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 August 19

Arts Feature: The Woman Who Changed Opera for Ever
Philip Hensher on the woman who changed the direction of operaIn 1987, the art of opera changed decisively. John Adams's opera Nixon in China was so unlike the usual run of new operas in its concept that many people, on first hearing about it, assumed...
'Autumn', by Karl Ove Knausgaard - Review
Here is the opening sentence of Karl Ove Knausgaard's meditation on beds.:With its four legs and its flat, soft surface, the bed gently accommodates one of our most basic needs: it is good to lie down in bed, and it is good to sleep in them through the...
China's Cheerful Racists
China's casual racism is shockingSetting off to spend a year teaching English in Zhejiang province in south-eastern China, I expected plenty of surprises. But what struck me most was something they tend not to tell you about in the guidebooks: the racism.It...
Dance: Mariinsky Ballet
Not really a vintage Mariinsky season -- an odd choice of repertoire and some hit-and-miss male casting -- but the Covent Garden run ended on a glorious high.Marius Petipa's La Bayadère is a lightly curried love triangle about a handsome warrior torn...
Dear Mary: Your Problems Solved
Q. Mary, I am what you would probably call a Sloane Ranger. I have great numbers of close friends and I've always attended confirmations, weddings, christenings and funerals without even thinking about whether it was convenient. But at my age a lot of...
Diary: Chris Mullin
To the Business School at the University of Edinburgh to be interviewed on the theme of 'Great Political Disasters'. Main criteria for inclusion: decisions, often taken for short-term reasons, whose unforeseen consequences have echoed down the ages....
Exhibitions: Art at Edinburgh
One day, somebody will stage an exhibition of artists taught at the Slade by the formidable Henry Tonks, who considered Cézanne a 'curiously incapable' menace, and a cracking show it will be. Until then, we must take what we can from exhibitions like...
Food: Tanya Gold
I am always surprised to remember that Andrew Lloyd Webber has taste; it must be remembrance of Cats. I was surprised, for instance, to learn that he once owned Pablo Picasso's portrait of d'Angel Fernández de Soto, which I always thought of as my Picasso...
Forget Charlottesville - Russia Is Still the True Trump Scandal
Why has a friendly tabloid exposed a sex scandal in the President's ranks?Washington DCThe National Enquirer presented Trump watchers with a mystery last week. Why did it print an attack on Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort? A headline...
High Life: Taki
As Jacob Rees-Mogg said in a different context, a happy birthday at my age is a terminological inexactitude. I needed the birthday I had last week like a hole in the head, to coin a brand new expression. Mind you, the miasma of misinformation that deals...
'In the Days of Rain: A Daughter, A Father, A Cult', by Rebecca Stott - Review
You can never completely leave a religious cult, as this strange and touching memoir demonstrates. Patterns of thinking, turns of mind, will linger with and haunt former members long after they escape.Rebecca Stott was born in 1964 into the Brethren,...
'Johannesburg', by Fiona Melrose - Review
Martin Amis once said that the writer's life is half ambition and half anxiety. While one part of your brain is jabbering away to the effect that, with proper application, you might be the next Jane Austen, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, a larger part...
Katy Balls: The Phoney Tory Leadership War
When a new MP is offered a job as a parliamentary private secretary for a cabinet member, it's often a test to see if they really would do anything to get into government. It involves running errands, spying on colleagues, ferrying messages around the...
Leading Article: America's Identity Crisis
Long before student activists started talking about pulling down statues of Cecil Rhodes, a cultural war was being waged in America over monuments honouring General Robert E. Lee and other leaders of the Confederacy. In 2001 there was a petition to remove...
Letters
The education gapSir: It is disappointing that Toby Young ('Parents, not schools, are key to the knowledge gap', 5 August) conforms to the 'Close the gap' mentality that obsesses Ofsted and leftish thinking in state schools. Young deplores 'the attainment...
Live Music: The Proms; the Damnation of Faust; Oklahoma
Back in the period-instrument wars of the 1980s and '90s, when the forces of historically informed performance smashed out of their baroque beachhead and started to annex romantic repertoire, the insurgents split into two factions. Roger Norrington and...
Low Life: Jeremy Clarke
On Sunday morning we went, Oscar and I, to a vide grenier in the ancient, picturesque Provençal village. Vide grenier means 'open attic sale' -- which is the French equivalent of our car boot sale. Oscar had [euro]20 with which to buy homecoming gifts...
Martin Vander Weyer: Forget London's Ramshackle Garden Bridge: Bring on Nine Elms-to-Pimlico Instead
I can't work up much indignation at the collapse of London's Garden Bridge project, which has been strangled by the refusal of mayor Sadiq Khan to guarantee its continuing operational and maintenance costs -- assuming its trustees, led by former banker...
Mary Wakefield: My Son and the Back-Crackers of Harley Street
All along Harley Street, charlatans and medical experts have set up side by side with no obvious way to tell them apart. The same wide steps lead up to the same glossy front doors, all with prestigious brass knobs. Each separate house is itself a layered...
Matthew Parris: In My Other Life, I'm a Water Engineer
Friends arrived last week to find me in a mudhole, inside a cave-like tunnel into the hill, fiddling around with our spring-fed water supply. Hearing their car, I slithered out to greet them, covered in slime like a monster from the deep. It would be...
'Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001--2011', by Lizzy Goodman - Review
'New York stories in a way are always real estate stories,' says the journalist Alan Light in Lizzy Goodman's bustling oral history of the city's music scene at the dawn of the century. The same goes for all music scenes. Talent clusters and thrives...
'Midwinter Break', by Bernard MacLaverty - Review
He's not what you'd call prolific, Bernard MacLaverty. Midwinter Break is his fifth novel in 40 years, and his first in 16. And, in that time, it could be argued that Irish writers have moved away from his bare and declarative style into the wildness...
Mind Your Language: Mechanistic Insight
No, hang on, don't turn to Dear Mary yet. This is not as dull as it sounds. It's just that I was mystified by not having heard of the term mechanistic insight when, to my husband, it was a common as an August blackberry on a Sussex hedgerow. 'Look,'...
Portrait of the Week
HomeRegulated rail fares will rise by 3.6 per cent in January, bringing the price of annual tickets from Oxford, Colchester or Hastings to more than £5,000. The rise depended on the annual rate of inflation in July as measured by the Retail Prices Index,...
Question Al Gore on Climate Change and He'll Call You a 'Denier'
I asked Al Gore about his new film and he called me a 'denier'The subtitle of Al Gore's new film is 'Truth to Power', which is supposed to give the impression of brave old Al fighting for right against the mighty fossil fuel establishment. But it is...
Radio: Midnight's Children; Throwing out Nehru; the Age of Emotion; Breaking Up with Bradford
Bold programming by the powers-that-be at Radio 4 meant it was possible to listen to all seven episodes of Ayeesha Menon's adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children in a single day on Tuesday, exactly 70 years since independent India was born,...
Real Life: Melissa Kite
Easier by far to load up my horses and move them to the next village than try to fight the No Horse Riding signs here, I decided.I had been sneaking Gracie out the side gate of the livery yard opposite where I live and along the high street to ride around...
Remembering My Brother Daedalus, the Potty Prof
Remembering the man behind DaedalusAs his obituaries pointed out, my brother David made a name for himself with his unrideable bicycle; his 'perpetual motion' machine -- a bicycle wheel still rotating in a frame on our mantelpiece (it attracted 1.1 million...
Rod Liddle: The Hormone That Makes You a Liberal Halfwit
People who feel unkindly disposed towards economic migrants are chemically imbalanced, according to a study from the University of Bonn. More specifically, they are deficient in oxytocin, a neuropeptide hormone sometimes known as the 'cuddle drug' because...
Spectator Sport: Roger Alton
Football's back, I'm afraid, and, in the imperishable words of David Mitchell, every kick in every game matters to someone, somewhere. Still, it's the Premier League's 25th anniversary, so a good time to take stock. There's no doubt that with Sky's help...
Status Anxiety: Toby Young
For years, Caroline and I have been squabbling over where to spend our summer holidays. Her ideal is a family-friendly Mediterranean resort where she can lie on a beach reading a paperback, while mine involves renting a car and driving from place to...
Television: Valkyrien; Walter Presents
Valkyrien (C4, Sunday) is the hot new Scandi-noir series, which is being billed as Norway's answer to Breaking Bad. In this case, the anti-hero having his mid-life crisis is a brilliant surgeon called Ravn (Sven Nordin). He has become disenchanted with...
Theatre: Edinburgh Round-Up
Brexit the Musical is a peppy satire written by Chris Bryant (not the MP, he's a lawyer). Musically the show is excellent and the impressions of Boris and Dave are amusing enough, but the storyline doesn't work and the script moves in for the kill with...
'The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn', by Margaret Willes - Review
For Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, two great recorders of Restoration England, life was a cabinet of curiosities, says Frances WilsonSamuel Pepys, wrote John Evelyn, was 'universally beloved, hospitable, generous, learned in many things' and 'skilled...
'The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta', by Kushanava Choudhury - Review
Writing of his grandmother's cremation, Kushanava Choudhury reflects in The Epic City that, while his expatriate Indian cousins are separated from the occasion, 'I was sipping tea in Nimtala, present in the moment at the centre of our world'. It's Choudhury's...
The Turf: Robin Oakley
'Racing isn't a team sport,' the diehards used to tell us about the Shergar Cup, Ascot's annual contest for three-rider teams representing Europe, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Rest of the World, and the Girls. How odd then that the annual...
'The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present', by Ronald Hutton - Review
Until the mid-1960s many historians believed witchcraft was a pre-Christian pagan fertility ritual, witches worshipping the Horned God, whose consort was the Triple Goddess. The most notable advocate of this theory was the Egyptologist Margaret Murray....
To Survive, Universities Need to Become Elitist Once Again
To survive, universities need to become elitist once againA vast cohort of bright young things have secured their university places with A-level success this week. But things are not so rosy at the universities they will set off to join: after 25 years...
'To the Back of beyond', by Peter Stamm, Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann - Review
Walking out of one's own life -- unpredictably, perhaps even without premeditation and certainly without anything approaching a plan -- is a common staple of fantasy, and therefore fiction. But why, when we spend so much of the rest of the time fretting...
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