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The Spectator - April 07, 2018

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7 april 2018 [ £4.50 [ est. 1828
The tiger and me
Egypt’s Mona Lisa
Why I’ve quit cricket
Boris Johnson
Elizabeth Frood
Kevin Pietersen
Red London
UAE AED34.00. USA US$7.20.
Corbynism is poised to take the capital, says Will Heaven
established 1828
Criminal policies
ny notion that the surge in killings
in London was a problem confined
to gang members has been dispelled
by the death of 17-year-old Tanesha Melbourne-Blake, who acted as a mentor for
troubled children but who died in her mother’s arms after a drive-by shooting.
Violent crime is everyone’s problem,
yet until this year it had slipped a long way
down the list of pressing political issues.
Terrorism continues to take up debate, as
do sexual offences, especially allegations
involving public figures. But grubby, everyday lawbreaking — including of a violent
kind — seemed to have receded as a national problem. The news that for two months in
a row London’s murder rate has been higher
than New York’s has jolted the country out
of this complacency.
Crime statistics are notoriously difficult
to interpret — police figures for recorded
crime tend to disagree with those derived
from the National Crime Survey, which asks
members of the public for their personal
exposure to crime. But it is hard to argue
with the figures for murder — a crime which
is almost always recorded. For decades until
around the turn of the century the murder
rate surged, hitting an artificial peak in 2003
when 218 victims of Harold Shipman were
perversely added to the total for that year.
The rate then declined until 2014, since when
it has seen a sharp rise. This mirrors the pattern in recorded knife and firearms offences,
which similarly declined until 2014, before
rising again.
Why violent crime has rekindled is not
straightforward, though there are several
possible contributory factors. Since the revelations about the late Jimmy Savile emerged
in 2012, a great number of police resources have been consumed with investigating
historic sex offences. While serious sexual
offences committed in the past should not be
dismissed, a moral panic has led to disproportionate attention being paid to allegations
which have either proved to be fantastical
— such as those against the late Sir Edward
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Heath — or which were simply not serious
enough to have been pursued decades after
the events supposedly took place.
The skewed priorities of some police
chiefs have been compounded by the politicised approach of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, who announced
her departure from the job this week. Under
her leadership, the Crown Prosecution Service has concerned itself rather more with
‘fashionable’ offences, such as date rape and
hate crime. The result has been a string of
collapsed rape trials — while shoplifters and
burglars have escaped prosecution.
There is another possible factor in the
rising crime rate, in which Theresa May is
strongly implicated. In 2014, the then Home
Secretary issued new guidelines which discouraged the police from the practice of stop
and search. She claimed that the police were
using their powers unfairly to target ethnic minorities — quoting Home Office fig-
It is not acceptable that the CPS
and police are allowed to set a
political agenda of their own
ures which showed that black people were
seven times more likely to be stopped than
white people. Alasdair Palmer, who worked
as May’s speechwriter at the time, has questioned this assumption: a study for the Home
Office, he said, revealed that there was no
bias in how police selected subjects for stop
and search, once you took into account
who was out on the streets when police
were doing the searching. But the outcome
is beyond dispute: the number of stop and
searches has plummeted by two thirds since
Mrs May changed the rules.
There was a time when the Conservatives
were trusted as the party which could best
tackle crime. If crime rose, they tended to
benefit politically, even if they were in power
at the time, thanks to widespread perception
that Labour was too soft, too quick to support crackpot theories which displaced the
blame from the criminal to society. Yet this is
a lot less politically clear now. Besides May’s
curtailment of stop and search, the government has cut police numbers — an issue
which Jeremy Corbyn was able to exploit in
last year’s general election campaign.
Moreover, Labour has a good recent
record on crime. Under Tony Blair, the party
shed utterly its reputation for being soft. His
slogan ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ was one of the most successful
in recent political history. His government
took up Michael Howard’s claim that ‘prison
works’ and doubled the number of inmates
behind bars — while, initially at least, still
managing to convince liberals that he was
on their side. The crime rate fell sharply
throughout his time in office.
It will not be easy for the Conservatives
to regain their traditional advantage on law
and order, but the first thing the government should do is to refocus the police and
Crown Prosecution Service on everyday
crime: the burglaries, muggings and increasingly stabbings which blight lives in many
communities, especially the poorest. It is
not acceptable that the CPS and police are
allowed to set a political agenda of their own.
Second, the government needs to ensure
that police forces are not hollowed out, and
that officers are allowed to fulfil their duties
without being put off by sensitivities over
race. We need to be honest about where
crime is being committed, who is committing
it and who are the victims. Whenever we have
a spate of fatal stabbings, as we had in 2008
and as we are having again now, it becomes
painfully clear that it is taking place more
in some communities than others. If there
are cultural issues over crime, they need to
be addressed by the government and lawenforcement agencies, not evaded for fear of
accusations of racism.
Jeremy Corbyn has already stolen Tony
Blair’s slogan ‘for the many, not the few’. Theresa May needs to find a new way of expressing ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of
crime’ — because it describes exactly where
government policy should be.
Not cricket, p20
Egypt’s Mona Lisa, p39
Big beasts, p16
Leading article
Portrait of the Week
Cheating cricketers, bookish pranks
Sebastian Faulks
Politics Whither the
parliamentary Labour party?
James Forsyth
The Spectator’s Notes
The righteous vanity of Tony Benn
Charles Moore
15 Rod Liddle
The DPP was never much cop
21 Mary Wakefield
The deranged world of Virgin trains
22 Ancient and modern
Putin’s diseased ideology
25 James Delingpole Why it’s time
to stop fetishising experts
26 Letters Unusual evensong, British
boats and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ schools
27 Any other business
Call that a trade war?
Martin Vander Weyer
10 Labour’s capital gains
London Tories are braced for disaster
Will Heaven
28 Philip Hensher
The Long ’68, by Richard Vinen
11 Ian Harrow
‘Geordie’: a poem
30 Mark Vanhoenacker
Skybound, by Rebecca Loncraine
Sian Hughes ‘Hay’: a poem
13 City slacker
Sadiq Khan is a lousy Mayor
Andrew Gilligan
16 The tiger and me
Saving the true king of beasts
Boris Johnson
20 Cricket notebook
I’d rather talk about golf
Kevin Pietersen
22 Macron’s battles
Is this his ‘Thatcher moment’?
Gavin Mortimer
24 The grand tourist trap
Get away from the crowds
Harry Mount
31 Laura Freeman
Painter to the King, by Amy Sackville
Graham Robb
The Dark Stuff, by Donald S. Murray
33 Andy Miller
The Executor, by Blake Morrison
Julie Myerson
The Trick to Time, by Kit de Waal
34 Nicholas Shakespeare
The Old Man and the Sand Eel,
by Will Millard
Jane Solomon ‘Romanx’: a poem
35 Oliver Balch
The Long Spring, by Laurence Rose
36 Julie Burchill
Not in Front of the Children,
by Greg Healey
Alistair Elliot ‘Making’: a poem
37 Stuart Jeffries
Life with Lacan, by Catherine Millot
38 Brian Martin
Census, by Jesse Ball
39 Elizabeth Frood
Nefertiti’s Face, by Joyce Tyldesley
Cover by Morten Morland. Drawings by Michael Heath, Castro, Robert Thompson, GG, Russell, Percival, Nick Newman, Kipper Williams, Grizelda, Bernie, RGJ, Paul Wood. Editorial and advertising The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP, Tel: 020 7961 0200, Fax: 020 7681 3773, Email:
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Ltd. ISSN 0038-6952 The Spectator is published weekly by The Spectator (1828) Ltd at 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP
Editor: Fraser Nelson
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
London calling, p13
Macron’s big moment, p22
Hellenic charm, p44
40 Phineas Harper
Hate Stansted?
Blame superstructuralism
55 High life Taki
Low life Jeremy Clarke
42 The YouTuber
Hobbit houses and 3-D homes
Ian Sansom
57 Wild life Aidan Hartley
Bridge Susanna Gross
56 Real life Melissa Kite
Kate Chisholm
44 Exhibitions
Charmed lives in Greece:
Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor
Martin Gayford
45 Theatre
Ruthless! The Musical;
Miss Nightingale
Lloyd Evans
46 Opera
Ariadne auf Naxos; Coraline;
Hansel and Gretel
Richard Bratby
52 Notes on…
William Cook
58 Chess Raymond Keene
Lucy Vickery
59 Crossword
60 No sacred cows
Toby Young
I am not saying I want the
people-tiger ratio reversed,
though it might be exciting
to be one of the 3,200 people
facing 7.5 billion tigers
Boris Johnson, p16
I take no pleasure in seeing
England all out for 58
Kevin Pietersen, p20
Is farting in public one of the
human rights the French fought
for in 1789 or just the hallmark
of a very selfish man?
Stuart Jeffries, p37
Battle for Britain
Michael Heath
61 Sport Roger Alton
Your problems solved
47 Television
The City & The City;
Dave Allen at Peace
James Walton
Mary Killen
62 Food Tanya Gold
Mind your language
48 Music
The sound of Iceland
Guy Dammann
Dot Wordsworth
50 Cinema
Deborah Ross
Gavin Mortimer is the
author of The Men Who Made
the SAS, among other books.
On p22 he describes Macron’s
‘Thatcher moment’.
Kevin Pietersen, whose
Cricket Notebook is on p20,
was the fastest batsman to
reach both 1,000 and 2,000
runs in One Day International
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Graham Robb’s most recent
books include Cols and Passes
of the British Isles. He writes
about a trudge through the
Peatlands on p31.
Mark Vanhoenacker is
an airline pilot and the author
of How to Land a Plane and
Skyfaring. On p30 he writes
about gliding.
Elizabeth Frood is Associate
Professor of Egyptology and
the author of Biographical
Texts from Ramessid Egypt.
She examines the Mona Lisa
of the ancient world on p39.
lison Saunders said she would
relinquish her position as the Director
of Public Prosecutions when her five-year
contract ends in October. Cressida Dick,
the Commissioner of the Metropolitan
Police, told the Times that she was ditching
the previously embraced principle of
believing all complaints of sexual assault.
‘We should have an open mind when a
person walks in,’ she said. In February, 15
people were murdered in London and 14 in
New York; in March it was 22 and 21. On
2 April two teenagers were shot in London;
one died at the scene and the other the
day after. Michael Gove, the Environment
Secretary, said that the sale of ivory items
of whatever age would be made illegal.
ome Labour MPs joined criticism of
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the party,
for not having done enough to counter
anti-Semitism in its ranks. Mr Corbyn
deleted his personal Facebook page. He
had been accused of belonging to Facebook
groups which contained anti-Semitic posts,
which he denied having seen. Christine
Shawcroft, a director of Momentum, which
backs Jeremy Corbyn, resigned her seat on
Labour’s National Executive Committee
after having called for the reinstatement of
a council candidate accused of Holocaust
denial. She was replaced by Eddie Izzard,
the comedian who often wears women’s
clothes. Momentum issued a statement:
‘Accusations of anti-Semitism should not
and cannot be dismissed simply as rightwing smears.’ Mr Corbyn then attended
an event held by Jewdas, a satirically
minded Jewish far-left group, which on its
Twitter account called Israel ‘a steaming
pile of sewage which needs to be properly
disposed of’. The government delayed
until 17 April the final decision on which
company will make UK British passports
after Brexit.
ore than three quarters of companies
employing more than 250 people
reported paying men more than women in
different jobs. The condition of Yulia Skripal,
who, with her father Sergei, was poisoned in
Salisbury on 4 March, is no longer critical,
her hospital said. Russia, which had expelled
23 British diplomats, said that Britain must
cut its diplomatic mission in Russia to the
same size as the Russian mission in Britain,
entailing a reduction of another 27. A fire
that started at 4.20 p.m. on Good Friday
destroyed a shuttle bus at Stansted airport,
and all flights until midnight were cancelled.
About 3,300 customers of the suppliers
Calor gas were left without hot water and
heating over Easter. The Duke of Edinburgh,
96, went for hip surgery to the King Edward
VII’s Hospital in Marylebone.
im Jong-un, the ruler of North Korea,
applauded K-Pop and other music acts
from South Korea as they performed at the
2,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theatre.
North Korea would take part in the 2020
Tokyo Olympics, the International Olympic
Committee announced. The 8.5 ton retired
Chinese space lab Tiangong-1 fell into the
Pacific. China imposed import tariffs on
American goods such as frozen pork, fruit,
ginseng and wine in retaliation for United
States tariffs on steel and aluminium.
Nasim Aghdam, 39, who had a grudge
against YouTube, shot and wounded
three people outside its headquarters in
California, then shot herself. Drue Heinz,
the philanthropist, died aged 103. French
railway workers began three months of
strikes with a Mardi Noir of inaction. Half
the flights in Europe were delayed on the
same day because of a system failure at
Eurocontrol, which co-ordinates flights.
al-Islam, a guerrilla group, agreed
with Russia to be evacuated from Douma,
the last rebel-held town in Eastern Ghouta,
near Damascus, to rebel-held territory in
Idlib. Sixteen Palestinians were shot dead
by Israeli forces as thousands rallied on
the border of the Gaza Strip at the start of
a six-week protest. A day after agreeing
with the UN to accept half of about 30,000
illegal African immigrants and sending
16,250 to western countries, Benjamin
Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel,
changed his mind. Winnie Mandela, for 38
years the wife of Nelson Mandela, until
their divorce in 1996, died aged 81. Spotify,
the music streaming company, floated
shares on the New York stock market.
ustralian cricket took on a soggy
aspect with tearful performances
at press conferences by Steve Smith, the
captain, David Warner, the vice-captain
and Cameron Bancroft, the player caught
applying sandpaper to the ball, all banned
for months. Darren Lehmann tearfully
resigned as coach. The Vatican poured cold
water on a quotation from Pope Francis
retailed by the 93-year-old atheist Eugenio
Scalfari: ‘There is no hell — there is the
disappearance of sinful souls.’
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Sebastian Faulks
he Australian cricket cheating
scandal has been confused on many
levels. Reports at first said that the
coach, the captain and the vice-captain
had coldly devised a plan and used the
team’s most naïve player to carry it out.
This turned out to be untrue. Cricket’s
governing body imposed a risible onematch ban. The accused’s more worldly
defenders said everyone cheats, the
South Africans are always at it, so it’s no
biggie. Australia Cricket, the country’s
overlords, took a much sterner view,
invoking the idea of national shame.
A tidal wave of fake news and counterthe spectator | 7 april 2018 |
bull engulfed the e-world. All the players
involved began to weep. The whole Aussie
macho, larrikin, ocker nonsense melted
into a pool of tears. It became impossible
to navigate any sensible path through
the damp confusion. But here’s what we
do know for sure. Cricketers regularly
cheat by saying loud, insulting things to
the batsman to break his concentration
(‘sledging’). They all do it. England do
it. But Steve Waugh’s Australian team
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(1999-2004) took this practice to brutal
and tedious new lengths. And here are
a couple of opinions, for what they’re
worth. There is a famous photograph of
the Australian bowler Merv Hughes, his
body contorted with fury and hatred,
screaming abuse at a departing batsman,
Graeme Hick. This is glossed a ‘good
send-off’ or ‘typical Merv’. But really it’s
a disgrace. The gloating (mostly English)
over Steve Smith and David Warner’s
discomfort is unpleasant; and all credit to
Smith’s father for standing by his son. But
Warner, Smith and the cat’s paw Bancroft
are paying for the sins of a previous
generation of Australian players and the
willingness of umpires and administrators
to classify oafishness calculated to give
an unfair advantage as ‘part of the game’.
Test cricket without a strong Australia
would be pointless and the other
qualified countries need them to bounce
back. They could start by volunteering
to stop the verbal intimidation.
he news that an Australian
bookshop has moved Steve Smith’s
autobiography from the ‘sport’ to the
‘crime’ section reminds me of being in
a health farm in Spain this time a year
ago. An English fellow inmate told me
he had finished a fine book about the
Battle of Britain, which he had returned
to the multilingual library. ‘That’s
funny, Patrick,’ I said, ‘because I was
looking through the English section for
something to read only this morning.’
‘Yes,’ Patrick replied sheepishly. ‘I… er,
put it in the German section.’
Iran is our natural ally
The National Trust in trouble
Boris in Libya
Can you forgive her?
Isabel Hardman and Matthew Parris on Theresa May’s fate
H less
ou on
hen the much-admired (and very
tall) literary agent Gillon Aitken
died in October 2016, he left most of his
estate in a charitable trust to be named
after his daughter Charlotte, who had,
very sadly, predeceased him. Quite soon,
the trust will start its work, which is to
‘educate the public in the appreciation of
literature’, including poetry and drama,
by whatever means seem appropriate —
to include prizes, grants, scholarships, the
funding of retreats, courses and so on.
As one of the trustees, my job is to find
the best ways to fulfil Gillon’s wishes.
The slate is blank. My first feeling is
that there are too many prizes already;
but, on reflection, I wonder if there is
scope to reward travel writing, a genre
Gillon loved and did much to encourage
in this country. I have never been a fan
of people telling you who next got into
their train compartment (it seems to
me the literary equivalent of showing
your holiday snaps), but if ‘travel’ can
stretch to include foreign reportage,
such as Among the Believers by V.S.
Naipaul (whom Gillon represented), or
a memoir like Naples ’44 by Norman
Lewis, then we might be on to something.
The Zimbabwean lawyer and fiction
writer Petina Gappah told me a writerin-residence programme in Berlin was
invaluable for her work and so I am off
to investigate the possibility of starting
a retreat in rural Normandy. From the
experience of judging grant applications
to the Society of Authors and from the
anguish of writer friends, I know that
a simple cheque can also help buy time
to finish a book.
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or go to
y new novel, Paris Echo, has just
been sent to the typesetter, to be
ready for publication in September.
It’s a melancholy moment when you
say, ‘OK, it’s done’ and hit ‘send’. After
three years of planning, dreaming and
straining, then three months of editing
and fiddling, what you’re effectively
saying is: this is the best I can do.
‘Between the idea/ And the reality,’ as
T.S. Eliot pointed out, ‘Falls the Shadow’
— the shadow of one’s clumsy hands,
unconscious tics and limited ability. I
don’t want to end on a downer, though.
I’ll perk up by September, and any book
set in Paris must have some OK bits.
Moderate Labour MPs
have nowhere to go
he case for Labour moderates leaving their party strengthens by the day.
Jeremy Corbyn’s behaviour demonstrates that he is not going to change. His
decision to attend a Seder with Jewdas, a
fringe group who have claimed that the antiSemitism scandal is being whipped up by
his political opponents, shows how determined he is to stay in his own comfort zone.
A poll showing that 80 per cent of Labour
members think he’s doing a good job as
leader highlights how impossible it would
be to remove him.
But a more interesting question than
whether Labour moderates should go is
what they should do once they have. One
option would be to set themselves up as the
Labour party-in-exile. They could declare
that their party has been taken over by a
hard-left fringe antithetical to its real traditions and that they are leaving to keep ‘true
Labour’ alive until they can take it back.
This approach might work if most
Labour MPs were prepared to leave. It
would be akin to a declaration of independence by the Parliamentary Labour Party. In
the House of Commons, this new Labour
party would step into the shoes of the old
one as the official opposition. It would have
four years to prepare itself for the next general election. But the reality is that the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs are not
ready for such a dramatic step.
Any small splinter claiming to be the true
heirs to Attlee, Gaitskell and Blair would
also face problems. First of all, the official Labour party would select candidates
against them at the next election — and few
MPs would be confident of having a sufficiently large personal following to hang on
in these circumstances. The group would
also have to generate its own publicity once
the initial excitement of their defection had
worn off. As Vince Cable’s stalled leadership of the Liberal Democrats proves, this
isn’t easy even for a former cabinet minister
and experienced media performer. Another
problem would be that the group’s explicitly
Labour nature would make it harder for it to
attract converts from other parties.
A ‘true Labour’ party would be a classic
social democratic party. But across Europe,
these parties are in crisis. The French Socialists came fifth in the 2017 presidential election, the German Social Democrats have just
recorded their worst result since the formation of the Federal Republic, and in Italy
earlier this year, the Partito Democratico
received less than 20 per cent of the vote.
The UK Labour party managed to put on
votes at the last election by essentially fusing
a traditional social democratic party with a
radical left one. Any ‘true Labour’ party
would not be able to do that.
The other much-mooted option is the
establishment of an explicitly pro-EU political party. There are, however, problems
with this idea too. For one thing, it is likely
to lose appeal with time. Once Britain leaves
the EU in March 2019 and then the single
‘True Labour’ would be a classic
social democratic party. But across
Europe, these parties are in crisis
market in December 2020, it will become
harder to make the argument for going
back in. The force of the status quo will be
with the new arrangements that the UK has
The next problem is what kind of pro-EU
case to make. Would this party just want to
go back in on the old terms (in which case
Britain could never really lead in Europe)?
Or would they want Britain to go the whole
hog and join the single currency so that it
can influence the EU’s most important
political and economic project?
There is almost certainly room for a proEU party in British politics. But it would
have very similar difficulties to Ukip. For
even if it had a decent level of national support, it would struggle to convert that into
parliamentary seats. In 2015, Ukip got more
than 12 per cent of the vote but won in only
one constituency.
Some maintain that the case for a new
centrist party is much broader than just the
EU. They argue that Labour under Corbyn has moved massively to the left and the
Tories under May are a very different party
than under David Cameron. They contend
that this leaves a gap in the centre that
somebody should be able to fill. (Though,
interestingly the Liberal Democrats have
conspicuously failed to achieve it.)
Unusually, neither the Tories nor Labour
are led by their liberal wings at present. But
it is also the case that the Tory move towards
a more nationalist posture has been halted by the general election, and the political repositioning that has followed. May’s
chief of staff is now Gavin Barwell, a former Croydon MP who is one of the Tories
most worried about how the party appeals
to the more diverse parts of Britain. It is also
entirely possible that the next Tory leadership contest, which is still likely to happen
before the next election despite the recent
improvement in the Prime Minister’s standing, will see the Tories elect a leader with
more liberal leanings than May.
In terms of economics, it is hard to see
where the big centrist-shaped gap is. Labour
might have moved away from the centre,
but the Tories keep dropping heavy hints
that they are prepared to put up taxes to
spend more on public services. This, in purely economic terms, puts today’s Conservative party to the left of David Cameron’s. In
2015, he fought the election on a pledge not
to put up any of the principal forms of taxation. The most surprising thing is that with
the tax burden set to rise to a 40-year high,
no party is outlining a tax-cutting agenda.
The strongest argument in favour of
Labour moderates quitting their party isn’t
about electoral success, but morality. If you
think the election of your leader as prime
minister would be against the national interest, then you have an obligation to act. But
no one should think that the path to power
for any Labour MP brave enough to leave
will be easy or short. Those hoping for a realignment of the British political system à la
Macron will be disappointed.
‘Bloody centralists.’
Hourly updates from Parliament and beyond.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Charles Moore
hat is it, psychologically, that
makes it so hard for Jeremy
Corbyn to recognise that some of his
supporters are horrible people with
horrible views (in this case, raving antiSemites)? I remember asking myself the
same question, in the early 1980s, about
Tony Benn. I used to attend Labour party
conferences and their numerous leftwing fringe meetings (often addressed
by Benn’s no. 1 fan, J. Corbyn). Benn was
always there, always courteous, genially
smoking his pipe. Often, however, his
supporters would say extremist things,
and sometimes they would yell foul
abuse — either at party and trade union
moderates or at the media. Never once
was Benn vile himself, but never once
did he rebuke those who were. I watched
him closely when rabble-rousers like
Arthur Scargill or Derek Hatton stirred
up hatred or when people like Eric
Hammond of the Electricians Union
were shouted down. He would just sit
there smiling. I concluded that Benn, for
all his personal niceness, craved power
and he thought these people would win
it for him. In 1981, they nearly did. I also
noticed that he was tremendously vain,
in the way that only people who think
they are righteous can be. He was Saved,
so his followers must be too. Mr Corbyn
seems to be a chip off the old block.
achel Sylvester of the Times is a
brilliant journalist. I am proud to
have given her her first Lobby job. But
I cannot help smiling at her columns as
she searches desperately for signs that
a party which she thinks virtuous —
centre-left, pro-European, with ‘open’
values — could rise from the dead
(this, literally, is her metaphor in Easter
week). Rachel’s current candidate for
Messiah is David Miliband, who lives
in New York. She quotes ‘one friend’
of his as saying, ‘David is still attracted
to Britain.’ That is big-hearted of him,
but the bigger question is, ‘Is Britain
still attracted to David?’One must
recognise how deeply Blairism lies in
ashes before one can find a phoenix to
rise from them. The first step, I suggest,
is to forget about stopping Brexit. It is
as futile as trying to stop black majority
rule in Rhodesia in the 1960s: there
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
may be some difficult consequences, but
the change has to happen. A Unilateral
Declaration of Dependence (UDD), trying
to arrest Brexit and maintain Brussels rule
would be no use. Rachel dimly perceives
this. ‘Opposing Brexit would be part of
the new movement’s agenda, but not its
whole identity,’ she writes. The Remainer
politician with first-mover advantage
will be the one who declares that Brexit
cannot be stopped, and proposes a lovely,
moderate future all the same, instead of
claiming the country has none. He/she has
been amazingly slow to come forward.
hen Algy Cluff, the former proprietor
of this paper, published his memoirs
two years ago, I wrote that it was one of the
few books I’d read which I wished longer.
Unfortunately, his new work Unsung
Heroes is even shorter, but I warmly
recommend it all the same. Although Algy’s
own life has been extremely active and
successful, his greatest gift is for describing,
affectionately, lives of which this could
not be said. Here, in full, is one such:
‘One of the more extraordinary ornaments
of clubland in the 1950s and ’60s was
H. “Loopy” Whitbread. Of fairly repulsive
appearance, with pendulous jowls and a
large paunch, he appeared to have had two
eggs for breakfast — one of which he had
eaten and the other he had smeared over
his Old Etonian tie. He was a member of
the Whitbread brewing family but, because
of the danger he represented to the lift boys
and an endearing tendency to ask what the
employees he chanced upon were paid and
then promptly responding “Ridiculous —
that should be doubled!”, he was quietly
removed. Living alone in Englefield Green,
he would take a bus every day to London,
going first to the St James’s Club where
he would enquire whether there were
any letters for him, which indeed there
were as he had written them himself
in Englefield Green the previous day.
His only subject was Eton College,
about which he knew everything, and he
carried a list of all Etonians in his pocket.
“Did you go to Eton?” was his sole form
of greeting. If the answer was yes, he
would consult his Etonian list to verify
the answer. If no, you were of no interest
and he would immediately move on. In
the afternoons he became something of
a menace to younger members of the
Royal Automobile Club swimming pool
and by the mid-1960s poor Loopy was
heard of no more.’ A complete life —
so short, so funny, so sad.
ll proceeds from Algy’s book will
go to the Remembrance Trust, a
charity he is establishing. When he was
chairman of the UK War Memorials
Trust, Algy discovered that most believe
the excellent Commonwealth War
Graves Commission deals with all war
graves. Not so. It starts from 1914. His
trust will be dedicated to ‘the restoration
and preservation of those older graves
and memorials around the world’
(I have seen many myself in India)
where British servicemen died. The book
may be bought for £20 from Sandoe,
Heywood Hill, or Algy himself.
rue Heinz is dead, at the reputed
age of 103, though some believed
her older still. She was much the
greatest patron of writers in our time.
Most philanthropists find books too
undramatic for their patronage and
lavish it on opera. Drue really loved
books (which is not odd) and writers
(which is). We loved her back. Her
kindness was so imaginative, and so
enduring. It would be futile to deny,
however, that though she was endlessly
understanding to her friends, she could
be demanding of her staff. One of her
maids left her service and wrote her a
letter thanking her because, she said,
having worked for Mrs Heinz, she felt
prepared for every difficulty a life in
service might throw up. Since she was
working for Princess Michael of Kent,
one gasps. Drue was very proud of this
letter and would show it to friends.
Labour’s capital gains
The Tories are bracing themselves for disaster in London
ver since last year’s general election,
when Jeremy Corbyn inspired the
strongest Labour surge since 1945,
the Conservatives have been unsure if this
was a freak occurrence or the start of something bigger. As they have learnt to their
cost, opinion polls aren’t as reliable as they
once were: only election results matter.
There will be plenty next month, with seats
on more than 150 councils all over England
up for grabs. The Tories are nervous in lots
of areas. But what terrifies them is London.
The capital has served as the incubator of
Corbynism, a brand of politics once laughed
off as a niche Islington interest, yet now
with an undeniable national appeal.
All 32 London boroughs are up for
election, and nothing is certain. Not so
long ago, the Tory party knew that —
no matter how bleak the national picture — there were parts of the capital
that would always remain blue. Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea,
Wandsworth — these boroughs were
the jewels in the Conservative crown.
Even at the height of Tony Blair’s
popularity, the party held on to them.
Campaigning in their smarter postcodes was considered almost déclassé.
But this year, the Tories are in the
fight of a lifetime to keep hold of every
one of the nine councils they control. For many ministers, the working
assumption is that the city is about to
be painted red. As one cabinet minister puts
it: ‘There is only one word to describe the
party in London: screwed.’
For an idea of how bad things look, consider the Tory peer and psephologist Robert
Hayward’s recent projection that the Conservatives will lose about 100 council seats
of their 612, which would be a worse result
than in 1994, just a few years before Tony
Blair’s first landslide. That the Prime Minister recently chose to sit down with her nemesis George Osborne, in his role as editor of
the Evening Standard, is a tell-tale sign of
the depth of her concern.
