If you work for the BBC, you dislike seeing the outfit’s name in the headlines. It usually means the BBC is in trouble. No good complaining that much of the British press (to the bewilderment of people outside the country) have it in for the BBC, big time. Nor is it any good pointing out that there are a few politicians with an intense longing to dismantle the BBC altogether. These are facts of corporation life, and always have been.
Ring, ring, goes the telephone, every hour that God sends. And it’s always some producer from the BBC, ringing me up to ask me on to some programme to stick the boot in to the BBC. Newsnight, The World at One, This Week, BBC Good Morning Biddulph, BBC Top o’The Mornin’ Paddy. It is not enough that they should, like nematode worms which stab themselves to death with their own penises, -simply attack the BBC themselves; they want multitudes of other people to do it, too.
When I am in Rome, I do as the Romans — I engage in rampant materialism. The eternal city may be — via the Church which has its headquarters there — the way to heaven; its population, however, is more interested in this world than the next. The city is full of superb shops, as the Italians’ gift for manufacture, and their seemingly effortless creation of beauty, remain undimmed by the advance of modernity.
At a wine-tasting-cum-briefing of volunteers at the Democratic Women’s Club headquarters in Washington last month, Obama campaign adviser Mindy Burrell stood up in a flowery dress. ‘Get people to visualise election day,’ she told the women about to knock on doors in the key swing state of Virginia. ‘How will they go and vote? What time will they go — after work? After dropping the kids off at school? What route will they take?’
If people said they planned to vote for President Barack Obama, the women were to ask them to sign a pledge card explaining why, which would be posted back to them just before election day on 6 November.
There is one main road stretching north-south along the Bekaa valley between Lebanon and Syria. It runs in a beeline from the prosperous little city of Zhaleh, on through a series of villages each with its own religious bent — some Sunni, some Christian — to the border town of al-Qaa, then on into Homs and the bloody mess of the Syrian war.
We’re just short of the border when what has been an uninspiring landscape, a wafting sea of plastic bags caught on desert shrubs, springs suddenly to life.
The Prime Minister gave a stirring speech last week in which he outlined the government’s new policy on law and order. The key, he insisted, was to be ‘tough and intelligent’ — which naturally suggested that previous policy had been soft and stupid. The truth, however, is that there is much more continuity between the old policy and the new than David Cameron suggested. One of the ‘new’ policies is ‘two strikes and you’re out’: if you commit two serious violent or sexual offences, you will get an automatic life sentence.
As you read this, the Conservatives seem to be edging towards some promise, to be contested at the next general election, of a referendum in the next parliament over Britain’s membership of the EU. You can see how far opinion has moved by the fact that government ministers — Michael Gove only last week — can now say that we should contemplate getting out of Europe without the heavens falling in on them.
Everyone was so busy celebrating Hilary Mantel’s second Booker Prize victory last week that it was easy to overlook the announcement that another of our literary prizes has been saved from extinction. The Orange Prize had lost its sponsor — but has been rescued by a group of women sponsors, including Cherie Blair. It ought to be a matter of rejoicing — but the notion of a women-only prize is still deeply contentious.
My brother David died recently in the care of the NHS. His death was not their fault: no one can do anything about bone cancer except alleviate the pain. Which is what they spectacularly failed to do.
Bone cancer does not kill you. It just hurts like hell and your bones become so fragile that coughing breaks ribs. You have to wait for the disease to spread to an organ, the failing of which will kill you.