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 Vol. 282, No. 8905, 1999

Ancient & Modern
THESPIANS all over the world have been deeply traumatised by the suggestion of Mr Trevor Nunn, artistic director at the National Theatre, that they should use radio-mikes to ensure audibility. Ancient Greeks, having to perform in masks, might have welcomed...
And Yet
I have often thought that sociology is, as someone once said, a scientific way of telling us what we know already. I thought of this as I sat in the Faraday Lecture Theatre at the Royal Institution in London listening to this year's Reith Lecturer, Professor...
An Independent Voice
As an independent bookseller I am frequently asked with tender concern perhaps nourished by a tear shed during You've Got Mail - whether things are, well, all right, meaning `How come you haven't been forced out of business yet?' A reference to the NBA...
Archie Was Different
Scenes from imperial life: the High Commissioner, Lord Allenby, is giving a lunch in 1924 at the British Residency in Cairo for Asquith, the ex-prime minister. Among the guests there is to be `the Sirdar', or governor, of the Sudan, Sir Lee Stack, who...
A Salubrious Suburb of Hell
A STAIRWAY TO PARADISE by Madeleine St John Fourth Estate, 9.99, pp. 185 Adultery is a shadowy thing, taking place in the half-light of deceit and betrayal. A Stairway to Paradise describes an affair that barely makes it even to this twilight zone, stalled...
A Virtuoso Performance
AN EQUAL MUSIC by Vikram Seth Phoenix House, f16.99, pp. 384 It is often said, with the certainty of the idee recue, that music is the most difficult subject for a novelist. But I wonder if this is really true. There must be half a dozen near-classics...
By the Light of Mill's Beacon
New Labour rejected socialism and most other 'isms', except pragmatism. On the whole, the Prime Minister has seemed content to get by with - in his own words - `doing what works', and saying what people want to hear. To a surprising extent, he appears...
Daring Presidential Designs
Forget Fran ois Mitterrand, `le monarque bitisseur', the monarch builder, who littered Paris with all his `grands travaux'. Of all France's postwar presidents, Georges Pompidou was by far the most cultivated, a lover of poetry and contemporary art, sandwiched...
Dear Mary
Q. May I pass on a tip to readers who, as I once did, waste money each week on the National Lottery? I got together with nine other small-time losers in my office to form a syndicate of ten. Each member of the syndicate chooses ten rows of numbers each...
Deeply Doubting Thomas
This book is written with all the passion of a scholar who sees himself possessed with the truth of his own researches and who has suffered the slings and arrows of those who refuse to see the light. He found difficulties in publishing his doctoral thesis....
Diary
Lewis Wolpert, scientist and writer, is a delightful fellow to meet, good-tempered and congenial. But what I saw of his recent television series on depression was, I thought, hopeless: descriptions of, but no insights into the heart of the matter. This...
Floral, Fruity and French
THE last offer from Heyman, Barwell Jones, then based in Ipswich, was in February 1997 and included wines from Chile, Spain and South Africa as well as France. It averaged 4.62 the bottle. This offer, which is all French, averages 6.62 the bottle (79.52...
Food: Keep Abreast
I AM writing this on April 1, such are the vagaries of publishing when disturbed by a great feast or bank holidays. So far, so good, no wild ruses or the like. So, I hope we all had a magnificent Maundy Thursday, Good Friday (it takes a good hour at...
Going Unsuccessfully West
East-West is of course a central theme in Rushdie's work - alongside literary hit contracts for regicide and deicide - and this time his trajectory runs from uppercrust Bombay in the 1950s to rock'n'roll in the heyday of the Western counter-culture....
Goodbye to the Peace Dividend-We Paid It but We Still Have to Earn It
Bang goes the peace dividend. What a windfall it was, while it lasted. For years now we have been happily paying it out to ourselves and finding uses for it. The trouble with dividends, though, as every company director knows, is that you have to go...
