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 January 2011

A Cumberland Legend
Sheila Fell by Cate Haste Lund Humphries, £35, pp. 136, ISBN 9780853319795 The legend of the glamorous artist Sheila Fell (1931-79), with her striking looks - black hair, white skin, large eyes - who died young, has tended to obscure the real achievement...
A Knighthood for the Last Banker Who Put His Shareholders' Interests First
The New Year honours list is always a vivid indicator of the times just gone by. No brand better encapsulated the feelgood consumer frenzy of the last decade than Lush, the purveyor of organic soaps and Fairtrade lotions alongside campaigns to save...
Am I Offending the Wrong Americans?
Q. Why did God give liberals annoying, whiny voices? A. So that even the blind could hate them. This is probably my favourite joke from a new book I just published in the US, (hence the use of 'liberal' in its American sense), called 365 Ways To Drive...
Ancient and Modern
Every year the situation in Afghanistan is reassessed, and every year the conclusion is the same - mixed military progress, but otherwise, zilch. Romans would not have gone there, at least not on the terms that we are there. The Roman empire was a success,...
A New Page in an Old Friendship
Before we sit an exam, we revise. Before we appear on Any Questions we get ourselves up to speed on the latest news. Before we dine with some grand personage previously unknown to us, we find out about them in Who's Who. But before we go to stay with...
A Rare, Unvarnished Honesty: Pete Postlethwaite Remembered
Pete Postlethwaite, with whom, sadly, I never worked, belonged to that group of journeymen actors who command the respect and admiration of their peers but are denied the wider honours until death claims them. How amazed he would have been by the enormous...
At War with the Greeks
America's love of the ancient republics has had military consequences in the present If you're 40 or older and I ask you to think back to the worst moments of your life as a schoolchild, memory will probably take you straight to Latin class. Remember...
Barometer
Prison regimes A riot at Ford Open Prison in Sussex raised questions as to the regime in jails. This is some of what prisoners can expect: - Category A (Whitemoor, Cambs): work opportunities in recycling, laundry and restoring computers for schools...
BOOKENDS - Divinely Decadent
The film-maker John Waters specialises in weirdos. His new book, Role Models (Beautiful Books, £15.99), is a collection of interviews and anecdotes seasoned with offbeat fashion tips. One of his earliest films, Multiple Maniacs, was a reaction to the...
CULTURE NOTES-Folkie Supergroup
The Fence Collective is a loose association of singers, musicians and songwriters, at least a few of whom live in and around Anstruther in Fife. Anstruther is a fishing village and not the first place you'd go looking for a revolution, but the Fence...
Dear Mary Your Problems Solved
Q. A close friend has married, in later life, a very nosy and mischievous man. She adores him and keeps boasting about what a computer wizard he is. Unfortunately, I have sound reason to believe he has been hacking into my emails and reading them. It...
Death Watch
Journey through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead British Museum, until 6 March Picasso to Julie Mehretu British Museum, until 25 April Although I stopped watching TV some years ago, films are a continuing solace and pleasure. Among the...
Designer's Dream
I have seen the future and it looks like a Jaguar. It's sleek and curvaceous and, although it's a fraction under four-feet high, ingress and egress are easier than in a flattened fagpacket Ferrari. A 195bhp electric motor at each wheel means 0-62mph...
Diary
A hundred years ago, the only barometer to gauge the political weather was by-elections, though far more of them - 101 during the 19061909 parliament, compared with four in 2005-2010, or from nearly one a fortnight to one a year (and congratulations...
'Direct Government' Will Offer the Public a Say Only on the Most Boring Issues
Last time I looked, my online petition was not generating the support I had expected. You can find it on Facebook and it is entitled 'Everybody Should Be Sacked or Killed.' Only 38 people have so far pledged their support for this laudable proposition,...
Does Anyone Care about the Cricket World Cup?
It seems churlish to be having a bitch just when two enthralling Test series are being played out in Australia and South Africa. And how enthralling they are too, by the way, the SA-India series being if anything even better than the Ashes. The sight...
Farewell to Arm
127 Hours 15, Nationwide Unless you've been living under a rock - in which case, keep it to yourself; I'm done with rocks - you'll have already heard about 127 Hours. It's the latest film from Danny Boyle and is based on the true story of Aron Ralston,...
Forgotten Laughter
The Radio Times now lists 72 channels, and that's not all of them. No wonder television has to feed on itself, like a hungry tigress scoffing her cubs. In particular, it devours the past, so this week we had a Morecambe and Wise evening on BBC2, starting...
For the Love of Cod
Can our celebrity chefs save the British fishing industry? Years - actually decades - ago, a gentleman from the British civil service, interviewing me as a potential candidate for a job in the European Commission, explained that 'all the important decisions...
From Red Ed to Steady Eddie
Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are locked in a political duel, and only one of them can survive. In the new politics, what helps Clegg hurts Miliband and vice versa. This unusual dynamic makes next week's by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth especially...
