Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

One of the best things about being a writer is that you get asked to interesting places. I've always turned everything down because I believed I should sit at my desk and write. About six months ago, I decided to see what would happen if I accepted everything for a while. Admittedly, I had a kick-start. My BBC film Page Eight, about the moral ructions in MI5 in the past ten years, was given the unusual honour, for a TV film, of closing the Toronto Film Festival. So I went to Toronto (refreshing), then to Edinburgh (uplifting), Warsaw (fascinating), Rome (matchless), Hamburg (serious), Jaipur (fabulous), Eastbourne (serene) and Gothenburg (-14degreesC). During this period of traipsing down red carpets and giving multilingual Q&As (best audience question in Gothenburg: 'Where did you buy that coat?'), I've written more than usual. It turns out that travel doesn't distract, it concentrates.

It's great for me to be back at The Spectator, where I've been absent for as long as Cliff Richard from Radio One.

One of my first jobs round about 1970 was to review detective stories in these pages for an editor Private Eye nicknamed George G. Ale. With his red hair and a rusty-needle gramophone bark you don't hear any more, Gale was said to be frightening, but the effect was comic. He was more like a dog than a man, yapping and complaining all day. My field of expertise was expanded, for reasons no one explained, to include sex manuals, so I was landed with reviewing the work of Masters and Johnson. They were American sexologists, always described, like all sexologists, as 'pioneering'. When I quoted their bizarre recommendation for how men might avoid premature ejaculation, Gale refused to print. Now their unlikely advice would be taken seriously, and pass without comment.

Friends are arguing about whether this is the worst government since 1945. It certainly seems so. Blair's administration did the single worst thing by invading Iraq, and Eden's got the worst comeuppance, after invading Suez. But there's been none in my lifetime that so resembles a team about to drop into the Conference. You look around the field and the players are all kicking the mud rather than the ball. Can anyone name a minister who's had a good game? Even the freespirited ones like Vince Cable and Kenneth Clarke lost all their vim the minute they got red boxes. …

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