If I could go back in time to my Oxford days, I’d warn myself against idolising Cameron | James Delingpole

April 8, 2010

How odd to think that there was a time when I looked up to David Cameron. From the moment we were introduced at the beginning of my second year at Oxford, I remember being mesmerised by his confidence, his charisma, his looks, that amused plummy accent and — yes — perhaps, also, that slight vibe so many Etonians projected in those days that if you hadn’t been to ‘School’ you really weren’t quite the thing. It all made you want to get to know him better. Which I did. And I very much liked what I found.

If you’d told me then that David Cameron would one day be prime minister, I’m sure I would have been tickled pink. I didn’t know what his politics were but I had my vague suspicions: a belief in traditional English values spiced with a love of liberty and a healthy disrespect for arbitrary authority; almost certainly a distrust of big government and a hatred of political correctness and joyless, snarling, bitter socialism. Just the kind of brave captain you’d want at the helm if ever there was another national crisis.

But now look at him… (to read more, click here)

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I’ve Never met a Girl Who Hero-Worships Martin Amis As I Do — Except Maybe His Wife

I’ve never met a girl who hero-worships Martin Amis as I do — except maybe his wife

M. ‘I’ve spotted him!’

Me. ‘Where?’

M. ‘Down there. Having a coffee. On his own.’

Me. ‘Hey. Do you think he’d like it if we joined him?’

M. ‘I doubt it. He’s reading a book.’

D. ‘God, is he reading his own book? Unbelievable. He’s reading Yellow Dog.’

M. ‘No it’s not. I think it’s Hitch 22.’

Me. ‘Yeah well, whatever it is, look, he’s almost at the end. You know how it is when you’re nearly at the end of the book. You want to prolong the moment. So we’d be doing him a favour.’

M. ‘You can if you want to. I’m staying here.’

Me. ‘Coward. What about you, D?’

D. ‘Well we’ve come all this way. Seems a shame not to try…’

Back home in England, you’d never get away with it because: a) it would be considered a touch infra dig, and b) he’d never present such an obvious sitting target for such a prolonged period of time. But here in Dubai, the rules are different. That’s what we’re calculating. Indeed, I think it’s secretly one of the main reasons my friends D, M and I decided to come to this Emirates Festival of Literature. To hang with The Mart. The great Martin Amis.

Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds pathetic. At least it will if you’re a girl. I haven’t met a girl on the entire planet — apart from his wife Isabel, of whom more later — who gets excited by The Mart to nearly the same degree as boys do. But that’s because The Mart doesn’t really do girls’ books. He writes books about foul characters called Keith, and darts, sports cars called Fiascos, and the fantastic breasts of aristocratic blonde 20-year-olds in Italian castles, with glorious show-off, willy-waggling sentences and fantastic adjectives like ‘rangy’. I don’t know why, exactly, but when you’re a boy — at least a boy of a certain generation — this sort of thing really hits the spot. You feel you’re in the presence of greatness and you want a bit of it to rub off on you, ideally by getting some sort of quality time with the man.

But how? Interviews don’t count — they’re too one-way, too much of a performance. Bumpings-into-at-parties don’t count either — they’re too fleeting and unsatisfactory, as I’ve discovered many times before. The first must have been in my late twenties, when I said: ‘People say I look a bit like you. Do you think I look like you?’ and I can’t remember what his reply was but it must have been pretty boring, otherwise I suppose I would remember it.

(to read more, click here)

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I Hate Weddings; Funerals Are Almost Invariably Better in Every Way

If I’d written the film it would have been called Four Funerals and a Wedding, because personally I find funerals much more fun. Not all funerals, obviously. But the funeral of someone who’s not a close relative and who’s had a good innings can be a very splendid occasion — as I was reminded the other week when I went to Tisbury, Wiltshire, to bid farewell to my old friend John Clanwilliam.

John, you may remember, was the earl I killed last summer during a game of human Cluedo. At Christmas, he died for real and though I shall miss him dearly I don’t think anyone could be too unhappy at the manner of his leaving: a few months after two glorious 90th birthday parties (one in London, one in the country), cheery, well-loved and with all his faculties intact.