The extent of the panic among London
Conservatives has been so great that they
have been considering a drastic step. Over
the past year, a series of meetings has been
held at venues including Tory HQ. On the
agenda was a radical idea: that London’s
Tories should formally break away from
the national party and become a separate
entity with their own brand and leader, like
the Scottish Tories under Ruth Davidson. It
would create clear water between them and
a national party that, in the words of one
insider, is becoming ‘very provincial’ under
Theresa May.
Borough leaders, Greater London
Authority members, association chairmen,
London’s remaining Tory MPs — the vast
majority were in favour of the idea. But
word came down from the very top: nice try,
but it’s not going to happen. Someone familiar with the meetings reveals: ‘We are a very
centralised party now — and we were told
to shut up, basically.’ In another moment of
desperation, the Conservative party asked
Ms Davidson if her team — after their outstanding performance at the general election
— would consider heading south to mastermind the London campaign. The answer was
a polite but firm ‘no’. The Scottish Tories had
performed an astonishing recovery — but it
was not (just) due to a well-run campaign.
The renaissance came after painstaking
work to identify why national Conservatism
wasn’t working in Scotland. It was a long
process, and the London Tories have yet to
make the first step.
In recent weeks, Tory MPs have been
campaigning in London — and the experience has not been invigorating. ‘Our council
leader in Westminster, Nickie Aiken, thinks
she is going to lose. Our leader in Wands-
worth thinks he is going to lose,’ says one.
The two biggest problems on the doorstep
are Theresa May, who seems to embody a
Shires Toryism, and Brexit, which three-infive Londoners voted against.
At times, it seems the London party has
been too complacent, as if it assumed wealth
and Toryism went together. ‘In Chelsea,’
admits one MP, ‘it has come as a big shock to
them to actually have to get out on the doorsteps and talk to people in a way they have
never had to do before.’ At most, CCHQ
are said to be ‘not confident but not panicking’ about Kensington and Chelsea, which
the Tories have controlled since its creation
in the 1960s. But as one cabinet member
says: ‘After Grenfell, you never know.’
With such gloomy predictions circulating — and polling showing that only
three in ten Londoners associate them
with low council taxes — Tories are getting their excuses in early.
Sadiq Khan is the biggest one, even
if his name won’t be on the ballot paper
next month. Since he was elected London Mayor nearly two years ago, the
Tories have viewed him with a mixture
of frustration and reverence. Some speak
of him as a shape-shifting modern political genius: a Brownite turned Blairite
turned Corbynite — but somehow the
capital’s gay-friendly first Muslim mayor
gets away with it. Khan is a ‘Teflon’ politician, says a London MP, echoing an
old Labour complaint about Boris Johnson.
A cabinet minister adds: ‘He has achieved
almost nothing, but he is very good at politics. He’s seen as proof that if you vote
Labour, the sky doesn’t fall in.’ A seasoned
campaigner, alluding to private CCHQ polling, says they’re not even allowed to mention Khan to voters.
The Mayor also allows centrist Labour
supporters to back their party guilt-free —
without feeling that they are lending Jeremy Corbyn a helping hand. Unlike London’s
Tories, Khan has set himself apart from
the national party. The fear among many
of them is a double-whammy of those centrist voters and young, highly motivated
Corbynistas. Turnout, which could be as low
as a third, is everything. In part, the Tories
are relying on white van man turning out in
outer London. It’s them vs Momentum.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Brexit is another of the big worries —
and it is here that the national implications
are most obvious. The fallout has already
been seen in Putney, for instance, where Justine Greening hung on at the general election with only a 1,500 majority. Labour also
won the crucial swing seat of Battersea for
the first time since 2005.
Here, Khan — and others — are making the most of voters’ concerns. The Mayor
did this by deftly commissioning a Brexit
economic analysis, which said that, thanks
to our departure from the EU, London’s
economy would be smaller than it otherwise would have been by 2030. An examination of the small print showed this fall did
not take into account immigration controls,
so GDP per capita would actually be higher
as a result. It’s a reflection of the state of the
Tories that they have never pointed out that
the Mayor’s much-hyped report claimed
Brexit would make Londoners richer.
With the twin liabilities of Brexit and
Mrs May, London’s Tories are doing everything they can to pitch their campaign at a
local level. ‘This election is bins not Brexit,’
says one. They’re more likely to mention dog
mess on the pavements than May’s latest
trip to Brussels. The closest they might get
to mentioning a national issue is Momentum
taking over Haringey council, or rife anti-
At times, it seems as if the
London party has assumed that
wealth and Toryism go together
Semitism, and why that’s emerging under a
hard-left Labour leader.
But even the local angle has its flaws.
The decay of basic Tory infrastructure, for
example, means the party is running out of
foot soldiers. Things are so bad that, for the
first time ever, CCHQ has paid for a fulltime employee in every London borough to
chivvy local activists. The aim is to hold the
nine Tory boroughs — and hope that, during
canvassing, ‘we don’t wake up anybody who
doesn’t like the party nationally’.
The ageing Tory activists fit a broader
trend. London’s demographics are turning against the party in a way that suggests
national trouble ahead. ‘Our core vote is 65
and white,’ says a councillor, adding pessimistically that — across Britain — ‘in 20
years’ time our entire vote will be either
dead or 15 years from dead.’ The average
age in London, the sixth youngest city in the
UK, is 36.
If the Tories can’t cling on in the capital,
what does the future hold? Already, some
Conservative MPs have been canvassing in
parts of Kent and Surrey — true Tory heartlands — only to hear on the doorstep: ‘I’ve
just moved here from Hackney and I’d never
vote for you!’ This may be a taster of what
has been called ‘Londonisation’: mobile,
educated, liberal youngsters from the capithe spectator 7 april 2018
When we were children and wanted to be afraid,
we’d climb the locked gates of the park at night
and walk as far as we dared. The lit-up doubledeckers, safe as houses, brought us home
from choir practice or the Odeon
or the football, on freezing afternoons.
Independence was a paper-round
and you never kicked a man when he was down.
We were racist, sexist, and probably we stank.
Life was what you went up against and since
we were unimportant, we treated it as a joke.
That was before the accent came into fashion
and people stopped pretending they couldn’t make out
a word we said and took us to their hearts.
— Ian Harrow
tal who lean away from Conservative values
and are starting to move elsewhere.
Certainly, if Labour can take control of
urban areas, where house prices are higher
thanks to gentrification (and what one councillor called ‘hipsterisation’), the Conservative party may see a knock-on effect years
later in the suburbs and countryside. London would be easier for Tories to write off if
it weren’t for the fact that its political trends
can anticipate those of the rest of the country. The first sign of the Tory revival that led
to David Cameron’s 2010 election win, for
instance, was that the party did better than
expected in London in 2005. After May’s
leadership, the debate may be more about
whether to forget the capital altogether and
instead concentrate on Labour seats in the
North and the Midlands.
Perhaps even more than age or housing,
it’s race that ought to concern the Tories. Just
20 per cent of Londoners were non-white
at the 1991 census. That has since doubled.
David Cameron’s head of strategy once
lamented that ‘the no. 1 driver of not voting
Conservative is not being white’ — which
was certainly true in 2010, when just 16 per
cent of ethnic minority voters supported the
Tories. That jumped to 23 per cent in 2015,
helping Cameron win his majority, but sank
back to 19 per cent at the last election. Given
wider demographic trends, the longer-term
problems for the Tories are obvious. Some
MPs are said to think the party can win the
general election in 2022 but will lose massively five years later because of how much
Britain will have changed.
There are more optimistic voices. Mrs
May’s assured response to the Salisbury
poisoning might have helped in recent
weeks. And some Tories think the gloom is
either overdone or self-fulfilling. As one MP
puts it: ‘If you go around predicting doom,
saying the Tories are going to be wiped out
in London, don’t be at all surprised when it
comes true.’
His defiance might be wise. Politics
doesn’t tend to follow demographic or economic trends rigidly, especially if politicians
work to get ahead of those trends. London
might be the first place to show left-leaning
voters baulking at the more realistic prospect of Corbyn in power — the 1,500 protesters who rallied against anti-Semitism in
Parliament Square last week clearly indicated the shine was coming off his leadership.
Not to mention the 17,000 people who have
quit his party in the past three months.
But politics is unpredictable. Right now,
the only thing that can be said with confidence is many Tories are expecting to lose
in London — and expecting that defeat to
embody their wider problems. Will they be
right? We’ll start to find out next month.
‘Wow! I’m going to get myself a knife, bro.’
Will Heaven, Andrew Gilligan and Pippa
Crerar on Corbynism and the capital.
TUESDAY 15 MAY 2018 | 7.30 P.M.
For one night only, Rod Liddle at the
London Palladium in conversation with
Fraser Nelson. Book now to avoid
Subscriber rate: £22.50
Standard rate: £35
020 7087 7755
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City slacker
Sadiq Khan is a lousy London Mayor. Why hasn’t anyone noticed?
ccording to people at City Hall,
Sadiq Khan writes some of his
own press releases. I can believe it:
they’ve certainly become a lot more excitable since he took over. I like to imagine the
Mayor of London, late at night, combing the
thesaurus for fresh superlatives to bugle his
‘unprecedented programme of far-reaching
improvements’ for the taxi trade (allowing
black cabs in more bus lanes) or his ‘bold
package of measures’ to revive street markets (creating a London Markets Board and
an interactive map). One release even panted that Khan had ‘personally scrutinised’ the
New Year’s Eve fireworks display ‘to make
the acclaimed event the most exciting yet’.
Language like this — the bold mayor, the
German Democratic Republic, the powerful
Commons paperclips committee — is normally taken to mean the exact opposite of
what its user intends. Yet even though we
are nearly halfway through Khan’s term,
most people still accept him at face value.
Few seem to have noticed that, outside the
realm of the press release and the TV interview, he is underachieving badly.
I worked for Khan’s predecessor, Boris
Johnson, so perhaps I’m biased. But the figures aren’t biased. Before the election, Khan
promised that his housing policy would
‘rival the NHS with its transformative effect
on society’. He said he would ‘support housing associations… to ensure a minimum of
80,000 new homes a year’, more than in any
year, save one, in London’s entire history.
Few expected Khan to keep such epochmaking promises. But we did expect him to
do something. City Hall figures show, however, that in the first year of Khan’s term,
London did not start building a single social
rented home. By comparison, Johnson started 7,439 homes for social rent in his first
year as mayor and 1,687 in the first year of
his second term, after the economic crash.
With two years of Khan’s term nearly now
gone, the great social justice warrior has
finally managed to begin (drum roll) 1,263
social rent homes, many of a type he once
denounced as ‘not genuinely affordable’.
The same pattern applies in most other
mayoral policy areas: big promises, followed by things going inexorably backwards. Crime is up by 12 per cent since he
took office, with a far bigger rise in murders.
the spectator 7 april 2018
February and March were the first months
in history when London homicides exceeded New York’s. On transport, Khan claimed
that he could ‘both freeze fares and invest
record amounts modernising London’s
transport infrastructure’. Fares have, in fact,
only been frozen for some travellers. But the
impact (together with a cut in government
grant) has still left Transport for London so
short of money that it can no longer pay the
interest on its debts.
As it said in a leaked memo: ‘If this was
our household budget, this would be the
same as not having enough money left over
from our salary each month to pay our
interest-only mortgage or get our car ser-
Outside the realm of the press
release and the TV interview,
Khan is underachieving badly
viced.’ TfL has now been forced to suspend
routine road maintenance, stop many investment programmes, and make serious cuts to
the bus network. Even the first phase of this
has reduced services by 7 per cent overall —
and on some routes by 50 per cent.
For the first time in 25 years, public transport use is falling, with tangible impacts on
congestion. The drop might, of course, have
been greater without the fares freeze: but in
London it is the quantity and quality of service, more than its price, which has driven
usage. And each year, the revenue foregone,
and the damage to services, will compound.
Khan’s promise of both real-terms fare
cuts and increased investment exemplifies
his greatest weakness — his wish to have it
both ways, or more brutally his long-standing inability to make decisions. Depending
on how strictly you count it, for instance,
‘And on your left you can see another stabbing...’
Khan as mayor has voiced between two and
six different ‘no. 1 priorities’. As an MP, he
once went straight from voting in parliament
for post office closures to a public meeting
where he protested against post office closures. He wobbled interminably over Boris’s
Garden Bridge, reversing his position five
times. He was against Heathrow expansion,
then in favour, and is now against it once
more — and so the list goes on.
In politics, making decisions which make
a difference — building homes, raising fares
to invest, taking roadspace for cycle lanes —
is contested and risky. So it’s easy to see why
Khan prefers to act like the shadow cabinet
member he once was, using the job mainly as
a platform to build his personal profile and
attack the government. It wasn’t me, Miss, it
was the Tories!
But Khan is not in opposition. He is in
office, the holder of substantial powers and
responsibilities, and there is a limit to how
long he can carry on blaming all London’s
problems on others. Nor is it in Londoners’
interests to attack the government constantly when it gives you most of the money you
spend. Perhaps Khan is becalmed because
he saw the mayoralty mainly as a stepping
stone to his actual goal of the Labour leadership. Now that option has receded, his lack
of purpose at City Hall has become clearer.
Yet for the moment, at least, people seem
very happy with Khan. His approval ratings
are high. Those who watch him closely —
most of his Labour colleagues in councils
and the London Assembly, a handful of
journalists — know he’s not doing well. But
why hasn’t the public noticed?
For one, the mayor of London is under
less political and media scrutiny than
any other major leader. London’s paper,
the Evening Standard, does a bit but not
enough. The national press sees him largely as local news. Most people’s knowledge
of Khan is limited to favourable snapshots: lantern-jawed TV clips after terror
attacks, or encounters with the kind of enemies anyone would kill for. Every dingdong with Donald Trump, Chris Grayling
or a far-right turniphead disrupting one of
his speeches is political gold for him.
Khan also benefits from two important
hopes held by most decent people: that Britain’s multi-faith society should succeed, and
that Labour should be rescued from the
claws of the hard left. At the same time it’s
assumed he speaks for Londoners on Brexit
— Londoners who are happy only because
the regressive impacts of his policies haven’t
bitten yet (the bus cuts, for instance).
But it’s also because the Tories are so
useless. Khan’s underperformance — along
with the gift that is Momentum — could help
them avoid at least total disaster in May’s
London borough elections. Why aren’t they
jumping on it?
Andrew Gilligan writes for the Sunday Times.
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initiative from The Telegraph
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The DPP was never much cop
n interesting development for our
police force, then. In future they
do not have to believe everything
someone tells them, in the manner of a
particularly credulous village idiot. They
may be allowed, possibly encouraged, to
exhibit a degree of curiosity in their line of
work — have a bit of a think about things,
maybe even ask questions. I do hope they
are able to cope.
They have been institutionally cretinised for a long while now — ever since
Alison Saunders was appointed Director
of Public Prosecutions in 2013. She is stepping down when her contract comes to
an end in October and is anxious to take
up her new career opportunity as undermanager of a whelk stall in Cleethorpes (I
think I’ve got that right).
Saunders was, of course, catastrophic,
perhaps as dismal a public servant as we
have ever had. Not merely incompetent, but
possessed of an evangelistic liberal zeal that
sought to turn justice on its head. Under
Saunders there was little room for that tired
old shibboleth, innocent until proven guilty.
In rape cases the defendant was required to
prove that he had obtained consent from the
supposed victim, and furthermore obtained
it being entirely confident that the supposed
victim was not drunk, or out of her box on
narcotics, or perhaps merely distracted by
worrying about whether or not she’d left the
oven on at home.
Saunders was never able to answer the
question: but what if the man is drunk too?
How can we prove that he had given consent? Perhaps he woke up the next morning
with dark clouds of regret. It happened to
me in July 1985 — I had sex with a midget,
the last woman standing in the pseudo-goth
nightclub White Trash at three o’clock in
the morning. Although I had not thought
she was standing at the time; I thought she
was sitting. But by this point the alcohol
had worked its magic and I reckoned she
looked like a rather fetching cross between
Gina Lollobrigida and one of the Time Bandits. Next morning, in the cold light of day,
when I had to bend over double to reach her
bedroom door handle and get the hell out,
I thought differently. But no retrospective
redress for me, only for the women.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
The paradoxes became an absurdity. Sex
was suddenly something men did to women,
and that’s that. Drunkenness, which is never
an excuse in criminal courts, suddenly
became one if the female victim was claiming rape. But not for the male. Fortunately,
the British public largely refused to swallow
this congenital idiocy, this poisoning of justice, and so case after case came to court to
be routinely dismissed by juries who showed
a hell of a lot less gullibility than the coppers
or the DPP. Meanwhile, though, innocent
men spent years under suspicion, their lives
and careers ruined. The alcohol rule had a
special resonance for me as I am 58 years
old and no woman will have sex with me
unless she is completely blitzed. Now Saun-
Under Alison Saunders there was
little room for that tired old shibboleth,
innocent until proven guilty
ders is gone, maybe I’m back in the game,
you lucky ladies.
Saunders was sex-obsessed: her other big
campaign was Operation Yewtree, which saw
the majority of light-ent has-beens it egregiously hounded cleared of sexual assault
charges dating back decades. Ever attuned
to fashionable pieties, she also launched a
£30 million prosecution of Sun journalists.
Not a single conviction resulted.
Still, it is the mangling of the law on rape
for which she will be best remembered. She
subscribed to the view that the conviction
rate for rape was too low, an opinion shared
by the liberal media, and especially the BBC.
But then, the conviction rates will be low if
half of the cases brought by the Crown Pros-
ecution Service — of which Saunders is
the head — are patently flawed, the police
enjoined to believe what they are told by
the ‘victim’ almost without query, and sometimes ignoring evidence that clearly disproves the claim.
As it happens, our rape convictions have
actually risen. But with Saunders it was yet
another case of liberals approaching the
world as they think it should be rather than
how it actually is. And when the facts, inevitably enough, do not fit the adolescent hypothesis, the wishful thinking, the rules have to
be changed. Incidentally, when Saunders
was interviewed — by the Guardian, natch
— she exulted in the fact that 60 per cent
of the people working for the Crown Prosecution Service were now women. Why, as a
campaigner for gender equality, would you
be delighted by gender inequality? Unless
you were really stupid.
With any luck our coppers will now
extend this notion of being a bit curious
about stuff to supposed crimes other than
rape — such as ‘hate crimes’. It was not on
Saunders’s watch that the police were told
that if someone reports they were racially
abused or discriminated against, then they
were, and that’s an end to it. (Another mangling of justice for spurious political ends,
to prove that we are a vile racist society.) In
fairness to her, I suppose one could argue
that she was simply a willing victim of the
political mindset of our liberal elite, which
will brook no argument and appoints people to positions of great power based solely,
it would seem, on their willingness to impose
fashionable absurdities on the rest of us.
That’s how you get ahead.
Anyway, if you’re in Cleethorpes and
Alison Saunders sells you a carton of whelks,
head straight for the police station. Explain
that you were drunk and that while you did
indeed ask for a carton of whelks and handed over your money, you were in no fit state
to do so and Saunders had patently taken
advantage of you. You had not really wanted
whelks. She did not have your informed and
sober consent.
Rod Liddle will be in conversation with
Fraser Nelson at the London Palladium on
15 May. Tickets are on sale now.
The tiger and me
We have a moral duty to save the true king of beasts
am here in India looking for tigers, and
am struck by the way my fellow human
beings respond to their encounters —
what they want from the whole tiger experience. It is a privilege to see these animals in
the wild, and believe me, you can easily fail.
Years ago I spent days tracking them at
another park, and though the gamekeepers
kept up a plucky commentary — pointing to
scratches on trees and snapped grass stems
that proved ‘tiger was here’ — we saw neither hide nor hair.
Here at Ranthambore in Rajasthan, however, it is another story. The leaves have yet
to return to the axle wood trees; the guides
are expert, cocking their ears
for the distress call of the chital
deer, and people are spotting so
many tigers that they are getting
quite competitive, in a way that
is revealing of our frail human
It’s all about the ratio of
people to beast, and what the
punters want is the maximum
tiger score to themselves. When
one jeep spots a tiger, the word
spreads and soon the animal is at
the centre of a Hyde Park Corner of 4x4s and charabancs, with
cameras sputtering like childish
machine-gun fire.
So people always hope for
something more exclusive. They
want to be alone with the animal,
to commune privately, with their
eyes locked uniquely on those tiger eyes
like giant yellow marbles of liquid fire. They
want to boast how they, and they alone, saw
the tiger do something special: yawn, scratch,
blink, stand up — perhaps even charge — as
though its routines were entirely for them.
The result is that even here in Ranthambore, the finest tiger reserve on Earth, the
human lust to be exposed to a tiger wildly
exceeds the supply; and so I have a question. This is the true king of the beasts, the
apex predator at the absolute tippy top of
the terrestrial pyramid. Weighing perhaps
550lb, the male Royal Bengal tiger is more
than a match for the male African lion (I am
afraid they checked), and at 132 decibels its
roar is so loud as to cause nearby monkeys
fatal heart attacks (your own roar is about
75 decibels).
Since the Mughal emperors, whose pink
sandstone pleasure domes and hunting
lodges still landmark the park, panthera tigris
has been venerated in India, and indeed the
whole world is culturally dependent on this
universal living metaphor for courage, beauty, aggression and a willingness to defend
one’s children no matter how badly they
behave. People need tigers more than ever:
so why the hell have we allowed the peopletiger ratio to fall into such terrifying decay?
They tell me that in 1900 there were
about 100,000 tigers in India. By 1961, when
the Queen came to this very park (and the
Duke of Edinburgh tactfully declined an
invitation to shoot one, citing a ‘whitlow’ on
his trigger finger), the numbers were down
to 50,000. In the succeeding decades they
have been driven relentlessly from their
habitat by the tide of humanity.
They have been shot by farmers, they
have been poached, their bones ground up
for traditional medicines in the Far East,
their pizzles pathetically served up — even
today — to people who believe this will
boost their sexual potency.
We have recklessly allowed the human
population to balloon, and we have massa-
cred the tiger, so that the people-tiger ratio
is now 7.5 billion to a tragic 3,200. It is an
utterly shameful state of affairs. We must
change it. I could make all sorts of prudential or anthropocentric arguments for protecting these animals. If we stamp out the
trade in tiger parts — as we are now banning the trade in ivory, for which all praise
this week to Michael Gove — then we hit
the creeps and thugs involved in ancillary
trades: drug runners, gun runners, people
traffickers. This will be the subject of a major
conference in London this October.
If we protect the tiger, we expand the
tourist potential in countries blessed with
tigers and create tens of thousands
of good jobs. If we safeguard the
tiger, as my cousin-in-law conservationist Jaisal Singh points out, we
must logically safeguard their habitat, which happens to be the source
of most of India’s water supply.
These reasons are all good, but in
the end they are not enough.
This is a moral issue, and a question of how our generation is going
to be judged. Since 1972 — in my
lifetime — this planet has lost 58
per cent of its mammals, reptiles,
birds and fish. The fate of the tiger
is echoed across Africa where we
have seen catastrophic declines in
the numbers of elephants, rhinos,
lions, hippos, you name it.
I am not saying that I want the
people-tiger ratio reversed, though
it might be exciting to be one of the 3,200
people facing 7.5 billion tigers. I’m not
even calling for a million tigers. It is about a
sense of balance, and fairness to the defeated armies of nature, all the sentient beings
that we treat so contemptuously as the ‘alsorans’ of evolution.
Year in, year out, politicians meet to brag
about what they are doing — quite rightly
— to tackle CO2 emissions, and the targets
we attain. It is time to set targets for animal
populations. Why not start with a goal of
10,000 tigers in the wild by the end of 2050?
If we go on as we are, these animals will have
the same status in the minds of our descendants as the unicorn.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
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Kevin Pietersen
h, the old man injury!’ That’s what
people said when I busted my
calf a couple of years ago. At the time
I laughed it off because in more than
20 years I’d never suffered any serious
injuries, aside from my knee in 2012/13.
No back problems or proper muscle
tears. I was having a great time on the
T20 circuit, playing to 84,000 spectators
in Melbourne. Then, last year, I tore my
calf again playing for Surrey. At that
point I started to worry that it was going
to happen all the time. When you sign
these T20 contracts the last thing you
want is to have to leave after a couple
of games. I lost interest very quickly
and decided that once I’d fulfilled my
obligations over the winter, that was
that. I didn’t want to make a big song
and dance about retirement. Just a tweet:
boots up, over and out, see you later.
’ve enjoyed watching the reaction
in the media. You realise that when
you’re playing, people are there to take
potshots at you. I didn’t grow up with tall
poppy syndrome in South Africa, and
I hated it when I started to experience
it in the UK. I didn’t want to do press
conferences because I hated everything
the media stood for, and when they
had the opportunity to take me down,
they did. But you also know that when
sportsmen retire, the potshots have
to stop, so people might as well say
something nice. Still, I was flabbergasted
to read Andrew Strauss say I was the
best cricketer he’d played with. He was
the one who made me stop! A couple of
my buddies were fuming but I laughed and
told them not to worry about it. There’s so
much water under the bridge now. It’s gone.
The only line I really enjoyed was a report
that said I was like an annoying alarm clock
for the England and Wales Cricket Board
(ECB) that kept going off early. I was the
first to play in the Indian Premier League,
and that contributed to my demise with
England. Now they send players off every
chance they get. I was always ahead of the
ECB and they hated it.
ome things are more important than
hitting a cricket ball around. An
elephant dies every 15 minutes, and a
rhino every eight hours. The last male
northern white rhino died two weeks ago.
I’m the spokesman for Save our Rhinos
Africa/India, which raises money for rhino
conservation. I don’t have any time for
politics or any of that nonsense — I just
want my children to be able to show their
children the same animals I showed them,
so they can fall in love with Africa just like I
did. I’m building a lodge in Kruger National
Park. People say put your money where
your mouth is: I’m spending millions of my
own pounds to conserve Africa’s wildlife.
like to watch entertainers or interesting
passages of play. I’ve been watching the
South Africa vs Australia series, which has
been engaging and is in the right time zone,
but I’m not going to get up at midnight
to watch England vs New Zealand. Still, I
take no pleasure in seeing them get all out
for 58. I’m a positive person, and there are
some really good young guys in that set-
up. Seeing Steve Smith crying on TV the
other day, I really felt for him and the
others caught up in the Australian balltampering controversy. They’ve made
mistakes, but the whole thing has shown
the power of social media. The anger
and the animosity from the Australian
public, and the global community,
wouldn’t have been as severe without
Twitter and Facebook. If social media
had been around for Mike Atherton’s
ball-tampering scandal in 1994, he would
have been ruined.
eople don’t realise how hard
cricketing life is on the partners.
Cricket wives all deserve prizes. As a
player you spend so many nights on the
road, and then, when you’re at home,
you’re not really there. You’re thinking
about the next match, tour or contract.
My wife Jessica is happy to have me
really home. Now I’m doing the school
runs and bath-times. I’m more present
than if I had a nine-to-five. If I’m offered
work abroad, I’ll only do it if the family
can come too. I don’t get much cricket
talk at the school gates. What is there
to chat about? It’s done. I’d rather
talk about golf. I was only successful
at Test cricket because I was so fit. I
put in the hours off the field to keep
my brain strong, which let me make
good decisions. I still train hard and I
don’t drink much, but now it’s golf that
gives me the space to challenge myself.
My handicap is six, which makes me
competitive. If I go down any more, I
won’t be able to make money off friends.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
The deranged world of Virgin trains
welve minutes till the train. That
had seemed like quite enough time
as I approached the Virgin ticket
machine. Two tickets, London King’s Cross
to Durham: a 40-second job, then perhaps
a coffee. I had felt, as I so often don’t, like
a responsible mother and wife, comfortably
in charge of logistics. Screen one set me back
a bit. Virgin had changed the layout. Where
was Durham? On screen two I felt the first
rising bubbles of panic. Where was the
option to buy an open return? The minutes
floated by. Nothing became clearer. I felt the
sort of lonely despair the old must feel when
technology overtakes them. I said to my husband: ‘You do it.’ But after a while he said:
‘I can’t!’ We both looked hopefully at the
man by the neighbouring machine who just
shrugged. ‘I can’t work it out either,’ he said,
‘and I’m a website designer.’
On the train, tickets selected at random,
I opened the Virgin East Coast Twitter feed
to check for delays. It said: ‘So… how do you
guys like your eggs in the morning? Code:
Sunny side up? Cracking job!’
By chance, waiting for me in my email
inbox was a more personalised message
from Virgin: ‘Agent Wakefield,’ it said, ‘it’s
your final mission: unlock the keys to the
Kasbah. Enter your secret code, check the
websites, especially ours HINT HINT. Spy
on Richard Branson!’
Wedged on a ledge outside the train’s
toilet, I sent a silent plea to the members
of the watchdog group currently deciding
whether Virgin can break its contract and
abandon the East Coast line earlier than it
promised. ‘Let them go,’ I begged silently.
‘It’s not fair, but just let them leave.’
On the one hand, allowing Virgin to
escape its debts seems near criminal.
