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

A Family Affair
Martha Wainwright was keeping it in the family at the Union Chapel in Islington last week. Arcangelo, the singer-songwriter's three-yearold son, joined her on stage and had the audience eating out of the palm of his tiny hand; the spectral presence...
A Far Diet from Kensington
Those of you dieting your way to a svelte physique amid the flesh-exposing terrors of summer should take courage from Mrs Hawkins, the heroine of Muriel Spark's wonderful novel A Far Cry from Kensington. Mrs Hawkins, with her unfortunate 'Rubens quality...
A Guide to the Man Booker Longlist
The Man Booker prize has strong years and weak years. There have been ones when the judges have succeeded in identifying what is most interesting in English-language fiction and others when the task has been comprehensively flunked. With Robert Macfarlane...
A Legend in His Own Time
Red or Dead by David Peace Faber, £20, pp. 720, ISBN 9780571280650 The last time David Peace wrote a novel about football he got his publishers sued for libel, which may help explain why his new one avoids invention wherever it can squeeze interest...
Alexander Chancellor Why Can't We Have More Public Toilets and Fewer Wheelie-Bins?
After a carefree month at my wife's house in Tuscany - the longest summer holiday I have spent there for maybe 30 years - the return to England this week has proven especially irksome. It is depressing enough to land at any British airport, but Stansted...
A Long Hard Look
Ruth Borchard Self-Portrait Competition and Exhibition Kings Place Gallery, 90 York Way, N1, until 22 September Stranger Flowers, 82 Kingsland Road, E2, until 31 August My wife says you can always tell a self-portrait by the quality of its self-regard....
Ancient Athens, Modern Egypt
Whatever problems Greeks and Romans faced, a politicised priesthood was not one of them. They might have made three observations on Egypt's current plight. First, though Roman emperors were autocrats, the plebs regularly expressed their displeasure...
Are You Sitting Comfortably
A dark afternoon in December, aged about ten, I was in a class waiting for double geography. Mr Blake breezed in, told us to put our books away and, as a treat, he read us a story. It was 'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad', the famous ghost...
Australia Turns Right
Sometimes only a cliche will do, especially when the subject is the Australian Labor party. Labor is holed beneath the water line and is sinking fast. No one, not even its newly reinstated skipper, Kevin Rudd, is capable of keeping the boat afloat as...
Barometer
We will remember them A German diplomat called on Britain to commemorate but not celebrate the centenary of the Great War. Some of the events planned so far: - Candle to be extinguished in Westminster Abbey at 11 p. m. on 4 August - First world war...
Beyond This, Nothing
Tangier: A Literary Guide for Travellers by Josh Shoemake I.B. Tauris, £16.99, pp. 299, ISBN 9781780762760 This may sound a little orientalist, but Tangier has some claim to being the most foreign city in the world. Back in the day, its position at...
Binge Benefits
Such an ugly word, 'binge'. Why can't we talk about 'spree drinking' or 'frolic drinking' or 'extravaganza drinking'? But no, it has to be 'binge drinking', a term loaded (pre-loaded? ) with connotations. Well you can stick your connotations: it's binge...
Dear Mary Your Problems Solved
Q. My boyfriend, an artist, is driving himself and others mad by his inability to keep track of his mobile. This he keeps putting down randomly on any old surface of his disorganised cottage, even though he knows there is signal only in certain places,...
Diary
There isn't a Scottish politician in living memory who hasn't been on the Caledonian Sleeper. I always imagined Donald Dewar folding himself up in his berth, he was so tall. He was notoriously sniffy about the company he kept in the bar and once recounted...
Dodgy Dealings
The Same Deep Water as Me Donmar, until 28 September Liola Lyttelton, in rep until 6 November High summer and it's blockbuster time. The Donmar's latest show is by the acclaimed Nick Payne, whose play about string theory, Constellations, wowed the West...
Eavesdropping
It must have sounded like such a great idea. To gather a group of thinkers, agitators, experts, intellectuals and media people round a large table, mike them up, ply them with drink, choose a presenter from the radio hall of fame to act as monitor and...
