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 December 2011

A Beautiful Bloody World
The Age of Chivalry: Culture and Power in Medieval Europe, 950-1450 by Hywel Williams Quercus, £20, pp. 224, ISBN 9780857383389 The half-millennium or so that followed the division of the Carolingian empire in 843 AD was a time of profound social...
A Gimlet Eye
Jane Austen's Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye OUP , £25, pp. 667, ISBN 9780199567807 We should be grateful to families which encourage the culture of writing letters, and equally vital, the keeping of them. Leopold Mozart, for instance, taught his...
Al-Qa'eda's New War
Sectarian bloodshed, in Afghanistan and Egypt is a tool to thwart democracy From a distance, the devastating attacks on Shia Muslims in three Afghan cities this week looked like the type of sectarian religious attacks which we got used to in Iraq. The...
A New Deal for Britain
Owen Paterson, Northern Ireland Secretary, says that now is the moment for Cameron to begin negotiations about our standing in the EU It is becoming increasingly clear what the Conservative party expects of its Prime Minister. If he is going to agree...
A Question of Faith
What would it take to convince you that Nils-Axel Morner's arguments on sea levels are not scientifically credible? If people are committed to an unscientific position, no evidence or argument will shake them out of it. Whether they subscribe to AIDS...
Are Stock Markets 'Cheered ' Because Traders Are Trying to Save Their Own Jobs? End. but Mr Market Is Not to Be Fooled, and in the New Year I Fear He Will Go about His Reaping with the Grimmest of Vigour
I'm picturing you reading this in your armchair beside a blazing log fire on Friday evening, Christmas tree lights twinkling over your shoulder, spaniels steaming at your feet, beaker of mulled wine in your hand. 'Quite exciting while it lasted, ' I...
At the End O F the Day, We Can't Do without Verbal Padding
I had last week the pleasure of lunch with Mark Mason. Between or perhaps while walking (overground) the route of the London Underground for his latest book, Walking the Lines, he has been writing occasionally for The Spectator. I had wanted to discuss...
BOOKENDS Saving JFK
Stephen King's latest novel is a time-travel fantasy about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. At almost 750 pages, 11.22 .63 i s drawnout even by blockbuster standard s . Critics have bemoaned its surfeit of period detail (bobby socks , Hu la Hoop...
Cinema for Your Eyes Only
Puss in Boots U, Nationwide Puss in Boots was the surprise hit character - the standout sidekick - of the second Shrek movie, and went on to tickle us in Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After. Sleek, foolish, vain and blessed with the all butter voice...
Conjuring with Morality
Measure for Measure Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in rep until 10 March The Heart of Robin Hood Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratfordupon-Avon, in rep until 7 January You can see why Harold Bloom, in his marvellous book Shakespeare: The Invention...
Consumed by Dickens
If you don't like Simon Callow, you probably don't like the theatre either. He is as theatrical as a box of wigs. Who else would bark 'come!' when someone knocks on his dressing-room door? There he is with a glass of wine, a boom of good cheer, having...
Culture Notes Singing Siblings
The Unthank s cou ldn't have chosen a more fitting venue for the first night of their current tour than St James's Chu rch, Piccad i l ly ; ju st a s it 's a l l too ea sy for pa s ser sby, eyes glued to the bright lights, to overlook this relic of...
Dear Mary: Your Problems Solved
Q. In my late fifties, I find myself, in the run-up to Christmas this year, going to social events and meeting up with contemporaries some of whom I have not seen for years. I have always been bad at recognising people but I notice that some now seem...
Debate Denied from the Start
Dissent on global warming has been shut down from the start The odd thing about the great debate on global warming is that there never really was a debate. As soon as the global warming scare exploded on the world in 1988, to its promoters there could...
Diary
Recently, telling myself I must cure my allergy to the banal language employed by the Church of England these days, I went to a service in a local Norman church. The visiting preacher was a grey-haired woman. Her soporiferous sermon induced instant...
Don't Mention the War
Major/Minor by Alba Arikha Quartet, £15, pp. 217, ISBN 9780704372429 It wasn't easy being the daughter of the artist Avigdor Arikha. In this memoir, Alba Arikha mixes teenage fury with glimpses of her godfather Samuel Beckett and a fragmented account...
