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 March 2006

Ancient & Modern
Last time we saw how closely the preparations to make Gordon Brown prime minister paralleled those to make Tiberius emperor (princeps, 'first man') in AD 14, after the death of the first Roman emperor Augustus. Still, the successor to an epoch-making...
Anyone for Chastity?
Of the precepts that have been abandoned in my lifetime, none has been junked with greater enthusiasm than chastity. Like the statues of Dzerzhinsky, Ceausescu or Saddam Hussein, it had come to symbolise a tyranny over our natural instincts leading...
A Sad Scene
A few months ago I persuaded one of my oldest and best gay friends to invite his lively, articulate heterosexual neighbours to dinner. The meal was, as I had expected, a great success. Conversation was amusing, flowed naturally along with the wine,...
A Short Visit to Hell
Several years ago, in another lifetime it seems, I played a porn star. In fact I played the Pornstar, in a fairly successful little twohand play called The Dyke and the Pornstar. The piece gained a deserved reputation for being daring, risqué, even...
Benedictions and Clichés
DEAR ROOM by Hugo Williams Faber, £8.99, pp. 55, ISBN 0571230377 The poems of Hugo Williams used to puzzle me; they were so simple I couldn't make them out. Autobiographical, yes -- nothing wrong with that, usually -- but more overtly so than most....
Celebrating Shostakovich
Although the 100th anniversary of Shostakovich's birth is still six months away, Manchester staged a six-week celebration in January and February encompassing all 15 of the symphonies and string quartets as well as some of the concertos and song cycles....
Cultural Divides on CD
The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell is one of those books that people keep rediscovering. You can't believe you have never come across it before (it was written in 1972) and when you have finished it, either by book or CD read by Tim Pigott-Smith,...
Design Fault
'Designer babies' is headline shorthand for a weird new world of genetic enhancement. Thanks to several generations of science-fiction imagery, it evokes an unnatural and evil world of blond, staring, probably homicidal children, which scares ordinary...
Diary
I was revolting from a very early age and more than once thought of taking over a radio station and starting a revolution. In those days the wireless exerted far more influence than the newspapers, at least in our house. I can still remember the opening...
Doing Nothing in Particular Very Well
TOO CLOSE TO THE SUN : THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DENYS FINCH HATTON by Sara Wheeler Jonathan Cape, £18.99, pp. 284, ISBN 9780224063804 . £15.19 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 'We are here on earth to fart around, ' that wise man Kurt Vonne- gut once...
Doing Time
The telephone rang rather early, and when I picked it up an English male voice said, 'Hello, Taki, this is David Irving. . .'He was ringing from the Vienna pokey, just after his conviction, and we had a brief chat. Having been in such a position myself,...
Don't Look Now
My boy didn't want to go to Venice. His in-built cant detector, these days becoming more finely tuned with every passing day, had alerted him to the possibility that Venice was going to be educational. 'Why Venice?' he said tetchily, as we got on the...
Down with the New Morality
It was John Major who came a cropper while trying to restore the nation's moral values: his 'back to basics' campaign was mocked to death before it had really got started. Yet Mr Major's attempt to influence the nation's morals was nothing compared...
Faith, Hope and Charity
CHRISTIANITY AND SOCIAL SERVICE IN MODERN BRITAIN : THE DISINHERITED SPIRIT by Frank Prochaska OUP, £35, pp. 216, ISBN 0199287929 . £28 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 The issues raised here could not be more important to the future of British democracy....
Get a Life, Girls
Some version of a sexy, scantily clad temptress has been around through the ages, and there has always been a demand for smut. But whereas this was once a guilty pleasure on the margins -- on the almost entirely male margins -- now, strippers, porn...
Healthy Appetites
There's nothing like a medical -- or, as it is now known, an 'executive health check' -- to make you feel painfully aware of your own mortality. As Leonard Cohen mournfully observed on his splendid album I'm Your Man, 'I ache in the places where I used...