I became his friend because my friend Tania — one of his daughters — invariably used to sit me next to him at lunch or dinner when I came to stay. ‘You’re only good at talking to very young people or very old people,’ explained Tania — perfectly truly. ‘And you’re the only person I know who’s as right-wing as Daddy is.’

John and I got on like a house on fire, spending many joyous hours bemoaning the state of modern Britain and winding up Tania who — like so many poshos — has unfortunate Whiggish tendencies. Besides being an ardent Speccie reader, John had the added advantage of having been in the war. It delighted me beyond measure when he declared himself a fan of my Dick Coward books because, I suppose, that’s the audience I most care about: the people who are in a position to know whether or not you’ve got it right.

John’s own war was pretty bloody, though not in the way you might expect. He came from a distinguished naval family — his grandfather the fourth Earl had been Admiral of the Fleet, his father was an admiral — and was educated at Dartmouth Naval College. None of his family is quite sure what happened, though there are suspicions that his ship may have run aground. Anyway, poor John Meade (as he then was) left the navy under a cloud, and didn’t speak much to his family for the rest of the war, which he spent working in a Birmingham munitions factory followed by a short and unglorious stint in the army.

What I love about this particular story is what it says about the resilience of the human spirit. John could have let the episode completely destroy him. Instead, he rebuilt his life — first as an abalone diver in South Africa — raised four children, and gave every impression of being thoroughly happy and fulfilled.

Whenever John turned up you felt that little bit more cheerful, which I’m sure is why so many people turned up to give him a proper send-off. Everything about the funeral service was perfect, from the chosen hymns (‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’) to the sweet tenor rendition of ‘Danny Boy’, to the booming, old-school, fear-of-God dismissal by a former Bishop of Bath and Wells. You felt at once teary and uplifted, in a way I know you’re supposed to at weddings too, but in my experience almost never are.

God I hate weddings. The only one I’ve really enjoyed was my own, because I got to decide on the food and the music and all the speeches were about me. But the idea of forking out perhaps £100 for a present and probably double that on transport and accommodation in order to hang about and get half cut and eat cold bloody salmon (not even wild, probably, but farmed in its own filth and pumped full of antibiotics) on a table next to someone you don’t know while listening to not just an oafish best man, but also the father, and probably some tedious godfather or other giving boring speeches that go on for ever and ever about a couple who are probably going to be divorced in five years fills me with horror.

It’s the trappedness I loathe and fear most. (I have the same problem with dinner parties.) At a wedding you can’t just flit in, enjoy cursory conversations with the old mates you came to see, grab some nosh and then bugger off. You’ve got the church service: an hour, bare min. You’ve got the queuing to say hi to the bride and groom (why?) before you’re allowed your first drink. Then a whole afternoon in a marquee on a table with the sort of people you’d never normally spend even ten minutes with unless you were being paid very large sums of money.

At least with funerals, you don’t go with any high expectations of fun and frivolity — whereas at weddings you do, setting yourself up for almost inevitable disappointment. And there’s an unspoken assumption at weddings that, as a guest, you’re privileged to be there and should be grateful to have made it on to the invitation list, which puts pressure on you to be on your best behaviour. At a funeral, on the other hand, you’re thought to be putting yourself out slightly. The family are touched and appreciative that you’ve made the effort. Also there’s no best man, no sit-down food ordeal, you don’t have to bring a present, and if you do behave badly no one minds or even notices because everyone’s on one of those weird, faintly hysterical, ‘it’s what he would have wanted’ post-funeral highs.

Then there’s death. I don’t think nearly enough of us think nearly often enough about this and what it means. If we did, half the liberal pieties infecting our society would vanish in a trice. For example, there’d be no more squeamishness about ‘passenger profiling’ at airports because absolutely everyone would appreciate — duh — that the needs of millions of free citizens who prefer to take the kind of holiday flight where you don’t end up spread over the Atlantic in a million tiny pieces trump those of, say, a beardie in a dishdasha travelling on a one-way ticket from the Yemen with hand-baggage only who would prefer not to be singled out for a full cavity search.

