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. 280, No. 8843, 1998

A Golden Couple
STRANGE to say, I don't think football has reached its peak. I think it has a few more months to go. But all the same there really is no doubt about it, this is one of the greatest and most important stories in the history of human civilisation. David...
Ancient & Modern
WHAT do President Clinton and the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook think they are doing, fondling their White House aides and having affairs with their secretaries? They should have other priorities. Do they not wish to be remembered as Great Persons? Consider...
An Entertaining Evening Finding out How Professor Pinker's Mind Works
The acclaim accorded to How the Mind Works by Professor Steven Pinker made me sit up. 'A revolution under way' was the headline in The Spectator: the book is 'a celebration of the marriage of the two most important ideas in the entire history of the...
A Three-Faced Historian
LIBERTY BEFORE LIBERALISM by Quentin Skinner CUP, 6.95, pp. 156 Of the 12 Regius Professors of Modern History at Cambridge since Kingsley's appointment in 1860, all but three have disclosed considered views of politics, literature and religion. Kingsley...
Bedroom Fantasy
I've been fantasising about setting up a camera in my bedroom and playing the resulting film on the Internet. There's a teenage girl in the United States whose bedroom has been visited by 100 million people. Now, I don't think that, in itself, is in...
Boroughs vs the Mayor
YOU ARE a Labour councillor slaving away running Greenwich, Hillingdon or Enfield. You are daily making decisions about roads, schools, rents and rubbish. How well is not the issue. We can all agree that whatever you are in it for, it is not for the...
Carry on Camper Van in Australia
I fell early in life under the spell of the American road movie. Gripping the handlebars of my Harley, I roared into the heat haze of an unspecified highway in the mid-western United States, leaving nothing but a bar bill behind me and with nothing to...
Cinema: The Real Shocker
In the Company of Men (18, selected cinemas) One of the more irritating aspects of President Clinton's current travails is the defence that `everyone does it'. Really? I like to hit on babes as much as the next guy but I don't put the moves on every...
Dear Mary
Q. The other day my wife and I were invited by a successful but absent-minded biochemist and his wife to their elegant apartment for a drink at 6.30 or so. We were expected, as was evidenced by a dish of tomato and anchovy bits, but they only offered...
Diary
Not many people can say that their office in the middle of London looks out on a stable with working horses in it, but I look after the Royal Parks and the clatter of our police horses caught my ear this morning, They help at the Changing of the Guard...
Don't Be Seduced by the Camera
In a discussion on Channel 4, Martin Amis, Gore Vidal and Salman Rushdie appeared alarmingly in agreement on the subject of the pre-eminence of the cinema in modern culture. It is as if novelists, in millennium fever, are belatedly rushing to embrace...
Exhibitions 1: Gigantic Puzzle
Alex Katz (Saatchi Gallery, till 12 April) Thomas Schutte (Whitechapel Art Gallery, till IS March) There are tracts of American art, just as there are huge areas of America itself, that we over here seldom hear about. We know about Pop and Abstract Expressionism,...
Exhibitions 2: Wayward Child of Fortune
Builder of Towers: William Beckford and Lansdown Tower (Christie's, 8 King Street, until 3 February) ' Some people drink to forget their unhappiness. I do not drink - I build.' William Beckford, the reclusive millionaire who inherited his millions at...
Focus on Leadership
Britain is moving into a new era of political communication, where politicians communicate directly with small groups of their electors. First there were the focus groups, carefully chosen political consumers on whom political parties producttested policies...
God's Man in Havana
Havana `LET ME tell you why El Papa is coming to Cuba,' explained Jose Larrinaga, a tour operator at one of the hotels in Cayo Largo, an island resort off the mainland. `First, to see what hell is really like. Second, to meet the Devil. And third, to...
If Ike Was Allowed His Golf, Why Not Bill His Sex?
Almost everybody lies about sex. As Suetonius could well have said, `the prick has no conscience'. One of the first lessons taught to young men-about-town in my day was that properly brought up young women never kissed and told, closely followed by the...
