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 February 2007

After Blair's Big Tent, Brown Plans a Big Football Stadium of Popular Causes
The 2018 World Cup is, by every measure, a long way off. Fifa intends to take three years to decide on which continent the tournament should be hosted, and only then start thinking about a specific country. Even the Football Association (which would...
A Genius for Living
RED PRINCESS : A REVOLUTIONARY LIFE by Sofka Zinovieff Granta, £16.99, pp. 346, ISBN 9781862079199 . £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Perhaps the only drawback to this highly enjoyable biography is the shadow of utter banality that it throws...
A Hunt for the Past
The A377 from Exeter to Barnstaple is perhaps 26 miles long, much of it bordering 'The Gentleman River' of the Taw and railway which will still stop at the many stations by request. Crags and steep coverts cast their shadows along the road, and in the...
All Human Life Is There
THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING by Alaa Al Aswany, translated by Humphrey Davies Fourth Estate, £14.99, pp. 255, ISBN 9780060878139 . £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 In 1934, an Egyptian millionaire called Hagop Yacoubian, doyen of Cairo's Armenian...
A Nation of Babysitters
First, let us not submit to the selfindulgence of moral panic: there has never been a time when British children have been less afflicted by poverty, disease and malnutrition. The new Unicef league table for 'child well-being' across 21 industrialised...
Ancient & Modern
Cooked turkey is perfectly safe to eat, but no one is buying it because of a scare which has nothing to do with cooked meat. Parents refuse to give their children the MMR vaccine when there is no evidence that it will harm them. Officials close schools...
An Unhappy Anniversary for the Emperor Ming
With less than a fortnight to prepare for the first anniversary of Menzies Campbell's assumption of the leadership of the Liberal Democrats, Spectator readers may be wondering how best to mark the occasion. I have no doubt that subscribers to this magazine...
A Win-Win Proposition, but Not for the Punters
'What percentage of ten trillion pounds do you need to be happy?' asks the young Australian called Jonathan who is instructing the 'free' Win Investing seminar I'm attending. You may have heard Win Investing's irritating ads on Classic FM, pressing...
Birth of Bridge
The ancestry of bridge can be traced at least as far back as early 16th-century England, when prototypes of Whist were being played. By the middle of the 17th century Whist was being played under its modern name. The next major step towards bridge as...
Cameo Pile-Up
Hot Fuzz 15, Nationwide I wish I could like this film more than I did, but I didn't, mostly because I don't think it adds up to anything more than a vastly bloated TV sketch. Maybe this is my failure. The chap next to me at the screening laughed with...
Cinque Estate
If Flopsy the cat had not bolted to hide in the airing cupboard, I would not have believed my daughter when she insisted a ghost had just floated across the room and through a wall into the garden. It was a lady, she said, dressed in black with a hood,...
Cute Pidgin Pie
A CONCISE CHINESE -ENGLISH DICTIONARY FOR LOVERS : A NOVEL by Xiaolu Guo Chatto, £12.99, pp. 353, ISBN 9780701181147 . £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Slight. A slight story, slightly poignant, slightly drawn characters, occasionally slightly...
Diary
It's finally dawned on me that my relationship with the Conservative party has irrevocably changed. Dave and his young, dynamic, thrusting team are simply not interested in me or my Neanderthal views. They couldn't give a stuff what I think. And I don't...
Diary of a Notting Hill Nobody
MONDAY Am fed up. It simply cannot be the case that everyone smoked cannabis at school. They're clearly all just saying it to suck up to Dave. Head office unbearable. I've had it up to here with Moroccan black, red seal and 'Maui wowie'. Well, I'm not...
Don't Always Blame the Parents: The Child Is Often Just as Guilty
From a wedding or a christening nothing new is learnt, but funerals are different. A funeral or memorial service almost always teaches us things we never suspected about the dead. And I often find that such services strike me with new ideas, too. This...
Don't Believe in Trickledown Economics? Consider the Parable of the Chelsea Nanny
Peter Hain says two thirds of City bonuses should be redirected to charity, or employers who dish them out should face tax penalties. David Cameron is trying to find a formula to suggest he disapproves of City greed while signalling that the City need...
