Michael Oakeshott’s philosophy fits no ideological or party label – but there is no better case for conservatismI met him only once. He lived at the end of his days in a tiny slate cottage near Langton Matravers on the Dorset coast. On a damp November day, he came to greet me at the gate to his small garden, made me a small lunch of cold meat, and then sat me down in front of a coal fire to talk. I was in awe; he seemed thrilled to have a Harvard doctoral student examining every word he had ever published.
Christmas Day is quiet in the prison. There’s a tree in the chapel, and a few bits of tinsel on the wings, but the air is not celebratory — it’s subdued. The men eat their processed turkey alone, or in pairs, in their cells, while images of happier Christmases flicker tauntingly from their TVs. There are countless people in the outside world who spend a lonely Christmas, too, of course; but on Christmas Day in the prison in which I work as a chaplain, there will be 700 lonely men under one roof.
Some notable friends of ‘The Spectator’ share their hopes, fears and predictions for the year ahead
Dame Eileen Atkins
I hope we start getting education right. Michael Gove is correct when he says we should go back to an emphasis on five basic subjects: English, maths, geography, history and a foreign language. These should not be purely the province of the naturally academic. I grew up on a council estate.
Thanksgiving is always a huge deal in the US and this year was no different, except for the fact that the media were full of dire warnings about the inconveniences travellers would face at the airports due to the new regulations imposed by the Transportation Security Administration in the US, and the new body-scanning techniques and the euphemistically named ‘pat-down’, which is not so much a pat-down as a feel-up.
As soon as I moved beyond childhood pieties, I became a bigoted atheist. Like Richard Dawkins, I found it personally offensive that anyone could be so naive and stupid as to worship God. Over the years, that has softened. Although I cannot believe, I no longer think it absurd to do so. One has to respect Christopher Hitchens: no one has been so atheistically defiant in the face of death since Don Giovanni on his way to hell.
Which was the best Christmas party ever? Perhaps it took place on Boxing Day, Tuesday 26 December 1843, at the home of Nina Macready, wife of the famous actor. It was her birthday, but her husband was away on tour, and to cheer herself up she decided to give a children’s party, but invited a lot of grown-ups too. One of them was Jane Carlyle. Her grumpy husband, battling with his book on Cromwell, refused to go.
In the summer of 1839, a man puts a telescope to his eye and inspects the Brazilian coastal town of Laguna. He is a foreign guerrilla leader whose recent success has brought the surrender of the imperial fleet. The liberator is on board its captured flagship, a seven-gun topsail schooner called the Itaparica, now at anchor in the lagoon from which the town gets its name. The telescope offers a view of a hilly quarter known as the Barra, containing a few simple but picturesque buildings.
Wrocław in Poland was Breslau in Germany until 1945. We’ve travelled here to record the orchestral parts of the music we’ve written for a ballet, The Most Incredible Thing, which opens at Sadler’s Wells in March. It takes me several days to work out how to pronounce the Polish name of the city. Some foreigners call it ‘Vratslav’ but apparently the correct pronunciation is ‘Vrotswaff’ (I think). Actually no one seems to mind.
What is happening to trees in Britain? Horse chestnuts now turn brown in July. A microscopic caterpillar eats out the green insides of the leaves; only the outer skins remain. Horse chestnuts also weep dried blood from their bark, and sometimes the huge trees spectacularly die. Alders have been weeping bloody tears and dying. Newspapers warn of sudden oak death and acute oak decline. The Forestry Commission has stopped planting Corsican pine because of red-band needle blight.
I was born in London in 1935. By the summer of 1939, it was considered wise to get children out of the city before the war started. I wasn’t separated from my sobbing mother at Victoria station and put on a train holding a gas mask. Instead, my mother and I went down to Devon to stay with my grandmother, who had rented a house in the village of Torcross. In London, the war did not stop for Christmas.
It’s jolly nice to be proved right about everythingThe most important, and comforting, thing to emerge from all that Wiki-Leaks business was that, by and large, we were right. All the things we suspected, or knew either instinctively or through common sense, were proved to be correct. Prince Andrew — arrogant, rude and with the IQ of a corgi? Yep. The oil company Shell effectively runs Nigeria? Sure thing.
The Spectator understands the work pressure on vicars at this time of year. We know it is tempting simply to read out the diocesan Christmastide message. So here, for all clerks in holy orders, we offer this cut-out-and-preach sermon for use at carol services:May I speak in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost — though for many of you it might as well be in the name of the heathen god Thor. Interesting chap, Thor.
Amr Khaled’s TV preaching has made him Islam’s answer to Billy Graham – and he’s mounting a direct attack on the terror camps of YemenAden, Yemen
There’s a new weapon in the war on terror, ladies and gentlemen. Never mind drones and spies, surgical strikes and covert ops, they’re old hat. There’s a time and a place for them, of course, and we must thank our spooks and soldiers for helping to keep us safe, for foiling plots and knocking off the odd wayward beardie in distant deserts and freezing mountain passes.
It is an exciting day for Liberty Osborne, the Chancellor’s daughter, to join him at work. The windows at HM Treasury are boarded up, workmen line the road replacing the bombproof (but not student-proof) glass. Graffiti defaces the walls, but although several politicians are named and shamed in spray paint (‘Why did Nick Clegg cross the road? Because he’d promised not to’) there is nothing unkind about the author of the cuts: George Osborne himself.