Twenty-five years ago, in a windowless Levantine oubliette, my wrist and ankle were bound with chains, but my imagination soared. Among my many daydreams was a reunion a quarter-century hence. The guests at this illusory affair were to have been my captors. There were times when I envisaged our encounter as real, and others as a piece of theatre. Either way, 25 years on, it hasn’t happened. Nor has anything else I expected before I escaped from Hezbollah in Beirut in August 1987.
Britain has been at war in Afghanistan for over a decade. Many Britons now take it for granted that its country’s intervention in Afghanistan has failed and when Nato troops pull out in 2014 they will leave behind a volatile and unsettled state that could easily plunge into a civil war — much worse than what western forces inherited back in 2001. No doubt the chance of Afghanistan fracturing in the hands of a corrupt, incompetent government, a well armed and motivated Taleban opposition in the south and ethnic warlordism in the north is high.
Earlier this year the Education Secretary Michael Gove suggested that primary school children ought to learn a poem by heart. Even if the teaching unions had not objected I would have needed no further convincing. I was converted to Gove’s idea years ago, by Terry Waite. Having haphazardly discovered poetry on my own at state school, it was slightly later that I heard Ronald Runcie’s hostage-negotiator-turned-hostage give a sermon on a cold Sunday evening in chapel.
It started in America. The Midwest has for weeks been suffering what is now the worst drought in living memory. Prices for maize and wheat have soared by 50 per cent and the G20 will next week decide whether to call an emergency meeting to discuss what the United Nations believes could be a repeat of the 2008 food price crisis. It is being spoken of as a humanitarian disaster, and rightly. But the last few years have taught us that, when hunger strikes, political upheaval will not be far behind.
In the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, there’s a picture that, last time I looked, was curtained off. A couple of Japanese girls came out from behind the curtain, stuffing their hands into their mouths to stop the giggles. I went in to see the cause of the girly mirth and there it was, Gustave Courbet’s ‘Origine du Monde’, a painting of a woman’s open legs, with dark pubic hair and a glimpse, but only a glimpse, of th e labia.
Acid is back. For the first time since the 1960s there are signs of a rekindling of serious interest in psychedelic drugs — conferences, clinical tests, and a full-blown study is planned, with human subjects. LSD belonged to history — to grizzly-haired hippies and travellers, the ‘counter culture’. Now, an informal alliance of psychiatrists, therapists and psychopharmacologists are seeking to shine a fresh light on to psychedelics, the group which includes LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms).