Across Continents

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Very British affairs

I was far from bored, busying myself with pursuing a new career, and there’d even been a parental visit. Forty three and I’d still made sure there were fresh towels and bleach down the loo. But, as if this wasn’t enough to be getting on with, I’d found myself engrossed in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy of Swedish part investigative journalism part crime novels. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo probably the most well known. I couldn’t remember how I’d stumbled across them in the first place, but it didn’t seem to matter. The characters had a depth that made an otherwise improbable individual suddenly plausible. Small, almost insignificant, details that added little, if anything, to the plot directly, but helped make the various players in the drama believable. Fascinating writing style. I made a few notes.

But it wasn’t just fiction that’d had me intrigued of late. Much in the news to draw in my interest, especially if you’re a conspiracy theorist. I’m not, but I do enjoy a good plot with plenty of twists and turns. Ever wondered what spies give each other for Christmas? I’ve a hunch that there are a few worried souls on the South Bank of the Thames who’d rather wished they’d eased back on the glowing correspondence with the Libyans and, instead, given them a shredder. Adds new meaning to the expression Pen is mightier than the Sword if you’re looking for a smoking

Amidst the terrible nautical puns, there’d been a refreshing piece in the Independent on one man’s effort to thwart the annual Oxford Cambridge boat race. There’d been talk of Class War, but I’d always thought that was really an indulgence of Socialist Worker staffers, and in any case it’d hardly been little more than a skirmish. But no, our lone swimmer had at least livened up what was undoubtedly one of the dullest possible spectator sports, the writer claimed. After snooker. I agreed.

Class, incidentally, we are told, is a very British thing. Eton. Harrow. Oxbridge. Although sometimes it sounds to me like the politics of envy, oft said by those who should have tried harder at school. Truth is often less palatable than some would like, for the rarely aired irony is that both Oxford and Cambridge would actually welcome far more students from less advantaged backgrounds. Perhaps less prepared than their public school chums for the entry process, instead reliant more on raw intellectual ability, they generally make better undergraduates. As I’d once learnt over breakfast with the Rector of one of the Oxford Colleges. She’d been most passionate on this point.

But most intriguing of all over the last couple of weeks has been the death of an old Harrovian in China. Actually it was last year, but the story, such as it is, has only recently emerged. Amidst tales of political intrigue amongst the highest echelons of the Chinese Communist Party there’d been quickly rebutted suggestions of espionage, and allegations of vast wealth being siphoned off. The only certainty so far is that a rather amiable chap is now dead. If I ever needed a plot for a novel, the whole affair wouldn’t be a bad start. I stuffed the various press cuttings in an envelope and made a few more notes.


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