Hot Property
Perhaps it's the association with The Goodies and with Dennis Nilsen, serial killer, but people are reluctant to admit that they live in Cricklewood. 'Well, it's sort of on the Hampstead border, ' they mutter sheepishly, when quizzed on their new home....
In This Age of Uncertainty, the PR Man Is King - or, at Least, King-in-Waiting
So Mark Bolland has definitively fallen out with his public-relations 'guru', the Prince of Wales. Many assume that it is the other way about, with Charles the prince, Mr Bolland the PR man. But the Charles-Bolland matter is proof of one of my longstanding...
It's Not Just Tessa Jowell Who Is Being Investigated -- It's the Entire Government
Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet secretary, has been obliged to deal with a considerable volume of intricate business in the course of his brilliant Whitehall career. When he was John Major's press secretary in the mid-1990s Sir Gus was obliged to familiarise...
Lust for Life
MAGGI HAMBLING : THE WORKS AND CONVERSATIONS WITH ANDREW LAMBIRTH Unicorn Press, £40, pp. 240, ISBN 0906290848 I must declare an interest. At my solitary meeting with Maggi Hambling, she suddenly barked, 'Would you like to see my hysterectomy scar?'...
Maddays
Music festivals, like any public undertaking to do with 'art', put their planners on their mettle. As much creative thought can go into the format and the specially conceived theme of such things as into the concerts themselves. It is as if the artistic...
Meditation for Lent
For Lent, the artist Charlie Millar (born 1965) has installed a pavement of 308 resin casts, like transparent bricks, arranged in a rectangle on the floor of the Eastern Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral. Millar casts these bricks himself, embedding within...
Much Possessed by Death
MISHIMA'S SWORD : TRAVELS IN SEARCH OF A SAMURAI LEGEND by Christopher Ross 4th Estate, £14.99, pp. 262, ISBN 9780007135080 . £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 On the 25 November, 1970 after a failed coup d'état, the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima...
Personal Priorities
Syriana 15, selected cinemas 'Syriana' is 'a term used by Washington think-tanks to describe a hypothetical reshaping of the Middle East', according to this film's director. As the title of his film, he uses the word to describe a concept: 'the fallacious...
Policies, Please
For a politician to invite the television cameras into his home is a risky business. An inexperienced Mrs Thatcher in 1975 merely had to open her larder to the nation to find herself accused of hoarding food. Tony Blair was criticised for the heavily...
Portrait of the Week
Mrs Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, said that she had signed without asking any questions a form that her husband, Mr David Mills, used to gain a mortgage for a house, which he repaid a month later with an alleged bribe of £340,000...
Post-Stalin Fear
There was a gripping account of Nikita Khrushchev's secret speech denouncing Stalin in 1956 in The Speech that Shook the Kremlin on Radio Four last week (Friday), told by the presenter Tim Whewell like a thriller. It was 60 years ago in February that...
Putting Bezazz into Bazaar
A DASH OF DARING by Penelope Rowlands Simon & Schuster, £20, pp. 548, ISBN 0743480457 . £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Carmel Snow, routinely called 'the legendary Mrs Snow' by newspapers in her lifetime, edited the most perfect fashion...
Restaurants
Is it just me, or does everyone have a bit of a problem warming to Gary Rhodes? I know, I know, all celebrity chefs have their annoying shortcomings: Jamie's wet lips;Nigella's sloppy eating habits (sucking her fingers, juices dribbling down chin);...
Rootstock of Radicalism
Starting at Zero: Black Mountain College 1933-57 Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, until 2 April Now You See It Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, until 7 May London is about to experience two exhibitions about early 20th-century Modernism. The V&A is mounting...
Rural Rides
Important stuff first: can the chap with the farm address in Shropshire who very kindly said he'd let me have his hunt coats and boots for a modest sum please get in touch again on Jamesdel@dircon. co. uk? My email has been playing up something rotten...
