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The Spectator - March 01, 2018

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3 march 2018 [ £4.50 [ est. 1828
Me! Me!
Hollywood stars are hijacking
feminism, say Jenny McCartney
and Tanya Gold
Paul Wood
UAE AED34.00. USA US$7.20.
established 1828
Back off, Barnier
here’s an unwritten law governing
Boris Johnson in Westminster: everything he says or does is a gaffe, or can
be portrayed as one. Yet actually Johnson
has an uncanny knack for conjuring similes
which sum up the political situation precisely. So it was for his much-ridiculed remark,
in response to a question about the Irish border, that there are no border posts between
London boroughs even though they have
different business rates and policies on various other things. His phrasing was careless
but the point stands: it is nonsense to claim
that different regimes must mean border
patrols. There are significant tax and excise
differences on either side of the Northern
Irish border, but they’re managed without
any need for checkpoints. It’s amazing what
can be achieved through goodwill.
But goodwill is not a commodity in abundant supply in the offices of Michel Barnier,
who likes to portray the Irish border issue
as one that can be solved only by keeping
Northern Ireland within the customs union.
That is quite absurd. Switzerland has for
many years managed to operate as part of the
Schengen area with scant customs formalities
on its borders with four EU states, in spite of
it not being part of the EU or the customs
union. So why can’t Britain and Ireland continue to operate their own mini-Schengen?
Better still, if the EU would get on and
do as it promised to do last December and
open talks on a post-Brexit trade deal, we
might well find that there will be no tariffs to collect on goods crossing the border
between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Even if there were tariffs, it does not follow
that there would be any need for formal customs posts. We do not have HMRC officials
hovering over tills in Marks and Spencer to
make sure that VAT is being collected and
paid, so why the need to collect import duties
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
at a fixed barrier? The money could quite
easily be collected through the tax system.
The EU has become fixated on the Irish
border partly because the Irish PM Leo Varadkar is making a stand on the issue in order
to appeal to Sinn Fein voters. That serves the
purposes of M. Barnier, for now. For months
the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator refused to
start trade talks until Britain had agreed to
pay a leaving bill. Then, when Theresa May
agreed to that in December, he picked on
another stumbling block — as well as dismissing any British proposals on trade as an
attempt to have our cake and eat it. Barnier’s
language and behaviour are regularly a cause
for dismay in European capitals, which seek
Brexit is difficult, and
Barnier’s tactics are
making it far more so
quick and good-natured Brexit negotiations.
It is a trial for everyone.
For months, the UK government has tried
to progress talks. The EU’s publication of
this week’s ‘legally binding’ treaty on Brexit
must, however, mark a turning point. It contains a proposal — to erect an internal border between Northern Ireland and mainland
Britain — which is so obviously unacceptable
that Theresa May has no option but to reject
it. Even if she felt minded to concede, there
is not the slightest prospect that DUP MPs,
on whom she depends for a majority, would
allow any attempt to drive a wedge between
Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
If we are to achieve the free and open
trade which is in the interests of everyone in
Europe, it has become necessary to go above
the heads of Barnier and his team and talk to
individual member states. Outside of Brussels, there is little sign of any desire to punish Britain for leaving the EU. There might
be regret, but there is a wish to build a constructive ongoing relationship in everyone’s
mutual interest. European businesses don’t
want tariffs and trade barriers any more than
we do.
The Italian government, for example,
recently said that it would be unrealistic to
expect a future trade deal to exclude financial services. If that kind of attitude ruled in
Barnier’s team, we would have a trade deal
resolved in no time. Perhaps this is why M.
Barnier is protesting about David Davis
making so many visits to European capitals:
Davis is creating an atmosphere of harmony
that is unsuited to Barnier’s agenda.
There are signs that many in Europe —
especially its exporters — are increasingly
fed up with the obstructive attitude of the
team appointed to conduct Brexit negotiations on their behalf. Barnier fancies himself
as a successor to Juncker, who steps down
next year, and he is no great fan of the idea
that the European Commission should be
answerable to national governments. So he is
eager to create obstacles. It now seems likely that Barnier co-ordinated his Irish border
gambit with Jeremy Corbyn, who announced
this week his backing for ‘a customs union’.
This type of behaviour could backfire badly,
emboldening those Tories who want to walk
away from Brexit talks altogether.
Kristalina Georgieva, who runs the
World Bank, says she decided to resign as a
vice president of the European Commission
when she found out that Barnier had been
put in charge of Brexit talks. At the time, this
seemed baffling: why such a strong reaction?
Now it makes sense. Brexit is difficult, and
Barnier’s tactics are making it far more so —
often to the dismay of the member states that
he is supposed to be serving. The Prime Minister will need all of her patience, resolve and
allies in the months ahead.
Thrill pill, p18
A losing game, p16
Rosoman’s strange vision, p52
Leading article
Portrait of the Week
Diary London’s stabbing epidemic,
Brexit clarity and the genius of Matt
Andrew Marr
Politics Which way, Mrs May?
James Forsyth
The Spectator’s Notes
Gilbert and Sullivan, extremists
and the new-look Guardian
Charles Moore
15 Rod Liddle The word ‘extremist’
has lost all meaning
18 From the archive A moral test
19 Matthew Parris When the internet
is a force for social cohesion
23 Lionel Shriver The all give and
no take of American taxes
24 Letters Corbyn and the zeitgeist,
NHS inaction and respect for soldiers
25 Any other business There’s no
reason for banks to hand capital back
Martin Vander Weyer
Deborah Ross is away.
10 Me! Me! #MeToo!
Hollywood is hijacking feminism
Jenny McCartney
11 Maitreyabandhu
‘Cézanne and the Colour Palette’:
a poem
12 Fake sisterhood
Feminism is just another accessory
Tanya Gold
16 Putin’s gamble
What is Russia’s endgame in Syria?
Paul Wood
42 Roger Lewis
The Shadow in the Garden,
by James Atlas
44 Leyla Sanai
Under the Knife, by
Arnold van de Laar;
Anaesthesia, by Kate Cole-Adams
46 Mick Herron
MI5 and Me, by Charlotte Bingham
47 Francis Ghilès
Ibn Khaldun, by Robert Irwin
18 Blue pill-pushers
The new market for Viagra
Lara Prendergast
48 Hugh Thomson
Ground Work, edited by Tim Dee;
Storied Ground, by Paul Readman
21 Italians aren’t fascists
They’re just angry about immigration
Nicholas Farrell
49 Jane Solomon
‘Beautiful Nightmare’: a poem
22 Rajasthan notebook
The beauty — and honesty —
of an Indian wedding
James Bartholomew
Tim Martin
The Melody, by Jim Crace
Chris Mullin
Saturday Bloody Saturday, by
Alastair Campbell and Paul Fletcher
27 Money
A 14-page special including
Ross Clark, Matthew Lynn,
Tiffany Daneff and Louise Cooper
Cover by Morten Morland. Drawings by Michael Heath, Castro, RGJ, Percival, Grizelda, Nick Newman, Kipper Williams, Bernie 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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© The Spectator (1828) 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 | 3 march 2018 |
Otmoor’s king, p58
His own worst critic, p54
What these ruins meant to Ibn Khaldun, p47
50 Interview
La Chana, queen of flamenco
Louise Levene
61 High life Taki
Low life Jeremy Clarke
52 Exhibitions
Leonard Rosoman
Tanya Harrod
64 The turf Robin Oakley
Bridge Janet de Botton
The problem with quiet carriages is
that bundling all the oversensitive
arseholes on the train in one
place creates a death spiral of
Rory Sutherland, p69
63 Real life Melissa Kite
65 Wine club Jonathan Ray
53 Television
James Delingpole
58 Notes on… Otmoor
Christopher Fletcher
54 Radio
Home Front
Kate Chisholm
66 Chess Raymond Keene
Competition Lucy Vickery
67 Crossword Columba
Sviatoslav Richter
Damian Thompson
68 No sacred cows Toby Young
Battle for Britain Michael Heath
56 Cinema
I, Tonya; The Ice King
Jasper Rees
69 The Wiki Man Rory Sutherland
Your problems solved
57 Theatre
Frozen; A Passage to India
Lloyd Evans
Mary Killen
The relationship between
biographer and biographee is
morbid. I myself felt like one of
Peter Sellers’s battered wives, and
Britt is jealous of me even now,
if the tweets she sends are any
Roger Lewis, p42
You are spoiled and entitled
and you sound like a brat.
Mary Killen, p69
70 Drink Bruce Anderson
Mind your language
Dot Wordsworth
James Bartholomew
writes about the rituals of a
Rajasthani wedding on p22.
His books include The Welfare
of Nations and The Welfare
State We’re In.
Roger Lewis is the author
of a number of biographies,
including ones of Anthony
Burgess and Laurence Olivier.
He considers the life-writer’s
art on p42.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Leyla Sanai used to work
as a consultant anaesthetist.
She reviews a book about her
old job on p44.
Francis Ghilès is a former
North Africa correspondent
for the Financial Times. He
reviews a new book on the
Arab sage Ibn Khaldun on p47.
Louise Levene’s new novel,
Happy Little Bluebirds, is set
in Hollywood, Bermuda and
Woking. On p50 she meets the
weepy 71-year-old flamenco
legend who bewitched Dalí
and Peter Sellers.
risis loomed over Brexit negotiations
as Theresa May, the Prime Minister,
travelled to the north-east to explain ‘this
Government’s vision of what our future
economic partnership with the European
Union should look like’. Jeremy Corbyn,
the leader of the Labour Party, had
announced that its Brexit policy was now
‘to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU
customs union’ that would still (somehow)
‘ensure the UK has a say in future trade
deals’. Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit
spokesman, had said earlier that the
party would back an amendment to the
Government’s delayed Trade Bill hatched
by the Conservative Remainer Anna
Soubry, to keep Britain in a customs union.
The European Union then published its
draft withdrawal agreement for Brexit,
in which it called for Northern Ireland to
continue to be bound by Brussels rules and
regulations if Britain wished to leave the
customs union and single market. Boris
Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, lobbed
a grenade into the mix after a letter by
him to Mrs May was leaked; he said: ‘The
issue of the Northern Irish border is being
used quite a lot politically to try to keep
the UK in the customs union.’ Separately,
Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit coordinator
for the European Parliament, said: ‘There
will be in future, whatever the outcome
of negotiations... no divergence in norms,
rules or standards between the North
and Republic of Ireland.’ Michel Barnier,
the chief negotiator of the European
Commission, rejected any extension of
Britain’s transitional period beyond 2020
and summoned Brexit Secretary David
Davis to Brussels for talks. Aberdeenshire
Council objected to a scheme by the
Balmoral estate to build a hydroelectric
system as it would be too noisy for nearby
red squirrels.
omcast, an American cable television
company that owns NBC and Universal
Pictures, made a higher bid to buy Sky
than Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century
Fox. Vanquis, part of Provident Financial,
the doorstep lender, was ordered by the
Financial Conduct Authority to pay £168
million compensation to customers who
used its debt. Many parts of the country
saw heavy snow, but even where little fell
hundreds of trains were cancelled just in
case; Scotland had a devolved snowstorm of
its own.
thletes from the UK, called Team GB,
came back from the Winter Olympics
at Pyeongchang with one gold medal and
four bronzes. Ryanair reduced its routes out
of Glasgow from 23 to three, but increased
routes out of Edinburgh by 11. An inquest
in Newport heard that a five-year-old girl
died of asthma after a GP turned her away
because she was more than ten minutes
late for an emergency appointment. A shop
in Leicester with a flat above it exploded,
killing five. Millions of paper £10 notes
remained in circulation despite being
withdrawn by the Bank of England.
he UN Security Council unanimously
passed a resolution calling for a
30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow delivery
of aid and evacuation of the sick and
wounded; but the resolution did not cover
action against Isis, al Qaeda or al-Nusra
Front. Russia ordered its ally, the Syrian
government, to pause for five hours a day in
its bombardment of the rebel-held Eastern
Ghouta area outside Damascus, where
390,000 civilians are trapped, but on the
first day air and artillery strikes continued
and no aid could get in or evacuees out.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia sacked his
top military commanders.
he governing Communist Party
proposed removing a clause in the
Chinese constitution that limits president
to two terms of five years. President Donald
Trump of the United States declared he
would stand again for election in 2020.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany
criticised a food-bank charity, Essener Tafel,
which helps feed 16,000 in Essen, for barring
foreigners from receiving free food. The
Danish government said it would double
penalties for crimes committed in areas
where more than 50 per cent of residents are
non-Western immigrants.
ome 110 girls were found to have
been kidnapped, it was assumed by
Boko Haram, from a school at Dapchi in
Nigeria’s north-eastern Yobe State; much
confusion followed their disappearance
on 19 February. Sherine Abdel Wahab, an
Egyptian singer, on being asked to sing
‘Mashrebtesh Men Nilha’ (Have You Drunk
From The Nile?), joked that ‘drinking from
the Nile will get me schistosomiasis’ and was
sentenced to six months in prison.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Andrew Marr
f all the villages of London, it seems
to me, most of the time, that I live
in the happiest: Primrose Hill, north of
Regent’s Park, with its candy-coloured
stucco houses, excellent cafés, friendly
people, proper pubs and views over the
capital which have film-makers daily
kneeing each other in the groin — oh
yes, and a good bookshop too. This can
feel about as good as it gets. But that’s
if you have some money. Just round the
corner, virtually out of sight, is some of
the worst deprivation in north London
— huge poverty, so easy to look away
from. A local church, St Mary’s, which
has a wonderful youth programme, warns
of ‘a threatening gang culture, extensive
drug dealing and frequent stabbings…
many young people cannot safely enter
certain streets… Many fear leaving their
homes because of violence.’ And they
are right to be scared. Four young people
have died on the streets of north Camden
so far this year. Many more have been
stabbed, or threatened with knives.
middle classes have moved away. They have
sold out to frantically overworking City
people, who can see the views but not much
more. All of us who enjoy living in an urban
‘village’ have to start behaving like real
villagers — looking out for our neighbours,
or at the very least, putting our hands in our
pockets for those who do.
t can be impossibly hard to concentrate on
the intricacies of the Brexit negotiations.
But over the past week, we have got a
eanwhile, surrounded by an
epidemic of stabbing, St Mary’s,
like other churches, is desperately short
of cash. Weirdly, it may be linked to high
house prices: the more socially engaged
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
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Iran is our natural ally
The National Trust in trouble
y greatest achievement so far this
year is that I’ve got back on to a
bicycle and pedalled my way around
a running track. It wasn’t elegant. I
wobbled a lot. Coming to a graceful halt
eludes me, and I’m certainly not ready
for the open road. But I didn’t fall off.
Several years ago, following my stroke, I
was blandly assured that cycling — like
skiing, running and swimming — was
something I would never do again. My
physiotherapist was punching the air.
I was grinning like a fool.
have some sympathy with the striking
college lecturers. They didn’t have
big pensions to look forward to in the
first place. But they are not alone. As
we grow healthier and longer-lived,
there is a creeping pensions crisis
almost everywhere. We need a new
social categorisation — Hedips (healthy
enough to die poor).
Boris in Libya
Can you forgive her?
Isabel Hardman and Matthew Parris on Theresa May’s fate
H less
ou on
t Mary’s is stepping forward because,
with cutbacks in local authority
support and intense pressure on schools,
the state is failing. Led by a charismatic
youth worker called Jason Allen (we
have local heroes too), the church’s
community trust has been working
intensively with more than 200 young
people at risk. It runs weekly football
to get others off the street and towards
help; has intervened with gangs; has
been organising weapon surrenders
— including one firearm — and helps
ex-prisoners coming home to get jobs.
Some see this as purely a matter of party
politics — ‘End austerity now!’ — but
young people are dying too fast to wait
for policy shifts. So around here at least
— and I bet it’s true across the country
— voluntary organisations, particularly
churches, are taking the strain. It’s as if
we’re tiptoeing back to the Britain before
the welfare state, when there was much
more voluntary engagement. Clem Attlee,
don’t forget, started his career as a youth
worker in the East End.
certain bracing clarity. There are two
logical British positions. We mostly
turn our backs on the EU way of doing
things, and become a noticeably different
country — less European, less regulated.
That is where most Conservatives seem
to be heading. Or we conclude that the
economic risk is too big and stick close
to the EU, ceding freedom to strike new
trade deals in order to keep those nearer
markets fully open. After his speech,
that’s where Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour
is going. What is being squeezed is the
notion of a middle way — frictionless
access to EU markets and maximum
ability to diverge. I keep being told the
EU will fold and give us this. Hooray
if they did. But I see not a fragment of
evidence for that. So it’s tough choices
ahead; which will be resolved in the
proper way — at a general election.
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had the great good luck this week to
interview Matt Pritchett — Matt the
Telegraph cartoonist — a thoroughly nice
and very brilliant man. He reminds me
of two of the greats, Fougasse and H.M.
Bateman. From my own brief career as
a newspaper editor, I know that finding
cartoonists who are both funny and can
draw is nigh on impossible. They are
journalistic gold dust: compared with a
good cartoonist, columnists, interviewers
and even editors are ten a penny.
Which way Mrs May?
or every action, there is an equal and
opposite reaction. Every time Conservative Leavers speak up demanding a clean break with Brussels, those in the
party who want a soft Brexit feel obliged to
push back.
The latest row has been provoked by a
letter from the European Research Group
— the most powerful Brexiteer bloc in the
party. The letter urged Theresa May to deliver ‘full regulatory autonomy’ for the UK. It
was taken by many on the soft Brexit wing
of the party as a threat to pull support for
her if she deviated from this objective. After
all, it was signed by 62 MPs — more than it
would take to call a vote of confidence in her
leadership. So the soft Brexiteers retaliated.
They suggested they’d vote for an amendment requiring the government to form a
customs union with the EU after Brexit.
Mrs May’s problem is that both sides suspect that her policy is essentially to be equidistant between them. Both sides then have
an incentive to adopt hardline positions in
the hope of dragging her their way. Among
former Remainers, there is also a sense that
if they had been as difficult and combative
as the Eurosceptics over the years, Britain wouldn’t actually be leaving the EU, as
David Cameron would never have committed to a referendum.
No. 10 believes it will need the votes of
pretty much every Tory MP to pass a Brexit
deal. Jeremy Corbyn’s tactical positioning
on the customs union has reinforced the
sense that Labour will ultimately take any
opportunity to defeat the government. Thus
every group of Tory MPs believes it is worth
trying to bend the government to their will.
In this exercise, the European Research
Group has certain structural advantages. It
is closer to the opinions of the Tory party’s
members than those MPs who are seeking
a soft Brexit. Those pushing the ERG line
don’t, as a rule, have to fear the wrath of
their local associations. It is also far easier
for them to get what they want. As soon as
the government invoked Article 50, it put
this country on a course to leaving the EU,
with or without a deal. If the withdrawal
agreement is voted down in parliament, the
UK will still leave, just without a deal. By
contrast, the soft Brexiteers have two challenges. First, treaty-making is always a crown
prerogative so it will be hard, if not impossible, for parliament to micro-manage negotiations with the EU. Secondly, a soft Brexit
will require the co-operation of the EU —
and parliament, while sovereign here, is not
sovereign anywhere else. The EU might be
prepared to offer the UK a customs union
on a Turkey-style basis, which would mean
that Brussels could offer up access to the
UK market on Britain’s behalf. But, pace
Corbyn, it would be unlikely to give the
Mrs May’s problem is that both sides
suspect that her policy is essentially
to be equidistant between them
UK anything more than the right to be consulted on future trade deals. After all, one
of the EU’s key objectives in these talks is
to show that there isn’t a deal that is better
than membership.
