Pupils are back in classrooms and parents can finally have a brief respite from worrying about their children’s excessive screen use — or, at least, worrying it is all their fault. This angst peaks each year in the summer holidays, those long, sunny weeks illuminated in large part by the blueish light from children’s smartphones, tablets and laptops. The beep and ping of devices triggers complicated emotions.
Walking down the street on my lunch break, I sometimes pass a delivery man wheeling a large handcart of Japanese food. The cart bears a striking message: ‘Creating a world where everyone believes in their own authenticity.’ It raises some immediate questions: for instance, what does it mean to believe in your own authenticity? How would you go about creating a world where everyone does? And what’s it got to do with Japanese food?
It’s unfair to single out the delivery service.
To the inhabitants of the British Isles, the nations of central Europe have always existed in a semi--mythical space, near enough to be recognised as somehow European, but too distant to be taken seriously. Neville Chamberlain dismissed them as ‘faraway countries of which we know little’; Shakespeare gave landlocked Bohemia a coastline. In British school textbooks, Poland appears for the first time in 1939 and then vanishes again, just as abruptly.
One of the many pleasures of writing the life of Thomas Cromwell was to reach out behind the various versions of his life published in the past few years and glimpse the real man lost for so long: a complex, often admirable statesman who set England and Ireland and their successor-kingdom on to new paths.
From page one, the story needs rewriting. The great opening of Hilary Mantel’s modern-classic novel Wolf Hall is the boy Thomas reeling under blows from his father.
As Labour gathers for its conference in Liverpool this weekend, the Conservatives will be watching with trepidation, rather than the schadenfreude with which they initially treated the rise of the hard left. Underestimating the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn was one of the biggest mistakes the Tories have made in the past two years, and the party has had plenty of time to ask why Labour ended up doing so well.
The Conservative party has to move beyond Brexit and leaders: what is it going to be about? I suggest it has to be about healing capitalism.
Capitalism is the only system that is capable of delivering mass prosperity, but it cannot be left on autopilot. Once every few decades it veers off track and requires active public policy. In the mid-19th century, the old Tory party was revolutionised by Disraeli’s ‘one nation’ agenda, correcting the social catastrophes of early industrialisation.
One of the better plays at the National Theatre in recent weeks has been about a 21st-century banker, Judy, who quits her job to become a 1950s-style housewife. In Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling, Judy ditches her corporate wardrobe for a kitchen pinny and feather duster. She could have stepped from the Good Housekeeping domestic guide my mother was given after her wedding in 1954. Judy scorns modern technology and she dislikes coarse language.
Who was the second prime minister? Everyone knows Robert Walpole was the first. Firsts get all the fame and glory. But what about the poor seconds, elbowed into the shadows of history? Isn’t it time they were given some love? Step forward, the Earl of Wilmington, PM from 1742 to 1743. Let us celebrate the fact that his country house in Warwickshire appeared as a monastery in Carry On Camping — and was the inspiration for Croft Manor, Lara’s childhood home in the Tomb Raider games.