The Spectator

A weekly, UK-based magazine covering current political, economic, and cultural issues. Articles include interviews, commentary, opinion pieces, essays, and cultural criticism.

Articles from April 2011

A Certain Tragic Allure
The Shah by Abbas Milani Palgrave Macmillan, £14.99, pp. 496, ISBN 9781403971937 Towards Mohammed Reza Pahlavi (19191980), the last or most recent Shah of Iran, there are two principal attitudes. To the Islamic Republic and many in Europe and the...
All Theatrical Bigots Should Be Equal in the Eyes of the Law
What, to your mind, constitutes a 'hate crime'? I've been wondering about this since reading the comments of Paul Marshall, of the Cumbria CID. Paul had been expressing his great satisfaction that a shaven-headed lumpenprole idiot called Andrew Ryan...
Barometer
Easter day The late date of Easter this year has rekindled one of Britain's lengthiest political debates: the implementation, or rather non-implementation, of the Easter Act 1928. The act was to fix the date of Easter on the Sunday following the second...
Beastly Behaviour
Hill Farm by Miranda France Chatto, £12.99, pp. 284, ISBN 9780701185800 If the production team of The Archers ever needs a scriptwriter at short notice, they need look no further than Miranda France. For her latest book, she's gone back to her roots...
Centurion
This year marks a number of important centenaries. Last week I mentioned the centenary of the RAC chess circle, with its hundred-board simultaneous display, while in this issue I celebrate the 100th anniversaries of the births of Sammy Reshevsky and...
David Attenborough
One day it will sink in what David Attenborough has done. Before him natural history was limited by one's own experience. Now it is shared culture. We have been there, thanks to him, when corals spawn under a full moon, when killer whales snatch sea...
Dear Mary - Your Problems Solver
Q. My friend John sets the standard of dress for our small community. It has come to his notice that HRH the Duke of Edinburgh is sporting black suede shoes with black tie. I think John is keen to adopt this mode of dress but is unsure about it. I think...
Diary
Two men on a first date get chucked out of the John Snow pub in Soho for kissing. There's a whole lot of issues here, not least the recurring heterosexual jealousy of gays who manage to get a proper snog on a first date. And then, how can anyone have...
Fish and Chaps
The Day of the Peacock: Style for Men, 1963-1973 by Geoffrey Aquilina Ross V&A, £24.99, pp. 144, ISBN 9781851776009 This is the ultimate 'niche' book. It focuses on that singular decade between the years of rockers and punks, when toffs, freed...
Garden Delights
Charlotte Verity: A Year in Tradescant's Garden Garden Museum, until 2 May There were two John Tradescants, father and son, operating in the 17th century as travellers and gardeners from a base in south London. Their family tomb is at the heart of...
Glencore's Partners Are Not Offering Equity to You and Me out of a Sense of Charity
We're all going to be investors in Glencore, whether we like it or not. If the flotation of this giant commodity and mining group goes ahead next month at the valuation currently indicated, it will leap straight into the upper reaches of the FTSE 100...
Go out and Govern New South Wales
Running the Show: Governors of the British Empire by Stephanie Williams Viking, £20, pp. 493 ISBN 9780670918041 'In the mists and damp of the Scottish Highlands, 61-year-old Sir Bartle Frere was writing a letter. Straight-backed, grey-haired, he had...
Harlem Renaissance
A massive project to change the lives of America's poorest children It's raining in Harlem this morning - big fat American rain tipping out of the big gray sky, sluicing down the crumbling brownstones, over the awning of the Manna soul food and salad...
Hats off to Berlusconi. It Takes a Lot of Energy to Misbehave So Thoroughly
I don't know how Silvio Berlusconi finds the time. Me, I'm ragged. Get up, write a bit, wash, eat, feed the child, stagger to nursery, stumble to work, stay there, go home, eat again, fall asleep on sofa watching The Killing; that's pretty much my lot....
High Life
New York How fair a rule is monarchy? A Byzantine scholar wrote that it was the fairest, to the point that God sustained it, as long as the emperors were elected by the army or an aristocratic senate. With their coronation, legitimate successors and...
How to Play the Big Day
Preserving your street cred during the royal wedding Through fashionable London the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton is causing confusion. Privately, the snoots of Islington and Notting Hill are no different from the rest of us. They think...
If Only I'd Known When I Was Younger That My Background Was My Greatest Strength
One of the things I've belatedly realised now I've acquired the wisdom of age is that I've always been anti-establishment. If only I'd known this at school I would have had far more fun than I did because I wouldn't have wasted any of my time trying...
In Search of a Character
Lucky Break by Esther Freud Bloomsbury, £11.99, pp. 310, ISBN 9781468805824 A chronicle of three young actors desperate to forge careers in the acting profession sounds like a dangerously familiar proposition. We are all now habituated to the weekly...
Jennie, Clemmie and Goosie Too
The Churchills by Mary S. Lovell Little Brown, £25, pp. 640, ISBN 9780316732826 'There never was a Churchill, from John of Marlborough down, ' wrote Gladstone, 'that had either principles or morals.' With the shining exception of Winston and his brother...