Branson signed up, in partnership with
Stagecoach, to run the East Coast line
until 2023. They promised the government
£3.3 billion and if they leave early in 2020,
as Chris Grayling has announced he’ll allow
them to do, they’ll have paid (it is estimated) less than £2 billion. It’s the sort of
bailout of private enterprise that corrodes
confidence in capitalism and makes a voter
wonder whether Corbyn might not have a
point about renationalisation.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
I’m a regular on the East Coast line and
I simply can’t take Virgin any more. In the
21st century, marketing is increasingly surreal. Every brand, every product these
days has a personality and a point of view:
‘Please recycle me’; ‘I taste delicious and I’m
healthy too!’ ‘We’re passionate about making custard.’ Even in this hectic environment,
the voice of Virgin stands out as psychotic.
Should you venture into its appalling toilets,
stare up at your face, you’ll see the word,
‘SMILE!’ scrawled across the mirror. The
Virgin cups say: ‘Hey there, hot stuff! Fancy
a brew?’ Its paper bags: ‘Here’s to a tasty
journey!’ The Virgin East Coast Twitter feed,
which could and should be an invaluable way
My deeper worry is that the
crazed branding goes hand-in-hand
with other errors of judgment
of updating passengers about delays, is plain
There was a suicide on the line quite
recently just outside Doncaster. Back in the
day, a voice would say: ‘Fatality on the line.
Apologies for the short delay.’ And we’d
sigh or tut, depending. After the Doncaster
jumper, Virgin’s Twitter feed said: ‘My heart
is broken for all involved in this tragic incident. Services are returning to normal but
so much pain will remain. If you’ve been
affected by tonight’s events, please talk to
the Samaritans. #ItsOkayToTalk.’
The Spectator’s Peter Jones wrote a
column recently about Virgin’s decision to
scrap the quiet coach in first class. ‘While
most customers love the chilled-out ambi-
‘They’re sound bites.’
ence of first class, only 9 per cent really
value the quiet coach offering,’ they told him.
The real reason, I suspect, is that for Virgin,
silence is heresy.
My objections to Virgin are not just aesthetic. My deeper worry is that the crazed
branding goes hand-in-hand with other
errors of judgment: financial, perhaps even
mechanical. If you misjudge your passengers so profoundly — Agent Wakefield! —
why would you get the other elements of
running a train company right? And it’s true,
the more you examine the design of a Virgin
train, the less it really makes sense.
Why would you hide a flush button
behind a loo seat? A train loo seat must be
one of the most profoundly disgusting surfaces in the world. What sort of passenger
wants to grapple with that? And how could
they fail to clock the implications of swapping the traditional reserved seat ‘ticket’ for
a hard-to-read digital display?
East Coast trains still have seat-back
paper tickets but on the vomitus West Coast
Virgin Pendolino I’ve seen the digital reservations in action.
Because you can’t see which seats are
reserved by peering into the windows, there’s
no shortcut to finding a spare seat. Because
the words scroll slowly across a tiny screen
above each seat, great jammed masses are
kettled in the corridors while one by painful
one the passengers read the screens. I’m sure
it’s just a way of saving on the staff needed to
put out tickets. If they explained it that way,
I’d mind less.
Virgin’s new high-speed Hitachi-built
Azuma (complete with digital reservations)
has been advertised on the East Coast line
for a year now, in the excitable manner of a
circus coming to town. Those of us who spend
time squashed into the corridors know the
posters by heart. ‘Not just a train, AZUMA!
Azuma means “East” in Japan and “Wow”
in English. The Wow gets even bigger in
2018! Looks like waiting for a train just got
exciting!’ Even more excitingly, the wow has
been mostly delayed until 2019 because of
unforeseen difficulties with the power supply.
Meanwhile, over on the West Coast,
Chris Grayling has just rewarded Virgin with
a lucrative new contract to run more trains.
Macron’s battles
Putin’s diseased ideology
The French President is facing his ‘Thatcher moment’
The Russian
economy is not in
the greatest of shapes. That being the
case, one would have thought friendly
diplomatic and economic relations
with the West would be a priority for
Vladimir Putin, given his need for cash
to build weapons against threats from
superpowers such as Estonia. A little
Roman history would help.
As has been well documented,
the collapse of the Roman Empire
in the west in the 5th C ad heralded
something of an economic dark age
for Europe for some 200 years. The
long-nurtured Roman economic
networks extending east as far as
China simply could not survive
the break-up that would create the
beginnings of today’s Europe.
The ancient sources, as well as the
archaeological record, make clear
just how connected that world had
been. The emperors made sure the
infrastructure was in place. As Pliny
the Younger said of Trajan, ‘he has
opened up roads, built harbours,
created overland routes, let the sea
into the shore, and moved the shore
out to sea’. As a result, trade flourished
across a huge area.
One author talked of Rome being
‘a kind of common emporium of
the world’, with cargoes from ‘India
and south Arabia, and Babylonian
garments, and ornaments from the
barbarian country beyond’ arriving
as easily as from Greece. Another
concluded that ‘There is one continent,
one sea, the islands common to all,
the harbours opened up and the
gates thrown wide. Merchant ships
everywhere carry products from all
parts and crowd the anchorages. A
mutual community has extended
through practically all the land under
the sun’. A Christian writer, the ‘Indian
traveller’ Cosmas (c. ad 550), saw
God’s hand in all this, arguing that the
seas had been specifically designed to
encourage trade, ‘thus uniting scattered
nations in bonds of friendship’.
‘Mutual communities’ and ‘bonds
of friendship’ do not feature in the
paranoid mentality of Mr Putin, still
trapped in the diseased ideology of the
old KGB which taught him that the
open society was evil personified. Until
that mentality changes, it will still be
the same old ex Russia semper aliquid
— Peter Jones
he honeymoon is over for Emmanuel
Macron. His first 11 months in office
have been something of a breeze —
defined by economic growth, international
approval and museum openings in the Middle East. But France’s youthful President is
gearing up for months of domestic hostility. ‘The war of attrition’ was the headline in
Tuesday’s Le Parisien. Alongside this stark
declaration was a photograph of one of the
President’s enemies, a prominent figure in
CGT, the hard-left trade union. Burly, bearded and belligerent, Laurent Brun, head of
the union’s railway section, vowed intransigence in the three-month rolling railway
strike that started this week.
Macron is as determined as the strikers
and appears confident that victory will be his.
Over the Easter weekend, French television
broadcast pictures of the President getting
into his car. ‘Don’t give in to the strikers!’
yelled a passer-by. A smiling Macron saluted
his supporter with a clenched fist and a cry
of ‘Don’t worry!’
As cocky as ever, then. But Macron may
be starting to feel nervous. He knows his
reputation is on the line, not just in France
but across the world. Imagine the smirks in
Berlin, the sniggering in London, the disappointed head-shaking in Brussels, if the
tough-talking President turns out to be as
weak as his predecessors when confronted
with mass industrial action.
Since his election, Macron has taken the
world by storm. He’s hosted Trump, Putin
and Erdogan, eased tensions between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, taken the initiative in
stemming the flow of migrants from North
Africa into Italy, repositioned France as the
world’s no. 1 soft power, and reinvigorated
the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 after
the withdrawal of the US.
All this was achieved against a backdrop of complete dominance on the domestic front. Widespread industrial action last
autumn against the first stage of his economic reforms petered out, and his political
opponents have been similarly ineffectual,
disorientated by their parties’ dismal performance in last year’s election when Macron
surged to his remarkable victory.
But now the President faces a quartet of
challenges that will shape the next four years
of his presidency. The return of Islamist terror to France has shaken the country, demonstrating that not even a quiet backwater is
safe from the jihadists. Last month’s attack
in Carcassonne and Trèbes that left four
dead was also proof of what the intelligence
services have been warning for months: that
the fall of the Isis caliphate won’t bring an
end to the violence in Europe. The opposite,
in fact, with scores of jihadists slipping back
determined to carry on the fight.
Intertwined in many French minds
with Islamism is immigration — the second hurdle for Macron — and the belief
that lax border controls have allowed terrorists to cross with ease into their country.
In February, his government unveiled plans
to crack down on illegal immigration and
hasten the expulsion of failed asylum seekers. The proposed bill, which will be tabled
in parliament this month, is welcomed
by the majority of the public but not by
some in his own party, La République En
Marche. The bill will be passed, but there’s
Macron’s vision horrifies
millions of men and women who
don’t want France to change
already been strike action at France’s refugee protection office, and anti-capitalist
groups plan to demonstrate against it this
weekend. It has also upset some of the artistic community, with Jean-Marie Gustave Le
Clézio, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in
Literature, railing against France’s ‘scandalous’ treatment of migrants.
Hand-wringing writers won’t worry
Macron but the third problem, the railway
workers who’ll be striking for two out of
every five days until the end of June, is more
formidable. Among the reforms the government intends to introduce is one that will
open up rail transport to foreign competition, and improve a service that’s declined
markedly in recent years. On top of that
is the €46.6 billion debt accrued by SNCF,
an astronomical figure which will be partly reduced by ending the privileged status
of railway workers that’s existed since 1909,
and now includes a guaranteed job for life
and retirement at as early as 50 for drivers
and 57 for other employees.
Supported by the CGT, the railwaymen are determined to retain their entitlements, but Macron regards the SNCF as
the embodiment of outdated public-sector
working practices. ‘We live in a changing
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
‘Australia would be great if it weren’t
for all the cheats.’
chists, environmentalists and antifas who are
itching for a fight with their president.
What France has embarked upon therefore is not just a war of attrition; it’s a war
of vision. Macron and his supporters are
desperate to shake off France’s reputation
as a nation of work-shy strikers, the people the President memorably described last
September as fainéants (slackers). It was no
coincidence that on the day the SNCF strike
started, the government announced record
foreign investment in France in 2017, a 16
per cent increase on the previous year. The
left-wing newspaper Le Monde attributed
this statistic to ‘the Macron effect’ .
This is the France Macron envisages, the
‘start-up nation’ that he described last year
during his presidential campaign and that
he hopes will attract the world’s brightest minds. He wants to reposition Paris as
a post-Brexit bankers’ paradise and has
announced he will spend €1.5 billion in the
next five years as part of a new national
strategy for artificial intelligence to rival
that of China and the US.
It’s a vision that horrifies millions of
men and women who don’t want France to
change, who cherish the security and protection of the public sector. But Macron isn’t
for turning. He’s even angered the elderly by
increasing taxes on pensions to raise money
to pay for cuts for workers. ‘Some people
will complain and don’t want to understand,
but that’s France,’ he has said.
Many of the pensioners would have
been among the eight million workers who
50 years ago, in May 1968, took to the streets
in a general strike to protest against the
rule of Charles de Gaulle, a president they
saw as out-of-touch and conservative. Half
a century later, the man in the Elysée Palace is regarded as too innovative and ambitious, a dangerous young megalomaniac who
in the words of one Socialist MP is adopting
‘the politics of Margaret Thatcher’. And if
Emmanuel Macron emerges with his reputation intact after this spring and summer, he’ll
be entitled to call himself the Iron Man.
Gavin Mortimer and Reuters’ Luke Baker
on Macron’s challenge.
Wednesday 18 April 2018 | 7p.m.
Emmanuel Centre, Westminster
world,’ said transport minister Elisabeth
Borne at the weekend. ‘The SNCF needs to
change too in order to offer better services.’
One newspaper poll this week revealed that
of nearly 100,000 respondents, only 28 per
cent approved of the strike. But that was
in the centre-right Le Figaro. Many on the
left are supportive; and other groups with
grievances such as students, Air France
employees, supermarket workers and refuse
collectors will launch their own strikes or
protest action in the near future.
The fourth challenge facing Macron
appears on the surface to be the least problematic: what to do about the 300 environmental campaigners occupying 1,650
hectares of wetlands in Notre-Dame-desLandes, near Nantes? In January they won
their battle to prevent the construction of
an airport after a lengthy campaign, and in
conceding defeat the government instructed
them to evacuate the area by 31 March. The
deadline has passed and a hardcore remain,
a rag-tag bunch of protesters entrenched in
defensive positions that include tunnels and
booby-trapped barricades. The police could
crush their resistance in hours but the government knows that could provide the spark
for something much bigger. The Zadistes, as
they call themselves — from Zone à Défendre, or ZAD — are a symbol of defiance for
France’s professional protesters, the anar-
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the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
The grand tourist trap
Avoid the crowds to discover Europe’s real cultural treasures
ast week, I was in the Florence Baptistery by 8.30 a.m. That used to be
early enough to avoid the crowds and
admire the Baptistery’s east doors by Ghiberti — the Gates of Paradise, as Michelangelo called them.
No longer. As I stared at the 13th-century mosaics in the apse and Donatello and
Michelozzo’s tomb of Antipope John XXIII,
a group of bored Italian teenagers started
hugging each other and gossiping on the
front pew next to me.
It was the same all over town. In the
Piazza della Signoria, tourists flocked round
the copy of Michelangelo’s David at 8 a.m.
Next door, they were queuing to see the
Botticellis at the Uffizi before the gallery
opened at 8.15. And this was in early spring,
long before the mass tourism of summer.
Unless you can fork out a fortune for a
private tour of the greatest hits of Florence
— or Rome, London or New York — that’s
it. We have reached peak tourism. We have
killed the things we love by swamping them.
And yet… Just a few streets away from
the Piazza della Signoria, at the Bargello
museum, I had Michelangelo’s ‘Pitti Tondo’,
a bas-relief of the Virgin and Child, to myself.
Upstairs at the Bargello, I stared, alone, at
the original bronze panels entered by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi for the Baptistery
doors competition in 1401 — according to
legend, the moment the Renaissance began.
And by then it was mid-morning, when the
tourist crowds were at their biggest over at
the Baptistery, staring at those door: copies,
in fact, of the original, unlike the panels I
was gazing at in glorious solitude.
Over and over again, the most famous
places in Florence were crammed while,
yards away, extraordinary spots were utterly empty. Five minutes’ walk from the Ponte
Vecchio, in Santa Trinita Church, I had the
Sassetti Chapel to myself. I enjoyed its 15thcentury frescoes so much that I returned
later that same afternoon. Still empty.
Given the horrors of international overcrowding of the world’s beauty spots, the
answer is to rethink the Grand Tour.
First, you could go to different towns
altogether. Fiesole, up in the hills, just five
miles from Florence, was completely empty
at ten in the morning. I looked over the 1st
century bc Roman theatre to the Tuscan
campagna beyond and, all the way to the
horizon, there wasn’t a soul in sight.
The same applies in Britain. When a man
is tired of London, he isn’t tired of life. He’s
tired of his fellow tourists — and he should
jump on a train to, say, Rochester to see its
Norman-Gothic cathedral and its Norman
castle. I went there last autumn, and had
both cathedral and castle to myself, apart
from two French tourists in the castle giftshop. Admittedly, it was a filthy day, and
I went just before the last entrance time.
Still, these are just yet more useful strings to
the Not So Grand Tourist’s bow: make your
Florence’s most famous places
were crammed while, yards away,
extraordinary spots were all empty
time of year and time of day as unfashionable as possible.
Even in big cultural towns and cities,
all you have to do is reconfigure your targets. Say goodbye to the famous places;
they’re lost to the crowds. Say hello to the
hidden gems. Don’t go to Buckingham Palace (packed); visit Spencer House (empty).
Don’t go to St Paul’s Cathedral (packed); go
to Wren’s city churches (empty).
Don’t go to the packed Houses of
Parliament for Westminster Hall; go to
Middle Temple Hall for lunch. It’s the
finest Elizabethan hall in London and no
one’s there, except a sprinkling of barristers. The hammer-beam roof, the minstrels’
gallery, the table made from the timbers of
‘We need an expert on the dangers of
computers. Send for Damian Green!’
Francis Drake’s Golden Hind, a huge Van
Dyck of Charles I, the spot where the premiere of Twelfth Night was held in 1602…
All on open view, all unrestricted by the
swinging backpacks and bodies of fellow
tourists. Close by are the Temple Church,
with its medieval tombs of the Knights Templar, and the Gothic Revival splendour of
G.E. Street’s Royal Courts of Justice: both
nearly tourist-free. You have to book lunch
at Middle Temple and check opening times
for the Temple Church. But that’s a small
price to pay for empty beauty, particularly
if you’ve trekked halfway across the world
to track it down.
A little investment of time reaps a
bumper harvest of aesthetic thrills. If you
play your cards right, and at the right time,
you can even see those greatest hits when
they’re empty — and free.
Go to Westminster Abbey at 8 a.m. on
a Tuesday — the Not So Grand Tour does
mean you have to get up early — and you
can take Communion at the holiest spot in
the whole place: the shrine to Edward the
Confessor, the abbey’s founder. His monument doubles as the altar and, as you kneel
and pray, you are surrounded by the tombs
of Henry III, Edward III and Henry V. On
the two occasions I’ve been, there have been
fewer than half a dozen worshippers in the
heart of royal and spiritual England.
The canon of European architecture
has been literally set in stone for well over a
century. Go to the Cast Courts of the Victoria and Albert Museum — themselves empty,
incidentally — and you’ll see copies of the
old favourites, first installed there in 1873:
Trajan’s Column; Michelangelo’s David;
those Gates of Paradise from Florence.
I’m not saying that seeing the copies in
South Kensington is as good as seeing the
originals. Yet it is time to spread the net
wider and diversify the Victorian canon. We
may have reached peak tourism — but only
in some very small hotspots, and only in very
few cities and towns. This summer, it’s time
to take your own Not So Grand Tour.
Harry Mount is author of Odyssey:
Ancient Greece in the Footsteps of
Odysseus (Bloomsbury).
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Why it’s time to stop fetishising experts
omething extraordinary and largely
unreported has just happened in a
court in San Francisco. A federal judge
has said that there is no Big Oil conspiracy
to conceal the truth about climate change.
In fact, Judge William Alsup — a Clinton
appointment, so he can hardly be accused
of right-wing bias — was really quite snarky
with the plaintiffs who claimed there was
such a conspiracy.
The case was brought by the cities of San
Francisco and Oakland, which have taken
it upon themselves to sue the five big western oil majors — Chevron, ExxonMobil,
ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell
— for allegedly engaging in a Big Tobaccostyle cover-up to conceal the harm of their
products. Apparently Big Oil knew about
the dangers of man-made global warming
but went on drilling anyway. So now the two
Californian cities are trying to claim billions
of dollars in damages to compensate them
for all the walls and dykes and so on they’ll
have to build to cope with rising sea levels.
Nice try. But so far Judge Alsup hasn’t
been impressed. He said he had been expecting the plaintiffs to reveal ‘a conspiratorial
document’ which proved that the defendants ‘knew good and well that global warming was right around the corner. And I said:
“OK, that’s going to be a big thing. I want
to see it.”’ Instead, he said disappointedly,
all he got ‘was a slide show that somebody
had gone to the IPCC [Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change] and was reporting on what the IPCC had reported, and
that was it. Nothing more.’ In other words,
this secret knowledge that supposedly only these sinister oil companies possessed was entirely in the public domain.
This is a case that should never have come
to trial. The fact that it did speaks volumes
about the arrogance and complacency of
the Climate Industrial Complex after years
of promulgating its narrative all but unchallenged. As filmmaker Phelim McAleer, who
has been attending the trial, put it: ‘Until
now, environmentalists and friendly academics have found a receptive audience in journalists and politicians who don’t understand
science and are happy to defer to experts.’
Quite. Consider, for example, the way the
BBC has covered the climate scare story all
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
these years. Sceptics such as Lord Lawson, on
the rare occasions they are given air time, are
treated like flat-earth pariahs. Anyone claiming to be a climate scientist, on the other hand
— just so long as he or she is promoting the
alarmist consensus — is treated with the kind
of unquestioning reverence once accorded
to cardinals, archbishops and high priests.
But just because these people claim to be
experts doesn’t mean their every utterance
should be treated as holy writ. This is what
the ancients understood when they warned
us of the rhetorical fallacy the Appeal to
Authority. It’s what Gustave Le Bon meant
in his 1895 classic The Crowd: A Study of the
Popular Mind when he warned of the perils
of ‘prestige’. And it’s also what the Royal
Society was getting at in 1660 when it gave
People find it more comforting to take
issues such as climate change on trust
than do a little digging for themselves
itself the motto ‘Nullius in Verba’ — take no
man’s word for it. Michael Gove was right,
despite all that flak he took: experts aren’t
always all they’re cracked up to be.
Sometimes, they’re honest enough to
admit this. In 2015, the editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, confessed in an article
that ‘much of the scientific literature, perhaps
half, may simply be untrue’. And this wasn’t
self-flagellating speculation. His view that
‘science has taken a turn toward darkness’
was supported by copious evidence that many
peer-reviewed studies are simply not worth
the candle, some because they are merely
shoddy, others because they are fraudulent.
Not that you’d ever guess this listening to,
say, one of Radio 4’s numerous programmes
about science. The impression given is not just
that scientists are the most amazing, likeable,
fun, noble and worthwhile people on earth,
but also that they are so high-minded as to
be quite incapable of the venality, corruption or bias associated with ordinary mortals.
Our culture’s fetishisation of expertise is
a dangerous thing, as I tried to explain to the
boys Brendan O’Neill and I taught at Radley
the other week. Not altogether successfully.
One boy in a politics class was absolutely
insistent that Brexit was going to be a disaster
because all the economists said it would be.
So I gave him various historical examples —
the 364 economists who wrote to the Times
warning against Margaret Thatcher’s fiscal
policy; the failure of the immediate aftermath
of the Leave referendum vote to conform
with all the Treasury’s doomsday predictions
— to show they didn’t always get it right. But
the boy wasn’t having it. Economists, merely
by dint of being economists, knew better
about the economy than non-economists,
was his view. So great, indeed, was his faith
that it quite trumped all real-world evidence.
Confronted with such obstinacy, I suddenly realised how easy it has been for ‘consensus’ scientists to promulgate their alarmist
narrative all these years. We seem to inhabit a
culture where critical thinking isn’t the norm
(if indeed it ever was), where people find it
more comforting to take complex issues such
as climate change on trust than do a little digging and find out the truth for themselves.
This is what I so admire about the judge
who has been presiding over this Californian
court case. Judge Alsup is so determined not
to be gulled by faux expertise that before each
case, he makes it his business to become a
mini-expert himself. While presiding in Uber
vs Waymo, he asked for a tutorial on selfdriving car technology. In Oracle vs Google,
he taught himself Java programming. In this
latest case, he was so well-briefed about the
science of climate change that he was able to
tick off one expert witness — the Oxford professor Myles Allen — for using a misleading
illustration to represent atmospheric CO2.
No wonder the alarmist plaintiffs have
been so blindsided by this court case. Rarely
if ever before has their unearned authority
been questioned by a trusted public figure
who bothered to do his homework.
Self-limiting beliefs
What makes a boat British
Sir: As someone who spent much of his
working life teaching at Eton and Harrow,
it was amusing to learn from Toby Young
(31 March) that privately educated pupils
achieve better exam results than pupils
in other schools because they came into
the world equipped with high IQ genes
which, together with parental background,
guarantee success, with the school adding
little. If only we teachers had known!
If genes are as important as Toby,
Robert Plomin and others insist, it does
ask questions of the drive to improve
social mobility. If schools are limited in the
difference they can make, do we fuss too
much about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ schools? The
genetic research Toby quotes implies that
pupils with low-income parents tend to have
fewer of the high IQ genes and will therefore
do less well in exams. But masses of research
shows that this belief is itself an important
reason why low-income children do less
well in schools in Britain and the USA than
in the Far East. In China and Japan there is
an assumption that all children can do well.
Those who are less able simply have to work
harder. They do work harder, and these
countries have a much shorter tail of poor
performance at age 16 than we do in the UK.
Barnaby Lenon
Sir: In pointing out that our problem with
fishing is that ‘we simply don’t eat what we
catch’, Martin Vander Weyer (Any Other
Business, 24 March) explains that ‘a high
proportion of fish and seafood from British
boats is exported to the EU…’. Well, yes
— but a high proportion of ‘British boats’
are not British. Many of them are owned
by Spanish, Portuguese, Danish or Dutch
skippers, so it is hardly surprising if they
land their catches elsewhere in Europe.
In 1988 the British Parliament passed
the Merchant Shipping Act, in which it
provided that boats registered as British
must be 75 per cent British-owned. This
legislation was challenged, and the relevant
clause in the Act was deemed invalid as it
was contrary to EU law. It is therefore no
longer possible to separate British boats
from other UK boats which are not British.
The Marine Management Organisation
confirms that ‘a UK vessel will be classified
as any vessel that is UK registered,
irrespective of ownership’.
Unless Martin can identify British boats
from another source, what we need to do
before 2020 is to find a way of classifying
Mutual flourishing
Sir: In portraying global Christianity as a
religion of two extremes (‘A tale of two
Sarahs’, 31 March), Ysenda Maxtone
Graham perpetuates a fundamental error
common to all the major churches, namely
the polarisation of partisan conflict above
the teachings of Jesus. While it is clear that
her sympathies lie with the warm inclusivity
of a particular brand of Anglicanism, it is
worth noting that liberal Christianity is only
accepting of those with whom it agrees. The
introduction of women to the Episcopacy
was delayed in 2012 because there were
many in the Church of England who wanted
no accommodation for traditional Anglicans,
viewing their opposition to the ordination
of women as misogyny rather than an
adherence to the Apostolic Succession.
The resulting settlement and the Five
Guiding Principles passed by General
Synod calls for ‘mutual flourishing’. This
is more in tune with the spirit of the New
Testament. When the Apostles complained
to Jesus that someone from outside their
group was teaching in his name, Christ
reminded them ‘whoever is not against us
is for us’ (Mark 9:40).
Andrew Gray
General Synod (Diocese of Norwich)
British boats as British and, from that
base, seek to build up the numbers of our
‘diminished’ fleet.
Ian Campbell
Bordon, Hants
Unusual evensong
Sir: The church at which I attend, in the
small village of Coleman’s Hatch in West
Sussex, has sung evensong (BCP) once a
month, and each month a different anthem
is sung (Notes on Evensong, 24 March).
For a small village, this must be unusual,
if not unique.
Godfrey Dann
East Grinstead, West Sussex
Taki misremembers
Sir: Taki’s memory of our interview at his
house in New York in 2006 and of what
I wrote in my biography of Conrad Black
and Barbara Amiel is inaccurate (High
Life, 31 March). I wrote down verbatim,
in long-hand in a red A4 notebook,
everything he told me — the same method
I have used for all the thousands of
interviews I have conducted for 24 books.
I can show Taki my notes. A mark indicates
that I reread to him his quote that I used
in the book.
His row with Conrad Black was not, in
fact, about Israel but about his criticism of
President Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich,
the American oil trader. Taki knew that
Black was furious. When he was told by
his secretary that Barbara Amiel was on
the phone, my notes record Taki telling me
that he had shouted at his secretary, ‘Tell
that fucking bitch that she has no right to
fire me.’ I included that in my book and
until now Taki has never protested.
As he told me in 2006, he then picked
up the phone to Amiel and was invited
out for lunch — again, precisely what is
described in my book. Taki wrongly thinks
the book said ‘Barbara Black high-hatted’
him and that she was ‘trying to make
trouble’. Instead I described the opposite.
I showed how Amiel sought to make peace,
which he agrees was the purpose of the call.
In other words, my description of his
interview was accurate and his memory
of what is in the book is wrong. And then
he uses his mistakes to disparage my book
about Prince Charles. I am puzzled by his
conduct. Too many martinis, possibly?
Tom Bower
London NW3
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street,
London SW1H 9HP;
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
A US-China tit-for-tat hardly
amounts to a serious trade war
tocks plunge as China hits US goods
with tariffs,’ said a headline after the
long weekend, and the FTSE100
duly dipped below 7,000. But I wonder what
a serious trade war would look like — and
how markets would respond if the White
House and Beijing took the gloves off. Last
year, China exported $500 billion worth of
goods to the US, while US exports to China
amounted to $135 billion. Last month, President Trump announced import tariffs on
$50 billion worth of Chinese steel and aluminium, 10 per cent of the total import bill.
China has hit back with tariffs on US steel
tubes plus an eclectic product list ranging
from aluminium scrap to frozen pork liver,
adding up to $3 billion — which, to quote
Humphrey Bogart, ‘don’t amount to a hill
of beans in this crazy world’.
The truth is that Trump’s first move was
a shallow bid for adulation from benighted
blue-collar supporters — and every wise
head in Washington told him it was stupid.
China’s response is token tit-for-tat, from
a regime that clearly has a more intelligent
overview of the benefits of global trade. Collateral losers so far include American farmers and scrap dealers, denizens of Trump’s
heartland just as much as the steel workers
he claimed to be defending. As for the US
stock market, the one factor that should
have spooked it in the first place was last
year’s coronation of Trump, but during his
first 12 months in office, investors showed
precisely the opposite reaction; now they are
beginning to realise how much damage to
their interests he’s capable of causing.
Remember Poitiers
The French do trade skirmishes better.
Back in 1982, France was flooded with cheap
Japanese videocassette recorders, until a
rule was imposed requiring all such imports
to be processed through a small customs
office in Poitiers, hundreds of miles from any
port, where inspectors felt it necessary to
open every box to check that the operating
instructions were in French. Despite vehethe spectator | 7 april 2018 |
ment complaints to Brussels and the then
world trade regulator, Gatt, the flood was
reduced from 64,000 VCRs per month to
less than 10,000, and the Japanese company
Victor was strong-armed into a joint venture
with a French state company to manufacture
VCRs in France. It was a lesson in applying
ruthless focus, not pointless gesture.
Cheminot bashing
The French also run better railways, and
those of us who look forward to travelling
on the SNCF network this summer must
wait to see whether Emmanuel Macron wins
his battle with les cheminots — the railway
workers whose privileges (early retirement,
free travel, subsidised housing) he aims to
abolish, and whose unions are militantly
opposed to other Macron proposals that
might lead to competition or any part-privatisation. Their two-days-out-of-five strike
launched this week — coinciding with action
by Air France workers and dustmen — is
unlikely to shake the French President’s
determination to advance his reform agenda
for the country’s economy. But it may rapidly erode public support for confrontation
with the railway workers. Opinion polling
so far is closely divided, and union leaders
take every opportunity to recall the climbdown by the Chirac-Juppé government in
1995 after a wave of strikes in opposition to
changes in public-sector retirement ages.
Meanwhile, what our own media have
taken to calling ‘Macron’s Thatcher
moment’ is also instructive for collectors of
obscure French vocabulary. For the right,
it’s a symbolic battle against la gréviculture, the endemic penchant for strikes that
barely exists anywhere else in the developed
world these days; but for the left, it’s merely
another outburst of le cheminot bashing.
Cream for the alley cat
The victory of Melrose Industries in its hostile bid for GKN is, in effect, the passage of
an underperforming British business into
the hands of a more potent set of British
managers, whose quest to extract shareholder value will be tempered by ‘binding commitments’ — extracted at the last
moment by Business Secretary Greg Clark
— to maintain R&D spending and not to
sell GKN’s aerospace division for at least
five years. It is a result that offers a better
future for GKN’s product specialisms and
skilled workers than the alternative, which
was to stumble on under an ancien régime
who within the same timespan might well
have driven the company into the arms of an
acquirer with a less impressive track record,
or simply into oblivion.
So the outrage at the result, much of
it politically confected and fuelled by references in BBC bulletins to Melrose as ‘assetstrippers’, was frankly silly. And it distracted
attention from another takeover this week
— in which an entrepreneurial British business passed into foreign hands without so
much as a murmur of doubt or disapproval.
This was the sale to CME, better known
as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, of Nex,
which is the electronic trading business that’s
the successor to the Icap money broking
empire built by Michael Spencer. The price
was a very rich $5.5 billion, and when completed, the deal will net £670 million for
the former Tory treasurer Spencer, whose
admirers and detractors alike will recognise
a description of him quoted in the FT as
‘nimble, like an alley cat’.
I’ve known Spencer for 30 years, and
don’t begrudge him this lucrative finale
to a rollercoaster career. But I suspect too
much has been made of the pledge by CME,
as a condition of the deal, to make London its European headquarters — offering
‘proof of the City’s attractiveness to foreign
investors post-Brexit’. Will that last as long
as Melrose’s pledges on GKN? I wonder.
And if Nex is an example of London’s cutting edge in fashionable ‘fintech’, why must
it find a US owner to secure its future? The
currently leaderless London Stock Exchange
might have been an obvious bidder, but was
nowhere to be seen.
Something in the air
Philip Hensher examines the many disparate protest movements
in the West sparked by the événements in Paris in 1968
The Long ’68: Radical Protest
and Its Enemies
by Richard Vinen
Allen Lane, £20, pp. 446
’68 will do as shorthand. Most of ’68, as it
were, didn’t happen in 1968. It was, at
most, the centrepoint of a long accumulation of radical protest. It began with dufflecoated marches against nuclear war, a wellmannered and respectful movement whose
spirit persisted to the end of the decade.
(In October 1968, a rally against the Vietnam war finished with demonstrators
linking arms with policemen and singing
‘Auld Lang Syne’). It continued into the
1970s with real political violence — the
Baader-Meinhof gang and many other
groups. It is not very much like 1848 as a
year of political upheaval, more the symbolic statement of a large-scale change
of mind. That change of mind is probably
still happening.
Richard Vinen’s excellent, cleanly
focused book on the subject makes it plain
that the événements of May in France form
the central episode. The way that a protest
among students spread from institution to
institution, and then to trade unions and
the entire workforce was something quite
new, and baffling. What did they want?
Discontent started for particular reasons — a student protest against Vietnam,
or, Vinen says, ‘concern about their conditions of study and prospects of getting
jobs’, a very un-1968 motivation. Fairly
soon, protest seems to have become an end
in itself. Some of the workers who went on
strike did so without presenting demands.
Much of the French establishment had
lot of sympathy for the protesters, with the
thrilling sight of (not very effective) barricades, chic slogans and the hurling of
paving stones. André Malraux, the minister of culture, was having lunch one day
with the writer José Bergamín; afterwards,
he dropped Bergamín off at the occupied Sorbonne on his way to the National
Assembly. General de Gaulle was not one
of these, and indeed hardly believed in the
protesters’ identity. Two years earlier he
had dismissed a report on ‘youth’ in the
splendid words:
One must not treat the young as a separate
category. One is young, and then one ceases
to be so...They are French people at the start
of their existence, it is nothing special.
In May 1968 Danny Cohn-Bendit and the
other leaders of the protests would try to
prove him wrong.
Vinen also addresses the growth and
impact of radical politics in West Germany, the UK and the US. The truly significant political event of the year, the Prague
1968 was not always very ’68-ish.
It also saw the election of Nixon and
marches in support of Enoch Powell
Spring and the crushing of Dubcek’s
reforms by a Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August, is outside his remit,
though it might have provided an amusing counterpoint to some of the radical
posturing in the West. The US had two
proper subjects for radical protest: Vietnam, and civil rights. These remained
largely separate. The president who had
succeeded in making the greatest strides
in civil rights, Lyndon Johnson, was also
the one with the responsibility for Vietnam. Those black men who were the first
for the draft in Vietnam were, Vinen says,
often surprisingly indifferent to Vietnam
as a cause. They were used to injustice.
A significant part of the radical black
movement that arose around this time
was certainly not part of the liberal pro-
test movement, and had no intention of
placing flowers in the muzzles of anyone’s guns. Some of them were affiliated with the National Rifle Association,
and the quasi-Marxist Dodge Revolutionary Movement ‘offered an M1
carbine as a prize in a fund-raising raffle’. They hoped the moment to use it
would come.
In Germany, everything is overshadowed by the consequences, or pre-shadowed by history. The generation shaped by
the Third Reich was very much in evidence;
their children were of an age to make their
opinions of that felt. One important factor
was that 70 per cent of German students
were aged between 23 and 30; these were
not children, as in the US. Some of them
would go on to form the Red Army Faction, or the Baader-Meinhof gang, and
murder. There was no particular motivation at work here apart from the Oedipal
one, and the intention to shock the elders.
One of the most outrageous was the move
by some radicals to break with liberal German regret, and say some genuinely vile
things about Jews and Israel. A synagogue
was firebombed by radicals on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and the BaaderMeinhofs’ lawyer was eventually convicted
for Holocaust denial.
The British ’68 took a somewhat different form. There was a fundamental division
between the working forces and the educational establishment, nicely illustrated by
Vinen: at the end of the 1970s, the quarter
of a million members of the National Union
of Mineworkers contained 15 members of
Militant Tendency, nine members of the
Socialist Workers Party, and five members
of the International Marxist Group. ‘There
were fewer Trotskyists in the most important of British trade unions than there
were among the staff at North London
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
A barricade of paving stones in the Latin Quarter of Paris, May 1968
By contrast, only 2 per cent of students
matriculating at Essex in 1968 described
themselves as Labour supporters rather
than ‘non-party extreme/moderate left’.
The occasional Maoist sociology student
who tried to reach out to the labouring
classes met with, it is fair to say, a ribald
or bemused reception. Perhaps the single
most effective limit on student protest was
the curious English habit that meant that
students lived on campus during term time,
and went home to mum and dad during
the vacation. A Sussex sociologist — not
always, despite the impression, the most
radical members of staff — observed that
‘the one redeeming feature of all the unrest
is that revolutions always go on holiday’.
Vinen very effectively reminds us that
1968 was not quite as ’68-ish as we have
come to assume. It also saw the election
of Richard Nixon, and some of the largest political marches of the year in the UK
were in support of Enoch Powell’s most
notorious speech. Best of all, he brings the
question of women’s rights and gay people
into the argument. ’68 is, if anything, a shift
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
from principle to personal inclination; as
the Paris slogan had it: ‘Structures do not
take to the streets.’
The significance of personal inclination, however, often seemed to depend on
whose personal inclination it was. Radical
students at Lanchester Polytechnic thought
nothing of shouting ‘Fascist pig! Get her
knickers off!’ at a visiting Mrs Thatcher in
1971. Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers proposed that rape could be an insurrectionary act. Although feminists were a
more significant part of the radical movement than they were of mainstream politics, they could not be guaranteed a warm
welcome. The same was true of gay liberation movements, just beginning, and probably hardly recognised by the majority of
heterosexual radicals.
By the 1990s, the soixante-huitards had
achieved the long march through the institutions; some were MEPs, like Daniel CohnBendit, British cabinet ministers, like Jack
Straw, or even the leader of the free world
like Bill Clinton. Vinen tells the story well
— where the borders of his subject lie must
have been a challenging question, and we
will disagree on his decision to leave the
Prague Spring out and include the IRA.
He is capable of some puckish humour,
including a wonderful photograph of Jack
Straw, the student radical, dancing in a
dinner jacket with the Duchess of Kent.
He also brings up the sociologist Laurie
Taylor’s idea that the bank robber John
McVicar, having escaped from prison,
might go into hiding with him and his radical housemates. ‘McVicar, no doubt feeling
that lentil bake and consciousness raising
would be worse than prison, sought refuge
with his criminal acquaintances.’
When Mrs Thatcher first heard of
Cohn-Bendit, she remarked, in a 1968
speech, that she had discovered that at the
end of his degree, ‘his examiners said that
he had posed a series of most intelligent
questions. Significant? I would have been
happier if he had also found a series of
intelligent answers.’ Those answers came
slowly, and are still coming.
To have found those questions — if they
were questions — was probably enough.
Clouds with silver linings
Mark Vanhoenacker
Skybound: A Journey in Flight
by Rebecca Loncraine
Picador, £16.99, pp. 320
Over the years I’ve been in touch with
a number of middle-aged professionals
who, despite the success they’ve found in
their chosen careers, have asked themselves
whether perhaps they should have become
pilots instead. Among these correspondents
(the fly-curious, we might call them), architects make up the largest contingent. It’s
hard to know why this might be. But in the
absence of a better explanation, I’ve come
to enjoy the idea that both pilots and architects have found inspiration in realms that,
despite popular associations with freedom,
are in fact unusually constrained: by simple or
not-so-simple physics by the corporeal realities of humans; by elaborate rules and strict
This ‘bonsai’ description of flight’s
wonder — of transcendence arising within an endeavour despite, or as a result of,
the extreme limitations imposed on it — is
also the best way to understand the pleasures of Rebecca Loncraine’s Skybound.
Indeed, she laboured under two additional
constraints. First, in choosing to write about
gliding, she threw overboard the engines
that have powered, and perhaps unfairly
dominated, generations of books about flying. Second, her discovery of gliding, and the
depths of her love for it, came in response to
her battle with cancer, which ended in September 2016, when she was 42. The result
of her efforts (and those of her mother,
Trisha Loncraine, who shepherded this
book to publication) is a particularly
lovely and poignant work, and a valuable
contribution to the literature of flight from
a brave young pilot who will sadly never
offer us another.
Among the book’s most obvious pleasures are the straightforward descriptions
of gliding itself, an activity that, at least on
the wings of Loncraine’s clean-lined prose,
compares to most people’s experience of
flight in much the same way as a beloved
old sailing boat a couple of friends might
take out on a fine Saturday afternoon compares with an enormous cruise liner.
Take, for example, the joyful vitality of
her description of thermal lift, one of several kinds of lift a glider may soar on, and
the kind that also produces fluffy cumulus clouds. A glider pilot, she writes, may
use ‘thermals as stepping stones to travel
across the sky, circling beneath one cloud,
on the rising thermal of air that is forming it, to gain altitude and then travelling forward to the next cloud, and so on’.
This pilot, for one, may never contemplate cumulus clouds again without smiling at the possibility of flying engineless
between the pillars of sun-warmed air that
raise them, as a frog might leap between
lily pads, but ever higher.
Indeed, the list of places, creatures and
phenomena I won’t think of in quite the
same way after reading Skybound isn’t
much shorter than the book itself. A good
portion of the text is a kind of open-hearted travel writing from above, as the author
sails over the Black Mountains of Wales,
where ‘a shadow passes briefly across
a bit of rough ground and then disappears
again, like a half-remembered moment’;
When your grandfather, my great grandfather, lay dying
the man he had worked for, years ago, sent a cartload of hay
to strew in the road under his window, to muffle the sound
of wheels going by. Everyone in the village must have seen
this time he’d had it. All that good hay just going to waste.
I bet the children were longing to go and play in it, the way
we always built houses and dens at haymaking. I bet
the dogs wanted to roll in it, the horses all wanted to stop
and snack. He must have heard the people outside, saying
– No, no, come ON, it’s not for playing – walk on, walk on –
raising dust in their voices. I don’t know the time of year
but he might have picked the first of Spring, like you, blue skies,
an open window letting in the sweet smell of last year’s grass,
the sounds of animals, and the kindly, frightened whispers.
—Sian Hughes
New Zealand, where the ‘Southern Alps
are like some giant unknowable body’;
and the Himalayas, where a ‘lake is a dark
silvery plain beneath us’. I’ve been to none
of these places, yet I now feel I know them,
or can at least imagine them, as I might the
faces of characters in a favourite novel.
In addition to these landscapes, and
their skies and their signature winds, we
come to know the community of gliding instructors and enthusiasts who welcomed Loncraine, and whom she embraced.
And then there are the birds. Both from
the ground and from high in her glider,
Loncraine meditates on feathered friends
of all stripes: swallows, buzzards, red kites,
hawks, eagles and, most memorably, vultures.
The role of birds in her book — as
teachers, companions and wisdombearing (it’s easy to think) representatives
of all that industrial civilisation has taken
from us — makes it hard to resist the conclusion that gliding might be the purest
form of flight that we can know. Without
an engine, after all, the glider pilot has no
choice but to seek a particularly close communion with the natural world. It’s a lovely point, and one that Loncraine returns
to often, as when she relates the words of
a gliding colleague who noted the possibility that vultures, which can spot rising air
from the dust and insects that are swept
upwards by it, may also use gliders — i.e.,
us, at our most free — as clues to the location of lift. What a pleasing thought that is.
One of the challenges of writing
a broadly appealing book about a subject such as gliding is that the author must
often craft technical explanations that are
simultaneously accessible, precise and
brief. A few professional brows may furrow in response to certain descriptions
or phrasings, for example about the relationship between a glider’s attitude and its
speed (‘I hold the stick in place to maintain speed, or “attitude” as it’s called’). But
no one will mistake this lyrical book for a
technical document.
Indeed, if Skybound is a manual for anything, it’s for how to find lift on the Earth
in the face of uncertainties and certainties
that are never far from any of us, but which
Loncraine was forced to confront at much
too early an age. I won’t soon forget her
meditations on fear and flight, on home
and family, on the scars she spied and circled on the Welsh landscape below her,
and on the quasi-medical paraphernalia,
such as an oxygen-supplying cannula, that
echoed her cancer treatments even as they
allowed her to fly ever higher. ‘Learning to
fly,’ she wrote, ‘is like asking the universe…
to let me go into the world to live and soar
with joy and the possibility of death.’ It
seems safe to conclude that the universe
agreed to Loncraine’s request, and that in
return it asked only that she leave us with
this remarkable book.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
ries. She has the art of weaving Velázquez’s
works — the eggs spitting in oil, the
Count-Duke of Olivares on horseback, the
tiny princess Margarita in her impossible
dress — through the developing relationship, even friendship, of Diego and Felipe.
We share with Velázquez the first flashes
of inspiration. A dwarf, resting his foot on
a snoozing hound: good motif, that. Must
remember it. And there they are, dog and
dwarf, in ‘Las Meninas’.
Felipe IV makes Jay Gatsby look a
mean cheese-on-sticks sort of host
P-p-p-poor Prince Charles (our future
Charles I) turns up, stuttering, and the
Habsburgs make jokes about his ‘boyfriend’ the Duke of Buckingham, who
wears pompoms on his stockings. Rubens
arrives — ‘the famous Fleming’— with
his entourage and flunkeys to paint pink,
naked ladies, ‘all abandon and inner thigh’.
Rubens claps Velázquez on the back and
stirs his ambition.
The blurb suggests this is a book for
readers of Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill.
Yes, they are both historical novels about
a young man of wits seeking his fortune.
But while Golden Hill races over the rooftops with the reader puffing to keep up,
Painter to the King is stately, like an infanta in a farthingale proceeding down a long
Alcazar corridor. Sackville’s summoning of
time and place is exquisitely done, but the
effect is less moving pictures than stylish
still lives.
The Spanish court’s fondness for dwarfs and dogs is captured by Velázquez
Tawdry lustre
Laura Freeman
Painter to the King
by Amy Sackville
Granta, £14.99, pp. 336
‘Nine hours,’ boasted my friend the curator about his trip to the Prado. Nine! Two
hours is my upper limit in a gallery. After
that I’m gasping for the tea room and gift
shop. Knowing my lack of stamina, my
own trip to the Prado was focused: just
Velázquez and Goya. Then lunch. And
a bit of Rubens, because that large room of
lovely bottoms is so ‘Hello, sailor!’ it would
be rude not to look.
It helps to have a mind’s gallery of
Diego Velázquez portraits while reading
Amy Sackville’s novel Painter to the King.
Not essential, but definitely enriching. If
you haven’t a Madrid mini-break booked,
have a nose around the Prado collection
online. Sadly, you can’t visit El Buon Retiro, Felipe IV’s pleasure palace outside the
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
city, now mostly ruined and demolished.
‘Dust veils everything,’ writes Sackville,
as workmen lay the foundations; ‘these
buildings coming out of it like dreams in
the desert.’ When the retreat is finished it
is all ‘gleam and lustre’, but also ‘tawdry’.
Here, Felipe (1606–1665) and his fawning
court hunt, play, eat, prance about in their
petticoats, giggle at their dwarfs and squander, squander, squander money meant for
the army. Felipe makes Jay Gatsby look
a mean, cheese-on-sticks sort of host.
‘This long and briefly passing sequinned
decade’ is how Sackville describes Felipe’s
party years.
Painter to the King is her third novel.
The first, The Still Point, won the John
Llewellyn Rhys Prize; the second, Orkney,
won a Somerset Maugham Award.
Madrid isn’t Orkney. The 17th-century city conjured up by Sackville is a place
of sex, siestas and sanctimonious piety,
a city quick to anger and riot. Sackville writes
beautifully, imagining the court in painterly
detail: its fashions, its stultifying formalities,
its hierarchies and petty, poisonous rival-
A heartwarming spectacle
of desolation
Graham Robb
The Dark Stuff: Stories
from the Peatlands
by Donald S. Murray
Bloomsbury, £16.99, pp. 256
In 2008, the Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie
characterised the typical exponent of modern nature writing as ‘the lone enraptured
male’. This was a more solemn, grownup Basil Fotherington-Thomas, the effete
schoolboy of the Molesworth books who
prances about in puerile pantheistic ecstasy, saying, ‘hullo clouds, hullo sky’. Ten
years on, there is barely a British landscape
that has not been visited by the species. He
sits in a car until he reaches the chosen spot.
Then, winding down the window, stunned
by emptiness and silence, he savours the
momentary disconnection from global networks. The void is soon filled with childhood memories, poems learnt at school
and Wikipedia articles. Wordsworthian
plangency is provided by climate change or
Eilean Donan Castle on Skye, with peat bog and marsh in the foreground
some ghastly development in the writer’s
life — sickness, bereavement, midlife crisis
or divorce — which leads him to consider
all of Nature as a gigantic emotional support animal.
Donald Murray’s spartan trudge
through peat bogs and moorland — mostly
Scottish but also Irish, Dutch, German and
Australian — has not a hint of Molesworth
nor even of Wordsworth. Murray grew up
on the almost ‘empty’ Isle of Lewis, cutting and stacking the oozing slabs of peat
with his father, digging down to the layer
of mòine dhubh (‘black peat’), ‘the one
closest to coal both in its shade and its
heat-giving properties’. With every year
that passed, the black tide receded, leaving an ever bleaker landscape of gravel
and rock. I was reminded of Ivor Cutler
family nature walks in Life in a Scotch
Sitting Room:
Then Father became instructive: ‘Look,
a tree’, he would say, or ‘Look, a patch of
But on Lewis, the woods were swallowed
long ago by the bog:
Sometimes there were the roots of the
old trees that had once covered the island
found within the peat there, burnished silver
by its oil.
One fifth of Scotland is peat moorland.
It grows, on average, one millimetre every
two years, but it can be destroyed within
a few generations or a few days, when the
burning of heather flares out of control
and whole regions suffer from the reek in
which the inhabitants of Highland blackhouses lived:
If there was a quick change in wind direction, a gust might send smoke swirling into
the kitchen, leaving everyone within range of
the Rayburn coughing and spluttering incoherently.
As a poet, journalist, teacher and Hebridean, Murray’s raptures are muted and he
has a genuine, respectful interest in other
people’s lives. Most of The Dark Stuff is
based on interviews and conversations with
Peat grows on average one
millimetre every two years, but it can
be destroyed in a matter of days
moor-dwellers and historians. Moor history tends to be either sad or horrific: some
of the bloodiest battles were fought on
moors; deserters and non-conformists fled
to them, prisons and lunatic asylums were
built on their barrenness. Peat-blades slice
into the skeletons of sheep and the mutilated bodies of prehistoric criminals. Misguided reclamation schemes condemned whole
communities to years of fruitless toil. Murray is reminded of Robert Garioch’s poem
‘Sisyphus’: ‘Sisyphus, pechan an sweitan,
disjakit, forfeuchan and broun’d aff,/ Sat
on the heather… houpan the Boss didna
spy him.’
These bracingly dismal examples of
moorland poetry are one of the delights of
this lyrical ramble. A metropolitan reader might find them infectiously depressing, but Murray relishes the heartwarming
spectacle of desolation. On a sunny day
in the fens of Emsland in Lower Saxony,
he longs ‘for rain, a lash or two of wind’.
He marches along, ‘recalling the rhythm
and words of an old song’: ‘Far and wide
as the eye can wander,/ Heath and bog are
everywhere./ Not a bird sings out to cheer
us./ Oaks are standing gaunt and bare.’
The original song, ‘Die Moorsoldaten’,
was sung by German prisoners in concentration camps in the 1930s. They were
sent to reclaim the nation’s peat bogs for
agriculture. Only here, near the end of the
book, does the theme of conservation rise
to the surface. ‘Succumbing,’ says Murray,
to the Romantic nostalgia for moorland,
Adolf Hitler issued an edict in 1941 which
called for a halt to the process of ‘desertification’. Murray, too, is ‘tempted’ to ‘preach
the gospel of peat conservation’, but he is
also sympathetic to islanders who resent
official interference with their peat-cutting
traditions, knowing all the while that, one
day, the peat will run out, as it already has
on the Aran Islands, St Kilda and Tiree.
The peat-cutters may not need to worry.
In Scotland, irreplaceable resources are
constantly under threat from off-road
vehicles, mismanaged grouse shoots, wind
farms which will have to remain productive for hundreds of years to counterbalance the damage they cause to moorland
and, of course, roads and parking places for
all those lone enraptured males.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Robert Pope, dies unexpectedly, Holmes is
appointed literary executor. But the discovery of a cache of hitherto unknown, sexually
explicit poems casts doubt on what Holmes
thought he knew about his friend, his life
in the suburbs, his work and his relationships, particularly those with his wife Jill
and with Matt himself. What should happen
to the poems? Should they be suppressed?
Or should Matt publish and, like Patrick
Hemingway, be damned?
The extent to which we can ever really
know other people — and ourselves — is of
course a subject Morrison has written about
before, most famously in And When Did
You Last See Your Father? In The Execu-
How much should details of an
artist’s private life inform our
judgment of their art?
The executor’s song
Andy Miller
The Executor
by Blake Morrison
Chatto, £16.99, pp. 291
In 1999, Patrick Hemingway published True
at First Light, a new novel by his father
Ernest. In his role as literary executor of
the late writer’s estate, Patrick edited an
unfinished manuscript of some 200,000
words down to a more marketable ‘fictional memoir’ of less than half that length. The
book hit the bestseller lists but received
largely negative reviews, most notably
from Joan Didion in the New Yorker. ‘This
was a man to whom words mattered,’ she
wrote. ‘His wish to be survived by only
the words he determined fit for publication would have seemed clear enough.’ To
which the man charged with safeguarding
Papa’s posthumous reputation responded,
somewhat plaintively:
I think it’s a very valid argument. The only
trouble is my father did leave the material;
he didn’t destroy it. Perhaps he didn’t intend
to have it published, but when people are
dead it’s hard to know what they want.
The setting of Blake Morrison’s new
novel is that zone of uncertainty: how can
we know what dead people want? Matt
Holmes is the deputy editor of the books
section of a broadsheet newspaper. When
his friend, the moderately successful poet
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
tor he asks not just how much one can know
a writer via their work but also, topically, how
much we should allow details of an artist’s
private life to inform our judgment of their
art. Morrison lets the reader be present at the
discovery of several different drafts of Pope’s
love/lust poems and to accompany Matt as
he attempts to understand them, frame them
and, in collaboration with Pope’s widow
Jill, his agent Louis and editor Lexy, prepare them for publication. At the end of the
novel we are given this posthumous selection
Love’s Alphabet in full — as the agent puts it:
The book. As edited by Lexy. She gets a collection she can be proud of, Jill’s appeased, and
we do our bit by Rob… if the response is good
we’ll do an expanded version in a year or two.
Morrison is of course a gifted poet with
a career somewhat more glittering than the
fictional dead poet he ventriloquises here.
Pleasingly, this means that for the purposes
of this novel he has composed good poetry,
mediocre poetry and, occasionally, plain bad
poetry too, inviting the reader’s complicity in
the editorial process of what to discard:
I can’t help loving your friends. Sally, Brigitte,
Daphne, Cindy — not all at once. But each has
been to bed
With me. If you knew, you’d call me
But would you want me to sleep with someone
you hate?
(For what it’s worth, that one doesn’t make
the cut.)
The Executor is a literary detective
story with a decidedly literary twist and
a depiction of the sort of competitive male
friendship where the demise of one chum
serves only to ramp things up a notch. To
be appointed literary executor is to be the
recipient of a questionable bequest, one
involving thankless labour, intense rivalry
and inevitable compromise — which may
be, Morrison suggests, exactly what the
dead want all along.
Babes in the wood
Julie Myerson
The Trick to Time
by Kit de Waal
Viking, £12.99, pp. 262
Mona — single, childless, pushing 60 — sells
wooden dolls made by a carpenter friend,
which she delicately costumes from odds
and ends of fabric sourced in charity shops.
But her business has an odd spin-off: mothers who’ve suffered past stillbirths can come
and ‘order’ a lump of carved wood made
to the specified birthweight of their dead
child. By cradling this weight and imagining
the future the baby never had, they work
towards a kind of closure. Meanwhile, Mona
herself — who grew up in Ireland but lived
in Birmingham through the IRA bombings
— has a tragedy of her own on which she
has little or no closure.
Far too few novels feature protagonists
who are post-menopausal — and, much
to her creator’s credit, Mona hopes and
yearns and plans like any thirtysomething.
So, despite the fact that alarm bells tend to
ring whenever I read about grown women
and dolls (only one sad step from soft toys
on the bed), I still began Kit de Waal’s second novel and follow-up to her deservedly
bestselling My Name is Leon, with hope in
my heart. Sadly, it was soon dashed. Almost
every aspect of this well-meaning novel is
pedestrian and unconvincing, from the sinisterly cultured ‘gentleman’ neighbour, who
courts Mona with quips such as ‘sometimes
one must act on impulse’ and ‘marrying food
with wine is an art’, through to the cluttered
monotone of Irish aunts and neighbours,
whose only function is to trigger each stage
of the flashback-heavy narrative.
Bafflingly for a writer whose debut was
so acclaimed, de Waal doesn’t seem to have
learned the first rule of novel writing: you
don’t need to include all that repartee with
hairdressers and hotel receptionists. In fact,
more than anything, this novel is crying
out for a bit of the pace, shape and attitude
that comes from being less in thrall to your
own inventiveness and more willing simply
to edit.
It’s a shame, not to say a missed opportunity, because there are potent themes to
explore here. I have no idea whether parents really do use shaped wood to grieve
stillbirths, but it’s a compelling image and
one I was willing to go along with. But these
moments aren’t quite well enough realised
to incite empathy. Meanwhile, in Mona’s
own story, plot twists are slyly withheld, and
one’s deliberately encouraged to jump to the
wrong conclusion.
That’s the second rule I’d have expected
de Waal to have learned: you need to leave
your reader feeling moved, not with an
uneasy sense of being cheated.
Hooked for life
Nicholas Shakespeare
The Old Man and the Sand Eel
by Will Millard
Viking, £14.99, pp. 322
In Havana, one week before President
Obama unthawed half a century of cold
relations with Cuba, I talked to the last
fisherman to have known Ernest Hemingway. Oswald Carnero came from Cojimar — where the writer kept his boat,
the Pilar — and was one of the villagers to whom Hemingway dedicated his
Nobel Prize after publishing The Old Man
and the Sea. Carnero had met him in 1950, aged
13.‘He was bringing in a big marlin on his boat.
He asked me if I could skin the fish.’
Thereafter Carnero sold Hemingway turtle flesh for soup and ran errands, scurrying
back to the Pilar with bottles of White Horse,
and going up to his house, the Finca Vigía.
