Following the EU’s deal with Turkey over people smuggling, the issue of migrants trying to cross, and quite often drowning in, the Mediterranean has largely disappeared from the British media. There have been no more images like that of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach after the rubber dinghy in which his family were trying to reach the Greek island of Kos capsized in August 2015.
When I order a cup of tea in Costa, the barista says: ‘Perfect!’ I ask for tap water in a restaurant: ‘Perfect!’ I buy a card in Paperchase and at the till it’s: ‘Perfect!’ And: ‘Perfect!’ again as I put in my PIN. ‘Perfect!’ when I say I don’t need a bag. It used to be ‘Great!’ and even that was too ecstatic a response to a side-order of creamed spinach. Now, there’s been a service industry upgrade.
Mark Zuckerberg says that Facebook could be to its users what churches are to congregations: it could help them feel part of ‘a more connected world’. That got a dusty response. Facebook as church, eh? So the man who helped an entire generation to replace real friends with virtual ones and online communities is sounding off about people feeling unconnected? Cause and effect or what?
He wasn’t quite touting Facebook as an alternative church.
I first walked into the Oval as a small boy in the early 1950s. My family home was in Brixton, only a few minutes from the ground. More than 60 years later, those early memories are still vivid. I sat on what were then very uncomfortable wooden benches with sandwiches, an apple and a bottle of Tizer. On my lap was a schoolboy scorebook in which I recorded every run. The Surrey team that won the championship for seven years in a row held me transfixed.
Edward Colston, mega-rich philanthropist around the year 1700, is the nearest thing Bristol has to a patron saint. The largest stained glass window in the cathedral there is dedicated to him. Go and do thou likewise, it commands.
There’s no doubt Bristol owes Colston. He funded almshouses and schools here; made countless donations to churches and charities, some of which work wonders to this day. And many signs of Victorian civic gratitude to him litter the place.
Last weekend Daniel Barenboim brought the Staatskapelle Berlin to perform at the BBC Proms for a cycle of Elgar’s symphonies. As Elgar only finished two of the things, it is among the easier symphonic cycles to pull off. But the Staatskapelle played beautifully over two nights at the Albert Hall, with moments of outstanding musicianship. They were let down only, at the end of the second evening, by their conductor.
It was surreal to sit in the Donmar Warehouse and watch Committee, a musical based on the investigation into the charity Kids Company.
The first oddity was that anyone ever thought to write a musical based on the transcript of a Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The second, that this production wouldn’t have existed if The Spectator hadn’t published an article (by me) raising questions about Kids Company’s appallingly managed finances and the behaviour of its chief executive, Camila Batmanghelidjh.
When my husband and I arrived in our adored Amsterdam on a sun-drenched schoolday afternoon — less than an hour in the air, first row on the plane, merry but not messy — we seemed all set for a brilliant time. We’re both Brexiteers and ever since Freedom Day we’ve been especially keen on European city breaks, such visits now having the pleasing feeling of a romance whose days are numbered, and from which one would be wise to squeeze the sweetness while one may.
I found the land of lost content last week, west of the Clee Hills in the Shropshire Housman wrote about, but hardly knew. It is deep England, thick with trees, stone-built farms that look like forts and tracks in gullies cut by ancient feet.
The villages here have rhythmic names: Bouldon, Peaton and Cockshutford — or simple Heath, where there is now no village at all, only the pure Norman chapel standing in grass with its long old iron key on a hook outside.