Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

A charming retired lady doctor of my acquaintance buttonholes me whenever I run into her in London. She knows I write for The Spectator and she is convinced that this Diary page is an irritating spoof. 'It's just not possible that those people, like Joan Collins, could ever actually write such rubbish,' she tells me in a Donegal accent undiluted by a life spent in Goring. I have pleaded with her, insisting that she is confusing this page with the one in Private Eye, but I can tell she does not quite believe me. At last I have my chance, by penning the page myself, to convince her that the rubbish which follows is real. Or maybe she will simply conclude that I have passed on her story as an anecdote for the spoof-writer of this column who, this week, has assumed my identity.

One's grip on reality - and on the reality of one's self - is at its weakest on the cusp between sleep and waking. Last Monday I drifted into consciousness to the sound of my childhood - the seductive and melancholy arc-like whistle of the Barbadian blackbird. The air in my bedroom hung soupy with humidity, for 15 inches of rain had fallen in seven days; there was a sense of loneliness and quiet. During the night, the milliard tiny tree-frogs, each one the size of a thumbnail, whose seemingly disembodied bleeping floods the darkness, had bleeped even more furiously than usual. I potter down to Heron Bay, where a magnificent Palladian fantasy mansion nestles improbably in the manchineel trees by the sand, and slither into the azure bath which is the Caribbean Sea. As ever, the beaches are empty; next to a beach hut, a man wearing a tea cosy loafs by a sign saying 'No loafing'.

I enjoy the slightly schizophrenic sense of being the only person in the world who has both an Hermès beach bag and a polo shirt from Primark (price: £2.50). So for lunch, I make my way to Sandy Lane - to a small white Toyota van parked outside the luxury hotel of that name. Poking out of its doors at the back are three ample West Indian bottoms, which wiggle around in the air like ducks' as Sandra and her team, their heads covered in bandanas, fish out takeaway lunches for what seem like hundreds of gangling young workers who wait languidly behind their behinds. Like the Tardis, Sandra's van must be bigger on the inside than on the outside to achieve this miracle. In the midday sun, the heat is ferocious, and yet she serves shepherd's pie, beef stew, roast chicken and fried fish (usually flying fish or dolphin), with mashed potato, gravy, macaroni pie, salad, breadfruit and bread. You don't have to have all the trimmings, of course, but Sandra usually asks - or rather 'aks', as the Barbadians say - 'You wa' everyting?' Everyting it is.

The leaden skies of Ukraine are distant and seem unreal, even though I had been under them only a few days previously. I begin to wonder whether Jean Baudrillard was right that the Gulf war never took place: when the West decides to sponsor the overthrow of a government by means of a 'popular revolution', representation really does become reality. For days, the TV is flooded with images of 'the people', while the even larger demonstrations on the other side are hardly shown. The adjective 'Orwellian' seems lame when I hear a reporter explain that the pro-Yanukovich demonstrators have a hopelessly statist Soviet mentality because, in the absence of any instructions as to what to do, they wander aimlessly around the streets, while the pro-Yushchenko demonstrations are extremely professional and well organised, and this shows their genuine spontaneity. …

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