Throughout my life I have never been able to take a heavy meal at night, so it is rather good news to hear from scientists that eating late at night is putting millions of people in danger of suffering heart attacks and strokes. My abstention from refusing to eat dinner after 7pm has nothing to do with any health issues; it was simply a matter of habit first and lately, for sleeping better as a result.

Apparently, having a meal within two hours of bedtime keeps the body on ‘high alert’ when it should be winding down, researchers have found. They said adults should ideally eat dinner before 7pm to give the body enough time to relax and blood pressure to drop. It is well known that when healthy people go to sleep, the blood pressure drops by at least 10 per cent, but the study of more than 700 people with high blood pressure found that eating within two hours of bedtime meant their levels stayed high. Experts think this is because eating releases a rush of stress hormones when the body should be starting to relax.

People who do not see their blood pressure fall at night are known as ‘non-dippers’, and have a much higher level of heart–related deaths. Late night eaters were nearly three times more likely to be ‘non-dippers’, researchers found. Dr Emru Ozeplid, from Dokuz Eylul University in Turkey, tracked 721 people diagnosed with high blood pressure, who had an average age of 53. She found those who ate within two hours of going to bed were 2.8 times more likely to retain high blood pressure over night.

Some 9.4 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with high blood pressure which is also known as hypertension. They are already at the high risk end of heart diseases but if their blood pressure does not fall at night, the risks increase to a far higher level. Experts estimate that 40 per cent of patients with hypertension are ‘non-dippers’ – potentially 3.76 million people in Britain – putting them at serious risk of major heart problems.

Presenting her results at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Rome, Dr Ozeplid said: ‘If blood pressure doesn’t drop by more than 10 per cent, this increases cardiovascular risk and these patients have more heart attacks, strokes and chronic diseases.’ But even healthy people with normal blood pressure should take note of the findings. Dr Ozeplid said: ‘How we eat is maybe as important as what we eat.’ She advised people not to skip breakfast, eat lunch and keep dinner to a small meal. ‘Dinner must not be later than 7 o’clock in the evening,’ she added.

Previous research has found that an early dinner reduces the risk of breast cancer, lowers blood sugar levels and helps burn off calories. Experts think that the body evolved to expect meals much earlier in the day because people went to sleep when it got dark, but nowadays we stay up much later, distracted by the trappings of modern life. Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation said: ‘It is normal for blood pressure to reduce overnight even with people with high blood pressure. However, in some, their blood pressure remains elevated throughout the night putting them sat potentially at higher risk of future complications.’

All this makes sense to me for the body needs to be regulated in order to remain in full throttle and thus enjoy a healthy disposition. To abuse it is to render it vulnerable to major breakdown which can lead to an early death. Why then take this unnecessary risk to add to the already inherent vagaries of nature?



I can’t for the life of me imagine why Nigel Farage who is an intelligent and able politician has been, and is still, backing Donald Trump for the presidency of the United Sates, despite all the scandals exposing Trump as a misogynist, a sex pervert and an abuser of women.


I have always considered Farage to be a dangerous man who would stop at nothing politically to achieve his right-wing ambitions which are tantamount to those every liberal-minded person is likely to abhor. As it happens, Nigel’s own party has asked him to stop canvassing for Donald Trump. Dismayed UKIPers have urged him to shut up about Trump, whose image has been sullied and will somehow tarnish those who support him.

A meeting of most of UKIP’s MEPs last week unanimously agreed that the party leader should stop supporting Mr Trump according to the Political Home website. Three senior figures have already gone on record to voice their displeasure at Mr Farage’s backing. At last week’s meeting, which included about three-quarters of the party’s 22 MEPs, everyone in the room was said to have supported these concerns. Mr Farage had left the gathering by the time the subject came up.

‘Nobody dissented and there were a lot of Hear! Hear!’s and claps and nobody disagreed’ one person present said. It seems that Nigel is pretty much in a minority of one among the MEPs. Another source said that Mr Farage, who became leader again after Diane James quit the job after 18 days, must make clear he is backing Mr Trump in a personal capacity. Mr Farage angered party figures after he said that the lewd comments were ugly but dismissed them as ‘alpha male boasting and the kind of thing, if we are honest, is what men do.’ Jane Collins, the Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire MEP, said that Mr Farage was trying to defend the indefensible. She said: ‘To make this kind of criminal behaviour seem normative makes me seriously question his judgement. Trump’s sexist and derogatory comments have unequivocally proven he is unfit to become President of the United States and Nigel Farage should think carefully about defending him.’ William Dartmouth, the MEP for the South West & Gibraltar issued a statement to ‘strongly dissociate himself from Mr Farage’s actions.’ He said: ‘I’m a supporter of Nigel but this goes too far. What message does it send to us in the UK for Nigel to be an apologist for Mr Trump? This is not usual locker room chat, nor is Mr Trump’s view shared by very many men.’ On Tuesday, Jonathan Arnold, MEP for the North East Region said he was disappointed that UKIP was being ‘sucked into the Trump campaign.’

