Scenes of a little girl being reunited with her father on British soil looked wonderful, but were misleading – there’s no happy ending yet. In 2016, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was wrongly sentenced to five years for spying in Iran. While her husband returned to the UK to campaign for her release, their daughter, Gabriella, now five, lived with the maternal grandparents, visiting her mother weekly in prison. Now that Gabriella is back in Britain to start school, Richard Ratcliffe fears that his distraught wife will further deteriorate mentally and physically.
While Zaghari-Ratcliffe is happy that the Australian government managed to secure the release from Iran of dual British-Australian citizen Jolie King and her Australian boyfriend, Mark Firkin, within months, she’s increasingly desperate for freedom herself. What’s the hold-up? The smart money is on a £400m arms debt, owed by Britain to Iran. It didn’t help that, as foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, the blundering idiot, said that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was teaching journalism in Iran (she was on holiday).
Now, even as Richard Ratcliffe hugs Gabriella and says: “Let’s hope that this homecoming unlocks another”, there’s the sense of an ordinary woman suspended helplessly in a geopolitical web that’s more tangled by the second.
Meanwhile, in August, 19-year-old Harry Dunn was riding his motorbike near RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire when he was killed after colliding with a car allegedly driven by US diplomat’s wife Anne Sacoolas, who then returned to America, claiming diplomatic immunity. Johnson requested that she return to Britain for questioning. However, Donald Trump’s briefing notes were spotted at a press conference, saying that Sacoolas would not be returning. Not that Trump used these notes, preferring to ad-lib about how Americans sometimes drove on the wrong side of the road in Britain (“it happens”) and how they would “see what we can come up with, so there can be some healing”. Marvellous. Perhaps he is thinking of sending the Dunn family some crystals?
Denouncing Trump’s attitude as “oafish”, the Dunns also called foreign secretary Dominic Raab’s handling of their case “cold and strange”. Again, there’s the sense of ordinary people trapped in a grotesque web, reliant on British representatives rendered powerless.
Of course, these are two very different situations with no simple solutions. What they have in common is that both families have suffered appallingly, with Johnson’s inadequacy placed centre stage. First, there was his fudging of the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case; now his supposed special relationship with Trump vanishes at the first sign of trouble. It wasn’t even that Trump couldn’t help – rather, that he couldn’t care less about not helping, not even bothering to read from prepared notes. This should ring alarm bells for our future. Whatever the hard facts and cold realities of these specific cases, a broader message keeps hitting home – Britain has never mattered less
There’ll be hell to pay if goths can’t haunt graveyards
With Halloween imminent, the question must be asked – what are the ethics of goth-proofing a graveyard? There’s tension in the Cotswolds, where the vicar of Britain’s “most haunted” village, Prestbury in Gloucestershire, has banned tour operator Cotswold Ghost Tours from hosting walks in the graveyard.
One of the Rev Nick Bromfield’s points is that he finds it unacceptable for hen parties and ghost hunters to be tramping through the graveyardabout, perhaps straying unwittingly close to new graves. However, I also feel sympathy for the tour operators trying to make the most of Prestbury’s reputation, which includes tales of a ghostly horseman, hooves pounding for all eternity.
Let’s hope that a compromise can be reached. Vicars need to realise that graveyards often become chill-out zones for adolescents of the gloomier persuasion, wishing to gather to sip cheap, lukewarm alcohol from two-litre bottles and pretentiously discuss death. Yes, goths, and they have to go somewhere.
This is why all clergy should think twice before taking the radical step of goth removal. If they’re not careful, they could be forced into public areas, with their crimped hair, charity shop cravats and Strongbow bottles, and locals would soon be fondly reminiscing about when trick or treat happened just once a year.
Streaming? Forget it – HMV is the only gig in town
Good luck to the newly opened HMV “entertainment store” in Birmingham, the biggest of its kind in Europe. Sunrise Records boss, Doug Putman, rescued 100 HMV stores in February and intends to defy online and streaming trends, offering 80,000 CDs and 25,000 vinyl albums in the Birmingham store, as well as film, TV, books, technology, merchandise and a stage for bands. Putman also promised that HMV would “pay tax” – take that, Amazon.
Canadian Putman, a “vinyl nut”, seems to be the kind of customer he’s trying to attract, which always helps. Certainly, he realises that it’s key to create a sense of community among music lovers, making it not just about buying, but also about hanging out. For vinyl obsessives, this could also mean... vindication at last! A photo shows him grinning among the racks of vinyl and CDs, looking as though he’s rummaging at an old-school record fair. As someone who, in her rock chick days, used to stagger and crunch in heels across a carpet of discarded records to get to the turntable, against a backdrop of horrified screams from more “fastidious” music lovers, I’d be the first to admit this is not my world. However, Maybe I must belatedly concede that this is my loss.
Vinyl and CD heads have always been easy to stereotype: still dressing in band tour T-shirts long into middle age; perhaps prone to becoming a little over-excited at the discovery of limited edition, picture-disc “waxings” with original inner sleeves. However, the direction taken by HMV indicates that they were right all along. Their formats of choice have not only survived, they have prospered. Moreover, their tastes have evolved into a viable mainstream business model – not only evoking the past, but also the future, maybe even the saviour of high street rock’n’roll.
• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist