Monthly Archives: October 2016


One of my initial objectives in becoming a publisher was to publish books of Middle Eastern interest, covering not only the Palestinian conflict and the suffering of the Palestinian people – which we did comprehensively – but also to promote Arab culture that had been so long ignored in the West. Historically the Arabs of ancient times contributed to the fields of science, medicine, mathematics and the arts. The eclipse of their contribution was largely due to the colonizing powers, which for centuries suppressed knowledge of their cultural evolution and almost destroyed the resulting heritage. Tribal strife was another key factor, impeding progress and diverting attention to more mundane pursuits which stifled learning and higher ideals. There remained, however, a rich crop of emerging writers whose work deserved recognition in the West, and especially in the English-speaking world.

I was determined to do my part in having the output translated into English to stand alongside Quartet’s international list, which was made up of sometimes obscure or newly discovered talent together with established writers. Although, from the commercial perspective, it was unrealistic to expect good financial returns in the short term, the inclusion of books emanating from or relating to the Middle East enabled Quartet to extend its frontiers to a readership in areas hitherto unknown to it. Leaving politics on one side, our Arab contribution in fiction was substantial. While Zelfa Hourani took charge of the Arab fiction list and developed it to great effect, I remained in direct control of what we published under the headings of non-fiction and politics.

A title of particular importance was Najib Alamuddin’s The Flying Sheikh, published in 1987, which chronicled the whole story of the founding and establishment of Middle East Airlines, of which he was chairman and president for twenty-five years. Sheikh Najib, who came from an eminent Druze family in Lebanon and became known as ‘The Flying Sheikh’, had a more detailed understanding than most of the complexities of Lebanese politics. He steered the airline through the stormy passages of Arab–Israeli conflict and sectarian strife in Lebanon, and ultimately ensured its survival in the face of formidable intrigues that had both internal and international origins. In 1993, Quartet went on to publish Turmoil: The Druzes, Lebanon and the Arab–Israeli Conflict, in which, with a vivid sense of history, Sheikh Najib traced the origins of the Druzes, of their relationships with other Islamic and Christian groups and of their position in Lebanon’s modern times of strife. He had many insights on the influence of the oil wars and the disastrous effects of the international arms trade in the region as a whole.

Dina Abdel Hamid told a more personal story in Duet for Freedom, published in 1988, with an introduction by John Le Carré. As a member of the Hashemite dynasty, Princess Dina had been briefly married to King Hussein of Jordan, but her book gave an epic account of events following the capture of her second husband, Salah Ta’amari, a spokesman for the PLO, during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. By an extraordinary chance, her attempts to contact Salah and free him from the hidden labyrinth of the notorious prison camp of Ansar, opened up the chance of negotiating with the Israelis for the release of thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese in exchange for six captured Israeli soldiers. Duet for Freedom was a true love story with many wider implications. Princess Dina is honorary godmother to our son Ramsay – honorary because of our religious differences, she being of Islamic descent while we belong to the Greek Catholic church.

In 1993 Quartet published Pamela Cooper’s lively and readable memoir, A Cloud of Forgetting. Pamela’s first husband was Patrick Hore-Ruthven, the son of the first Earl of Gowrie, who died on a commando mission in the Western Desert during the Second World War. She was the mother of Grey Gowrie and the Islamic scholar Malise Ruthven and had a long-standing connection with the Middle East from the time when she worked with Freya Stark in Cairo on her Brotherhood of Freedom project, designed to promote ideas of democracy among influential Arabs. With her second husband, Major Derek Cooper, she became active in the post-war years in humanitarian relief work. They were instrumental in founding the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and in 1976 dramatically got themselves expelled from Israel for their outspoken expressions of indignation at the treatment they saw being meted out to Palestinians in the country. For six weeks in 1982 they were trapped in Beirut during the Israeli siege and bombardment in the events leading up to the massacres of Palestinians in Sabra and Chatila. Derek’s side of the story of their adventurous life together was told in a biography by John Baynes, For Love or Justice: The Life of a Quixotic Soldier, which Quartet also published three years later.

It was a sign of the mark being made by Quartet that in 1994 Peter Lewis made us the focus of an article in a double issue of a prestigious literary journal, Panurge, entitled ‘Quartet & Arab Women’. He selected four Quartet titles: Djura’s The Veil of Silence, Aïcha Lemsine’s The Chrysalis, Sabiha Khemir’s Waiting in the Future for the Past to Come and Hanan al-Shaykh’s Women of Sand and Myrrh; but first he assessed the situation in British publishing for translations intended for the domestic market. The situation in general, he concluded, was dire, John Calder’s departure in despair for Paris having said much about the ‘closed, reactionary intellectual climate in Britain’. Calder and Marion Boyars had previously made great efforts, together and under their separate imprints, to introduce into Britain new writing from abroad, but now silver linings were hard to find. Quartet Books, on the other hand, had ‘been pursuing what may be called the Calder–Boyars enterprise with considerable imagination’.

