Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

I saw Henry VIII last Monday. He looked exceptionally thin and fit.

No wonder, as he was played by the young and six-packed Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the BBC series The Tudors. As it was the Chinese New Year, with the usual three-day holidays, I sat through, like a sack of potatoes, all of the 19 episodes. It did three things. First, my wife complained that I became a zombie.

Second, I found my knowledge of English Tudor history continually challenged by the drama, although not by its raunchiness.

And third, it reminded me of my first year at boarding school in England, when I had just arrived at the age of 13 not speaking a word of English, but was made to memorise chunks of Shakespeare (those were the good old days). I learned the famous Wolsey soliloquy in Henry VIII: 'Farewell, a long farewell, to all my greatness . . . ' At the time, I had no idea what I was regurgitating. The lines were merely sounds to me. I had not heard of Henry VIII, still less Wolsey. But I am glad that I can still recite from memory, 41 years on, the words of the Bard on the calamitous fall of the Cardinal.

My mother-in-law had been staying with us over the Chinese New Year in Beijing and Hong Kong. I always love the story of my friend who was taking his boxer to the vet.

'Why are you going to the vet?' his wife asked.

'I am going to have his tail docked, ' my friend confessed.

'But why?' his wife asked in puzzlement.

'Because your mother's coming to stay.' 'What has that got to do with it?' 'It's just that I don't want there to be the slightest sign of welcome in the house!' But thankfully, my mother-in-law (anagram of Hitler-woman) was entirely unirritating (indeed, a model house guest), so none of my four dogs needed surgery.

We arrived in London at the weekend and braved the cold on Sunday to head to Trafalgar Square for the Chinese New Year celebrations. As we sat down, the sun disappeared and snow started falling. We all shivered like jellies in a high wind. It was freezing. But the crowds were warm -- and impressively vast. Indeed, it was apparently the largest New Year celebration outside of China. So it was a pity (and a mystery) that the Chinese Premier Wen, who was coincidentally in London, did not use the occasion to appear. Even the Chinese ambassadress cried off, leaving her deputy to give the official speech to the cheering crowds. The deputy was unusually young and dynamic, but the older and static Premier would have engendered a lot more goodwill in front of the thousands -- with worldwide broadcasts to boot. …

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