Drinking Partner
Las Alpujarras A succession of loud explosions reverberated across the ravine. I went and stood at the door of the shepherd's hut and looked out. A dense fog had descended. The explosions came from the direction of a tiny village called Atalbeitar....
Driven by the Dance
SOMEWHERE : THE LIFE OF JEROME ROBBINS by Amanda Vaill Weidenfeld, £25, pp. 675, ISBN 9780297847977 Amanda Vaill opens her absorbing biography of the choreographer Jerome Robbins with an all too familiar psychological diagnosis: he was, she writes,...
Foregone Conclusion
Apparently Agatha Christie used to write nearly the whole of each book, then before starting the final chapter would decide which character was least likely to be the murderer. Having chosen him or her, she would go back through the manuscript, adding...
Funny Peculiar and Ha-Ha
THE CASTLE IN THE FOREST by Norman Mailer Little, Brown, £17.99, pp. 496, ISBN 0394536495 . £14.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Rumours and published reviews to one side, the new novel by Norman Mailer, called The Castle in the Forest, is not...
Gillian McKeith Is Truly Ghastly, but We Are Gullible Enough to Deserve Her
A couple of years ago an overconfident Scottish woman called Dr Gillian McKeith made history by being the first person ever to examine human stools on primetime television. A nutritionist -- whatever that is -- by trade, her shtick was to induce indolent...
I Admit It: I Didn't Get into the Bullingdon
Twenty years ago when I was in my last year at Oxford, living in a house-share on the Banbury Road, I was woken in the middle of the night by a gang of upper-class oiks bursting through the front door, stampeding upstairs and trashing the room of one...
Islam Rejects the Liberal Consensus:the Best We Can Hope for Is Tolerance
The only thing that can be known with reasonable certainty about Ruth Kelly's new programme of engagement with Muslim communities, which the Prime Minister told the House of Commons at last week's meeting of the liaison committee will tackle Islamist...
London Is the Liberia of Listings
Byvanquishing Nasdaq, the London Stock Exchange has yet again fought off falling into foreign ownership. But what does it matter who owns the exchange when so many of the companies listed there are from overseas? London has become a listing of convenience...
Middlesbrough's Lofty Ambitions
The most exciting thing to do in Middlesbrough on a Sunday afternoon, Ronnie Scott used to say, is watch the traffic lights change. Not any longer, since the opening in January of Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. Mima is the latest addition to...
Money Does Buy You Happiness
The great consolation for those of us who don't have enough money is the thought that those who do don't really enjoy it. Holidays, for example. Every year we spend a week or two for next to nothing in the Welsh borders and I'm quite sure we have a...
My Interrogation with Professor 'Torture'
Guantanamo Bay has just marked its fifth anniversary. John Yoo was instrumental in setting up the prison camp which the normally solidly pro-American Daily Mail has called 'the sort of show that once only dictators like Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao...
Not Too Posh to Push
Long-haul is a term that should really be used to describe any journey taken with luggage that doesn't have wheels. Getting from A to B with a suitcase nowadays is made completely hellish. Fine for the very young to lug laptops and bags the length of...
No, We Have Not Betrayed a Generation
Impatience for improvements in education is something I share. It is not a new phenomenon: in 1439 William Bingham, a London rector, petitioned Henry VI about the 'great scarcity of masters of grammar'. What amazes me in the modern age is our collective...
Open and Shut Case
When we moved into our house there was only one window in the dining room. It was built to keep out cold, not let in light. So its northern wall, two feet thick, was left blank. For years we suffered the frustration of eating our summer suppers in the...
Passport to Pimlico
Last night I dreamt I was at Daylesford again. It seemed to me as I drove up the winding drive, through the parkland, the sun glinting on the 18th-century facade of the house that . . . damn, I woke up! Actually, the last time I went to Daylesford it...
Patience Rewarded
Agrippina Coliseum Agrippina is widely agreed among Handelians to be his first major opera. Constituted, to a large extent, of arias from pre-existing works, it does have a strongly distinctive character, and is as precocious a work as any operatic...
Policies of Masterly Inactivity
THE GREAT MAN : SIR ROBERT WALPOLE : SCOUNDREL , GENIUS AND BRITAIN'S FIRST PRIME MINISTER by Edward Pearce Cape, £25, pp. 485, ISBN 9780224071819 . £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 In December 1743 George Bickham produced a caricature, The Late...
