I spent Monday morning being taught how to use a shotgun at E.J. Churchill, a shooting ground in High Wycombe. If you’re a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds you probably won’t approve, but it gets worse. I was with my friend Merlin Wright and we had taken our 12-year-old sons with us so that they could learn how to shoot, too. Needless to say, after they’d hit a few clays they were completely hooked and couldn’t wait to take aim at the real thing.
Merlin brought his own gun and is an experienced shot, but I’m a bit of a novice. Until two years ago I’d never been on a proper grouse shoot. Its appeal was immediate. I don’t just mean the sheer sport of trying to hit a low-flying bird travelling at high speed in a wiggly line (the avian equivalent of a North Korean missile). There’s also the beauty of the moorland when the heather is in full bloom, the springy feeling of the grass underfoot, the abundant wildlife. (To read more, click here.)
In Absolute Friends, one of John le Carré’s lesser works, the central character explains his rebirth as a left-wing firebrand, radicalised by Britain’s support for America’s invasion of Iraq. ‘It’s the old man’s impatience coming on early,’ he says. ‘It’s anger at seeing the show come round again one too many times.’ This is followed by a rant about ‘the death of empire’, our ‘dismally ill-managed country’ and ‘the renegade hyperpower that thinks it can treat the rest of the world as its allotment’ (not Russia, obviously, but the United States).
I felt a similar spurt of rage on learning that Le Carré’s most famous show — the seedy world of British intelligence, or ‘the Circus’, as he calls it — is about to come round again. Later this month, the 85-year-old author will publish A Legacy of Spies, which revisits the events of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and resurrects several of his long defunct characters, including George Smiley. Once again, the reader will be plunged into the slightly smelly, morally ambiguous universe of the Cold War and its psychologically damaged protagonists. Once again, Le Carré’s fans will be able to tell themselves how sophisticated they are for rising above the good-vs-evil simplicities of inferior espionage novelists. Once again, they’ll give themselves permission to enjoy what is, essentially, an airport thriller by reassuring themselves that Le Carré is really a literary writer who ‘transcends’ the limits of genre fiction. (To read more, click here.)
The amount of nonsense being talked about the new GCSEs in English and maths, whereby exams have been graded 9-1 rather than A-G, is astonishing. The new grading system is ‘gibberish’ and will cost young people jobs, according to the Institute of Directors. The NSPCC thinks greater differentiation at the top end, with 9 being worth more than A, will take a terrible toll on children’s mental health, while Mary Bousted, the General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says the new system is ‘inherently ridiculous’. ‘To put 1 at the lowest and 9 at the top when the grades go alphabetically in a different order from A* to G just seems to put the icing on the cake,’ she says.
Let us take these points in reverse order. There are two reasons why 9 is the highest grade and 1 the lowest. First, in most other countries that use a numerical system, 1 is the lowest grade so to do the opposite would create confusion. Second, it makes it easier to add higher grades in the future — a 10, for instance. If Ofqual, the exam regulator, had made 1 the highest grade it would effectively be saying that the most brilliant students of tomorrow can never be better than the most brilliant students of today, which is obviously nonsense. (To read more, click here.)
For years, Caroline and I have been squabbling over where to spend our summer holidays. Her ideal is a family-friendly Mediterranean resort where she can lie on a beach reading a paperback, while mine involves renting a car and driving from place to place, staying in Airbnbs and packing in as many ‘fun’ activities as we can. Last year she got her way; this year it was my turn.
So we took an easyJet flight from Gatwick to Munich. Admittedly not perfect, given that we were going to Italy, but it was the cheapest deal I could find: £450 all-in, including the kids. A bargain, even factoring in a 6.25 a.m. departure and a return flight to Luton. We ended up sprinting to the departure lounge after I’d miscalculated how long it would take to get through security — the perfect adrenalin-fuelled start to the holiday as far as I was concerned, although Caroline took a different view. (To read more, click here.)
With James Delingpole away in Greece, John Podhoretz steps in to discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones with me on Ricochet. His take on whether there is a progressive thread running through the saga is surprisingly sanguine and even-handed. Click here to listen.
written by an employee of Google called James Damore criticising the company’s efforts to diversify its workforce. This is 'where angels fear to tread' territory. The America technology sector has come under heavy fire for a number of years for failing to hire and promote enough women and Google is currently being investigated by the US Department of Labour for allegedly under-paying its female employees. But what makes this memo particularly controversial is that Damore takes Google to task for discriminating in favour of women.
He begins by saying he is pro-diversity and accepts that one of the reasons women don’t constitute 50 per cent of the workforce in the tech industry is because of sexism. But Damore goes on to say that psychological differences between men and women are also a factor and that these differences are, in part, biologically-based. For instance, he points out that women in general are more interested in people than things, which helps to explain why fewer women than men study computer science at university and apply for programming jobs. He also says that women in general value a good work-life balance, whereas men are more inclined to work long, anti-social hours to further their careers – probably a more important reason than ‘unconscious bias’ when it comes to explaining why there aren’t more women in leadership positions in tech. He goes on to argue that, in light of these differences, positively discriminating in favour of women may end up harming Google at the expense of better-qualified, harder-working men.
Before I get to the reaction the memo has provoked, which I’m sure you can imagine, it’s worth noting one more thing. (To read more, click here.)