Last month, David Cameron convened a meeting of his most important advisers at Chequers. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Conservative party chairman were all present, but there was little doubt who was in charge. The Australian strategist Lynton Crosby was dominant, doling out orders and drawing up ‘action points’. One of those in the room recalls: ‘Lynton was fantastic. He made sure there was an agenda, that everyone stuck to it.
There are some, I know, who for whom Normandy means the three Cs — cider, cream and calvados. But if, like me, you’re more of a three B person — beaches, bocage and the Bayeux tapestry — then the place from which to assault all three is the relatively unknown fishing village of Port-en-Bessin.
Everyone visits the spectacular US cemetery of dazzling white marble and the pillboxes at Omaha beach, and rightly so, for together with the similarly well-preserved clifftop battery taken by the 2nd Ranger Battalion at Pointe du Hoc, it’s the perfect Saving Private Ryan experience.
Let’s not pretend that it’s just those hospital trusts investigated, or put on ‘special measures’ by Jeremy Hunt that are the problem. On my weekly trot around the wards of a big London teaching hospital, everything seems fine, the patients reasonably clean and well cared for. But over the months I’ve noticed that, even here, the NHS service is just not what it was — so many bits are being pared away.
‘I embrace Barbie because I’m not threatened by her,’ says my friend Pippa, an early 40-ish antiques dealer from London who lives in Berlin.
We are standing inside the ‘Barbie Dreamhouse Experience’, a 2,500-square metre Barbie museum; a pink monstrosity erected last month in a parking lot near Alexanderplatz. Inside, one can bake imaginary cupcakes, saunter down a fashion runway and gawk at the contents of Barbie’s hall of shoes.
Darkness was gathering as the villagers trooped down Church Road to the Red Lion, ducking their heads under the doorframe. Trade was brisk for a Monday. The landlady was busy: pulling pints, cracking jokes and assigning tables. Excitement was in the air. Most customers had come from a packed meeting at the village hall, called to organise opposition to a proposed shale exploration a mile beyond the village.
There’s a 13th man at the table at Lord’s this week as England resume the Ashes contest with Australia, which began so thrillingly at Trent Bridge, where England prevailed by 14 runs. For the first time in half a -century, -Christopher Martin-Jenkins is not present to renew one of the great rituals of the English summer.
‘CMJ’, who passed away on New Year’s Day at the less than grand age of 67, was always going to be missed and listeners to Test Match Special, the programme he adorned with his balanced commentaries, are cursing Time for being so vicious in his reaping.
The coffee and walnut cake was excellent. As was the chocolate cake, and the tea and biscuits. The conversation was wonderful too. We talked about death.
We were here, we dozen or so people in a meeting room in a small Suffolk market town on a sunny June evening, to do something British people never do: hold a conversation about the fact that we will all, in the end, die. Weather, football, the state of Kerry Katona’s finances — all these are acceptable topics for discourse.