On Article 50 and parliament

I have a confession to make: I was approached by the people who brought the case in the high court over the government’s right to trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary vote. They asked me if I’d consider writing an independent opinion to be included in the dossier handed to the justices – and I declined. I can’t actually find the email I sent to them but the general tenor of my refusal was: ça suffit!

The Great British Bake Off and the Labour party

I wonder if Tom Watson and Paul Hollywood are the same person? I have never seen them in the same room together – neither in the devil’s kitchen of Westminster, nor in the heavenly Great British Bake Off marquee. Now the Parliamentary Labour Party is being forced to shift to the ­political equivalent of Channel 4, and the Cake Meister is going with. As with the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, so with Bake Off: the former presenters have departed, leaving behind the weird, judgmental, wrinkly old narcissist claiming the high ground of loyalty to the viewers – I mean members.

The inquiry into historical child sexual abuse allegations has become a national farce

A French friend, in town for a couple of days recently, was suitably and ­stereotypically bemused by our latest bad news about terrible crimes: Justice Lowell Goddard’s resignation as the head of the inquiry into historical child abuse was closely preceded by new results from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, according to which 11 per cent of the women questioned, and 3 per cent of the men, said they had been sexually assaulted during childhood.

The spectacle of Boris Johnson in France

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

We remain gripped by a free-floating fantasy that settles on anything – such as the Chilcot report – that seems to offer redress

We all know the form: a Terrible ­Political Thing happens – and like many terrible political things that happen, it appears to have been caused by a combination of sheer contingency and human error. An inquiry is established to find out how far appearance conforms to reality (a philosophic question that has bedevilled thinkers for millennia, but let’s not dwell on that) and witnesses are interrogated to see if they either conspired or cocked up. In due course a Report is written comprising millions of words – and eventually (often after many years), it is released to be filleted by journalists in hours then reduced to two or three headlines, such as: “BLAIR EXONERATED” or indeed the reverse.

On location: Soap Street, Manchester

Soap Street in Manchester is filthy. A thick, decades-old deposit of soot and grime coats the old warehouse buildings, while underfoot there’s rotten fruit, discarded takeaway cups, broken glass: all the casual droppings of the urban herd. At its westerly end, the street – which is really little more than an alley – dog-legs right, and in the crook of this bricky elbow, beside bulging wheelie-bins, This & That resides. A local institution for rising thirty years, it offers a selection of three curries and rice, for a modest prix fixe, either to take away, or to eat in on melamine-topped tables.

Real meals: Joe Allen in Covent Garden

I once ate three meals in an evening – and how real is that? It was in Portugal, on the Algarve, and I was travelling alone, aged 20. At a beachfront café, I fell in with some German women who were a little older than me. One of them, who was horse-faced in an attractive, three-times-around-the-paddock-cantering-vigorously sort of way, took a shine to me – and took a shine in particular to the way that I demolished my steak and chips. “Mein Gott!” (or some other stereotypical German exclamation) she cried, “You are having the most impressive appetite – this is very sexy in a man!”

Real meals: cheese sandwiches

Scientists examining a chicken nugget have discovered DNA from over a hundred individuals mixed into a fowl mush. It makes you think, doesn’t it? I mean, I always used to say to my kids when they ordered nuggets, “You realise that’s made of crushed-up chicken eyelids and testicles,” but I still imagined these were the parts of at most two or three bodies. And while no one with eyes (lidded or otherwise) could fail to see how disgusting the battery farming industry is, this new intelligence gives it a truly diabolic cast: what we’re participating in here is a sort of chicken holocaust.

Madness of crowds: shirt tails

In his history Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (the work that lends its title to this column), Charles Mackay disdains the matter of fashion, regarding it as such a transparently crazy and bewilderingly evanescent phenomenon, that to discuss this or that rage for apparel would be quite de trop.