‘I like Mr Gorbachev. We can do business together.’ This famous endorsement of the Soviet leader, from Mrs Thatcher, convinced the world that he was a fundamentally different figure from his predecessors. But did she really see in him a kindred spirit? In her memoirs Margaret Thatcher was equally generous about the Soviet leader — magnanimity in victory perhaps. The official Kremlin records, which preserve almost every word the two leaders said to each other, paint a very different picture.
Want to see a beautiful corner of old England? Come to north Norfolk, its gentle landscape dotted with houses, halls and cottages built from flint and clay dug from north Norfolk soil. Visit Baconsthorpe Castle, one of the most magical places in Britain, down a lane, up a track, round a corner and in a time warp. Walk, cycle or potter along winding country lanes under grand skies that have inspired poets and painters for centuries.
The development industry is as fashion-prone as any other. Fads come and go. There are a few giveaways when it comes to spotting them. Deceptive simplicity is one indication. The idea should have a silver-bullet quality, promising to cut through complexity to the nub of a problem. Even better, it should be a notion that can be rolled out across not just a country, but a region.
Covering the Kenyan elections, which climaxed with the inauguration last week of Uhuru Kenyatta as the country’s fourth president, I suddenly realised I was watching a fad hitting its stride: the techno-election as democratic panacea.
The day Margaret Thatcher died was also the day Britain nearly ran out of gas. In late March, it was reported that stored reserves were down to just two days’ supply. As the cold spell continued, the BBC even reported the names of ships bringing liquefied natural gas from Qatar, each cargo representing six hours’ worth of urgently awaited heat and power for the nation: the Mehaines had just docked at the Isle of Grain, the Zarga had been sighted approaching Milford Haven.
He was fascinated by the Welsh, whom he listed, along with walking and gardening, as one of his three recreations in Who’s Who, something that alarmed those few Welshmen he actually met. One of them, the political columnist Alan Watkins, who had been sturdily on the run from his race for most of his working life, said of him, ‘He’s mad, the man’s quite mad.’
The journalist Peter Simple, who wrote a column for almost 50 years in the Daily Telegraph and the centenary of whose birth is on 19 April, was almost as fascinated by the Tibetans, a people, he told me, who had forever solved the problems of political philosophy by reducing the subject to two propositions, ‘It is the custom’ or ‘It is not the custom’.
The greatest event in the sporting calendar is on us once more: the World Professional Snooker Championship. With an opening sentence like that you’re probably expecting one of those ironically post-modern ‘let’s go slumming with the plebs’ pieces. Well don’t. I’m serious. Snooker is criminally undervalued. The next two weeks in Sheffield offer the finest entertainment sport can provide.
Yes, yes, I know the arguments.