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We are about to find out how robust civilisation is

On Sunday, lonely as a cloud, I wandered across a windswept moor in County Durham and passed a solitary sandstone rock with a small, round hollow in the top, an old penny glued to the base of the hollow. It is called the Butter Stone and it’s where, during the plague in 1665, coins were

In Italy, the novelty of house arrest has worn off

 Ravenna, Italy My family is in lockdown in our isolated house in the countryside a mile from the sea outside Ravenna. It is amazing how easily the state can deprive citizens of liberty. Like everyone in Italy we have now been under virtual house arrest for a week and cannot leave home without a valid

Two gentlemen of corona: the scientists helping to fight Covid-19

We will have to get used to this. Every afternoon the prime minister strides into a butterscotch room in Downing Street and stands at a lectern between two drooping flags to give the latest dolorous news to an uncertain nation. How ironic that Boris, who instinctively loathes ‘doomsters and gloomsters’, is obliged to play the

Coronavirus is pushing Macron’s government to breaking point

Montpellier, France Last week, the French were amused at Anglo-Saxon hoarding of toilet paper, known vulgarly here as ‘PQ’ — papier cul. Now France itself has tested positive for panic. Supermarkets across the country have been under siege, shelves stripped bare of loo roll and much else. The government has already requisitioned all supplies of

The agony of reading Hilary Mantel

It is dispiriting being an also-ran. Setting yourself up as a writer takes hubris. It is a wild and outrageous claim that you have something to say, in a voice worth being amplified. Then along comes Hilary Mantel, and you realise with deadening clarity — you have little to say, badly. Earlier this month, The


David Baddiel: I’ve been cancelled – for real

‘Cancelled’ is quite a buzzword of our times, isn’t it? Up until about ten days ago, it referred mainly to cancel culture, that ability of Twitter mobs to rule on whether or not a celebrity misdemeanour means the end of celebrity for that celebrity. But recently someone tweeted me the words: ‘Nature: “I’ll show you

Notes on...

Why are so many people still going to the pub?

Pubs are fascinating at the moment. On the day that the Prime Minister advised us not to attend them, I turned up at one in leafy Highgate, London N6 to find it much fuller than you might expect. I’m not sure that’s entirely a bad thing. People are still getting out, having a jolly time