Was it Socrates who said that chaos was the natural state of mankind, and tyranny the usual remedy? Actually it was Santayana, and boy, did he ever get it right. My friend Christopher Mills has given me a terrific book, The Wages of Destruction by Adam Tooze, about the making and breaking of the Nazi economy. I thought I knew everything there is to know about that period, but I hadn’t thought of global economic realities, the ones that actually won the war.
Every Saturday morning Michael rises at four and drives down to the Côte d’Azur to the Magic World car boot sale. He goes early to see the bric-à-brac unloaded in order to pounce on any interesting old bottles, which he collects. His collection of 18th-century champagne bottles is probably second to none. While hunting bottles, he might also impulsively buy something that tickles his fancy. His knowledge of old things is wide and deep and occasionally he unearths something that would make an Antiques Roadshow crowd gasp with avarice.
‘A diary?’ said the lady in the chintzy gift shop, pronouncing the word very much as Edith Evans said ‘handbag’ in the 1952 film of The Importance of Being Earnest.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘a diary. Do you have one?’ I was standing in the middle of a shop so like one that would sell a diary that I could not express quite adequately how obvious I thought it was that they might.
This gift shop and café is on the high street of the village where I live and is easily one of the prettiest gift shop/cafés you have ever seen.
Readers (and writers) of The Spectator have long adored the wines of Château Musar, the cult winery of Lebanon. Indeed, thanks to our chums at Mr Wheeler, we have such a close relationship with the estate that our loyalty is being rewarded by yet another bona fide Speccie
scoop: for the next month, this is the only place in the UK from which to buy the newly released 2016 Château Musar. This great wine is simply not available anywhere else currently and once it goes, it goes.
I’m writing this on my last day in Mexico City, having accompanied my 18-year-old daughter here for the first week of a six-month stay. She’s hoping to become fluent in Spanish before embarking on a degree in languages in September. My mission was to help her find a flat in a nice part of town and a job so she can support herself, and between us we just about managed it, thanks to the help of the local expat community.
Forty-odd years ago a friend, a Liverpool supporter, somewhat unwisely took his girlfriend to Elland Road for a Leeds match against Liverpool. Amid some uproar over the referee, she was hit just above the eye by a sharpened coin chucked by a Leeds fan. The relationship didn’t last, unsurprisingly, but she still has the scar above her right eye. That was in 1982. Four decades on, Leeds fans are still at it — bunging missiles at the opposition.
Q. Three weeks ago I banged my head on the lower branch of our near neighbours’ tree, which I couldn’t see from under my peaked cap. I delivered a polite and non-threatening letter explaining that I wasn’t badly hurt and that the branch of their tree overhanging the pavement was a danger they should kindly arrange to remove. Although they were in residence, I received no acknowledgement of my letter, but this morning their entire tree came crashing down in the storm.
Langan’s, a brasserie off Piccadilly with curling orange neon signage calling its name, is under new management after it fell into administration in 2020. It is a famous brasserie — London’s version of La Coupole — once owned by Michael Caine, a famous actor, and Peter Langan, a famous drunk, who would crawl across the floor and bite customers’ ankles and who once put out a kitchen fire with champagne. It opened in 1976 on the site of Le Coq d’Or and was treated by the diary columns as a person in itself, as famous as Annabel’s, Peppermint Park and the Ritz Hotel.
A strange crisis has befallen like. It had long been an object of obloquy and vilification in two functions. The first was as a filler, of the same kind as you know: ‘He was, like, my favourite guy.’ Then it evolved into a formula for reporting; so, in place of ‘I was surprised’, we find: ‘I was like, “That’s amazing!”’
Naturally, we sensitive speakers of English do not fall into such annoying habits. But I have recently seen examples of a baffling construction that substitutes similar to for like
in a way that can surely never have tempted any of us.
They do not walk the world, our fragile dead:
They do not stalk our streets or pace our floors;
They do not stand behind unopened doors,
Rehearsing all the words that went unsaid.
They cannot walk our world as we would walk:
They cannot choose to see a much-missed place,
They cannot choose to see a much-loved face;
They cannot seek a quiet spot to talk.
And so we have to walk the world for them:
We have to seek the sacred places out,
To pace the lonely ways of loss and doubt,
And stumble clumsily to Bethlehem.
The statues have been getting wetter and wetter.
Always standing (they have no beds), they darken
In the downpour. Even if we scrape the moss and lichen
From their features as it comes, they won’t get better,
But will grow more nimbus-like until the day
It is impossible to be quite sure
Who everybody is. The only cure
For being them is the persistent way
They stay just as they are and let that leave them.
Faces, drapery and fingers, all
That once looked liked ourselves, erodes or breaks,
And none of this, we say, will ever grieve them.
He was from the north and always right.
Bet you come from some market town in Surrey,
he muttered darkly over our first year Poor Law essays.
I was dangerously short on street cred.
Gift-wrapping hardbacks in a mock-Tudor bookshop
deep in the privet-lands of suburbia,
I ruminated tactics, just as Lenin must have done
whilst posing as a Finnish farmer.
As braziers burned up north, and people rioted,
I suffered the nit-picking gaze of the manageress,
whose laser eyes and bouffant blonde hair rang bells.