‘Freedom fries,’ served instead of French fries back in 2003, are no longer on the menu in Washington DC. French wine, out of fashion after Jacques Chirac refused to join our ‘coalition of the willing’ in Iraq, is no longer shunned. Au contraire. In one Washington restaurant last Saturday night, someone at my table raised a toast to the new leaders of the free world: ‘Vive la France!’ What else could we do? Our president was on his way to Brazil.
When the United Nations sanctioned the use of force against Colonel Gaddafi, it could not quite bring itself to use the word force. The word force is, well, forceful. It suggests ruthlessness. Force is something that gets things done, and those in its way tend to get swept aside. The German word is Macht, and we have all heard about that. A powerful waterfall close to where I grew up in the north of England is called ‘High Force’; you only have to go there in springtime to witness the literalness of that name.
Actually, it’s a good question. How long is a piece of string? I’ve often wondered, and I’ve seen some string in my time. The problem is, they were all of different lengths, these bits of string, some long, some shorter. I suppose the mean length of string I’ve come across would be about nine inches, disregarding whole balls of string, obviously. Having worked this out perhaps I could be co-opted into whatever government department is running the war against Libya, as they do not know how long a piece of string is.
Why, despite his devoted fans, Grigory Sokolov won’t play live in BritainGrigory Sokolov is a pianist in his fifties; he is overweight, Russian, sleeps only three or four hours a night, is a strict vegan and is obsessed with the occult. He can calculate with one glance the number of seats in an empty concert hall and remembers instantly, to within an inch, where a piano used to be on a stage he hasn’t played on for years.
The international stage is dominated by two men this March: Muammar Gaddafi, fighting like mad for the survival of his regime, and Mikhail Gorbachev, celebrated around the world on his 80th birthday for not being a Gaddafi. Nobody knows what will now happen in Libya; but the Gorbachev celebrations will culminate next week in a splendid gala at Royal Albert Hall, with a crowd of celebrities and tickets on sale for up to £100,000.
Thrilling as the race was, last week’s Cheltenham Gold Cup will leave an even more remarkable legacy: the winning jockey, Sam Waley-Cohen, did it as an amateur. Being a jockey isn’t his day job — he is the CEO of a dental business — and he races for love, not money.It’s not supposed to happen these days. According to the logic of professionalism, it is impossible to compete at the highest level, let alone win, unless you sacrifice all else.
With oil trading at more than $100 a barrel, Abu Dhabi holds a jackpot-winning ticket in the lottery of life. The emirate sits on reserves of nearly 100 billion barrels, about 9 per cent of the world’s proven supply. At today’s pumped-up price, its subterranean treasure is worth at least $10 trillion. That’s $10,000,000,000,000.Abu Dhabi finds almost nothing unaffordable. Were Croesus reborn tomorrow, he would discover that the Al Nahyan royal family could match his outlay.