The ERG’s final advantage is that it is
seen as being more prepared to bring the
temple crashing down. MPs such as Nicky
Morgan are viewed as being too sensible,
and having too bright a future in the party,
to risk a general election with the Tories in
disarray, when the alternative is the most
left-wing prime minister in recent memory.
So which way will May turn in the end?
Well, the Chequers meeting of the Brexit
inner cabinet offered some substantial clues.
‘We started off in full alignment but
have subsequently diverged.’
May has chosen, at least, to open with a position that has alignment with EU rules as voluntary for the UK and allows divergence over
time. Now, the EU is unlikely to accept this:
Donald Tusk has already attacked the proposals as being based on ‘pure illusion’ before
they have even been formally presented.
But once May has set down her opening position it will be more difficult than
many appreciate for her to move away
from it. There is bound to be some give
and take in the negotiations; indeed, one of
the reasons that the Brexiteers in the inner
cabinet were so concerned ahead of the
Chequers meeting is that they knew there
would be concessions once the talks got
under way. It will be hard, however, for May
to abandon the principles that underpin her
opening offer.
One of the most complicated parts of
the Brexit negotiation will be the Irish border. The EU is determined to get the legal
position on that hammered down in the
withdrawal agreement, which is difficult for
the UK government as it will set out in the
most detail the so-called ‘Option C’, which
effectively requires Northern Ireland to
remain part of the customs union and significant chunks of the single market. If this
were to happen, it would effectively create
an internal border within the UK which
would be unacceptable to the DUP and
many on the Tory benches.
Many in government, including several
members of the Brexit inner cabinet, had
expected the Northern Ireland issue to end
up directing the UK’s overall approach to
Brexit. But I understand that the sense of the
Chequers meeting was that the UK would
try to negotiate its deal with the EU and then
address what else was needed to make the
Irish border work as smoothly as possible.
Europe has done for the last three Tory
prime ministers. It will be a remarkable
achievement if Mrs May can avoid this fate
and keep her party together through the
withdrawal negotiations.
Hourly updates from Parliament and beyond.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Charles Moore
Corbyn wants Britain to ‘stay
in a customs union’, according to the
BBC. The phrase does not make sense.
We could possibly stay in the customs
union, if the EU decided to let us, but
that is not the policy of his party or of
the government. We cannot ‘stay’ in
‘a’ customs union, because that would
require us to join something which
does not at present exist. But the use of
the reassuring word ‘stay’, in reference
to an as yet unformed, unnegotiated
customs union, is exactly the rhetorical
sleight of hand which Mr Corbyn seeks.
It is designed to persuade Remainer
Conservative rebels that they must
side with Labour in the forthcoming
parliamentary vote. When they realise
that Mr Corbyn is not supporting the
customs union, but merely speculating
about a customs union, they may decide
that it would be strange to rebel in
favour of a fantasy.
ark Rowley, who is just stepping
down as the country’s chief
counterterrorism officer, is a classic
British policeman of the best sort —
a low-key, quietly amusing, naturally
moderate professional who does
not play political games. He became
something of a hero (not a word he
would endorse) for his cool handling
of last year’s atrocities. On Monday
night, he delivered the Cramphorn
Memorial Lecture at Policy Exchange,
firmly entrenching the understanding
which the British authorities were too
long loth to recognise, that extremism
— even when not itself violent — is a
necessary condition for Islamist violence
to develop. On one point, however, I felt
Mr Rowley did not convince. He warned,
justifiably, that right-wing terrorism is on
the rise. In doing so, however — perhaps
in the interests of ‘balance’ — he set
up an equivalence between Islamist
terrorism and right-wing terrorism
which does not exist, although morally
there is little to choose between them.
The non-equivalence is that the first is
so very much more formidable, global,
well financed and politically connected
than the second. Where, in Britain, are
the right-wing equivalent of extremist
mosques, giving livelihoods to bad actors,
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Its legislative hand,/ And noble
statesmen do not itch/ To interfere with
matters which/ They do not understand,/
As bright will shine Great Britain’s rays/
As in King George’s glorious days.’
This is simply, seriously true, and has
been forgotten — with constitutionally
damaging consequences.
often funded from abroad? Where are the
suicide bombers and their mentors? And
where are the powerful fellow travellers?
In November, Mr Corbyn attended a
parliamentary meeting organised by the
extremist Muslim group MEND (which
Mr Rowley says contributes to the ‘chronic
threat’ we face). Also present was Chief
Superintendent Dave Stringer, head of
Community Engagement for the Met. It
is unimaginable that Mr Corbyn (or any
mainstream politician) or Mr Stringer
would give their friendly blessing to a
meeting run by Britain First or comparable
right-wing corpuscle. The far right have no
friends at court, thank goodness. The same
cannot be said of the Islamists.
had passed 60 years on the planet
without seeing a work of Gilbert and
Sullivan performed — until last week.
Friends took us to the ENO’s Iolanthe at
the Coliseum. Being so ignorant, I was in
no position to enter purists’ discussions
about whether the production was too
silly and should not have depicted Boris
Johnson en route. But it did seem to us
that silliness is an admirable part of the
original, starting with the idea of muddling
up faeries and the Lord Chancellor (at a
time when both entities had much higher
standing than today). We had a very happy
evening. As so often in English political life,
the silliest things are the truest. The famous
song about the House of Lords (‘When
Britain really ruled the waves…’) makes
the point that ‘The House of Peers made
no pretence/ To intellectual eminence/
Or scholarship sublime;/ Yet Britain won
her proudest bays/ In good Queen Bess’s
glorious days…’. During the Napoleonic
war, it did ‘nothing in particular/ and it did
it very well’. There is a perpetual lesson:
‘And while the House of Peers withholds/
find the switch of the Guardian to
tabloid format curiously upsetting. It
makes me realise how good the paper
was, and is now ceasing to be. It is not
necessarily a mistake to go tabloid — the
Times managed it well — but one has
to recognise that form dictates content.
If your size is smaller, your copy must
be snappier. You must either — like
the Daily Mail — rigorously impose
your editorial priorities on every page,
shouting your head off as you go, or —
like the Times — cram a lot in, clearly
and succinctly presented. What you must
not do is to give the journalists their
head to write just as they did when it was
broadsheet (or Berliner). The Guardian
has not asked its journalists to adapt, and
so the thing now feels as slow-paced as
a broadsheet, but without its authority.
It looks like a student newspaper. It also
feels more programmatically left-wing, as
if there is literally no space left to take a
wider view of the world.
here is a once-famous Osbert
Lancaster cartoon of two railwaymen
throwing up their hands in despair as
white stuff descends on the platform
and exclaiming, ‘Good Heavens! Snow
in January.’ That wouldn’t happen now.
Thanks to long-range forecasting, they
can start cancelling the trains before any
snow has fallen. (Yes, I realise it’s now
March, but the point stands.)
s in past years, the editor has
kindly let me advertise the Annual
General Meeting of the Rectory Society
in this column. It will take place in the
chapel of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, at
6 for 6.30 p.m. on Monday 12 March. The
guest speaker will be Field Marshal Lord
Guthrie. His talk is called ‘Confessions
of a Christian Soldier’. Tickets can be
obtained by emailing Alison Everington
Is this feminism?
Hollywood’s embrace of the #MeToo movement isn’t altogether convincing
his is the Time’s Up Oscars,
the first one where the
#MeToo movement is a
major player, and no one can
predict just how the tricky balance between celebration, industry penitence and the host Jimmy
Kimmel’s jokes will pan out on
4 March. This being Hollywood,
however, already the chief speculation is about the clothes. The
previous dress code of Time’s
Up — that actresses should
wear black to protest against
sexual harassment — dominated both the Golden Globes and
the Baftas: only Frances McDormand decisively broke ranks at
the latter, and she got away with
it because so many of her screen
roles are about being stubborn.
Don’t count on an all-black
hat-trick for the Oscars, though.
Stylists and designers can do wonders with a little black dress, but
they are wondering how much
protest chic the fashion industry
can handle before the funereal gear signals mourning for lost
profits. There have been anonymous whispers from members of
the Time’s Up campaign to the New York
Times that colour will be permitted back in.
Yet if rainbow hues do make a reappearance, other familiar elements will definitely
be absent. The most notable, of course, is the
banished ogre of Harvey Weinstein, whose
films won a combined 81 awards over the
years, but who has now been expelled from
the Academy in a kind of negative lifetime
achievement award (to give some idea of
how difficult that is, both Roman Polanski
and Bill Cosby remain members). This year,
Weinstein is reportedly working with life
coaches and sex addiction therapists at a
luxury facility in Arizona.
According to gallant Hollywood tradition, too, the Best Actor from the previous
year usually hands out the gong for Best
Actress — but Casey Affleck, last year’s
Best Actor for Manchester by the Sea, will
also be otherwise engaged on Oscar night.
By mutual agreement with the event organisers, Affleck is staying well away from the
Best Actress after it emerged that he had
settled two lawsuits from women accusing
him of sexual harassment in 2010.
There will, however, be one celebrated
new arrival, at least in its freshly contemporary form: feminism, which in previous
years has not been officially present at the
ceremony. Only five years ago, indeed, the
f-word was one that many celebrities were
wary of embracing publicly, lest they be
thought of as angry man-haters who scorned
the art of depilation, which comes close to a
religion in Hollywood circles.
In those days the preferred rhetoric was
all about humanism and strong, beautiful
women. In 2013, the singer Katy Perry said:
‘I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the
strength of women.’ The same year Susan
Sarandon, the Hollywood queen of liberal
causes, replied when asked if she
was a feminist: ‘I think of myself
as a humanist because I think it’s
less alienating to people who think
of feminism as being a load of strident bitches.’ Sarah Jessica Parker
also chose humanism as far back as
2011: ‘I took a line from the playwright Wendy Wasserstein’s book.
She said: “I’m not a feminist, I’m
a humanist.”’ Carla Bruni put it
more bluntly: ‘We don’t need to be
feminist in my generation.’
At the time, I must confess that
this kind of judicious positioning
drove me crazy. If feminism meant
seeking equality of treatment for
women, I thought, then why would
anyone not be one in an era when
a girl such as Malala could be shot
for daring to attend school in Pakistan, FGM was still widespread,
and jokes about gang rape were
considered edgy fun for Channel 4?
The effects of purging feminism
from Hollywood could be seen
clearly on stage at the 2013 Oscars,
when the host Seth MacFarlane
sang an excruciating number called
‘We Saw Your Boobs’ in which he
salaciously listed female stars who
had appeared topless on screen, some in
rape scenes. (A few female celebrities such
as Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts looked
furious, but those clips had been specially
prerecorded: the gals were in on the joke!)
How I longed at that moment for a major
female star to walk out with an Andrea
Dworkin-style frown, telling the Academy to
stick its statuette where the sun don’t shine.
Well, those days are over, and in many
ways it’s good news. There’s no danger of
Seth’s lurid ditty getting the green light
today: instead, there are rumours that a
section of the ceremony will be set aside
for a reverential honouring of the Time’s
Up movement. The bid to give Time’s Up
its own VIP slot is partly in the hope that
— this being the 90th anniversary of the
Academy Awards — the declamatory theatre of #MeToo doesn’t hijack the thing the
Academy loves best: teary-eyed, nostalgic
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
moments of epic self-congratulation.
Still, if you’re going to bring an ideology
to the Oscars party, feminism is the hottest
political stance in celebrity culture right
now — and that goes for men too (apart
from Mel Gibson, for whom it is probably
too late). Ryan Gosling and Mark Ruffalo
are fully signed up. Penelope Cruz recently
revealed that she tweaks the endings on her
children’s bedtime stories so that when the
prince proposes to Cinderella, she refuses in
favour of becoming an astronaut or a chef.
Katy Perry, Carla Bruni and Taylor Swift
are now considerably more woke, declaring
themselves feminists after all (back in 2012,
Taylor was in denial, brushing away the label
with the phrase: ‘I don’t really think about
things as guys versus girls.’)
Margot Robbie is a recent convert, confessing that a couple of years ago: ‘I was
almost scared to say I was, because it had so
many negative connotations, like “If you’re
a feminist, you hate men.”’ Thanks to TED
talks, she said, she had realised that ‘men can
be feminists too’.
Even those who have been slow to pick
up on the small print of the changing Hollywood script, such as Kate Winslet, have
If you’re going to bring an ideology
to the Oscars party, feminism is the
hottest political stance right now
eventually realised that resistance is futile,
and possibly career-denting. As late as last
September, Winslet was still saying: ‘Woody
Allen is an incredible director. So is Roman
Polanski. I had an extraordinary working
experience with both of those men, and
that’s the truth.’ At the London Critics’
Circle Film Awards in January, however,
she duly began speaking of ‘men of power’
in Hollywood and her ‘bitter regrets that
I have made some poor decisions to work
with individuals that I wish I had not’.
This is the new orthodoxy, and it has
its inconsistencies, but I’m not saying that
the complaints by actresses over sexism in
Hollywood are bogus: many are no doubt
experiencing the rush of relief that comes
from finally being allowed to spill cinema’s
nasty secret without sabotaging their own
By the time a female star appears at the
Academy Awards, she already has a measure of industry clout. That isn’t so on the way
up, where young, unknown actresses have
long experienced uncomfortable situations
at the hands of certain male ‘creatives’ and
executives. Hollywood boasts more than
the average quota of men who never got a
second look from the prom queen at school,
and then suddenly find that they are in the
exciting position of being able to command
her to lose weight, parade in a swimsuit or
join them in the jacuzzi.
The question, surely, is whether celebrithe spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Cézanne and the Colour Palette
‘Where’s your oxide yellow and yellow ochre,
your cobalt blue and synthetic madder lake?’
he said to Émile Bernard, looking at his palette
when he was just about to paint.
‘Where’s your orpiment, your Persian red,
your madder brown and carmine lake and green?
Where’s your Prussian blue, for heaven’s sake!
Your malachite and ultramarine?’
‘Where, oh where, is your alizarin crimson,
your Veronese purple and peach black?
Mon Dieu! You need a rainbow’s compensation
for the genius you lack.’
— Maitreyabandhu
ty feminism is ready to engage with wider
issues than a vague agreement that some
men behave badly towards women at work,
and that it should stop. Out in the world of
social media, for example, feminist discussion is rapidly becoming less of a warm bath
with fellow members of the sisterhood than
a shark-infested bay.
Intersectionality — the theory of how
different kinds of discrimination overlap
— appears to be eating itself, while savaging anything that smacks of common sense.
Feminists such as Margaret Atwood are
being attacked by young ‘fourth-wave’ feminists, who condemn her as old, white and
out of touch. The Nigerian novelist and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been
accused of being insufficiently respectful
towards trans women. The writer, director
and actress Lena Dunham, who is braver than
most actresses in challenging screen images
of physical perfection, seems perpetually
under fire for some statement or another.
Among certain keyboard warriors,
there is no greater joy than ‘calling out’ fellow feminists for a crime against ideology.
Hashtags such as #yesallmen and #allmenaretrash are flying around the internet,
stoking misandry. For female celebrities,
who remain wary of anything that might
seriously aggrieve their audiences, modern
feminism is suddenly much more explosive
territory than many yet realise.
And where old-school, 1970s feminism
openly engaged with the politics of the
female body, risking ridicule for pushing
to liberate ordinary women from girdles
and false eyelashes, celebrity feminism has
deftly avoided this territory. This year’s
Oscars, as ever, will be yet another example
of female grooming taken to insane levels
of time, effort and money. Actresses spend
roughly six weeks getting ready for the
Oscars, undergoing a rigorous exercise and
diet regime to fit the minuscule dresses supplied by designers. They will be lining up for
Botox, fillers and micro-needling facials,
and rigorously styled to homogenous perfection. I think fondly of the days when the
likes of Diane Keaton could collect her
award in a baggy skirt, long jacket and scarf,
as she did for Annie Hall in 1978, or even
Björk in her crazy 2001 ‘dead swan’ dress.
Those costumes weren’t about glamour:
they were about personality.
One of the main reasons that so many
teenage girls now suffer from depression is
because celebrity culture bombards them
with unattainable images of physical perfection. Yet whole industries now depend
on the fostering of female narcissism and
insecurity. Are Hollywood feminists willing
to shake that up, too, and all the profits that
go with it? Let’s wait and see.
Fake sisterhood
Feminism is just another accessory for glamorous women
have not trusted a celebrity activist since
2014, when I read the headline ‘Angelina
Jolie and William Hague tackle Bosnia
war rapes’.
They didn’t really tackle Bosnia war
rapes — that is still pending — but Hague
got to meet Jolie and Jolie got to meet the
Queen and collect a damehood for the activism ‘I wish to dedicate my working life to’.
It was a classic example of what the writer
Paul Theroux calls ‘mythomania’, a condition that afflicts celebrity activists ‘who wish
to convince the world of their worth’.
The obvious rebuttal is that such campaigning ‘raises awareness’. Victims of war
rape are not interesting enough on their
own, and need Angelina Jolie, who specialises in silly films where the cameras never
leave her face, to make them so. But in the
end, after the media campaign and the great
stampede to meet her, it’s awareness of
Angelina that’s mostly raised.
That seems a more innocent time. In
2018 there is #MeToo, the campaign to end
sexual abuse of women, and its celebrity
spin-off Time’s Up, which is preparing for
the Academy Awards on Sunday. To quote
my favourite film about Hollywood, Billy
Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, which says, with
complete conviction, that all actresses are
mad — #MeToo is ready for its close-up.
Political speeches at the Oscars used
to be derided. Vanessa Redgrave, whose
documentary The Palestinian was boycotted by the Jewish Defence League, accepted
her award for Julia in 1978 by congratulating the Academy for refusing ‘to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of
Zionist hoodlums’. Paddy Chayefsky,
who wrote Network, responded on stage:
‘I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the
occasion of the Academy Awards for the
propagation of their own personal political
propaganda. I would like to suggest to Miss
Redgrave that her winning an Academy
Award is not a pivotal moment in history,
does not require a proclamation, and a simple thank you would have sufficed.’
He could not say that now, even though,
as the producers of the Academy Awards
hint, celebrity activists are a turn-off for
viewers, who know vanity when they see it.
The Golden Globes lost 5 per cent of its
viewers from last year.
Channing Dungey, representing the
Oscars broadcasters, said: ‘We certainly want
to honour and respect Time’s Up… But I
would love for every award recipient to not
feel like they have to acknowledge it independently.’ That feels like a desperate plea.
At the Golden Globes, actresses
walked the red carpet with
activists, as if they were pets
But it’s #TooLate. Now every celebrity is
an activist — or in rehab — and this awards
season is the most active so far. The 2018
Oscars will be a vanity fair of Instagrammable feminism. They are calling it atonement
for Weinstein, but crimes against females do
not need to be channelled, or retold, or stolen, by actors. They are bad, and important
enough, on their own.
Jordan Peele, nominated for Best Director for Get Out, said last week: ‘Today’s
political climate… is facing and moving
backward. It’s up to the artistic community
to move it forward.’ Is it though?
At the Golden Globes, actresses walked
the red carpet with activists, as if they were
pets. Why not just abolish the red carpet,
‘They’re easier to come by than chickens.’
which exists to objectify women? If you
want to stop sexism in cinema, shouldn’t you
care less what women look like? But they
seemed more glossy than ever. I wondered
why an activist would even want to go to the
Golden Globes, but apparently I was being
stupid. I also wondered whether the actresses were standing in solidarity with the activists, as they told us, or in front of them.
Oprah Winfrey gave a speech at the
Golden Globes, and was promptly asked
to run for president. The calls were led by
Meryl Streep. Is Hollywood’s cure for political alienation really Oprah Winfrey? The
entertainment industry’s newly discovered
interest in social justice ceases to look like
good citizenship. It looks like a power grab
by crazy people who are finding cinema
increasingly too small for them and whose
deepest beliefs are closer to feudal piety, and
the laying on of hands, than genuinely progressive politics.
Actresses can do feminism, but they do it
in their own way, and it is not the best way.
The film Suffragette (2015) had a female
director, a female writer and female producers. It also had Carey Mulligan as the
most beautiful laundress in the history of
female misery.
She was adequate, but why couldn’t the
suffragette in Suffragette be an ugly — or at
least a normal-looking — woman? Because,
the female producers would say (if they
were being honest), no one would want to
watch it. So it’s not the producers’ fault, but
us, the consumers. I disagree.
Cinema is a drug. Give people junk,
and they want junk; stick Emma Goldman
in an Avengers film and maybe I would be
impressed, or at least hopeful. You can be
anything you want to be in Hollywood now.
But you can’t be ugly. The admittance of the
activists as special guest stars being ushered
on to the carpet at the Golden Globes is
proof of that. They literally had to bus ugly
people in. And that is not equality, or even
a reach for it. It is another hierarchy, and all
hierarchies have walls. There is the inequality of gender, and there is the inequality of
class and, on class, they are silent.
Jennifer Lawrence’s advocacy for
#MeToo didn’t stop her posing semi-topless
in a couture gown with men wearing coats.
Female columnists said she can wear what
she wants, and indeed she can, but you
should not agitate against sexual objectification while semi-topless, and if you do, you
are either a fool or you don’t mean it.
Feminism has been heading this way
for a long time: away from serious people
using politics to make meaningful changes
in women’s lives, to an accessory for women
who are already powerful. Cinema is a trivial game, and the interventions of its stars are
trivial. And so the movement — the cause
— becomes trivial. If everyone is a feminist
then no one is. It takes more than a pin to
be a sister.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
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The word ‘extremist’ has lost all meaning
few years ago, in these pages, Matthew Parris defined Ukip as a party
of extremists. Perhaps one of his llamas had just spat at him and he was feeling
a little piqued. Or perhaps he actually meant
it, I don’t know. Matthew decided Ukip was
a party of extremists because its supporters,
in some ectoplasmic sense, demonstrated a
‘spirit’ of extremism. It was less the individual policies of the party that were extreme,
it was the avidity with which they were pursued by party members: ‘The spirit of Ukippery is paranoid. It distorts and simplifies
the world, perceiving a range of different
ills and difficulties as all proceeding from
two sources: foreigners abroad, and in Britain a “metropolitan liberal elite” (typically
thought to be in league with foreigners).’
It seemed to me then, as now, that this
was monumentally stupid on a number of
levels, not least in its caricature — straight
from the Diane Abbott school of political
analysis — of what Ukip members actually
believed in. But it rang a bell with me this
week when I read that Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, Mark Rowley,
would like to see Islamic extremists lose custody of their children. Subjecting children to
extremist views was as ‘wicked’ as paedophilia, according to Rowley.
Well, I would beg to differ, but that aside
we once again have a problem with this
word ‘extremist’. Later on in his speech
Rowley announced that he was ‘gravely
concerned’ by the far-right group National
Action. I wondered if this were strictly true
— if he really was ‘gravely concerned’ by a
convocation of about 50 mentalist neo-Nazis
who have so far hurt nobody, whatever their
vile views might be. I wondered if, instead,
Mr Rowley was trying to show even-handedness by not just sticking it to the Mozzies
but to the white, scouse-based, Mein Kampf
monkeys as well. I suppose he wants their
kids taken away, too. That is how we tell
ourselves that we are being fair in the battle against a creed which is both alien and
averse. We desperately scour our own eyes
for motes — and wholly imaginary, painstakingly confected motes will do just as well
as real ones, thank you.
Rowley is probably a decent enough
chap. But it will not be him sitting on the
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
panels deciding whose kids should be taken
away by the state. It will be people with the
mindset of Matthew Parris. Three foster
children were taken away from a white couple living in Rotherham because they were
members of Ukip. Rotherham council’s
Strategic Director of Children and Young
People’s Services, Joyce Thacker, told the
BBC at the time that her decision was influenced by Ukip’s immigration policy, which
she said called for the end of the ‘active promotion of multiculturalism’. So, extremism,
Parris-style, as far as Joyce was concerned.
(Incidentally, can we take a moment to
congratulate Joyce on the wonderful job
she was doing in Rotherham? Lucky children of Rotherham.) Meanwhile, in Hamp-
Forty per cent of the population
think it is extremist to believe global
warming is happening
shire, a startled parent received a visit from
the police because his child had been seen
looking at a Ukip website in school. Yes, the
teachers sent the filth round.
So it’s not just Matthew. You might be
said to have extremist views if you object to
same sex marriages or gay adoptions, or if
you think we should halt immigration. By
the same token, an opinion poll published
last year revealed that almost 40 per cent
of the population think it is extremist to
believe that global warming is happening
and 36 per cent think it extremist to hope
that Britain leaves the EU. In other words,
‘extremism’ has simply become one of those
words which has lost almost all of its meaning and is used simply as an insult to hurl at
one’s opponents. A bit like ‘troll’. So that’s
‘Your father’s opted out
of a dignified retirement.’
the first problem with Rowley’s proposal
(which was advanced, not so long ago, by
Boris Johnson, before he became Foreign
Secretary). We should be clear about the
need to treat Islam as a singularity, given
the very singular threat it poses both to our
country and indeed to the rest of the world,
a creed we have imported and with which
we are not entirely comfortable, rather than
packaging it up with stuff which deluded and
self-flagellating white liberal bien-pensants
can call ‘extremist’.
But that’s not the only problem with
Rowley’s suggestion. Where would we put
the kids once we’ve liberated them from
jihad? The social services departments
will insist the children be placed with parents from within their own culture. What
if they radicalise them? I’d be happy if the
children were billeted with Lord BadenPowell and Margaret Thatcher (assuming
they were married), but that’s not going to
happen, is it? And I have deeper concerns
about this notion of ‘radicalising’ — as if it
were something which happened to them
without their volition, as if they were victims of some external process. I don’t think
it works like that. I’d far rather the entire
family was kicked out of the country. And
if they’re British-born, sent to lodge with
Joyce Thacker in Rotherham.
We have things the wrong way around.
It is perfectly acceptable and even desirable
for the state to intervene and remove children from homes in which they face some
kind of threat: extremist parents, negligent
parents, violent parents, lardbucket parents inculcating in their children a radical
philosophy of lardbucketism, thick parents,
miscreant parents. That’s all fine. But if you
suggest that it should be made harder for
people to have children in the first place and
that having kids is neither a lifestyle choice
nor a beholden right, but a responsibility
you should be allowed to take on only when
you are married and have enough money
to bring them up, then you will be considered an… oh, what’s the word… yes, that’s
it, thank you, Matthew, an extremist.
For One Night Only: Rod Liddle at the
London Palladium is on 15 May. See
page 71 for how to buy tickets.
Putin’s gamble
Ageing rockers
What is Russia’s endgame in Syria?
The Rolling Stones announced their first
live shows for five years. Mick Jagger,
Keith Richards (both 74), Charlie Watts
(76) and Ronnie Wood (70) are not alone
rocking on into their eighth decades. Other
septuagenarians you can hear live in 2018:
— Elton John (70) unveiled a farewell tour.
Paul Simon (76) says that four concerts in
the US this year will be his last.
— Bob Dylan (76) announced 15 European
— Rod Stewart (73) has six live shows
booked for Las Vegas.
— The Who’s surviving members Roger
Daltrey (73) and Pete Townshend (72) will
be playing 18 dates in 2018, quite possibly
belting out Townshend’s famous line:
‘Hope I die before I get old.’
Taught at home
The parents of a girl who stars in the West
End musical Matilda but does not attend
school said they would go to jail rather
than meet Westminster council’s demands
to comply with rules on home education.
Some estimates for home-schooling:
FOI request to 190 local authorities
in 2015 suggested that at least 36,600
children are being home-schooled.
National Center for Education
Statistics reported in 2013 that 1.77 million
children are home-schooled — between 3
and 4 per cent of the school-age population.
HSLDA has reported that
50,000 children are home-educated, less
than 1 per cent of the school age population.
Queensland University
of Technology estimates a figure of 15,000,
0.25 per cent of the school age population.
a figure of 5,000 has been
reported by organisations which represent
In Germany, Netherlands, Spain and
Sweden, home-schooling is illegal apart
from in exceptional circumstances.
How boxers die
Boxer Scott Westgarth died after winning
a fight. The Journal of Combative Sport
published an analysis of 923 boxers’ deaths
between the 1890s and 2007.
— The most fatal decade was the 1920s,
with 191 deaths.
— The peak of deaths occurred in the sixth
round of fights, in which 95 died.
— The weight category with the most deaths
was lightweight, of which 127 boxers died.
— In 75 per cent of cases the boxer fell to
the ground and did not get up. In 5 per cent
of cases, symptoms of fatal injuries did not
show until a week or more after the fight.
— Evidence from the US puts the death
rate at 13.9 per million participations
(i.e. one boxer taking part in one fight).
amiliar, depressing images emerge
from Ghouta in Syria: rows of tiny
white shrouds, children killed in relentless airstrikes, makeshift hospitals, families
huddling in basements, empty streets heaped
with rubble. ‘People are too afraid to go out
to bury their dead,’ said a medic identifying himself only as Dr Mohammed. ‘Even
the cemeteries are being targeted.’ Hospital
workers had to keep the day’s bodies until
after dark, he went on, then they hurried out
to put them into a single mass grave.
Médecins Sans Frontières says 520 people died in Ghouta in just five days last week,
so the killing is not on a small scale. Opposition activists on the ground say much of it is
being done by Russian planes. There are no
independent witnesses to what is happening there, an important caveat, but the US
supports this claim. Russia denies the accusation, with Vladimir Putin’s spokesman,
Dmitry Peskov, calling it ‘baseless… with no
concrete data’. As I write, Russia has organised a ‘humanitarian pause’ — five hours a
day without bombing to allow civilians to
flee. That in itself is confirmation of Russia’s
central role in the Syrian regime’s offensive.
Ghouta is a grim sprawl of satellite towns
on the north-eastern fringe of Damascus.
Bashar al-Assad has long been desperate
to recapture it. His regime’s argument —
and Russia’s — is that from there the rebels
often land shells in the heart of the capital
(true, though the casualties are tiny compared with those in opposition-held areas);
that they regularly interfere with the water
supply to the city (also true, apparently; the
rebels are accused of poisoning the water
with diesel) and that they are jihadists fighting for sharia in Syria (largely true — these
days most of the armed groups in Ghouta
are Islamist, including one that was until
only recently publicly allied to al Qaeda).
Russia and the regime clearly believe
that with one more big push they can take
Ghouta. It is almost the last sizeable piece
of territory that the Syrian rebels hold. For
Assad, this is a chance to finish the war on
his terms. Even if the rebels cling on there,
the Syrian dictator has already seen off an
uprising that in its early days seemed certain
to bring him down. In large part, this is the
Kremlin’s achievement. Has Russia shown
the vacillating West how foreign interven-
tions are done? Putin thinks so. In December, he visited his pilots in Syria — the ones
now accused of bombing Ghouta — and told
them they had saved Syria as a sovereign,
independent state. ‘Friends, the motherland
is waiting for you,’ he said. ‘You are coming
back home with victory.’
Victory has come at a cost. Only last
month, more than 200 Russian military contractors — mercenaries — were reported to
have been killed in fighting in eastern Syria.
Add to that the 40 Russian personnel who
died in Syria last year, according to Reuters.
Then there is the money spent: the Kremlin
initially estimated the Syrian intervention
would cost $1.2 billion, but as of July last
year that was heading towards $2.5 billion.
Why should the Kremlin think supporting Assad is worth so much? Dr Christopher
Phillips, who has written a book about international rivalry in Syria, says Putin has tied
Russia’s prestige to Assad’s survival. ‘The
basic geopolitical point is that Assad is an
ally and they don’t want to lose him, certainly not to a pro-western force.’ Syria was ‘an
opportunity to parade Russia as an alternative to western power in the Levant, if not
the wider Middle East. Putin has shown the
West what direct intervention can achieve.’
Phillips also says that, having lent Assad
huge sums to buy weapons from Russian
arms manufacturers, the Kremlin does not
want to have to write off this debt if the
regime falls. For Yuri Shvets, a former KGB
officer now living in the West, money is usually the explanation behind any particular
Kremlin policy. In Syria, he believes, Russia’s ‘no. 1 priority’ is to stop Qatar from
building a gas pipeline across Syria if the
rebels win. ‘It would be a mortal threat to
[Russia’s huge gas company] Gazprom,’ he
said. ‘Gazprom is the financial backbone
of the Putin state… the major provider to
the state budget. Putin needs to bribe the
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
bureaucracy, he needs to pay pensions, he
needs to get people to vote for him.’
Shvets says there are more direct Russian financial interests in Syria. He points
to an Associated Press story last year, which
said a Russian company, Evro Polis, had
signed a potentially lucrative contract with
Syria’s state-owned oil monopoly. The Russian company would use contractors — mercenaries, the same ones killed last month
— to capture oil and gas fields from Isis. It
would then be rewarded with a quarter of
the revenues from those fields.
The US Treasury says Evro Polis is
owned in part by a billionaire oligarch called
Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose life story could
symbolise Russia’s brand of crony capitalism. He started out with a hotdog stand in
St Petersburg but later opened a luxury restaurant that became one of Putin’s favourites: Prigozhin is known as ‘Putin’s chef’. A
photo shows the billionaire obsequiously
serving the Russian leader, standing behind
his chair like the world’s most highly paid
waiter. Shvets, the former KGB officer,
says this is a sign of Putin’s deep trust in
Prigozhin. ‘Russian leaders for generations
were very wary of being poisoned.’
That trust enabled Prigozhin to build
a conglomerate supplying food to schools,
the army, and the Kremlin. It didn’t matter
that Russian newspapers reported a 12-year
jail sentence. Putin was Prigozhin’s krysha,
or ‘roof’, Shvets said, providing protection
in return for a share of the spoils, in Russia or in Syria. Such alleged arrangements
have led the US intelligence agencies to conclude that Putin has a secret fortune of tens
of billions of dollars, and may be one of the
world’s richest men.
(One other twist: Prigozhin is one of 13
Russians accused by the US special counsel,
Robert Mueller, of interfering in the American presidential election. His name on the
indictment is evidence for some of Putin’s
Syria has turned out to be a longer,
more expensive commitment than
Putin may have bargained for
connection to the US elections ‘operation’.
Prigozhin has been involved in a legal action
to try to remove these stories from the
Russian internet.)
Putin would no doubt deny that financial motives are any part of the reason why
bombs are falling on Ghouta — he has said
he wants the UN-sponsored peace talks to
succeed. Perhaps he would question the
purity of the West’s motives in liberating
Kuwait or invading Iraq. He has criticised
the West for supporting a rebel movement
that includes not just Islamists but one commander who committed a public act of can-
nibalism with part of a government soldier’s
body (and escaped any punishment).
But regardless of Russian motivations,
has the Kremlin’s gamble paid off? Syria
has turned out to be a longer, more expensive commitment than Putin may have
bargained for. ‘Having invested so much in
Syria, Putin can’t just cut and run,’ says Phillips. ‘He’s stuck with it.’ Despite paying the
bills for Assad’s war, Russia has found the
Syrian leader to be stubbornly unbiddable.
At times, it seems Tehran has more influence
in Damascus than Moscow.
And Syria is complex, the outcome of
any one course of action difficult to predict.
The 200 or more Russian mercenaries killed
last month made the mistake of attacking a
base belonging to Kurdish forces trained by
the Americans. Some reports say the Kurds
were able to call in American airstrikes.
Putin hopes the millions of refugees on Syria’s borders, and in Europe, will be able to go
home. But many have sworn never to return
as long as Assad remains in power. Even if
the rebels lose Ghouta — and other territory
in the north — the insurgency will probably
survive in pockets of the countryside. This
would not be peace, but a bloody stalemate.
As the Americans discovered in Iraq, one
person’s victory is another’s quagmire.
Paul Wood is a BBC correspondent.
David Davis
in conversation with
Andrew Neil
Wednesday 28 March, 7 p.m. Westminster
Britain is set to leave the European Union in March, 2019.
Twelve months before this momentous event, join
Andrew Neil as he interviews David Davis, the Brexit Secretary,
on what to expect next year and beyond.
Spectator subscriber rate: £22.50
Standard rate: £35
020 7961 0044
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Blue pill-pushers
Why is Viagra being marketed to young men?
n September last year, official figures
showed a startling rise in the number of
young British men turning up at A&E
with painfully persistent erections. The number of admissions for priapism, to use the
medical term, has increased by 51 per cent
on the previous decade. Medical experts
suggested that the cause was young men
taking Viagra in combination with other
illegal drugs.
This may come as a surprise to anyone
who assumed that taking Viagra was the
preserve of older men who want to keep
their sex life going for as long as possible.
But now, 20 years after the famous blue pills
were first approved, they are a lifestyle drug
for young people. A reasonable question to
ask is why younger men, in the prime of life,
should need Viagra — or want to take it.
Aren’t they virile enough already?
Marketing plays a big part in the story.
In 2014, the branding agency Pearlfisher
was hired to rebrand Viagra for the Russian
market. The brief was to adapt Pfizer’s drug
for a ‘changing consumer profile’. The ‘A’ at
the end of the word was enlarged, to make
it look more tumescent. The box was redesigned so it resembled a packet of chewing
gum — to have a ‘snap, crack, pop’ feel. Viagra was repositioned as an aspirational drug,
with ‘premium credentials’, to be offered to
‘powerful and dynamic’ men. The advertising babble sounds ludicrous, but the plan
seems to have worked. Young Russian men
now feel comfortable taking Viagra at the
end of an evening — and discarded packets have become a common sight among the
usual detritus that litters the streets.
The drug has not yet had the same
rebrand in the UK. Still, a proliferation of
adverts on the London Underground suggests a similar drive is under way. Viagra
seems to be being pitched at British men of
all ages; a jolly elixir to perk up one’s sex life.
‘Order online, deliver in bed,’ says one poster. ‘Firm up your plans for Valentine’s Day,’
reads another. For bargain hunters, Poundland sells ‘Nooky’: a ‘natural’ knock-off version of Viagra. Later this year, pharmacies
will start selling ‘Viagra Connect’, an overthe-counter version of the drug that doesn’t
require a prescription. Picking up a pack18
et of Viagra will soon be as easy as buying
a bottle of Night Nurse.
This will make Britain the first country
in the world where Viagra can be bought
without prescription. The aim, according to
Pfizer, is to help men get hold of the drug
more easily, without the embarrassment
of having to go to the doctor to ask for it.
Male embarrassment may explain the enormous black market for the drug in Britain.
In the past five years, £49.4 million worth of
counterfeit Viagra has been seized. Impotence drugs now account for 90 per cent of
A generation of men have grown up
with easy access to pornography.
