The tale is now familiar: shouts are heard from inside a freight container and police are called. A cargo of human beings is discovered, some gravely ill. This happened last Sunday along the Thames at Tilbury docks. Thirty-five Afghans were discovered. One of them, Meet Kapoor, was already dead. Days later, 15 Kashmiris and Eritreans were found on a lorry pulled over in Somerset, dehydrated but alive. Dozens of people are now being found each week in these kinds of circumstances.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, writing of the Islamic State in northern Iraq, said: ‘If we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain.’ Anyone waving an Islamic State flag in Britain would be arrested, he said. He invoked Britain’s ‘military prowess’ but later said: ‘We are not going to be putting boots on the ground.
Like many inward-looking children, I always doodled stories and poems. Knowing one wanted to be a writer is a different matter altogether. That moment came when I read Lytton Strachey’s Queen Victoria. I was sitting in the Temple Reading Room at Rugby. The final paragraph, in which Strachey imagined the dying Victoria at Osborne House, sinking out of consciousness as the scenes of her past life flitted through her brain, struck me as one of the best pieces of writing I had ever encountered.
A drug has been invented to halt what is known as middle-aged spread. But it would be so much better if there was no such thing as middle age in the first place. After all, the Greeks had no such concept: why should we?
The people one feels sorry for here are the early Sumerian kings (modern Iraq). En Men Lu Anna apparently died at 43,200. Nor was it all rosy with the biblical patriarchs. Adam made it to 930 before Methuselah, grandfather of Noah, pipped him to the record at 969, dying seven days before the Great Flood.
Tough at the top
The clocks on Big Ben were cleaned by abseiling window-cleaners. Some other big cleaning/painting jobs:
— Repainting the Forth Railway Bridge used to be a metaphor for never-ending work, but a new coating completed in 2012 is estimated to have a life of 25 years.
— Sydney Harbour Bridge was, for the first 80 years of its life, cleaned by hand, but last year it was done for the first time by robot.
— The world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, is cleaned by a team of abseilers, with all 24,000 windows taking three months to get through.
From ‘News of the Week’, The Spectator, 22 August 1914: Pope Pius X died at 20 minutes past one on Thursday morning. In a moment of lucidity, just before his death, his Holiness is reported to have said: ‘Now I begin to think the end is approaching. The Almighty in His inexhaustible goodness wishes to spare me the horrors which Europe is undergoing.’ It is stated that since the outbreak of the war the Pope showed very deep feeling, and again and again repeated ‘Poor children!’ — alluding to the soldiers killed in action.
Worth the candle
Sir: I was saddened by Charles Moore’s account of the Westminster Abbey candlelit vigil marking the centenary of the start of the first world war (The Spectator’s Notes’, 9 August). At each of the four quarters of the Abbey (representing the four corners of the British Empire), he notes, there was one big candle and one dignitary assigned to snuff it out. He was ‘niggled’ to be in the South Transept, where ‘our big-candle snuffer was Lady Warsi’.