I first visited the Peloponnese in the spring of 1959, at the beginning of my gap year. I was 18. Having been accepted for university as a classicist, I decided I might as well combine business and pleasure by visiting the great sites of the Mycenaean era before going on to my studies. It was mind-blowing. Olympia, Argos, Tiryns, Mycenae! I went from place to place with the Oxford edition of Homer’s Odyssey weighing down my rucksack, and each day brought a new revelation.
‘On va manger anglais ce soir?’ — ‘Shall we eat English tonight?’ — is not the sort of thing you’d expect to hear a Frenchman say, especially a chef. But my friend was quite clear on the phone. ‘Le restaurant, c’est anglais, comme toi.’ My initial disbelief gave way to suspicion. I remembered that he once led us to a Franco-Italian-Japanese hole-in-the-wall whose signature dish was spaghetti with sea urchins and fermented soya, on the grounds that it was ‘different’.
A very long time ago, still in my teens, I knew a beautiful Athenian girl whose eyes were green and her hair golden blonde, and she was madly in love with a friend of mine. He loved her just as passionately but then he went away to school in Switzerland, and you can guess the rest. It sounds a bit opportunistic, even shabby, but I stood by her, listening to her laments late at night, and then, one evening under a moonlit Acropolis, we kissed.
I’ve a question. You’ll see in a moment why I’m tempted to call it a Trivial Pursuit question. Can you tell me when the worst suicide bombing in Europe since the 7/7 murders took place? I doubt you’d believe me if I said it was last week. I can hear your response: ‘What suicide bombing? What murders?’ Last week, six people died and nearly 30 were injured when a suicide bomber, widely thought to be acting on Iranian orders, set off a device on a bus taking a group of tourists from their charter flight to their hotel.
The English like nothing better than the idea that the French hate us. Bradley Wiggins, an Englishman, wins the Tour de France, and we are full of in-votre-face triumphalism. British journalists search the French media for sour grapes. How the frogs must be fuming! Beaten by a rosbif on their own turf! Yet if the French were all so bitter about Wiggins, why did thousands of them line the Champs-Elysées on Sunday to cheer him home? Far from being grouchy, France seemed eager to hail Wiggins as the likeable and quirky champion that he is.
Daisy was my first midwife at the London hospital where, upon finding out I was pregnant, I’d planned to have a straightforward, perfectly average birth with lots of euphoria-inducing drugs and expert medical attention. That, of course, was before I knew anything about the NHS and its methods. My 12-week appointment was arranged through my GP. After sitting close to three hours in a waiting room filled with sweaty pregnant women who looked as if they might kill each other for a sandwich, I was shown into an office by a large 60-something woman in a blue smock holding a clipboard with my notes on it.
Many a Conservative MP will spend the summer dreaming happily about what the party should do in office once it has freed itself from the shackles of coalition. Few even consider the painful truth — that the coalition party most likely to survive the next election is not the Conservatives but the Lib Dems. Imagine the misery of watching Nick Clegg disappear through the door of No. 10 to begin his second term as deputy PM — this time under Ed Miliband.
Spain was always going to be where the doom of the euro would be determined. Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus amount, together, to less than 5 per cent of the EU’s economy. They can be rescued without emptying the bailout fund. Alternatively, their defaults can be managed as controlled explosions. Spain is in a different category. Europe’s banks are massively exposed there: an explosion could blast the continent’s financial system to splinters.
Daniel Kahneman is a very modest man — amazingly so for someone who has won the Nobel prize in economics. When I met him in the lobby of a London hotel, he never used his very great intelligence in the way that some very distinguished economists do, to bully or to intimidate. ‘But then I am not an economist,’ he says with a mischievous smile. ‘I am a psychologist.’ Prof. Kahneman smiles a great deal.