Normal sex seems vanilla
all captured counterfeit pills. A comparable
story is playing out across the Atlantic. In a
single week in 2016, Canadian police seized
$2.5 million worth of counterfeit pharmaceuticals at the border, 98 per cent of which
were for sexual enhancement.
In December, the first generic version
of the drug appeared in the US, and Silicon
Valley types sniffed an opportunity to profit.
Zachariah Reitano, a 26-year-old entrepreneur, recently launched ‘Roman’, a men’s
health ‘cloud pharmacy’. The app aims to
provide a ‘seamless and affordable way’ for
men to get hold of Viagra or cheaper, legal
versions. Roman’s target customers are 25FROM THE ARCHIVE
Triumph of the spirit
From ‘A moral test’, 2 March 1918: The
nation, in spite of all the silly talk about
our war aims not having been stated,
is more united now as to the minimum
principles for which we have to fight
than at any moment during the war. In
spite, again, of most of the talk about
revolution, the mind and spirit of the
working men are sound… Whatever
suffering there may be, it cannot last
indefinitely. Right will certainly triumph,
and when that glorious day comes we
shall recognise that what was grievous
to endure is sweet to remember.
to 45-year-old men. Which brings us back to
the question: why are young men taking Viagra, or feeling under pressure to do so? The
simple explanation would be that they are
taking it recreationally, in order to perpetuate their hedonistic lifestyles. Viagra means
that men can be intoxicated with all sorts of
other substances, legal and illegal, and still
perform sexually. But the paradox is that
younger men are known to be more abstemious than their predecessors, more addicted to their smartphones than to hard drugs.
What is more likely is that smartphones
are part of the problem. A generation of
men have grown up with easy access to pornography. Compared with the exotic appeal
of the internet, normal sex seems vanilla.
‘Pornography addiction’ is a modern malady and there is plenty of evidence to suggest
that men are seeking treatment because of
it. One US study published last year showed
that men who regularly watched porn were
more likely to suffer from impotence. In
2011, an Italian study came up with the term
‘sexual anorexia’ to describe the divorce of
sexual desire from real life.
The ease of access to pornography
comes against a backdrop of girl power
and female emancipation. Men and women
find themselves pitched against each other
in an increasingly vicious gender war. The
#MeToo movement continues to topple
prominent male figures who have misbehaved by the day; the battle cry is that
women should no longer feel under pressure from men to behave in a certain way,
especially when it comes to sex.
But this expectation culture cuts both
ways. The rise in the number of young men
taking Viagra — and Pfizer’s interest in
pushing it towards them — hints at the fact
that many feel they must also perform in a
certain way. Our era is hypersexualised and
hyperprudish: men are told to be macho, yet
soft. It’s no wonder there is confusion. Jordan Peterson, the psychologist, has recently
become a cult figure in large part because he
addresses the subject of emasculation. ‘The
West has lost faith in the idea of masculinity,’ he says. I suspect men feel this loss more
keenly than women. Viagra just offers a temporary escape from impotence.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
When the internet is a force for social cohesion
ew readerships of any intelligent
national magazine will be more alive
to the perils and downsides of 21stcentury cyber-life than you, fellow Spectator readers. Many of you might share my use
of the generalised expression ‘the internet’
for the whole damn thing — while not being
quite sure what we’re referring to.
Few, on the other hand, will be more likely to show a lively appreciation of community, locality, the sense of belonging and of
place that even in this fast-paced and mobile
age, our country at its best can still nurture.
You might think those two dispositions
make comfortable bedfellows. The faithful little band of stalwarts at Evensong, the
public-spirited pensioner out on the lane
collecting litter, the retired major logging
each developing pothole… these are not
people you would expect to want to know
much about Snapchat, or how to link Spotify, their smartphone and their domestic
sound systems to bring them highlights from
Iolanthe at breakfast.
Now in respect of age you might be
right. Older people tend to be more rooted,
‘somewheres’ rather than ‘nowheres’. And
because the internet age arrived later in
their lives, they’re more likely to feel baffled
by it. That, we must grant.
But will it be so in 30 years? Is there anything inherently citizens-of-nowhere about
people on easy terms with cyberspace? Must
people whose lives revolve in small orbits
around the little suns of village, town and
region be digitally challenged?
I think the answer is no, and that as a generation that grew up with the internet settles
down, grows roots and notes its own wrinkles, it will be more and more alive to the
possibilities of cyber-communication as a
tool of, in the very best sense, parochial concerns. The internet can, famously, widen horizons; but it can also help us bring the focus in.
For some time now, living in the Derbyshire Peak District, I’ve come to enjoy as
well as rely on a site called Buxton Weather.
If you have internet access, take a look: At first sight you may
think you’re looking at a rather amateurishly produced parish magazine. A metropolitan web-designer would groan: there’s far
too much going on on the page, too many
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
colours, the italic typescript is distracting,
everything squeezes up against everything
else, and it rather looks as though somebody
had devised a means of committing one of
those old-fashioned wax-based Roneo manuscripts to a digital platform.
But start reading. A good mind, a lucid
pen and a detailed grasp of meteorology,
road traffic and the local topography — a
central intelligence served by a thousand
elves reporting continuously from all corners of our little patch — presides over this.
Michael Hilton has been publishing his
online Buxton Weather for a few years, and
it has grown in both reach and ambit. This
winter, if you wanted up-to-the-minute news
on roads and traffic, or whether the Cat and
Must people whose lives revolve in
small orbits around village, town
and region be digitally challenged?
Fiddle pass is closed due to icy conditions,
Mr Hilton’s ‘snow desk’ was the fount of latest reports. People email in their hundreds to
keep him up to date. They send him photos
of overturned cars on the A515. He publishes comments. Browsing his site, you quickly
feel part of a network of good neighbours.
You can access his live camera overlooking the Cat and Fiddle pass at 1,689 feet;
another up in the moors on the A53 Leek
Road junction; and another overlooking
Buxton town square, updated every minute. On bad weather days the site is getting
50,000 to 60,000 page loads a day, and the
peak (he told me) can be 100,000 on a working day. And if you want trainspotting-type
local facts (and I do) he can tell you that (for
instance) over this winter the Cat and Fiddle
was closed due to snow ten times in Decem-
ber, eight times in January and six (to date)
in February.
‘For Local People,’ says the banner at the
top of the site, ‘Visitors, Hill Walkers, Ramblers, Climbers, Cavers, Holiday Makers,
Anglers, Kayakers Canoeists, Paraglider
Pilots & Lovers of the great Outdoors’. As I
write, Buxtonweather has a page explaining
the stratospheric origins of the ‘deep freeze’
hitting us now. You can check where the jet
stream is this minute. The current phase of
the moon is detailed, and there’s a comprehensive long-range and short-range weather
forecast for the whole area.
Weather is something Buxton and the
High Peak have plenty of: the only place in
the northern hemisphere where a cricket
match has been snowed off in June. On Mr
Hilton’s site you can discover how much rain
we had in 2017 (49.23 inches), how much
sunshine this January (24.95 hours), and
everything you could want to know about
wind speeds and directions and maximum
and minimum temperatures.
But there’s more than that. Care to know
what’s on at the opera house? The website
will link you to ‘Things to do in Buxton’, and
to the Buxton Advertiser. Hilton has walking correspondents, too, bringing news and
snapshots of footpaths and hiking conditions
in our lovely part of England, where Derbyshire, Cheshire and the Staffordshire Moorlands meet. Advertising on the site is modest
and confined, so I really don’t know how
Hilton funds it, his cameras, and his weather
equipment. Or where he finds the time. This
seems to have become a personal obsession
with him, yet he’s no crank. His coverage
and explanations show a quiet rationality
combined with a vast enthusiasm for facts.
I’ve never met him but there’s a photo on
the website of its author clinging to a rooftop camera he’s inspecting. In spectacles and
braces, he looks like a benign cobbler in a
Hans Christian Andersen fairytale; and in
his sixties like me. The kind of chap who
could be slumped in front of the telly being
grumpy about the internet, ‘the social media’
and people who stare at their damned
smartphones all the time. Instead, he’s right
in there, turning technology to the good of
the community. In 50 years there will be millions of grandads and grandmas like him.
Italians aren’t fascists
They’re just angry about immigration
mid relentless propaganda about
Italy being in the grip of fascism,
Italians go to the polls on Sunday.
It will be an attempt to produce their first
elected prime minister since 2008, when Silvio Berlusconi won. Since his resignation in
2011, Italy has had four unelected leaders.
Italy’s migrant crisis has dominated these
elections, especially after the discovery of
the chopped-up remains of an 18-year-old
Italian girl in two suitcases by the side of a
road in the picturesque hilltop city of Macerata in Le Marche. Three Nigerian migrants
are in custody for the murder. And in
revenge, a 28-year-old fascist lunatic drove
around Macerata opening fire on black people at random, wounding six (none fatally).
He then gave himself up to police.
What happened in Macerata transformed Italy’s migrant crisis, already a big
factor, into la questione numero uno of the
election campaign, despite massive efforts
inside and outside Italy to use it instead to
talk only about fascists.
The Italian left and a largely supportive
global media are doing their best to brainwash Italians into thinking that a vote for the
right is a vote for fascism. But neither Italy’s right, nor the Italians, are fascists. What
they are is fed up with the floods of illegal
migrants coming into Italy, where they represent what Berlusconi has described as a
‘social bomb about to explode’.
Italians are angry at the failure of successive governments and of the EU to stop
NGOs and the navies of EU countries picking up migrants just off the Libyan coast and
ferrying them 280 miles to Italy, where they
claim asylum or disappear, and are virtually
never deported. This is despite the fact that,
as the UN admits, the overwhelming majority are not refugees but economic migrants.
One way to understand the mood of Italians as they go to the polls is to imagine Britain with 35 per cent youth unemployment
and an overall unemployment rate of roughly 15 per cent, mired for a decade in more or
less permanent economic recession, throttled by the fourth highest public debt in the
world as a percentage of GDP (132 per cent)
costing €70 billion a year to service, unable
— as a prisoner of the single currency — to
do anything meaningful to solve the problem, except austerity and more job cuts.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Imagine if a fleet of NGO and EU vessels
was ferrying into such a bleak situation from
as far away as Qimper on the French Atlantic coast — let us say, as the distance is the
same — more than half a million migrants,
who are nearly all men and masquerading as
refugees, to Southampton. Do we not think,
in those circumstances, immigration would
be a major election issue in Britain?
Before the Macerata murder, the coalition of the right was already well ahead in
the polls on around 37 per cent. The coalition comprises Forza Italia (16 per cent),
led by Berlusconi, the populist Lega (14 per
cent), led by Matteo Salvini, plus the postfascist Fratelli d’Italia (5 per cent) and a
small centrist party. The coalition’s support
then went up by 1-2 per cent, until Italy’s
Those who do the fascist salute
have been doing it since 1945 and
are politically irrelevant
opinion poll blackout in the last two weeks
of election campaigns came into force.
The anti-party, anti-parliament Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S), which is run
like a Scientology sect, was on 27 per cent
and remained on 27 per cent. The coalition
of the left, which has been in government
since 2013 and failed to reboot the economy
or solve the migrant crisis, was polling 25 per
cent. Its leading party — the post-communist
Partito Democratico — has seen its support
collapse from 40.8 per cent at the 2014 Euro
elections to 22 per cent.
To win a majority in parliament, a party
or coalition must get at least 40 per cent of
the vote. Only the coalition of the right looks
to have any chance of doing so.
This, for a British newspaper like the
‘Great news! We’ll no longer be the byword
for spineless European U-turns.’
Guardian, reeks of fascism. The paper has
been running hysterical headlines such as
‘Fascism is back in Italy’ and ‘Italy is being
driven into the arms of fascists’. The New
York Times and the BBC have done similar.
ITV news, as keen as anyone to be part of
the dominant media narrative, ran a story on
Tuesday about ‘middle-class diners’ doing
fascist salutes in a Milan restaurant. Well,
I’ve got news for ITV. Those who do the fascist salute have been doing it since 1945 and
are politically irrelevant. Inevitably, such
coverage can provide only the flimsiest of
evidence to support its claims. The truth is
that fascist parties in Italy attract minimal
support. The most successful — CasaPound
(named after the American poet Ezra
Pound) — is polling at around 2 per cent.
To win seats in parliament under Italy’s
electoral law (a labyrinthine mix of first-pastthe-post and proportional representation), a
party needs to get at least 3 per cent of the
vote. Yes, Fratelli d’Italia is post-fascist and
with 5 per cent of the vote will win seats (in
fact, it has them already), but if it is fascist
then Tony Blair’s a commie. Even Italy’s
left-wing Interior Minister, Marco Minniti,
an ex-communist ergo professional anti-fascist, admitted in the wake of the Macerata
shootings: ‘Fascism in Italy is dead for ever.’
There have been regular outbursts of
violence during election demonstrations in
recent weeks. But virtually all of it has been
caused by ‘anti-fascist’ demonstrators trying
to stop CasaPound and the even more irrelevant Forza Nuova from holding meetings.
Yet the impression the liberal-left media has
been disseminating is the opposite: that it is
the fascist right committing the violence.
There is no fascist threat in Italy, except,
ironically, from the M5S, which wants to
replace parliament with the internet. It’s true
that the fascist Macerata gunman stood as a
Lega candidate in last year’s local elections
and got zero votes. But that does not mean
that the Lega itself is a party of fascists.
What the Lega proposes is to stop more
migrants getting into Italy from Libya, which
is what the outgoing left-wing government
was belatedly forced to do anyway last summer with considerable success. The Lega
also promises to deport all those among the
630,000 illegal immigrants estimated to be in
Italy who are not genuine refugees. That is
more hardline but hardly neo-Nazi.
If the coalition of the right achieves the
40 per cent threshold and the Lega gets
more votes than Forza Italia, then, under
the agreement that has been struck, Salvini
will become prime minister. But if Forza Italia gets more than the Lega, Berlusconi will
be the victor. Berlusconi, however, is banned
from public office after his 2013 conviction
for tax fraud and he has yet to name his
prime minister.
So Italy could have its fifth unelected
prime minister in a row. A farce? Certainly.
A fascist coup? No way!
James Bartholomew
ithin an hour of our arrival,
someone had tightly tied a turban
around my head and I was told to hurry
up and join the procession. I found the
groom, Professor James Tooley, looking
shell-shocked, which was not surprising.
Far away from British academe, he found
himself wearing shiny gold robes and an
enormous gold turban, sitting in one of
those extravagant American cars from
1960s gangster TV shows. A band nearby
was loudly performing Indian music
while, behind him, a troupe of women in
elaborate and gorgeous costumes was
dancing. Nearby were two white horses
wearing red and gold, two camels and
an elephant. A troupe of male dancers
with orange turbans and red skirts was
at the ready to do a stick-clashing dance
once we got to the gates of the palace.
The purpose of the procession — one
small part of two days of wedding rituals
and entertainments — was to bring
James in a suitably grand way to meet
his bride, Ekta Sodha. When we finally
got to see her, she looked stunning in
a heavy red dress, elegantly smothered
in a jangle of gold jewellery. In fact, just
assume everything is red or gold unless
otherwise specified.
he wedding ceremony itself was
radically more realistic and honest
than a British one. British weddings are
mostly about love, often with a reading
of St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians
(‘and the greatest of these is love’).
All very nice but the ceremony avoids
mentioning other regular aspects of
marriage such as sex, money, conflict
between the couple over who takes
the decisions and potential dislike
between the two families. All of this
is acknowledged in a Hindu wedding.
James was expected to hand over notes
as part of the ceremony but first, he
and I, as his best man, had to bargain
vociferously with the bride’s family.
‘£10,000? You must be joking!’ I shouted.
‘That’s outrageous! How about 10,000
rupees? Rupees are a fine Indian
currency and you should be happy to
That answer contains another assertion
of class: ostentatious modesty. Another
upper-class signifier comes in the form
of great politeness. Yet another is
discussion of relatively abstract issues
such as whether subsidies for the arts
are justifiable or not. The middle classes
only refer to such issues. The lower
classes do not even do that. All of us are
unconsciously signalling our class.
get them!’ There were two ritual struggles
for marital dominance. In one, the couple
played a game of hunt-the-ring. A ring was
put in murky water in a large plate and they
raced each other to find it. It was the best
of five and whoever won would be the boss
in the marriage. For the record, James won
3-2 — not that it will make any difference
in reality of course.
found similar honesty in the ‘Grooms’
and ‘Brides’ wanted advertisements in
the Sunday Times of India. The adverts
are divided into sections so you can seek a
spouse of the same caste or profession or
who speaks the same language. Advertisers
openly say they want someone ‘handsome’
or from a ‘status family’. Potential brides
are unabashed in boasting that they are
beautiful and have fair skin. In Britain, we
pretend that we are exclusively interested
in the other’s personality or GSOH and
that nothing else matters. Like hell.
kta told me that when she first came
to Britain, she was dismayed by how
damning people were about the Indian
caste system. Then she noticed that the
British themselves were frequently and
persistently asserting their own class status.
I asked for examples. She said the upper
classes — say the top 15 or 20 per cent
— establish whether new acquaintances
are of their own class through references
to art, theatre, literature and so forth. So
someone might say their favourite opera
is Tosca. The other upper-class person will
reply by showing knowledge of Tosca and
other operas, saying something like, ‘Yes, of
course the arias in Tosca are magnificent
but I am afraid I am rather low-brow. I
enjoy the jollity of the Marriage of Figaro.’
fter the wedding, my girlfriend and
I visited Jodhpur and suddenly
found that the internet was not working.
Why so, we asked? ‘It is because exams
are taking place today,’ we were told.
The entire internet across Rajasthan had
been turned off, making it impossible
to take credit-card payments, among
many other things, because trainee
teachers were taking their exams.
Apparently cheating in such exams is
commonplace because the women can
hide smartphones and earpieces in their
saris and voluminous hair. The internet
blackout was meant to stop the cheating
and was part of the anti-corruption
drive being pushed along by Prime
Minister Narendra Modi. Incidentally,
Modi comes from the Modh-Ghanchi
(oil-pressers) caste which is one of
the ‘Other Backward Castes’. But his
political opponents have complained he
is actually from a higher caste than he
pretends. In Indian politics, as in ours,
it seems advantageous to come from a
lower caste. It reminded me of how the
former public schoolboy ‘Tony’ Blair
used to pretend he was only middle class.
n the way home, I discovered that
W.H. Smith, having died on my
local high street, has been reincarnated
in Delhi airport. There, prominently
displayed, were ‘Pearl white’ facial
kits to help Indians obtain a ‘fairer
complexion’. A neighbour of mine was
saddened to think that some Indians are
not content with their beautiful dark
complexions. Then again, she herself is
no stranger to potions which make
her a blonde.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
The all give and no take of American taxes
ast week, the New York Times ran a
very un-New-York-Times-y article,
‘Resentment Grows Over Who Gets
Health Care Aid’. It contrasts two women
in New Hampshire. Married with one child
at 30, last year Gwen Hurd paid more than
$11,000 for her family’s health insurance,
purchased through the Affordable Care Act
exchange. They had to shell out $6,300 per
person — $18,900 — before the insurance
kicked in. Both parents were working. Their
pre-tax earnings just exceeded the $82,000
cut-off for government insurance subsidies.
The couple dropped date night, and couldn’t
save for retirement.
