Sir Terry Leahy might be the UK’s most successful businessman. He turned Tesco, love it or loathe it, from a second-tier supermarket worth £7 billion into the £37 billion behemoth of the sector. As an interviewee, however, he is not a natural performer. There is no Bransonian bonhomie about him. He is dressed in a nondescript dark suit, and, though he has no entourage, is accompanied by a publicist from his publisher; he starts to steal not-so-subtle glances at his watch almost as soon as we have started talking.
Ghastly moment, isn’t it, when at a supper party (worse, at editorial conference or in a meeting with clients) some drawling know-all asks ‘so what do you think about QE?’ Everyone at the table swivels in your direction. Your mental turbines stall, your eyeballs sweat. QE? Is that a conference centre? Cruise liner? A fashionable disease? Anyone who has been through this experience may find useful the following bull-point presentation.
As I for one predicted, the defenestration of Silvio Berlusconi last November in a palace coup orchestrated by Europe’s bores has made no difference. Italy may well be governed by a dour former economics professor, Eurocrat and international adviser to Goldman Sachs, Mario Monti, but Italy is still in a total mess. So I greeted the news that Silvio il Magnifico, as I call him, will stand for the fourth time as Premier in the next general election by trying to high-five my Italian wife Carla in the kitchen.
This rainy weather has occasionally softened my rock-hard cynicism about climate change. I have bicycled around London for 25 years — and I usually get drenched about half a dozen times a year. This week, I have been soaked six times in as many days. For a moment, I nearly fell for the theory, suggested by some scientists, that the jet stream had slipped south, pushed downwards by warming polar temperatures.
As the world turns to London it may still imagine us a serious, taciturn people. If so, the world is in for a shock. For Britain has become a land all but denuded of grown-ups. We are in the grip of a full-scale, double-dip regression. We were not surprised that our Prime Minister should be addicted to a video game called Fruit Ninja. His predecessor, then in his late fifties, claimed to enjoy listening to teenage pop bands and had a wife who held ‘slumber parties’ for other women in their forties.
When an earthquake hit Washington DC last August, it seemed a freakish event. But in retrospect the damage caused to national symbols such as the Washington Monument seems to have been a portent of the literal collapse of America. The monument will be enshrouded in scaffolding until at least 2014. Even if the cenotaph were in pristine condition, however, tourists might find it rather difficult to see.