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 August 2013

Along the Wrong Lines
We would not want to return to the days when the transport secretary was actively engaged in the running of the railways, down to what the last wheel-tapper was paid. Nevertheless, Patrick McLoughlin's answer when invited to condemn the £5 million bonuses...
Anne Boley's Last Secret
Why was the queen executed with a sword, rather than an axe? With his wife, Anne Boleyn, in the Tower, Henry VIII considered every detail of her coming death, poring over plans for the scaffold. As he did so he made a unique decision. Anne, alone among...
A Pioneer at Heart
Richard Davenport Hines on thomboy from Red Cloud whose evocation of the vast, unforgiving landscape of the prairies is unrivalled. The Selected Letters of Willa Cather edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout Knopf, £24.65, pp. 715, ISBN 9780307959300...
A Touch of Class
Usually it is annoying when you have to board an aeroplane via a shuttle bus rather than an airbridge. The exception is when the plane is a 747. That's because, with the single exception of Lincoln Cathedral, the Boeing 747-400 is the most beautiful...
Back off, Nimbyists, or Fracking Will Benefit Beijing More Than Balcombe
The fracking debate has been brought to a new heat by David Cameron's message to Home Counties nimbyists and eco-crusties that he wants 'all parts of our nation' to share the shale gas bounty, not just lucky northerners. But the argument is proceeding...
Bordering on Insanity
Gibralter is just one geographical oddity in a world full of them Borders are fascinating places. The subtle changes in scenery and atmosphere as you near the limits of one territory and enter the orbit of the other; the way fencing gets higher and...
Cinema Secrets and Lies
Kuma 12, Key Cities Mid-August is a hopeless time for films; so hopeless, useless and bleak, if I don't use three words when one would have done, I am just never going to fill up this space. The assumption is people don't wish to visit the cinema on...
Culture Notes All Aboard!
Brother, can you spare me a train? Or maybe just a Pullman carriage or two? There are so many brilliant films set on trains that I'd love to screen some of them in loco locomotive, as it were. Shanghai Express (1932), Th e Lady Van i sh e s (1938),...
Dance A Trio of Gems
Jewels Bolshoi Ballet, the Royal Opera House Jewels is everything a George Balanchine admirer could ask for. The sumptuous triptych, set to scores by Faure, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, is a compendium of what Balanchine's style is about; each part -...
Dangerous Medicine
A senior surgeon says Jeremy Hunt's NHS reforms will do more harm than good Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is a decent and well-meaning man. He's genuinely excited about the new, radical reforms planned for the NHS which he announced last weekend....
Dear Mary Your Problems Solved
Q. To ask for money in lieu of a wedding present (Dear Mary, 3 August) is ghastly, but an established couple can overcome the issue by having a list at John Lewis and converting presents to vouchers. Thus a toaster can be readily converted to something...
Diary
If you haven't scuffled you haven't lived, and our local scuffle is the best of the best. A scuffle is a sort of off-road bumper cars in 4x4s, and it's one of the highlights of the summer. Our car, The Scuffle Pig, was on her third outing this year....
Ed Miliband's Hidden Head Start
Coming back to the office after a holiday is never a pleasant experience. There's the clogged inbox, the reminders that you have left undone those things which you ought to have done, and the realisation that you won't get another break for months....
Epic Journeys
Migration Hotspots by Tim Harris Bloomsbury, £25, pp. 224, ISBN 9781408171172 Consider for a moment the plight of the willow warbler. Russian birds of this species fly between eastern Siberia and southern Africa and back every year of their short lives,...
Escape through the Locks
As Green as Grass: Growing Up Before, During and After the Second World War by Emma Smith Bloomsbury, £16.99, pp. 214, ISBN 9781408833616 The title, the subtitle, the author's plain name, even the jacket's photograph of a laughing old lady in sunglasses:...
Exhibitions Political Power
Mexico: A Revolution in Art, 1910-40 Royal Academy, until 29 September Steadman @ 77: A Retrospective Exhibition The Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, WC1, until 8 September Revolution shook Mexico between 1910 and 1920, but radical political...
Flowers of Stellenbosch
One aspect of the old South Africa's racial policies cannot be faulted. After the revocation of the E dict of Nantes, Huguenot refugees arrived at the Cape. Within a few decades, they had been culturally cleansed, abandoning the F rench language and...
For Nation or Party
Public spiritedness is awfully quaint these days. On Tuesday, reporters were mystified by the news that the late Ms Joan L.B. Edwards Edwards, a woman with no known interest in politics, had left £519, 000 to 'whoever was the party of government of...
House Prices Are Going Up Again. I Fear This Is Not Going to End Well
It's senseless to ask how things are going to end, because things as a general rule don't. They rumble on, they morph, and yesterday's drama becomes tomorrow's eyebrow-raising justification for thinking that people used to be inexplicable idiots. Nonetheless,...
I Adore the Stage
Michael Kennedy salutes the mezzo-soprano Janet Baker, who celebrates her 80th birthday next week Raise your glass on 21 August to wish a happy 80th birthday to one of the greatest singers and singing actresses this or any other country has produced...
Je Ne Regrette Rien
The Girl who Loved Camellias by Julie Kavanagh Knopf, £19.99, pp. 288, ISBN 9780307270795 Verdi's La Traviata is the story of a courtesan who is redeemed when she gives up the man she loves in order to preserve his family honour, and then dies tragically...
Let Me Dream On
I'm currently in Cornwall with my family and whenever I spend a lot of time with my children I 'm constantly reminded of the opening lines of 'This Be the Verse': 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do. / They fill...
Letters
Absent friends Sir: Alec Marsh ('Welcome to Big Venice', 10 August) accurately observes that Londoners are priced out of central London by largely foreign buyers of second homes. Wealthy foreigners not only buy, they also rent, often living in London...
Life in the Augean Stables
Bitter Experience Has Taught Me: Adventures in Love, Loss and Penury by Nicholas Lezard Faber, £9.99, pp. 286, ISBN 9780571299164 What, really, is a literary education for? What's the point of it? How, precisely, does it help when you're another day...
Long Life
The Italian shop assistant accused by Oprah Winfrey of showing racial prejudice towards her in a shop in Zurich has hotly denied the charge, but with a curious twist. 'I am Italian, ' she said in an interview with a Swiss magazine. 'Why should I discriminate...
Low Life
Hotel Trepaner, St Raphael, French Riviera: I have read all ten reviews on this site. The overall rating (given by five of the ten reviewers) is 'terrible'. 'Disastreux!' says Kimi. 'Affreux!' moans M Lanie. 'A frightful hotel run by a slum landlord,...
Lucretius vs Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins has been confusing his categories again, comparing Trinity College, Cambridge, with Islam. His attack on religion does precisely the same, as if the prescientific Biblical account of the world somehow disproves the whole religious phenomenon....
MIN D Y O U R L A N G U A G E Bongo
Alexandra Shulman was on Desert I sland Discs this summer and one choice was 'Bongo Bong'. I ts words tell a simple story: 'Mama was queen of the mambo. / Papa was king of the Congo. / Deep down in the jungle / I start bangin' my first bongo.' Such...
No More Steak Tartare
Stricter food rules won't make you any safer - but they could run many small restaurants The coalition sa id they wou ld tame health and safety, which would be great for those of us in the food business. But they, like the public, like to blame Brussels,...
Opera Wagner's Dream
Tristan und Isolde; Tannh£user Proms Carmen Sydney Harbour It would be interesting to know why Tristan und Isolde was placed in the Proms programme in between Siegfried and Gotterd£mmerung. You might as well programme Othello between acts four and five...
Pomp and Severance
The Coronation Chair and Stone of Scone by Warwick Rodwell Oxbow Books, £29.95, pp. 304, ISBN 9781782971528 The Coronation Chair currently stands all spruced up, following last year's conservation, under a crimson canopy, by the west entrance to Westminster...
Portait of the Week
Home The population of the United Kingdom rose by 420,000, to 63.7 million, by the middle of last year, with the number of births, 813,000 (more than a quarter to mothers born abroad), being the highest since 1972. Thames Water asked the regulator Ofwat...