A few miles away, single and living at
home, an aspiring opera singer of 28 is careful
to keep her earnings just below $15,000, so
she continues to qualify for Medicaid. Aside
from dentistry, all her healthcare is free.
Americans are often horrified by ‘socialised medicine’. Yet between Medicare for
the elderly, Medicaid for the poor, SCHIP
for children and veterans’ benefits for the
military, 42 per cent of the population is
covered by the dread ‘socialised medicine’.
Another 2.5 per cent buy often massively
government-subsidised health insurance
through the ACA exchange. The cost of
these subsidies for only 7.6 million people
has risen to an eye-popping $42.6 billion.
Asset rich but income poor, my brother
gets subsidised insurance. To cover himself, his wife and two of his children (the
other two qualify for Medicaid), he pays
$4,600 per year. But the real annual cost of
that insurance is $46,300. (!!!!! How many
exclamation marks is that figure good for?
Apparently Gwen Hurd bought her policy
from the American equivalent of a pound
shop.) Who pays the difference? As a
US taxpayer, I do. Ms Hurd in New Hampshire does.
‘It seems to me that people who earn
nothing and contribute nothing get everything for free,’ Ms Hurd complained to the
Times. ‘And the people who work hard and
struggle for every penny barely end up surviving… I’m totally happy to pay my fair
share, but I’m also paying someone else’s
share, and that’s what makes me insane.’
Close to half the US get either free or
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
heavily subsidised medical care, while the
other half have to cover their own obscenely inflated bills and the bills for the rest of
the country. (Share my astonishment that,
on average, the US spends $10,000 per person on healthcare every year, or $40,000 for
a family of four. America’s median household income is $59,000. How is this possible?) This disparity does not solely pertain
to healthcare. In the US (45 per cent) and
UK (44 per cent), nearly half of the population pay no national income tax.
Broadly, western democracies use one of
two models for delivering government largesse. Europe has tended to prefer universal benefits. The American system is more
purely redistributive: the more you pay, the
less you get. For their federal taxes, Americans who earn anything to speak of get no
childcare, healthcare, university tuition, or
Americans can point to virtually
nothing in their daily lives that
their federal tax dollars buy
care in old age. Even ‘entitlements’ that supposedly cover everyone are rigged to punish the very taxpayers who keep the fragile
programmes afloat. Medicare premiums are
means-tested. My husband’s health insurance payments went substantially up when
he aged into the programme, though his private insurer gave him no choice. Even moderate earners who have contributed to the
Social Security retirement programme for
40 to 50 years will never remotely get their
money back.
I’m not trying to provide another
opportunity for Britons to gloat about the
NHS, and to condescend to the barbarians
across the pond, with their lunatic, unjust,
unaffordable healthcare ‘system’ (though
please — be my guest). I can easily picture
a headline in the not so distant future in the
London Times: ‘Resentment Grows Over
Paying for a Health Service the Better Off
Do Not Use’. Given the steady deterioration
of the NHS, Britain is in danger of slipping to
a more American model, whereby the people who fund the service pay a second time
for private healthcare they can trust.
There’s a psychological rationale for
government services and subsidies that go
to everyone. Taxpayers are less bitter about
parting with their earnings when they obtain
something in return. Hitherto, the NHS has
been a fine social unifier, and even higherrate taxpayers have felt that they reap tangible benefits from financing it. Aside perhaps
from national parks, Americans can point
to virtually nothing in their daily lives that
their federal tax dollars buy. The purely
redistributive model leads understandably
to resentment.
Yet when benefits take the form of cash,
the profoundly redistributive nature of taxation even in the UK can make universal payments seem a farcical pretence, a sad vestige
of bygone socialism. For elderly Britons
who are at least middle class, the winter fuel
allowance is merely a tiny tax rebate. Ditto
a state pension, another goodies-for-everyone that for lifelong contributors simply
dribs back a few of the same funds they’ve
poured in. One of the glaring problems with
the concept of a universal basic income is
that in order for the state to give every citizen a sizeable wage just for waking up in the
morning, anyone who earned anything at all
would no sooner receive their cheque than
have the same money snatched back the
next day — and then some.
I like the idea of universal benefits, which
take some of the emotional harm out of
being fleeced, and should theoretically create greater social cohesion. But with progressive taxation, there’s no getting away
from the fact that many western democracies now expect about half the country to
foot the bill not only for themselves but
for everyone else — fundamentally, to buy
everything twice.
Better-half Britons are not prone to complain about this point, thereby calling attention to the fact that they earn something,
which is naturally a source of shame. Americans are more vocal. The ‘inequality’ we
hear so ceaselessly about certainly signifies
a kind of unfairness. But the starkly contrasting healthcare costs for those two women
in New Hampshire — all give and no take
vs all take and no give — also exhibit a kind
of unfairness. Just not the kind that the British are comfortable talking about.
Corbyn and the zeitgeist
Sir: Your leading article is right about
university tuition fees and the fruitlessness
of Tory half-measures, name-calling and
then unedifying policy-swapping (‘Corbyn’s
useful idiots’, 24 February). But I believe
the writing is on the wall for the wider
involvement of ‘free markets’ in the public
sector. We have seen growing public
support for taking the railways and water
companies back into public ownership as
people justifiably ask what is in it for them
under the current system.
In the NHS, as Max Pemberton makes
clear (‘Wasting away’, 24 February),
the internal market has been a wasteful
disaster. We were told that costs would be
driven down as standards went up. All too
often the reverse has been the case. Only
the corporate lawyers have benefited. It
pains me, as a lifelong Tory, to admit it but
Mr Corbyn is ideally placed. He exudes
conviction and his is the zeitgeist as we
move out of the post-Thatcher consensus
in British politics. I sense one of those
sea changes like the one James Callaghan
saw before the 1979 election.
Dr Barry Moyse
North Petherton, Somerset
Inaction on the NHS
Sir: Our own work confirms the central
NHS problem that Dr Pemberton describes.
Everyone involved is all too aware of
the waste and the frustration of medical
staff. The Health Secretary has been in
post for five years but is yet to address
the issue. Why does he dismiss offers of
help? Adversarial politicians have created
the mess but refuse to let others resolve
it. Proposals by Norman Lamb for a nonparty ‘Convention’ and by Lord Saatchi for
a Royal Commission are both constructive
and practical. Yet they have been rejected
out of hand without indication of any other
way forward. We seem to be condemned to
another four years of inaction.
Tim Ambler
Senior Fellow, Adam Smith Institute,
London SW1
Bringing jihadis to justice
Sir: Your leading article ‘Justice for
jihadis’ (17 February) eloquently sets
out the drawbacks of different potential
methods of bringing to justice British
citizens who fought for Isis: drone strikes,
Guantanamo Bay, the ICC (or other
international tribunal) and trial in the
UK. But your preferred solution, local
justice, is unfortunately flawed. Who would
administer this justice? Most of the British
fighters are picked up by the Kurds, whose
sovereignty the UK government does not
recognise. It is just possible to imagine that
we could acknowledge Kurdish justice in
Iraq, where there is a more settled Kurdish
region, but surely not in Syria, where those
structures are lacking. Anyway, those who
have suffered most from Isis brutality in
Syria are not Kurds, but moderate Syrian
Arabs. We are many years away from a
situation where we could trust a Syrian
state justice system, let alone observe it in
action. The most successful local justice
precedent is probably the Rwandan system
of ‘gacaca’ community courts, following the
1994 genocide. But even that came seven
years after the event, against the backdrop
of a stable central government. Given the
legal and political complexities of this issue,
I am not surprised that the government is
struggling to find a workable solution.
Mark Lyall Grant
Former National Security Advisor,
London SW7
Classics example
Sir: Rash as it may be for an amateur to
cross swords with Professor Jones, in his
piece on the Athenian Assembly and a
possible second EU referendum (Ancient
and modern, 17 February), he seems to
have overlooked the famous Mytilene
Debate of 427 bc. When Mytilene rebelled
against Athens, the Assembly voted to
exterminate the Mytilenians, the first
(of only two) occasions on which any
democratic assembly has voted to commit
genocide. An execution squad was sent,
but the next day the Athenians had second
thoughts, convened the Assembly and
voted to rescind the execution decree. A
fast trireme was sent to stop the execution
squad and no genocide took place. Perhaps
a better precedent for second referendums
than Professor Jones’s piece might suggest?
Incidentally, the only other genocide vote
was also that of the Athenian Assembly
when it voted in 416 to exterminate the
people of Melos. On that occasion they
refused to hold a second vote, with tragic
Richard Mawrey QC
London EC4
Don’t relax planning rules
Sir: Tim Coles (Letters, 24 February)
admirably summarises the housing
problem caused by overpopulation, but
very few would agree with his solution
that you just concrete over as much
countryside as is needed to cater for
uncontrolled immigration. Such thinking
ignores the huge destruction of the natural
environment that has taken place over only
the past 150 years of our history of many
thousands of years of human habitation.
We must take a long-term view, particularly
when building on even more countryside
has become unnecessary because of the
low density of our cities. At a time when
land and wildlife are under unprecedented
threat, planning controls must be
strengthened, not relaxed.
Anthony Jennings
London WC1
Respect for the military
Sir: In her otherwise insightful article on
the peculiar mix of politeness and violence
in US culture (‘Wham bam, thank you
Ma’am’, 24 February), Elisa Segrave draws
the wrong conclusion about American
sensibilities towards its military personnel.
That five servicemen and -women boarding
a flight in Florida were individually
applauded should be read as spontaneous
recognition of their courage and selfsacrifice. I agree with Segrave that this
would not happen here. More’s the pity.
Max Kaye
Bath, Somerset
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Running a bank’s tough. That’s no
reason to start handing capital back
mixed bag of annual results from
the big banks. RBS, still 73 per cent
owned by the taxpayer, recorded
a small profit for the first time since 2008
but took flak for a newly released report
on the outrageous behaviour of its Global
Restructuring Group, the team that mistreated struggling business customers in the
post-crash phase. No wonder chief executive Ross McEwan looked tired, irritable
and homesick for New Zealand.
Lloyds, having served its time in the
sin bin alongside RBS, is now by contrast
the sector’s comeback star, with profits up
24 per cent to £5.3 billon (despite another
hefty charge for PPI mis-selling) and promises of more lending to start-ups. No wonder chief executive António Horta-Osório
— whose pay last year rose to £6.4 million
and whose health, like his bank’s, has fully
recovered since the dark days of 2011
when he took leave suffering exhaustion —
looked positively gleaming.
HSBC, meanwhile, reported handsome pre-tax profits of $17 billion, up from
$7 billion in 2016, but still had skeletons rattling, including a potential $1.5 billion fine
for alleged money laundering and other
hanky-panky in its Swiss private bank.
Retiring chief executive Stuart Gulliver
looked less than triumphant, while markets
wait to see whether his successor John Flint,
HSBC’s former retail banking head, can
complete a reputational clean-up.
Barclays, where the net result was a £1.9
billion loss after one-off hits from the sale
of the bank’s African business, the impact of
Trump’s tax reforms, loans to Carillion and
PPI claims: chief executive Jes Staley, with
little to show for his strategic thrust so far
and a pending FCA inquiry into his attempt
to unmask a whistleblower, would be best
described as looking uncomfortable.
One thing common to all these results
was that they had little impact on the banks’
share prices, which continue to languish far
below pre-2008 levels. The weight of negative sentiment behind those price charts
makes it extraordinarily difficult for bank
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
bosses to deliver shareholder value, however good their managerial skill or strategic
vision. With £20 million of 2017 pay between
the four chiefs, they hardly need our sympathy. But we might at least acknowledge
that running a big bank to the satisfaction of
investors, customers and regulators is, these
days, a bloody difficult job.
Are buybacks bad?
That last thought leads me to another,
prompted by two statements buried in the
results announcements. The first was from
Lloyds: ‘The Board intends to implement a
share buyback of up to £1 billion... This represents the return of capital over and above
the Board’s view of the current level of
capital required to grow the business, meet
regulatory requirements and cover uncertainties.’ The second was from Jes Staley of
Barclays: ‘I am confident in the capacity of
this business to generate excess capital going
forward, and it remains our intention over
time to return a greater proportion of that
excess capital to shareholders through dividends and other means of capital distribution, including share buybacks.’
Both banks increased their dividends, to
general approval: bank shares are traditionally long-term holds rather than speculative
plays, whose attraction has much to do with
steady dividend yields. But this new enthusiasm for share buybacks rings alarm bells.
And I had better explain why, because you
may be thinking that one ‘means of capital
distribution’ is much the same as another.
Not so. It’s no exaggeration to say buybacks
are coming to be seen as a peril of the age:
a contributing factor in the slump of productivity, the slowdown of growth, the widening of income inequality between bosses and
workers, and the spread of cynicism towards
big-corporate capitalism.
It is of course possible for companies
to have ‘excess capital’ and no project in
view in which that capital might be invested to make the company grow and prosper. In which case, fine: give it back. But in
very many cases, that’s not what’s going on.
In recent years companies have used cashflow or cheap debt to buy bundles of their
own shares in the market and cancel them,
in order simply to reduce the number of
those shares, increase ‘earnings per share’
and boost a flagging share price. That’s an
attractive choice for executives who hold
lavish share option awards, because the dilution effect of the option scheme is disguised
by the buyback, and because the price boost
makes them even richer when they cash in
the options. Hence buybacks have become
hugely popular in US boardrooms, lately
running at $500 billion a year.
But that also means companies are
choosing not to put the capital into new
factories or acquisitions or technologies or
cancer cures. Machinery and equipment are
being replaced more slowly (while comparable investment elsewhere races ahead) and
fewer high-skilled jobs are being created. A
survey of 459 US companies in the S&P500
Index showed the total value of buybacks
from 2006 to 2015 was double the amount
companies spent on research and development. So far, buybacks are less common here
but have been used by the likes of Unilever
and Kingfisher and look bound to become
more popular. Arguably that will lead to
falling productivity and yet more criticism
that corporations are too focused on financial engineering for the benefit of the few.
But are banks different?
HSBC has already bought back $5 billion
worth of its own shares. All banks might
claim that the undervaluation inherent in
permanently depressed share prices is all
the justification they need for buybacks. And
wouldn’t we prefer they shrank their businesses anyway, rather than embarking on
risky new ventures? Well maybe, but it’s only
a decade since their failure to husband their
own capital brought the global economy to
its knees. So let’s keep a sharp eye on their
new urge to hand capital back to investors —
and the motives behind it.
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29 Blowing bubbles
The next financial fads and how to avoid them
Stephen Eckett
32 Merchants of doom
They get a bad press, but we need short-sellers
James Clunie
35 Would you take a robot’s tip?
How AI is being used in fund management
Andrew Willshire
38 Coffee fix
The app that helps you save, one latte at a time
Tiffany Daneff
40 Back to frontiers
Look to emerging markets for better returns
Matthew Lynn
30 Reality check
The UK stock market still looks cheap
Louise Cooper
36 Property
A home in a tax haven
Ross Clark
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Spread betting and CFD trading can
result in losses that exceed your
deposits. Volatility can increase risk.
Blowing bubbles
Stephen Eckett on the next financial fads and how to avoid them
Sea bubble, commented: ‘I can calculate the movement of the stars, but
not the madness of men.’
Yet if you can spot a coming bubble in the early stages of inflation —
and you are wise enough to get out
in time — you certainly won’t end up
looking insane. After all, some academics argue that bubbles are perfectly rational, in that at every point
the chance of higher returns fully
compensates investors for the possibility that the bubble might collapse.
So what is going to be the next
bubble? A simple definition of
a bubble might be: an asset trading
at a price far in excess of its intrinsic value. The harder it is to put an
intrinsic value on something, the easier it is for people to fool themselves
they’re paying a reasonable price for
an inflated asset.
As the Economist recently pointed out, digital assets with no income
streams are very hard to value. So an
Sir Isaac
said: ‘I can
calculate the
of the stars,
but not the
of men’
Beanie Babies
(right) were once
an investment
mania — could
cannabis products
go the same way?
o you remember the Beanie
Baby crash of 1999? Chris
Robinson, an actor who
appeared in the TV series General
Hospital, certainly does. He invested
$100,000 hoping to fund his kids’ college education and lost everything —
well, apart from 20,000 stuffed toys
in his garage. At the peak of the fad in
1999, just before the market plunged,
Beanie Babies were selling for up
to $5,000 each and accounted for
10 per cent of eBay sales.
That was just one in a long history
of economic bubbles, including tulip
mania in the 1630s and the stock of
the South Sea Company 100 years
later. We’ve had them in bonds, real
estate, canals, railways, commodities,
derivatives and now, possibly, Bitcoin
— almost anything that has a price.
We know with hindsight that they are
all mad, and that they suck in clever
people, including Sir Isaac Newton,
who, having lost money in the South
obvious place to look for future bubbles will be in the universe of digital
assets. If online identities ever become
tradable, they could turn into bubbles.
If the clever people at investment
banks manage to securitise access to
air and water, air bubbles and water
bubbles would be feasible, and likely.
Then there are cannabis-related investments. At the beginning of
this year, California became the latest
US state to legalise recreational marijuana. According to Forbes, cannabisrelated businesses constitute one of
the fastest-growing industries in the
US, with the medical marijuana market alone expected to grow to $13 billion by 2020.
There are still regulatory hurdles
to overcome in the US, but as these
are cleared away, expect pot-heads,
and prices, to get high. Cannabis
investments will add a new meaning
to the term ‘joint stock company’.
The aftermath of some bubbles
can have a very negative effect on
the wider economy — for example
the fallout from the credit crunch in
2008. Yet some bubbles, while they
lose money for investors, leave behind
an infrastructure that benefits wider
society. Canals, railways, and the
internet needed excess speculation to
raise sufficient funds to build expensive infrastructure. Some investors
lost out, but later generations benefited from it.
Blockchain, the technology behind
Bitcoin, may turn out to be another
example. But when a commodity or
product becomes subject to a bubble,
the people who usually end up making the most money are the service
suppliers. In the Californian gold rush,
it was the people selling shovels that
made money, not the miners. Today, it
might not be Bitcoin buyers but the
service industries around it that end
up with the biggest riches. Bitcoin
broker Coinbase booked $1 billion in
revenue last year.
Another technology to watch are
the ones related to batteries for electric cars. But not every new technology will turn into a bubble. Bubbles
have a social element of sucking in
a mass of people, creating a popular delirium, whereas lithium, or graphene, are likely to see just a few small
companies go pop. One problem for
ordinary people is that it is often difficult for them to invest in new technologies early on as the companies
developing them may be private, or
government-owned (especially in the
case of China). By the time ordinary
investors can get their hands on it,
they might be too late.
Bubbles tend to occur during long
periods of low interest rates, leading
to increased debt levels and investors chasing income. Today, thanks to
quantitative-easing by central banks,
we have what some call the Everything Bubble, which includes stocks,
real estate, fine art, corporate credit,
auto and student loans. So at the
moment it might be more a case of
preserving your money by identifying
which bubble is going to burst first,
rather than looking for new ones.
High asset prices are often justified by the four most dangerous
words in investment: it’s different this
time. When polite dinner conversations turn to, say, the relative merits
of Bitcoin and Ripple, it is a warning sign if you want to protect your
investment portfolio from bubbles.
And avoid any asset with a name like
Old Face Teddy.
The UK stock market
still looks cheap
In my last column I argued
that by many measures
American shares are
expensive. If that is the case,
should you put your faith this
year’s ISA money in UK plc?
Recently I presented
Money Box Live on Radio 4
and interviewed the deputy
governor of the Bank of
England, Ben Broadbent.
What really struck me were
his thoughts on the long-term
level of interest rates and
how the interest rate needed
to keep the economy stable
had been coming down for
decades, even more so since
the financial crisis.
If we are in a new world
order where interest rates
never get above a few
percentage points, then the
UK stock market is cheap.
But then that is a big ‘if’.
Whether you are an overly
optimistic bull or a growly
grumpy bear largely depends
on your view of interest rates
in the long-term.
Let me explain. The
two main investments are
shares and bonds (the latter
of which means investing
in either corporate or
government debt). Thanks
to quantitative-easing (QE)
and ultra-low interest rates,
the UK government pays just
1.5 per cent interest a year to
borrow for ten years. Prior
to the crisis it was around
5-6 per cent p.a. That 1.5 per
cent yearly interest payment
does not even keep up with
inflation at 3 per cent. By
buying UK gilts, or leaving
your money in bank savings,
your money is steadily losing
its purchasing power.
In contrast, the FTSE100
is paying a dividend yield of
about 4 per cent, meaning
you get 4 per cent of your
initial investment back in
dividends a year. You are
getting almost three times
the income by buying shares
and receiving a 4 per cent
dividend yield than if you
bought government debt
and received the 1.5 per cent
interest coupon. That is why
UK shares are cheap.
According to Russ Mould,
investment director at AJ
Bell, UK interest rates would
need to rise substantially to
make the UK stock market
look expensive: ‘If history is
any guide then bond yields
are not a long-term threat to
the stock market bull run.’
On top of this simple
income comparison, bear in
mind that share prices and
dividends tend to increase as
companies grow — two more
ways to profit from buying
Other measures also
suggest the UK stock market
is still good value. The P/E
So what are the
risks? The major
one is whether
‘the inflationary
genie will pop out
of the bottle’
ratio (which is the ratio of the
share price to the company’s
profits, per share) is only
around 14 times. This is about
the historical average and not
expensive. The US S&P500,
for comparison, is trading
at about 20 times forward
earnings, and much more
And as Mr Mould notes:
‘The UK stock market has
underperformed for two
years and is under-loved,
according to a Bank of
America Merrill Lynch
survey.’ And that means it
could be time for catch up.
The global economy is
growing at its fastest rate
since the crisis and that is
good news for the profits of
the internationally focused
companies in the FTSE100.
And by investing in your
home market, you are taking
less currency risk, as you are
buying shares in sterling.
So what are the risks?
The major one is whether
‘the inflationary genie will
pop out of the bottle’, as
Mr Mould puts it. It was the
whiff of wage inflation that
contributed to the US stock
market to sell off in early
February. That’s because
inflation will cause central
banks to raise interest rates
far more aggressively than
expected. And as I have
explained above, that hits
the relative attractiveness
of shares.
Falls in the stock market
can also indicate economic
weakness to come, which is
the other risk of investing in
UK plc. The UK economy
has been in recovery for
the past six years. At some
point we are due a recession,
which would be bad news
for shares. But the Bank
of England most recently
increased its forecasts for UK
GDP growth.
So the main question to
ask before putting money
into the UK stock market is
whether we are permanently
in a low inflation and low
interest rate new world order.
Or after excessive QE and
ultra-low interest rates, are
much higher inflation and
interest rates just around the
Most think the former.
In which case the UK stock
market is a good bet. But
just because your cash is
staycationing, it doesn’t mean
you have to too. The good
news for holidaymakers is
that the pound is stronger,
particularly against the
dollar, than it was in the
slump following the EU
This might be the year to
book a foreign holiday to
Miami but leave your money
at home.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
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Merchants of doom
They get a bad press, but we need short-sellers, says James Clunie
he collapse of Carillion has
reminded the public of the
existence of short-sellers:
stock-market participants who benefit from falling share prices. The construction giant was one of the mostshorted stocks on the market, and
several hedge funds are reported
to have made a killing when it went
under in January. Short-sellers had
been active in Carillion shares for
several years, and around a quarter
of the firm’s shares had been ‘sold
short’. Reading of the profits made by
these people, it is tempting to ask: is
this something that an ordinary investor could, or should, be doing?
‘Shorting’ is simple in theory, but
not so easy in practice. It involves
selling a share you don’t own, in the
hope that you might be able to turn
a profit by buying it back at a later
date for a lower price. But how can
you sell something you don’t own?
The answer is that short-sellers borrow shares from existing shareholders, who are willing to lend out shares
in exchange for a fee.
Short-sellers are usually professional traders or investors who are
running hedge funds or absolute
return funds on behalf of clients, or
maybe trading for their firm. Some
wealthy folk might be using their own
money to short-sell. Most small investors, however, do not short-sell — and
for a good reason. Most stockbrokers
do not facilitate it. Financial regulators do not seem to encourage it.
Why is this? Partly because the
mechanics are quite complicated,
but mostly because of the high risk
involved. The most you can make
on your money by short-selling is
around 100 per cent, when a share
price collapses to zero almost immediately. But the most you can lose?
Well, there is no theoretical limit to
how high a share price can go, so losses can become very large indeed. In
theory, you can lose more than all of
your money. Say, for example, you sell
a share at £1 in the hope that you will
be able to buy it back when the price
falls to 50p. But then instead of falling, the share price rises to £2. You
will still need to buy the shares back
in order to return them to their rightful owner. But you will have to spend
twice as much buying the shares as
you sold them for. On top of this, borrowing shares involves paying fees.
Short-selling is not something to
undertake lightly.
Some online trading platforms
— generally those that originated as
spread-betting firms — do however
make shorting possible for ordinary
investors. Technically, rather than
actually short-sell, you enter into a
financial ‘contract for differences’,
which can be a functional equivalent.
So should you become a shortseller — or a ‘merchant of doom’, as
they are often called? My answer to
this question is: please don’t try this
at home. Good short-selling requires
insightful information about a firm or
a stock, patience in evaluating when
to start shorting, speed and the ability to accept your mistakes (and take
losses) when the evidence changes.
It’s excruciating work — don’t do it.
That doesn’t mean, however,
that short-sellers are not useful for
ordinary investors. They are a bit
like snow leopards: rare and hardly
ever seen in the open. Nevertheless
both play an important role within
their eco-system. In the case of shortsellers, that role is to express a negative opinion about the price of an
asset — which in many cases ordinary
investors would do well not to ignore.
Short-sellers often receive a bad
press, but they are incentivised to
uncover corporate fraud, bad business practices, and accounting chicanery. They can thus help to keep
markets ‘true’ to some extent. To use
academic language, short-sellers help
with price discovery. Famous cases
of fraud, such as Enron, were first
brought to the public’s attention by
the agitations of short-sellers.
There’s also some evidence they
can turn markets more liquid, making
it easier for others to trade at the
prices they want. Unsurprisingly,
there have been several instances of
market abuse by short-sellers, but
most of the evidence suggests that
Shortsellers are
to uncover
bad practice,
and so they
help keep the
market true
they are useful members of the market ecology.
Short-sellers tend to be elusive
for a variety of reasons, including
fear of recriminations for bringing
‘bad news’ to the market. Sometimes,
when share prices fall sharply, folk
seek someone to blame, and shortsellers can make a useful scapegoat.
After all, the short-seller wanted
the share price to fall. Interestingly, I haven’t seen anyone blame the
short-sellers for Carillion’s collapse.
But there have been many examples
in history, some quite recent, where
politicians or business folk tried to
persecute the short-sellers: bullying
and threatening with words and even
legal action.
Another reason for short-sellers’
reticence is the fear that others could
exploit knowledge of their short positions by trying to engineer a share
price rise, forcing the short-seller to
buy back at a higher price to stem
mounting losses.
There are, however, some shortsellers who publicise their views. They
may publish detailed reports alleging
aggressive accounting or corporate
malfeasance; some even have Twitter feeds. The purpose of this activity is to ‘co-ordinate’ shorting activity
and encourage others to short-sell at
the same time: where a pack of shortsellers is fighting against the optimistic masses, they might just succeed
in getting the share price down to a
fair value. A lone short-seller stands
little chance by comparison, until the
weight of negative evidence becomes
irrefutable. And that can be a long
and painful wait.
Fortunately for ordinary investors, there is an easy way to find out
what shares are being shorted and to
what extent. The UK financial regulator publishes a list of all UK shares
where one or more investor holds
a large short position. It is updated
daily and is free to access on their
But just because someone takes
a large short position, this doesn’t
mean the share price will fall. And
it certainly doesn’t mean the firm is
the next Carillion. Short-sellers act
for a variety of reasons and may have
other positions to offset against a specific short. Or they might simply be
wrong in their evaluation of a good
short. When shares rise unexpectedly,
short-sellers may be unable to hold
on to their shorts — and they might
just lose their shirts.
James Clunie is manager of the Jupiter
Absolute Return Fund and the author
of Short Selling (Harriman House).
spectator money | 3 march 2018 |
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Would you take a robot’s tip?
Andrew Willshire on how AI is being used in fund management
e are forever being told
that artificial intelligence
(AI) is coming to take our
jobs. Is your financial advisor one of
those who is going to be forced into
early retirement? Or, to put it another way, would you trust your finances
to be managed by a robot?
Our money is already being managed by machines in the form of
algorithms — straightforward computer procedures which follow a programmed set of rules. They are part
of everyday life, whether it’s Amazon
trying to give you product recommendations or Facebook identifying
which of your friends you find least
tedious. Indeed, you may only be
reading this article because an algorithm thought you might be interested in it. Algorithms are also used
in the management of index-tracker
funds — buying and selling stocks
automatically so that the composition of the fund more or less mirrors
its benchmark index.
Algorithms have a long and not
always illustrious history in finance,
however. Buying shares just after
they have increased in value and selling them as they start to fall doesn’t
always make much sense. The 2010
Flash Crash, where high-frequency
trading algorithms were at least partly responsible for a 9 per cent drop
and bounceback in the Dow Jones
within just 36 minutes, is a notable
case study in machines making perverse investment decisions.
Many providers including Invesco
PowerShares, Vanguard and Deutsche
Bank offer ‘smart’ trackers, which go
beyond simply mirroring an index.
They implement popular investment
strategies — e.g., buying companies
which have a strong track record in
paying dividends — and apply them
without human intervention. These
are a bit more expensive than index
trackers — typically 0.3 per cent of
your investment in the fund, compared to around 0.1 per cent — but
still cheaper than most actively managed funds. There is a wide variety
in the strategies employed, and the
smart tracker’s performance is entirely dependent on how good the underlying strategy is.
Taking more direct aim at the personal side of the wealth-management
industry are so-called ‘robo-advisor’
funds which seek to replace the tra-
The complexity
of the financial
system could
prove a challenge
for robots
ditional role of the financial advisor
in making product recommendations
tailored to the individual. These
include Nutmeg, Moneyfarm and
Wealthify, among others. ‘Technology
has made the personal investment
process much faster, with low-cost
financial advice now accessible to all,’
says Scott Gallacher of Moneyfarm.
‘Where it can take up to a week to get
investment advice from a traditional
wealth manager, Moneyfarm’s own
algorithms reduce this to seconds.’
Robo-advisors offer lower fees
than traditional money managers, in the region of 0.45 to 0.7 per
cent depending on the provider and
degree of intervention. Fees charged
by traditional wealth management
can be more than 3.5 per cent, so
there is a substantial possible saving.
The downside is that, being relatively
new to the market, their track record
is quite short. The traditional money
managers are unlikely to sit on their
hands either so there’s a chance that
fees will start to fall across the sector.
But none of this is AI in the strictest sense — it’s just machines implementing strategies devised by humans.
The next step is to let the machines
devise the strategy by identifying patterns from analysis of market data.
Machine-learning, as it is known,
has been used by hedge funds for
years, but remarkably it is only
just beginning to be adopted in
the management of the big public funds to which you and I have
access. Blackrock announced plans
last year to retire seven of its 53
human fund managers, replacing
their traditional stock-picking nous
with techniques more reliant on
machine-learning and big data analysis. Their new China A-Share Opportunities Fund will rely on the wit of
machine rather than man in a way
previously open only to institutional investors. In the month since its
launch, it is 3 per cent up on its benchmark index, but obviously a much
longer period is required to assess
whether this is a gamechanger.
If the machines do perform at least
as well as traditional fund managers
— not a difficult task — then there
will be a bloody cull in the industry.
But there are reasons to be cautious.
For example, the complexity of the
financial system could prove a challenge for the robots. The strength of
machine-learning is that it can recognise deep underlying patterns which
are invisible to humans. But the flip
side of this is that these patterns cannot be easily justified or explained.
And trained on past events, they will
be just as vulnerable as humans when
it comes to coping with previously
unseen events.
Google’s AlphaGo — an application of AI in computer games —
mastered the ‘Go’ through repeated
simulation and analysis of millions of
games which enabled it to differentiate between strong moves and weak
moves in any given position. However, this approach works best when
the situation under consideration can
be precisely reproduced many thousands of times. In real world situations, where the actions of other
players are unpredictable, individual
companies are insufficiently similar,
and the given market conditions at
any one point are unique, this replication and subsequent precise analysis of a situation isn’t possible.
Another factor to consider is that
it is relatively easy to outperform the
market when moving small amounts
of money. The more money that
comes under the management of
AI, the harder it will become for AI
to outdo the rest of the market. It is
the same as with human-investing: as
more people copy successful methods, those methods produce ever
more average results.
There is also a problem of trust.
A machine-learning process encodes
the patterns it finds very deeply within the machine’s ‘brain’, so that it cannot be unpicked and understood by
humans. Financial regulators may be
wary of software which cannot be
robustly audited.
Moreover, will investors be happy
to stand back and watch as decisions
are made which seemingly don’t
make sense? If what appeared to be
a foolish investment does go badly
wrong in the short-term, would you
shrug it off and assume the computer can see something you can’t?
Lacking human emotions, robots can
avoid the mistake human fund-managers often make: losing faith in their
strategy just at the wrong moment
and changing to a less successful one.
The machine can plug on and keep
going — but would you, its customer,
allow it to?
Unlike traditional fund managers, a robot will feel no compulsion to
send out an apologetic missive outlining its much rosier expectations for
the year ahead. Given that you are
human, it may make you feel better
just to know that there is a human
fund manager to blame for losses,
and that you could, if you wanted,
reach over the desk, grip the bastard’s tie and ask firmly where your
money went. You can’t do that with
a robot — so perhaps there’s a future
for fund managers, after all.
A home in a tax haven
If there is one group of people
you might think would be
celebrating the rise of Jeremy
Corbyn, surely it is estate
agents in tax havens. With
Labour floating the idea of
land taxes and wealth taxes —
John McDonnell has spoken
approvingly in the past of a
tax of 20 per cent on the assets
of the rich — surely there has
been no better time to move
to the Isle of Man.
Yet there is scant sign of it.
While property in tax havens
surged during the long boom
which inflated property prices
throughout the 2000s, it has
not made many people rich
since the 2008/09 crisis. On the
Isle of Man, prices are a mere
2 per cent higher than they
were in 2011. On Guernsey
they have plunged 10 per cent
since 2014. On Jersey they
have climbed 16 per cent since
a trough in 2013, but there has
been no Corbyn bounce — in
the third quarter of 2017 they
were just 2 per cent up on a
year earlier.
Further afield, the varying
experiences of property
markets underline just how
idiosyncratic these markets
are, with thin volumes of
sales and intermittent bursts
of interest from the world’s
wealthy. Cayman Islands
property owners, poor things,
had a torrid few years up
until 2014, but have enjoyed
rising values since. The British
Virgin Islands’ market did
not start to recover until 2015,
but has grown strongly since,
with the average sales price
surging nearly threefold in
one year. As for Monaco,
the principality is like one of
those restaurants that doesn’t
bother to put prices on its
menus, on the assumption that
its customers are too well-off
to care about the bill — there
are no official statistics on
property transactions.
Anecdotally, however,
Monaco is something of an
exception in being a honeypot
for investment in residential
property. While vast amounts
of money are channelled
through tax havens — the
Cayman Islands ranks by some
estimates as the sixth biggest
banking centre in the world —
many act more as letterboxes
than as premium residential
neighbourhoods. The Isle of
Man proved a tax-efficient
place for Lewis Hamilton
to land his new jet for a few
minutes, but don’t expect to
bump into him or many other
wealthy individuals in the
offices of the island’s estate
agents. The super-rich, or even
the merely rich, don’t seem
overly keen on living there.
The Manx authorities have
never felt the need to impose
restrictions on who can and
can’t own property there —
even with the lure of income
tax at just 20 per cent. If you
want to buy a two-bedroom
flat overlooking the seafront
in Douglas, it is yours for
£140,000. A four-bedroom
Victorian villa can be had
for £250,000 — not a huge
amount more than across the
water in Morecambe. True,
Jeremy Clarkson has a pad on
the Isle of Man, but he is the
exception — and he may be
more attracted by the island’s
accommodating attitude
towards petrolheads, in the
shape of the TT races, than by
the chance of a tax-efficient
retirement there.
Jersey has higher house
prices, and more of a
reputation as a place of
residence for the rich, but
even so it has not given rise
to the fortunes that property
investors elsewhere have
made over the past couple
of decades. According to the
States of Jersey house price
index, the average home on
the island increased by 65 per
cent between 2002 and 2017
— which compares with a
rise of 82 per cent for the UK
market (as measured by the
Nationwide index) and
129 per cent in London.
But then Jersey does what
Britain has refused to do —
and under EU law is unable
to do — introduce controls
on who can and can’t buy
property. Property-buyers
need either to have lived in
Jersey for at least ten years
or to qualify as a ‘high-value
resident’ — for which you
must prove that you have a
sustainable income of £625,000
a year. Anyone who does take
this route is then compelled to
buy or lease a home worth at
least £1.75 million.
If Britain’s wealthy did
decide to decamp from a
Corbyn-led Britain, Guernsey
wouldn’t be much of a lifeboat.
The island has two parallel
property markets: one for
locals and one for outsiders.
Ninety per cent of properties
fall into the former category,
leaving only 1,600 available
for outsiders. Only Alderney
— all three square miles of
it — has a property market
which, like the Isle of Man,
has no restrictions. There is
no sign of a property boom
there. According to the island’s
estates office, the average sales
price plunged from £450,000
in 2012 to £250,000 at the end
of 2016, in a kind of delayed
reaction to the financial crisis.
One thing to bear in mind is
that tax havens do not always
look like tax havens when it
comes to buying and selling
property — transfer taxes are
often their preferred means
of extracting revenue. Take
Monaco, which levies a 4.5 per
cent real-estate transfer tax, as
well as VAT on 19.6 per cent
on new homes. One way to
measure property taxes is the
concept of ‘round-trip’ costs —
how much money you would
lose if you bought and sold
a property at the same price.
In Britain it is 8 per cent; in
Monaco it is 17.5 per cent. The
lowest in Europe, interestingly,
is otherwise high-tax
Denmark, at just 2.2 per cent.
I bet you never thought you
would look upon the Danish
kingdom as a tax haven.
spectator money | 3 march 2018 |
Investing should
be like water
Simple, clear and refreshing
Planning for the future can feel a little
bewildering. How do you know if you’re saving
enough? What about the political and economic
uncertainty? And then there’s the jargon that
makes no sense. There is an answer.
If you want someone to talk common
sense to you about your future finances,
get in touch today for a no-nonsense
financial review.
Go to
020 3823 8678
The value of investments can go down as well as up and
you may get back less than you originally invested.
