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 Declaration of Independence
In ten years' time Oxford and Cambridge universities could be shining examples of social diversity, their student bodies reflecting the exact composition of the British population, a few sons of aristocrats educated alongside the children of benefit...
Adultery Rewarded
To name Camilla as Queen Consort would devalue marriage Funny, isn't it, how the unthinkable becomes the thinkable, then the possible, then the acceptable and finally the inevitable? You can see the process in motion when it comes to the prospect of...
Are We Supposed to Think of Heroin Users as Just Another Persecuted Minority?
'When I'm rushing on my run, And I feel just like Jesus' son And I guess but I just don't know, And I guess but I just don't know.' Lou Reed Would we be happier, do you think, if we all took large quantities of heroin? It would take the edge off some...
A World of Her Own
Behind the Black Door by Sarah Brown Ebury, £18.99, pp. 452, ISBN 9780091941758 This book, written by someone whose husband was for three years prime minister of Britain, is impossible to review. Yes, it is dull, but it is so triumphantly, so ineffably,...
Barometer
Flowering wilderness A Bangor university study has claimed that Antarctica has become greener as the climate in the Western Peninsula has warmed. While most of Antarctica is under permanent snow and ice, one per cent of the continent's surface area...
Battle of the Giants
When I was young I knew an elderly Scottish gentleman who had the good sense to fall for and marry, despite his advanced years, an American widow of verve and charm. Nor did he lack those qualities himself: although half crippled by childhood polio,...
Britain's State School System Is a Conspiracy against the Public
The other day Girl's class found themselves with time to spare in the vast play area behind the Imperial War Museum. The children looked wistfully at the swings, roundabouts and climbing frames. 'I'm not sure we can go there, ' said the teacher. 'I...
Dear Mary - Your Problems Solved
Q. Thank you for your advice regarding my 'fecundity' question (24 March), but I did refer in my question to a gastronomic salon i.e. a private house. The location was not a restaurant and no need to drop credit cards around! -R.S. , Bombay A. I must...
Diary
At what age is one officially expected to embrace adulthood, in these days of perpetually extended adolescence? I turned 40 last week, so I suppose that this is crunch time. But the truth is that - although I made the traditional appalled face when...
Exhibitions Lines of Beauty
Watteau: The Drawings Royal Academy, until 5 June Life, Legend, Landscape: Victorian Paintings and Watercolours The Courtauld Gallery, until 15 May So far, 2011 has been a good year for drawing. The great Pre-Raphaelite drawings show at Birmingham...
Farewell to a Charismatic Old Bruiser Who Never Threw in the Towel
George Walker, the former boxer, gangster's minder and 'leisure tycoon' who died last week, was a persuader - both in the sense that he could be, as he once told me, 'a bit rough with people', and in the sense that if he decided to charm you, he was...
For Happy Travel across Europe, Avoid the Black Hole of Paris
This week I narrowly failed to reach the Mediterranean coast of Spain from the north of England by train, within the daylight hours of a single day. The problem was Paris. Train buffs (and rail service planners) read on. Let's begin at the end. High-speed...
Haitian Horrors
Imajine by Claudel Casseus, translated by Jean Rodrigue Ulcena, with a foreword by Bill Drummond Penkiln Burn Books, £10, pp. 130, ISBN 9781908238245 Available from www.penkilnburn.com Twenty years ago, in 1991, I was shown round the National Palace...
High Life
New York They say that when sexual attraction sets in all other brain functions shut down. It's nature's way of ensuring procreation. My brain shut down last week - and for a Hollywood actress, to boot. Of German extraction, Sandra Bullock is not the...
History through Sound
Diaries and letters tell us a lot about how people lived from day to day yet there's often something missing. How did they experience the world through sound? What did they themselves sound like, their voices, their accents? The aural experience of...
In the Pink
The Morville Year by Katherine Swift Bloomsbury, £18.99, pp. 316, ISBN 9781408811092 In 1988 Katherine Swift took a lease on the Dower House at Morville Hall, a National Trust property in Shropshire, and created a one-and-a-half acre garden in what...
Irish Raiders
Racing folk sometimes wince as the whiskered commentator John McCririck, a professional chauvinist, refers to his wife Jenny as 'The Booby'. He was at it again in the racecards for this year's Cheltenham Festival, but I will worry on her behalf no more....
Legitimate Question
In Tokyo, hardly any children are born out of wedlock. The reasons for this are a challenge to western complacency Yoshiko found she was pregnant and talked to her live-in lover about what they should do. His attitude was not exactly out of the PC book...
Letters
Let Libya split Sir: Back in the days of Good King Idris, I did archaeological fieldwork in Cyrenaica in which I traced the main water supply of ancient Ptolemais from its source to the city's cisterns. I came to know my patch pretty well and I feel...
Lost Children
Oranges and Sunshine 15, Nationwide I didn't much like Oranges and Sunshine and I'll tell you for why: it takes one of the most obscene scandals in 20th-century British politics - the mass forced deportation of British children to Australia, which...
