Apart from the weather, the food and the landscape, one of the great joys of visiting France is to witness the behaviour of the children there, which is in such contrast to the noisy, aggressive, defiant, whingeing, tiresome selfishness of all too many British youngsters. Even when surrounded by families in a French restaurant, you can still hold a conversation without being constantly interrupted by puerile screeching, crying, charging and table-thumping.
Many years ago, Chris Gent tried to explain to me how computers worked. I was a trainee banker; he was a systems manager in the same firm; his explanation had something to do with ferrite rods and magnetic poles. It was a very fluent explanation, but I never quite got the hang of it. That is perhaps why Gent — now Sir Christopher — became a great tycoon of the technology age and I didn’t.
He moved swiftly on from that airless back office in Holborn where we first met.
Is Sinn Fein/IRA becoming the Hezbollah of Ireland — a state within a state? Just a matter of weeks ago, such a thought would have been dismissed by mainstream opinion here as a product of the fevered imagination of Conor Cruise O’Brien, the South’s most celebrated anti-republican. After all, Gerry Adams was the most popular politician in the Irish Republic. His party seemed set fair to make huge gains in the next Irish general election and he was being widely talked of as the next president of this state.
It is 7 a.m. and across Britain sober citizens awake to switch on the BBC Radio Four news. They expect perhaps to hear about Iraqis killing Iraqis, about some hope in Palestine or Gordon Brown’s latest boasts on the economy. Instead, at the top of the bulletin they learn what the BBC judges the most important news of the day. With all solemnity it announces that the Duchess of York has voiced support for Prince Harry in the argument about a swastika at a fancy dress party.