Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

As any author will tell you, literary festivals differ widely. If you are invited to Willy Dalrymple's Jaipur Festival, with its renowned final party, you say yes within minutes of receiving the invitation. Other invitations you might take a little longer to accept.

The Key West Literary Seminar, which took place a couple of weeks ago, is one of the glamorous ones. I was ready for Florida, as Scotland had been visited by gale after gale and accompanying driving rain. As luck would have it, we arrived in Key West at exactly the same time as the polar vortex that had frozen the entire United States, including a normally balmy Florida. No matter: Key West was, for the duration, one huge literary celebration.

I was invited to lunch at a house in the old part of the town. The host turned out to be none other than Laurent de Brunhoff, who does the Babar books.

I have always loved Babar, as have my children, and there I was standing in a studio looking at a sketch pad on which there was a picture of an elephant in a green jacket. Is there one of those German composite words for that feeling you get when you are suddenly confronted with something decidedly iconic? If not, Ben Schott should invent it: his recent book lists the German composite words for all sorts of things, including one for that feeling of pride and pleasure you experience when you put the memory stick into the USB slot the right way round first time.

Back in Scotland, the general conversation is dominated by the subject that last year we all thought we would get bored with rather quickly: the referendum. If it ever was boring, it no longer is. The polls suggest at present a 'no' result, but people talk about private polls (whatever those are) that suggest that it is going to be very close. The Scottish government, to its credit, is carrying out a referendum, but it might perhaps listen a bit more closely to what Scotland's lawyers are saying. There is a proposal to remove an ancient protection in Scots criminal law that requires corroboration for criminal conviction. The overwhelming majority of lawyers in Scotland say that this should be kept, but no, the populist attitude of government is that 'the community' (in other words, those who agree with the government) wants higher conviction rates. …

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