Low Life
'OK, Jeremy, you sit there. Next to Sophie.' We're sitting down to lunch, eight of us, to celebrate our host's birthday. The seating plan is male then female in alternate places. The host is a performance poet and about half of the other guests have...
Malcolm Tent
In Competition No. 2690 you were invited to invent names to fit jobs. This assignment was suggested to me by a regular and long-standing competitor who-wishes-to-remain-nameless, and was also a favourite of the brilliant Mary Ann Madden, who for many...
Murder in the Dark
When the Observer critic Philip French started writing on the cinema in the early 1960s, he once explained in an interview, books about film were a rarity. 'Now I have three book-lined rooms dedicated just to the cinema, including 50 books on Hitchcock...
Oxford under Siege
The government's interference in university admissions is unjustified - and may yet push our strongest institutions to go it alone It is a well-worn tactic for politicians to distract attention from their own failures by picking on an outside target....
Parerga
Last week's puzzle told a curious story. I t is commonplace nowadays for computers to come up with arcane solutions to chess positions which a human player would solve in more practical fashion. This puzzle is an odd reversal of the process. White actually...
Personal Grooming
I found myself among a group of young people the other day, and they were talking with much hilarity about The Only Way Is Essex (ITV2, Sunday and Wednesday). This is cult television, adored by the generation that watches it. The show is a strange hybrid:...
Playing the Heavy
An interview with Eric Pickles, the Cabinet's surprisingly intellectual bruiser There are politicians who shy away from confrontation and those who relish it. Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, is firmly in the latter camp....
Police, Cameras, Action
Last weekend, a relatively peaceful anticuts march through the capital was infiltrated by a small number of criminals armed with crowbars and intent on destruction. Their handiwork defined the march. All it took were a few iconic photographs - Santander's...
Potrait of the Week
Home At a conference on Libya held in London, representatives of more than 40 nations and international bodies declared that Colonel Gaddafi's regime had 'lost legitimacy and will be held accountable for their actions'. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary...
Real Life
One of the joys of spring is my annual nose around other people's houses. Or it used to be. It seems things have changed in the house-hunting world. Estate agency has become automated. I had spotted a nice three-bedroomed place near Tooting Common and...
Shop Talk
Last Friday I popped into Gramex, the world's best second-hand classical CD and record shop, just behind Waterloo Station. The owner took one look at me and declared, 'This gentleman is tired. He needs a cup of tea and a Belgian bun.' Before I had time...
Showdown Season
There are few better feelings than the sporting mood swing that takes place at this time of year. The clocks go forward and leave behind frozen pitches, abandoned race meetings and the set menu of men chasing balls of varying shapes in fixtures of no...
Stirred into Action
Kommilitonen! Royal Academy of Music The Return of Ulysses English National Opera at the Young Vic, until 9 April The Three Pintos University College Opera Kommilitonen! is Peter Maxwell Davies's new opera, to a text by David Pountney, who also...
The Art of Giving
The investor Jonathan Ruffer reveals why he is spending £15 million to buy 12 great paintings from the C of E - and give them back 'It's the pearl of great price, ' says Jonathan Ruffer. Like the merchant in the Gospel, he is selling all that he hath....
The Lib Dems Are Sensing That It's Time to Get Hostile
There are few things that irritate an MP in the chamber of the House of Commons more than the sight of all the journalists in the press gallery walking out in the middle of a debate. It annoys them so much not because it means their own remarks will...
The Passionate Friend
Sam Leith explores H. G. Wells's addiction to free love, as revealed in David Lodge's latest biographical novel A Man of Parts: A Novel by David Lodge Harvill Secker, £18.99, pp. 565, ISBN 9781846554971 In the history of seduction, there can have...
The Power of Words
Tom Conti tells Mary Wakefield how to get inside a woman's mind I watched Shirley Valentine again last night. It's different when you're older. At 14 it's impossible to imagine that any sane woman would talk to a wall -- or put up with that dour, demanding...
The Spectator's Notes
People are right to worry about the royal wedding. The violence at the TUC anti-cuts demonstration on Saturday showed yet again that all large gatherings are now vulnerable to the malice of a few. Friends of mine walking with the marchers noticed how...
The Trail Goes Cold
Venetian Navigators: The Voyages of the Zen Brothers to the Far North by Andrea di Robilant Faber, £14.99, pp. 244, ISBN 9780571243778 For centuries, the history of the far North was a tapestry of controversies and misunderstandings, misspellings,...
This Charming Man
Charlie Siem, the half-British, half-Norwegian violinist, only came to the virtuosic style late in his development ('probably because I was lazy', he explains, not convincing me for a moment); but when he did he was hooked. His new, self-titled album...
Turning Point
The Most Incredible Thing Pet Shop Boys and Javier De Frutos Sadler's Wells One of the intriguing components of The Most Incredible Thing, Javier De Frutos's latest creation, is its structure. Intentionally steering away from the aesthetic developments...
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