On Monday, as Barack Obama is sworn in again as President, his allies in the West will ask themselves the same nervous question they posed four years ago: how much does he care about us?
The British, in particular, are worried. War looms in Mali, yet Washington seems happy to let the French take charge, showing even less interest than it did in Libya two years ago. Cheerleaders for the ‘special relationship’ accuse Obama of taking a back seat, of failing to show leadership and even of betraying his country’s oldest friends.
‘You can’t talk about what might have been,’ says Tom Courtenay, reflecting on an acting career that blazed like a meteor the moment he left drama school and is now in its sixth decade. ‘The things you might have done, the films you might have made. I just didn’t feel comfortable with the world of international cinema. I saw a bit of it, the so-called hellraising and what have you, and realised it wasn’t for me’.
Here she comes again. Back at the top of the news, draped in the robes of the righteous, embraced by those who sanctify all things traditional: the ‘full-time mother’. As usual, she is the undeserved victim of something or other; in this instance, it’s the incoherent shake-up of the child benefit system, leading to headlines declaring that ‘full-time mothers are being penalised’, followed by an implacable wistfulness that war is once again waged against the finer values of a finer past, when women dedicated their whole lives to their children.
There are two conditions British foreign correspondents must meet before they can consider themselves old hands. The first is having one’s work savaged by John Pilger; the second is spending time inside a cell somewhere abroad, preferably somewhere exotic and hot.
It so happens that it was during a trip to sultry Venezuela that I came of age as a reporter and achieved the rare double. Not only did Mr Pilger describe my television work as a ‘one of the worst, most distorted pieces of journalism I have ever seen’, but I was also locked up, ordered to strip to my underpants, accused by a military prosecutor of espionage and threatened with over 30 years in a Venezuelan jail.
In the ranking of dictators, Hugo Chávez is in the welterweight class. President of Venezuela these past 14 years, he is supposed to be holding a ceremony of inauguration for yet another term of one-man rule and demagoguery. In anticipation, his supporters, the Chávistas in their uniform of red shirts, are singing and dancing in the streets of Caracas. But rumour has it that Chávez is on the point of death after surgery for cancer in a hospital in Cuba.
It’s our foodbank’s first winter. We started collecting food and giving it to people who haven’t got any in August. Since then we have had to open two more distribution centres in our corner of Norfolk, and we have two more planned for the near future. When we started, we were the 194th UK foodbank to be founded under our parent charity, the Trussell Trust. Since then, 80 more have been set up. Between us, we have given three days’ worth of food to 100,000 hungry people in the last six months.