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 May 2008

1968 and All Thatc
Roger Scruton has called Les Orphelins by Louis Pauwels the best French novel since the 1939-45 war. Since it seems unlikely that even Professor Scruton has read all the good French novels of the last 60 years -- after all, who among us has read all...
BBC as Saviour
While the TV chiefs squirm with embarrassment, exposed for misleading the public in the phone-voting scandals, radio has had a brilliant week. Not just an announcement that 34.22 million listeners have been listening each week to BBC radio (let alone...
Big Space, Small Space
Liliane Lijn: Stardust Riflemaker, 79 Beak Street, London W1, until 5 July Liliane Lijn has always made 'far-out' sculpture, innovative, adventurous and aesthetically exhilarating. Her imagination fires on three cylinders: light, movement and the use...
Britain Needs US-Style Think Tanks to Counter the Left's Grip on Universities
It wasn't the television studios, or the boss's office the size of an Olympic swimming pool. It wasn't the auditorium for 200 people, or the ten-storey-high purpose-built building with a two-storey atrium. It wasn't the overseas offices in Oman and...
But What about Justice, Fairness and Honesty?
ON HUMAN RIGHTS by James Griffin OUP, £25, pp. 339, ISBN 9780199238781 £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 There is growing unease at the contemporary proliferation and inflation of human rights. Not only do undeserving cases benefit from over-generous...
Cities of the Coast
THE LIQUID CONTINENT: A MEDITERRANEAN TRILOGY VOLUME 1: ALEXANDRIA VOLUME 2: VENICE VOLUME 3: ISTANBUL by Nicholas Woodsworth Armchair Traveller, £12.99 each, pp. 199, pp. 287, pp. 242, ISBN 9781905791323, ISBN 9781905791453, ISBN 9781905791583 In the...
City Revival
'What are you going to be when you grow up?' an inquisitive adult asked during the break for tea at a tennis party given by my parents in the Vale of Clwyd, North Wales, c.1948. 'A cotton broker, ' I replied, wishing to follow in the ancestral footsteps....
C'mon Cherie: Even Goering Stuck Up a Bit for Hitler
I had hoped to bring you a little more fine detail about Cherie Blair's menstrual cycle this week -- I had provisional charts mapped out and so on. But at the last moment I came over a little queasy. Obviously all of us need to know precisely when she...
Cult of the Masterpiece
Location, location, location. On the morning that Christie's prepared to launch the art market's latest high-profile, big-buck season of Impressionist, modern and contemporary sales in New York -- a series beadily scrutinised by the throng of art-world...
Defying Definition
In 1888, visitors to Earls Court were treated to the novel sight of an exhibition of avantgarde art from Italy. The show was mounted by the Milanese Vittore Grubicy de Dragon, the art-dealer son of an impoverished Hungarian baron. A follower of the...
Diary
My earliest childhood memory is of machine-gun rounds coming through the bedroom wall. There were no loud bangs -- the cacophony is almost all at the shooter's end. Incoming, each successive bullet breathed only the softest hiss, of a kind an exotic...
Diary of a Notting Hill Nobody
MONDAY V scary moment at the 9.15. Everyone having boring discussion about various crises overseas, yours truly quietly making notes in corner -- actually sketching a little plan for Sesame's forthcoming dressage trials, am trying to learn a new routine...
Exhibition Suspicion
Towards the end of June, 1814, Maria Bicknell, the wife-to-be of the painter John Constable, went to an exhibition at the British Institute on Pall Mall. It was the second retrospective exhibition ever held in London. The first, the previous year, was...
Faking It
As budgets fall and standards slip, it's inevitable that TV is going to get worse and worse and that the job of the TV critic in trying to shame the bosses into arresting this decline will become more important than ever. But this doesn't make me feel...
Global Warning
For reasons both personal and uninteresting, I found myself recently staying for a few weeks in a small and undistinguished country town in England, chiefly remarkable for the fact that it still had a working railway station (who now remembers Dr Beeching...
Horizontal Racing
Nobody ever does racing-speak as well as the Irish. After his Munich recently showed improved form to win at the Curragh, the Irish trainer Eddie Lynam declared, 'He works like a real machine at home -- but until today he raced like a washing machine.'...
If Scotland Is to Be Independent. Then Why Not London? and Good Luck to What's Left
Here is a fun game for you. In only four words, try to sum up why anybody north of the border might fancy independence. Have a think. Something to rival the neat 'No Taxation Without Representation' quip of the American colonialists of the 18th century....
I Never Want to Be as Insecure as Oliver
Greta Scacchi is lying in bed beside Laurence Olivier. His head is resting against her shoulder. Suddenly it feels damp. She looks at the old man and sees that he is crying. 'What's wrong?' she asks. He looks back at her imploringly. 'Oh, Greta, I haven't...
Lyrical Lack
Royal Ballet Trple Bill Royal Opera House There was a time when dancers were very often given the means to gain a deep understanding of what they were supposed to be interpreting on stage -- the well-known story of Ninette de Valois taking her artists...
Meet James Purnell: The Best Hope Labour Has of Avoiding Disaster
These days, it is scarcely possible to talk politics with a member of the government for more than ten minutes -- if that -- without The Question cropping up. Gordon Brown is doomed, runs the premise: he has hit rock bottom and carried on drilling....
Microsoft's Yahoo Bid Ends Well -- for Google
When Microsoft made its unsolicited $44 billion bid for Yahoo in February, a match looked distinctly possible. Like Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing, it seemed that the two were ready to put years of sniping and barbed flirting behind...