Seven Investment Management LLP is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Member of the London
Stock Exchange. Registered office: 55 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 3AS. Registered in England and Wales number OC378740.
Coffee fix
Tiffany Daneff tries an app that helps you save, one cappuccino at a time
’ve long wanted to invest but
have never known how. Buying stocks and shares or investing lump sums in blue chip companies was something other people did,
so I was all ears when I heard about
micro-investing apps which allow
anyone, even impecunious freelancers, to invest their small change in
companies like Netflix and Unilever
via their mobile phone. The headline
idea is beautifully simple: instead of
pocketing the 60p change from your
morning cappuccino, you invest it.
At last, it seemed, there was a way to
jump on the bandwagon.
After a quick online search I
plumped for Moneybox, which is
authorised by the FSA, covered
by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) and seemed
relatively jargon-free, ideal for a
newbie like me. All you need is £1
to set up an account and that, the
website promised, would take only
a few minutes. As for costs, you pay
a £1 monthly transaction fee plus a
‘platform fee’ of 0.45 per cent a year,
charged in monthly instalments.
In the area I live, it can take a
week to download a film, but the app
was no trouble at all and after that
it was just a matter of giving some
straightforward personal information, prompted by the friendly cartoon trio of a blue owl, red fox and
green squirrel. I have to admit I quite
like the animals, though I’ll be pissed
off if they lose me lots of money.
The first tricky question was
whether to choose a General Investment Account or a Stocks and Shares
ISA. I plumped for the former as it
seemed a simpler place to start. This
is made up of three tracker funds,
a cash fund managed by Janus Henderson, global equities run by Vanguard Global Equities and, thirdly, the
Blackrock Global Property Shares
Fund. There’s a page giving Key
Investor Information on each fund
and Moneybox has done its best to
spell this out in plain English, though
for anyone new to the game this still
entails ploughing through a daunting
amount of small print. Thanks to the
miracle of Google, however, I quickly discovered that all three are huge,
which my investing friends tell me is
not very exciting, but there again it
should prove solid.
Next question. Which kind of
investment approach to go for: Cautious, Balanced or Adventurous? The
Moneybox bar chart makes it obvious that being cautious is a waste of
time and being adventurous seemed
risky, so I went with Balanced. We’re
The idea is
simple: instead
of pocketing
the change
from your
you invest it
dealing here with only small amounts
and you can withdraw your money
easily, so I may yet revise that — with
the click of another button.
The final step was linking the
app to my bank account. Giving it
your basic details allows Moneybox
to deduct weekly deposits but also
to enable it to automatically round
up all your spending to the nearest
pound (your 60p per coffee pension
plan). Giving the app your online
banking login and password is easy,
if a bit disturbing. If, however, you
login with a digital key or mobile
generated password, you will have
to reset your online banking set-up,
which is a pain. If this is a step too far,
there is an alternative: you can add
your own round-ups manually which
is easily done via the app (although
these can’t be less than £1).
So far so good. I set my basic
weekly deposit to £5 with roundups on top. In the first week my total
investment was £15. The second
week was slow. I was working from
home and I only managed £8, but no
matter, I would be able to add more
next week. This was exciting. About
ten days after joining, the first weekly investment was collected and little blue owl waved his kite, fox got
on his skateboard and green squirrel
told me that I’d be able to track my
deposit on the app.
I kept checking the app, looking forward to watching how my little baby investment was doing, but
instead of the money appearing, I
watched my £23 sit in ‘pending’ for
days and days. Once it is up and running, Moneybox says, you won’t experience these delays. But still, it was
hardly impressive. On the upside,
because my cash was still waiting
two weeks to be invested I reckon I
ducked losing an entire pound in the
market correction in early February.
So does it work? The short answer
is yes, it encourages you to save and is
pretty easy and fun to use, making this
a great way into the world of investing.
However, one flat white a day (assuming a seven-day week x 60p rounded
up from the £2.40 cost, giving a total
of £4.20) isn’t going to change your
world any time soon. According to the
Moneybox time machine, £5 a week
should grow to £3,521 in ten years
(which is £913 of gains on top of the
money you will have paid in). Save
£20 a week and my fund is projected
to grow to £14,597 in ten years’ time
(with gains of £4,161 on top of what
I will have invested). Five cups a day,
therefore, will go some way towards
building a pension — if the stomach
cancer doesn’t get you first.
spectator money | 3 march 2018 |
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Please quote
Back to frontiers
Investors should once again look to emerging markets for
better returns, says Matthew Lynn
has been in technology companies,
mostly in the United States. It has
been the FANGS that have captured
the imagination of investors far more
than the BRICs or the MINTs (that,
in case you aren’t up on your market
acronyms, is ‘Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google’, ‘Brazil, Russia, India
and China’ and ‘Mexico, Indonesia,
Nigeria and Turkey’). The real growth
has come from a select group of companies that are disrupting traditional
industries, not from new nations
climbing up the income ladder.
There are, however, four big
reasons for thinking that might be
about to change this year. First, global
trade is finally starting to revive. After
falling off a cliff during the financial
crash of 2008/09, the amount of stuff
being moved around the world is
rising again. In 2017, it was up by 4.2
per cent, the first time trade had outpaced global growth since 2014. Shipping rates have started to rise again
as container vessels fill up. We may
not feel it in this country, where
growth has been very tepid, but in
Europe and the US economies are
performing strongly and consumers
are spending money again. That is
important for a simple reason. It is
the develop ing world that is most
dependent on trade, and especially
exports to Europe and North America. As people spend more money in
the shops there, factories will be a lot
busier in Turkey and Vietnam, and
those economies will see the kind of
boost that turbo-charges growth.
The markets react
as the Dow Jones
recorded its largest
one-day points fall
in history last month
are getting
so investors
are looking
spectator money | 3 march 2018 |
here are several mantras that
experienced investors use to
guide themselves through the
markets. ‘Sell in May and go away’ is
one of the best known. ‘It’s a stockpickers market’ is another. But perhaps the most effective is ‘Right way
first’. Effectively, it means that whatever the main indices do in the first
couple of weeks of the year will tell
you about how that year will unfold.
It works more often than you might
imagine. To take the S&P500, still
the most important global index, as
an example, it has risen by 5 per cent
or more in January in 12 years since
1950. And in all of those years, the
index was up over the year, and often
substantially so.
So what did we learn from January
this year? Most obviously that 2018
is going to be a good year for stocks.
The wobble of early February, which
admittedly saw the biggest one-day
points fall on the Dow ever, should
according to this analysis be nothing more than a blip. The S&P came
roaring out of the blocks, and ended
the month 5.8 per cent ahead. But we
learned something else as well — that
the out-of-favour emerging and frontier markets are likely to come storming back. In the first week of the year,
the MSCI emerging markets index
rose by 3.4 per cent, its best start to
the year since 2006. In some individual markets the gains were even more
impressive. The best performing market in the first two weeks of January
was Nigeria, up by 17 per cent in a fortnight. It was followed by Argentina,
Qatar, Russia and Romania, all up by
between 8 per cent and 11 per cent in
a fortnight. The only major developed
market in the top ten was, surprisingly
Italy, up by 7.6 per cent. And of the
Top 20 best performing markets over
January, only three were developed.
Can that last? For most of the bull
run that started in 2009, the emerging and frontier markets have all
lagged their developed peers. Over
the course of the past 12 months, they
started to recover, with 30 per centplus gains during 2017. But a lot of
the excitement in the stock market
Next, commodity prices are starting to recover, led mainly by oil. At
$65 a barrel, oil is at a three-year high,
and it has risen by close on 50 per
cent in the past year alone. That single statistic explains the performance
of markets such as Russia and Nigeria, two of the big gainers in the first
month of this year. But it is not just
that. The copper price is hitting fouryear highs. Industrial metals are up
by 24 per cent in the past year, and as
factories churn out more stuff to meet
reviving global demand, they are
likely to keep going up. Many of the
frontier markets are heavily dependent on a single commodity. When that
goes up in price, the entire economy
gets a boost.
Thirdly, reforms have, in some
places at least, started to kick in.
Argentina, the second-best performing market in the first weeks of the
year has in Mauricio Macri a president who has finally started tackling
its chaotic economy, scrapping tariffs, cutting taxes and ending currency
In South Africa, the ageing Jacob
Zuma has finally been eased out of
power, paving the way for a more business-friendly regime. In many frontier markets, economies are crushed
by corrupt, chaotic dictators. It only
takes a very modest improvement in
the standards of government to have
a big impact on the markets.
Finally, most developed markets
are getting punishingly expensive,
and that means investors will quite
rightly look elsewhere. Wall Street is
still trading near all-time highs, so are
most European markets, and even the
FTSE has managed to climb past its
1999 peak, while Japan is getting back
to levels last seen in the early 1990s.
Stocks such as Amazon are trading
on multiples of more than 500 times
actual profits.
By contrast, markets such as Nigeria, Argentina and Russia are among
the cheapest in the world. It is hardly surprising that investors are wondering why they are paying a fortune
for a tiny slice of a web retailer when
they can pick up a fatter slice of a
growing company in other parts of
the world for a fraction of the cost.
Trading in emerging and frontier
markets is always volatile. A sudden
rise in global interest rates could easily derail them, and so could President Trump’s threatened trade wars.
Even so, the record clearly shows
that the first two weeks’ trading of
the year set the tone for the next 12
months — and on that basis, emerging markets will be where the action
is in the years ahead.
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Why do biographers insist on making neat patterns of their
subjects’ lives? Roger Lewis finds it rigid, invasive and wrong
The Shadow in the Garden:
A Biographer’s Tale
by James Atlas
Corsair, £30, pp. 387
I saw a biopic about Morecambe and Wise
recently. The actors impersonating the
comedians were not a patch on the originals
— how could they be? You need a genius
to play a genius. I often wonder if my own
HBO Peter Sellers movie would have been
improved if someone fiery, of the calibre of
Gary Oldman or Sacha Baron Cohen, had
been cast instead of Geoffrey Rush, who
was muffled under prosthetic make-up. But
my point is, biopics seldom come off, and
nor do biographies.
Indeed, it is a reprehensible and misguided genre. Privacy is violated, creative
achievements are explained away, and great
men and women are unmasked as sneaky,
predatory, cruel and ordinary. Humphrey
Carpenter wrote all his biographies —
of Auden, Britten and Ezra Pound — in
this way.
The exhaustive and exhausting biographies of Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin
and Anthony Powell nearly killed those
authors stone dead for me, as each and
every girlfriend and sexual conquest was
connected to an incident in a novel or
a line in a poem. Ever since learning that
V.S. Naipaul was a bully I’ve not ventured
near his books.
More than the deluge of personal detail,
however, the chief problem with biography is that the fundamental precepts are
wrong, the principles too rigid. For the
idea always seems to be that by gathering and establishing facts, cataloguing testimonies and anecdotes, each life can be
made a perfect whole — that the objective biographer will see to it that there
has been a plan or pattern, and dignity
is conferred.
I disagree. Why should a personality
hang together? This will be why Saul Bellow got fed up with the interrogations of
James Atlas, whose new book is a wry and
slightly exasperated account of a professional biographer’s existence. Atlas even
tells us that while at work on the Bellow
project, ‘I gulped down a corned beef on rye
and a can of black cherry soda’.
Each weekend, Atlas would bring his
photocopied findings to Bellow in Vermont
— old correspondence, bank statements,
tailors’ bills, picture postcards, legal depositions from alimony battles — and the venerable Nobel Laureate would decide whether
or not such information could be published
in an eventual biography. ‘He said he felt
like Valjean, pursued by Inspector Javert
through the sewers of Paris,’ says Atlas.
Yet it wasn’t Atlas’s doggedness as
a Recording Angel that would have made
Bellow hate him, or his affected servility
(he remained ‘Mr Bellow… I wouldn’t have
dreamed of calling him Saul’ — even after
11 years on the job); it was the way Atlas
as a biographer was determined to smooth
everything out, link cause and effect, bring
it all down to earth. Toiling at the biography, says Atlas, ‘was like being a psychiatrist
with a single patient’ — and how tiresome,
how predictable, that artistic gifts have
to be ascribed to depression and schizophrenia, difficulties with girls and trouble
with parents.
Few biographers have had the ability or
wit to perceive and describe the Cubist jaggedness of a life. Accident, chance, reversals of fortune, betrayals, sudden eruptions,
dreams and areas of darkness; the shiftthe spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Saul Bellow (centre): ‘He said he felt like
Valjean, pursued by Inspector Javert through
the sewers of Paris,’ says James Atlas.
Above and far left: Graham Greene and
Anthony Powell were both better biographers
than biographees
ing layers of identity, the friction between
public and private selves (which character
will a person choose to play?): little of this
rough texture is ever evoked. Biographers
conduct the background research, but few
write it up with any verve.
Instead, they can try too hard and go
bonkers. Leon Edel gradually turned
into Henry James, acquiring ‘the kind of
mild snobbery’ for which the novelist was
renowned. He also wore a signet ring ‘that
had once belonged to the Master’. Norman Sherry, following Graham Greene’s
footsteps, ‘contracted dysentery in the
same Mexican village as Greene had
done’. I was thrown out of a pub in Deal
that had barred Charles Hawtrey. Does
that qualify?
The best biographers are artists themselves. Atlas has interesting digressions
about Greene on Rochester, Evelyn Waugh
on Campion, Powell on Aubrey. I’d add
Anthony Burgess on Shakespeare, André
Maurois on Shelley, Stefan Zweig on Mary
Queen of Scots, Nabokov on Gogol and
A.N. Wilson on Iris Murdoch and John
Betjeman. There is a personal investment
in these works; the imagination is operating.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Which was not the case with Kingsley Amis on Kipling — in Swansea or
Peterhouse lecturer mode, his comic spirit suppressed, Amis was dull. Traditional
biographers are invariably dull. They are
too respectful. Hermione Lee, for example,
who has been awarded a CBE, DBE, FBA
and no doubt other medals besides, is too
bookish, too erudite, for my taste. She and
similar operators have a handy omniscience
Leon Edel gradually turned into
Henry James, acquiring the Master’s
snobbery along with his signet ring
— and what I always thought was a revulsion against actual human nature.
This charge cannot be made against
Richard Ellmann, whose James Joyce
biography ‘reads like a work of art’. Atlas
was taught by Ellmann at Oxford in 1971.
‘There were no requirements, few lectures,
no seminars.’ It was exactly the same a decade later — more insouciant, if anything
— when Ellmann was my own doctoral
supervisor, for a thesis that evolved eventually into my book about Anthony Bur-
gess, which Faber has sold eight copies of
in the past 15 years, and three of those were
returned to the shop for a refund.
Ellmann, ‘a plump, slightly balding man,
wearing black-rimmed glasses’, whose
wife, Mary, was in a wheelchair and whose
mistress, Barbara Hardy, was in London,
though employed in academe, was no diligent academic. His inaugural lecture as
Goldsmith’s Professor was said to have
been identical to his valedictory lecture. He
did the minimum he could get away with,
and what he liked was the more or less
free money (augmented by lucrative stints
at Emory in Atlanta) and the laughably
lengthy vacations, when he didn’t even have
to bother to be evasive. For 30 years he diddled at a biography of Oscar Wilde, whom
he interpreted as a kindly family man, hardly a homosexual at all.
A university sinecure, as Ellmann knew,
at least salvages a biographer from the
penury and ignominy of being a freelance
literary gent, who is paid small advances.
A.J.A. Symons, who wrote a biography of
Baron Corvo structured as a detective story,
gave up writing to found the Wine and Food
Society and collect antique musical boxes.
Most biographers, however, do become
what Gore Vidal contemptuously called
‘classroom technicians’, or hacks churning
out anthologies and editing learned journals soon defunct.
Atlas himself once laboured at a book
about Delmore Schwartz, who’d inspired
Bellow’s character Von Humboldt Fleisher. ‘No one outside the literary world had
ever heard of him,’ says Atlas ruefully, save
Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground, who
paid for the upkeep of Schwartz’s grave,
having once been his pupil at Syracuse.
When Atlas says, ‘I learned that biography is about death,’ he doesn’t only mean
that Schwartz died of drink in 1966, aged
only 52, or that Bellow croaked in 2005,
aged nearly 90. He means that the world
his subjects inhabited has vanished. The
figures Atlas interviewed, the ‘fierce, irascible, antagonistic’ intellectuals of the 1940s,
1950s and 1960s — Philip Rahv, Alfred
Kazin, Maurice Zolotov, Dwight Macdonald, R.P. Blackmur, Glenway Wescott
— the self-important and humourless fellows who once adorned fuggy Greenwich
Village parties, whose book reviews mattered so much and who were in charge of
dispensing grants and prizes, have quite
entered oblivion, leaving not even footnotes behind. There is a lesson there, in
their insignificance. Does anybody still read
Edmund Wilson or Cleanth Brooks or
Lionel Trilling?
Furthermore, the relationship between
biographer and biographee is morbid.
It is not a healthy existence, ‘spending long
days in the company of someone I had
never met but would come to know better
than anyone else in the world’, confesses
Atlas. I myself felt like one of Peter Sellers’s battered wives, and Britt Ekland is
jealous of me even now, if the tweets she
sends are any indication. It is the affair of
ghosts, too, in the archives — what Atlas
calls the ‘electrifying intensity’ of handling original manuscripts and love letters,
which ‘may contain evidence of a secret
assignation’, is reminiscent of Carter and
Carnarvon in Tut’s tomb.
The necrophilia is evident in the form,
also, as biographies inevitably hasten from
birth and ancestry and conclude with last
illnesses, the funeral and memorial tributes. I never thought this a very interesting
way of telling the story. In my biography of
Laurence Olivier, he doesn’t get born until
the final page.
Atlas confuses Horace and Hugh Walpole, gets the characters in The Aspern
Papers muddled, identifies Lady Antonia Fraser as ‘the distinguished English
biographer of royalty’ (where to start?)
and calls the Groucho ‘a pseudo-seedy
Soho club right out of an Anthony Powell
novel’. When not writing his two biographies he was the editor of the New York
Times Magazine.
The Austrian empress Elizabeth, known as Sisi, was stabbed with a needle file by an Italian
anarchist as she prepared to board a boat on Lake Geneva in 1898. After the attack, she picked
herself up and proceeded on her journey, with very little loss of blood, but died soon afterwards —
technically, from shock. Her story is related by Arnold van de Laar
Cutting up rough
Leyla Sanai
Under the Knife: A History of
Surgery in 28 Remarkable
by Arnold van de Laar
John Murray, £16.99, pp. 357
Anaesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion;
The Mystery of Consciousness
by Kate Cole-Adams
Text Publishing, £12.99, pp. 405
Powerful memoirs by such eloquent doctors as Oliver Sacks, Atul Gawande, Henry
Marsh, Gabriel Weston and Paul Kalanithi
have whipped the bed curtains open on
a previously secretive profession. Steeped
as medicine is in uncomfortable facts about
debilitating illness, pain and the stress of
treating intractable conditions, it was a subject ripe for exposure.
Under the Knife and Anaesthesia admit
to the fallibility of medicine and the responsibilities, flaws and complex emotions of
its practitioners. Arnold van de Laar does
not rely on personal experience. Instead,
he explores the world of surgery through
28 clinical conditions; its historical scope
makes for a fascinating book.
