17 November 2021: The AVE arrives, sort of; An appalling murder; A fine possibility; BoJo’s scruffiness;Unique(?) British humo(u)r; & Other stuff.

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Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops
Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España/Galiza

Good-ish News. After a delay of only 28 years, the AVE-high speed train ‘will arrive’ in Galicia on 21 December, taking only 2h15 from Madrid to Ourense. But, as it’ll take another 1h45 to get to Pontevedra en route to Vigo, I suspect it’ll continue to crawl on old tracks around Ourense until new tracks are in place.

Bad News that is stranger – and more shocking – than fiction. . . . Here in Spain, a recently-released murderer raped and killed his young neighbour and was quickly arrested. But not before his identical twin brother had been accused of the killing. A natural reaction given that he, too, had previously murdered someone. Nature or nurture, one is compelled to ask.

It’s just as well that, ahead of a drive to the UK, I put 4 new tyres on my car 2 weeks ago. El Tráfico, as they do, have warned of a ‘safety’ campaign, starting today and centred on fining those whose tyres don’t meet the legal requirements. They will surely be zealous and officious in doing so, making no allowances for anything or anyone. Except, perhaps, for stunning blue-eyed blondes. Of which, surprisingly, there are quite a lot in Spain. Well, bottled-blondes at least.

What an odd November here in Galicia. Sun and high daytime temperatures every day so far. And less rain than in July and August. Doubtless some – mistaking weather for climate – will be saying If this is (A)GW, bring it on!

The UK (& France)

When I read that Britain is a country riven with anxiety and besieged by problems on seemingly all fronts, and that it was on the edge of a void of declinism, I immediately thought: Isn’t that possibly even more true of France? Sure enough, along came the sentences: But Britain is less susceptible to the kind of fatalism that is sweeping France. There, declinism has taken on almost epic proportions, as the country suffers insults to its global standing. This phenomenon is partly cultural: after the traumas of the Revolution, the French have a much keener sense of their history and are more likely to put contemporary humiliations in a historical context. Nice to be proven right . . . 

Is Boris Johnson naturally scruffy? See the article below on this vital issue.


I wrote recently that things surely needed to change in Germany, realpolitik-wise. Given the power of this blog, I wasn’t surprised to read yesterday that Berlin had suspended approval of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Which hasn’t gone down well in Moscow, of course. But will this really mean cancellation?

I’ve just seen that Richard North writes on the impact of this development this morning. European gas prices, already 4 times higher than last year’s average and surging once again, are yet to peak. 

Normal Quotes of the Day

Like Saturn, a revolution always devours its own children: Jacques Mallet du Pan

In choosing to side with the trans lobby, Stonewall has abandoned the gays and lesbians for whom it transformed society. So, the revolution is once again eating its own. Some modern hack.

(A)GW/Quote of the Day 

The eco elite won’t admit it, but it’s time we learned to live with climate change. Global agreements to limit warming have failed. Our best answer now is to invest in adaptation      Virtually every serious economic analysis ever done on global warming policy demonstrates that adapting to climate change is a vastly superior approach to attempting to prevent it. Now is the time to ask whether the resources we are currently devoting to an increasingly obviously futile attempt to prevent climate change would be better re-purposed to helping us to adapt when it happens.

The Way of the World 

Can humour ever be particular to one society or culture? Is British humour really ‘unique’? Click here on this.


Encaje is Spanish for ‘lace’, inter alia. Or, as the RAE dictionary puts it: The weaving of stitches, loops or openwork, with flowers, figures or other work, which is done with bobbins, sewing needle, hook needle, etc., or by machine. But encaje fino doesn’t seem to mean something like ‘delicate lace’ but – as in encaje fino para salvar las pensiones – ‘fine tuning’ to save pensions.

Finally  . . .

Amusing quote no. 2: Modern art is what happens when painters stop looking at girls and persuade themselves they have a better idea: John Ciardi. (Me neither).

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If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here


Johnson’s scruffiness screams entitlement: There’s nothing accidental about the PM’s shambolic dress sense but when he puts a smart suit on you know he’s in a mess: Hugo Rifkind, The Times

When politicians look a fright at the Cenotaph, it’s traditional for the press to beat them up for it. Allow me, then, to begin this column by bucking convention. Because didn’t Boris Johnson look smart? Well done him. I could feel myself channelling Billy Zane meeting Leonardo DiCaprio at the bottom of that staircase in Titanic. “Why! It’s amazing! You could almost pass for a gentleman!”

