We met for lunch last week at Montpeliano. There were four of us – Burhan Al-Chalabi, Patrick Mercer, Bruce Anderson and myself. The terrace was open to the rain but we were dry behind a white lattice screen. We ate osso buco, spaghetti with lobster and mushroom risotto – all commendable.

The restaurant and the bitter-sweet, end-of-summer feel worked on me. I spoke about Italian crime fiction; also, about Yeats and his fascination with the proto-fascism of the rebels of the Easter Rising.

Burhan sat straight and told Patrick about his childhood in Mosul and his family’s military past. The aftermath of the London riots was on our minds, but Burhan particularly spoke of how the looting had cast him straight back to the horrors that he had witnessed in Mosul during the coup d’état in the 1958. He found it strange that the police acted so harshly before Christmas against students demonstrating about the raise in fees and yet they were timid in the face of rampaging looters.

I recommended Christopher Hibbert’s book, King Mob, as a way of putting the recent disorder in the slipstream of a very English tradition of rioting.

The imperial links between Britain and Iraq were raised by Patrick. He has been thinking recently of British war graves that lie almost forgotten in Iraq. He and Burhan discussed how these graves serve as poignant reminders of Britain’s tangled and sometimes tragic relationship with Iraq.

Bruce advocated that a tougher, yet more intimate probation service should be created. His view is that since many children lack fathers the probation officers should step into that gap and work much more closely with offenders throughout their transition from adolescence to adulthood.

There was apple pie to finish. It was fine to be sitting with the rain inches away and the restaurant quiet. Kenneth Clark’s obsession with Europe was part of the conversation at this stage, together with Patrick’s description of the beauties of the Crimea. Bruce was keen to assert his humane nature. I agreed, insofar that his recent writing for The London Magazine has certainly revealed an arch, yet tender aspect to his character.

The wet weather seemed as if it might be the harbinger of an early autumn and my thoughts turned to Hillaire Belloc’s great October book, The Four Men. It has become rather usual for me, after the coffee and brandy, to drift towards Belloc’s arts and crafts solutions to all political problems. However, we were out of time and so I spoke Belloc to Bruce in the taxi all the way to Victoria.

Steven O’Brien, Editor

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