Donald Trump’s Twitter feed was oddly silent as the news came that his former campaign manager and his former lawyer were going to jail. Perhaps his staff have finally seized control of his phone. Perhaps his lawyers have convinced him that every time he tweets on anything relating to the Russia investigation, he is dancing on a precipice, with special counsel Robert Mueller just waiting to push him off.
You need a strong stomach to be Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, as a letter from Peter Clarke — the current holder of the title — proved this week. HMP Birmingham was in an ‘appalling’ state during his unannounced visit at the start of August. ‘We saw evidence of bodily fluids left unattended, including blood and vomit… next to numerous rat droppings.’
His findings marked a dramatic new low for the prison estate.
Imagine if Theresa May suddenly announced that her government was going to devalue the pound by 96 per cent; increase the minimum wage by 6,000 per cent; pay the wage increases for millions of businesses for three months; tie the pound to a mythical cryptocurrency; prepared for petrol rationing; and impose a 0.7 per cent tax on big financial transactions. It would be seen either as an act of lunacy, of a collapsing country — or both.
Here’s a bracing lesson from Victorian history that might possibly help to slice some impossible Brexit knots. In the 19th century, there was complete freedom of movement of people from Europe to Britain. And that was all anyone needed. Europhiles might find it difficult to conceive of a time when the folk of continental Europe ached to get to Britain because it was only here that they could find stability, peace, and freedom from oppression.
It is hard to think of a code of behaviour which is common to all societies on earth, let alone to most other species too — except, that is, for the avoidance of incest. Even cockroaches have developed a breeding strategy that prevents them mating with their own siblings. And yet as we understand more about the genetic dangers of inbreeding, so the social infrastructure that guards against it is being dismantled.
I got some bad news this week. I discovered that I’m a ‘privileged, white male’. It was my agent who broke it to me. We were talking about the trouble he’s having in finding a publisher for my book — a work of non-fiction — when the following exchange took place.
Me: What’s wrong with my book?
Agent: There’s nothing wrong with your book. It’s brilliant. It’s moving. It’s funny.
Me: OK. So what’s the problem?
Agent: You’re the problem.
The brilliant Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell describes doing stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe as ‘exams for clowns’, and even though I first appeared there in 1981 (when the Cambridge Footlights Revue featured Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson and Tony Slattery), I felt an overwhelming surge of nervousness as I began my short run this year with the peerless mimic Jan Ravens (who herself had directed that illustrious 1981 cast).
I’ve flown only three kites in my life. My stepfather bought me the first. I remember seeing him from a window approaching our little mews house off Bond Street, clutching it furled in its packet as though his life depended upon it.
The previous day he had overcharged an electric plane sent for my birthday by my other father, the one left in America following a youthful marriage that didn’t pan out.