Moving and Magical
Roberto Alagna Barbican Simon Boccanegra Royal Opera House The Merry Widow Coliseum Roberto Alagna gave a recital of Verdi arias in the Barbican last week, his first appearance in the UK since his wounding experience at the hands of the hooligans who...
Not a Decent Book
AMIS & SON: TWO LITERARY GENERATIONS by Neil Powell Macmillan, £20, pp. 429, ISBN 9781405054621 £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 What is the point of this book? This isn't a rhetorical question -- and it isn't meant to be a sneer. It's one...
Poles Apart
ART IN EXILE: POLISH PAINTERS IN POST WAR BRITAIN by Douglas Hall Sansom & Co, 81 (g) Pembroke Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 3EA, Tel: 0117 973 7207, £35, pp. 395, ISBN 9781904537663 With more Poles in Britain than at any time since the second world...
Presentation over Content
The partnership between the written word and the visual image has a long and distinguished history. Leaving aside the pictographic tradition and the fertile area of calligraphy, the first artists' books must date from the modern period when artists...
Sacred Heights
'Road is hilly, Don't be silly' was the advice by the roadside as our Nepali driver safely negotiated yet another hairpin bend and yet another pothole on the way up to the old Himalayan hill station of Darjeeling. Its tea gardens are still flourishing,...
Say a Little Prayer
My shadow was a tiny slippery puddle at my feet; the sun directly overhead and absolute. I had to crane my head right back to see it, not that you had to see it to know where it was. Free from the familiar clutter of light and shade, an enchanting landscape...
'Seeing by Doing'
'I t means knaaing what to de.' This is Jimmy Floyd speaking, his Ashington accent spelt out, his words -- more dialect than dialectic -- written by Lee 'Billy Elliot' Hall. In Hall's The Pitmen Painters, newly transferred from Live Theatre, Newcastle,...
Sister Act
Caramel PG, Key Cities Caramel is a lovely and engaging film and just what we all need right now. You may well ask: how do I know what you need? Have I canvassed your friends? Your family? Of course. And what they all say is: yes, this is just the sort...
Spectator Wine Club
I've been reading an intriguing article by Miles Thomas in the Psychologist magazine. It's called 'On Vines and Minds', and it discusses many of the ways in which our brains determine the experience of drinking wine. For instance, appearances are important...
Spiritual Heaven
The English choral tradition comes in various shapes and sizes. The largest manifestation of it is on display at St Paul's Cathedral in London, with its 18 men and ranks of boys. The smallest, a kind of pocket-battleship affair, is the choir of the...
The Credibility Crunch
We at The Spectator are concerned about our occasional contributor, Frank Field. In last week's magazine, the MP for Birkenhead declared that 'the 10p revolt is unlike any other faced by the Labour leadership over the past 11 years... it has at a stroke...
The Lives of Others
New York From my kitchen window I have watched a little boy grow up to be a man. I live in what Americans, with great economy of expression, refer to as a brownstone, actually a townhouse. It is on 71st Street off Park Avenue. My father bought it for...
The Robots Are Coming
PHYSICS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE by Michio Kaku Allen Lane, £20, pp. 329, ISBN 978071399921 £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 If you think that you or anyone else knows anything for certain about the universe, or stack of universes or whatever it is,...
The Secret Letters of the Jonestown Death Cult
In 1993, my wife Jenny and I bought a small, beautiful, mid-century modern architectural house in the hills of Silver Lake, an enclave of East Los Angeles. We became aware that the previous owners, Dr Herbert and Mrs Freda Alexander, had lived for the...
These Days, Vesco the Fugitive Fraudster Would Have Had a Top Job on Wall Street
So farewell, Robert Vesco, the fraudster, drug trafficker and fugitive from US justice whose death last year has been 'confirmed by Cuban burial records', according to the Daily Telegraph. Vesco absconded with $200 million of other people's money --...
The Spectator's Notes
When it was announced in 1999 that Cherie Blair was pregnant, the controversy about the proposed hunting ban was at its height. I discussed the pregnancy at a hunt tea with the terrier-man. 'It won't be a baby, ' he predicted sullenly, 'It'll be a two-headed...
The Wiki Man
Those of you who saw his article a few weeks back will be pleased to hear Kelvin MacKenzie took a remarkable second place in his local council elections. Already the climbdown over parking charges has begun: the cost of a day's parking at Weybridge...
Through Western Eyes
WORLDS AT WAR: THE 2,500 - YEAR STRUGGLE BETWEEN EAST AND WEST by Anthony Pagden OUP, £20, pp. 548, ISBN 9780199237432 £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 'Why have we come here? The Directory has deported us, ' grumbled the heat-stricken and exhausted...
Time for One More
At the end of the affair she gathered together everything of mine that was lying about in her flat, packed it all into the suitcase I'd left behind, and left a message to tell me to come and pick it up. I didn't return the call. When we finally met...
Two Were Barking
THE THREE OF US by Julia Blackburn Cape, £16.99, pp. 313, ISBN 9780224080606 £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Julia Blackburn has written about Goya, about the island of St Helena, about the naturalist Charles Waterton, about a talking pig;...
What's in a Name?
On a day of sultry heat, a uniformed health visitor stood in our London sitting-room. Around her feet lapped the detritus of a new baby -- and a small, unruly dog. Fondly she surveyed the dog. 'What is the dog's name?' she asked. 'Ludo, ' we replied....
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