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[/audioplayer]As I walked out of the bar, I noticed a Conservative MP following me. It had been an evening for young political activists, mostly teenage boys, and it was drawing to an end. I pretended to be engrossed in my phone, but the MP — well-liked, universally respected — lurched towards me, placing his arm around my waist and leaning in close.
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[/audioplayer]Syria has fallen apart. Major cities in Iraq have fallen to al-Qa’eda. Egypt may have stabilised slightly after a counter-coup. But Lebanon is starting once again to fragment. Beneath all these facts — beneath all the explosions, exhortations and blood — certain themes are emerging.
David Cameron speaks compellingly about international aid. Eradicating poverty, he says, means certain institutional changes: rights for women and minorities, a free media and integrity in government. It means the freedom to participate in society and have a say over how your country is run. We wholeheartedly agree and were flattered to see the Prime Minister tell this magazine that he is ‘obsessed’ by our book on the subject, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty.
I think I might be a bad parent; whenever my wife is out, I plonk our two-year-old daughter in front of the television. The other day we watched a rainbow nation of children marching around the British countryside singing ‘Let’s make sure we recycle every day’, and I realised that something has changed in children’s programming since I was little. These young recyclers are from a show called Green Balloon Club, which is ostensibly a wildlife programme, but the song had more in common with one of those Dear Leader dirges you see in North Korea.
Ask an American to name the author of the line ‘Sleep, that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care’, and he will promptly reply ‘Shakespeare’. It’s pure guesswork but we always credit the Bard with anything that sounds like a literary quotation, so he inadvertently gets it right. But if you recite the rest of the passage and ask what it means you will draw a blank. The American mind will not spark until it hears ‘Macbeth hath murdered sleep’, which sets off a cascading display of audience-identification fireworks, and visions of a new American production in which Macbeth is renamed Big Thane and cast as the hero of the play.
Florence was in fog the day I arrived. Its buildings were bathed in white cloud, its people moved as though through steam. The Arno river was a dense strip of dew. At the Piazzale Michelangelo, the statue of David was etched by the surrounding murkiness to a stark silhouette, the renaissance defined by gothic cloud. I peered through a telescope that overlooked the city and saw nothing for miles. My friend Alessandro told me this was unusual for sunny Tuscany, which made me feel quite pleased.
My second tee shot soared high and straight, then hurtled down towards the lake; a repeat of my first. I didn’t hear the disheartening plop this time because the breeze had shifted and now moved loudly through the pines that surrounded us. ‘Keep buggering on,’ said my old man, cheerfully. This course, Quinta do Lago South, was much too hard for us, so no shame in failure. I looked again at the 15th green.