I live in a city of the dead surrounded by a city of the living. The great cemetery of Kensal Vale is a privately owned metropolis of grass and stone, of trees and rusting iron. At night, the security men scour away the drug addicts and the drunks; they expel the lost, the lonely and the lovers; and at last they leave us with the dark dead in our urban Eden.
Eden? Oh yes — because the dead are truly innocent.
Not much was made of Christmas at Chatsworth in the 18th and 19th centuries. Diaries and letters hardly mention it. Prince Albert’s trees and decorations took a long time to reach Derbyshire and would have been wasted on the December air because there were no children here for nearly a hundred years. At the turn of the 20th century the grown-ups made up for this strange state of affairs at Christmas-time with homemade entertainment.
Somebody once said that the English don’t really like animals, they just dislike children. It was a good line, better than Cyril Connolly’s characteristically over-elaborate ‘Animal-love is the honey of the misanthrope’: our attitude to animals is illogical, deeply hypocritical and too often emotionally false. We ban (or they do) the hunting of wild foxes, while we breed 20 million pheasants artificially every year to be shot, and inevitably sometimes winged and left to die.
On a Friday morning earlier this year I kept an appointment with Dr Mark Hamilton, a consultant physician and gastroenterologist at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, to ask him about a bowel complaint.
I was in two minds about whether my symptoms were significant enough to justify taking up Dr Hamilton’s time. It seemed to me that if I went to see him, I might be yielding to hypochondria, but if I did nothing, and I turned out to have the early stages of a still curable cancer, my wife would be furious.
There is an old Jewish proverb that if God came to earth, people would start smashing His windows. After an initial period of loving Rowan Williams, the press and the Church are beginning to have their doubts. The man who was hailed as the complicated Welsh poet and the much longed-for Intellectual in Public Life is now a Welsh Windbag who can control neither the openly gay bishops in America nor the conservative evangelicals at home.
Andrew Gilligan on what the army stands to lose by adopting ‘Starbucks’ regimentsW est Belfast in the autumn of 1982 was a bad place to be a British soldier. Booby-traps, like the one which destroyed Corporal Leon Bush, aged 22, of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, were routine, decidedly not news. Corporal Bush’s death, like most soldiers’, was quickly forgotten by everyone except his family.
It’s a mild and tranquil December here in Florida, the headlines flickering with routine weirdness and depravity. Four years ago at this time, we were roiling in the acid-bath aftermath of a presidential contest that required 36 ridiculous days to resolve, and only then by a brazenly partisan vote of the United States Supreme Court. Our state was the infamous ground zero of that fiasco, and ever since then we Floridians looked forward to 2004 much as one would to an amateur colonoscopy.
The sky was already murky at 4 p.m. when I locked my bike outside Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street. Inside, it was even murkier: wood-panelled corridors stretched off into the gloom, men in grey suits were wedged together, smoking Bensons and drinking bitter. No one looked even slightly like an Arch Priest of the Council of British Druid Orders. At 4:10 I found a separate little bar near the back of the pub.