Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

I'm not sure about this old ship business,' said Marina. 'Where's the love-interest? Why can't we go and see the Hugh Grant thing?' 'No no,' I said, 'I know it's all about ships, but it's gonna be great. Trust me.' And I was right. They must be wizards, the people who filmed that Master and Commander. If we were to believe our senses, they had constructed two fully working ships of the line and sailed them into the mountainous seas off Cape Horn. As for the battle scenes, you haven't seen such hyperkinetic violence since Saving Private Ryan. Every cannonball's passage was traced with a whoosh of splintering timber and flying bodies, and brains all over the place, but then it was always splice yer futtocks, lads, and stand by to go about, as Russell Crowe fought back ingeniously against the Frenchie. We'd been goggling at this for about 15 minutes when I spotted something truly astonishing. 'Oi,' I said, jabbing my finger at the screen. Marina opened her eyes slowly. 'It's thingummy,' I yelled. 'It's young wotsisname.' Shiver my timbers and blow me down: Russell Crowe's first lieutenant was played by the work-experience Johnny, who came to do filing at The Spectator.

He was called Max Benitz, keen, floppy-haired, roughly 18 and, now I came to think of it, he had mumbled something about a movie. 'So, Max,' I said to him when he came to leave after two action-packed weeks, 'what does the world hold in store for you, eh?' 'Oh, I've just had a bit part in a film,' he said. He was too modest. He played one of the most vital roles, rigging up a decoy ship to fool the French captain and leading the boarding party that stormed the Acheron in the final melee. He was at length discovered, as if asleep, his chest cratered with terrible wounds. Marina snuffled a bit as his body was sewn into canvas and he slipped down the chute to Obtain the corruption of the deep'. He showed much the same dash and dispatch, I seem to think, in rescuing my Toyota from the car pound.

I went to a memorial service for a Cambridge high-energy physicist, and was moved by the eulogy. The departed was not only a brilliant researcher, but also had the gift of persuading commercial interests that there might be some spin-off. His colleague, the eulogist, described how he had raised a stupendous sum to give a sub-atomic particle a real going-over in the great Swiss cyclotron. 'And I looked, and for the first time in my life, I felt that I gazed on a new world. And then after a while we were able to sort out everything we had seen, and, um, it turned out that everything was pretty much as we had expected.' Hooray, I thought. That's worth a million or two of anybody's money. It's called pure science, and like scholarship and learning of all kinds it needs protecting from Charles Clarke, the barbaric Education Secretary who deprecates the study of ancient languages and civilisations, and believes that 'education for its own sake is a bit dodgy'.

Last week took place the Thame and Vale of Aylesbury Stock Show, of which I have the privilege of being this year's president. After a magnificent dinner of roast beef I made a speech to 280 farmers, mainly about sheep. 'The thing about sheep,' I said, 'is that they are either alive or dead.' It is a measure of the audience's festive state, well past 11 p.m., that this point went over big. …

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