Edinburgh Impressions
Politics is everywhere in Edinburgh. It's embedded in the architecture of the streets. The New Town, built in the latter half of the 18th century, is a granite endorsement of the Act of Union, a stone pledge of loyalty to Britain's new Germanic monarchy...
Exuberant Genius
The Midsummer Marriage The Proms Whenever Michael Tippett's first opera, The Midsummer Marriage, is revived, there is a chorus of voices, including mine, complaining that it should be done much more often, for it is a work of exuberant genius, full...
Forget "Militant" Atheists. Fight the Real Fanatics
It's August, and you are a journalist stuck in the office without an idea in your head. What to write? What to do? Your empty mind brings you nothing but torment, until a thought strikes you, 'I know, I'll do Richard Dawkins.' Dawkins is the sluggish...
Freedom and Security
It is good to see the Guardian suddenly rediscover its interest in the sanctity of a free press. Just five months ago, the paper seemed to have given up on the idea, when it backed the statutory regulation of newspapers. It did not show any particular...
Gypsy Business
Ask anyone from the settled community (known as 'gorgias' to Romani Gypsies and as 'country people' to Irish Travellers) what Gypsies do for money and the list would be short: tarmacking, roofing, scrap-metal dealing, hawking or maybe horse dealing....
Harrowing Journey
One of Boy's more annoying teenage rules of thumb is that, if Dad likes it, it must be crap. This applies of course not just to all those classic albums I consider an essential part of his education from Led Zep III to After the Goldrush, but to books,...
Hopefully
There was outrage last week when it was found that the Oxford English Dictionary had listed one sense of literally as 'virtually, as good as' - in other words, the reverse of its established meaning. Pedants were literally up in arms (in the new sense)....
I Don't Think It's over in the Balkans
I returned last week from a short break in the Balkans; travelling by train in Serbia, walking from village to village over the mountains of northern Albania, an evening in a big Albanian town, a couple of journeys in Montenegro and a very short time...
If All Left-Wing Academics Were as Nice as John Sutherland, Taki Would Tolerate Hush Puppies
Just before I left Gstaad for the Greek islands I went to dinner at Eugenie Radziwill's, whose other guests included the great Barry Humphries and his wife Lizzie, and a couple I had never met before but whose name rang a distant bell, John Sutherland....
In the End, Everybody Pays
Character is destiny, according to Heraclitus, and that becomes increasingly clear as you get older and chart the ups and downs of your friends. Take the fate of one of my oldest acquaintances, who I 'll call 'Philip'. Up until his mid - forties, Philip...
Jeremy Clarke in France: A Couple of Formidables, Dinner with Bucketfuls of Rosé, Dancing, Cognac with Sugar Cubes and a Delightful Romance
Golly my testicles are shrinking fast. At this rate by Christmas they'll be down to the size of garden peas. And I might have breasts on the way, too, it says on page 92 of the hormone injection contraindications leaflet. Fantastic! Just what I've always...
Killing in Kenya: Aidan Hartley Tracks the Last Steps of an Elephant
Laikipia The bull elephant had roamed our northern marches of the Laikipia plateau for decades. I always recognised him when he passed through the farm because his handsome 65-pound tusks had a distinctive curve and a thickness that showed his ivory...
Kill or Cure
The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber Atlantic Books, £12.99, ebook £8.99, pp. 320, ISBN 9781782393474 Charles Cullen, an American nurse, murdered several hundred patients by the administration in overdose of restricted drugs. Hospitals should be safe places...
Last Man Standing
A Rogues' Gallery: Off-the-record Encounters with Figures of Fame, Folly and Fun, 1950-2000 by Peter Lewis Quartet, £25, pp. 298, ISBN 97800704373174 Like Mel Brooks's character the Two Thousand-Year-Old Man, Peter Lewis has met everyone of consequence....
Letters
Some doctors write Sir: Professor Meirion Thomas ('Dangerous medicine', 17 August) may be an excellent surgeon but he is uninformed about the nature of GPs' work. For many older consultants in the NHS, it will have been decades since they last spent...
Melissa Kite: Spare Me from Successful Neighbours
At last. I've waited a long time for this moment. I've been through years of torture at the hands of excitable twenty-somethings, experimental thirty-somethings and Booker-prize-winning forty-somethings. I've had nothing but adventurous, liberal-minded,...
No Saint
The bad news for fans of G.K. Chesterton is that there are moves afoot to make him a saint. The Catholic bishop of Northampton, Peter Doyle, is reportedly looking for a priest to promote his canonisation. Pope Francis is an admirer, too; he supported...
Portrait of the Week
Home The cost of the HS2 railway line was expected by some in the Treasury to rise from £43 billion to £73 billion. The number of new homes being built in England rose by 6 per cent in the three months to June. The United Kingdom has lost more than...
Ruthless Roundheads
The Rainborowes: Pirates, Puritans and a Family's Quest for the Promised Land by Adrian Tinniswood Cape. £25, pp. 432, ISBN 9780224091480 Adrian Tinniswood, so gifted and spirited a communicator of serious history to a wide readership, here brings a...
Teenage Dreams
Were you still up, as they used to say about Portillo in the 1997 election, for Hedwall? It was well past midnight on Sunday, the sort of hour when all good Spectator readers should be tucked up in bed - or when the really good ones are thinking about...
The Anniversary Addiction
Back in the 1960s, the producers of the Tonight programme had a running joke for linking the show's segments. They would use lines like: 'And that item commemorated the 23rd anniversary of. . . .' Or: 'On Tuesday Mr Jones would have been 73.' There...
The Bo Show
In a stuffy courtroom in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province, a major political triumph is being celebrated. Bo Xilai, the Communist princeling, challenged the system and lost, and the system is having its revenge. Under Marxism-Leninism a trial...
The Grace of Childhood
What Maisie Knew 15, Key Cities, and on demand from www. curzonlmworld. com What Maisie Knew is an adaptation of the Henry James 1897 novel, updated to Manhattan in the now, and is described in the bumf I received as 'heart-warming', which is utterly...
The Inside Story
This Town by Mark Leibovich Penguin, £17.99, pp. 400, ISBN 9780399161308 Many books have been written about the corruption, venality and incestuousness that characterise Washington DC, but none has been as highly anticipated or amusing as This Town....
The Line to Nowhere
In June last year I predicted in these pages that the government would allow High Speed 2 to die a quiet death. Although the government has since reaffirmed its commitment to the proposed railway line, I am sticking to my prediction. Indeed, if the...
The Missing Middle
To Voltaire, the British class system could be summed up in a sentence. The people of these islands, he said, 'are like their own beer; froth on top, dregs at bottom, the middle excellent'. A harsh judgment, perhaps, but one that might still have some...
The Plight of the Predestined There Could Be No Backsliding While Preparing the Next Plot, Murder or Battle in the French Wars of Religion, Says Hywel Williams
The Huguenots by Geoffrey Treasure Yale, £25, pp. 468, ISBN 9780300193886 France's early 21st-century Protestants are eco-friendly, gender-sensitised and respectful of the Fifth Republic's laicite. But their ancestors were a less accommodating lot....
Upaid Internships Turned Me into a Banker - but I Still Think They're a Good Thing
My thanks to 'AndyB', the only reader who posted an online comment on my column last week. It was 'Don't you ever go on holiday?' and the answer is yes I do, and here I am deep in the Dordogne, glass of rose to hand, lunch on the terrace in prospect,...
Walking in the Auvergne
The homicidal sheepdog that launched itself at me from behind a grassy hillock, had the look of a demented hearth rug but the fangs of a leopard. No self-respecting Border collie would have taken such a creature as a serious competitor in the herding...
What We Really Really Didn't Want
A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s by Alwyn W. Turner Aurum, £25, pp. 615, ISBN 9781781310687 The title of Alwyn W. Turner's book could deter readers. Even the Hollywood film The Secret Lives of Dentists promised more excitement. John Major...
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