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Halfway to wisdom
December 2017 / January 2018


One thing I can pronounce upon with confidence is that I know a bogus hunger strike when I see it. Although the UK’s terror threat remains severe, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, recently announced that he was going to abstain from solids in solidarity with two terrorists in Guantanamo Bay.

Saudi-born Mohammed Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani (an assistant to Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and Yemen-born Khaled Ahmad (who fought against the US at Tora Bora) are both at present on hunger strike. As a result Watson said that nothing would pass his lips either. Other than water. For 24 hours. Coincidentally, the announcement came just two days after Watson announced that he was planning to go on a slimming diet. The world is full of strange news these days. But who would ever have thought that two members of al-Qaeda would help Tom Watson lose weight?

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Londoners often take for granted just how much there is to see and enjoy. As I have learned first-hand, almost no other city in the developed world can boast quite so much. On one recent Friday I attended a lunchtime recital of Brahms’s First Cello Sonata, then in the evening went to the Wigmore Hall to hear the German singer Max Raabe. Anybody who has not heard him should head to YouTube immediately. Although he occasionally does some contemporary songs, his specialism is German popular songs from the 1920s and ’30s. The crime-scene tape that remains around this whole scene is lifted slightly by the number of songs by Jewish composers and lyricists which Raabe includes. While he often performs with his Palast Orchestra, for this night it was just him, his pianist and a solitary pre-war era microphone into which Raabe sang and whistled.

I don’t think I have ever heard an audience listen so intently to any singer. Raabe’s voice is so supple, his diction so perfect that — like his witty introductions between songs — not a single inflection gets lost. The silence after the 1910 Liebesleid (“Love comes, love goes”) was a moment of veneration, the sigh of pleasure after the song from A Day at the Races (“Tomorrow is another day”) one of the deepest contentment.
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