Let us suppose that along the coast of Normandy up to one million non-EU migrants are waiting to be packed like sardines in small unseaworthy vessels and to cross the English Channel.
Let us suppose that first the Royal Navy, then the navies of a dozen other EU countries, start to search for all such vessels in the Channel right up to the French coast, out into the North Sea and the Atlantic even, and then ferry all the passengers on board to Dover, Folkestone, Hastings, Eastbourne and Brighton in a surreal modern-day never-ending version of the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940.
You might think that Jews, faced with a relentless campaign to ban their culture, would think once, twice, a hundred times, about instituting bans themselves. After they had thought about it, they would decide that, no, absolutely not, prudence as much as principle directs that they of all people must insist that art should be open to all.
A good liberal idea, you might think. So good and so obvious there’s no need to say more.
Few people have heard of Hon Lik, which is a pity because he’s probably saved more lives already than anybody else I have met. Twelve years ago, he invented vaping — the idea of getting nicotine vapour from an electronic device rather than a miniature bonfire between your lips. Vaping is driving smoking out at an extraordinary rate, promising to achieve what decades of public health measures have largely failed to do.
For 40 years, ever since Jaws set box-office records and struck terror into the hearts of a generation, there’s been a counter-movement to rehabilitate the reputation of sharks. Marine scientists were appalled by the film, and have spent nearly half a century telling us that these sinister creatures are just misunderstood. Very few sharks are dangerous, they say. Do not be afraid! But I’ve dived with hundreds of sharks, and I’m scared of them.
I write this half-naked, sucking on ice cubes, breaking off sentences to stick my head in the fridge. In the flat below, one neighbour dangles out of her window, trying to reach fresh air, while another keeps having to go to hospital because the heat exacerbates a life-threatening heart condition.
We live in a beautiful new development on the banks of the Thames. Fancy pamphlets in our lobby boast of our building’s energy efficiency.
As graduates of the country’s best university, most former Cambridge students neither seek nor expect much in the way of public sympathy. Last weekend, however, the frontrunner in the Labour leadership contest, Andy Burnham, attempted to elicit a little.
Describing his journey from a Merseyside comprehensive to Cambridge as the thing which ‘brought me into politics’, he told of his bewilderment when, as a prospective English student, he was asked at his interview, ‘Do you see a parallel between The Canterbury Tales and modern package holidays?’ He was, he said, ‘still pondering what the question meant when I arrived at Warrington station six hours later and when the rejection letter dropped through the door’.
I stole a blanket last night. Rather a nice one, in fact. I feel bad about it, of course, but guilt is less inconvenient than pneumonia; and after trying to blow-dry my waterlogged dinner jacket with the winds howling through Garsington Opera’s ‘airy’ pavilion, it seemed like pneumonia or the blanket were the options.
Forgive the melodramatic, self-justificatory tone. That, too, has its roots in the evening’s diversions, which included a performance of Intermezzo, Richard Strauss’s melodramatic and self-justificatory autobiographical account of a marital misunderstanding.