Restaurants
My partner is a total tea fascist and whenever I make a pot it is never, ever right. It's: 'Did you use fresh water?' Then it's: 'You used re-boiled, didn't you?' And then, with a sniffy look: 'How long exactly did you leave this to brew?' When I give...
Risky Business
There was at least one game girl on the race train back from Newbury on Saturday. 'You didn't smell very good on the sofa this morning, ' the carriage heard her tell a potential swain on her mobile. 'But if you're up for a celebration tonight then I...
Russian Invasion
Gstaad There's more happy dust to be found indoors around here than powder on the slopes. Last week I drove to the Diableret glacier and skied my legs off trying to catch up. At 3,000 metres -- the maximum height the old prop planes used to reach when...
Sins of the Father
IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE by Miranda Seymour Simon & Schuster, £14.99, pp. 270, ISBN 9780743268677 Memoirs about bad or dotty fathers -- from J. R.Ackerley's (and the brilliant companion piece by his secret half-sister, Diana Petre) to Lorna Sage's to...
Spectator Wine Club
I'm pleased to say it has become an annual tradition: our February offer of the new vintage of Chateau Musar with Lay & Wheeler. It has been a tremendous success with Spectator readers. The wine won't be in the shops until May, but it can be shipped...
Test of Stamina
Hogarth Tate Britain, until 29 April William Hogarth (1697-1764) was a rambunctious figure, controversial and quarrelsome by nature, but the first British artist to achieve worldwide recognition. He did this not through his paintings but through his...
The Battle of Croke Park
There was generally bonny acclamation as the French rugby team ran out to play Ireland at Dublin's Croke Park stadium last Sunday. I forecast a significantly tauter edge to proceedings next Saturday when the English XV takes to the Republic's hallowed...
The Double Nature of Romance
The word 'romance' has come down in the world, and the romantic novel is one in which the love-interest predominates. A romance used to be more spirited, a tale of adventure in which the events are striking and come perilously close to being improbable....
The Front-Row Forward Who Never Loses a Fight
Of the Australian tycoon Alan Bond it used sometimes to be remarked that, after a nuclear war, there would be only three things left alive: seaweed, cockroaches and Bond. In British business these days, there is probably only one man with the same kind...
There's No Place like Home
Hang the expense, I thought. Let's take a holiday in England. After all, I speak the language and understand many of the cultural references; and my wife is a good driver. So come on, Google, what you got cooking? Here we are: the Marriott Hotel Royal...
The Spectator's Notes
Was it really an 'own goal' for 10 Downing Street to invite people to petition it on subjects of interest to them, and then find more than a million people saying that they opposed road pricing? It was information worth knowing. Politicians should not...
The Third Way
By the time you read this, the new Radio Three schedule will be up and running -- more jazz, more words, fewer 'live' broadcasts (as opposed to live recordings) and Choral Evensong switched from Wednesdays, where it has been for decades, to Sundays....
The Tricky World of Faction
THE SONG BEFORE IT'S SUNG by Justin Cartwright Bloomsbury, £16.99, pp. 275, ISBN 9780747583417 . £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 There is something odd about a roman à clef which has the key attached. Justin Cartwright's latest novel tells...
Unfamiliar Connection
Lowry in Liverpool Tate Liverpool, until 9 April It was a dark and stormy night when I got to Liverpool and, on my way to the Tate at Albert Dock the next morning, a gale-force wind nearly propelled me into the Dock's murky, choppy waters before I reached...
Walk This Way
On a warm evening last summer, at about 11 p. m. , I sat down on a stone step in Edinburgh's Grassmarket and gave my gloom, which had been gathering all day, the go-ahead to spread. Edinburgh had changed in the decade since I'd been at university there...
When Tobacco Worked Wonders
SAVAGE KINGDOM by Benjamin Woolley Harper Press, £25, pp. 467, ISBN 9780007131693 . £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 The British empire in North America was not founded in a fit of absence of mind, though it might be said, in its beginnings at...
Wrong but Wromantic
SCRAP THE BBC! by Richard D. North Social Affairs Unit, £15.95, pp. 219, ISBN 9781904863205 The BBC is an infuriating organisation: powerful, introspective, arrogant, imperial, insulated from the pressures of the commercial world. Its resemblance to...
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