In 1993, for example, Quartet published fiction and non-fiction titles translated from a number of European languages, including Romanian and Swedish as well as French, Spanish and Russian. In spite of having high reputations in their own countries, most of these authors are unknown in Britain, although the list does include Julien Green, translations of whose fiction first appeared decades ago.
Even more unusual and enterprising, however, has been Quartet’s commitment to what it calls the ‘Middle East’, but which includes most of the Arab world.

The evidence indicated that writing in such countries as Morocco and Algeria was ‘flourishing as never before’. The French ‘colonial connection and its francophone legacy’ meant there was a significantly better situation in France for the publishing of this new literature, but recognition in Britain was still ‘barely perceptible’. The common thread in the four books he had under consideration was that their authors’ primary purpose was to ‘explore and give voice to the experience of women in their cultures’, though none of them could be said to be writing feminist polemics. The lack of educational opportunities would have made such attempts at writing impossible for even the preceding generation. Djura, in telling the story of the violence against herself encountered within her own family in The Veil of Silence (translated by Dorothy S. Blair), was speaking for all those women ‘who keep silent out of fear, who seek a decent life while they are forbidden even to exist’. Yet she still tried to hold on to those positive elements in her heritage that she could identify with, her song troupe, Djurdjura, having the aim of singing ‘out loud what their mothers would only murmur under their breath’.

In The Chrysalis, Aïcha Lemsine gave a historic sweep to these cultural changes in Algerian society over two generations, where a young woman who has broken free to become a doctor is sucked back into and almost destroyed by the old ways, the situation only being redeemed by her stepmother’s defiance of convention and show of womanly solidarity. Sabiha Khemir’s Waiting in the Future for the Past to Come was unusual in that it was written in English in the first place. It reached out for a more mythic, storytelling way of giving an account of the changes in women’s experiences and expectations in post-independence Tunisia. The collision between tradition and modernity was there, but with ‘a sense of new life emerging from the old without a radical severing of connections with the past’.

Hanan al-Shaykh’s Women of Sand and Myrrh was a follow-up to her first translated novel, The Story of Zahra, that Quartet published with success in 1986. Women of Sand and Myrrh (translated by Catherine Cobham) interwove the stories of four women living in an unnamed Arab country in the Arabian Gulf. Two of them belong to the country itself, the other two are Lebanese and American respectively. Al-Shaykh, said Lewis, ‘is primarily a psychological novelist, exploring the inner lives of her main characters as they try to define themselves through their relationships with women and men . . . in a social context that inhibits their potential for development and fulfilment’.

In Lewis’s view, only one of the four books he had listed would have been available in Britain had there not been a publisher in London committed to issuing ‘a substantial number of books in translation’. On the continent most countries – including a large one like Germany with no shortage of writers of its own – had an abundant supply of books translated from English.

The reverse is not true. To its credit, Quartet has been doing a great deal to rectify this state of affairs, and its advocacy of writers from the Arab world is particularly to be applauded. Very little normally reaches us from these countries, and this is most regrettable when literary activity there is flourishing as never before. Perhaps the next time an Arab writer is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Brits will not look totally mystified and resort to snideries about positive discrimination being exercised in favour of unheard-of second-raters from the Third World.

The following summaries of other selected fiction that we published in this area will help to give the reader a flavour of what was certainly expanding into a major list worthy of close attention. My Grandmother’s Cactus: Stories by Egyptian Women (translated and introduced by Marilyn Booth) was an anthology of stories by the latest generation of women writers in Egypt. Like some of the others already mentioned, they often featured experiments with new narrative patterns that drew on legend and myth. Beneath a Sky of Porphyry (translated by Dorothy S. Blair) was a second novel from Aïcha Lemsine, this one being set at the time of Algeria’s war of liberation from the French, telling of the effects of the conflict on the lives of a group of villagers. In much the same vein was Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade by Assia Djebar (translated by Dorothy S. Blair), which set the life of a young girl against the same background of conflict, based in part on eyewitness accounts of ruthless acts of barbarism by the French colonial forces. Return to Jerusalem by Hassan Jamal Husseini, a leading Palestinian diplomat and businessman, was a novel (written in English) that told the story of a Palestinian journalist arrested in Kafkaesque circumstances in Jerusalem by the Israeli security forces and absorbed into Israel’s prison system to suffer the authorities’ interrogation techniques alternating between brutality and cajolery.