(to read more, click here)

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One thought on “I hate weddings; funerals are almost invariably better in every way”

  1. Kate McMaster says:17th February 2010 at 6:07 pmWhat a great tribute to your friend, James! I have enjoyed reading your past posts, as well.
    I will be back.

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Glorious send-up | James Delingpole

January 31, 2010

Bellamy’s People (BBC2, Thursday) began life in 2006 as a spoof Radio Four phone-in show called Down the Line presented by ‘award-winning’ Gary Bellamy (Rhys Thomas) with the Fast Show’s Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse playing the various callers.

Now it has moved to TV and its satirical target — not before time — are all those programmes where celebrities drive round the country meeting people and saying, ‘Isn’t Britain brilliant?’ So, in his classic Triumph Stag with a Union flag painted on the bonnet, Bellamy gets to meet his giggling northern fan club, cheeky-chappy plasterer, a Pakistani community leader (‘What does a community leader do, exactly?’ Bellamy asks, without getting a very satisfactory answer), and a cheerful elderly gentleman who thinks it’s terribly important to keep up with modern trends, by using the internet and so forth, and not to dwell on how much better the past was because in many cases it wasn’t.

Though it does have its broad-comedy moments — like the two elderly Mitford-style sisters who have divided their stately home exactly down the middle, one side dedicated to Stalin and the other to Hitler — it’s mostly much more subtle observational stuff.

(to read more, click here)

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Childhood hero

Never big enough.

I think I might be about the second-last person on earth finally to have replaced his squat, bulbous, stone-age TV set with one of those new angled, wide-screen, narrow, HD-ready jobs. My worry is it’s not big enough.

‘No, you can’t have a 50-inch. No way are you having a 50-inch. Not in MY house,’ said the wife, as the kids and I all begged and begged to no avail.

Of course, I understand where the wife is coming from. There was indeed an era when to have a large TV screen dominating your sitting room would have been considered vulgar or nouveau-riche or what we now call chavvy. But that was 20 years ago. Times have changed. Plus, I’m a TV critic — sort of — so I jolly well should.

The other new technology we’ve just acquired is a Virgin box because we’ve just changed our account from Sky so as to get one of those all-in phone, internet and digital TV deals. I’m not yet convinced the service is any better. The Virgin box makes a terrible loud whirring noise, whereas the Sky box was quieter. But it does have one clever feature — a Catch Up TV function — which means you don’t have to worry about videoing stuff any more. You can just scroll through a menu and catch up with all the worthwhile programmes you missed.

This is what I did with The Day of the Triffids (BBC1).

(to read more, click here)

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Watching the Climategate Scandal Explode Makes Me Feel Like a Proud Parent

It has been a weird, weird thing having a ringside seat at the messy unravelling of the greatest scientific scandal in the history of the world. The only experience in my life even vaguely similar was queuing outside the Wag club in the spring of 1988 watching all the straight people staring at us freaks, and thinking to myself: ‘God, just imagine how totally awesome it would be if this Acid House craze ever caught on.’

From a tiny germ of a story on a few specialist blogs, Climategate has gone über-viral in a way few of us sceptics could ever have dared hope. As I write, the name has clocked well over 30 million Google hits, which for me has been a bit like being a proud parent watching his singing, dancing little girl suddenly grow up to become Madonna — for ‘Climategate’ was sorta, kinda, partly my baby.

What happened was that on the Thursday when I picked up the story from the Watts Up With That website I noticed in the comments that someone called Bulldust had said: ‘Hmm how long before this is dubbed ClimateGate?’ I took Bulldust’s ball and ran with it using the Climategate headline in all the stories I wrote thereafter. Others subsequently came up with better monikers: Mark Steyn’s ‘Warmergate’ is cleverer and funnier. But by then it was too late. In the first week alone — with a bit of help from Drudge — my Telegraph blog had landed over 1.6 million hits. Climategate had stuck and my teeny, tiny, spear-carrying role in the history of language was assured.

Of course, the real stars of this story are two Canadians named Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick. One is a statistician, the other an economist, and if there’s one absolute certainty in this mucky, confused business it’s that McIntyre and McKitrick will one day be acclaimed as perhaps the most heroic and significant scientific double-act of our age.

