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The Spectator’s notes

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Apologies for my absence from this column. My editors kindly let me get on with the final volume of my Thatcher biography. In my one week of actual holiday — in northern England and in Scotland — I had cause to reflect on what makes a good conversation. The problem with so many social conversations (lunch, dinner, parties) is that talk is compulsory. This can be a helpful thing, but it penalises those who are interesting but shy against those who are more assertive than interesting. Conversations among people engaged in an outdoor pursuit are quite different. They can start, stop and resume without any embarrassment, and they rest on the reassuring basis of a common interest. I imagine this must be true of sailing or fishing. It certainly is of hunting with hounds. It also occurs if you are shooting with loaders, as I was. You stand all day together, except when you move between drives. There is no requirement to chat at all, so when talk comes, it is unforced. I can honestly say that in scores of such days, I have never been saddled with a man who was boring, drunk, rude or narrow-minded. Better than that, I have almost always found myself with a loader who has taught me a lot — about the country before us, about what I am doing wrong, sometimes about life in general. Although loaders are often keepers from nearby estates or retired keepers, they often have quite different backgrounds. This year, I had, among others, an ex-electrician from the West........

© The Spectator