This is not a particularly profound post (which, incidentally, is not to claim that regular posts on Q are either), but having just finished Sarah Lyall’s rather delightful (if affectionately acerbic) The Anglo-Files: A Field Guide to the British, I came across this amusing story from the Blair landslide of 1997 at which a record number of women (very patronisingly described at the time as Blair’s babes) were elected to Parliament. Read more
There’s a key moment when the oleaginous Foreign Office chameleon, Giles Oakley, goads his protegé and A Delicate Truth‘s protagonist, Toby Bell, about what he should do with his qualms about government policy in the run up to Iraq War.
You’re exactly what the Guardian needs: another lost voice bleating in the wilderness. If you don’t agree with government policy, don’t hang around trying to change it. Jump ship. Write the great novel you’re always dreaming about. (p51) Read more
Nearly 10 years ago, a dear friend of mine was addressing a gathering of Ugandan MPs in the Parliament building in Kampala (around the 40th anniversary of independence). It included those from all shades on the political spectrum, including not a few post-colonial firebrands. My friend is certainly no great apologist for imperialism, but he posed two simple questions.
- “Which Ugandan regions (of those that the British failed to develop) have we since developed?”
- “What aspects of public life, government and rule of law have we improved on or done better in than the colonial regime?”
So it seems our very human rights and liberties are being threatened by Instagram’s change of terms. Or they’re not. Or not in quite the same way. Well who knows?
Just in case they do decide to pilfer my works of art for their own heinous ends, I thought I’d display some of my chefs d’oeuvre from around London in recent weeks to put us all into a bit of a Christmas spirit.
Enjoy… while the world still exists… Read more
This is a random Friday Fun. It’s not especially funny, although some will probably think this makes me seem very funny, putting me in the same bracket as collectors of birdsong CDs. Too bad. It just so happened that I was searching for some old files on my computer and came across these – I’d completely forgotten I’d made them. But in the few days before we left Uganda in the summer of 2005, I took my rudimentary digital recorder out into the garden and just let it listen. Read more
Thanks to my indefatigable colleague, Charmaine, who noticed this on The Poke, this week’s Friday Fun is brought to you courtesy of the London Underground. I suspect all Londoners have a love/hate relationship with the Underground e.g. I LOVE the Jubilee line and the DLR, but I HATE the Northern and Circle lines (that sort of thing). But the truth is that we would be sunk without it. It’s great that we can joke about it, though. So this webpage is collecting various attempts to lighten the mood. I just hope I get to see someone in real life soon. Read more
What an extraordinary night. I’ve never been to an athletics event before in my life (not since defying the odds and coming second in the U13 100m at my prep school – nb there were only 3 other runners and only about 4 others in the qualifying age group in the whole school). But this was one not to miss – a night at the Olympics. Our seats were very high up ‘in the gods’ – but what a perspective, what a joy, what a privilege to witness.
Wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Read more
John Smith MP was one of those tragic political should-have-beens. But while Leader of the Opposition riding on Labour’s 23% point lead over the Tories in 1994 and widely assumed to be Prime Minister in waiting, he died 18 years ago tomorrow from a pair of massive heart attacks. He was only 55. For those concerned with public life, it was one of those remember-what-you-were-doing-moments. But the reason for picking up on it here is that I was blown away at the time, and recalled in conversation last week, the piece written by the great Matthew Parris, at the time The Times’ Parliamentary Sketch-writer and oft-quoted by Q. Read more
Last week saw the final instalment of the little 1 Cor 1 series in the undercroft chapel in Westminster. Unfortunately, we had the slight inconvenience of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement happening on the same day, and as this had been brought forward to 12.30, there were few who were able to come. No worries though. We happy few had a happy time.
And how nice it was to have a Christmas tree in the centre of Westminster Hall. No thought of winterval here… yet. But give it time I suppose. Now, was it my imagination or does this tree look as though it is leaning to the right…? I’m sure that can’t be significant, can it?
Back in Parliament yesterday, and I unexpectedly arrived a little early – so found myself waiting for around 15 minutes in Westminster Hall. It was idyllic – the sun streaming through the great south windows. Perfect for reflections on the extraordinary events that occurred on this very spot: from monarchs and statesmen lying in state (the most recent, of course, being the Queen Mother), to grand inquisitions and historic orations (such as Mandela in 1996, the extraordinary moment of seeing a Pope address both Houses in 2010, and then Obama this year, the first US President to address both Houses from the Hall).
One or two have asked for this, so here it is: the first of 3 talks given in the gaudy riot of Pugin-inspired colour that is Parliament’s Undercroft Chapel. This is a group that meets mostly weekly under Christians in Parliament. The next two are on 15th and 29th November. We’d decided to do 3 sessions from the opening chapters of Paul’s extraordinary and thoroughly contemporary first letter to the Corinthian church. Read more
It’s not every day that one gets to sit around the same table as representatives of Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Christian and Humanist networks with the chance to pick brains and question of the most senior leaders of the BBC. But that is exactly what happened today, as I’d been invited to attend a small group that meets twice a year on Religion and Belief in broadcasting. I certainly felt both out of my depth and a fish out of water (if that’s possible) – still, it was very interesting indeed (not least because the BBC is our next door neighbour) and a privilege to be present. Read more
This is a mildly unserious combination of Q’s Espionage festival and Friday Fun. But London W1 is a spy-historian’s paradise – there are so many spots around here that saw Cold War duty (and the KGB certainly knew their way around). For a start, the formal gardens of Regent’s Park were regular rendezvous points for Cambridge Spies Kim Philby and Donald Maclean with their KGB handlers. But there’s another couple of connections that are even closer to home. Read more
Sherlock Holmes is always with us. Every time I walk down Baker St (which is often because we live just behind it), the point is driven home. We love Benedict Cumberbatch’s contemporary take on Sherlock, but that’s not what I’m getting at. For a bit further up the street from us, there is in fact a “Sherlock Holmes Hotel”, believe it or not. But let’s be clear about this. There is no famous London Blue Plaque at 221B, because, of course, he DIDN’T exist. Read more
Any walk along the Thames Embankment or the South Bank is bound to conjure up memories and evocations. This ancient river is observed/guarded/ignored by countless buildings created at different moments in British history: the proceeds of empire and the fates of peoples are all reflected in their facades. I came across this wonderful poem by Daljit Nagra in the last New Yorker of July. And it captures it all perfectly, far more articulately than we non-poetically-gifted mortals could manage.
In the light of recent events, it seems only appropriate to bring this back to the forefront of public attention. You’ve seen the trailer for Hackgate The Movie – now read Hackgate The Poem. Written by Humbert Wolfe in the 1920s, it shows that little has changed over the last century or so… Read more
I said last week that I was offering the final instalment of Whitehall Wisdom. Well, I subsequently realised that I had omitted perhaps the most pertinent of the lot – the tangled web that has been weaved in the name of Church and State relations. This is primarily the result of that perfect CofE primer, the episode entitled The Bishop’s Gambit. Read more
On Thursday lunchtime, I was speaking at a little gathering near Tottenham Court Rd – and was struck by the in-your-faceness of billboards for Derren Brown’s show, heralding “the wonders of the occult”. So I just got my phone out and started snapping. In the few minutes it took to walk to the tube, I encountered several evidences of the city’s multi-hued spirituality. Read more
One of the acute difficulties of British etiquette is the profound problem of meaning – there can be a huge disparity between the literal/surface meaning of words and the actual intended meaning as all visitors to these shores find to their confusion and even peril. For those wanting a general introduction to the phenomenon, you can do a lot worse than checking this excellent EU translation guide. Read more