Why? Because if it hadn’t been for the groundwork of these two brilliant men, humankind would now be that much closer to shelling out for the biggest and most pointless bill ever devised. Forty-five trillion dollars: that it is how much, according to one estimate by the International Energy Agency, it is going to cost us all to deal with the supposed threat of anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

Some of you will know the names already. McIntyre and McKitrick exposed not once but twice the lamentable bogusness of Michael Mann’s infamous hockey stick chart. In doing so, they offered the first real proof that the process behind the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is essentially political rather than scientific and that the computer models predicting rampant AGW are, at best, unreliable.

(to read more, click here)

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5 thoughts on “Watching the Climategate scandal explode makes me feel like a proud parent”

  1. Pingback: An Inconvenient Poof « his vorpal sword
  2. scott from australia says:18th December 2009 at 12:16 amFound your article in the spectator. you can deny it all you like but climate change is real and happening. If the science is as bunkum as you claim, there is no way govts would be negotiating an international agreement as we speak.Seriously people like you make me sick, by denying climate change you have put yourself in the same boat as big coal and oil. These sickos would rather destroy the planet than suffer a drop in profit. In time the denialists (like yourself) will be shown to be the frauds they are. And don’t think people will forget yours (and many other’s) twisted stance.

    Finally dont get too excited about climate-gate (sooooo original) as the only people who are giving this any airtime are the sociopathic sceptic groups. your are preaching to the converted mate. Thank goodness people like you are not running the place because the future would look pretty dim otherwise.

    wake up mate.

    PS. I did like your story on the Lego company though.

  3. sunny black says:18th December 2009 at 4:57 amGood on ya, Sir.Thank you for all the work you’ve done. I was a global warmist — as many of us indoctrinated into it from childhood were — up until a year ago. Then I’d come to the idea that I’m not sure and I need more information before I could say “the science was settled”. But the past few weeks have been pretty amazing and have catalyzed my brute transformation into an out and out AGW-denier-hater, whatever you want to call it. Thanks to you, climateaudit.org and wattsupwiththat.com I’ve even learned some things in the process.

    Sorry, my liberal friends in Europe, I still love ya’: but this junk is all about wealth redistribution from my perspective and it’s a fraud. (anyone still want to buy me a guiness..? *crickets*).

  4. PhilBest says:23rd December 2009 at 11:20 pmScott from Australia, you don’t need anybody to MAKE you sick.James Delingpole is one of the new breed of journalist that needs to advance to the front of the ranks in place of the lazy sell-outs that disgrace the “public watchdog” profession today with their slumbering and slavering to Al Gore, Inc.

    I was arguing on blogs years ago, against the standard AGW argument that great scientists who are “deniers”, like Ian Plimer, are a fringe minority. That is all just part of the sheer scale of this problem, which is the leftwing media defining the argument.

    Anyone who looked into this for themselves right from the start, knew that it is the IPCC/Hadley Centre/GISS cabal who are the minority. Their advantage always has been, the government funding and the media on their side. Al Gore and his circle of friends, especially in the media, are the epicentre of this.

    Senator James Inhofe spent years putting up on his website, arguments from HUNDREDS of highly credentialled and distinguished scientists. Then there is the OISM petition that reached 31,000 signatures.

    The IPCC Reports represented “2,500 scientists”????? What happened was they circulated the drafts among 2,500 scientists, only 308 of whom actually reviewed the Climate Science chapter anyway; and ignored any protests that were raised by any of them. As one of them said way back in 1996, “I have never witnessed such a disturbing corruption of the scientific peer review process”.

    People who were at all aware of either of the medieval warm period, or of air and water thermodynamics; smelled a huge rat right from the start. The entire AGW thesis is so absurd as to require the knowing creation of falsehoods by a clique of political agents who happen to possess credentials they can abuse to that end, who were appointed to crucial positions of authorship early on, by Al Gore, James Hansen, Maurice Strong, and Bert Bolin. All paragons of virtue and impartiality, yeah right.

    The crucial positions of Lead Authors of climate science chapters of the IPCC Report, actually number only 36 people. Some of these people happen to have been mere STUDENTS of Professors who are in the Michael Mann cabal, so carefully the selections needed to take place to exclude possible spoilers.

    The “reviewers” however, were appointed by governments all around the world, on the basis of credentials and distinction at the time, in the early 1990’s. This is why we have ended up with governments severely embarrassed by the reviewers they appointed themselves, speaking out or attempting to speak out. Again, the media are deeply culpable for having denied these people any public say. This goes for NZ’s Reviewers, who include Vincent Gray and others, who are never referred to as IPCC Reviewers by the media; only as fringe deniers, if they are referred to at all. Imagine for yourself how these decent and honourable people have been feeling – they must feel like walking around the streets screaming.

    Without media enabling, this whole thing would NEVER have gone anywhere. I don’t know what it will take to break these bastards playing God with what the public is allowed to know or not.

    It is well past time for decent people to stop mincing words and fannying around being polite about the civilisational treason that is being committed against all of us.

    If you want references, here is what I was saying long ago, was a required reading list. Many of these scientists and authors are now saying “at last, it took Climategate for people to wake up to what was actually clear to us all along”.

    John McLean: “Peer Review? What Peer Review?”

    US Senate Minority Report: “More than 650 International Scientists Dissent over man-made global warming claims”

    Edward J. Wegman et al: “Ad Hoc Committee Report (To the US Senate Committee on Energy and Commerce and the US Senate Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations) on the Hockey Stick Global Climate Reconstruction” (THIS IS SHOCKING READING)

    Vincent Gray: “Spinning the Climate”

    S. Fred Singer et al: “Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate”

    Jack Welch: “NIWA Scientists have become propagandists”

    Brian Sussman: “James Hansen: Abusing the Public Trust”

    Tim Ball: GLOBAL WARMING SERIES (Excellent – best of their type yet)
    Part 1: Environmental Extremism
    Part 2: Historical and philosophical context of the climate change debate.
    Part 3: How the world was misled about global warming and now climate change
    Part 4: How UN structures were designed to prove human CO2 was causing global warming
    Part 5: Wreaking Havoc on Global Economies
    Part 6: The Hockey Stick scam that heightened global warming hysteria
    Part 7: The Unholy Alliance that manufactured Global Warming
    Part 8: UN’s IPCC preying on people’s ignorance
    Part 9: Carbon Taxes: Hand over your money! “We are saving you from yourself”
    Part 10: Environmentalists Seize Green Moral High Ground Ignoring Science
    Part 11: Maurice Strong Politics 101

    And believe me, there is lots, lots more. I’ve restricted the above to the bare minimum people need to get a handle on the problem. One problem is that so much of this counter argument is disconnected and fragmentary; there is probably no one book or essay that covers all the angles.

    One thing James Delingpole actually does not seem to have caught up on yet, is the Google hits manipulation scandal. He says 31 million hits. But it was nearly that high 3 weeks ago, only to mysteriously drop to below 20 million, while Yahoo has gone up to over 50 million. “Bing” apparently went to 50 million 2 weeks ago, only to even more mysteriously drop back to below 10 million.

    I won’t post links in case this blog doesn’t like them. Check out the online articles “Googlegate” by Harold Ambler and “Google Carrying Out More Purges Than Stalin” by Kathy Shaidle.

    Keep up the service to humanity, James.

  5. PhilBest says:23rd December 2009 at 11:22 pmJust in case the moderator doesn’t get that far with my previous comment, the last couple of paragraphs are extremely important for James:One thing James Delingpole actually does not seem to have caught up on yet, is the Google hits manipulation scandal. He says 31 million hits. But it was nearly that high 3 weeks ago, only to mysteriously drop to below 20 million, while Yahoo has gone up to over 50 million. “Bing” apparently went to 50 million 2 weeks ago, only to even more mysteriously drop back to below 10 million.

    I won’t post links in case this blog doesn’t like them. Check out the online articles “Googlegate” by Harold Ambler and “Google Carrying Out More Purges Than Stalin” by Kathy Shaidle.