(‘Put your feet in the water,’ Hemingway told
him, motioning at the pool, ‘Ava Gardener
has just swum naked here.’)
Hemingway pumped Carnero for details
of the Gulf Stream to incorporate in the film
of The Old Man and the Sea, about an ageing Cuban fisherman who hooks a giant marlin. ‘I was in the movie. I had to row out in
a boat and fish.’ Now aged 79, Carnero was
banned even from stepping into a boat without a licence, in case he sailed 90 miles north
to Miami — which, from the expression in his
landlocked eyes, he felt a powerful tug to do.
Will Millard is a BBC documentary maker
from the Fens who, like Carnero, has fished
all his life. He takes the central drama behind
Hemingway’s last novel as the motivation
to continue the story from where Papa left
off, but from the perspective of an English
fresh-water angler. His giant marlin is a small
sand-eel in Dorset which he hooks and then
loses. In the competitive world of sand-eels,
this little lost fish — ‘knocking on the door
of one pound’ — was ‘an absolute monster’,
and would instantly have gained for Millard
a new British fishing record. ‘There are few
sensations in life that can match the angler’s
immeasurable sense of loss when a big fish
slips from their grasp.’
His failure inspires him to go out and find
‘the native, truly wild populations’ of our
island’s fish — e.g. perch, carp, pike, eel —
and sets Millard on a redemptive towpath
that sees him discovering the hidden waterways of Britain. By selecting the most unlikely and, at first glance, most unpropitious beats,
he picks up material for a book as delightful and informative as Morten Strøksnes’s
Shark Drunk, which tracked that Norwegian
journalist’s attempt to catch a Greenland
shark. The Old Man and The Sand Eel will be
enjoyed by anyone who loves the challenge
and mystery of baiting a hook and plopping it
into the water, then waiting with every atom
of your concentration to feel a responsive
handshake from the deep. ‘Fishing by its very
nature is prying into a largely unseen world
and trying to make a connection.’
Millard is a cheerful version of Cormac
McCarthy’s solitary adolescent hero Suttree. His quest takes him to ‘spots where
most wouldn’t think to cast a line: tangled
underworlds, crumbling docks and urban rivers, the dwellings of the truly abandoned’.
Here, in the hardest places to catch them,
among submerged tyres and supermarket
trolleys, live the best fish. Behind a Watford Gap service station, an 8lb eel. On the
Grand Union Canal near Leicester, a recordbreaking tench. From a Cardiff canal, Millard
draws a spawn-filled female pike like ‘a precious sword from the stone’. His Arthurian
moment is reverently observed from under
the bridge by a spliff-smoking boy: ‘I’ve seen
some crazy shit down here but I ain’t never
seen anything like that.’
No split-cane toff, Millard has little truck
with the snobbery he sees exemplified by
dainty rodmen like Jeremy Paxman for
whom fly-fishing embodies ‘some Platonic ideal’ — when all you’re trying to do is
‘convince a fish that a piece of fluff is worth
having’. He writes: ‘If I were allowed to fish
using only one method for the rest of my life
then the float would be it.’ About his piece
of fluff, he’s not choosy, once spending an
afternoon fishing with a Pot Noodle. He
recommends chicken offal for eels, maggots
We could barely look at each other,
Barely acknowledge the embrace,
Clinging to each other, almost cringing,
Sometimes managing to hold conversation,
Despite undertones of embarrassment;
But once apart we were at it like rabbits,
A Molotov of the romantic and the sexual
Ignited our virtual union in the lone world.
— Jane Solomon
for roach, roaches’ eyeballs for perch —
although drawing the line at live ducklings
for pike, as favoured by one Welsh fisherman he encountered. In the end, the bait
matters less than the attitude of the baiter.
A fellow fishing author reminds him: ‘The
only unsuccessful fisherman is the one who
is not enjoying what he’s doing.’
As with all good fishing books, Millard’s
quest ‘to find Britain’s lost waterways’
becomes an excuse to trawl back over his
life. The local doctor’s son, he grew up near
Ely (named after the eel), ‘where people go
mad because of the lack of hills’.
He found his sanity, aged five, in floatfishing for roach. His own Papa Hemingway was his grandfather, ‘the greatest of all
the great eels in my life’, an engineer on the
Thames Barrier who had fished during the
‘Put your feet in the water,’ said
Hemingway, pointing to the pool. ‘Ava
Gardner has just swum naked here’
Blitz and who taught him the three secrets
of angling: ‘Repetition and consistency’,
plus ‘any good grandparent’. Their relationship is beautifully drawn, so that Millard’s
prose can seem at times trapped in the formaldehyde of adolescence, and perhaps
not fearful (enough) of hyperbole — the
death’s head moth is ‘the coolest insect that
ever lived’; a small shrew sniffing the air is
‘my most exciting discovery of all time’.
But his exuberant lightness is deceptive, too. Taught by a master, he knows his
stuff. He learns to blend in with his surrounds until, whiskers aquiver, he becomes
a part of them, sensible to the shortening
days, alert to the sounds of animals emerging from their burrows at night — or, tragically, no longer emerging. The pool frog,
the orache moth, the slimy burbot, the
water vole — his book is also a passionate
quest for what he discovers we are about
to lose: one in ten of the UK’s wildlife species is threatened with extinction. One
in five of our birds is now on the protected list, but the statistics are direr for fish.
By 2010 the Environment Agency had
recorded a catastrophic 95 per cent decline
in the eel population.
Millard brings his discoveries and wisdom, like a catch, back from the towpath.
It makes him notice and enjoy life around
him, and return to the water refreshed. In
his water-based religion, each cast is a secret
prayer. Sometimes the exciting pressure at
the other end is a sodden suit jacket; sometimes, it’s another huge monster that gets
away; sometimes it’s a large carp that he
‘flukes out’ with no waiting or effort; and
sometimes there’s no pressure — teaching
Millard that it actually doesn’t matter if you
don’t catch anything at all, and that losing is
‘an acceptable part of what it means to be a
true fisherman, and a better person’.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Migrating cranes in Vasterbotten, Sweden
The incredible journey
Oliver Balch
The Long Spring: Tracking the
Arrival of Spring Through Europe
by Laurence Rose
Bloomsbury, £14.99, pp. 272
Sweet lovers, Shakespeare reminds us, love
the spring. How can they not? All that
wonderfully wanton colour, all that sensual fragrancy, all those budding promises
of new life. And, lest we forget, all those
yummy insects.
For birds adore spring as well. Every
year, regular as clockwork, hundreds of
millions of our feathered friends take flight
and head north. To hear their happy birdsong is to know that winter’s lugubrious
cloak has lifted and that longer, livelier
days lie ahead.
No species is more symbolic of the season than the swallow. Before the age of
smartphones and calendar apps, we relied
on these fork-tailed speedsters to inform us
of spring’s arrival. People would stare from
their kitchen windows in anticipation. Laurence Rose, a true birder’s birder, still does.
For these harbingers of spring to reach
our shores is no mean feat. The winter feeding grounds of British swallows lie far south
of the Sahara. That means their six-inch,
steel-blue wings have to carry them over
most of Africa, across the Mediterranean
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
and mainland Europe, until at last, in one
final frenzy of flapping, they cross the English Channel.
The Long Spring picks up the story
from Africa’s north coast. What follows is
a bird-hut-hopping journey of epic proportions. Rose travels up through Spain and
France, and then home to the UK (he is an
RSPB staffer, based in Yorkshire), before
heading on northwards, to Sweden, Finland
and Norway.
For a hungry migratory bird, the journey
might take a week. Rose gives it four months.
With no nest to build or mate to find, he has
time to dawdle. Only dawdling isn’t really
his thing. He is forever on the move: jumping
on buses, cycling down back-roads, ferrying
across fjords, hiking up hills, walking coastal paths, sleeping in forests. As birders go, he
exhibits remarkable energy.
More remarkable still, however, is the
breadth and depth of his ornithological
knowledge. Rose knows his birds. I mean,
really knows his birds. And not just swallows. Anything with a beak and two wings
does it for him. Jackdaws, peregrines,
shags, bustards, woodchats, harriers, eagles,
tits, storks, cranes (a particular favourite), whooper swans, godwits. You name
it, he’s onto it. Binoculars and notebook
always at the ready, he misses little and
notices much.
As a detailed primer to the world above
our heads, The Long Spring makes for an
inspiring, eye-opening read. It’s so busy
up there, so teeming with life. And Rose
is as affable and informed a guide as you
could hope for. If you ever needed someone to explain the territorial spread of
egrets or the sexual politics of male ruff
sandpipers, then he’s your man. Nor is it
just botanical information that fascinates
him. Dotted throughout this revelatory,
sky-fixed travelogue are cultural references to birds in folk tales and fables, poetry
and song.
While Rose generally wears his expertise lightly, he does occasionally stray into
twitcher territory. For the average reader,
details about the precise frequency of a
bittern’s bellow (around 200 hertz) or the
springtime changes to a cuckoo’s call (from
major third to sharp minor third) feel like
more information than may be necessary.
Some of the etymological passages begin
to weigh heavy too. Keen birders, however,
will lap this up.
In many ways, The Long Spring is an oldstyle nature book. For one, Rose does not
impose himself on his subject, as so many
contemporary nature writers do. Birds
are not a fig-leaf for his own story. We get
glimpses of the author, certainly; his conservation work for the RSPB; his encounters with fellow birders and his views on
hunting (evil, malo, mauvais). But this is a
man who spent his honeymoon guiding a
coachload of birdwatchers. In short, birds
are what makes Rose tick, not Rose.
Nor does he fall into the new nature
writing’s other trap of fetishising the natural world. Rose may be all about the birds,
but he is not ignorant of their context. This
is not lyrical escapism. His is a real-world
journey, through a city-strewn Europe,
where industrial plants impinge on bird
reserves and gamekeepers poison eagles.
So, yes, he shares his joy at hearing the
‘castanet-clattering’ of nesting storks.
But, no, he doesn’t hide his horror at having to visit a nature reserve to see lapwings — something that ‘would never have
occurred’ to him growing up in 1960s Kent.
Where The Long Spring does seek
to mirror modern trends is in the genre’s
reputation for controlled, exquisite prose.
Here, the bar is frighteningly high. To his
credit, Rose gives it a good shot, resulting in
some lovely purple passages and colourful
descriptors: the ‘velvet-jet’ kites, the ‘loutish’ spotted cuckoos, the angular ibises that
‘look like an alphabet’. But the pressure
constantly to enliven and enrich strains the
language. His pen, one feels, is struggling
against a southerly headwind.
Scooby Doo,
where are you?
Julie Burchill
Not in Front of the Children:
Hidden Histories in Kids’ TV
by Greg Healey
New Haven Publishing, £12.99, pp. 256
There are two sorts of people: those who
can’t wait to grow up, and those who wish
they never had to. It’s fair to say that women
figure predominantly in the first group and
men in the second, hence the preponderance of male fans of science fiction and fantasy — and dewy-eyed reminiscence about
children’s television. I’ve been in many
female friendship groups and can’t remember a single occasion on which we’ve sat
around thinking about past puppets. On
the contrary, the childish things we typically
recall are our awful choices of make-up and
clothes, and our adoration of the pretty-boy
pin-ups in our teenage bedrooms: that is,
the things we used to hasten the arrival of
longed-for adult life.
The internet helps those reluctant to
put away childish things just as much as it
helps those too shy to have sex with real
people. I imagine the Venn diagram of the
two types has an overlap the size of Alaska. And it can be no accident that one of
the first internet sensations was Friends
Reunited, where adults, weary of the drudging, workaday world and their grudging
grown-up marriages, could seek out their
playground loves and feel young again.
There is no end to the online appetite
for sweetness of all sorts; websites celebrat36
What has gone into this? You hardly know
At the beginning what you’ve locked inside
The wobbly frame or where the thing will go.
It could run off still – might prefer to hide –
You don’t know if there’s something there or not.
All you can do is keep on building it
A sort of home, with shrubs, a garden plot,
A shed for secrets and a well of wit.
You make a bed, a chair, put in some books,
A telescope, with access to the stars,
And then perhaps you spot it as it looks
Out of this habitat of fourteen bars.
One look’s enough sometimes: the spirit dies
On meeting even the maker’s gentle eyes.
—Alistair Elliot
ing nostalgic confectionery flourish, leading to the paradox that middle-class parents
communally fetishise the sweets they ate as
schoolchildren while treating the confectionery their little darlings might get their clammy paws on as the work of the devil. There’s
even a school of writing named after defunct
candy; the coming-of-age novel The Queen
of Bloody Everything was recently hailed as
‘a wonderful example of Spangles Lit’.
Greg Healey writes a column for the
gorgeously named Shindig! magazine on
this very subject and — perhaps because
of the exclamation mark — I was expecting
Not in Front of the Children to be a rompish easy read. But this look at children’s
television animations from the end of the
1950s to the early 1970s is social history of
Parents fetishise the sweets they
ate as children but treat today’s
confectionery as the work of the devil
great depth and erudition; Healey is not
messing around when he titles chapters
‘Mr Benn and the Five Stages of Grief’,
‘Mary Mungo and Midge and the New
Jerusalem’ and ‘Scooby Doo and Our
American Monsters’.
Who knew, for instance, that the
bowler hat and pinstripe combo of the
stereotypical City clerk started life, respectively, as protective headgear for workingclass men in high-risk occupations, and as
a way of identifying convicts? Or that the
1954 committee of the Wolfenden Report
on sexual offences was asked to refer to
homosexuality and prostitution as Huntley
and Palmers (after the biscuit manufacturers) in order to spare the feelings of ladies
present? Healey is a lovely writer, playful
and original: the animated Mr Benn, minus
the briefcase and umbrella of the books, he
says, looks ‘oddly naked, incomplete and
maybe even a little flighty’.
Should we be worried that people now
find maturity increasingly difficult? Has it
something to do with nuclear weapons and
knowing we’ll never again have to get out
ourselves and defend the realm? Well, the
‘kidult’ has been with us for more than a
decade, and though women may complain
about male ‘commitmentphobes’ (aka
someone who’s waiting for someone he’s
really keen on before he gets married), there
seem, if anything, to be rather too many
children around in the West — especially
in restaurants.
But there is always the spectre of half
a million young Japanese men — hikikomori — who have entirely forsaken adult
life for the solitary pleasures of online gaming and pornography. They are an important
component in what the Japanese government calls ‘celibacy syndrome’, an imminent national catastrophe which has seen
nearly half of their young women as well as
more than a quarter of their young men ‘not
interested in, or despising, sexual contact’.
The Japanese Family Planning Association
predicts a whopping one third plunge in the
country’s population by 2060. Feminism —
often blamed for the rise of the kidult — is
hardly a big thing in Japan; but the nuclear
bomb certainly was.
So, given such extremes in Japan, perhaps we should be keeping a weather eye on
our own ‘adultescents’. It’s mind-blowing to
think that a fondness for Dogtanian and the
Three Muskehounds could lead a species to
the brink of extinction. But stranger things
happen at sea — especially if Captain Pugwash is in charge.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Jacques Lacan: shrink from hell or the greatest psychoanalyst since Freud?
The great seducer
Stuart Jeffries
Life with Lacan
by Catherine Millot
Polity, £16.99, pp. 128
Peyrot, the chef at Le Vivarois in Paris, had
a fascinating theory of how one of his regulars, the otherwise taciturn psychoanalyst
Jacques Lacan, communicated. ‘He was convinced that the farts and burps which Lacan,
as a free man, did not restrain in public, were
meant to signal to Peyrot the two syllables of
his name,’ recalls Catherine Millot. A translator’s footnote helpfully explains that in
French pet means fart and rot burp.
I love this story as told in this beguiling
memoir by Lacan’s last lover — and not
just because it evokes a time when deference to Gallic intellectuals was such
that even their airy nothings were submitted to bravura semiotic analysis. No,
I love the story most for the light it throws
on the man who some maintain to be
the greatest psychoanalytical theorist
since Freud but who others have called
the shrink from hell. Public farter and
unashamed burper, terrifying (to his passengers) flouter of speed limits, shrink who
had affairs with patients and ex-wives of
close friends, Lacan liked to remind people
that his star sign was Aries, the ram.
Millot writes that her ram endlessly
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
butted up against what he called the ‘real’,
namely that which resisted his desire. That
no doubt explains why he was arrested once
for barrelling down the hard shoulder of an
otherwise congested autoroute after hitherto stationary and angry French motorists
swerved into his path to impede his progress.
Even though French road users hated
him, Lacan was, to Millot, captivatingly lawless, someone who ‘paid no attention to prohibitions or conventions’. ‘He didn’t like
Torn between Millot and another
lover, Lacan invited both women to
join him in a ménage in Umbria
closed doors any more than he liked red
traffic lights,’ she adds approvingly. Well,
nobody does, but only a few people — Lacan,
sociopaths — don’t respect them.
Millot was being analysed by Lacan in
1972 when she became his lover. He was
70 and she, at 28, younger than his eldest
daughter Caroline. Is it unethical, or at least
destructive to a therapeutic relationship, for
a shrink to seduce his patient? Wasn’t Millot foolish to be captivated by an inveterate philanderer? Is farting in public one of
the human rights the French fought for in
1789 or just the hallmark of a very selfish
Millot doesn’t address these questions
head on, but instead disarmingly describes
her sense of the headiness of their affair.
‘We became, so to speak, inseparable,’ she
writes, and then immediately checks herself:
‘There was a “he”, Lacan, and there was an
“I”, myself, who followed him: this did not
make a “we”.’ It’s a remark that calls out for
a hashtag of solidarity, a #MeToo of women
not always entirely unhappily caught up in
the slipstreams of great men. Lacan was,
Millot writes, what the French call fusionnel — someone who constantly demanded
a presence at his side. There is an English
word for that kind of guy, too: nightmare.
No matter. Millot fell for Lacan because
of his ‘straightforward desire that gave him
his zest for life and simplified everything’.
Early on in their affair, he takes her to
Rome, deploying his lawless personality to
force his way into closed galleries and convents, vexing gatekeepers and sweet-talking
nuns in order to show his new lover art and
As a fart-concealing, probably thereby deeply repressed, Englishman, I read
such passages yearning to be as forcefully
antinomian as Lacan and, indeed, wondering how many ex-lovers would be eulogising
me in memoirs had I succeeded. ‘All the vanities were consumed in his disdain for everything except the essential,’ Millot writes. ‘Life
with him was like a great bonfire, where all
false values were burnt away.’ I couldn’t help
reading such passages aloud in the sultry
voice that another appealing Catherine —
Deneuve — brought to her lubricious duet,
‘Dieu est un fumeur de Havanes’, with randy
old Serge Gainsbourg, though that’s probably unfair of me.
In any case, Lacan’s desire did not always
simplify everything. In the summer of 1973,
he was torn between Millot and another lover, called only ‘T’, so he invited both
women to join him in a ménage in Umbria.
The women declined to take part in this love
triangle. ‘It would have taken a strong degree
of liking for me to overcome that jealousy
whose agonies I knew all too well,’ explains
Millot sensibly.
But she insists that Lacan was more than
a desiring machine, implacably bent on getting what he wanted. In Budapest, she lusts
after a pair of high heels worn by a passerby. Lacan immediately scampers after the
woman to find out where she bought them.
Moral? ‘Putting himself at the service of the
desire of the other was part of the ethics of
Lacan. For him there were no small desires,
the least wish was enough.’
Millot’s elegantly written little volume,
winner of the Prix de littérature André-Gide,
serves as refreshing antidote to those who
pigeonhole Lacan as writer of gibberish and
irresponsible id, one who indulged his whims
to such an extent that he would see his tailor,
his pedicurist and his barber in the consulting room during therapy sessions at which he
might punch or pull the hair of a patient.
In his textbook on psychoanalysis The
Analytic Experience, for instance, Neville
Symington refers only once to Lacan, and
then only as a case study of the shrink as
unwitting hypocrite. Lacan was violently
anti-authoritarian and ‘yet when he was in
authority over his own society he was enormously authoritarian, seemingly without
knowing it’. Indeed, his authoritarian machinations as leader of the L’Ecole Freudienne
de Paris figure in Millot’s reminiscences, but
glossed as triumphs of his will over humbler beings with, you’d think, less auspicious
star signs.
Millot decided to write this book when
she was the same age as Lacan was when
they became lovers, and so she has had time
to reflect on her life with the psychoanalyst,
who died 37 years ago. Like Edith Piaf, she
regrets nothing. Well, not quite. Once, on
a trip to London, Lacan, spotting a picture
of the Queen, told Millot that she resembled
her — quite a disappointment for someone
who hoped she looked like Brigitte Bardot.
It’s hard not to find Millot endearing, particularly when she tells such stories against
herself. On another occasion, a lover whom
she replaces tells Lacan snarkily that in
his new girl he has clearly found ‘the missing link between human and ape’. Millot,
superbly, takes the jibe on the chin. ‘I have
long arms and a somewhat protruding jaw,’
she concedes.
What did Lacan see in Catherine Millot, apart from a resemblance to apes and
queens? He tells her that he has always
gone for 30 year olds. The implication is
that, for all his philandering, he remained
loyally fixated on one woman — albeit
the ideal of a thirtysomething — eternally
feminine, whose real instances (such as his
first lover, whom he met aged 17, and his
last, whom he seduced half a century later)
serially captivated him as he aged.
The book has hilarious moments. In
1976, Millot and Lacan visit the ageing
philosopher and former Nazi Martin Heidegger, who has suffered a stroke. His wife
insists the visitors don slippers as they
enter. Once settled, Lacan launches into a
long disquisition on the Borromean knots
that, as Millot explains, became such an
important feature of his thought. He even
produces a piece of paper to sketch his
knots, while Heidegger, lying on a chaise
longue, like an analysand driven to desperate measures by his babbling shrink,
closes his eyes and says not a word. ‘I
wondered if this was his way of expressing his lack of interest or whether it was
due to the decline of his mental faculties,’
muses Millot.
Either way, Lacan (‘not a man to give
up’) obstinately carries on wittering about
knots until Frau Heidegger, concerned the
visit is tiring her husband, ushers them out,
not before reclaiming the slippers. Such
was the meeting of two great European
intellectuals. We will never know, presumably, if Heidegger’s silence implied rejection
of late Lacanian psychoanalytical theory,
but it is possible.
Critics have long suggested that Lacan
was a corrupt manipulator, one who in his
later years reduced the duration of therapeutic sessions to ten minutes or fewer so
that he could maximise the throughput of
patients and thereby profit more (he died
in 1981, they never fail to point out, a multimillionaire). Millot’s denouement undermines that cynical image. It was through
his work in the consulting room with the
woman he loved that, ultimately, Lacan got
what he didn’t want, an end to their affair.
In analysis, she realised that her great
desire was to have a child. ‘In the name of
this desire, I cruelly separated from him,
so as to have a chance of fulfilling it. It was
a wrench for me, and an earthquake for
him.’ The ram, so used to getting his way,
for once could not overcome the real.
While he was apparently heartbroken
until death, she flourished, becoming both
a mother and an eminent Lacanian psychoanalyst. And now she brings into being, like
Proust, a past that seemed forever inaccessible: ‘While writing I have rediscovered
many bygone days and in sudden flashes of
insight, the entirety of his being has been
restored to me.’ Minus, one supposes, the
farts and burps.
An act of piety
Brian Martin
by Jesse Ball
Granta, £14.99, pp. 241
Census is a curious, clever novel. It depicts
a dystopia with a father and his Down’s syndrome son journeying from town A to town
Z taking a census. The father, the narrator,
knows he is dying. As a retired doctor he
can interpret the fatal signs of his disease.
His is a bizarre family; his wife, who has predeceased him, trained as a clown. Condemned to death and left with his disadvantaged son — ‘Our lives, my wife’s and mine,
bent round him like a shield’ — he decides
to register as a census-taker in an Orwellian state office. He asks questions of those
interviewed, to which he sometimes but not
always gets an answer
The novel becomes a parable, or rather
a series of parables, complete with riddles.
It explores the nature of the Down’s syndrome son and has its origins in the reallife relationship of Jesse Ball with his dead
younger brother Abram, whose photographs appear at the end of the book. How
does such a person survive? The answer
is: some with difficulty, some with happiness. How do other people react to them?
Again the answer is variable: some with
love, some with fear and ridicule. ‘It is so
easy for humans to be cruel, and they leap
at it.’ Such is the lot of the Down’s syndrome person.
Ball’s style is spare and simple. It is literal and can be repetitive. He says his novels
are purely repositories of thoughts. They are
devoid of adjectives. Maybe the intention is
to mimic a Down’s syndrome way of talking, direct and without device. Sometimes,
though, the style becomes annoying. Yet the
progress towards the narrator’s death in a
ditch at Z is full of random but pertinent
philosophising: ‘I was in a hurry. I was dying;
is there any hurry greater than that?’
One of Ball’s influences is the Japanese avant-garde writer, Kobo Abe. Scenes
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
A beautiful enigma
Elizabeth Frood
Nefertiti’s Face: Creation of an Icon
by Joyce Tyldesley
Profile Books, £20, pp. 240
Often dubbed the Mona Lisa of the ancient
world, the bust of the Egyptian queen
Nefertiti is as immediately recognisable as
the pyramids and the Rosetta Stone. Yet
almost everything about this sculpture is
mysterious at best, or bitterly controversial
at worst, from the context of its creation to
questions surrounding its acquisition by the
Berlin Museum. The cultural and political
capital of ancient culture is sharply in our
awareness — think of the Elgin marbles or
Palmyra — so writing a biography of Nefertiti’s bust requires the author to navigate
hotly competing opinions.
Nefertiti was queen and consort to
Akhenaten, a pharaoh who held power
between about 1352 and 1336 BC; Egyptologists call this the ‘Amarna period’ after
the new city he founded at Tell el-Amarna.
By his fifth year, Akhenaten had promulgated a new religion focused around light.
His god, called Aten, was depicted as a sun
disc offering life to the king, Nefertiti, their
daughters, and through them, to the world.
The multitude of traditional Egyptian deities in their animal forms disappeared from
official worship, and some were violently
suppressed. This affected almost all areas of
high culture — art, language and the performance of rulership, including queenship.
It was an extreme transformation, and
the period incites extreme views in scholarship. Akhenaten has been understood as
everything from a scheming megalomaniac
to a divinely inspired prophet — even an
alien. He and Nefertiti loom so large in our
imaginations that we often lose sight of everything else, despite the results of excavations at Tell el-Amarna which reveal much
about ordinary life and death in the city.
‘The myths that today envelop the Amarna
royal family are,’ Joyce Tyldesley observes,
‘entirely modern ones.’
Nefertiti’s enigmatic bust sits front and
centre in this heady mix. Tyldesley negotiates these myths, and the complex, fragmentary evidence that they are drawn from, in
a forthright style. She will ruffle feathers in
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
ed the bust (although Tyldesley
goes on to assume that he did),
nor do we know why it was made,
what its purpose was, or why she
has just one eye. We can’t even
be certain that the bust actually
depicts Nefertiti: it’s so identified purely because of her flattopped crown. Tyldesley doesn’t
offer solutions, but she lays out
the arguments for us to make
up our own minds, or at least to
make us think twice.
Nefertiti’s afterlife in the 20th
and 21st centuries is a complicated story of Egyptological competition, competing nationalisms,
and the power of celebrity. The
bust was found by a German
Egyptologist, Ludwig Borchardt,
in 1912. At this time objects of
particular importance found in
excavations were meant to stay
in Egypt. Borchardt clearly recognised Nefertiti’s significance,
but it is unclear whether he deliberately concealed this from the
French official responsible for
assessing the objects, or whether
this official simply did not rate
the bust. Should Nefertiti be
returned to Egypt? ‘Nefertiti’s
bust was not … obviously stolen,’ Tyldesley writes, but admits:
Bust of Nefertiti: ‘the Mona Lisa of the ancient world’
‘Its acquisition was opportunistic
to say the least.’ The moral and
cultural arguments are complex,
doing so, declaring, for example, ‘Akhen- but Tyldesley gives so much of a hearing to
aten was not a monotheist’, and disputing the Eurocentric idea that returning the bust
the notion that Nefertiti took the throne to Egypt would place it ‘in a sterile culturafter his death. I completely agree, but al vacuum which would exclude her from
many won’t; and many questions remain.
the modern world’, it made me want to
The art of the period communicates its pop her in a suitcase and take her back
changes most obviously. Bodies became to Egypt myself.
languid, with elongated heads and faces.
The modern reception of the bust is,
Royal iconography became suddenly inti- for Tyldesley and many of us, bounded by
mate: Akhenaten and Nefertiti are shown museums — the ‘modern equivalent of the
dandling their daughters, chucking them ancient palaces and temples’ filled with
under their chins. Akhenaten is even shown visitors who are ‘a self-selecting elite who
munching a kebab (I dare you to find come to admire if not to worship’. Tyldesley
a picture of Elizabeth II actually eating). is interested in replication: from accurate
But ‘we are seeing style rather than real- reproductions to the sunglasses-wearing
ism’; an audience was likely meant to be Nefertitis created by Isa Genzken. But like
shocked, or at least jolted. In this context, any icon, Nefertiti has other lives beyond
Nefertiti’s bust — with its refined, symmet- the museum. I think of the hip-hop artrical proportions — is hardly extreme: rath- ist Lauryn Hill embodying black royalty
er the opposite. Tyldesley offers a nuanced by rapping that she is ‘more powerful than
discussion of the making and meaning of two Cleopatras/bomb graffiti on the tomb
images in ancient Egypt, including an of Nefertiti’. Or the graffito of the Nefertiti
assessment of why we find the bust beauti- bust wearing a teargas mask stencilled on
ful in the first place.