Contrast that, though, with those photos of him laying a wreath at the Polish war memorial on Friday. “He looks like an abandoned sofa,” was how somebody put it on Twitter. The collar skew-whiff, the suit ill-fitting and crumpled, the hair tufting everywhere, as from the last coconut on the shy. Who, you wondered, had let him leave Downing Street like this, looking as though he was about to be wheeled around a 2000s sketch-show by David Walliams? “God, that’s disrespectful,” I thought to myself, as I sat there preparing to write a column for the most famous newspaper in the world while wearing a cardigan that never goes outside and my pyjama bottoms. “Such entitlement.”

Remembrance appearances, particularly in Britain, represent an understated fashion show in which nobody mentions it when you get it right (the Duchess of Cambridge on Sunday; perfect) but all hell can kick off when you don’t. The most famous example of this is of course Michael Foot causing a phenomenal stir with what this newspaper described as a “green donkey jacket” in 1981. Almost as famously, it later emerged that it was actually quite an expensive coat, which he wrongly thought would look smart; which you might think renders the whole fuss unfair, although I’d suggest it renders it the most Michael Foot thing ever.

The exact same thing happened to Jeremy Corbyn 37 years later, when he laid his wreath (for our side this time, no complaints there) in an M&S cagoule. Given how implausible it seems that any Labour leader could have forgotten about what happened to Foot (let alone that Corbyn could have), I always assumed there was messaging here. There are still, though, diehard Corbynites who recall that episode as viciously unfair, grouping it with that time when Newsnight was falsely and fabulously accused of having used Photoshop to cast Corbyn, then-Labour leader, as a communist by embiggening the height of his Breton-ish cap. Either way, the next year he wore smart and sombre black, like everybody else.

Johnson, likewise, knows what he is doing. Yes, he may often look as if he has been dragged reluctantly into work, perhaps interrupting his second job of being tied to a pole in a field with a turnip for a head. But actually, and obviously, there has been no more blatantly image-conscious PM in my lifetime. When he goes jogging outside a party conference in preposterous clothes (a dress shirt; Bermuda shorts), he is best understood as a man too vain to be seen jogging in the same clothes as everybody else. It is no conspiracy theory to see every last bit of his appearance as artifice. Interviewed about his hair by Politico this year, Johnson’s biographer Sonia Purnell pointed out that he wore it smart in his thirties, even while going “to some lengths to make himself and his car and everything quite scruffy”.

What does it mean, when the powerful or privileged style themselves thus? It’s a question I ponder with some trepidation, because I do own a mirror. My friend Sathnam Sanghera — a man who knows what starch is and isn’t afraid to use it, I suspect even in places you can’t see — is fond of telling me that you have to be posh to dress as I do, because it’s a giveaway that you don’t feel socially precarious.

I’m never sure this is wholly right, because I was scruffy even as a small child, much to my parents’ embarrassment, and I doubt the raging entitlement had quite kicked in yet. But it is certainly true that in my 20 years writing for The Times I have drifted from wearing a suit every day to only wearing a collared shirt when I absolutely have to. And on that trajectory, if I’m lucky enough to stay here until I retire, then I can’t rule out getting off the Tube looking like Albus Dumbledore.

Recall, also, that it was the public schoolboys of David Cameron’s Conservatives who made a point of taking off their ties, and the grammar school boys such as David Davis who made a point of keeping them on. Johnson, though, has something subtly different going on. Much like his estranged sidekick and fellow baglady Dominic Cummings, he doesn’t so much shun the convention as observe it with performative disrespect. The shirt is on, but out. The shoes have been buried in soil, then dug up again. It is as if they wish to distance themselves from their tribe, without losing the advantages of still definitely being seen to be in it.

Obviously, there’s a power-play here. It’s like the host of the glamorous party who himself answers the door in no shoes. It’s Adrien Brody’s billionaire in Succession, daring the Roys to even mention that he looks like he lives in a bin. It’s Jacob Rees-Mogg, himself immaculate, who displays ownership of the Commons by lying down in it. It also, obviously, carries a whiff of the usual rules being for people less brilliant than yourself. “For the apparel,” as Polonius put it in Hamlet, “oft proclaims the man.”

There he was, though, at the Cenotaph, looking perfectly respectable and neat. Sure, maybe he just ended up neat by mistake, because he was in a rush and didn’t have time to scruff himself up again. Or maybe it’s far more significant. Because it’s one thing to look a mess when you’re on top of the world. It’s quite different, though, to look a mess when you actually are one.