Hell on High Water
IN recent years, the Boat Race has become something of a cox's event. The once reasonably genteel exchanges are now a hardcore grinding and boring: the theft of your opponent's water has become the cox's pride. I cannot watch these events without a sensation...
How a Refugee from a Continental Monster Taught Us about Art
Ours is already an overcrowded island, but we must make room for victims of Serb inhumanity. We may be sure that Almighty God will reward us for our hospitality. Think, for instance, of the way in which refugees from Hitler's terror in the 1930s have...
How Franco Eroticised Me
UNUSUALLY for a British subject, I was brought up under a military dictatorship. My parents moved to Spain in 1948. Consequently, my childhood and adolescence were spent in a country where there were no political parties, no trade unions and where the...
Hunters and Gatherers with an Incurable Fever
THE ORCHID THIEF by Susan Orlean Heinemann, 12.99, pp. 368 The Orchid Thief fits neatly on my natural history shelf at the end of a line of books with titles like The Gorilla Hunters, Up the Amazon with Rod and Gun, The Sagacity and Morality of Plants,...
Letters
Send in the thugs From Sir Edward Ford, GCVO, KCB, ERD Sir: I find the bombing operation in the Balkans wholly unacceptable morally, and palpably ineffective strategically, in toppling a barbarous regime. Far better to train and let loose on the so-called...
Mind Your Language
LET us have no more about it after.this week, please. One or two readers have written to say that nigger is such an intrinsically 'unacceptable' word that it should not be discussed. I cannot see that. But nor can I see a future for it in Britain as...
Missing Out
New York I swore to myself that I would not mention Kosovo this week, not because I'm bored with it - on the contrary - but because I owe it to Spectator readers. Last week's Speccie said it all: Madeleine Albright and Robin Cook are two buffoons who...
Mr Blair Does Have the Will to Win
BRITISH Conservative opinion on the war over Kosovo may be divided into three categories. As in all modern political organisations, the dominant attitude is that of the foreign policy elite, the military industrial complex. Such people take an essentially...
Mr Blair's War Policy: Staying 25 per Cent Ahead of the Tories
Jingoism has a bad reputation. This has had one unfortunate consequence. It has discouraged those in charge of defence matters from pondering on the couplet which invented the concept: We don't want to fight, but by jingo if we do We've got the ships,...
National Selection
Richard Fox once told the trainer Philip Mitchell of a horse from which he had just dismounted, `He needs a trip Guv'nor.' When the trainer, who had already upped the horse steadily from seven furlongs to a mile and a half, inquired, `What trip?', the...
NATO Faces Death at 50
IT WAS supposed to be Nato's surprise birthday present to itself. Nato at 50 was going to show the world that age had not wearied the Atlantic alliance. Instead its pyrotechnics over Yugoslavia look more like a distraction from blunders than a celebration...
On Being Bombed by NATO
`THEY did not know that our nation is crazy,' said a Serb friend struggling to sympathise with what he sees as Nato's blunder in bombing his country. `They thought: two bombs on Belgrade and we would give them Kosovo. But it's not like that.' Indeed...
Oscar Politics
LORD Queensberry, the persecutor of Oscar Wilde, was probably mad anyway; but what drove him to distraction was that his son and heir sat in the Lords and he didn't. The title was Scottish, and Queensberry was not one of the Scottish representative peers....
Pleasantville Did Exist
I ONCE lived in Pleasantville - the 1950s dreamworld of sunny peace and stable families that really existed in this country as well as North America. Years later, I found myself in the nearest modern equivalent to it, the sweet north-western suburbs...
Portrait of the Week
Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, vacillated over Britain's policy towards thousands of Albanian-speaking refugees forced out of Kosovo. In an article for the Sunday Telegraph he said, `We must try, if possible, to avoid dispersing these people around...
Recent Books on Tape
The BBC have issued five boxes of two reels of tape, each of a selection of stories read on Woman's Hour (BBC Radio Collection, 8.99 each, or 19.99 for the set). I parted company with Woman's Hour, which I very much loved, when I left school and started...