Exhibitions Pushing the Boundaries
Barry Flanagan: Early Works 1965-82 Tate Britain, until 2 January Josef Herman: Warsaw, Brussels, Glasgow, London, 1938-44 Ben Uri Gallery, 108a Boundary Road, NW8, until 15 January Rothko in Britain Whitechapel Gallery, until 26 February When I was...
Food Raiding the Fridge
The new hotel W looms like a giant fridge over Leicester Square. They demolished the poor old Swiss Centre to build it as part of the regeneration programme because some people don't know that some things can't be regenerated. I often pass through Leicester...
In Praise of Barter
Since austerity is now the order of the day, Greeks are doing the sensible thing and beginning to barter. Aristotle thought it was the only system that kept the world honest. At the centre of Aristotle's thinking lay a concept dear to him - the purpose...
Leadership Please
Is a time of economic crisis an opportunity for fundamental reform, or a time to muddle through while waiting for calmer waters in which to effect lasting political and economic change? When he came to power last year, David Cameron argued for reform....
Letters
All at sea Sir: The Spectator's cover article last week was entitled 'The Sea Level Scam'. You can rest assured that no such scam exists. Most claims of the author, Nils-Axel Morner, have never been published in peer-reviewed articles so cannot be...
Lifelong Death Wish
Three Lives: A Biography of Stefan Zweig by Oliver Matuschek, translated by Allan Blunden Pushkin Press, £20, p.381, ISBN 9781906548292 In February 2009, in a review in these pages of Stefan Zweig's unfinished novel, The Post Office Girl, I wrote:...
Losing My Bottle
Why does Waitrose think I can't be trusted with Chablis? I was refused alcohol in Waitrose the other day. Not because of my age, nor because I don't look my age. Nor, I hasten to add, because I was drunk. I was buying supper in Waitrose - two chickens,...
Low Life
'A race through the subways and streets of Paris anuses.' Startled, I reread the sentence. Surely that couldn't be right. To pass the time I was flicking through a programme of December's films at the local art-house cinema. The sentence came in a synopsis...
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE Because I Said So
70 'Because I said so' is the most common phrase mothers find themselves using to their children that their own mothers used to them, according to a deeply unscientific survey undertaken by a baby-outfitters. Other such phrases included: 'Take your...
Nothing on Paper
On the subject of e-readers, I suspect the world population divides neatly into two halves. On one side of the chasm, hell will freeze over and Accrington Stanley will win the FA Cup before anyone will even touch one. And on the other, that looks like...
Opera Highs and Lows
La Traviata Royal Opera House, in rep until 25 January Orpheus in the Underworld Young Vic, until 10 December This year's Christmas offering at the Royal Opera is yet a further revival of Richard Eyre's production of La Traviata, which began the season...
Pop the Joy of Spotify
Like a few who have ploughed through the Steve Jobs biography, I am now heartily tired of early adopters, those strange men who are always at the front of the queue at the Apple shop when some dismal new gewgaw is coming out. I myself am a classic late...
Portait of the Week
Home David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said before an EU summit on the eurozone debt crisis that he would not agree to any treaty change 'that fails to protect our interests'. Downing Street rejected suggestions by Iain Duncan Smith that a referendum...
Prince of Progress
Prince Albert, who died 150 years ago this month was a far more interesting figure than his pompous monuments suggest The tragedy of Prince Albert was not that he died at the age of forty-two 150 years ago this month, but that his quick-tempered and...
Radio Wild Wastes of Forgetfulness
Too much dark, not enough light, often leads us inwards, into those dark regions of the mind where memory resides. Between the Ears (Radio 3, Saturday evening) echoed the mood of the month by taking us on a journey back into that hinterland of darkness...
- Roger Alton, P69 High Life
Let's lighten up a bit and have some fun before next week's 'Big Bazooka', the Christmas double issue. The vast majority of us Westerners are a happy bunch despite our countries being racked by debt, rising prices and job losses. Mind you, I know 4,700...
