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[/audioplayer] The Dalai Lama is a connoisseur of absurdity. When we met in London on Monday I reminded him that two years ago, desperate to resume relations with China, No. 10 said it had ‘turned the page on that issue,’ by which he meant the Dalai Lama.
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[/audioplayer]Any British Prime Minister who meets the Dalai Lama knows it will upset the Chinese government — but for decades, no British Prime Minister has much cared. John Major met him in 10 Downing Street, as did Tony Blair.
At the outset of Syria’s brutal four-year civil war, I was an almost unique voice in the British media deploring the push to depose the secular dictator President Bashar al-Assad, especially in the absence of a genuinely popular uprising against him. Here in The Spectator I tried to point out that such a short-term strategy would have devastating long-term consequences. Assad, I argued, would not fall, because the people of Damascus would not rise up against him.
Watch the videos of 1950s Iraq on YouTube and you glimpse something close to an idyll. It’s true that Pathé News was not big on gritty realism, but history relates that here it was not using a heavily rose-tinted lens; Hugh Trevor-Roper even went so far as to describe Iraq at the time as a Levantine Switzerland. Or you can go to Google Images, tap in ‘1960s Afghan women’ and be offered photographs of a mixed university biology class, and others of young women with short skirts, long hair and smiling faces.
On religion, Jeremy Corbyn is interestingly moderate, circumspect — not the angry atheist you might expect. In a recent interview with the Christian magazine Third Way, he said his upbringing was quite religious: his mother was a ‘Bible-reading agnostic’ and his father a believer, and he went to a Christian school. ‘At what point did you decide that it wasn’t for you?’ he was asked. He replied very carefully, even challenging the premise of the question: ‘I’m not anti-religious at all.
‘Milk?…Milk!’ rages Nirmal Sethia, clutching the side of the table in ill-disguised apoplexy. ‘If you put in milk and sugar then you have destroyed the taste! Destroyed it!’
I apologise and say I will happily drink my Earl Grey black. The truth is, I don’t have much choice, because I am trapped in a basement near Smithfield meat market with an impassioned tea magnate.
I never knew there was such a thing, but there really is.
I attended the Piers Gaveston Society in the mid-1980s, when I was at Oxford in the year above David Cameron. The parties were debauched and tremendous fun. But Dave was not there.
The most remarkable figure at the heart of the Gaveston was Gottfried von-Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor’s great-great-grandson who, after his untimely death at just 44 in 2007, was said by the Telegraph to have led an ‘exotic life of gilded aimlessness’.
Each year when I see the first conker of the autumn I think: fire up the ancestral ovens! This incendiary thought comes from the Ronald Searle cartoon in Nigel Molesworth’s How to be Topp of a sooty retainer sliding a tray of the young master’s conkers into a brick oven. School cads, Molesworth tells us, ‘are inclined to cheat at conkers having baked them for 300 years in the ancestral ovens. These conkers belong to the National Trust they are so tough and if you strike one your new conker fly into 100000000000 bits.