Cairo walls by the artist El Zeft to acknowlThe story of the bust begins in a room edge the women of the 2011 revolution.
of an ancient sculptor’s villa and workshop These hint at what is beyond the dominant
in Tell el-Amarna. But, as Tyldesley points Western narratives articulated in this book.
out, an ivory horse blinker found in the villa There are always other stories to be told, or
is the only evidence associating the work- sung, or graffitied. Maybe after Tyldesley’s
shop with a sculptor named Thutmose. We elegant introduction, we will begin to hear
don’t know for sure that Thutmose sculpt- and see them.
encountered on the trip call to mind Edward
Hopper’s gloomy suburban paintings. There
are allusions to Yeats and Eliot and to the
great Christian poet George Herbert.
Census is a help to greater understanding
and an act of piety. It is a humane, surreal novel that in terms of its own artform
embraces, and empathises with, the predicaments of a Down’s syndrome child and
his parents.
The highs and hellish lows
of superstructuralism
Foster and Rogers wanted to save the planet – in fact, their high-tech architecture
did the opposite, says Phineas Harper
mid the thick of the Crimean war,
Florence Nightingale dispatched
a plea to the Times deploring the
lethal conditions of British military field
hospitals. Ten times more soldiers were
dying from diseases like cholera and dysentery than from battle wounds. Shocked, the
War Office commissioned 49-year-old Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design the world’s
first prefabricated hospital.
Components were manufactured to
Brunel’s specifications in Gloucestershire
then rushed to Turkey for erection. He
took the commission on 16 February 1855
and fewer than five months later, the new
Renkioi Hospital could accept 300 patients
(2,200 by March 1856). Infection rates collapsed. Nightingale called it ‘magnificent’.
The new architecture of prefab had triumphed.
Renkioi doesn’t appear in Superstructures, a new exhibition of techno joy-infused
architecture at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, though its essence is shared with
the buildings which do: off-site fabrication,
large volumes enclosed by lightweight materials, a love of engineering, technological
innovation — all supporting a social mission.
The show, curated by Jane Pavitt and
Abraham Thomas, celebrates the heyday
of the high-tech movement. For those who
enjoy a tensile membrane or tensioning
cable detail, it’s a feast of objects capturing
an exhilarating moment of, largely British,
architectural experimentation marking the
Sainsbury Centre’s 40th anniversary.
The centre weighs 5,618.6 tons. We know
this because when its architect, Norman
Foster, took Richard Buckminster ‘Bucky’
Fuller to visit the completed structure by
helicopter, the acclaimed inventor asked,
‘How heavy is your building, Norman?’ Foster didn’t know but a week later had made
the calculations. That seemingly banal question is at the heart of the high-tech story,
which was born in ecological utopianism.
In act one, Foster, Rogers, Grimshaw
et al launch into the new architectural language with optimistic swagger. Bucky’s calls
for designers to ‘do more with less’, and Frei
Otto’s Institute of Lightweight Structures,
had established the intellectual foundation
for an environmentalist form of modernism
which accomplishes great spatial feats with
remarkably modest means. The superstructuralists’ colourful drawings burst with vivacious depictions of a technological good-life,
symbiotic with nature. ‘At the time the concept of sustainable ecological buildings was
unheard of outside a fringe of society, which
was mostly occupied by hippies and dropouts,’ recalled Foster in an interview.
In act two, the superstructuralists conquer the world — Rogers completes the
Lloyd’s Building, Foster scoops the HSBC
headquarters in Hong Kong, then called ‘the
Stansted is why smart travellers
take the train
most expensive building ever built’. Then in
the 1990s, act three sees high-tech become
the default architectural language of international business. Expressive structural gestures are replaced with ubiquitous glassy
façades. There are still some hits, but from
its pioneering attempts to connect human
and ecological flourishing, superstructuralism morphs into the omnipresent face of the
global corporation.
Airports in particular have become synonymous with superstructuralism. Offices,
houses and museums are built in varied
architectural vocabularies, but it’s hard to
even imagine a neoclassical airport, such
has superstructuralism become the unquestionable orthodoxy of aviation architecture.
A generation of boys raised on Airfix models have, as men, designed the world’s major
airports — Foster in China, Rogers in Spain,
Grimshaw in Russia.
Foster’s Stansted, which features prominently in the show, is hailed as a gamechanger. By burying the mechanics, Foster
liberated the ground for passengers. The
pitch was a spacious day-lit shed, in which
travellers would amble through check-in following an intuitive linear route towards the
gently ascending planes, visible through the
vast curtain wall beyond.
The seductive poetics of Foster’s vision
have long since been butchered. Now, a
maze of duty-free concessions is compressed
by a low-hung false ceiling, squeezing passengers through the bowels of Ray-Ban
and Toblerone hell. Sphincters of invasive
fear-mongering security checks, pat downs
and X-ray scans bottleneck travellers into
relentless queues. A proliferation of obtrusive signage fails to compensate for the —
now unintelligible — layout. Wetherspoons
has built a full-size floating faux windmill to
facilitate pre-flight boozing. Stansted is why
smart travellers take the train.
The failure of Stansted is not explored
in the exhibition, which focuses only on the
first two acts of superstructuralism. It’s perhaps a missed opportunity, as the most challenging questions for high-tech are around
the gulf between its ethical beginnings and
its latter-day manifestation. It’s a gulf which
has led to some absurd hypocrisies. Superstructuralism has become consumed by the
very ideologies its founders were trying to
subvert — disregard for nature, mass consumption of resources and authoritarian
control of movement are all typified by the
modern aviation terminal.
Foster is a man who uses the word ‘sustainable’ to describe the largest airport
on earth with a straight face. It’s a kind of
doublethink that is becoming increasingly
incredulous. Once the climate movement
were mocked as fanciful utopians with farfetched dreams of low-carbon economies
and renewable energy. Today that old ecowarrior manifesto feels eminently practical
when set against the snake oil peddled by a
new breed of space-colonising fantasist.
Helium-3 dug from the moon. Minerals
extracted from asteroids. Elon Musk mining Mars. Foster + Partners have produced
papers on terraforming the red planet with
autonomous drones and 3-D-printed lunar
bases. In 2014 they completed a ‘spaceport’
for Richard Branson. This is not bold visionary thinking — it is escapism, seductive only
to those whose weak imaginations can see
no alternative to infinite economic growth
despite a finite planet.
The legacy of superstructuralism could
be so much more than luxury towers and
soul-leaching departures lounges. In the
early years, its advocates set out not just
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
In 1985 it was ‘the most expensive building ever built’: HSBC’s Hong Kong headquarters designed by Norman Foster
to redesign buildings, but the construction
industry itself. Like in Brunel’s hospital, offsite fabrication and new technology would
deliver meaningful social goals through
unprecedented construction techniques.
Strides have been made, but the buildings of
tomorrow will still be made with the tools of
yesterday, however futuristic they may look.
Around 1.7 million hours of research and
development go into launching a new model
of Japanese car. With production runs of a
million, the R&D cost is just $425 per vehicle, but every customer benefits from the
full 1.7 million-hour design phase. A one-off
office tower on the other hand can cost hundreds of millions of dollars but, with archithe spectator | 7 april 2018 |
tects’ fees at around 5 per cent, enjoy just a
few thousand design hours.
This is the fundamental contradiction
of high-tech — they talk of innovation, but
their practice is ultimately at odds with the
nature of technological development. They
claim to save the planet while facilitating its
destruction. Bucky’s foundational lessons of
‘Spaceship Earth’ are long forgotten.
At the turn of the millennium, German
firm CargoLifter was working on a prototypical 550,000 cubic metre ‘AirCrane’ — a
zeppelin capable of carrying 160-ton prefabricated building components directly to site.
The project was never realised (in fact the
hangar was turned into an enormous indoor
holiday resort) but hints at the possibilities
for the superstructuralists if they can recover their once vaulting ambition.
At a public debate in 2009, Foster was
unequivocal. ‘What’s at stake,’ he said, ‘is literally our survival as a species. I think that
probably we have to get to the point of absolute desperation before everyone is forced
to get their act together, and then the agonising question will be did everybody wake
up in time, or did they wake up too late?’
Good question, Norman.
Superstructures: The New Architecture
1960–1990 is at the Sainsbury Centre for
Visual Arts until 2 September.
Hobbit houses and 3-D homes
Since 2006, someone called Kirsten
Dirksen has been posting weekly
videos on YouTube about ‘simple
living, self-sufficiency, small (and
tiny) homes, backyard gardens (and
livestock), alternative transport, DIY,
craftsmanship and philosophies of
life’. But don’t let that put you off.
Basically, Dirksen makes short
films about people’s quirky homes:
‘Tiny Parisian rooftop terrace
transforms for work and leisure’,
‘Extreme transformer home in Hong
Kong’, etc. Fear not: this not some
shoestring Grand Designs. There is
little or no enthusing, there are no
vacuous summings-up, there is no
false jeopardy. The videos vary in
length: some of them last for less
than ten minutes, others for close to
an hour. Many are in Spanish (with
subtitles). Occasionally, there are
voiceovers, but more often there’s
simply the mildly disinterested voice
of the person showing Dirksen
around their house. ‘And here’s the
composting toilet.’
Dirksen, who looks like a stressedout maths teacher, is often in shot,
shown filming with her camera, which
implies that there’s someone filming
her — we occasionally glimpse a man
who one assumes is her husband.
There are also children, who never
seem to age — and who, mercifully,
don’t do cute stuff. They’re just kids.
If the mere thought of watching
people in 3-D-printed solar houses in
Seattle fills you with horror, or you are
naturally disinclined towards those
living in bioclimatic troglodyte homes
in France, Dirksen’s home tours are
probably not for you. But before
dismissing her entirely you should
watch her half-hour film about Dan
Price’s underground home.
Everything about Mr Price and his
Hobbit house should be an intense
irritation: he plays the handpan, he
illustrates his own quirky books and
pamphlets, and he uses a composting
toilet. And yet the film is so artfully
artless, and Dirksen so simply
generous in her depiction of Price’s
strange life, that what might have
been sheer tosh is in fact a portrait
full of pathos.
If only YouTube had been around
when Werner Herzog and the
Maysles Brothers were getting going,
we’d all have spent a lot less time in
arthouse cinemas.
— Ian Sansom
Communal listening
Kate Chisholm
To Herne Bay in Kent for the UK International Radio Drama Festival: 50 plays
from 17 countries in 15 languages broadcast over five days to the festival audience.
It’s an opportunity to find out what radio
plays sound like in other countries, but also
to experience a different kind of listening.
About 25 of us were invited into a suite of
rooms furnished with flock wallpaper, floral sofas and armchairs to take us back to
the great age of radio listening in the 1950s.
A kettle boils in the background; buttered
scones on a tiered rack are sitting ready for
us to pounce on at the next pause between
Melanie Nock and Jonathan Banatvala
launched the festival four years ago, surprised by the fact that the UK, the biggest
consumer (and producer) of radio plays in
the world, didn’t already have its own celebration of this very particular, and very ofthe-moment art form. (Elsewhere in Europe
there’s the Prix Marulic held on a sun-baked
island off the coast of Croatia, the Grand
Prix Nova in Romania, and the prestigious
Prix Europa.) It’s not just that with radio
drama you can listen for free without leaving home, so it’s very accessible and democratic; it can also be far more adventurous
than theatre or film. There’s no need to obey
the unities of time and space; we can go anywhere, any time in our imaginations without
leaving the room. All that the writers and
producers must do is ensure they take us
with them, giving us freedom to roam but
never letting us lose the thread.
Nock, from a theatre background,
believes the community aspect of listening should be revived. And it does change
the experience. It was weird to hear people
around me laughing at the jokes in RTE’s
Surviving Ireland drama-documentary as
if there was a studio audience, only to realise the laughs were coming from inside the
room not out of the radio set on the sideboard. It probably also makes you more
open to the unusual, more willing to keep
listening, to be taken out of your comfort
Klee pigeon shooting
zone. But the festival is also intended as an
opportunity to bring to the UK plays from
across the world. There are prizes for the
best short-form and best long-form productions, given by a jury made up of listeners at
the festival and chaired this year by Tomas
Soldan from Czech Radio, plus an audience
prize. On Wednesday we heard plays from
Iran, Romania, Denmark and Germany, as
well as from the BBC.
There’s a real difference in approach,
with the plays from central Europe and
beyond often more experimental, less
intent on narrative, than we are used to. The
Lady of Wednesday, for instance, in Persian
(we were given scripts in English), about a
young man searching to make his dreams
come true through the agency of the lady
of the well, was fabulous in content and in
acting style, like listening to the telling of an
ancient fairy tale, each laugh or sob magnified. In contrast, Explosiv from Romania
was rooted in the now, set in a high school
where a group of ghastly teenagers are surrounded by even more ghastly grown-ups.
There could be no happy ending.
Plays can be as short as six minutes,
which is not something we are used to in
the UK, but they can be surprisingly effective. Anxiety, for example, from Denmark
and based on a short story written in 1962,
gave us in just nine minutes a chilling tale
told by four men who meet each day on the
same train to work. One morning a stranger is sitting in one of their seats… All the
plays can still be heard via the festival’s website ( and if
you’re very quick you could vote for the play
you think should win the audience award as
voting closes at midnight tomorrow.
There were two new plays on Radio
1Xtra this week as part of the BBC’s drive to
reach out to younger audiences (how I wish
they could have been broadcast on Radio
4 to broaden that station’s range). Quarter
Life Crisis by Yolanda Mercy (and directed by Caroline Raphael) stars Mercy herself as a young black woman, approaching
26, who’s wondering whether she will ever
find her way in life, feel grown-up, have the
opportunity to break free. ‘Do you have to
know where you’re going in life, or is it OK
to make it up as you go along?’ asks Alicia. It’s fast, it’s funny, it moves around in
time, making the most of the form. Mercy
is apparently writing several plays for TV; I
hope we don’t lose her voice from the radio.
With a Little Bit of Luck by Sabrina Mahfouz (a Paines Plough production) is like a
musical for radio, celebrating the emergence
of UK garage in the summer of 2001. Nadia
has just been offered a place at university,
but how can she fund the years of study and
keep hold of her boyfriend who tells her that
studying is just a waste of time? This is full
of clever wordplay, great music, and an alltoo-believable plot. It takes you right inside
Nadia’s world.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
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James Dodds saw this boat when visiting the historic Brown’s
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1884. The family still runs the business, now into its fifth generation.
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Greek idyll
Martin Gayford
Charmed lives in Greece: Ghika,
Craxton, Leigh Fermor
British Museum, until 15 July
In late April 1992, I was in Crete, interviewing the painter John Craxton. It was the week
that Francis Bacon died. We heard the news
on the BBC World service, and afterwards
Craxton reminisced about his old friend.
Craxton himself at that stage had almost disappeared into obscurity. He was living in a
elegantly crumbly building overlooking the
harbour at Chania. It wasn’t grand, but there
was a small Matisse cut-out hanging on his
sitting-room wall.
In recent years Craxton has been undergoing a minor revival. There has been a
book, a show at the Fitzwilliam; now this sizable exhibition — Charmed lives in Greece
— devoted to him, together with the Greek
painter Niko Ghika (Nikos HadjikyriakosGhikas, 1906–1994), and the writer Patrick
Leigh Fermor.
The works on show do indeed have a lot
of charm, as Craxton did himself, but the title
raises another question. Was his life charmed
in another sense? He lived in Greece on and
off for decades, and settled more or less
permanently in Crete in 1970. In the book
accompanying the exhibition, Craxton’s
biographer, Ian Collins, notes that in his
later years a large black canvas generally sat
on his easel, ‘apparently as a deterrence to
further labour’. Had Craxton wandered into
the land of the Lotus-eaters, which the sailors in The Odyssey found ‘was so delicious
that those who ate of it left off caring about
During the war — a period not covered
by this exhibition — Craxton (1922–2009),
was one of the most successful of the group
of artists dubbed ‘neo-romantic’, a term he
detested. At 19 he was sharing a house with
the equally youthful Lucian Freud, each of
them working on a different floor. He must
then have seemed one of the coming forces
in British painting.
Craxton’s arrival in Greece brings to
mind the plot of a film by Powell and Pressburger — and also Leigh Fermor’s romantically picaresque travels. In 1946 Craxton
found himself in Switzerland and was, he
told me, ‘about to be shot by the husband
of the woman I was staying with because he
thought we were having an affair’. (Craxton
was bisexual.) At this point, he met the wife
of the British ambassador to Athens in a bar.
She said he must come with her to Greece;
Craxton’s hostess enthusiastically supported the idea. ‘So we set off in a bomber from
For a while he lived in the embassy
Moonlit Ravine, early 1970s, by John Craxton
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
garage. But Clifford Norton, the ambassador, found him ‘too Bohemian a guest’. So,
on the advice of Leigh Fermor — a new
friend — he went to live on the island of
Poros. ‘It was like striking oil that first summer,’ he remembered, ‘Greece was lovely then, it was a marvellous moment.’ And
indeed, those very first pictures were some
of the best he did in Greece.
It must have seemed a wonderful escape
from postwar Britain.
But there was an art historical logic to
Craxton’s move. Like most British artists
of the mid-20th century, he was in awe of
Picasso. In Byzantine art he found an analogy to cubism; indeed one of cubism’s roots
was Byzantine since Picasso himself had
been deeply affected by the Cretan artist El
This connection makes the fractured
planes of Craxton’s Greek landscapes seem
new and old at the same time. You could
say of them what he noted about Byzantine
paintings. ‘The rocks are abstracted, but they
manage to impose in that abstracted shape
the feeling of rock — the essence of rock.’
Much the same is true of Ghika, an artist
not much known in this country. In his youth
Ghika had studied Byzantine art as well as
the art of the Parisian avant-garde. A picture such as ‘Wild Garden’ (1959) blends all
of those ingredients: jagged geometry, Matisse-like foliage, and a feeling of the Eastern
Mediterranean. Ghika’s pictures sometimes
In 1946 Craxton found himself
in Switzerland and ‘about to be shot’
upstage Craxton’s at the BM; it looks as if
the older Greek artist influenced the younger English one.
Another artist was briefly part of this tiny
Anglo-Hellenic community. Lucian Freud
joined Craxton on Poros in 1946, producing
some lovely paintings (some of which would
have added another dimension to this exhibition). But later they fell out spectacularly and their later careers, and work, could
scarcely have been more different.
Freud once professed ‘a horror of the
idyllic’, whereas Craxton was described as ‘a
self-confessed Arcadian’ (although when I
put it to him, he rejected the word indignantly: ‘I never confessed I was an Arcadian!’).
But he was a romantic. Many of the exhibits are beguiling, not least Craxton’s covers
for Leigh Fermor’s books (the writer is otherwise represented mainly by photographs
and documentary material).
There is a gentle softness about Craxton’s work: too much charm, not enough
truth. The paintings of people — generally
young men — have a slightly soppy air. But
landscapes such as ‘Cretan Gorge’ (early
70s), halfway between geometric abstraction
and the spiky terrain of a medieval Greek
icon, are tougher and more impressive. He
deserves another look.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
The killer instinct
Lloyd Evans
Ruthless! The Musical
Arts Theatre, until 23 June
Miss Nightingale
Hippodrome Casino, until 6 May
Ruthless! The Musical is a camp extravaganza about ambitious actors stranded
in small-town America. Sylvia St Croix, a
pushy agent, visits a super-talented 10-yearold, Tina, and persuades her to audition for
Pippi Longstocking in a school play. Tina’s
mother fears that stardom may spoil her little girl but Tina is finished with childhood.
‘Time to move on.’
The production feels like a zany Spike
Milligan sketch with a garish set and overthe-top costumes. Sylvia is played by Justin
Gardiner who swaggers about like a crossdressing cowboy in a clingy frock and false
breasts. The dialogue, which takes cheap
shots at bourgeois morality, may not suit all
tastes. Try this. Tina complains to Sylvia that
she never sees her father. ‘Why, yes you do,’
blushes her mother, ‘Daddy was here just
six weeks ago.’ ‘Was that Daddy?’ frowns
Tina. ‘I think so,’ says her mother. For me,
that’s comedy gold. For you perhaps, it’s
dross. Good actors can find three laughs
in that short exchange and the performers
here get all three of them. The plot darkens
when Tina gives a brilliant audition but fails
to land the role of Pippi. Cast as the understudy, Tina murders her rival and becomes
the show’s star.
This morbid story-line is incredible, of
course, but the show’s cartoonish exuberance creates a fairy-tale atmosphere where
anything seems possible. The child-on-child
murder is balanced by an equally absurd
back-story concerning Tina’s mom, Judy,
who was orphaned as a kid and wants to
learn the identity of her biological mother.
Her adoptive mom, Lita Encore, is a heavyweight theatre critic whose venomous
reviews have been known to drive performers to suicide. Could Judy be the daughter of
a star who vanished after Lita rubbished her
talent? The search for Judy’s origins, and for
the true identity of Sylvia St Croix, create
a sequence of surprises that continues into
the second half.
By now, we’re in New York where Judy
is living in a penthouse, having taken to the
stage and become Broadway’s latest musical sensation. Tina shows up, liberated from
child-prison, and still determined to succeed. The second act develops into a riot
of dramatic surprises and violent mayhem
but its logic never departs from the narrative blueprint set out in the opening scene.
Not everyone will relish this show’s maca-
bre humour, its tasteless gestures and its
flouncy, self-parodic acting. I happen to
have an appetite for broad, demonstrative and unsubtle comedy like this. And my
inner script-doctor appreciated the ingenuity and inventiveness of a plot that takes the
audience on a magic carpet-ride from the
po-faced suburbs to the heights of Broadway and back. Those who disparage the
show’s superficiality are overlooking the
fact that its frivolities are underpinned by
an immutable human truth: to get ahead in
life, or in showbiz, you need a killer-instinct.
These characters may be narcissistic boneheads but they’re sincere about their goals,
and that makes them work as dramatic figures. Director Richard Fitch has created an
outstanding comic company. Kim Maresca is hysterically funny as Tina’s mom and
yet she never loses her small-town breeding and dignity. Tracie Bennett (Lita) holds
the house in thrall with a song-and-dance
routine about a critic who hates song-anddance routines. Anya Evans took the lead
on press night which suggests that she’s the
Not everyone will relish the macabre
humour – I have an appetite for
broad, unsubtle comedy like this
best of the four kids hired to play Tina. She’s
no relation of mine. I wish she were. She’s
a star.
Tracie Bennett’s career has never
matched the size of her voice, and I wonder
if a spicier stage name might have helped.
This conundrum faces an unknown singer, Maggie Brown, in the wartime musical
Miss Nightingale. She’s persuaded by an
ambitious producer to adopt a new romantic identity. Rechristened Miss Nightingale,
she finds success but gets pregnant and has
to reconcile motherhood with her showbiz
dreams. The producer, meanwhile, conducts
a forbidden affair with a gay Polish refugee.
These stories are intended to highlight the
troubles endured by gays and lone women
in mid-20th-century Britain. Which is fine,
but a bit preachy. And the two strands aren’t
particularly well integrated. But that’s the
only weakness in this eye-catching production written and directed by Matthew Bugg.
The multi-talented cast can act, sing, dance,
and play numerous musical instruments,
and this concentration of talent makes the
show feel like it’s bursting to reach a larger
stage. The star, Lauren Chinery, is a fabulous
discovery. Bugg and his team are already
developing new material and they have
the potential to create a global export. But
they need to find the right script. Inventing
a story from scratch is unwise for a company that specialises in song-and-dance
skills. They could do themselves a favour
by choosing a popular play or book with an
established fan-base and a title that everyone recognises. Then the sky’s the limit.
Adult treats in RNCM’s Hansel and Gretel
Kid’s play
Richard Bratby
Ariadne auf Naxos
Theatre Royal Glasgow, now at Festival
Theatre Edinburgh until 7 April
Barbican Theatre, until 7 April
Hansel and Gretel
Royal Northern College of Music Opera
It’s been a good couple of weeks for cuddly toys in opera. A big floppy Eeyore is the
only comfort for 11-year-old Coraline at the
darkest moment of Mark-Anthony Turnage
and Rory Mullarkey’s new opera. The teenage Composer in Antony McDonald’s production of Ariadne auf Naxos has a Beanie
Baby panda as a sort of mascot: a tiny, limp
emotional defence against a world that’s
about to spin deliriously off kilter. Hansel
and Gretel don’t have any toys, but the brattish siblings of Stephen Medcalf’s staging at
the Royal Northern College of Music can at
least cling to each other as the night closes
in. Interestingly, the opera that came across
as the most harmless was the only one that
wasn’t created for children.
Ariadne auf Naxos, then. McDonald has
updated it to a country house that looks
amusingly like Glyndebourne. Neat idea;
and so is the notion of transforming the
commedia dell’arte troupe into a team of
hipster-bearded performance artists. Smart46
est of all, though, is the decision to make the
trouser role of the Composer (Julia Sporsen) a buttoned-up, slightly brittle young
woman. At a stroke, McDonald removes
one of Strauss’s weaker dramatic contrivances and makes Sporsen’s encounter with
Jennifer France’s suspender-clad Zerbinetta into something genuinely transformative. Ariadne as coming-out drama? When
the pair suddenly, startlingly locked lips to
a cascade of molten harmony (the Scottish
Opera orchestra under Brad Cohen sounded like all their Christmases had arrived at
once), the audience sighed.
But that’s just the Prologue: and having
made all these backstage relationships fizz,
it’s hardly the director’s fault that Strauss
and Hofmannsthal then ditch the whole
set-up in favour of an opera seria, rendered
with authentically baroque tedium. Mardi
Byers did her best as a dark-toned, eloquent
Ariadne, but France’s knockout burlesque
routine — imagine Dita Von Teese with a
silvery high soprano that can slip like oiled
silk over even the most sequin-encrusted
coloratura — overpowered any remaining drama. Byers’s climactic love duet with
Bacchus (Kor-Jan Dusseljee) had the sexual
chemistry of a Scottish widow meeting her
mortgage advisor.
Coraline is altogether more serious, as
children’s books can be, although nothing
in this touching and often magical opera
quite matches the ETA Hoffmann-meetsMR James creepiness of Neil Gaiman’s
novel. Perhaps that’s just as well; instead,
the libretto focuses on Coraline’s courage,
as well as the more humorous aspects of
the story. The director Aletta Collins makes
playful use of the Barbican’s stage, with
Giles Cadle’s sets whirling round to represent the sinister parallel world that Coraline discovers in her parents’ new home.
The programme lists two separate ‘Magic
Consultants’ and the small boy behind me
at one point seemed convinced (if impressively unconcerned) that Kitty Whately’s
hand had genuinely been chopped off.
Turnage’s chamber-sized score (Sian
Edwards conducted the Britten Sinfonia)
is unexpectedly subdued, tending towards
cor anglais-tinted lyricism over quietly bustling rhythms, with occasional, improbable
flashes of colour — an orchestra of mice
turned out to be a piccolo-led swing band.
But it certainly evoked the story’s overcast
atmosphere, and the opera’s final affirmation was skilfully prepared. Whately transformed smartly from the put-upon Mother
to the insinuating, increasingly uncanny
Other Mother; Alexander Robin Baker’s
red-trousered, dad-dancing Father got a
lot of laughs, and as Coraline Mary Bevan
was a believably bored little girl whose
sunny voice and inquisitive nature weren’t
remotely cutesy, and who (like the entire
cast) made Turnage’s vocal writing sound
as fluent as Mozart. Parents, meanwhile, will
doubtless mouth a silent ‘thank you’ at the
show’s moral that there are worse things in
the world than going to school.
And if you can’t truly believe that things
are going to turn out badly for Coraline;
well, that’s never stopped Humperdinck’s
Hansel and Gretel from showing a darker
side, and in Medcalf’s subtle and inventive
With luck we’ll see this Hansel and
Gretel elsewhere: it’s got ‘classic’
written all over it
new production the supernatural elements
are actually the least menacing (Iain Henderson’s brandy-swilling Witch was pure
pantomime). We’re in a Victorian industrial city and the children (Daniella Sicari as
Gretel, and the lustrous-voiced Charlotte
Badham as Hansel) alternate, as pre-teen
siblings do, between kicking, pinching, spite
and clinging affection. But while Humperdinck’s music gives us the children’s
enchanted perspective, Medcalf repeatedly
pulls back to reveal some very adult threats.
The forest is a maze of street lamps (Yannis Thavoris did the sets), and Hansel and
Gretel think that the lamplighters with their
glowing wands are angels.
Come dawn, however, when the Dew
Fairy (a milkman) gazes down at the filthy
urchins huddled on the pavement, we’re
a long way from Coraline with her nicely-brushed hair and shiny yellow wellies.
Anthony Kraus conducted, the student
performances would have graced any professional company, and with luck we’ll see
this production (it’s billed as a collaboration with Grange Park Opera) elsewhere,
because it’s got ‘classic’ stamped all over it.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Friday night refreshment
James Walton
BBC2 has a new drama series for Friday
nights. The main character is a world-weary middle-aged police inspector with an
unshakeable commitment to smoking. His
work partner is a feisty female officer in her
twenties who combines salt-of-the-earth
irreverence with being a damn good cop.
Between them, they’re investigating the murder of an attractive young woman who their
colleagues immediately assumed was a prostitute, and whose death reminds the inspector of a previous investigation that continues
to haunt him — which is why his boss is constantly trying to take him off the case.