Well, the whole matter is not a joke. Nigel should be ashamed of himself to have uttered such offensive words by claiming that it is not unusual for men to boast about their sexual conquests in such a disgusting manner.

We must never forget that sex is a gift from God, and is sacrosanct.

The Spain We Love

Footprints in Spain is a book every Briton should read, given that most of us have been drawn to Spain for centuries.

From the Pyrenes to Gibraltar and La Coruña to Murica, the Iberian Peninsula has played host to many momentous events that have shaped the culture, history and psyche of both nations. Over time, Spain has made its mark on some of Britain’s best-loved thinkers, writers and royals, from Catherine of Lancaster to Laurie Lee and Benjamin Disraeli to George Orwell.

Intelligent, humane and enlightening, this book tells the story of great British lives in Spain over the years. In doing so, it vividly charts the tumultuous history of Spain, its people and its British visitors, touching on everything from monarchy to tauromachy, Don Carlos to Don Quixote. Writing with warmth, colour and a keen eye for an anecdote, Simon Courtauld gets to the heart of Spanish life and sheds new light on this eternally fascinating country.


Simon is the author of seven previous books including Spanish Hours. In addition to many years spent travelling in Spain, he has been legal correspondent of The Times, deputy editor of the Spectator and a regular contributor to the Telegraph.

If you’ve never visited Spain, the book will more than enlighten you what to expect and see.

It will also be a marvellous Christmas present to give to  those whose love of travelling will induce them to add this book to their library and spread the good word around to ensure that this remarkable volume will gain the media coverage it deserves.


From time to time I come across something I’ve written ages ago which I believe those who read my blog may find rather amusing.

Tidying my desk last week, I unearthed a diary piece that I contributed to the New Statesman in August 1998, which seems worth recalling.

If I’m wrong then my hunch would have been misconceived on this occasion. Fingers crossed, here’s how it runs.



This is the season of shifts and fellow rootlessness. The government reshuffle is only the tip of the iceberg. Julian Critchley, who retired at the last election, told me there is nothing as ex as an ex-MP, but he does not yet know what it is like to be an out-of-work journalist. Like Derek Draper, I too have been sacked as a columnist on the Express. What did I do to deserve this fate?

There was no danger to democracy, I did not make exaggerated claims, I certainly did not send copy to be vetted by Peter Mandelson’s office. Indeed, for nearly 18 months, the editor Richard Addis, a good and wise man who once trained for the priesthood, allowed me free rein to indulge my passion for women. When he was sacked, it was only a matter of time before I became a victim of the battle-axe as well. It is a postmodern irony that my weekly column celebrating women should have been rejected by Rosie Boycott, once a woman herself before she gave up drugs and became addicted to political correctness. But the road from Spare Rib to the House of Lords is inscrutable and paved with acts of ruthlessness. That Boy George has been retained as an Express columnist is the cruellest cut of all. I am considering cross-dressing and maquillage to improve my employment prospects.
Fortunately I am blessed with a highly developed sense of the absurd, a condition sometimes found in those who are not, nor can ever be, establishment figures. Albert Camus, himself an outsider, battled his whole life with cosmic meaninglessness, eventually finding refuge in the absurd, which he saw as “the fundamental idea and the first truth”. I have learned to be wary of the business of truth, but the absurd seems to have as much claim as anything else. This is an odd position for a Roman Catholic, perhaps, but it is no longer enough to have faith. The Vatican now employs special investigators to check out the authenticity of miracles once regarded as divine. Even the devout Cherie Blair has taken to wearing a crystal pendant.
My boyhood ambition to be a journalist was thwarted by events in Palestine, prior to the formation of the state of Israel. My parents thought the dangers were too great and they were almost certainly right. But publishing has its own dangers.
In the late seventies I published a number of books putting the Palestinian point of view. Roald Dahl heaped praise on God Cried, which recounted the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Afterwards he used to say that his controversial review had prevented him getting his knighthood. Meanwhile George Weidenfeld would whisper to dinner guests that I was an active member of the PLO. I don’t think he believes it now, but from force of habit I still drop flat to the pavement every time a car backfires.
De mortuis nil nisi bonum. Thus spake Chilo, one of the seven sages, in the 6th century BC. This exhortation to speak kindly of the dead or not at all has never struck me as particularly wise; more of a license for cant and hypocrisy. In the part of the world where I grew up, the dead are not falsely revered; their warts live on after them. Since most of my subjects in the Oldie are unusually well past their allotted time-span, some have since departed this world and are presumably now talking to that great interviewer in the sky. I like to remember them for their foibles as much as their good points. A L Rowse divided people into two groups – those “complacent in their ignorance” and those “complacent in their mediocrity”. Having told me his sexual proclivities were private, he fondled my thigh throughout our brief encounter.
Monsignor Alfred Gilbey, the ultra-orthodox Catholic society priest who resided, till his death this year, at the Travellers’ Club, was for decades a chaplain at Cambridge. When I interviewed him he emerged as a woman-hater extraordinaire, nostalgic for the days when universities and other institutions were male preserves. He considered his view “wholly incompatible” with the God-given idea that women are not the equal of men. We must hope for Gilbey’s sake that God is not a woman.
It has been a constant fascination to me how many people turn out to be completely different from their public image. Conor Cruise O’Brien, who has a reputation for benevolent liberalism, revealed himself as an old reactionary. And the saintly, pacific Sir Laurens van der Post turned out to be quite jingoistic. He was also ungracious about Nelson Mandela, could not bear to be criticised and had an unedifying tantrum during the interview. The great and the good, just like the rest of us, can be perfectly ridiculous. My favourite eye-opener was Lord Goodman, a giant among men. After vetting me over breakfast – a sumptuous affair – he agreed to appear in my book Singular Encounters, which was to include several other ennobled celebrities. But about a month after the interview he withdrew permission for publication on the grounds that Richard Ingrams was to appear in the same volume.
“It is inexcusable to have lured me with a number of respectable names and to withhold the fact that Mr Ingrams was to be included in the book,” he wrote. A staggering example of pomposity.
Interviewing can also be perilous. I was shown the door by feminist icon Betty Friedan and bawled out by Patricia Highsmith, mistress of the psychological murder. Auberon Waugh said that my strength as an interviewer lay in my unshockability. It is true that I seldom feel shocked, but I do occasionally raise an eyebrow. Sir Kenneth Dover, distinguished Greek scholar and Chancellor of St Andrews University, told how he was so struck by the beauty on top of a hill south of Mignano that he sat down on a log and masturbated.