The genre of historical novel was also represented, including an international bestseller, Leo the African by Amin Maalouf (translated by Peter Sluglett), based on the colourful life of the sixteenth-century geographer and traveller Leo Africanus, author of the renowned Description of Africa, written in Italy after he had been captured by a Sicilian pirate. Elissa by a Tunisian author, Fawzi Mellah (translated by Howard Curtis), was set between the eighth century bc and the present, and concerns a scholar who purports to be translating a letter from a collection of Punic tablets that tells of Elissa’s fabulous voyage after fleeing Tyre, which leads to her becoming Queen of Carthage (aka Dido); though he loses track of what he has translated and what he has invented.

Another novel set in Alexandria by Edwar al-Kharrat, City of Saffron (translated by Frances Liardet), centred on the growing up of a boy who slowly gains an awareness of the nature of the lives of the adult men and women around him. Behind Closed Doors: Tales of Tunisian Women by Monia Hejaiej described the importance of oral storytelling in the lives of three women of Tunis, their views competing and contradictory, in preserving a conservative, moralistic attitude to set against the rebellious and subversive. From Libya there came a distinguished trilogy, Gardens of the Night by Ahmed Faqih (translated by Russell Harris, Amin al-’Ayouti and Suraya ‘Allam), published in one volume. It began with I Shall Present You with Another City, where the narrator is in Edinburgh as a student, writing a thesis on sex and violence in the Arabian Nights; the second title in the sequence, These Are the Borders of My Kingdom, found him back in Libya in a loveless marriage, suffering a breakdown which brings on trances that make him think he is a prince in the Arabian Nights, falling in love with a beautiful princess; and the third was A Tunnel Lit by One Woman, in which a female colleague seems to embody the princess of his visions, though the reality gradually evolves towards disillusion.

The theme of North African migrant workers in France was the subject of Solitaire by a Moroccan author living in France, Tahar Ben Jelloun. Ben Jelloun had a powerful imagination, as Solitaire (translated by Gareth Stanton and Nick Hindley) showed. His twenty-six-year-old central character is condemned by emigration and exile to be trapped in both internal and outward isolation – his own thoughts and the hatred and racism on the streets. Another novel by Ben Jelloun, The Sand Child, was the story of a family where the father can produce only daughters, and when the eighth arrives vows that she must be brought up as a boy; with the result that her/his future is marked by the deceptions and hypocrisies that dissect Arab society. The sequel to this, The Sacred Night (translated by Alan Sheridan), took up the story of the boy becoming a woman after the father’s death, struggling to be reborn in a corrupt, enslaving society through suffering and mutilation. The Sacred Night was winner of the 1987 Prix Goncourt.


Coffee is perhaps the most popular drink worldwide. It brings people together, it calms nerves in a crisis, it is socially addictive and has a certain elegance, when properly served and consumed. With some people more than one cup of coffee is needed to get started in the morning. It may not be just tiredness though that’s to blame.

Scientists say the need for caffeine is in our DNA, with a particular gene found among those who drink less coffee. It is thought the gene, known as PDSS2, makes it harder for cells to break down caffeine, meaning it stays in the body for longer. As a result, someone with the gene would need to drink less coffee to get the same buzz as someone without it.

The theory comes in a study by scientists at Edinburgh University, who questioned more than 1,200 Italians on their coffee-drinking habits. The men and women also had their DNA read – and those who had the PDSS2 gene were found to drink around a cup of coffee less a day than the others. A second analysis of 1,700 people from the Netherlands confirmed the results, although the effect of genes on the number of cups consumed were slightly lower.

The scientists, who worked with researchers from the Italian coffee company Illy, said the difference could be down to the styles of coffee drunk in the two countries. In Italy people tend to drink smaller cups such as espresso whereas in the Netherlands, the preference is towards larger cups which contain more caffeine overall. Researcher Dr Nicola Pirastu said: ‘The result of our study adds to existing research suggesting that our drive to drink coffee may be imbedded in our genes.’

Caffeine is the world’s favourite stimulant with nearly 90 per cent of adults regularly eating or drinking it in some form. The British alone get through some 70 million cups of coffee a day and 165 million cups of tea. It is thought the number of British people with or without the gene is split fairly evenly, with half having a coffee habit and half easily turning down a second cup. Dr Pirastu suspects he has the-cup-after-cup version and says: ‘I’m one of the few geneticists who haven’t had any DNA read – but I do drink lots of coffee. I can drink it before I go to bed and it has no effect on me.’