    (And sorry, moderator please note, I think I entered my email address wrong the first time)

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Territorial Imperative

Ever since I gave up watching TV over Christmas and New Year I have become much, much happier. The reason Yuletide TV is so depressing is that — as with those tantalising presents under the tree — it’s fraught with a level of expectation it can never possibly fulfil. You think, ‘At last: I’m free. Free to slob; free to watch without having to worry about going to bed and getting a good night’s sleep so I can be fresh for work tomorrow. So, go on, TV: entertain me!’

I’m not even sure that it’s TV’s fault. I think it’s the problem with Christmas generally. The whole season reminds me of a slightly dodgy Ecstasy pill. ‘Am I up yet?’ you keep asking yourself. ‘When’s it going to happen? When do I peak?’ But you never do. Christmas lunch is quite nice. Singing the carols in church is quite nice. Then it goes on a bit. And a bit more. Then it’s over. I blame global warming. The only thing guaranteed to make Christmas feel like Christmas is snow and you don’t really get that in England any more except at the wrong time.

But look, I’m quite serious about this not-watching-TV-at-Christmas thing. If you really must stare at a screen, I’d just rent a bunch of movies you haven’t seen and watch those. (My mate Justin Hardy tells me it’s a crime that I haven’t seen John Carpenter’s The Thing — so I will.) What I’d recommend much more, though, is that you do what we’ll be doing this year and play board games, especially Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan.

(to read more, click here)

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Warts and All

With hindsight it was probably a mistake to sit down with my daughter to watch Enid (BBC4, Monday). Before it started, Girl was a massive fan, especially of the Naughtiest Girl series and The Magic Faraway Tree. By the end, she pronounced herself so disgusted with the evil hag that she swore never to read another word.

I’m not sure how glad I should be. On the one hand, I suppose it’s good that Girl will no longer have her expensive boarding-school fixation stoked by the Naughtiest Girl’s frolicsome japes. On the other, though Blyton can indeed be pretty repetitive and dull, she’s one of those writers that children seem to be able to read happily to themselves again and again. And I do like the vision of England that her books promote: country as yet undefiled by wind farms; jam sandwiches; children buggering off to do their own thing without troubling adults.

Anyway, Enid — a warts, warts and more warts portrait of the author with Helena Bonham Carter in the title role — was so unremittingly grim I wish I hadn’t bothered. ‘Can she really have been as ghastly as that?’ I asked my wife. ‘Well, her daughter always claimed she was,’ the wife replied. I checked. It seems that indeed she was: vain, haughty, selfish, vindictive, horribly unloving towards both her depressive, alcoholic husband (Hugh Pollock — her editor and a first world war DSO) and her two daughters Gillian and Imogen.

(to read more, click here)

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Greens, like Nazis, See the Entire World through the Prism of One Big Idea: Theirs

The Kindly OnesLes Bienveillantes if you read it in French, which I didn’t — is probably the most brilliant piece of trash fiction ever written. I dedicated most of the summer to Jonathan Littell’s much-praised, internationally bestselling blockbuster and loved almost every minute of it.

But it’s definitely not as great as Le Figaro thinks: ‘A monument of contemporary literature.’ Nor Le Monde: ‘A staggering triumph.’ Nor yet Anita Brookner who claimed, in The Spectator no less, that it is not only ‘diabolically (and I use the word advisedly) clever’ but also a ‘tour de force’ which ‘outclasses all other fictions [this year] and will continue to do so for some time to come.’

Note that two out of three of those rave reviews are French. There are reasons for that. The first is that the French are always going to be hot on the idea of an American who decides to write in their language rather than his own. And the second is that it’s very long. Über-pretentiously long. The story I heard is that Littell’s French editor tried to get him to slim it down a bit and that Littell refused. And rightly so, as another editor at the same publisher cynically told a friend of mine: ‘If it had been half the length, it would never have sold anywhere near as many as 800,000 copies in France.’

But just because it’s 984 pages doesn’t make it the ‘new War and Peace’ (as Le Nouvel Observateur has it). Being concerned with the wartime adventures of just one SS officer, it hasn’t nearly Tolstoy’s range or breadth. There are places — the ones involving the ethnologist, for example — where you do feel slightly that you’re being served up raw, indigestible gobbets of the author’s evidently diligent research. And the central premise is flawed. (Don’t read the next pars if you don’t want to know what happens.)

