On the morning after the European Union referendum, Britain looked like a country in crisis. The Prime Minister had resigned, Scotland’s first minister was talking about a second independence referendum and the FTSE was in free fall. In several EU capitals, there was an assumption that, when the Brexit talks began, Britain would be the new Greece: a country that could ill afford to reject any deal offered by the EU, no matter how humiliating.
The result in France in the first round of the Les Républicains party’s primary elections marks the political death of one of the big beasts of French politics. Nicolas Sarkozy, widely known as ‘Sarko’, has been a volcanic presence on the public stage since he became Jacques Chirac’s minister of the interior in May 2002.
Within two years he had become president of the right-wing UMP (forerunner of Les Républicains), defeating the favoured candidate of President Chirac, and from there it was but a short step to winning the presidency of France itself.
Shall I have my sister’s skin peeled off for display after she dies? Specifically, the tattooed bits — the swatches on either forearm adorned with foliate designs by her favourite artist, and the patch on her wrist inked in her own handwriting with transliterated Hebrew. I’ve always liked them, and not just because they annoy Mother. Should they be separated from her mortal remains, preserved through the wonders of mortuary science, and mounted in a shadow box to grace my bookshelf in her memory?
I ran the idea by her the other day while lounging in her Brooklyn garden.
Let’s try a thought experiment, shall we? If a senior adviser to my old boss, Boris Johnson, had celebrated John Smith’s heart attack, mocked Gordon Brown for talking about his dead son and referred to senior members of the Labour party as ‘scum’, how long do you think that person would have kept their job? Thankfully, however, this particular mini-Trump, the former reality TV star Amy Lamé, was appointed (as London’s ‘night czar’) by a Labour mayor, and her -targets were all Tories, so it’s fine.
I wish I could say that some of my best friends are working-class, but it’s not true. I do have Dave — my plumber and political sparring partner. Bright and well informed about politics, Dave loves to tease me because I live in Islington, I read the Guardian, I eat organic food and I was against Brexit. In the Dave scheme of things I represent Islington Man — one of those snooty, sneery liberal elitists who looks down on people like Dave.
The first Sunday of Advent is 27 November this year. For those of us who prefer Advent services to Christmas ones, the earlier the better, frankly. I relish the frisson of gloom, foreboding and fear of judgment you get at Advent, alongside the hope. ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ is all very well, but it’s the minor chord at the end of ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ that I crave.
So do thousands of others, it seems.
A ticket to paradise comes very cheap in Gambia — as long as you’re headed in the right direction. Thomas Cook charges just £230 for the six-hour flight from Gatwick to West Africa, and in the cheaper hotels along the cream-white palm beaches, a week’s stay costs even less. For the 100,000 Europeans who flock here each year — half of them Brits — it’s a much loved, if slightly tatty, African Benidorm, where donkeys can be found not in the souvenir shops but grazing rubbish on the streets outside.
You will, by now, be familiar with the argument: that Donald Trump’s triumph in the American presidential election represents a kind of social and political apocalypse. That his victory came at the hands of fundamentally irrational, bigoted, disgusting extreme right-wingers beyond the pale of civilised values. It is axiomatic that there can’t be any good reason behind voting for him, so it is assumed that 60 million Americans were duped by ‘fake news’ which must now be suppressed altogether.
On the green edge of Zurich, where this neat and tidy city melts into neat and tidy countryside, an icon of Zurich’s hedonistic heyday has been reborn. The Atlantis Hotel reopened last December, restoring an old landmark to the city and reconnecting prim and proper Zurich with its rebellious past.
If you’ve only ever been to Zurich on business, you may find it hard to think of this staid city as rebellious, but bear with me: Zurich really does have a wild side, and in the 1970s and 1980s the Atlantis was where it could be found.