The researchers previously found another gene that is carried by people who say they like coffee more. However, these people don’t drink more coffee than others and Dr Pirastu believes that our coffee habit, or the lack of it, has more to do with the effect of caffeine than the way it tastes. He added: ‘This study reinforces the idea that genetics play a very important role in our everyday habits and lifestyles and understanding. This is helping us not only to know how people behave but also why, which will allow us to understand how to act on them.’

The research, detailed in journal Scientific Reports, could shed new light on how coffee seems to ward off certain diseases, including Parkinson’s and some cancers. Plus, some of the chemistry involved in the breakdown of caffeine is involved in the metabolism of medicines. So understanding the process could help doctors understand why some patients respond better to drugs than others.

I find that habit has got a lot to do with how one’s body reacts to caffeine. I am now comfortable drinking coffee at night, whereas this was not the case a few years ago. If anything now, the effect seems to lull me to sleep. How queer is that?


Could the secret of longevity in an idyllic Italian village be attributable to generous consumption of rosemary in its diet, or is it perhaps the joy of regular sex compounded by hard work that gives the villagers immunity to an early death? The idea that rosemary may be helping to keep Cilento’s pensioners, south of Naples, alive well into their nineties is another claim for a plant, which is already credited with boosting memory, improving mood, soothing inflammation, helping the immune system and even curing bad breath.

It is nearly lunchtime and Maria Vassallo, 95, is having a break after four hour’s bustling around the kitchen of her daughter’s restaurant, giving orders, rolling pasta and baking cakes. ‘I help out because if I stop doing things I get sick,’ she said. Mrs Vassallo is one of the hundreds of ninety-somethings and centarians drawing scientists to the Cilento region to find what makes them tick.

Keeping busy, good genes and low stress are obvious factors in the fishing village of Acciaroli, where 81 of the population of 600 are in their nineties. But it is the rosemary in a vase in Maria’s kitchen that experts suspect may be a magic bullet, helping the area rank with other pockets of remarkable longevity such as Okinawa in Japan. After taking blood samples, the team spotted molecules called ‘metabolites’, of a type not seen before. These may be pushing nutrients down into blood vessels to the brain and organs, ensuring heart conditions, Alzheimer’s, and even cataracts, are almost unheard of locally.

‘These people have beautiful micro-circulation,’ said Alan Maisel, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at San Diego School of Medicine, who took part in the study. The specialists suspect a link between the metabolites and consumption of rosemary and other wild herbs and vegetables such as mint and chicory.

Giuseppe Vassallo, 94, a cousin of Maria, is a poster boy for the theory. ‘We are the generation that had to eat what we found growing wild during the war,’ he said. ‘When you were bent double and hungry, harvesting olives, you could pick chicory and eat it. And when you cooked it, you could save the water which made a healthy drink.’ Standing in his orchards of oranges, lemons and persimmon trees, surrounded by his runner beans, aubergines and peppers, Mr Vassallo discusses the benefits of roasting chickens with rosemary and stuffing baked fish with mint. The former fishermen, who smoked unfiltered cigarettes for 6o years, also has theories concerning another elixir of youth – sex. ‘My wife died seven years ago and one day I said, “I need to find a woman”. Since then girlfriends have helped me feel alive.’

Across the street, Maria Vassallo’s brother, Antonio, 100, sits in the front room of the house where he was born next to his wife, Amina, 94, who is explaining how her generation cured stomach aches by splitting open a cardoon – a wild type of thistle – and drinking the juices inside. ‘When we boiled up chicory, cardoon and wild fennel in pork broth it was like Christmas for us,’ she recalled.

Luigi Buonadonna, a local doctor, said: ‘When pensioners turn up at my surgery I assume they are ill but they are just keen to say hallo and chat.’ Professor Maisel does not believe rosemary alone guarantees longevity. Physical exercise is key: ‘It’s not how old the locals are but how active they are,’ said Acciaroli’s Mayor, Steffano Bisani, 40. He believes tight family ties are also crucial.

Antonio Vassallo may be 100 but he doesn’t care about molecules in his body. What he knows is that if his wife wasn’t there looking after him he’d be long dead. What a wise man he is. We all need a loving wife without whom, no matter what, life becomes intolerable. It isn’t the longevity of life that is crucial. It is its quality and the environment we find ourselves in old age.

