I have been wondering these last few weeks whether it would be cheaper to excavate a basement and buy a Geiger counter and iodine tablets, or emigrate to New Zealand. Call me frit, but I don’t like the way things are heading. Probably the second option is easier: Armageddon outta here, etc. I can re-enact Nevil Shute’s On the Beach from some rocky cove near Dunedin, waiting for the fallout to arrive.
The old KGB headquarters in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, is a sinister place, full of ghosts. It is a solid 19th-century neoclassical building with walls thick enough to have muffled the screams of those under interrogation. The cells in the basement are as cold and damp as they were in Soviet times and there are stone steps down to an airless, claustrophobic chamber where prisoners were executed, a thousand of them, the wall still pock-marked with bullet holes.
Global greening is the name given to a gradual, but large, increase in green vegetation on the planet over the past three decades. The climate change lobby is keen to ensure that if you hear about it at all, you hear that it is a minor thing, dwarfed by the dangers of global warming. Actually, it could be the other way round: greening is a bigger effect than warming.
It is a story in which I have been both vilified and vindicated.
A typical Kentish town, with its grammar school at one end and its secondary school at the other, is a throwback to the Bad Old Days, or the Good Old Days, depending on what your views are on academically selective state education. If Theresa May’s plans go ahead, the whole country might look something like this.
In my childhood home town of Sandwich, Kent, the two schools, Sir Roger Manwood’s grammar school and the Sandwich Technology School, have staggered going-home times to avoid the fights on the station platform that used to happen every afternoon.
Oh dear. Mark Carney is irritated. His proud independence has been challenged. The Prime Minister had the temerity to admit that she was not altogether thrilled with his ‘super-low’ interest rates and quantitative easing. These policies meant that people with assets got richer, she pointed out. ‘People without them suffered… People with savings have found themselves poorer.’ Mr Carney found this intolerable and haughtily rebuffed her, saying, ‘The policies are done by technocrats.
Forget killer clowns. Halloween was once a very different affair from the Americanised gorefest it is now. In its-original Irish form, as when I was growing up, it was an opportunity for children to dress up in their parents’ clothes, wear a mask and a hat and go begging from door to door for nuts, apples or money for bobbing — viz, sticking your head in a basin of water to dive after coins and apples.
Tokyo is visual chaos everywhere, the antithesis of the Japanese interior. It is a multilevel jumble of overpasses, neon signs, electric pylons, railway lines and traffic lights. The pavements are empty, not a pedestrian human in sight. And the leader of North Korea is still lobbing ballistic missiles right over Japan and cackling away about his collection of nuclear warheads. Drinking beer in a sushi bar in Ginza on our first night, I ask my neighbour whether people are worried by the behaviour of the lunatic child across the water.
The British are notoriously cheap when it comes to wine; the average bottle price is around £6. On one wine, however, we’re happy to spend five times that: champagne. We love champagne, and champagne producers love us: Britain is their biggest export market and it’s only getting bigger: up by 4.5 per cent last year.
In fact, champagne as a dry sparkling wine was created specifically for us. Until the mid-19th century, most production from the Champagne region was still red wine.