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 2008

A Dog's Life
Dean Spanley U, Nationwide Dean Spanley is a family film and a sweet film and a kindly film with the most delicious cast (Peter O'Toole, Jeremy Northam, Sam Neill, Judy Parfitt) but it is also a slow film -- the first hour is almost unbearably uneventful...
Alive and Kicking
The Sleeping Beauty English National Ballet, Coliseum Forgive me the lame pun, but although The Sleeping Beauty is performed worldwide, there are not that many great Beauties around. One exception is, arguably, the one staged under Kenneth MacMillan's...
Ancient & Modern
Andrew Motion's tenure as Poet Laureate is about to end, and the search for a successor has begun. It is accompanied with the usual tidal wave of claptrap about this not being 'the sort of job which any real poet would want' and the importance of not...
Boldly for Restoration
WALES by Simon Jenkins Allen Lane, £25, pp. 292, ISBN 9780713998931 £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Last year, having been to Scotland, I called on the mother of an old friend. Mrs Molly Jones of Carmarthen, I found to my great surprise, was...
Brief Encounter
On our last evening in Cairo we were joined for dinner in the hotel restaurant by a local businessman who liked to socialise with the English tourists. He drew up the chair beside mine. The chair on his other side was vacant. The amplified music was...
Brown's Britain Is Broke and Creeping towards the Ignominy of an IMF Bail-Out
Before a country has to beg the IMF for a bail-out, there are normally several clear warning signs. Its national debt needs to be vast -- say, several times its entire economic output. Next, it becomes dependent on that debt, as its government is unable...
Children's Books for Christmas
In these hard times it is gratifying to find one Christmas present which has remained virtually unchanged in price for the last seven or eight years -- the children's book. Most of the illustrated books for the very young and the increasingly elaborate...
Dark and Creepy
THE FOLIO BOOK OF HISTORICAL MYSTERIES edited by Ian Pindar £24.95 (plus £3.95 p&p), pp. 396, available through the Folio Society, 44 Eagle Street, London WC1R 4FS. Contact the Membership Department (tel: 0207 400 4200), quoting The Spectator review...
Diary
Doing the rounds of various Christmas parties including the Arts Council and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, I can report that there was not a glass of champagne in sight. This year it's all white wine and water. The collective view of...
Diary of a Notting Hill Nobody
MONDAY Mr Maude ecstatic about the polls. Says it's the most significant narrowing he has seen in all his years of being miserable about the possibility of the Tories ever winning again. 'Only four points ahead! We're doomed! DOOMED I tell you!' All...
Ever Wondered Who's Wearing Your Cast-Offs?
Christmas might be a time for cheer and charity but, just as emotionally consuming, it's also a time for clear-outs. As the annual wander through your wardrobe beckons, consider what happens to cast-offs dispatched to your nearest charity shop. Drop...
Forgotten Gems
A Countryman in Town: Robert Bevan and the Cumberland Market Group Southampton City Art Gallery, until 14 December The Women's Land Army - A Portrait St Barbe Museum, New Street, Lymington, until 10 January The recent Camden Town exhibition at the Tate...
Friends in High Places
New York A Brooklyn-born rapper by the name of John Forte had a business idea of sorts about eight years ago. It was one of those get-rich-quickly schemes that, alas, work most of the time, hence the reason so many people are out of it most of the time....
Get in the Right Spirit
would never be one to advocate drinking responsibly, especially not over the festive season when being irresponsibly, irrevocably drunk is often one's only means of survival. Which is why this year I will be giving and hoping to receive the timeless...
Give Them Time
In November -- a time when I normally refuse to think about the coming holidays -- The Spectator's Style and Travel editor offered me a wife for Christmas. Sarah Standing quickly assured me that there would be no mail order bride arriving at Old Queen...
Help Purnell
It is one of the oddities of politics that a Labour government can sometimes get away with announcing policies which, had they come from the mouth of a Conservative minister, would have provoked howls of anger. So it is with welfare reform. Whenever...
I Am Ready to Go to Prison for Hamster Murder
RSPCA Press Office Dear James, I'm sure you will not be surprised to learn that the RSPCA has received a complaint following your column dated 21 November. We were surprised, however, that it was felt appropriate to trivialise and broadcast a criminal...
It Is Very British to Pass a Law Making It Illegal to Create a Nuclear Explosion
I dread to think why a Liberal Democrat would want to impersonate a traffic warden. It wouldn't just be to get free parking. Not with them. It would have to be a sex thing. Some kind of NCPthemed bondage dungeon; an underground den kitted out to look...
Memoirs of the Great War
SURVIVORS OF A KIND by Brian Bond Continuum, £18.99, pp. 256, ISBN9780091925840 £15.19 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 In Survivors of a Kind, Brian Bond, one of our most distinguished modern military historians, has written an absorbing and affectionate...