China to the Forefront

The more we pry into the enormity of  the  universe the more we find ourselves baffled as to what lies there – totally undiscovered and verging towards what we can describe as the infinity of creation. The mere concept of infinity is hard to imagine and yet the gigantic fields of unchartered territories of space which cannot be quantified is beyond the comprehension of the human brain. Can we ever at least gain some knowledge as to what has remained the greatest mystery of mankind and perhaps find alien civilisations many moons away who are more advanced than our own with capabilities that defy the imaginative realm that defines us?

If the truth is out there, China is determined to find it with a radio telescope that has been switched on recently which astronomers have described as a ‘game changer’ in the search for extra-terrestrial life.



The world’s largest stargazer will allow China to look further into space than any nation has before. The dish, which is known as FAST (Five-hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope) is made up of 4,450 triangular panels and is nestled in a valley in the south-western Guizhou Province.

It not only dwarfs the next biggest disc, Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico which is 300m wide, but it is also ten times more sensitive according to Zheng Xionian, deputy director of China’s National Astronomical Observatories which constructed FAST. The 140m-high telescope seeks to unlock answers on the evolution of the universe through studying the distribution of neutral hydrogen and it will also gather data on phenomena including pulsars and black holes. But it is the ability of the gargantuan dish to hunt for extra-terrestrial life which has some scientists excited.

‘Past efforts have been described as someone walking to the edge of the ocean, dipping in a glass and concluding there are no fish,’ said Jane Johnson, Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. But now ‘a more thorough search is possible’ the expert on the Chinese state program added.

It has taken more than two decades for FAST to become a reality. The project was first mooted in 1993 but it was ten years until scientists first settled on an appropriate site – a large, round, depression surrounded by verdant hills about 100 miles south of the city of Guiyang.

The mountains created an equilateral triangle meaning that the dish could be positioned into the valley like an egg in an eggcup without the need to dig. Dr Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, an organisation that promotes sending messages into space in the hope of finding alien life, said the dish would be able to ‘churn through the cosmic static looking for the tell-tale signs of intelligence.’

‘FAST will look for signs of advanced extra-terrestrial civilisations in the vicinity of other stars seeking radio signals that stand out as unlike anything the universe can create,’ Dr Vakoch said. ‘It is a game changer in the search for life in the universe,’ he added.

Well, I am personally excited and intrigued by the latest Chinese efforts to unravel aspects of the universe that have so far remained a great mystery. What  a great achievement that would be.


Lily James is a young actress with all the graces of an English rose, which she truly is.

Best known for her roles as Lady Rose Aldridge in the ITV period drama Downton Abbey and the title role in the 2015 Disney film Cinderella, she began her acting career as Ethel Brown in the 2010 BBC production of Just William. In 2011 and 2012 she deservedly earned warm reviews in several London theatre productions. From there she began to appear in Hollywood films in 2012, with roles in Wrath of the Titans and Fast Girls and was seen in further television roles including the character of Natasha Rostova in the 2016 BBC historical drama War and Peace.



Now she seems to have graduated to scale the heights of the modelling industry by shedding the period drama’s stuffy decorum with a rather revealing photoshoot by the illustrious fashion photographer Mario Testino who is known to have mastered the art of combining nudity with elegance in an advert promoting My Burberry Black fragrance.
The perfume is said to evoke a flower garden after a storm. Lily looks a sparkling gem defining a sleepy sexuality which transports her fans to the realms of a refined exploration of eroticism.

Lily may be new to fronting advertising campaigns but on her present form nothing is beyond her reach.


Having backed Theresa May in her bid to lead the Conservative Party and become prime minister, I feel somehow dejected, as I realise more and more that her oratory has no real substance. No one seems to know what her real policies are and where as a nation we are heading. Brexit has become her favourite tune in order to placate her divided inner cabinet who, it seems, are given leeway to make wild pronouncements that veer away from practicalities and are unlikely to translate into effectiveness.


Hard Brexit would be a disaster if applied and Britain will suffer as a result. We must never forget our European ties whatever the circumstances, as the world at large will not give us the support we hallucinate about. I fear she is playing with fire and her odds of survival do not augur well. Unless she cleans up her act and stops a rhetoric that is meaningless and utterly confusing, the months ahead will play havoc with the economy and her enemies will become more emboldened to unseat her.

Trouble is brewing in Scotland and can make matters unsettling in other parts of the United Kingdom. Even Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, is now deeply concerned that the Prime Minister is trying to give him orders over the Bank’s policies. The honeymoon period will soon be over and she needs all the wisdom she can muster to lead this country out of this current uncertainty.

This country’s future is bound to get worse if the Brexiteers’ misguided demands are not contained sooner rather than later. Beware the Ides of March when the negotiations with the EU are scheduled to start. Crossing the Rubicon is Theresa May’s only salvation.


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.