But if this makes you think that The City
& The City is yet another identikit crime
drama, then you couldn’t be more wrong.
The basic storyline may be thoroughly conventional; but only, it seems, as a deliberate
counterpoint to the intriguing and highly
imaginative strangeness of the setting.
Inspector Borlu (David Morrissey) does
his policing in the city of Beszel, a place that
goes beyond the merely fictional and into
the realms of mythical. Its trappings have
the feel of Eastern Europe — especially
those parts that have resisted a smoking ban
— but its citizens speak in English, which
they learned from British traders 500 years
ago. They write in English too, although
with a sprinkling of random accents — as in
a poster warning that the secret police ‘löök
jušt liké yöu and me’.
More mysteriously still, Beszel directly borders another fictional/mythical city
called Ul Qoma, and relations between the
two are not so much strained as completely
forbidden. Any tourists who (inexplicably)
visit Beszel must attend a two-week train-
Dave Allen’s decline was cunningly
signalled by a passing stranger being
unable to remember his name
ing course instructing them in such local etiquette as never even looking at Ul Qoma,
and ideally developing an inability to see it.
Unfortunately for Borlu, it now appears that
the dead woman was an American student
living in Ul Qoma, and his investigation will
be a bit tricky without visiting the place.
Not, in fact, that the investigation has
taken up very much of the programme’s
time so far. Instead, it’s been more concerned with slowly establishing its decidedly unsettling atmosphere and pondering
the wider issues and implications of human
All of which might make The City &
The City sound somewhat po-faced. But,
while that wouldn’t be unfair, it wouldn’t
be the whole story either. Faced with such
solemn material, some dramas might have
been unable to resist throwing in the odd
moment of knowing playfulness. Yet, by
playing everything so utterly straight, this
one unexpectedly turns the po-facedness
to its advantage — with its own portentousness worn so unashamedly as to become
almost a badge of honour. And at a time
when so many TV dramas seem to be timidly second-guessing what their audiences
(or commissioners) want, that feels distinctly refreshing.
Less impressive was Dave Allen at Peace
(BBC2, Monday), which came across more
as notes towards a biographical drama than
the thing itself. The show mixed scenes
from Allen’s life with recreations of his
TV sketches and monologues, but neither
of these elements quite worked. The lifescenes gave the impression of key events
being perfunctorily ticked off from a list
(cruel nuns; losing half a finger; changing
his name to Dave Allen: check, check and
check). The TV bits suffered from the obvious problem that Aiden Gillen as Allen
lacked the same comic timing. In any case,
the programme often felt like a recreation
itself — specifically of those increasingly
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the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Gothic Splendour in France
Archaeology in Pompeii
Great French Châteaux
Sicily: Conquests & Cultures
Modern Art in
the South of France
Achievements of Ancient Greece
Flemish & Dutch Painting
The Genius of Spanish Painting
Verdi in Bratislava
Art in Andalucía
The Italian Lakes
Cathedrals & Abbeys
of the North
Power & Patronage in Florence
Great Houses of Yorkshire
Splendours of St Petersburg
formulaic BBC4 dramas of a few years ago
which took a much-loved showbiz figure
and showed us the secret sorrow lurking at
their core.
So it was that the early sightings of
Allen’s lovable old dad in full story-telling
Irishman mode were soon followed by the
12-year-old Dave looking down into the
coffin where his father lay. ‘I’ve got your
back,’ his older brother Michael assured
him at the funeral — perhaps anachronistically for 1950s Ireland — and seconds
later the two were performing in England
as a double act. But then Michael disappeared from view while another series of
brief scenes did what they needed to and no
more. Allen’s glory years, for example, were
covered by the BBC’s director-general telling him how good he was. His subsequent
decline was cunningly signalled by a passing
stranger recognising him but being unable
to remember his name.
And with that, we returned to the secret
sorrow part, as Allen wheeled the by now
alcoholic Michael through a hospital where,
in an admittedly rather touching scene, their
relationship was fully discussed — but still
not really dramatised.
Of course, it never was going to be easy
to dramatise Allen’s entire life in 60 minutes. The trouble with Dave Allen at Peace,
though, is that it seemed to take one look at
the scale of the task, and more or less give
The sound of Iceland
Guy Dammann
The lur is a horn, modelled in bronze after
a number of 3,000-year-old instruments
discovered at various archaeological sites
across Scandinavia. Its unrefined yet distinctive sound — penetrating, direct and
rough-edged — seems to rise up through
the body rather than enter through the ears,
like the stirring of a long-forgotten memory. The instrument, whose long neck reaches
high above the heads of its players, is the
first thing one hears in Jon Leifs’s second
Edda oratorio. Two of them intone bare,
open fifths, resonating against sustained low
notes in the woodwind, rising up through
the orchestral texture as it fills out. When
the choir enters, they too sing in fifths, lurching from one bare harmony to another,
incanting the coming of the Aesir, the Norse
Gods. The music is rough and jarring. The
world whose creation is being narrated really does sound unready, incomplete.
No one has heard this before, a fact which
enhances the grandeur of the moment as
well as its curiosity value. In Harpa, Reykjavik’s shiny harbour-side concert hall, the
main auditorium is packed with an audience
of young and old Icelanders eager to hear
the sound of where they come from, so to
speak. Much of Leifs’s postwar career was
dedicated to composing three grand oratorios based on the Edda, the Norse creation
legends originally written down in the 13th
century by the Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson. Leifs’s idea was that the oratorios
would together constitute a kind of national
monument in sound, articulating the cultural and national bonds which tie this blasted
and volatile northern Atlantic rock to the
people who walk on it. He knew Wagner’s
Ring cycle, of course, but considered it too
romanticised. Iceland, according to Leifs,
needed its own national creation myth to be
set in music that was entirely Iceland’s own.
The idea of individual composers creating a musical language capable of expressing an entire nation’s identity is familiar to
anyone who has studied the history of music.
Ask any Norwegian about Grieg, or Finn
Composer Jon Leifs is still best
remembered for kicking a radio set to
about Sibelius, they won’t tell you whether
they like the music but about how it’s simply a part of who they are. The phenomenon, however, is essentially a 19th-century
one, bound up with national romanticism
and its entwinement with the birth and
expansion of modern nation states before
the first world war. Leifs, born in 1899, came
rather late to the game. But, then again, so
did Iceland.
Leifs’s ambition to serve as his country’s
national musical figurehead in fact originated while he was living in Germany, where he
moved in 1916 to study piano and composition (with Busoni). His subsequent German career was moderately successful, but
he gained new creative momentum from
visits back home where he used an Edison
phonograph to record locals singing folk
songs. Like Dvorak or Bartok, Leifs used
the basic elements of what he recorded radically to reshape his own musical language,
eliminating almost all traces of refinement
and adopting a jagged melodic style and an
unwieldy harmonic system based on progressions of parallel fifths — stylistic elements, in other words, which for centuries
musicians have tried to eradicate.
Leifs’s talk of creating a pure Icelandic
music played well enough in 1930s Germany, but people were less keen on the
resulting music. After the disastrous premiere of his organ concert with the Berlin
Philharmonic in 1941, Leifs spent the rest
of the war trying to get home. He eventually returned in 1944, via Sweden and a brief
period under arrest for suspected Nazi collaborations.
Back home in Iceland, he took the musical scene by force. Quite literally. An iras-
cible and unsympathetic figure, Leifs is
still remembered for kicking a radio set
to smithereens on board a bus as a protest
against Icelandic radio not paying performance rights. Thanks to Leifs, and the performing rights and composers’ societies he
founded, established and ran single-handedly, they certainly pay it now. As a musician, however, Leifs’s force of personality
proved less fecund. None of the composers
of subsequent generations really absorbed
his style, and most of his music went unperformed after his death in 1968. It is only
recently, following the efforts of the Swedish record label BIS, that pieces such as
Geysir and Hekla — two symphonic poems
that attempt to translate the Icelandic landscape into music — have gained wider traction.
The Edda oratorios, however, still
remained unperformed, largely because
until recently Iceland lacked the kind of
choral and orchestral institutions capable
of performing them. The choral parts are
in many respects technically impossible to
sing, while the symphony orchestra lacked
an auditorium capable of making any sense
of the music. While Edda I received its premiere a few years ago, the second part only
received its first performance last weekend,
as part of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra’s contribution to Iceland’s centenary
celebrations (as a sovereign nation; true
independence from Denmark came later
in 1944). With the performance in Harpa,
a building designed to express the young
nation’s burgeoning economic and cultural
self-confidence, it became possible to ask
whether Leifs’s dreams of providing the
country with its music might finally be coming to life some 50 years after his death?
No, not really. Though always invigorating, Leifs’s music is difficult to like at
the best of times. And here, where musical
primitivism and brute incantation in Old
Norse are pretty much the only game in
town, if the opening doesn’t grab you then
90 minutes of doing the same thing won’t
change much. But as the names of the gods
and their virtues go by, in long lists which
lack both poetry and drama, there is a sense
of liturgical overload which bullies one into
feeling awe at its sheer weight. Awestruck
certainly captures the response the audience gave the piece, though relief may also
have played a part. Even so, Icelanders are
much less interested in their creation myths
than their tourist office would like us to
believe, and their musical scene has on all
fronts moved far beyond Leifs and his by
definition parochial concerns.
The sense, then, was less one of the rising of a nation’s spirit through its music,
than of its indomitable spirit expressing
itself through the idiosyncratic creativity
of one very forceful individual personality.
But perhaps that’s how these things always
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Oakes Fegley as Ben and Julianne Moore as Lillian Mayhew in Wonderstruck
Plenty to wonder at
Deborah Ross
PG, Nationwide
Wonderstruck is a film by Todd Haynes
and you will certainly be struck by wonder,
often. You will wonder at its painful slowness. You will wonder at the way it strains
credulity until it snaps. You will wonder if
the violins will ever give it a rest. You will
wonder if it will ever end. And you will
wonder at the ending, when it does finally
come, as it is so stupid. So it does not shortchange on the wonder front. Whatever the
price of your cinema ticket, you will be getting limitless wonder in return.
Haynes is usually such an immaculate,
thoughtful, winning filmmaker (Carol, Far
From Heaven, Velvet Goldmine, that Karen
Carpenter short told with Barbie dolls —
Superstar) that you will also wonder: how
could he have helmed such an unholy
mess? ‘Is it for children?’, I heard someone
ask, hopefully, after the screening I attended. ‘I don’t think it’s for anyone,’ I felt compelled to reply. ‘It’s a fairy tale,’ someone
else remonstrated, defensively. But at this
point I chose to leave it there, as I did not
have the energy for a fight. I’d just given
two hours to a film concluding not only
with a vast chunk of exposition, but a vast
chunk of exposition that entirely failed to
add up. And that takes it out of you.
As based on the novel for young adults
by Brian Selznick, who also wrote the
screenplay — so perhaps we can lay some
of the blame at his feet — this offers a bifurcated narrative following two 12-year-olds
separated by half a century. First, we have
Rose (Millicent Simmonds), who is deaf
and lives in New Jersey in 1927 with her
brutal father. She runs away from home,
heading to Manhattan in search of Lillian
Mayhew (Julianne Moore), the movie star
she idolises. This half of the story is wordless and shot in monochrome as a silent
movie pastiche, like The Artist. Simmonds,
who is a deaf actress is, in fact, wonderfully
expressive and compelling and you do wish
Haynes had just stopped here, but no.
So we also have Ben (Oakes Fegley),
who lives in rural Minnesota in 1977 but
runs away to Manhattan too. His beloved
mother (Michelle Williams) has died and
he is in search of his absent father. Ben is
not deaf at the outset but he becomes deaf
after being struck by lightening, which has
to be a blessing, given how his every move
is so beset by those violins. Everything
happens for a reason, you will have been
told at some point in your life, but that
doesn’t apply here. For instance, his mother, as seen in flashback, had always refused
to tell Ben anything about his father. There
has to be a good reason for that, you will
think. Mistakenly. I couldn’t even fathom
why Rose and Ben had to be deaf. What’s
the point?
Where were we? OK, so they’re both
in Manhattan where they both have cause
to gravitate to the American Museum of
Natural History. From here on in, they are
either walking round the museum, or they
are walking to the museum, or are walking
from the museum. This offers a ‘mesmerising symmetry’, according to the press bumf,
but it is anything but. It is tedious. There
is no danger, no excitement, no tension, no
drama even. Plus you can’t feel anything
for Ben and Rose as they haven’t been
awarded any particular characteristics and
are purely plot ciphers.
Oh, the plot. The plot is so reliant on
coincidences and contrivances you’ll want
to throw stuff at the screen. We hang on in
there, to the extent that we do, to discover
how the pair might be connected, and what
do you get for your trouble? That chunk of
unconvincing exposition. So there is plenty
to wonder at with Wonderstruck, including
whoever thought it was a good idea.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
By William Cook
tanding at the end of Britain’s longest pier, on a cold and misty morning,
looking out across the Thames Estuary,
I wondered, for the umpteenth time: why do
people take the piss out of Southend? It’s
got no airs and graces. It doesn’t take itself
too seriously. Yet out here, surrounded by
still grey sky and still grey water, with only
a few seagulls for company, I’m struck by its
barren windswept beauty. You’d never guess
London was only an hour away.
Southend-on-Sea has been a running
joke for as long as I can remember. Even the
train to London was known as the Misery
Line, on account of its endless delays. Yet
lately, something’s changed. The railway is
vastly improved (quite possibly because the
route to Fenchurch Street station is run by
an Italian company), but there’s more to it
than that. The same thing is happening here
that happened a generation ago in Brighton. Young Londoners, priced out of the Big
Smoke, have discovered this slightly scruffy
seaside town is a fine place to raise a family.
I had lunch with local entrepreneur Marc
Miller at his latest venture, a posh fish and
chip shop called Clarence Yard. Marc spent
a million quid on this old bakery, restoring its Victorian brickwork, vaulted ceiling
and cobbled floors. It’s a perfect metaphor
for Southend’s modest renaissance, a smart
Barren, windswept beauty: the town’s beachfront
restaurant with a rich heritage that’s still
refreshingly down-to-earth.
Marc’s family run traditional entertainments around town, including Sealife
Adventure and Adventure Island (Britain’s
no. 1 free-admission fun park, apparently).
They also own Radio Essex, which feels fitting, for Marc is the quintessential Essex
businessman — friendly and full of energy,
with a keen awareness of the bottom line.
After I’d stuffed my face with cod and
chips (the mushy peas were delicious), my
friend Tracy drove me out to Southend Airport — sorry, London Southend Airport.
CEO Glyn Jones showed me round. The airport’s recent history mirrors Southend’s fall
and rise, from one of Britain’s busiest airports in the 1960s and 1970s, when Freddie
Laker’s Skytrain ruled the skies, to sleepy
obscurity in the 1980s and 1990s, and then
a revival in the Noughties, when it was
bought by the Stobart Group. Stobart has
pumped £160 million into the airport, winning awards. Most of the traffic is no-frills
— easyJet and Flybe — but if you’re flush
enough to have your own aircraft, there’s
also a great facility for private planes.
Back in Southend, I dropped into the
Beecroft Art Gallery, a brutalist hulk that
conceals hidden treasures, including a landscape by local lad John Constable. In the
basement, the veteran jazz trumpeter Digby
Fairweather runs the National Jazz Archive,
with monthly gigs amid an eclectic array
of jazz curios.
I finished my day trip at the Palace Hotel,
where Laurel and Hardy once stayed. I’d
come to meet Paul Cotgrove, director of the
Southend Film Festival (last week in May).
Over a pint of bitter, he talked me through
this year’s attractions, including an appearance by Robin Askwith. Did you know that
as well as those kiss-me-quick Confessions
films, Askwith also worked with Pasolini
and Zeffirelli? How very Southend.
On the train back to London I started
wondering: would my wife let me trade in
our suburban villa in Ruislip for a Georgian
townhouse beside Southend pier?
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the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Soho House call it ‘affordable
glamour’ but it is nothing of the
kind, unless you are Swiss.
— Tanya Gold, p62
High life
New York
If Albanian television had shown the programme CBS did last week — with a woman
who has sex on camera for a living describing how she had unprotected Bing-Bing
with the president — I think even Albanians would feel so diminished they’d move to
Kosovo. But this is America, and it’s a woman’s, woman’s, woman’s world! Or perhaps a
frontal lobe is missing.
The degree of reverence afforded to a
porn actress by Anderson (kiss me) Cooper was astonishing. His smouldering gaze
of restraint was touching, as was his phony
squint of chagrin that no protection was
used. See what I mean about moving to Kosovo? But this is not Albania but America,
the Home of the Depraved.
Newspapers and TV have all become
sacred spaces of the sisterhood, no ifs or buts
about it, as they used to say in the Bronx.
My hero, H.L. Mencken, said something
quite different, but that was some time ago:
‘Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.’ Mencken also quipped
that, ‘When women kiss it always reminds
one of prizefighters shaking hands.’ Great
stuff, isn’t it? But I hate to think what these
female versions of Vlad the Impaler that are
in the news would do to Mencken if he were
around today.
Never mind. The avenging warriors may
be weasel-brained, but they’ve got the major
news outlets and all the big city populations
behind them. In an editorial the Big Bagel
Times thundered: ‘We live at a time when a
porn star displays more credibility and class
than a president.’ Well, that’s because the
Bagel Times prefers someone who has sex
in front of a camera for money to The Donald, who I admit has never been accused of
having class — except that he has a bit more
than the New York Times. The paper can no
longer be taken seriously, its animus against
anyone white, heterosexual and Christian
being so pronounced.
Again, never mind. Somewhere in the
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
middle of all the shouting, the Weinsteining of all men, natural law is taking a back
seat. Natural law can trace its lineage to the
Greeks, Plato and Aristotle, and then to Cicero and on down the line to Montesquieu
and Burke. Natural law clashed with natural
rights during the French Revolution, and I
think the two are clashing once again now
that the sisterhood has taken over American
media. I hope there will be a reaction to all
this, but for the moment it is all one-sided.
The next target is Silicon Valley, and this
time I’m on the side of the girls. Those girliemen out there have the emotional intelligence of a worm and give nerds a bad name.
Alas, though, the ladies have not measured
up. Only 12 per cent of computer science
degrees in the past decade have gone to
the fairer sex, which means, I suppose, that
Silicon Valley has turned into a frat house
because the sweetie pies have not made the
grade. Boo! Down with Sexism!
A Bagel Times female blames this
under-representation on ‘women’s ideas
being more harshly scrutinized’. Better
yet, she blames it on ‘Impostor Syndrome’,
described back in the 1970s as a fraud-like
feeling of not deserving one’s success. Boo!
Down with Sexism! Europe mandates quotas in such situations, and that, she argues,
is why Europe is doing so much better than
the US of A. Nurse, help!
And yet a couple of weeks ago the dear
old Speccie reviewed a biography of Ada
Lovelace, a scientist, who in 1840 became
the mother of the computer. So what happened, how come women aren’t running Silicon, and instead inject the stuff into their
breasts and lure The Donald to their bed?
The sex industry made it much too easy and
much too profitable for the fairer sex to find
an alternative to doing an Ada and studying
their pretty little brains out. Becoming a victim, or spreading one’s legs, is easier and it
gets you the benefit of the doubt where the
fourth estate is concerned.
Mind you, I couldn’t write any of the
above in an American paper and not have
my house burned down. Thank God I live
on the Upper East Side and my building
is a listed one with great security. I am surrounded by aspirations and social climbing,
women who constantly measure themselves
against their peers. They have no time to go
and get little Taki, the male chauvinist ogre,
or join the ‘pulverise the patriarchy’ crusade.
Instead, their biggest problem is how to
treat staff. Get too close to the servants and
they’ll think one comes from Palookaville.
Be too haughty and people will say you’re
putting on airs. So what can a girl do living
up here? Move to Albania and become a
lady overnight. Or have an affair with the
45th president of the United States and
become a media darling. Just stop fretting
and take it from Taki.
Low life
Jeremy Clarke
My boy rang the other night. He said he and
his wife had bought tickets to see Ed Sheeran
at the O2 arena in London. ‘How much were
the tickets?’ I said. They were over £400 the
pair, he said, and I was about to say in a strangulated voice, ‘How much?’ Then I remembered that I had recently added my name to a
ballot which, if I am chosen, will vouchsafe me
the privilege of buying tickets to see the Rolling Stones in Marseille in June — if Ron Wood
lives that long. And some of those tickets are
on sale at a similarly exorbitant price. I try not
to be a blatant hypocrite when speaking to my
son and I stopped myself in the nick of time.
However, this Ed Sheeran business was
merely a prelude to his telling me that his
wife is three months pregnant, and my ‘no
hypocrisy’ rule went straight out of the window. Instead of rejoicing as I should have, I
said that he and his wife were mad to think of
having a baby given their circumstances, and
went on to enumerate some of the potential
difficulties. This naturally upset him and we
ended the call on unfriendly terms. Afterwards
I criticised myself for being a sclerotic old fool
and wished I could have taken the call all over
again and sounded glad. Then I sent him a text
saying this. He hasn’t replied.
I’m back in Devon, cooking for my poor
old mum, who could beat the prophet Job
hands down in an afflictions contest.
‘Guess how much two tickets for an Ed
Sheeran concert cost?’ I said one lunchtime
to break the silence as she prodded a lump
of meat disconsolately around her plate. ‘Ed
Sheeran is a pop singer,’ I said. ‘Go on. Have
a guess.’
She raised her head and concentrated her
mind. I could see the wheels turning. Pop singer. Two tickets. Shocking price.
‘Twenty pounds,’ she said.
If I thought that my 61 years had lately
detached me from present realities, here was
a far worse case. I felt almost youthful and idealistic again. She thought again then threw out
the most outrageous price for a pair of tickets to see a pop singer that she could possibly
‘Thirty pounds,’ she said.
‘Higher,’ I said.
She increased her guess by increments of
ten pounds until she reached 150, then I told
her £400. Her depression deepened visibly.
When next I imparted the news about
another great-grandchild on the way, she
lamented that £400 would be better spent on a
new pram — one of those old-fashioned fourwheelers, I suppose she meant.
Another silence. When she spoke next
it was to articulate something that had been
bothering her for a while, or so it seemed.
‘Why don’t you get a job?’ she said. ‘But I’ve
got a job,’ I said. ‘Not really,’ she said, ‘not a
proper one. What’s France like for jobs? Is
there a school near where you go? You could
ask them for a job.’ ‘Doing what?’ I said, testily.
‘Janitor? Why not?’ she said. ‘Or they might
let you teach the little children English. You’ve
got to do something, you know.’
‘But according to you I don’t speak proper
English.’ ‘You don’t. But it still isn’t too late
for you to learn.’
I changed the subject. ‘I’ve spent hours
making that. Are you just going to push it
around the plate or are you going to eat any
of it?’ ‘I can’t eat any more.’ ‘But you’ve hardly eaten any of it.’ ‘I’m sorry. I’m not hungry
today.’ ‘You weren’t hungry yesterday, either.
You’ve got to eat.’
And then I shut up. Why should she eat if
she doesn’t want to? She was right about a job,
too. Eight hundred panic-stricken words every
Tuesday isn’t what most people would call a
proper job. In fact most people have told me
I removed her plate and scraped the contents into the recycling bin and put it in the
dishwasher and washed up the saucepans.
Then I drove to town. She needed another
batch of hearing aid batteries from the health
clinic and her pension money from the post
office. The post office counter is at the rear of
the small Spar supermarket. I collected her
money and bought a plain chocolate Bounty
bar from Lucy at the grocery till. For Christmas last year Lucy bought me a little plastic
megaphone that changes your voice. It has five
‘And how’s your Mum?’ said Lucy. (She
looks after hers, too.) ‘Any jobs going Lucy?’ I
said. ‘She says I need to get a proper job.’ Lucy
rolled her dark eyes dismissively. And it was
marvellous how one expressive gesture of a
grounded woman behind the counter in Spar
could change everything for the better.
Real life
Melissa Kite
The broken mirror lay in hundreds of shattered pieces on my bathroom floor, having fallen off the wall while I was out. I had
hung it with one of those ‘easy fix’ sticky-back
hooks that don’t require drilling or screws.
You know the ones. They don’t damage your
walls or your tiles. And they don’t work.
The one I used to fix this small, very light
mirror above the sink worked for about three
weeks. It was so easy I thought I had cracked
it. From now on I would do all my DIY with
sticky-back hanging hooks.
I could probably finish the house by using
them if I really put my mind to it. It was easier
than trying to learn how to use a drill which
always starts off well then halfway through
the explanation my eyes glaze over and by
the time whoever is showing me gets to the
bit about the rawl plug I’m halfway around
Aintree in my head, winning the Grand
National (again).
Anyway, I thought this sticky-back hanging thing was the answer to all my problems.
Then while I was out one day it gave up and
the mirror fell off the wall and smashed to
I came home, stared down at the sharp,
glittering pieces and the thought entered my
head: thank goodness. Only seven years bad
luck to go. Not 47, as I had been assuming.
Only I could celebrate breaking a mirror, I
realised, as I shovelled up shards of glass.
I didn’t even pray to be spared the oncoming misfortunes as that was pointless. They
had to come. I wanted to get on with it. I
didn’t have long to wait as the next day someone rang to say Tara had been found dead in
her field.
I raced up there to find her grazing happily. She looked up, chewing a mouthful
of sweet spring grass languidly, as if to say:
‘Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.’
Turns out she had been sleeping, as she is
apt to do more and more now, stretched out
on the ground with her head lolling backwards, snoring no doubt, but the passers-by
can’t hear that.
They stand at the five bar gate going
‘Oh! Ah!’ and ‘Poor thing!’ Apparently, one
of them pronounced that she had obviously
been dead for some time as ‘the corpse has
bloated with gas’.
Yes, either that or the horse is alive, fast
asleep and fat as a barrel after stuffing her
evil old face with prime Surrey grass.
I had to leave a note on the gate with my
number pointing out that the very elderly do
tend to sleep a lot, and you could visit an old
people’s home if you didn’t believe me, but
if anyone was worried they could ring and I
would come and check her again, in addition
to the three times a day I feed, tend and check
her already.
Only please don’t go in the field or the
poor old dead horse will come very much to
life and trample you to death.
Hot on the heels of Tara just being asleep,
the Volvo went bang. I heard a clank from
the undercarriage then a scraping from the
A day later the mechanics declared £1,000
of repairs were needed, including new brake
discs, callipers, and a spring for underneath.
The hire car was only £25 a day, but after
driving it for 24 hours, on day two I only got
two minutes down the road from my house
when a roar from the back signalled a blow-
The keeper has banned me from doing
anything except typing this column
until further notice
out. The tyre was flat, I was stranded in a
lay-by just outside the village, and I rang the
‘You need a cavalcade travelling with you
at all times,’ he said, as he pumped it back up
and used a bottle of fairy liquid and water
to locate the tiny pink prick. ‘You need an
ambulance, a recovery lorry, fire, police.’
As he drove me up the road to the hire
car company, we saw a van marked ‘Disaster
‘That’s what I should have on my Land
Rover,’ he said.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. He sighed, heavily. When
he got me home he said: ‘I’m going to wrap
you in bubble-wrap. No, I’m going to padlock
you in your house. I’m going to lock the door
from the outside so you can’t get out unless I
say so. I need a rest.’
‘Can I put the washing machine on?’ I
asked. ‘No.’ ‘Can I make some dinner?’ ‘No!
I’m not having you making soup, spilling it
everywhere and electrocuting yourself with
the liquidiser!’
Basically, and I can’t blame him, the keeper has banned me from doing anything but
sitting down and typing out this column until
further notice.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
Wild life
Aidan Hartley
Laikipia, Kenya
Erupe is a Kenyan farmer. He owns a smallholding of a few acres not far from my own
place. When we meet our talk is usually
about the vagaries that preoccupy farmers:
crops, rain, livestock diseases and market
prices. On his little patch he built a dwelling
from mud and wattle with a corrugated iron
roof. Inside, a picture of Jesus on the wall
stared down on the poor but growing family, their only possessions a couple of beds, a
chair, a radio and some faded photographs
of relatives. Outside the hut my friend grew
an avocado tree, bananas, a guava and a
small patch of blue gums for shade and firewood. Beyond that he and his wife had tilled
the soil with jembe mattocks. They planted
maize and beans. He had worked all his life
for that little farm, toiling as a labourer to
save money to buy the land and pay the
bride price for his wife, to invest in tools and
seeds and saplings. At last he had what he
wanted. I believe my friend was as content
as Candide cultivating his garden.
In late 2016 I came upon him standing
in the sunshine. He was shaking like a leaf.
I asked what was wrong and he replied that
armed men had driven their cattle into his
farm and destroyed his crops. They murdered his neighbours, stole the little community’s few cattle and goats. He and his family
fled the attack and for weeks they had been
refugees in the nearest town, homeless and
begging for food from cousins. Together with
others I contributed some cash so that he
could construct a makeshift shelter to live
in. His wife sold goods in the market and he
went back to labouring. He must have had
some kind of nervous breakdown. Whenever I saw him he stuttered and his whole body
shook as he related to me how the gunmen
were sitting on his chairs, sleeping in his bed,
pissing in his field. He had rescued his family from danger but after all his years of toil
they were destitute.
Calm returned to his home area a few
months ago. The gunmen got off the stolen chairs and disappeared with their cattle,
leaving the farm in ruins. This week I met
Erupe and found him much more cheerful.