Putin's Own Cold War
Russia is ever more hostile to te US, but the the US no longer needs to care Whose side is Vladimir Putin on? It's a question worth asking, because of late the Kremlin has come closer and closer to the tipping point between obstreperousness and outright...
Radio Speed Limit
Of course there's a future for digital radio, it's just that we'll probably be listening to it online, or on the phone. The wireless set, tucked on the kitchen shelf, beside the bed, among the vases in the lounge, permanently tuned in to Aggers or Humphrys,...
Real Life
If you are bullied at school, you see, you never stop feeling bullied, no matter how old you are. It is absurd that I am 41 years of age and a group of women can still reduce me to tears. To be fair to the bullies, I was an awkward, argumentative, pedantic...
Redemption with Laughs
A Bright Moon for Fools by Jasper Gibson Inside the Dog, £14.99, pp. 352, ISBN 9780957418108 Harry Christmas, the central character of this bitterly funny debut novel, is a middleaged, overweight alcoholic, with no friends and no prospects. After marrying...
- Rory Sutherland, P61 High Life
On board the Weatherbird off the Peloponnese The old girl groans and creaks as we tack time and again, the breeze right on the nose as we negotiate the turquoise coastline. She's gaffrigged and good upwind, the only annoyance being the ubiquitous speedboats...
Self-Pity Doesn't Pay
The 'intern justice' movement is preposterous and damaging In the modern political firmament, is there any creature more ridiculous than the agitating intern? Interns are rising up. These one-time coffee-makers have reimagined themselves as history-makers,...
Spectator Wine
This month we have the first full offer from Swig, the adventurous young merchants from west London. You wouldn't go to Swig if you wanted a list of every vintage of every great Bordeaux chateau over the past three decades or the costliest Burgundies,...
St Tropez Notebook
I recently had to spend a great deal of time attempting to clear my name from a ludicrous assertion in an actress's memoir that I and my then husband Anthony Newley had invited her and her then husband to strip off and watch some porn together. She...
Swan Song from Yerevan
An Armenian Sketchbook by Vasily Grossman, translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler MacLehose Press, £12, pp. 221, ISBN 9780857052353 Vasily Grossman, a Ukranian-born Jew, was a war correspondent for the Soviet army newspaper Red Star. His dispatches...
Television Tragic Comedies
How did our comedies become so sad? BBC1's new sitcom Big School (Fridays) opened with a scene that would probably tickle the ribs of many, but I, in my usual humourless way, found it depressing. Chemistry teacher Mr Church, played by David Walliams,...
The Edinburgh Experience
Lloyd Evans samples the delights of the Fringe ARTS The Edinburgh experience Strict bylaws in Edinburgh prevent you from buying off-licence booze after ten at night. You can, however, buy all the sauce you want from ten in the morning. (This may explain...
The Sad Story of Oprah, the Handbag and the Sop Assistant
Listen, this story is moving so quickly stuff will almost certainly have happened in between me writing it and you reading it. I hate the idea that you might be left behind the curve, but I just don't know how to get around that. An outrage occurs and...
The Turf Veterans' Day
As part of the after-dinner entertainment on a cruise ship recently, I encountered a couple of comedians. One claimed he had recently shared a booking with a topless ventriloquist. I bet nobody saw her lips move. What was noticeable in both acts, given...
Ukip Are Playing It Safe - So They've Rejected Me
So farewell then £80,000 salary, £150,000 expense account, secretary, team of assistants, constituency office, firstclass travel, immunity from prosecution, Brussels blowouts, ludicrous pension and all the other perks I'd been so looking forward to...
Walking in the Scottish Highlands
The simplest and best way to get straight to the heart of the Highlands from London is by sleeper. Board in Euston, have a plate of haggis and tatties (and perhaps a nip of whisky to knock you out) and before you know it, you'll wake up the next morning...
Where Are Our Garlicbreathing Gallic Brethren?
They Eat Horses, Don't They? The Truth About the French by Piu Marie Eatwell Head of Zeus, £13.99, pp. , 342, ISBN 9781731854440 Oh the French! Where would the Anglo publishing industry be without them? Ever since Peter Mayle first made goo-goo eyes...
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