Music and Emotion
Beethoven Unwrapped is the title of the year-long musical celebration marking the opening of Kings Place, the new 'creative centre' at King's Cross. But does Beethoven, of all composers, need unwrapping? The answer is yes, more than ever, if the process...
Not Quite One of the Masters
Flying to Athens on one of his last visits to Greece, Simon Gray started reading a novel by C. P. Snow, one of those old orange Penguins. After 50 pages he 'still had no idea what the story was about'. It seemed foggy, 'but an odd sort of fog, everything...
Oasis of Calm
A 2,000-year-old thoroughfare, St Martin's Lane, and certainly one of my favourite places; contender, any time of year, for the world's most festive location. On Saturday afternoon, a carnival of mad shoppers, confused sometimes, crossing roads without...
Obama Is Just Bryan Adams without Music
It would be no real surprise to pick up the first issue of The Spectator from 1828 and find a review of a Bryan Adams show: he is one of those performers who is just there, and (it seems) always has been. Unless you were on a different planet during...
Positive Thinking
It's not a job I could do now that I'm supposedly mature, let alone when I was in my twenties. To take charge of a prison full of angry young men plus a team of disgruntled, de-motivated staff officers. But on Radio Four this week and next we heard...
Present Ideas
We have a super-efficient friend who has all her Christmas shopping both purchased and wrapped by the end of the summer holidays. It drives Mrs Spencer -- who regards the approach of Christmas with the panic-stricken horror of a hedgehog who spots an...
Prices Are Crashing in Cyberspace
Zero interest rates, record borrowing, printing money; the government has indicated that it is prepared to consider anything to slay the spectre of deflation. But if deflation is really such a bad thing -- and I'm not convinced that, in a mild form,...
Quality Check
The clatter of hooves in the stable yard, the smell of the work riders' bacon butties drifting in the air. Warmly wrapped trainers and bloodstock agents scratching at their catalogues. Horses breezing in pairs down the Kempton straight in the misty...
Resigned Despair
Riders to the Sea Coliseum Ascanio in Alba King's Place Vaughan Williams's short opera Riders to the Sea was to have been conducted by Richard Hickox, but in the sad event it was played as a tribute to him, and conducted by Edward Gardner. It had a...
Resist the Urge to Purge
Dickens had a point in Bleak House when he said of fashion that 'it is a world wrapped up in too much jeweller's cotton and fine wool, and cannot hear the rushing of the larger worlds'. Sadly, the roar of the present financial catastrophe is too deafening...
Russian Resolve
Over the years I have met some unusual obstacles to my selfappointed task of spreading interest in unaccompanied singing around the globe. The main one is that music without instruments doesn't have any 'musicians' in it and therefore cannot be taken...
The Body Politic
If I had been given a monkey for every time someone had told me knowledgeably that Boris Johnson was a comical buffoon unfit for high office, I'd be able to open a very large ape house. It annoys me not just because it's not true but also because of...
The Devil's Work
PAYBACK: DEBT AND THE SHADOW SIDE OF WEALTH by Margaret Atwood Bloomsbury, £9.99, pp. 230, ISBN 9780747598497 £7.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Timing is all. In 1969 Margaret Atwood's An Edible Woman was published, and its iconic portrayal of...
The Prospects for a Proud Olympic Legacy Are Bleak
I had to be forcibly persuaded on to the rugby field at school. Now, to my amazement, I find myself advising the British Olympic Association. I sympathise with friends who become quite hysterical at the idea of my rubbing shoulders with Sir Clive Woodward...
The Real Lesson of This Fiasco Is That We Need Elected Police Chiefs
Perhaps now you'll understand what we've been banging on about, we localists. For the better part of a decade, we've campaigned to place the police under elected sheriffs. Some of our chief constables, we contended, had cast off the cables that once...
The Spectator's Notes
It is a continuing pleasure of our parliamentary life that no one really quite knows what the rules are. In the Damian Green affair, learned opinions differ about whether or not Parliament can exclude the police from the premises when pursuing a crime,...
The White House Will Be Run like Chicago
Washington may not have had an architectural makeover in more than two centuries, but the city's political culture has shown a chameleon-like ability to change with each incoming administration. When Bill Clinton arrived from Little Rock, Arkansas 16...
The Wiki Man
It's not always a good idea to read certain books when you're too young. At school it didn't occur to any of us that Brave New World was meant to be a bad place -- it seemed like a utopian fantasy world to me. Advice to writers: if you want to alarm...
Things We'll Really All Be Better off Without
Most journalists have spoken of the financial crisis as evidence of a failure of capitalism. But is it? Or is this kind of reversal in fact necessary if capitalism is to work at all? After all, a free-market economy doesn't do a perfect job of rewarding...
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