For decades — even before it had its name, which sounds thrilling, as words with an X in them tend to — I’ve been a Brexiter. I even mistrusted the Common Market, as we called the mild-mannered Dr Jekyll before it showed us the deformed, power-crazed face of the EU’s Mr Hyde.
The adored MP of my childhood, Tony Benn, preached against it in any shape or form. ‘When I saw how the European Union was developing,’ he said, ‘it was very obvious what they had in mind was not democratic.
We’ve all done it: been overcome by a sudden sense of hard-upness at the moment when the collection plate comes round at the end of a cathedral service. We fumble in our pockets, feel a £1 coin and a £10 note, and decide that the £1 coin will do. This is a cathedral, for goodness sake, not a parish church: they must be rich, with all those gold-coloured vestments and choristers in ruffs.
But if we want our cathedrals to be alive and singing psalms in 20 years’ time, this misconception about cathedrals must change.
This is perhaps not the best moment in history to extol migrants from the developing world or Eastern Europe, but the fact remains that without them my life, and I suspect the life of many other people in the West, would be much poorer and more constricted than it is.
A migrant is not just a migrant, of course. Indeed, to speak of migrants in general is to deny them agency or even characteristics of their own, to assume that they are just units and that their fate depends only on how the receiving country receives them and not at all on their own motives, efforts or attributes, including their cultural presuppositions.
‘Does this mean we have to vote for Hillary?’ asked my wife. It was early morning 16 March, and the queen consort of the Democratic party had seemingly sewn up the presidential nomination — a coronation promised years ago by her king but thus far denied by unruly subjects.
As I scanned the headline in the New York Times, ‘Clinton and Trump Pile up the Delegates’, I felt sick at heart.
No one does political violence quite like the Tories. The fall of Margaret Thatcher in 1990 unleashed a cycle of reprisals that lasted until David Cameron became leader in 2005. During that time, Tories specialised in factionalism: wets vs dries, Europhiles vs Eurosceptics, modernisers vs traditionalists. Cameron’s great achievement was to unite the party in pursuit of power. Now that unity is coming undone.
I used to enjoy ‘giving feedback’ in the glory years when nobody wanted it. Now, upon completing a routine transaction, the customer is bombarded with breathless demands for response. The neurotic corporate catchphrase is ‘How was it for you?’
The world is now in feedback frenzy. Companies endlessly prod us for our views so they can brandish positive statistics at each other — or sack somebody. A new app, called Impraise, even invites workers to evaluate their own colleagues anonymously.
Fifty years have passed since the death of my father, Evelyn Waugh. His remains, together with those of his wife Laura and daughter Margaret, are buried within a ha-ha which is now collapsing into the churchyard of St Peter and Paul, Combe Florey. My nephew, Alexander, and I hope that these graves could be incorporated in the churchyard as only a dilapidated wall separates them. But our efforts have been frustrated by bureaucratic obtuseness.
Looking across the wide Neva from Vasilyevsky Island, the Palace Embankment shimmers in the river, suspended between water and sky. Raised on a marsh by violence and sheer force of will, there are few cities more impossible, and more beautiful, than St Petersburg. It’s worth going for the view alone, and you should — now, while the rouble is weak.
Thrown up in only 50 years in the 1700s, St Petersburg is a vast stage-set upon which imperial society played at being European.