In a few weeks, a new intake of students will arrive, all fresh-faced and excited, at universities around the country. They’ll be thrilled at the prospect of escaping the wagging finger of mum and dad, eager to absorb new ideas. But I’m afraid they are in for a rude awakening. Unless they’re very fortunate, they will soon find themselves enveloped in a world that’s more censorious than stimulating and taught not to question ideas but to learn by heart the progressive creed.
As a child in Glasgow, I learned that sticks and stones might break my bones but words didn’t really hurt. I’m now at New York University studying journalism, where a different mantra seems to apply. Words, it turns out, might cause life-ruining emotional trauma.
During my ‘Welcome Week’, for example, I was presented with a choice of badges indicating my preferred gender pronouns: ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’ or ‘ze’?
The student in front of me, an Australian, found this hilarious: ‘Last time I checked, I was a girl.
The rentrée politique in France next month promises to be the most exciting in decades as the dynamic superstar president Emmanuel Macron, aged 39¾, embarks on his mission to rescue France from its recent ignominy and restore it to glory. No matter that the polls are showing the shine may already be off this particular golden youth, and that a protest movement abruptly halted his wife, Brigitte, from having a formal First Lady role.
There have been times since the break-up when I’ve felt so low I’ve opened a bottle of Shiraz and spent the whole night flicking through my mobile-phone photos of the two of us: the sunsets we watched; the meals we shared. I’d remember long walks on the beach and longer mornings in bed. How you’d crawl up over the duvet and wake me by licking my head.
Leaving the boyfriend was surprisingly easy but oh, the agony of losing the dog! My sweet double doodle (that’s a labra-doodle, goldendoodle cross).
‘I have a slight bone to pick with you,’ I tell Ian Livingstone as he makes me a cup of coffee in his airy open-plan kitchen. ‘This is a bone I have been waiting to pick for, oh, 35 years. That bloody maze!’
Livingstone chuckles. ‘That was Steve’s. He’s the sadist.’ That maze, in a way, is the reason we are meeting. The near-unnavigable labyrinth featured near the end of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain — the choose-your-own-adventure novel which launched the phenomenally successful Fighting Fantasy series.
It is not fashionable to feel sympathy for the men and women who lived and served in the British colonies and who had to leave when independence came, whether it was from Kenya, Ghana — or from India, which celebrated the 70th anniversary of its freedom earlier this month. But I do, because I remember the pain and the loss and the homesickness of leaving India — a feeling which has niggled away somewhere deep down all my life.
When towns are on the up, there is a brief period when they inhabit what I would call the Goldilocks Zone. Stuff has changed for the better and there are suddenly very agreeable things to do, places to eat etc, but the area has not yet been comprehensively and irredeemably arseholified by arseholes. There is still a retention of the old: it hasn’t all been expunged. For Notting Hill, I guess that would be the early 1970s — after the race riots and before Cameron et al moved in.