People can be their own worst enemy despite their evolution in scientific ‘progress’, for they can turn research into a deadly tool which poisons the environment, often without realising it.
Take for example the nuclear waste buried under the ice of Greenland during the Cold War.

A bunker is now at risk of being exposed due to global warming, scientists have warned. Radioactive coolant, sewage, diesel fuel and tons of PCBs – a chemical coolant banned in 1979 – were abandoned at a US camp, Century Base, when it was decommissioned in 1967.
The Americans left the base, which was used as a nuclear missile site under the assumption that snowfall would cover it up. When the site was mothballed, nuclear waste was buried in tunnels, 50 feet underground.

A study in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, found the ice melting faster than the snow is falling to replenish it, and warned that the material could be released into the oceans by the end of the century. What a disaster that could be.

On a more constructive note and to add to our knowledge, scientists have uncovered the first evidence of China’s Great Flood, the epic disaster that marked the birth of Chinese civilization but had increasingly been dismissed as a myth.

By analysing bones preserved from an earthquake believed to have caused the flooding, geologists also found that the disaster, and the start of the Xia dynasty, occurred centuries later than believed. This is the first time a flood of this scale – large enough to account for it – has been found, said David Cohen of National Taiwan University.

How interesting and devastating the power of nature can be.

I still believe that the end of the world will conceivably take place and what a colossal and frightening sight that would be. Hopefully, I will be in God’s Kingdom by then and can watch it from the safety of Heaven…

Oú Est La Crumpet?

eThe loony left in France has played havoc with the economy under the patronage and leadership of President Hollande, who will soon be consigned to oblivion as the French election looms high in the coming few months. Nicholas Sarkozy, who is now waiting in the wings, is probably as bad if not worse than his predecessor, assuming that he will manage to unseat him.

It transpires that Sarkozy during his term of office had the cheek to invite his cabinet to admire his wife Carla Bruni’s cleavage, and dubbed himself ‘as the poor man’s Tom Cruise’ according to a book published recently. Patrick Buisson was once one of Sarkozy’s closest aides and his memoirs have landed with a thump on the ex-president’s campaign to return to the Elyseé Palace.


In the book, Buisson describes Sarkosy as a shallow narcissist who sold ‘a Ponzi pyramid scheme’ of power and deluded himself that his love life enchanted the public. Instead, claims Boisson, many saw it ‘as the phallic triumphalism of a retarded adolescent who exalted in the power of having a trophy woman on his arm’. In one cabinet meeting, Sarkozy went into raptures about his wife’s chest and invited his ministers to do likewise.

