I’d go to Canada if I wanted to ski, or fish, or see the Northern Lights, but in the end it was only to launch my (Canadian) boyfriend D.W.’s book that I ventured west. I hate to think of myself as prejudiced, but even lyrical books like Will Fiennes’s The Snow Geese don’t do much to encourage Canadian tourism. Which made D.W.’s goal — to woo me into a love of the Great White North — difficult: I was determined not to be converted.
Like Nostradamus, the vision is flickering but I believe I have glimpsed the future — at least, the future look of garden and landscape design. I wonder whether, in these dark times, we are at the threshold of a new enlightened age. There were two great moments in the history of garden and landscape design: the first was the introduction of naturalistic planting pioneered by William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll towards the end of the 19th century; and second, before that, in the first half of the 18th century, the landscape movement as exemplified by William Kent and Capability Brown.
When was the last time a piece of technology made you happy? Truly happy, so satisfied with the experience that you immediately wanted to repeat it? For me it was last weekend, in a pub toilet, using an Excel Xlerator hand dryer. This unbelievably powerful bit of equipment sorted out my mitts in less time than it takes to say ‘force 12 hurricane’. I was tempted to re-wash them, simply for the fun of using it again.
On a visit to my old school not long ago, I found myself confronted by my former PE teacher, now the deputy head. She fixed me with an icy glare. ‘Oh no,’ I said, ‘I’ve forgotten my note.’ The icy glare froze completely so I explained: ‘You remember? I’m the one who came to every single PE and games lesson with a note from my parents saying I had neck ache.’ Icy glare. To her, it still wasn’t funny.
When the International Criminal Court (ICC) was set up ten years ago, it was meant to make the world a safer place. The Court and the various UN war crimes tribunals were supposed to pursue and punish war-criminal dictators as a warning to all the others. The idea may have been a noble one but, as Syria now demonstrates, it has proved hideously flawed. Far from deterring brutal dictators, the prospect of ending up like Slobodan Milosevic or Charles Taylor has persuaded some of the worst dictators that they only have one choice: to fight it out to the end.
Two hundred years ago, the creepy Revd Thomas Malthus would take to his pulpit to rail against the copulating lower orders. Author of An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), Malthus was one of the first promoters of the overpopulation thesis. If people — especially poor people — didn’t stop having so many babies, ‘premature death would visit mankind’. The demand for food would outstrip mankind’s ability to produce it, giving rise to famines, to ‘epidemics, pestilence and plagues’ that would ‘sweep off tens of thousands’.
One of the rites of passage for a comedian is walking through the rain at the Edinburgh Fringe, looking down and seeing one of your own flyers being trampled underfoot. If you want a vision of the Fringe, imagine a boot stamping on a flyer of your own face — for ever. Or until the end of August, which feels much the same. ••• Conventional wisdom is that flyers are the only way of making your show stand out.