Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

'Paul Johnson has killed Gordon Brown.' This news was brought recently to Tessa Jowell, Anji Hunter, Margaret Jay and other Labour luminaries gathered in the Sabine hills near Rome. Shocked, they reached for their BlackBerries to find out more and make arrangements to fly home. Luckily, matters were quickly explained. After Mr Brown's failure to call an election last October, Carla Powell, host of the above, named her pet rabbit after him. She possesses eight dogs, including a large, amiable stray called Tony Blair. Tony Blair never dared molest Gordon Brown. But six of Carla's dogs are dachshunds, and the fiercest she named Paul Johnson, after this magazine's distinguished columnist. Paul Johnson chose what Carla called 'my pinkoes' weekend' to murder Gordon Brown the rabbit. And he has picked this weekend, when we and other non-pinkoes are staying, to exhume him. Poor rabbit, to be libelled by his name. His situation reminds me of a time when I asked a loader out shooting what it had been like to work for a certain landowner in Scotland. 'Well, ' said the loader, 'I would call him a pig, but that would be an insult to those noble creatures.'

Carla is (very) Italian, but is married to Charles, famous favourite former private secretary of Margaret Thatcher and brother to Jonathan, who did a similar service, as chief of staff, for the real Tony Blair. She has created an astonishing villa, looking out on one the ancient signal towers which used to guard the approach to the city. She claims that the tower features in a picture in the Vatican gallery, with the Sabine women being raped in the foreground. Spectator readers may remember that she wrote about the construction of her house in this magazine. Her way of living with her husband, she said, is like her vision of the European Union -- co-operation, but not integration. The animals, however, are thoroughly integrated. She lives in a house separate from the villa and so do they, not only the dogs, but also four orphan kittens. When Carla returns from a grand dinner wearing an evening dress, she has to take it off in her car in order to prevent them climbing up it. In the hall of the villa is a photograph of Carla wearing a mantilla and being received by the present Pope, with the real Tony Blair standing beside them. Next to the picture is Benedict XVI's latest book, Gesù di Nazaret. And next to that, laid out for the pleasure of the pinkoes, are the memoirs of the bulimic John Prescott. Sick Transit Gloria Mundi.

Charles and Carla organise a lunch for their guests, and an Italian former diplomat explains the Berlusconi phenomenon. In the great northern plain from which Berlusconi comes, he says, there is no historical experience of the state being an entity in its own right. Berlusconi thinks it is like a company, which he can take over and make private. A clever and waspish Benedictine monk offers an even more fundamental assessment of Italy. 'You must understand, ' he says, 'that this country was never Christianised.

Only the symbols have changed.'

Both our children are leaving their schools this month. And so, before A-Level results come, either to bathe their time in a rosy hue or in the opposite, it seems a good moment to compare private education today with what my generation experienced. It is better today. Good private schools -- in their case, Eton and Benenden -- seem to have cracked the problem which beset earlier generations: how to maintain some sort of order without imposing pettifogging rules. …

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