Boisson claims Sarkozy also told his inner circle: ‘I know I am the poor man’s Tom Cruise… the born leader was in reality a fragile seducer subjugated by his conquests; a fake tough guy permanently dependent on affection; an unhappy soul yearning to be loved, living under the domination of an empire of women,’ Boisson wrote. The former advisor fell out of favour when Sarkozy lost the Presidency to Francois Hollande after just one term in 2012.

Sarkozy’s aides condemned the book La Cause du Peuple as a spiteful act of betrayal. Polls recently gave Alain Juppé, 71, Sarkozy’s moderate conservative rival, 40% support among right-leaning voters against 32% for Sarkozy, in the first round of primary elections on 20, November. Juppé is a former prime minister with a reputation for low-key competence.

Sarkozy, however, has already suffered a succession of blows. Two former security officials, Bernard Squarcini and Christian Flaesch, were placed under judicial examination after allegations of influence peddling. Investigators were also handed the dairy of a former Libyan oil minister who recorded a meeting to discuss funding for Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign with the spy chief, Abdullah Senussy and Bashir Saleh, Colonel Gaddafi’s private secretary. Sarkozy’s aides dismissed the story as bogus

The forthcoming presidential election in France is likely to be fought extremely hard with no holds barred. Scandals of one sort or another will certainly surface, some of which will indicate how low political standards have fallen throughout the world and France is certainly no exception.

Cherchez la femme will be a prominent factor used by the combatants, but at least with little tangible effect to the electorate, apart from its entertainment value.

More Memories

Writing my blog yesterday, remembering Margot Fonteyn, made me seek out a copy of Kieran Tunney’s autobiography. After many years, I read the Foreword I had written when Quartet had first published it. It struck me that it retains a quality of a gentler publishing time and deserves another life perhaps in the new media.

I first met Kieran Tunney in the summer of 1987. He was proposing to write a portrait of Margot Fonteyn to follow up the success of his book Tallulah, Darling of the Gods which was published in the early 1970s on both sides of the Atlantic. Before our encounter I knew nothing of the rather engaging man who walked into my office one morning, having had to climb four flights of stairs and as a result being visibly out of breath. He conveyed a sense of vulnerability which was gently tempered with an old-fashioned, rather distinguished manner rarely found in more recent generations. The old romantic values were there, the glamour and glitter of the Noël Coward era, and the appreciation of beauty and excellence shone through his tired frame. I could not help trying to imagine what it must have been like in those glorious thirties; favoured with good looks, endowed with wit and humour, the world at one’s feet, Kieran was certainly in the midst of it all. He was youthful debonair and talented, and had a great zest for living.

Although a portrait of Margot Fonteyn is not the kind of book normally associated with Quartet, I nevertheless felt a compulsion to commission it because I was enchanted. The feeling was inexplicable and I could only attribute it to a romanticism that we both shared.

The months went by, but progress on the book was slow. Kieran had to undergo a series of operations which left him extremely weak. He neither had the energy to research the book nor the strength to put pen to paper. He had to abandon the project with great sadness. Although short of money, he returned the advance we had given him for the book at great sacrifice to his own needs. I was very touched by his gesture and the dignity of the man, since we live in an age in which, in our quest for survival, we tend to undervalue tradition and chivalry.

Six months later, having been nursed back to health, Kieran was ready to write again. This time it was to be his autobiography. Two chapters were ready and submitted to Mr Robert Lantz, his agent in New York, who, upon reading the material, gave him a great deal of encouragement. I was approached by Kieran soon after with this new project. I, too, was very supportive and urged him to complete the work as soon as possible. Again his health deteriorated and he found himself unable to sustain the original impetus which had resulted in the two chapters already written.

Rather than give up, Kieran had an idea. Why not publish his play Aurora, famous for a variety of reasons but never published, plus the two chapters, since in part they related to the play? I felt great misgivings. Quartet had never published a play before, and I could visualise no obvious link between the interrupted autobiography, that is to say, the two chapters, and the play. At least, that was how I saw it before I read Aurora. Afterwards my attitude changed. I was exhilarated by its mystery and originality, by the strength of its dialogue and by its three main characters. Aurora, the heroin is on the face of it almost uncastable. The role has so many dimensions, is so rich and demanding, that the idea of finding an actress who could credibly attempt its challenge is formidable. But the play is a beautifully crafted surrealistic concept, unlike anything else I have read, and one that will lend itself to vivid imagery on the stage. I was seduced to the extent that I have decided not only to publish it, but also hopefully to produce the play in the West End of London. I know the difficulties will be immense, especially in the search for a leading lady to play Aurora, but I have always cherished an impossible task.

Kieran Tunney’s work is rich and melodic, his spirit undaunted by the ravages of nature. Had fate been kinder, there is no knowing what heights he might have scaled. He is worthy of effort and affection. It will be my glad endeavour to make one of his dreams come true. Aurora, dormant for so long, as in the play, will wake again, still youthful and having defied the vicissitudes of time.