A decade ago a book called French Women Don’t Get Fat took the Anglophone world by storm. It was a bestseller in Britain and America because, as the blurb explained, the French author ‘unlocks the simple secrets’ of why her people aren’t fat. So here is my sequel: Why French Kids Don’t Get Fat.
Admittedly, there are a few who look like they know their way to the boulangerie, but in general most are slim, healthy and fit.
The story of Britain and Ireland’s relationship has, all too often, been one of mutual incomprehension: 1066 and All That summed up the view on this side of St George’s Channel with the line that ‘Every time the English tried to solve the Irish question, the Irish changed the question.’ But Theresa May’s problem right now is that the Irish — and the European Union — won’t change the question and the only answers they’ll accept are unacceptable to Mrs May and her cabinet.
Every Monday and Thursday afternoon when I was growing up, a drum roll would sound throughout suburban Britain. ‘Damian? Blue Peter!’ my mother would call out, in a voice that made it clear that my presence was required in front of the television. Blue Peter — 60 years old this week — was top of the very short list of programmes of which my parents approved.
We lived in Woodmansterne Road, Carshalton Beeches, Surrey.
It hasn’t always been easy being a progressive-minded man who prides himself on his sensitivity to issues of race, gender, feminism and sexual exploitation — and still gets to walk on the wild side. Political principles tend to get in the way of politically incorrect passions. You like to watch porn, but as a good feminist man you know that porn exploits women. You like to take cocaine, but it exploits poor Latin American farmers and enriches corrupt drug cartels.
Bellingcat is an independent group of exceptionally gifted Leicester-based internet researchers who use information gleaned from open sources to dig up facts that no other team of journalists has been able to discover.
Or, Bellingcat is a sophisticated front used by western intelligence agencies to disseminate stories that would be considered tainted if they came from an official source.
Which is it? The answer matters, not just because Bellingcat’s investigators — a tiny outfit with just 11 staffers and around 60 volunteers around the world — have apparently identified Sergei Skripal’s would-be assassins, pinned the blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria squarely on the Assad regime and the responsibility for the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 on the Russian army.
It was a shock but not really a surprise. I came back from holiday at the beginning of August to find an item in the UK Press Gazette saying that Decca Aitkenhead had just been appointed chief interviewer at the Sunday Times, and an email from the Sunday Times magazine editor, Eleanor Mills, saying we needed to meet. It was not difficult to put two and two together.
Eleanor suggested we meet at the Flask in Highgate — which was kind because it’s near my home — and when I arrived she was already sitting there with a glass of red wine lined up for me.
No one likes uncertainty and in Britain we’ve got more than our fair share. But spare a thought for South Africa, where the uncertainty is in danger of morphing into national paralysis. ‘What are your plans for the future?’ I ask a friend who lives near Durban. ‘We have no plans. We might be packing up next year and heading out.’ A lot rests on next year. The general election appears to be set for May and with every day the pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa increases.
It’s a very fitting place for a magic shop. Hidden away in the maze of pedestrian tunnels that lead from Covent Garden to Charing Cross station, Davenports certainly takes some finding. But that’s to the good — a complete absence of passing trade means they no longer have to stock stink bombs and novelties, as they did in their old location opposite the British Museum. These days Davenports concentrate solely on the proper stuff.