Jungle Tracks
RAIL ACROSS ASIA Samantha Kuok Leese takes the other Orient Express Captain Mokh is smoking a pipe, strolling through a tangle of rainforest in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands. A small, snaggle-toothed Malay with a grey goatee and a sandpaper voice,...
Koo Stark's Notebook
It was Ladies' Day at the RAC yesterday, so I went with my friends and did a water aerobics class. When I first started going to the RAC, ladies could only go as 'the daughter of' or 'the wife of'. That all changed when some smart legally trained 'daughter...
Laid-Back Fantasy
This is how heavily Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic, Monday) is being promoted: the preview discs came with a big, wider than A4, stiff-backed glossy book containing pictures of the actors and the settings, plus a glossary and a guide to the programme's...
Lancelot of the Lake
The Omnipotent Magician by Jane Brown Chatto, £20, pp. 384, ISBN 9780701182120 Tom Stoppard's Arcadia offers two contrasting views on a 'Capability' Brown landscape at the imagined Sidley Park. Lady Croom, the 19th-century owner, praises its harmonious...
Letters
Rubio for President? Sir: Richard Littlejohn's idea of a President Rubio ('Who will fight Obama?', 16 April) is little more than wishful thinking. The Florida senator is at most a lukewarm conservative, which will become increasingly obvious over his...
Looking on the Bright Side . .
Much More of This, Old Boy? by Peter Paterson Muswell Press, £12.99, pp. 368, ISBN 9780956557537 Anyone who thinks that a stable and loving family background is the key to a happy life had better read this book; for its protagonist, now 80 years...
Low Life
The Spectator is a civilised paper. If they give you a weekly column, they are pleased for you to say what you like. The only editorial interference you can expect, apart from being hired, is the sack. They'd all rather die a slow and horrible death...
Me and My Spoon
'We have a spare place at a silver spoon-making workshop. Would you be interested?' asked the Gold smiths' Company. I most certainly was, which was why I turned up (with my pinnie) at the Camberwel l work shop of silversmiths Howard Fenn and Steve Wager....
Mexistan
It's high time the US ended its 'see no evil' approach to Mexico More dead bodies found in Mexico this week. As we all focus on Libya and Afghanistan, the cartels keep stepping up the violence just over the border - so perhaps the time has come for...
No Alternative
'It's not the voting that's democracy, ' says Dotty in Tom Stoppard's play Jumpers, 'It's the counting.' Dotty is right, of course. Counting may be boring, but it is crucial. Nick Clegg knows this well. If on 5 May Britain decides to count votes the...
One Hap after Another
Graven with Diamonds: The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt, Courtier, Poet, Assassin, Spy by Nicola Shulman Short Books, £20, pp. 378, ISBN 9781906021115 Nicola Shulman begins her rehabilitation of Thomas Wyatt by remarking that there is 'an almost universal...
. . . or Sensing Impending Doom
On Tangled Paths by Theodor Fontane, translated from the German by Peter James Bowman Angel Books, £9.95, pp. 192, ISBN 9780946162772 No Way Back by Theodor Fontane, translated from the German by Hugh Rorrison and helen Chambers Angel Books, £11.75,...
Peregrine Worsthorne
Postwar British journalism has generated one worthwhile new form: the political column. It has been mastered by only a few practitioners, of whom the most noteworthy are probably Alan Watkins, Henry Fairlie and Peregrine Worsthorne. While Watkins brought...
Potrait of the Week
Home David Cameron, the Prime Minister, made a joint statement on Libya with President Barack Obama of the United States and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, saying that 'so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain...
Power and Glory
The skies are brightening over Warwickshire, where they breed Aston Martins. The recession reduced staff from 1,200 to 900 but now they're back up to 1,000 and are opening a dealership in - of all places - Dublin. After spending almost a century in...
Rage, Rage against the Dying of the Lightbulb
When I was young, all the traffic lights in central London had black iron flambeaux, about the size of your forearm, at the top of each pole. I doubt many people even noticed the decoration consciously, but it lent a faintly monumental touch to otherwise...
Random Questions
The Coincidence Engine by Sam Leith Bloomsbury, £12.99, pp. 271, ISBN 9781408802342 British writers who set their first novels in America are apt to come horribly unstuck. One of the pleasures of Sam Leith's debut novel is its sureness of tone. All...
Real Life
A dimly lit street in a drab south London suburb at 8 p.m. on a weekday night. A girl driving to her friend's house for dinner. Suddenly the girl gets a blinding headache and needs to pull over. She searches in vain for a space but cannot see anything....
Reason vs Romanticism
The American South? You don't know the half of it Stand by. I am going to exp la in the American South, a subject that makes the quantum theory seem like child's play. The first thing you must understand is that there is no South - there are two. One...
Religious Doubt
No description of Eric Gill is ever without the description 'devout Catholic', and Eric Gill: Lust for Letter & Line (British Museum Press, £9.99), while short, provides evidence to both confirm and confound that assessment. One can follow the three-year...
