch, 109, recalls his career in Kitchener’s armyTwo years ago, when he was a mere spring chicken of 106, the last surviving Tommy, Harry Patch, was invited to inspect the Lewis guns at the museum of his old regiment, the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, in Bodmin, Cornwall.To help jog his memory, a young major in his party fumblingly demonstrated how to change the magazine. ‘I said: “Major, you’d have to be quicker than that in action,”’ recalls Harry in his soft Somerset burr.
A short while after becoming director-general of the BBC, Greg Dyke gathered a whole bunch of staff together at some warehouse near the City Airport to thrash things out and to deliver unto them his vision for the corporation. There was an air of trepidation among those gathered; Greg had very recently flexed his muscles at Television Centre by banning biscuits. These biscuits were the sort you have at meetings and which, incidentally, I have never seen anywhere except in meetings — three or four different kinds of biscuit waiting balefully on a white plate alongside a screw-top jar of stewed, rubbery coffee, telling you that you were in for an hour or two’s concerted misery, probably with a PowerPoint presentation on an overhead projector and maybe even a professional facilitator.
Reactions to the smoking ban at a working men’s clubI pressed the buzzer on the wall of the darkened doorway of the Custom House Working Men’s Club in east London. It wasn’t clear whether the shabby building was open for business or not. I pressed again and waited. In the early 1970s there were over 4,000 working men’s clubs in Britain. Today that number has halved to about 2,000. Recent hikes in the cost of gaming and drinking licences and loss of custom owing to the comparative cheapness of supermarket beer means that many of those that remain are struggling to make ends meet.
More than four years after the American-led invasion of Iraq, there are signs that George W. Bush is preparing to call it quits. When the Americans disbanded the Iraqi army in 2003 and left the borders wide open they sowed the seeds of disaster. Neither the ‘coalition of the willing’ nor even the recent ‘surge’ could put Humpty together again. That, at least, is the conclusion I have reached after intensive interviews with senior Iraqi politicians and Western experts for a book that I am writing on the imbroglio.