Going for a Song
In Competition No. 2679 you were invited to usher in the New Year with a teetotallers' drinking song. As usual with this sort of challenge, many that read well on the page didn't lend themselves to being sung aloud. But an impressive entry yielded some...
High Life
Gstaad Six hours into the new year and already there was trouble. My own bash to welcome 2011 with 50 of my nearest finished around 5 a. m. , so I rolled down towards the Palace hotel still looking for some action. I had a very pretty German girl in...
Hit Liszt
Damian Thompson highlights the gems among the prolific and pilloried composer's nine million notes The extraordinary thing about Franz Liszt is that he remains one of the most famous composers of the 19th century despite the fact that the overwhelming...
Jihad against Justice
The control orders fiasco shows that our political class still isn't serious about security For a jihadi, Britain is one of the very best places in the world. In Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, overhead drones kill terrorists on a regular basis. In...
King's Ransom
When George Osborne decided to raise VAT, more months ago than he will admit, he did not imagine that he would be compounding the worst inflation in Western Europe. Prices are currently falling in Ireland, flat in Germany and rising only slightly throughout...
Letters
Godly geologists Sir: Bruce Anderson's article in your Christmas special ('Confession of an atheist', 18/25 December) was a great example of the thoughtful and reasonable atheism of which we have been starved over recent years. That said, he still...
Life of Pie
A conversation with Peter Myers, butcher and unofficial British consul to Manhattan celebrity 'To tell the truth, ' says Peter Myers, his Cumbrianbari tone untouched by four decades of life in Manhattan, 'I'm glad it's all over.' By 'it' he means Christmas...
London Calling
The London Chess Classic ended in yet another triumph for the resurgent Magnus Carlsen. The final scores were as follows: 1. Carlsen 13, 2= McShane and Anand 11, 4= Nakamura and Kramnik, 6. Adams 8, 7. Howell 4, 8. Short 2. Carlsen's victory was made...
Low Life
The registrar opened a screen and clicked and typed her way down a list of questions. I was 'giving notice' of our intention to be married after a statutory 15 days had passed. It was the day before Christmas Eve. 'Has either of you been married before?'...
Portrait of the Week
Home Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said that the rise in VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent would cost the average family £7.50 a week. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: 'If you look at the population and how much they spend,...
Production Values
In the absence of any operas to attend, I've been reading the most recent defence of 'director's opera', a book with the characteristic title Unsettling Opera, by the American academic David J. Levin. Anyone braving one of these books - there are plenty...
Real Life
'Hello, Miss Kite, this is the RAC solutions centre.' Oh, dear god, it's all over, I thought. Nothing except the exact opposite of a solution ever comes out of a place called a solutions centre. I had hit a curb while driving over Chelsea Bridge and...
Single Vision
There's been much grumbling in the shires about Radio 3's 12-day Mozart marathon. Why burden us with so much baroque? Where do you go if you can't abide all those notes? But actually there's something wonderfully cleansing about knowing that what you're...
Tenderness, Wisdom and Irony
Letters from London and Europe by Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa, edited by Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, translated by J.G. Nichols Alma Books, £14.99, pp. 203, ISBN 9781846881114 'Every poet describes himself, as well as his own life, in his writings, '...
Theatre of the Macabre
Sam Leith marvels at Victorian Britain's appetite for crime, where a public hanging was considered a family day out and murder became a lurid industry in itself The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders Harper Press, £20, pp. 556, ISBN 9780007248889...
The Gentle Touch
Pulse Julian Barnes Cape, £16.99, pp. 228, ISBN 9780224091084 My main disappointment with this collection of stories was that I had already read six of them, in publications ranging from the New Yorker to the Guardian. This, however, only goes to prove...
The Hero of Nanjing
China has 200,000 reported suicides a year. On a vast road bridge across the Yangtze river, one man is trying to stop them The Nanjing Yangtze R iver B ridge is four lanes wide and four miles long, a monument to Maoist endeavour clogged with the traffic...
The Spectator's Notes
You may have heard government ministers - Conservative ones anyway - saying that their current EU Bill ensures referendums on further transfers of power from Britain to the European Union and puts parliamentary sovereignty on the statute book. It does...
Twin Peaks
Season's Greetings Lyttelton, in rep until 13 March It's that time of year. The great reckoning is upon us. Insurance is being renewed. Tax returns are being ferreted out. Roofing jobs are being appraised and budgeted for. And spouses are being trundled...
Ups and Downs
The more unctuous of vicars tend to assure us through December that 'the true joy of Christmas lies in giving'. There are moments, however, when one's faith in such advice is sorely tested. After trawling most of the West End, Mrs Oakley had this year...
What's the Big Idea?
The Big Society: The Anatomy of the New Politics by Jesse Norman University of Buckingham Press, £10, pp. 243, ISBN 9780956395207 If you're not quite sure what the Prime Minister means when he talks about the big society, you're not alone. Before the...
Whine Merchants
Some albums you love instantaneously, others you have to work at. And, just occasionally, an album comes along that you know that you will love if only you can hear it enough times. Except that you won't. You will keep on playing it, and still you won't...
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