- How dreadful the food is. 'God knows what they do to the bread'. My friend actually lost weight, which is an achievement for a holiday, because she couldn't eat much of what was served up.
- And yet, the quantity of food given you. Cathleen went to a Thai restaurant and on being presented with a vast platter of curry she couldn't possibly eat, was told by the Thai-born proprietors that the restaurant critics rate eateries less by the quality of what's served up than by how big the portions are, so they feel they don't have a choice.
- Apparent levels of obesity, and homelessness.
- How shabby a lot of the hotels were, once you strayed beyond the top-level ones in big cities.
- How limited even the nicest peoples' world-view was:
- London, England.
- Wow! Aren't you frightened to live there?
- Er, no, why?
- Because you've got so many Muslims there.
- Well, yes, there are some Muslims, and there are lots of Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, everything. We all sort of get on.
- Don't you have a Muslim mayor?
- Yes, I think he's pretty good.
- But you're not a Muslim!
- Er, no, should I be?
As I spoke to Cathleen, I couldn't help thinking that this doesn't sound like a nation at the top of its game: it sounds distinctly, if obliquely, like one in decline in a very deep way, trading off its past and not making a very healthy transition to a new future. This should be familiar enough to us in the UK, and puts current events in a revealing light.
Having led the world for a century or thereabouts, the US is sliding, relatively and perhaps even absolutely. We went through this, nobody ever talked about it explicitly, and we reaped the results in the EU referendum. Even Mrs Thatcher, who swept aside with energetic brutality so much of the old post-war world which had entirely failed to face up to the truth about Britain's future, was still desperately deluded about the scope of its options. As for the choice the States faces today, Mrs Clinton barely wants to talk about decline at all, probably because she knows she can't do much about it, while Mr Trump talks about it incessantly but erroneously thinks he can.
Not that the rest of the world is doing that brilliantly. Russia throws its weight around but its economy is hollow. China's period of exponential growth is over and it has to work out how to settle down to something approaching economic normality without poisoning too many of its people. 'Well, India seems to be doing all right,' I suggested to the half-Indian Ms Formerly Aldgate when we discussed all this. I wish I could recall the details of her scornful reply.