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[/audioplayer]I have looked everywhere. I have Googled, and asked around. But I can find no evidence that Steve Coogan has ever taken the trouble to defend freedom of speech at home or abroad.
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[/audioplayer]Jihadist banners flying. Victorious extremists on camera slapping and then executing dehydrated and pleading Shia members of the Iraqi security forces. Dark reports of mass slaughter. City charters released in captured territory heralding the implementation of an extreme version of Islamic law.
Danny Alexander doesn’t suntan well, but he looks more freckly than normal when we meet in HM Treasury. He’s just back from the seaside town of Nairn in the Highlands, where, as the most senior Scot in the Cabinet, he’s been sent to fight in the front line of the Battle for Britain. People were queuing to sign up to the Better Together campaign, he says, and he has high hopes of defeating Alex Salmond on 18 September.
What a pity this competition is not open to members of the fairer sex. Marie Christine of Kent would make an ideal winner. Among the men, of course, we have an embarrassment of riches. Tony Blair, John Bercow, Russell Brand, Jonathan Ross, A.A. Gill, Charles Saatchi, I could go on until the next millennium. However agonising it was to pick the cad of all cads, do step forward Matthew Freud, a man I’m fortunate to say I have never met but have heard and read enough about to convince me he’s the one.
Few people, don’t you find, are as irritating as those who define themselves as Spiritual But Not Religious? There was a riveting piece in the Sunday Times ‘Style’ magazine last week about them, featuring people who were both fabulously stylish and spiritual. Among the names checked was a shop called Celestine Eleven (‘when you buy a new dress, you’re buying into a beautiful piece of energy’) and a website called Numinous (motto: ‘material girl, mystical world’).
‘There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor/ I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm/ Gonna be a twister to blow everything down/ That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground!’ How I used to enjoy singing these ominous lyrics to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Promised Land’ as I got ready to go to Israel! But when you’re going there on easyJet, the words lose their self-dramatising sting somewhat.
The test of a truly great city is reinvention. Does it have the courage to change? London holds a PhD in meta-morphosis — just look at the buildings it converts into hotels.
Hazlitt’s in Soho is named after William, whose house it once was. Round the corner, the Courthouse occupies what used to be Great Marlborough Street Magistrates’ Court, where Michael Caine was ordered to pay palimony, Oscar Wilde foolishly sued for libel and I was done for busking.