Keeping an Eye on the Boss
EDWARD HOPPER: A JOURNAL OF HIS WORK edited by Deborah Lyons W W Norton/Whitney Museum, L17.95, pp. 105 Edward Hopper's place among American artists is sometimes problematic. Too popular, perhaps, for his own good, he is seen by many as a darker version...
Lady Peter Wimsey at Home
THRONES, DOMINATIONS by Dorothy L. Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh Hodder, L14.99, pp. 313 Writers rarely keep their masterpieces hidden away, unpublished, to be discovered long after they are dead, and I doubt whether Dorothy L. Sayers abandoned Thrones,...
Letters
Reckless Pom Sir: Kim Fletcher (`New south wails', 17 January) should know that one Australian tradition is alive and well: we don't like whingeing, patronising Poms. There have been 29 drownings on Australian beaches this summer - all of them foreign...
Let the Chips Fall Where They May
COD: A BIOGRAPHY OF THE FISH THAT CHANGED THE WORLD by Mark Kurlansky Cape, 12.99, pp. 294 So many post-modern novels have been written with this sort of title over the last few years that it might be worth saying that this is a perfectly serious history...
Magician of the Humdrum
The year is 2020, and certain changes have taken place. War between the United States and China has reduced the population and brought social chaos. The dollar has been supplanted by Massachusetts scrip. There are no taxes, just protection money. Nevertheless,...
Making Old Men Weep
I am proud to have discovered Simon Wrightson in his North Yorkshire fastness. His wines are good and his prices reasonable. He produced two of the great stars of last year, with his 1994 Rhone from the Clos du Caillou, and his excellent light claret,...
Maps and Things
A few weeks back, I devoted this column to maps - how they can lie, how they are stylised, what they tell us about ways of apprehending topographical space. I did this because the subject was on my mind, my colleague Juliet Kinchin at the Glasgow School...
Mexico: Mum Needn't Have Worried
My mum was worried. While I was in Mexico the country hit the British headlines twice. First there were reports that it was snowing, then that foreign tourists were routinely being kidnapped. I was glad to reassure her on my return that neither phenomenon...
Mind Your Language
`HOW HAVE you remained pertinacious in ignorance about this for so long?' asked my husband, with a little pause expecting laughter. He was remarking upon a pile of letters on the word kursaal, about which I had indeed been ignorant until mentioning it...
Moving the Goalposts
Gstaad On Sunday night, when things looked extremely bleak for the occupant of the Oral Office, I offered 5-1 odds that he would keep his job. I was dining at Aleko Goulandris's chalet. There were no takers. Which goes to show that a) Greek shipowners...
Moving Times
Why are radio people mesmerised by television? The size of the audience, perhaps; the feeling that if television performers present radio programmes some of their fame will rub off on radio and increase the listening figures. It doesn't always work,...
Music: Remembering Two Composers
Robin Holloway on Robert Simpson: 1921-1997, and Michael Tippett: 1905-1998 To lose its two senior living composers within two months, even if they depart in ripe old age, their harvest all gathered, is heavy for a country to bear. Michael Tippett made...
Opera: Gruesome Pleasure
Sweeney Todd (Opera North, Leeds) Le Nozze di Figaro (Royal Opera, Shaftesbury Theatre) Wholly unfamiliar with Sweeney Todd, or indeed any of Sondheim's musicals, I was not prepared for an evening of such uneasy pleasure as I had at the Grand Theatre...
Portrait of the Week
Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, made a strange telephone call to President Clinton telling him that `he was thinking of him'. The Ulster Freedom Fighters admitted they had been murdering Catholics this year, but said they would stop again; within...
Puccini Turned in His Grave
LAST Saturday, the BBC 2 series The Great Composers did Giacomo Puccini. The programme dwelt at length on the maestro's interest in extramarital sex, particularly with below-stairs women - or what would be called these days a bit of rough. Like many...
Rajasthan: Stiff Upper Lip in the Raj
Of course, it all became completely absurd. Sally Burton heard that Sandy and I were going on a quick tour of Rajasthan to see the bits and bobs left behind by the Mogul empire and the Raj, and asked if she could come too. Not a problem. We booked for...
Restaurant
IF JUSTICE prevails at Michelin HQ, then the 1998 Guide to France, due out shortly, will restore to Alain Ducasse at his Louis XV restaurant in the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo the third cooking star which was inexplicably removed in last year's Guide....
