It's a great historical joke that when the Spanish met the Aztecs, it was a blind date made in serve-you-right heaven. At the time, they were the two most unpleasant cultures in the entire world, and richly deserved each other. Still, the story of how stout Cortes blustered, bullied and bludgeoned his way to collapsing an entire empire with a handful of contagious hoodlums is astonishing.
Celebrity is a national drama whose characters' parts and plots are written by the tabloids, gossip columnists, websites and interactive buttons. The famous don't actually have to turn up to their own lives at all.
I walk up a dune to a beach and look out to sea, but it's 100km away. The ships lie askew in their dry beds, at anchor for ever. Today is my son's birthday. Thousands of miles from here, his healthy lungs are blowing out candles. I should be there but I'm here with another boy, who puts his face close to mine and laughs. I smile back but realise he can't see it, because I'm wearing an antiseptic muzzles to protect me from his breath.
Television is a constant stream of fact, opinions, lies, moral dilemmas, plots: an infinitely complex and sophisticated torrent of information. How could it not make you cleverer? The only people who ever thought television rotted the brain and made kids dumb were those with a vested interest in other ways of learning, or those who were intellectually insecure, usually about books.
A country scratching a lazy irritation at sagging doorjambs and late trains, whose greatest attribute is a collective, smelly tolerance, where a chap will put up with almost everything, which means he won't care about anything enough to get out of a chair.A country of public insouciance and private, grubby guilt, where you can believe anything as long as you don't believe it too fervently. A country where the highest aspiration is for a quiet life.
A broadsheet obituarist once pointed out to me that veteran soldiers die by rank. First to go are the generals, admirals and air marshals, then the brigadiers, then a bit of a gap and the colonels and wing commanders and passed-over majors, then a steady trickle of captains and lieutenants. As they get older and rarer, so the soldiers are mythologised and grow ever more heroic, until finally drummer boys and under-age privates are venerated and laurelled with honours like ancient field marshals. There is something touching about that.