Sacred Days
Someone I had dinner with recently protested at the name of Sir Richard Burton, `but he was a pornographer'. No, I demurred, he was not a pornographer. He translated and chronicled erotica. `You mean, then,' rejoined my friend, `it's not pornography...
Sapphic Showdown
For some time now, I've been toying idly with a scholarly monograph on the decline of the lesbian movie. Despite such recent cross-genre innovations as that British picture with Amanda Plummer the first lesbian road movie (or muff-driver, to give the...
Savij Kutz
Savij Kutz IF the Americans did most to earn the peace dividend, our own governments have been as quick as any to pay it. They may put on resolute expressions when it suits them and growl defiance at the baddies of the moment, but when money has to be...
Second Opinion
AS is widely understood, there is nothing quite like a war for reducing the suicide rate. Indeed, it is in reality the only known method of curtailing the inherent human tendency to self-slaughter. And since it is official government policy that the...
Staging Bach
The announcement that the ENO is to stage Bach's St John Passion, to coincide with the Easter commemorations next year and to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, opens a new chapter (pace Jonathan Miller) in what may count as stageable drama....
Taking a Bow
A POSITIVELY FINAL APPEARANCE by Alec Guinness Hamish Hamilton, 16.99, pp. 245 When Sir Alec Guinness s witty, beautifully written memoirs Blessings in Disguise appeared in 1985, certain reviewers complained that this most protean and mysterious of actors...
Teasing the Modern Minotaur
PLAY RESUMED by D. J. Enright OUP, 18, pp. 220 When D. J. Enright published this book's predecessor some reviewers suggested that its place was the bedside or the lavatory. No disparagement of the volume's content was intended: it is simply that commonplace...
The Gaiety of the Lower Classes
Sex is a perennially compelling subject. Generally speaking, it is (and, I believe, should be) clandestine; this makes it difficult to compare oneself to others in the desire to ascertain how normal one's own instincts and predilections are, which only...
The LaHore Kebab House
THE hour's commute from central London doesn't matter, the bomb scares are irrelevant. The wind-tunnel effect just means that everyone wears coats in the summer. The Docklands Light Railway is a small price to pay for 93,000 blooming bulbs and we can...
Time to Be Born Again
Nato used to have a clear purpose: to prevent the Soviet Union from overrunning Western Europe. There was also a secondary, equally vital one: to ensure that the Americans remained committed to the defence of Europe. So the Nato command structure reflected...
Tricks Not Treats
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Barbican) The Prisoner of Second Avenue (Haymarket) The Gin Game (Savoy) Christmas has come a little late, or maybe early, to the Barbican this year; Adrian Noble's staging of Adrian Mitchell's adaptation of the...
Trusty Workhorse
I regretted selling the VW before and during the sale, and still do. Now, distance lends it an enchantment it never had during its time with us, though we were always aware of its sober virtues. It was a silver 1993 Passat estate, the 1.6 litre turbo-diesel...
Unsavoury Goo
This Merlin is a delectable cocktail of succulent goodies,' says the director, Steve Barron, in the crazed publicity hype which accompanied the two-part film on Channel 4 (Sunday, Monday). I was reminded of a pub competition Richard Boston once described,...
Urban Peace
`Forget the peace and quiet of the countryside - what I long for is the peace and quiet of the city,' a girlfriend of mine told me recently. She had spent many happy years living in a sleepy corner of south London while her husband dreamed of buying...
Vintage Weill
Kl Weill's last contribution to musical drama before he left Germany in 1933 was Der Silbersee, written in collaboration with the expressionist playwright Georg Kaiser. It has not had a successful career, having been premiered in Germany in three cities...
What I Hope This Balkan Crisis Tells Us about the After-Life
There are several reasons why many of us will be annoyed if there is no after-life. But there is one reason which will especially annoy those of us who are interested in discovering the answers to certain baffling questions about events in this life....
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