Ruth and Consequences
New York 'I tell them about pressure, foreplay . . .I introduce them to a vibrator but I tell them never to get too used to it. The penis can never duplicate the vibrations of a vibrator.' At 77, Dr Ruth Westheimer has still got the old magic. It remains...
Series of Distractions
Macbeth Royal Opera La Bohème Royal Albert Hall Verdi's Macbeth is one of those operas which I always have hopes will be greater than it ever actually seems in performance. Its seriousness of intention is plain from the outset, and by and large Verdi...
Spectator Mini-Baroffer
Private Cellar is a new company specialising in delightful, unusual, outof-the-way wines of quality. We ran a mini-bar offer with them last year, and it went extremely well, as it should, because the wines were delicious. This one is called Hidden Treasures,...
Spectator Sport
Treats all round next week if the secondleg matches in football's Champions League are as compelling as the first. Chelsea and Rangers, each playing in Spain, are at serious risk of elimination, but Liverpool and Arsenal should be in the hat for the...
Spectator/YouGov Sex Poll
Is British society today more tolerant of all types of sexual conduct (between consenting adults) than it was in the 1960s? Yes 92 No, less tolerant 3 No change 2 Don't know 3 Has this change in attitude made people healthier and happier? Yes 44 No31...
Thecountry of Sir Walter
THE BUILDINGS OF SCOTLAND : THE BORDERS by Kitty Cruft, John Dunbar and Richard Fawcett Yale, £29.95, pp. 841, ISBN 0300107021 . £23.95 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Although the Scottish Borders contain some of the most picturesque and unspoilt...
The Fine Art of Appreciation
STILL LOOKING by John Updike Hamish Hamilton, £25, pp. 222, ISBN 0241143357 . £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 John Updike is, among one or two other things, a model art critic. Observant, sympathetic and knowledgeable, he also writes at a useful...
The Outlaw They Couldn't Keep Out
JOHN WILKES by Arthur H. Cash Yale, £20, pp. 482, ISBN 0300108710 . £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 John Wilkes was an unlikely icon -- cross-eyed from birth and lumbered with a grotesquely prognathous chin that exposed his lower teeth when he...
The Prince of Start-Ups Is Entitled to Speak Louder Than Any Big-Ego Business Knight
Every time Sir Alan Sugar fires a contestant on The Apprentice, the nation quivers in admiration; likewise whenever Sir Richard Branson launches another airborne publicity stunt. Serial entrepreneurs are accorded guru status, yet whenever Britain's...
The Resurgence of the Puritan Element
GOD'S TERRORISTS by Charles Allen Little, Brown, £20, pp. 349, ISBN 0316729973 . £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 The words 'fanatic' and 'Arabia' are placed together so often that they almost seem designed for each other. A Syrian friend once...
The Spectator's Notes
Last week our local hunt met at a subscriber's farm. Because it was a weekday, the mounted field was small -- half a dozen or so. As soon as they moved off, they were pursued by 31 masked men, many of them carrying fence posts. When three of the field...
Watching the Human Comedy Unfold
NOMAD'S HOTEL by Cees Nooteboom, translated by Ann Kelland Harvill/ Secker, £16.99, pp. 195, ISBN 1843431505 . £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 I remember once swimming in the Batha river in central Chad. Despite recent rains the river was...
Where Have All the Babies Gone?
The last European will die on 6 August 2960. This, if you extend demographic trends far enough, is the grim official prognosis for our continent. We are rich enough and clever enough to have separated sex from childbearing and too busy for large families....
Why Foreigners Love Us
An opinion poll of young European men recently asked which of the Continent's women they would most like to sleep with. Italian and French girls took the honours, but there was a strong showing from the Swedish ladies, which shows that a lot of gentlemen...
Will Jordan Be the New Palestine?
If unintended consequences are the progeny of political activism, then the fate of King Abdullah of Jordan is a lesson to us all. The West's best friend in the Arab world is now the region's most vulnerable monarch. It was, after all, America's war...
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