When future generations look back at the early 21st century, they may well decide that its political turmoil — the collapse of the euro, the spread of Islam, the rise of China — pales into insignificance next to a far more important development: a fundamental change in the relationship between human beings and their social environment. This was the moment in history, they may conclude, when our species mastered the art of manipulating its brain chemistry to produce intense bursts of short-term pleasure.
Nigel Farage is relishing the chance to sow discord in Tory ranks
Nigel Farage looks round with mild disgust at the antiseptic Westminster restaurant in which we’re meant to be having lunch. The leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party tilts his head back and sniffs the air theatrically, then whispers, ‘Why don’t we just go to the pub?’
We head off down the street. Farage is in a pinstripe suit with a Ukip golf umbrella under his arm.
On 27 July millions will drown in syrup as Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, delivers his usual platitudes about international togetherness and sport without boundaries. He might, for example, do something close to reciting the mission statement of the IOC’s world conference on Sport for All, held in Beijing last September: ‘to build a better world by encouraging the practice of sport for all, particularly in the developing world’.
In a baroque palace in Potsdam, on the leafy outskirts of Berlin, those industrious Germans are throwing a spectacular birthday party. The Neues Palais is a flamboyant folly, built by Frederick the Great to celebrate Prussia’s victory in the Seven Years War, and this summer it’s become the forum for a huge exhibition celebrating the 300th birthday of Prussia’s greatest monarch. But this lush retrospective isn’t just a slice of historical nostalgia.
Marilynne Robinson, Obama’s favourite contemporary novelist, says we all have a duty to raise our intellectual gameAs a child Marilynne Robinson was enthralled by writing poetry. As an adult, she says, it has never been quite the same. ‘During a thunderstorm or something like that I would write some crazy poem and then hide it. It was wonderful.’ She hid the poetry under her mattress. ‘My mother would come in to change the sheets and all this poetry would fly out,’ she recalls.
It’s that depressing flower show again, full of forced plants and taking over the television schedules
Have you been to the Chelsea Flower Show this year? Did you find it a little bit depressing? I thought so. For me, it’s like New Year’s Eve — every year I feel I should go and have fun, and every year, almost without fail, it’s a disappointment.
The biggest problem is the crowds. They make the struggle around the show ground a test of stamina and ingenuity.
Derbyshire’s landscape is hauntingly beautiful, says Stuart Reid, so long as you can make your peace with the sheepSheep are ugly, dirty, stupid and cowardly, but by far the nastiest thing about them is that in the countryside they are given precedence over dogs. Take your dog for a romp in the Peak District, for example, or on the North York Moors, and he will tear about like a mad thing, tongue out, eyes wild with excitement, his whole being alive with unconditional gratitude.
The Lake District is, to my mind, the most relaxing place in England. I think it’s the good walking, sheep gambolling on the fell-side and exceptional food that makes it so very therapeutic. At any rate, I think we can all agree that there are few things better in life than a day’s walking on the fells punctuated by a Huntsman’s pie and a pint of Hawkshead bitter. I spent countless childhood holidays in the lakes, swimming in the Duddon and climbing mountains, fuelled by that same Kendal Mint Cake that propelled Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing to the top of Everest.
It’s odd, but most of the English faces we see in our wee corner of the Scottish Borders are merely ‘stopping’ for a night or two on their way north. What is the point, they wonder, in driving all this way only to settle a hair’s breadth past that gaudy ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign? If they must visit Scotland, they think, they might as well do the thing properly. The Borders aren’t really Scotland, after all — just that last tedious leg of the A68 on the way into Edinburgh.