Now that peace had returned, I assumed he
had resettled at home. ‘We’re still in town,’
he said, the smile gone. ‘I sometimes go
home to look around but we must start from
the beginning again.’ His mud house had
been demolished. The iron roofing was lootthe spectator | 7 april 2018 |
ed together with the mattresses and chairs.
‘Surely you prepared the land for planting
this last month?’ He shook his head. ‘You
don’t just go like that. You must be cautious.
It will take a long time.’
People from towns often do not understand farming and how slow moving it is.
When you start farming it will take you a
lifetime to get even close to where you want
to be, to sweeten land, drain marsh, put in
dams, stop erosion, plant windbreaks and
paddock open country. There are pastures
in England that have been untilled for centuries. It will take a farmer until he’s on his
deathbed to get the bloodline of cow he
wants, to get the right cycle of crops working on a particular patch of land. The progress is so slow that plans might bear fruit
only in future generations.
To really take care of it you must own the
farm. For one thing you cannot easily bor-
There are crazy politicians who
think that when you threaten farmers
the crops will keep growing and the
cows will keep milking
row money if the farm is not yours and being
heavily in debt is the farmer’s congenital illness. But if you lease or rent the land, especially in Africa, the tendency is to exhaust
the soil and hammer the pasture to extract
maximum profit, possibly damaging the land
in the long-term. And to embark on all the
crazy things we farmers dream up you might
sell everything you have in the world to sink
into new cash-thirsty projects, as we have
done on our farm in Kenya. It can become
a reckless obsession, yet whether you are a
smallholder like Erupe or a big commercial
farmer, the life is risky enough without politics and the insecurity it brings.
Down in South Africa now they have a
President, Cyril Ramaphosa, who promises
to ‘make this country the Garden of Eden’
by confiscating farms for political gain and
there’s a demagogue in a red beret, Julius
Malema, foaming at the mouth. ‘You will
see any beautiful piece of land, you like it,
occupy it, it belongs to you.’ There are crazy
politicians from towns who think when they
threaten farmers or attack them that the
crops will keep growing and the cows will
keep milking.
Susanna Gross
It was about 20 years ago that I first became
friends with Janet de Botton, and urged her
to take up bridge. Although I knew she’d
love it, I didn’t hold out much hope that
she’d get beyond ‘social’ bridge; the club
scene was (and still is) pretty weird and
intimidating. But Janet amazed me: as soon
as she’d mastered the rudiments, she insisted
on coming with me to play for low-stakes at
St John’s Wood Bridge Club. I warned her:
some of these people aren’t nice, they’ll yell
at you. But she came, they did yell, she lost
all her loose change — and she still had the
pluck and drive to keep coming back.
Soon we graduated to higher-stake bridge
at TGR’s; then she started playing in tournaments and got a top team together. And now
— who would have thought it all those years
ago? — she and her team have been selected to represent England in a match against
Wales. Her first England cap! I’m proud of
her, and rather pleased with myself for setting her on this path. She’s also been lucky
in having the brilliant Artur Malinowski as
her long-term partner. They’ve grown into a
formidable pair, with an understanding and
trust that is invaluable at the table. A simple
example from a recent rubber bridge game
(Janet was North, Artur South):
All vul
Dealer N
z 10 6
w KQ
X7 6
w 10 7
7 5 3
all pass
8 6 532
y KQ
zQJ 8 4
X A Q 10 8
J 10 9 3
9 4
Janet pre-empted, East overcalled, and
Artur jumped to 4y. 3y would have been
forcing so he wasn’t showing extra values,
just bidding what he thought he could make.
But Janet looked again at her hand — and
cue-bid 5X. Artur had complete faith that
her bid was based on the Ay and a diamond
void — she wouldn’t have bid on with a singleton. Without hesitation he jumped to 6y.
How easy-peasy they made it look!
Space travel
Raymond Keene
No, not the type of space travel allegedly enjoyed
by the World Chess Federation president, Kirsan
Ilumzinov, during his self-confessed encounters
with aliens — rather, the control of space
conferred by certain types of chess opening as
explained in Opening Repertoire 1 e4 by Cyrus
Lakdawala (Everyman Chess). The industrious
and prolific Lakdawala presents a smorgasbord of
possibilities in an easy-to-learn repertoire for
White, predicated on the ambition to dominate
greater terrain. Against the Caro-Kann Defence
he advocates 3 e5, while in this week’s game
(featuring the early frontrunner in the Candidates
tournament for the World Championship)
Lakdawala recommends the space-gaining 3 e5
against the French Defence, as favoured by the
guru of chess strategy Aron Nimzowitsch.
Notes are based on those by Lakdawala from
his book. This week’s puzzle in fact arose from
the 3 e5 line against the Caro-Kann, also
advocated by Nimzowitsch.
Caruana-Vallejo Pons: Sao Paulo/Bilbao 2012;
French Defence
1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3
Qb6 6 a3 Nh6 7 b4 cxd4 8 cxd4 Nf5 9 Be3
Bd7 Black wants to play ... Rc8 as soon as
possible. 9 ... f6 is a key alternative, where Black
immediately challenges White’s e5-grip. 10 Bd3
Nxe3 11 fxe3 g6 Black’s idea is twofold: to
restrict the power of White’s light squared bishop
and to prepare to develop his dark-squared
bishop to h6, where its gaze fixes upon e3. 12
Nc3 At first sight this looks like a blunder but if
Black takes the bait, White plans to build up a
huge attack. 12 ... Nxb4 Objectively, Black is
still fine after this move, but it forces him to find
all sorts of difficult defensive resources. 13 axb4
Bxb4 (see diagram 1) The pin will regain the
piece and Black will be two pawns ahead.
However, White gains a huge initiative on the
kingside. 14 0-0 Bxc3 15 Rc1 Rc8 After this
natural move White gets a winning attack. Black
should bring his bishop into the defence as
quickly as possible with 15 ... Bb4 16 Ng5 0-0 17
Qg4 Bb5 18 Bxb5 Qxb5 19 Rc7 Bd2! 20 Qh3 h5
21 Nxf7 Qe2 22 Nh6+ Kh8 and White has nothing
better than perpetual check with 23 Nf7+ Kg8 24
White to play. This position is from Jones-Deac,
European Team Championship, Batumi 2018.
Can you spot White’s crushing breakthrough?
Answers to me at The Spectator by Tuesday
10 April or via email to
There is a prize of £20 for the first correct
answer out of a hat. Please include a postal
address and allow six weeks for prize delivery.
Last week’s solution 1 Rxg6+
Last week’s winner Jeremy Hart, Yatton,
Carroll in La La Land
Lucy Vickery
Diagram 1
Diagram 2
Nh6+. 16 Ng5 0-0 17 Qg4 Badly timed.
White is winning if he finds 17 Rb1 and if 17 ...
Qc7 18 Rf6! a5 19 Qf3 with an unstoppable
attack. 17 ... Bd2 18 Qh3 h5 19 Rxc8 Bxc8
20 Qf3 (see diagram 2) 20 ... Qd8 A losing
blunder. Black had to play 20 ... Qc7 when after
21 Bxg6 he has 21 ... Bxe3+! which is a
miraculous deflection. After 22 Qxe3 fxg6 23
Rf6 the likely result is a draw. 21 Nxf7
Bxe3+ 22 Kh1 The difference here is that
White can simply ignore the bishop. 22 ...
Qh4 23 Bxg6 Bg5 24 Bh7+ Black resigns
A nice finish. If 24 ... Kxh7 (24 ... Kg7 is met
with 25 Qd3 with infiltration to g6) 25 Nxg5+
Qxg5 26 Qxf8 and Black will soon be mated.
In Competition No. 3042, a challenge inspired
by the American parodist Frank Jacobs’s
1975 version of ‘Jabberwocky’, ‘As If Lewis
Carroll Were a Hollywood Press Agent in
the Thirties’, you were invited to provide a
Hollywood-themed ‘Jabberwocky’ for our
times. Jacobs begins: ‘’Twas Bogart and the
Franchot Tones/ Did Greer and Garson in
the Wayne;/ All Muni were the Lewis Stones,/
And Rooneyed with Fontaine…’, and most
(though not all) of you closely followed that
template — to dazzling effect. Honourable
mentions go to Rob Johnston and Joe Houlihan. Those printed below pocket £25 each.
’Twas Downey, and the Harrelsons
Did Cruise and Walken in the Pitt.
All Spacey were the Sarandons,
And Nicholsons half-lit.
‘Beware the Streepymeryl thing,
The wanxome Caine, the gribbled Crowe.
And never be caught Willising
The frungible Paltrow!
Beware the stribulous Dafoe,
The Damon frimbling in his Cage,
The hot Roth of DiCaprio
And Hoffman’s puglish rage!’
The sad youth heard the smurbly words
That named his mortal mission thus.
His visage paled. ‘Alas!’ he wailed,
‘I am not Spartacus.’
Basil Ransome-Davies
’Twas Gerwig and the Sharon Stone
Did Gere and Gambon in the Wiig,
All Hemsworth was the McElhone
And the Jack Black’s Paul Feig.
He took his Vincent Vaughn in hand;
Long time the Hanks Defoe he sought —
So rested he by the Weinstein tree
And stood Wahlberg in thought.
And, as in Affleck Firth he stood,
The Ethan Hawke, with eyes Broadbent,
Came Walken through the Sheedy wood,
And Markled as it went!
John Wu! John Wu! And Depardieu,
The Vincent Vaughn went snicker-snack,
With Donnie Yen, and with Sean Penn,
He went Gal Gadot back.
Rob Stuart
’Twas Affleck and the Kevin Kline
Did Depp and Damon in the Gad:
All Meryl were the Pegg and Pine,
And Elba were the Brad.
‘Beware the Barinholtz, my boy!
Avoid the Denzeling Dafoe!
Face not the Clooney McAvoy
And shun the Ruffalo!’
He strapped his Channing Tatum on,
Vin Diesel filling every vein,
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
And with his trusty Harrelson
He Charlized his Chastain.
‘And hast thou slain the Corey Stoll?
O Dench, O Cara Delevingne!
Give Hanks inside my Gyllenhaal
That you are Dafne Keen!’
Bill Greenwell
’Twas glitzy, and the osky crowd
Were streeping in the sisterhood,
All whiny steins were disallowed,
And the hashtags me-tooed.
Then through the I-Am-Holier-Wood
An inclusion rider flew,
Where thesps in cumbered batches stood
And signalled their virtù.
Beware the spacey male, my dear,
The couch that casts, the paw that gropes,
Of race- and gender-gaps steer clear,
And shun the transey phobes.
The thesps in each acceptance speech
Ground an afflected axe,
But the Trumperwock just gave a screech,
And huckabeed his facts.
Brian Murdoch
’Twas BrillGig and the carpet red
Did spire and spangle with outrage:
All vignalling were the walking heads
(The moguls manched about offstage).
‘Beware the Grabberwock, metoos,
The spooling jaws, the pelvic thrust!
Beware the Tubtub bird’s abuse
The offered parts which now disgust!
For we are armed with mighteous strength
Waxed and heeled and sanctified,
We’ll make LA like Doris Day
All motherhood and melon-pied!’
And thus the Grabberwock was slain,
Their retrous joy glibbed unconfined:
Fraglitter town is pure again
And human nature’s redefined.
Paul Carpenter
The Weinstein scrumbled through the Wood,
His hands were squeezing squirm,
He wriggled as he sluthered on
A beastly slimy worm.
And then behind him came a cry,
As Paltrow screeched her pain
And Klass and Jolie Beckinsaled
Behind him their refrain,
He must be stopped, this squelchy squid
With slathering tentacles,
The Campbell and the Thurman rose
And waved their sharpened tales.
They scummed the Weinstein over land
And to the swarfling sea
As the cries enstrafed his cringing soul
‘Me too, me too, and me.’
Katie Mallett
Too many
by Doc
The unclued lights, three of
two words and four pairs are of
a kind. Elsewhere, ignore two
Arable plant making
money, including capital –
a grand (10, hyphened)
The occasion, we’re told,
for tears (5)
Express excitement
about the sun at start of
evening (7)
Sound producer’s good
fortune is keeping time (7)
Top performer and
soothsayer, regularly (4)
Manageable while
oddly dismissing odds
all day! (6)
Fit he-man’s out in the
pit (9)
Knowledgeable fellow has
lost his head before (5)
Magical beings seeming
heartless and troubled (6)
Study Latin on express (4)
State capital displaying
sprite’s painting (6)
Receipts still in plant (7)
Puffed up during February
and March, once (7)
Lydia changes her
newspaper (5)
Gain more information
from characters of Eastern
Ulan Bator (10, two words)
Legal official putting name
on seal (6)
Irish girl, otherwise called
Sandie (6)
5 Pianist John has to go up to
lair (5)
6 Top felon having a just
claim is terrible (9)
7 Young girl, despondent,
with sickly pale colour (6)
8 Theresa demolished plant
(7, two words)
9 Force finial on top of the
hospital (5)
12 Trifles are a pound –
change one’s diet (10)
16 The koala chewed one ant
and beaver (10, two words)
20 European princely dynasty
is in France and Spain (4)
23 In torpid lethargy (4)
29 Euphoria when family
member runs off (7)
31 Gérard, the French
baritone, for example,
drinking most of the
liqueur (6)
32 Fields entered by
sportsmen, finally (6)
34 Staggered, but got in line
Do these competitors keep
to the beaten track? (6)
35 Dispossess European
Make notes. Sounds OK
conqueror. No alternative!
Drunkard’s in attendance – 37 Toyota model is leaving the
that’s that (7, two words)
plant (5)
New type of chain and
38 Reckon Shetland viol is in
capes (6)
one of its bays (5)
A first prize of £30 for the first
correct solution opened on 23
April. There are two runners-up
prizes of £20. (UK solvers can
choose to receive the latest
edition of the Chambers
dictionary instead of cash —
ring the word ‘dictionary’.)
Entries to: Crossword 2353,
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen
Street, London SW1H 9HP.
Please allow six weeks for
prize delivery.
The unclued lights are classical French plays (‘PIÈCES’)
by Corneille (9, 18, 21A), Molière (11, 23, and 21D/29) and
Racine (1A, 24 and 25). The highlighted letters reveal the
three playwrights’ names.
First prize Keith Norcott, Warden Hill, Cheltenham
Runners-up David Carpenter, Sutton Coldfield;
Paul Davies, Reading, Berkshire
You are invited to provide a poem about
euphemisms. Email entries of up to 16 lines to by midday on 18 April.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
No Sacred Cows
Death at a funeral
Toby Young
omething very odd occurred at
a funeral I attended last week
— somebody died. I don’t
mean the person who was being buried. They had died a few days earlier,
obviously. I mean one of the mourners passed away during the service.
That was shocking in its own right, but
what made it surreal is that the other
mourners carried on as if nothing had
The funeral took place in the
deceased’s garden, where her family
had arranged for her to be buried, and
at the conclusion of the service someone announced that wine and food
would be served. The 100 or so people in attendance formed a queue at
the kitchen door and started chatting
among themselves. Meanwhile, the
poor woman who had died was flat
out on the grass behind them.
Actually, that description doesn’t
quite do justice to how bizarre the
scene was. The woman wasn’t simply lying in a corner of the garden,
where she might have gone unnoticed. Rather, she was being attended to by a doctor who was doing his
best to resuscitate her. That is, he was
performing vigorous CPR in a way
which was impossible not to be aware
of. Then, after about ten minutes, an
ambulance crew arrived and started
trying to shock her back to life. It was
like a scene out of Holby City, with a
What made
the situation
more surreal is
that the other
carried on as
if nothing had
paramedic shouting ‘Clear!’ before
applying the electrodes. It could not
have been more dramatic. And yet no
one paid the slightest bit of attention.
I can think of several explanations.
The first and most important is that
there are no longer any clear social
guidelines when it comes to death and
funerals. Had it been a Christian service, there would have been an obvious authority figure — the vicar or
priest — and he would have suspended or postponed the service while he
dealt with the crisis. But it wasn’t a
Christian funeral. Rather, it borrowed
from several religions, including Buddhism, and there was no single person in charge, and therefore no one
to take a decision about how to react.
You could see people looking at each
other, hoping for cues about how to
behave and I daresay that if even one
person had called a halt to the proceedings and suggested people go
home, everyone would have done so.
But because no one did — because
there is no unambiguously ‘correct’
way to respond when someone dies at
an unorthodox funeral such as this —
everyone just ignored it.
The fact the funeral was taking
place in the garden of the deceased,
and a gazebo had been erected, also
complicated things. It meant there
was no obvious place to retire to,
away from the body on the grass, as
a mark of respect. Had it been in a
church or a graveyard, we could have
left and gone on to the wake, leaving
a group to deal with the unexpected
death. True, there was a house, but it
wasn’t large enough to accommodate
everybody and, in any case, much of
the downstairs was occupied by the
caterers. The choice was between
ignoring the death or asking people
to go home and, given the trouble the
family had gone to, and that everyone
wanted to pay their respects, ignoring
it seemed like the lesser of two evils.
People might have behaved differently if the woman in question
was known to them — if she’d been
a member of the deceased’s family, for instance. But it soon became
apparent that very few people knew
her. She was unaccompanied, too,
which is one of the reasons the doctor and paramedics continued trying
to resuscitate long after it was obvious
she wasn’t coming back. Apparently,
medical professionals are obliged to
do that, irrespective of how clearly dead the person is, unless they’ve
expressed a wish not to be resuscitated — and there was no way of knowing in this lady’s case. This is partly
what made the situation so bizarre:
the professionals had a clear protocol
they had to follow, even though it was
patently ridiculous, while the rest of
us were hamstrung by a lack of protocol. The upshot was the worst of all
possible worlds for this poor woman,
whose death and its aftermath could
not have been more undignified. Then
again, she did die almost instantly, so
perhaps it didn’t matter all that much.
I’m not sure if the way we behaved
was wrong — I’ll have to consult Dear
Mary. But the odd thing is that the
additional dead body didn’t seem to
tarnish the experience for anyone. It
was a very good funeral and the fact
that no one overreacted to what happened reminded me of the deceased,
who would have done the same.
Toby Young is associate editor of
The Spectator.
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
‘That’s personal abuse...’ Oh please..
What a pantomime much of the
ball-tampering saga has been.
Umpires: ‘Oh yes you were.’
Bancroft: ‘Oh no I wasn’t.’
Crowd (watching sandpaper disappear into Bancroft’s jockstrap on a
giant screen): ‘Oh yes he was!’
If any more good can come of this
saga, it will be to show football that
VAR — the video referee system —
will only work, and work spectacularly, if the punters in the ground also
see the replays. The public unmasking
of Australia’s cheating was both wonderful theatre and an absolute guarantee that the episode couldn’t be,
er, tampered with by officials for ‘the
good of the game’. Let’s hope VAR
will be used this way in the World
Cup. But don’t hold your breath.
Spectator Sport
What a pantomime this balltampering scandal has been
Roger Alton
haven’t seen so many men crying
since the end of A Tale of Two Cities at the Scala Cinema in Oxford
in the late 1950s. As the credits rolled,
stern-faced blokes whipped out their
hankies and dabbed their eyes. But by
the time the lights went up, the hankies were replaced and upper lips stiffened. These after all were men, many
of whom had served in the war.
On balance, you feel, that is how
men should behave, rather than sobbing uncontrollably with their parents
around, like Steve Smith, or — in the
case of wee Davey Warner — doing
an absurd name, rank and number
impression from a prison camp film.
All because they had been caught.
And then caught lying. I’m not sure
how long these Aussie cricketers
would have lasted in Revolutionary
France. Or indeed in Stalag Luft III.
Warner is a man whose idea
of sledging on the pitch is swearing repeatedly at players. That’s not
personal abuse he says. Yet when an
opponent might reply with a passing
remark about Warner’s wife, the vivacious Candice, Warner goes ballistic.
he whole Greek drama of the
fall of Smith, Warner, Bancroft
and Lehmann began last year with
the hubris of Nathan Lyon, otherwise
seemingly an agreeable bloke, bragging before the Ashes about ‘ending
the careers of English players’, hotly
followed by the smirking, adolescent
behaviour of Smith and Bancroft at
a press conference after the Australians had stitched up Jonny Bairstow
over the headbutt non-incident. The
southern hemisphere summer now
ends with several Aussie careers on
the line, if not wrecked; a bewildering
amount of tears; and a once mighty
I’m not sure
how long
these Aussie
would have
lasted in
team blown apart by the South Africans. We Poms must be forgiven for
just a trace of schadenfreude.
ith Woods and McIlroy blasting back into form, Spieth and
Rose too, this should be one of the
most thrilling Masters ever. Only an
unlikely Woods win would replace
Ian Poulter’s play-off victory in this
week’s Houston Open as the golf story
of the year. It was a great result, not
just because it secured him a place at
Augusta, but because after the first
round Poulter was in 123rd place. English to the marrow is the chest-pumping Poults — had he been around in
the 15th century he’d have been a
bowman at Agincourt. Although, of
course, he lives in Florida.
he most unfair moment of some
terrific quarter-finals in rugby’s
Champions Cup was when François
Trinh-Duc, the French stand-off, inexplicably failed to make touch for Toulon with just a few minutes remaining and gifted Munster a try — and
a victory — the Irish did not deserve.
Trinh-Duc, whose sleepy elegance
seems to mark out an active boulevardier, had presumably glanced up
at the stand as he made the kick and
spotted his Toulon girlfriend in the
same row as his Paris girlfriend with
one saying to the other ‘Quelle?! Toi
aussi!!’ Merde!’ The next minute the
Munster wing had crossed the line.
Q. Along with five of my favourite
people, I’ve been invited again to
what should be an idyllic house
party in Scotland this summer.
The house, the landscape, the food
and the sport could not be better,
and our mutual friend is a brilliant
host capable of great empathy
and wit — 99 per cent of the time.
However it is the 1 per cent risk
of a glitch that is making me, and
the others, wary of accepting.
We discover that each one of us
has, while staying in this house
party, incurred the anger of our
host and received a humiliating
dressing-down for a very minor
misdemeanour. Examples include
arriving five minutes late for
dinner, leaving a piece of (one’s
own) clothing by the riverbank,
going into town (in one’s own
vehicle) to collect necessary
prescription medicine — all these
have brought on explosions of
wrath. It seems one guest always
gets it in the neck. This means that
the pleasure is almost outweighed
by the tension of waiting for the
reprimand. Should we tackle
him about these glitches before
accepting? Or do they constitute
a sort of droit de seigneur with
which we should put up?
— Name and address withheld
A. It sounds like the glitch is hardwired. Instead of tackling him,
why not turn the tension into
excitement? Conspire that each
guest pays £100 into a sweepstake
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
with the agreement that whoever
receives the tongue-lashing will
sweep all the money. If, as is
likely, guests begin to compete to
behave badly, you can intervene.
Admit to your host that you have
been playing up and explain that,
although you are all very fond
of him, you have agreed that the
sweepstake is the best way forward.
Q. Years ago a politician gave
me his secret for protecting his
hands during long days of shaking
those of potential voters. Rather
than use the fingertip-grabbing
approach you describe, he would
aggressively force his thumbfinger crotch as far as possible
into the thumb-finger crotch
of his counterpart. It requires
practice and speed but knucklecrushing grips happen when
your knuckles are accessible
to be squeezed. If you can get
your hand far enough into the
handshake that you are almost
palm heel to palm heel, your own
hand cannot be crushed by even
the most determined grip.
— P.P., New York
A. Thank you for contributing this
useful suggestion.
Q. Gerry Farrell has impeccable
taste but when he says ‘top button
only is the gentleman’s way’, he
must be thinking of a linen jacket,
which might typically have only
two buttons. On a suit jacket,
middle button only is the rule —
broken especially by politicians
trying to achieve a slimmer look.
David Cameron used to do up the
top two buttons.
— R.J.O., Sittingbourne, Kent
A. Thank you for this clarification
with which Gerry Farrell agrees.
How Soho became so-so
Tanya Gold
ometimes I fret that Soho
House & Co is doing to this column what it does to London. It
places its smooth tentacles in my
prose and suddenly the column has
a pointy beard and is playing table
tennis, while doing something monstrous in advertising. But I have no
choice. I cannot hide in ghostly seafood bars for ever. (Next time, Bentley’s.) Because now Soho House & Co
has invaded Kettner’s, which has duly
gone the way of the Odeon West End
in Leicester Square, a lovely art deco
cinema that these days is only a void. It
will become something else — a hotel
and maybe a cinema again — but it
will remain a void. The transformation
of Soho into the kind of advertorial
you find in an airport lounge in Dubai
goes on. It is flat; a once fascinating
pop-up book, closed for ever.
If you were a cocaine addict in the
1990s and liked to circle Soho chewing your own lips like a malfunctioning shark, you would pass Kettner’s
at least three times before dawn. It is
in Romilly Street, a quiet road full of
tall Georgian houses haunted by men
of Soho into
the kind of
you find in
an airport
lounge in
Dubai goes on
asking schoolgirls for sex in exchange
for money. Well, that was my experience but I was only 14 so maybe I
dreamt it. The great brick lump of the
Palace Theatre is nearby, like Edward
VII’s big bottom, but singing.
Kettner’s was established in 1867
by August Kettner, who’s supposed
to have been Napoleon III’s chef.
(I wonder if he hated Napoleon III
and ran away to London.) It hosted Oscar Wilde and later became a
Pizza Express with cold white walls
and black railings, magical and faintly unknowable, like a KFC at the palace of Versailles, or a Burger King in
a Dickens novel. But Soho is extraordinary like that, or rather it used to
be, before the porn cinema became
a steakhouse and the non-porn cinema became a hotel and the district
became a theme park for suburban
idiots in fashionable sunglasses.
Now that Kettner’s belongs to
Soho House & Co, it is a restaurant
and 33-room hotel with self-declared
‘tiny’ rooms from £255 a night. There is
a definite masochistic edge to all incursions into Soho House, which names
‘If you rough up one side, you get a terrific reverse swing.’
its beauty products after cows. This is
not funny; it is, for a leisure experience,
quite self-hating.
Kettner’s has been renamed
Kettner’s Townhouse — ‘a home to
aristocrats and creatives since 1867’
— and it joins the nearby Dean Street
Townhouse, which I like, because it
does bacon sandwiches for £6.50 and
I once saw Matthew Modine there.
Soho House & Co also has members’
clubs in Greek Street and Dean Street,
and a bad restaurant on Shaftesbury
Avenue called Cafe Monico.
I like dentists, but I don’t yearn for
a world populated solely by dentists.
And I don’t yearn for a Soho that is all
House because, if it is, what is it for?
I also don’t think Oscar Wilde would
care to be called a ‘creative’. He is
lucky he is dead. Kettner’s was going
to be part of Soho House nearby, but
the owners changed their minds and
kept the name. This, then, is technically a reprieve but now the dough balls
have been exiled, what does Kettner’s
look like? A brasserie in a labyrinth, is
the answer — glossy, soulless, generic.
It is slightly art deco, slightly Second Empire, and slightly English
country house. Soho House call it
‘affordable glamour’ but it is nothing
of the kind, unless you are Swiss.
We eat, in a shining parody of a dining room: a fillet of beef, a steak tartare,
a steak haché and an omelette Arnold
Bennett — haddock and parmesan. It
is all sleek but it cannot compensate
for the ruin of central London’s most
interesting district. Kettner’s lives but
only in name. Kettner’s has fallen.
Kettner’s Townhouse, 29 Romilly St,
London W1D 5HP, tel: 020 7734 5650
Your pronouns
Jay Bernard won the Ted
Hughes Award last week.
I managed to hear a snippet of
the winning poem on Today and
was pleasantly surprised by its
poetic quality. My husband was
harrumphing a bit because the
poet began by saying, ‘Soo…
basically,’ and in his opinion
went downhill from there, by
talking about the poem being an
‘intersectional exploration’ seen
‘through a queer lens’.
‘You used to be she and
her,’ Sarah Montague said.
‘Now you’re they and them.’
On Twitter, Jay Bernard told
off The Bookseller, for having
‘misgendered me. The press
release says “they”, as does my
profile. Why do you use “he”?’
The Bookseller changed its copy.
I’ve mentioned before the
use of they and them when we
don’t want to specify the sex of
the person we’re talking about: ‘I
met an old friend and they asked
me for a drink.’ It sits with the
British English practice of calling
institutions they: ‘I phoned the
bank and they were hopeless.’
But to be expected to use a
plural pronoun for someone, at
the peril of obloquy, is a different
kettle of fish. A popular website,
the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,
Transgender Resource Centre
of the University of Wisconsin,
explains the need. ‘When
someone is referred to with the
wrong pronoun, it can make them
feel disrespected, invalidated,
dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric
(often all of the above). It is not
only disrespectful and hurtful,
but also oppressive,’ it says.
‘Some people prefer not to use
pronouns at all, using their name
as a pronoun instead.’
How can you tell? Advice for
introducing someone publicly (if
they haven’t been no-platformed)
is to say: ‘Tell us your name,
where you come from, and your
pronouns.’ It’s not just they.
Alternatives to they, them, their
include fae, fer, fer; per, per, pers;
ve, ver, vis; xe, xem, xyr; ze, hir, hir.
Talk about oppressive.
Of course, his and her are
often not pronouns at all but
possessive adjectives (her identity;
his fault). In many languages, such
as French, they agree with the
grammatical gender of the noun
they qualify. Jay Bernard would
have to say son poème and sa
identité, unless the French could
be persuaded to rewrite their
language specially.
— Dot Wordsworth
the spectator | 7 april 2018 |
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