Settling Old Scores
Outsider: Almost Always, Never Quite by Brian Sewell Quartet, £25, pp. 343, ISBN 9780704372498 As a boy, Brian Sewell was unimpressed by opera but enraptured by pantomime which, he reveals in Outsider, sowed in him 'an undying ambition, never fulfilled,...
Spectator Sport the Legendary Socrates
The great footballer Pat Nevin, as fluent, funny and intelligent an ex-player as you are likely to find, tells a wonderful story about using the word 'equidistant' to a referee when they were lining up a free kick. The players looked at him as if he...
Television Knock-Off News
The Onion is a comic giveaway American newspaper that satirises the awfulness of most American newspapers. 'Doofus Chilean miner stuck down there again' is one of their recent headlines, along with 'Parents honor dead son by keeping up his awful blog'....
Theatre Geometry Lesson
The Comedy of Errors Olivier, in rep until 1 April Aladdin Lyric, Hammersmith, until 31 December It's the usual old muddle. You take a Shakespeare classic and you time-travel it to an alien century, usually the present one, which has no connection with...
The Bomb in the L IV Ing Room
During the last parliament William Hague likened the issue of Europe to an unexploded bomb at the heart of the Conservative party - best leave it alone, or it might well detonate. But it still dominates British foreign policy. However far David Cameron...
The Greatest Show on Earth
A Glimpse of Empire by Jessica Douglas-Home Michael Russell, £17.95, pp. 131, ISBN 9780859553216 J Jessica Douglas-Home's aptly titled book is based on the diaries of her grandmother Lilah Wingfield, who attended the Delhi Durbar in 1911 and then spent...
The Rival
Ken Livingstone's attacks on Boris Johnson seem to conceal admiration How does Ken Livingstone think he is going to beat Boris Johnson in the election for Mayor of London to be held next May? When I put this question to Ken, he launched into an almost...
The Spectator's Notes
The last week has been bracing for me, because I have had many interesting encounters with Europhiles. Visiting Spain, I met the former prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar. In Paris, I interviewed Jacques Delors, the grand architect of the single currency....
The Turf Prize Giving
When he was awarded the Cartier award of merit for his lifetime contribution to racing, trainer Barry Hills insisted that racing should continue to be fun, and if that meant a little bit of skulduggery then so what. It drew the biggest applause of the...
The Unfree Press
The Leveson inquiry is not the only place tion this week, Hu Zhanfan, head of China State TV, warned assembled hacks: 'Journalists who think they are independent rather than propaganda workers are making a fundamental mistake about identity.' They are,...
This Years Shortlist for the Ronnie Hutton Memorial Prize
Usually at this time of the year I'm busy at home compiling entrants for the Ronnie Hutton Memorial Prize, a prestigious award which goes to whatever police force has made the most fatuous arrest under the new and superfluous 'race hate' legislation....
Voyages of Discovery
Resurgent Adventures with Britannia edited by Wm. Roger Louis I.B. Tauris, £33.99 pp. 352, ISBN 9781780760575 Roger Louis is an American professor from the University of Texas at Austin who knows more about the history of the British Empire than any...
Whitehall's Own Scottish Nationalist
The notion of Scotland being reoriented as a 'Scandinavian' country, at the expense of links with England, the Commonwealth and Europe, is odd enough; but stranger still is the revelation this week that the plan - part of a massive 'Prospectus for...
Will Britain Ever Recover Its Imperial Mojo?
Jessica Douglas-Home's A Glimpse of Empire (Michael Russell) has one of those provocatively old-fashioned titles guaranteed to alienate the kind of people who enjoy Woman's Hour, You And Yours and Jon Snow on Channel 4 News. But that's not the only...
Wi Zard of the Baroque Jonathan Keates Celebrates Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the Rebarbative Genius Who Refashioned Rome
Bernini: His Life and His Rome by Franco Mormando University of Chicago, £22.50, pp. 416, ISBN 9780226538525 Not content with being the greatest sculptor of his age and one of its most gifted architects, Gian Lorenzo Bernini had some talent as a painter...
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