If, as the book invites us to believe at the beginning, brutal Nazi atrocities are something any of us could have committed had we lived in the wrong place at the wrong time under the wrong regime, then why make the narrator a matricidal homosexual serial killer who only ever found true love in an incestuous relationship with his sister and fantasises about being sodomised by eight-armed green-skinned Martians? Doesn’t make him exactly Everyman, does it?

Towards the end, Littell seems to admit this to himself when he gives up even trying to be Tolstoy (or Vasily Grossman) and comes over Thomas L. Harris meets Ian Fleming meets Lord of the Flies. There are two policemen who appear to have strayed from some sort of early Tom Stoppard comedy; there’s a bloated, flatulent rich industrialist in an armoured train flanked by hot-babe blonde SS women and stroking a cat; there’s a superfluity of dream sequences which you skip because you think ‘well if it’s not actually happening why should I care? It’s not like I don’t know already the guy dreaming this stuff is weird’.

Don’t get me wrong, though. The book is still a magnificent achievement, whose qualities vastly outweigh its flaws. The Stalingrad scenes are hallucinogenically intense; as too are Littell’s great set-piece descriptions of the early Einsatzgruppe atrocities like the Babi Yar massacre. You’ve probably never tried putting yourself in the shoes of a young SD officer who, whether he likes it or not, has the job of supervising the extermination and burial of village after village of (all too human-looking) men, women and children. Littell does the job for you with a verisimilitude — at once nauseating, heartbreaking and intensely disturbing — which will haunt your nightmares for months.

(to read more, click here)

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I Watched, Helpless, as a Vicious Staffie Ripped up My Children’s Guinea Pigs

I’m sorry to have to break the news so brutally but there’s no other way: Pickles Deathclaw and Lily Scampers are no more. They are ex-guinea pigs. They have ceased to exist. And all because of one of those bastard, evil dogs you see everywhere these days attached to the arms — or, more worryingly, not attached to the arms — of the nation’s hooded underclass yoof. We were sitting in the kitchen having lunch when it happened. ‘What’s that noise?’ I said. Already I was on my feet and heading for the garden, fearing the very worst because I had been here two months before.

On that previous occasion it had been our beloved old cat Beetle who’d gone for a Burton — hunted down and deliberately killed by a member of a vicious South London gang whose specialities, besides stabbing and drug-dealing, include cat assassination. Hearing a yapping commotion in our garden (which is surrounded by a 10ft trellis), I’d arrived just in time to see Beetle being tossed in the air and having his neck broken by the muscular, tan-coloured cur. The dog, I learned later from the police, had been put deliberately over our wall. Beetle was at least the third neighbourhood cat to have been got in this way.

So when I entered the garden I pretty much knew what to expect. Yes. Sure enough: carnage. Pickles Deathclaw was already dead at that point; Lily was about to be got (their outdoor run had been overturned) and I just wasn’t feeling quite suicidal enough (that would come later) to place myself between her and the jaws of her ravening Staffordshire-terrier-style assassin. Instead, I stood, helpless, just as I had when Beetle died, going ‘Noo! You bastard! Nooo!’

By now a face had appeared at our garden wall. ‘Here, boy. Here!’ called the youth: black, teenaged, hooded, as all the devil-dog-owners are round our part of Sarf London. And I yelled at him: ‘What the f*** is your f***ing dog doing in my f***ing garden killing my kids’ f***ing guinea pigs?’ To be fair he looked almost as upset as I was. ‘It’s not me, man. It’s my dog,’ he said. ‘He won’t come. How do I make him come?’

After that it’s a bit of a blur. Kids crying. Wife fuming. Me going right up to the hoodie’s face to tell him exactly what a s*** I thought he was. Dog bounding nonchalantly over the fence. Hoodie disappearing. Me saying: ‘The camera. Where’s the f***ing camera?’, finding it and, before wife could stop me, tracking down the hoodie via sundry concrete walkways and dingy alleyways to his housing estate.

(to read more, click here)

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