Revistiong Troubled Waters
WINTER SEA: WARS, JOURNEYS, WRITERS by Alan Ross Harvill, L14.99, pp. 152 Before Winter Sea I had never read a travel book by Alan Ross, indeed any book about the Baltic, let alone visited it. Ross, returning to the scenes of his wartime service in the...
Robin Cook Has Always Been an Implausible Foreign Secretary and the Doubts Are Growing
Robin Cook may well be the cleverest member of the government. He is one of the two best debaters in the Commons, the other being William Hague. He also looks like a foreign minister - the foreign minister, say, of Ruthenia, in London in effect to ask...
South Africa: Cape Town Caprice
People will tell you that Cape Town has become the cynosure of all modish eyes; that bacchanalia and scandal are as common there as the bottle-brush tree; that the Constantia suburb is the hell-bound, hedonistic Happy Valley come back to life and moved...
Tbilisi: Georgia on His Mind
Tbilisi netted a grand total of 25 British holidaymakers in 1996; it's not what you'd call a tourist trap. And the passengers on my plane don't look like tourists: a darkbrowed, grimly purposeful bunch, lugging mountains of brown-paper parcels. As we...
Theatre: The Pity of War
Back in the late 1960s, when he was still running the National Theatre company from the Old Vic, Laurence Olivier used occasionally (and mainly, I suspect, to annoy his resident literary manager Kenneth Tynan) to ask other critics which plays we most...
The Carribean: Church and Steak
Fourteen years ago food shopping in Nevis, a former British colony in the Caribbean, was a haphazard and exciting experience for a child. We lifted up dusty tins on the shelves of Chapman's store to watch the cockroaches scatter (with the hope that one...
The Message of Martin Bell's Fate: Don't Mess with New Labour
Kelvin MacKenzie, who has been running Mirror Group's newspapers for little more than a week, appears to have wrought amazing changes at the Mirror. He has galvanised his old protege, Piers Morgan, the paper's editor. Almost every day brings a new scoop....
The Women Who Really Want This President
Washington, DC ONCE MORE, organised feminism's silence has been heard across the land, concerning a liberal and sex. Leaders of the National Association of Women (NOW), our leading feminist organisation, are withholding their judgment. Feminists want...
The X-Rated President
New Hampshire FOR six days, Bill Clinton kept his head down, a position usually reserved for his womenfolk. But on the seventh the President ventured out - to Congress, for the annual State of the Union address. Last year, he had to share the spotlight...
They Learn in Suffering What They Teach in Song
BIRTHDAY LETTERS by Ted Hughes Faber, L14.99, pp.197 I remember wondering vaguely why the Faber catalogue was shy of poetry this season. The first I heard of the shotgun publication of Birthday Letters, the Poet Laureate's 88 poems to and about his first...
Too Private for Public Consumption
Warning: this is not a guidebook. `When you've seen one Romanesque church,' writes Nicholas Luard, `you've seen them all.' But if this is the attitude, why write about the Way to Santiago at all? In Mr Luard's case, because the journey is all about the...
What a Nice Set of Eurostars to Play with All They Need Now Is a Railway
It is no fault of London and Continental Railways that they do not at present have a railway. What they have is a train set. They were given that by way of an incentive, to encourage them to build a track to run it on. Unfortunately the trains do not...
What the President's Situation Tells Us about Lying in Politics (and Life)
Suppose the President of the United States were secretly left-handed. Suppose left-handedness were seen by many in the news media as a condition so disabling to the dignity of that office as almost to disqualify a man from the job. Imagine that, as a...
Why Do They Bother?
Whenever I ring up Carlton to ask for preview tapes, I feel like the man who goes into the pet shop to buy a cute little fluffy bunny, only to take it home to feed to his python. The girls in the press office are so friendly and helpful and eager to...
Winning Streak
When the BBC wanted to broadcast the Queen Mother's wedding in 1923, the Dean of Westminster was having none of it, John Birt revealed this week. The cleric's objection: `Men might listen in pubs with their hats on.' Both the BBC and the racing authorities,...
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