Roman Weddings
The public razzmatazz around the royal wedding is not the sort of thing Romans went in for on such occasions, but their approval for marriage was unconditional. It was military triumphs and generals returning loaded with gold and silver that triggered...
Ronald Searle
Any artist who has lived to the age of 91, without any reduction in a 'Searle-like' graphic edge of unique and expressive quality, will attract envy and admiration. But if he is a man who served his apprenticeship at the age of 22 recording the malnutrition...
Royal Notebook
No one was more irritated than I was when the royal engagement was announced on 16 November. Not, I hasten to say, because I did not welcome the news, but selfishly, because I realised I would miss a rare lunch at the Historic Houses AGM - and many...
Russian Revenge
The Tsar's Bride Royal Opera House, in rep until 2 May The Tsar's Bride is Rimsky-Korsakov's tenth opera, give or take various versions of some previous ones, but you'd never guess it. The production at the Royal Opera, which is exemplary in most respects,...
Spectator Mini-Bar
Davy's wine bars will be familiar to readers in London; there are more than 30 of them, frequently with names evocative of the city's past, or else resembling antique sexual practices: the Chopper Lump, the City Flogger and Skinkers are among them....
Steppe by Steppe
Rail across Asia Martin Vander Weyer remembers a remarkable journey through Mongolia The well-tailored gent with an air of authority in 'soft class' turned out to be Earl Jellicoe, decorated war hero and fallen cabinet minister. Somewhere north of the...
The Good Old Days
John Major is half way through a book about the rise and fall of the music hall. His father, Tom, was a song-and-dance man who formed a double act with his wife, Kitty. John's brother Terry was a trapeze artist, and the former prime minister must have...
The Great Divide
It seems to me that society can now be divided into three different types of people on principles that have nothing to do with class, wealth or status, and everything to do with one's ease - or lack of it - with modern technology. In this arrangement,...
The Meaning of a Marriage
What happens on 29 April will help shape British life for the next 50 years 'A princely marriage is the brilliant edition of a universal fact, and, as such, it rivets mankind, ' wrote the great constitutional theorist Walter Bagehot. 'A royal family...
The Obsession with Things
I'm off to California next week to visit relatives in Los Angeles, but we are flying into Phoenix first. I love Phoenix for quite a few reasons, not least the Botanical Gardens and the F rank Lloyd Wright home at Taliesin West. But best of all is the...
The Spectator's Notes
The coalition wants to change the 'discriminatory' law of succession and allow any first-born daughter to ascend to the throne. People witlessly nod their heads at the idea that male primogeniture is an 'anachronism'. Mr Murdoch's Sunday Times has decided...
The World According to Ants
The Devil's Garden by Edward Docx Picador, £12.99, pp. 288, ISBN 9780330463508 The South American rain forest is the perfect environment for a dank, uncomfortable thriller. It's brutally competitive; life is thrillingly vulnerable; you can't safely...
This Referendum Will Destroy a Party Leader. but Which One?
The next general election may seem a long way away. But for all three parties, the run-up to the local elections this month offers a chance to test their campaign strategies for 2015. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are using this period...
Three Memories of Shanghai (1989)
I Smokey night in the jazz bar of the Peace Hotel (where Noel Coward wrote Private Lives) and afterwards a typhoon of sheeting, bouncing, luminescent rain. 'No taxi, no taxi,' the doorman shook water from his hat: No way home across that deluged town....
Triumph of Goodness
Cedar Rapids 15, Nationwide, from 29 April Arthur 12A, Nationwide Two films, this week, because I spoil you - what can I say? It's in my nature - and not much to choose between them apart from the fact that one is good (Cedar Rapids) and one is...
Useful Lessons
The Newbury race day that finally for me switched the focus of racing from the jumpers to the sleek equine whippets racing on the Flat was appropriately devoted to the emergency services. Sadly, they are a vitally needed accompaniment to the training...
We Are the Mockers, Too
Hieronymus Bosch had a distinctive view of our debased humanity, most distinctly expressed in his paintings of Christ's Passion, says Michael Prodger Carl Jung described the painter Hieronymus Bosch as 'the master of the monstrous . . . the discoverer...
'We're All Doomed!'
Scotland is staring into a £4.5 billion black hole 'Their form of rule is democratic for the most part , and they are very fond of plundering. . .' That description of the Scots by Cassius Dio, the Roman historian, in the early 3rd century testifies...
What Alice Did Next
In Competition No. 2693 you were invited to supply a hitherto unpublished extract by Lewis Carroll relating the further adventures of Alice. The location was left up to you. Parliament was the most popular choice of venue, which was no surprise. Westminster...
'What Is Truth?'
It's unwise to rely on the Gospels for an accurate description of that first Good Friday 'And yet we call this Friday good.' So what actually happened on the first Good Friday? The balance of probability is heavily against those who would dismiss the...
Wild Life
Kenya Marriage can be hard for all of us. A friend of mine, we'll call him Charles, works far away from home. One day he told me his wife had left him. 'She has gone back to her mother. What's worse, she left the children behind and there is nobody...
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