When the MPs’ expenses scandal broke, I actually leapt to their defence. Sure, there were some snouts in troughs. Sure, all that stuff about duck houses seemed – but turned out not to be – beyond parody. Did MPs really need to claim for bath plugs? Couldn’t they buy a packet of biscuits and not claim it back? But when the reports went on and on and on and on, I decided to speak – on Sky News and in a column – in their defence.
“The word ethics,” said Ann Gallagher, “stems from the Greek ethikos, which originally meant ‘custom’ or ‘habit’.” She was speaking at the launch of a new project at the University of Surrey, which has the (literally) cool name, or rather acronym, ICE. ICE, she explained, stands for the “International Care Ethics Observatory” and the best way of illustrating it was with an iceberg. That, she explained, was because the big, important stuff was what you didn’t necessarily see.
It started with an iPad. I stood up to let a woman off the bus, placed the iPad on the seat next to me as I gathered up my bags and watched as it slithered off the edge and on to the floor. My first thought when I picked it up was that the pattern of broken glass was strangely beautiful. It looked, I thought, like the branches of a tree, or perhaps a fountain. My second thought was that I might as well have just taken eight fifty-pound notes and set them alight.
Simon Stevens, the new chief of the NHS, won’t be short of free advice. He should, say people on the left, halt the rush to competition. He should, say people on the right, speed it up to weed out the losers. He should clamp down. He should toughen up. He should do everything he can to hold his 1.7m employees to account. He should, perhaps, run it like an army.
I want to write about Seamus Heaney, but first I want to write about Nora Ephron. It’s just over a year since Nora Ephron died. It is, in fact, a year and two months since Nora Ephron died. When she died, I was asked to write about her (for The Independent) and to talk about her (for Night Waves on Radio 3). I was happy to do this, since I loved her work.
I’m on holiday. I didn’t mean to be, but I am. I did mean to be here, in this tiny village, on a mountain in Spain. I did mean to be sitting on this hillside, gazing out at olive groves, and pine trees and a blue, blue sky. But what I meant to be doing was write. I was meant, now that I’m freelance, to be doing the kind of writing that means you can actually eat some food and pay some bills. I was meant, in fact, to be writing a little e-book.