Whatever else is said about David Cameron’s hand-ling of press regulation, there can be no doubt that the deal he struck on Monday demonstrated masterful sleight of hand. Just days earlier, his differences with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg had seemed irreconcilable and the Prime Minister was heading for defeat in the Commons. But then, overnight, everyone united around a compromise: a state regulator which insisted it was no such thing.
It used to be said by Catholic priests back in the 1950s that the Devil was delighted when human beings decided that he did not exist. In those days it seemed unlikely that he would disappear altogether from human consciousness because he was so well known — as Baal or Beelzebub in the Old Testament, the Prince of Lies in the New, as Lucifer in the King James Bible, as Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and as Mephistopheles in the legend of Faust; but it has turned out that a subtle move from scripture into myth, folklore and finally literature has been an effective way of becoming unreal.
The boom and bust have left their mark on Dublin. Cruising through the outskirts past the (industrial) estate of Sandyford — flimsy-looking buildings, each as nastily designed as the last but in wildly different styles — I double-take at a gigantic half-built multi-storey car park. There are ‘To Let’ signs everywhere and it’s all a bit reminiscent of a Joni Mitchell song.
But the shiny new Luas tram which links this monument to property development greed to the centre of the city is quiet, efficient and fast — and Dublin is, thank heavens, still the ‘fair city’ of the song, the Liffey meandering unruffled and majestic through the middle of it.
The problem with writing about the Burren is that there’s no consensus about where it is. Different people have different ideas. On my first trip there, I plaintively asked a girl in a café in Kilfenora, whose heyday was probably the 11th century (Kilfenora, that is, not the café) where the Burren was and she jerked her thumb towards the door. ‘Out there,’ she said. And so I made my way down the road to the nearest field to contemplate the celebrated flora.
My mother always had a keen ear for slang and lazy pronunciation when I was growing up. Because my siblings and I were working class and attended an absolutely dreadful school in the North-east in the 1960s and 1970s, my parents made sure we were as educated as we possibly could be in manners.
My father, a proud northerner, has always taken umbrage at what he calls ‘Cockney’ (in reality just phrases popular among Londoners such as ‘at the end of the day’, ‘basically’ and ‘strike a light’.
There was a funny gaffe on Radio 4 the other day, when the newsreader announced that Hitler’s favourite architect Albert Speer had been banged up in ‘Spandau Ballet’. Cue a lot of laughter across middle England. Gary Kemp, the founder of Spandau Ballet, the 1980s pop band (not the Berlin prison) was also rather amused, even if he’d heard it before. ‘When we first started,’ he recalls, ‘the inky press thought our name meant we were a new fascist movement in music, which was obviously nonsense.
To the Lahore Literary Festival. As I cross the border from India, Pakistan is experiencing an unprecedented wave of sectarian violence: 400 Shias have been killed in bomb attacks this year, while more than 150 houses and two churches belonging to the Christians have been burned in mob attacks. Yet Pakistan always manages to stumble on. Sixty-five years after partition, Lahore still feels like Delhi’s sister city, and is much more like my adopted home than either Madras or Calcutta is.