Did you know that when Louis XlV
was found to be suffering from an anal fistula, his nervous, inexperienced surgeon
asked for six months in which to practise on
75 citizens? That Houdini had acute appendicitis at the time of his last performance? That
a Dutchman was so frenzied by the agony
of his bladder stone that he cut it out himself? In the days before prosthetics, Albert
Einstein was saved from near certain death
from acute abdominal aortic aneurysm
(a swelling of the main artery of the body
that precedes rupture) by a surgeon who
wrapped the bulging vessel in cellophane.
The Shah of Iran’s painful death was hastened by his summoning to Egypt a famous
American vascular surgeon with no experience in operating on spleens. The surgeon, catastrophically, removed pancreatic
tissue along with the spleen. Bob Marley
died because he refused to have his big toe
with melanoma amputated.
The author’s sense of humour is as sharp
as his scalpel. He recounts how, when a surthe spectator | 3 march 2018 |
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geon famous for speed, accidentally sliced
open his assistant’s fingers, an onlooker
collapsed and died, as did, eventually, the
assistant and the patient, so that a single
operation resulted in three deaths.
But I have a few quibbles with some of
his assertions. Not all bladder stones are
caused by infection. The statement that in
cardiac tamponade ‘the heart will not only
beat less frequently but less powerfully’ is
misleading: when the heart is compressed by
fluid in the surrounding sac, it beats furiously
fast to try to compensate for the decrease in
cardiac output, although slow heart rhythm
can occur early and late in the condition.
I question Van de Laar’s certitude that
Houdini’s appendix rupture wasn’t a result
of being punched in the abdomen before
he had a chance to tense his abdominal
muscles, and query his use of ‘ileus’ for
mechanical bowel obstruction. The term is
used nowadays almost solely for the absence
of peristalsis.
Kate Cole-Adams is obsessed by general
anaesthesia (GA); especially the concept of
‘awareness’, a relatively rare phenomenon
whereby an anaesthetised patient is awake
during some of the operation, but usually
can’t move, because of drugs causing muscle relaxation. Most anaesthetists believe
Bob Marley died because he
refused to have his big
toe amputated
that awareness arises through insufficient
drugs having been given. This is sometimes
because frail patients with low blood pressure may not tolerate the usual doses of
hypnotics, or, in pregnant women, out
of concern for the baby.
Advances in monitoring mean that
awareness is less common than it was.
However, Cole-Adams is right: those who
have suffered it should be treated with sensitivity, honesty and offers of therapy. Her
voice is expressive, empathetic and smart;
but occasionally her lack of medical knowledge trips her up. If one visual hemisphere
is damaged, it doesn’t cause blindness in the
opposite eye; it causes the opposite field of
vision to be impaired. Her musing on what
happens to ‘self’ during anaesthesia implies
belief in the soul, whereas scientists would
argue that ‘self’ is comprised of the activity of
neurones and chemicals, influenced by genes
and environment.
She talks of the ‘reductive dualism’ of
western scientific thought around consciousness. But scientists grade sleep and GA into
stages, and conscious levels in head-injured
patients according to the Glasgow coma
scale. We are now very alert to the fact that
people are not simply ‘conscious’ or ‘unconscious’.There is good evidence that patients
under GA are capable of taking in information subliminally: careless words by the46
atre staff can lodge in the subconscious.
A recent theory suggests that, under GA,
links between the thalamus, which receives
sensory information from the body, and the
cortex, which interprets this information,
become disconnected.
And what of consciousness at death?
Experiments on rats show that in early brain
death there’s an increase in conscious perceptive activity — which might account for the
rush of images reported by people revived
from cardiac arrest. From a slightly lugubrious start, though, Cole-Adams develops
a compelling book.
Carry on spying
Mick Herron
MI5 and Me
by Charlotte Bingham
Bloomsbury, £14.99, pp. 237
That there’s a direct correlation between sex
and spying is probably Ian Fleming’s fault.
Hard to think of Bond without thinking
about his women. For Charlotte Bingham,
though, the connection occurred at a deeper level. When her father, John — legendary spook, long believed to be the model for
George Smiley — called her into his study
to reveal that he worked for MI5, she was
terrified that he was about to explain the
facts of life, many of which had already been
revealed to her by a friend on Bognor beach:
‘I thought I was going to pass out with the
horror of what was to come.’
But the particular facts he reveals are
no less life-altering. Charlotte, it seems, is
in danger of being a lightweight, a problem to which her father has the solution:
a steady, worthwhile job at MI5. Not an
immediately attractive proposition to
Lottie — ‘I liked being a lightweight but
of course I couldn’t tell him that’ — but
as she’s not yet 21, and since this is the
1950s, she has no choice but to fall in with
his wishes. Even so, she spends the night
standing in front of an open window in a
thin nightdress, hoping to catch pneumonia — the only available escape route, it
would appear, from the path her father has
chosen for her.
This isn’t, though, a feminist tract: far
from it. If the young Bingham has a novelist’s eye for detail, noting all the ‘spooks
in lifts wearing brown suits and matching
shoes’, her immediate impact on national
security is to brighten it up by taping pictures of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly to
the filing cabinets. And her first lesson in
tradecraft is supplied by fellow spook typist Arabella. The best way of vanquishing
the Dragon she’s been assigned to, Lottie
is told, is to smell of garlic, talk about the
theatre, and suggest there are spiders or
Roman Catholics nearby. That none of this
works barely matters: Lottie’s life of subterfuge has begun.
Much fun it is, too. The spooks she’s fallen
among are chaps who’ve had a good war, and
are dashed if they’ll let the communists win
the blasted peace. Nor, it turns out, are enemies of the state entirely immune to patriotic tugs: after organising a ‘running buffet’
for working men, a ruse to identify radicals among them by luring them into a new
socialist movement, Lottie finds the wouldbe subversives so impressed by her hospitality that they set their politics aside. ‘It was all
wartime memories… We were united then,
with everyone pulling their weight.’
Other episodes skate perilously close
to farce. A set of MI5 training films goes
missing, and Lottie persuades her boss
to defuse the issue by downgrading their
security status, meaning they’ll no longer
be sensitive material and their disappearance thus rendered unimportant. A nice
piece of lateral thinking, which is more
than justified when it turns out that one
of Lottie’s colleagues, having decided the
films in question were ‘stupid’, had thrown
them down a lift shaft. Arabella’s mother,
meanwhile, turns out to have a close friend,
Sergei — ‘a second secretary at a certain
embassy’ — who keeps receiving phone
calls from an import-export business offering salt cod and pickled herring — a code
Lottie disrupts by insisting on lobster when
she intercepts one of the calls.
Such tales come thick and fast, interspersed with moments of slapstick, and
much of MI5’s business seems to be a
continuation of social life by other means.
A budding romance is nearly quashed
when Lottie accidentally opens her father’s
sword-stick in front of her potential suitor:
‘We both sensed that it was one of those episodes in life when the less said the better.’
But what sometimes appears to be
a random string of reminiscence knots
tight when you’re least expecting, opening
a door on the games the security service used
to play. There’s a brilliant Producers-like
scenario whereby John Bingham encourages several well-known stage actors to
accept roles in ‘a load of left-wing tripe’,
their involvement inspiring investment from
communist organisations, which promptly
lose their funds when the play receives terrible reviews and closes within days.
And if suspicions that we’re having our
collective leg pulled emerge long before the
sly postscript, that’s of little consequence.
Spy stories are what we tell ourselves when
we’re peeping behind the fabric of national life. The more cynical of us might expect
treachery, backstabbing and boardroom
power-grabs, but what Lottie finds is ‘good
folk and true, working away in the defence
of our lovely country, full of integrity, and
so much fun’. Given the charming, flighty
narrative that results, it would be a hardhearted reader who’d find fault with that.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
The ruins of Dougga, Tunisia convinced Ibn Khaldun that North Africa
had once been extremely prosperous and heavily populated
An insight into the
medieval Muslim mind
Francis Ghilès
Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual
by Robert Irwin
Princeton, £24.95, pp. 272
At a press conference in October 1981,
Ronald Reagan quoted Ibn Khaldun
(1332–1406) in support of what is known as
supply-side economics. Although the 14thcentury politician and thinker wrote extensively about economics and was almost
unique among medieval Arab writers in so
doing, it is quite ‘marvellous’ writes Robert
Irwin, the author of a new intellectual biography of this famous North African, that he
‘should have anticipated American Republican party fiscal policy’.
Irwin wears his immense erudition lightly and gives an often very funny account
of how orientalists, historians and modern Arab nationalists have interpreted
Ibn Khaldun’s most famous work, the
Muqaddima (also known as the Prolegomena) more often than not to suit their particular assumptions. Six centuries after
his death, the man of whom the French
orientalist Émil-Félix Gautier declared
‘il est unique, il écrase tout, il est genial’
continues to be all things to all men. Irwin
quotes Michael Brett, an expert on medieval
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
African history who had come to the following conclusion: ‘That Ibn Khaldun continues
to mean all things to all men is a measure
of his greatness as well as of his ambiguity.’
Ibn Khaldun’s readiness to analyse, theorise
and produce generalisations based on evidence gives his writing ‘the perhaps deceptive appearance of modernity’.
The early 19th-century Austrian orientalist Joseph von Hammer believed Ibn
Khadoun was ‘an Arab Montesquieu’.
Gautier, who taught at the university of
Algiers a century ago and deeply despised
Arab and Berber culture, stripped Ibn
Khaldun of what he saw as his ‘superficially medieval identity’ to reveal him, as Irwin
puts it, to be ‘in reality a modern Frenchmen and one moreover who would have
approved of the French empire in North
Africa’. Needless to say, this is a complete
travesty of a deeply religious man who
throughout his life expressed great admiration for Berber culture and the Berber
monarchs he served in Tunis, Tlemcen, Fes
and Granada.
The historian Arnold Toynbee developed the idea that civilisations develop or
fail according to a cycle of challenges and
responses and found Ibn Khaldun’s pessimism as attractive as his moralising portrait of the inevitable cycle of political
decay brought about by luxury and greed.
The anthropologist Ernest Gellner saw
him as a precursor of Maynard Keynes
and the founder of modern sociology, Max
Weber; others as prefiguring Machiavelli.
More recently, as Irwin
reminds us, his ideas were
‘cited with approval in
Bruce Chatwin’s novel
Songlines and they underpinned Frank Herbert’s
Dune cycle of science fiction novels’.
But who really was Ibn
Khaldun? He was born
in Tunis and lost his parents as well as many of
his teachers and friends
at the age of 17 to the
Black Plague which swept
the Maghreb. At 45, tiring of the ‘twisted and
violent tale of contested
thrones’ that was the reality of Maghreb politics, he
retired to a castle in Frenda in Western Algeria to
write the first draft of his
book. He then moved to
Cairo, where he held the
office of chief judge of
the Maliki rite of Islam
before coming in contact,
in 1400, with the Mongol leader Timur outside
Damascus — an encounter which has been compared with Aristotle’s meeting with Alexander or Goethe’s
with Napoleon.
The abundance of ruins around him —
from Leptis Magna to Carthage, to Dougga and Timgad — made it obvious that
North Africa had once been much more
prosperous and more heavily populated
than it was in his time. This led him to ask
why historians made mistakes: through
partisanship, and gullibility, he concluded, as well as ignorance of what is intrinsically possible.
This led to his attempt to explain the
general laws which govern the formation and dissolution of societies. The most
famous concept he developed was that of
assabiyya (social solidarity) among nomads,
what their virtues were and their place in
history. (He did not attempt to extend his
analysis of the Maghreb to the Middle
East or the Mongols.) He argued that after
a newly triumphant ruler and his tribal following had installed themselves in a city, an
inevitable decay would set in over three or
four generations, as the regime slowly came
to indulge in luxury and extravagance.
As the bonds created by tribal solidarity
and nomadic austerity weakened, the ruler
would come to rely on mercenaries and, in
order to pay for his troops, would start to
impose taxes which were not sanctioned by
Islam. The pessimism of Ibn Khaldun has a
moral and religious, not sociological, basis.
Irwin demonstrates that comparisons between Ibn Khaldun and Machiavelli make little sense, even though The
Machiavelli interested himself in the psychology of rulership, the quest for glory, and the
role that personality played in high politics.
These things did not interest Ibn Khaldun.
Machiavelli argued that vices had their virtues and that the ruler might act immorally if
necessity demanded it. The intensely religious
and moralistic Ibn Khaldun would have found
such cynicism abominable.
Nor was he a philosopher working in
the Greco-Islamic tradition, as some of his
admirers would have us believe:
He had limited access to the genuine writings
of Aristotle, and though he conceded that
logic certainly had its uses, he thought that the
practice of philosophy was dangerous. Maliki
jurisprudence furnished a more important
model for his historical methodology.
Irwin offers his readers a superb work
of intellectual recovery, one which presents
Ibn Khaldun as a creature of his time — a
devout Sufi mystic, obsessed with the occult
and futurology, who lived in a world quite
different from our own. He has resurrected
for us the medieval Muslim mind.
A drizzle of nature writers
Hugh Thomson
Ground Work: Writings on People
and Places
edited by Tim Dee
Cape, £16.99, pp. 247
Storied Ground: Landscape and the
Shaping of National Identity
by Paul Readman
CUP, £24.99, pp. 354
A parliament of owls. A gaggle of geese.
A convocation of eagles. But what is the
generic term for the army that has recently advanced over the literary landscape?
Perhaps a drizzle of nature writers? Here
they come, heads down in the rain, turning
out their pockets for the samples of fungi
and moss they have collected on the outskirts of our cities.
Bookshops now have whole tables
dedicated to contemporary British nature
writing. The first wave of this literary phenomenon was far more cheerful: the late
lamented Roger Deakin sitting in his pollarded hornbeam and imagining himself at
sea; Richard Mabey, the godfather of it all,
with his wonderful Flora Britannica; Robert
Macfarlane striding across wild places with
lyrical intensity; Helen Macdonald eulogising her hawk.
But in their wake have come foot followers of a more miserablist cast. The problem
is the fashionable notion of ‘edgelands’; that
unexamined in recent years — and his
collection shows many of these writers
at their best. He has also cast his net
widely to include poets, as well as the
artist Richard Long.
Mark Cocker, who can always write
the birds out of the trees, takes off on
an exhilarating journey to find the
rare spring gentians of Upper Teesdale, ‘like strange, furled tongues of
ocean blue bulbed out of the earth’.
They can only grow on sugar limestone
outcrops. When he comes across them,
he is reminded of ‘the way in which a
naturalist sets off with a sense of longing for some rare organism — a bird or
a flower — which one dreams to see;
and then the ever-so-casual manner in
which that anticipation confronts reality. There is no drum roll. No climax.’
Wisely, he ignores the far rarer Teesdale
sandwort, as ‘the 5 mm flower is entirely insignificant’.
The harsh truth is that nature writing can only really put on stage those
performers who are able to hold an
audience. Of course, goes up the cry,
we should hear it for the protozoa
as well as for the pandas. But at the
end of the day, there’s a reason that
pandas sell.
George Orwell was deeply suspicious of the natural history writing
of his own time; of those for whom
‘the world centres round the English village, and round the trees and hedges of
that village rather than the houses and
the people’. He made the damning comment that, for such writers, their ‘ideal picture of rural England might contain too
many rabbits and not enough tractors’.
If Orwell were walking across England now,
he would not have wanted to write about
which birds were in which hedgerows.
He would have wanted to talk to people.
It’s a sentiment that Paul Readman’s
excellent Storied Ground shares. He takes
as his premise the idea that landscape is
‘storied’ rather than natural; that it derives
value from long cultural and historical associations, certainly in Britain where we have
little virginal wilderness left.
The Thames, for instance, ‘from its source
in rural Gloucestershire through London to
the North Sea, was understood to describe
the progress of the nation from obscurity
to greatness’. Even its tidal nature east of
Teddington could be celebrated for bringing ships with such ease into the port; one
guidebook to London observed in the 1770s
that ‘every tide brings in a fresh number of
ships from all parts; so that it may be said,
the riches of the world are continually flowing into the river of Thames’.
The countryside in Britain has become
more and more Potemkin, with all the bad
stuff — the mines, the quarries, the windfarms — nicely screened away, while we
Prince, is as gloomy a work as the Muqaddima and both books were born of political
The spring gentian’s ‘tongues of ocean blue’
rather than just hymn the more conventionally beautiful parts of Britain, such as the
Lake District or other national parks, the
good nature writer should be able to find
subjects of interest in the most unlikely of
spots — the marginal territory at the edges
of our motorways and cities.
This is certainly admirable. Yet while
it may be worthy to try to write about the
ecosystem of the dying buddleia on the railway tracks, it doesn’t always make for exciting reading. It’s not enough just to ‘turn up’
at some site deserving of more interest. It
needs writing of spectacular skill to pull it
off — as indeed Mabey achieved when he
first introduced the concept of edgelands
way back when.
The cover that Penguin has given Tim
Dee’s new anthology of nature writing is
almost a parody of this. A cow stares out
mournfully from under a motorway bridge.
It reminds me irresistibly of the album
covers of the early 1970s when prog rock
briefly held sway. For every Dark Side of
the Moon there were far too many records
that after one hearing remained unplayed.
A great deal of the more austere nature
writing of the past few years is bought
because we feel it is good for us and can be
left prominently on the oak dresser.
Dee is, however, far too good a writer to
let this tendency go unchecked — he alludes
wryly in his thoughtful introduction to how
no scrap of Essex estuarine mud has gone
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
are marshalled along a few polite, narrow
corridors of protected greenery. Readman
concludes his book with the point that we
still like to define ourselves as an essentially rural nation, despite all indications to the
contrary. Or, as George Orwell put it even
more bluntly:
There is no question that a love of what is
loosely called ‘nature’ — a kingfisher flashing
down the stream, or a bullfinch’s mossy nest,
the caddisflies in the ditch — is very widespread in England, cutting across age groups
and even class distinctions, and attaining in
some people an almost mystical intensity.
Whether it is a healthy symptom is
another matter. It arises partly from the
small size, equable climate and varied
scenery of England, but it is also probably
bound up with the decay of English agriculture. The fact is that those who really have
to deal with nature have no cause to be in
love with it.
Should he stay
or should he go?
Tim Martin
The Melody
by Jim Crace
Picador, £16.99, pp. 272
This remorselessly slow-moving, hazily
allegorical drama about ageing and xenophobia is Jim Crace’s 12th book, and the
first to appear since he announced his retirement from writing in 2013. Like much of his
other work, it lays its scene in a topographical and temporal bubble of the author’s own
devising, where recognisable aspects of society and geography are almost imperceptibly
twisted away from true.
The place is a nameless seaside community that isn’t in France, Italy, Malta, Greece
or seemingly anywhere, but where people
are called Dell’Ova and Busi and Pencillon
and Klein; the period falls hazily between
the invention of the phonograph and ‘the
chilling advent of packaged frozen food’,
but villagers still shiver medievally about
beasts in the woods and one character adopts
the strangely modern custom of calling
herself ‘Lexxx’.
The narrative drifts along in the wake of
Alfred Busi, a sixtysomething crooner who
‘in his time had sung in the greatest halls and
auditoriums’ but who, as the novel opens,
haunts a shadowy mansion on the town’s
seafront, mourning his dead wife. A few days
before he’s due to perform at one of the
town’s vaguely Ruritanian ceremonies — he
has received a ‘Worthiness Award’, they’ve
put up a bust on the ‘Avenue of Fame’ —
Busi is attacked in his back yard by what he
claims is a naked child going through his bins.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Beautiful Nightmare
A beautiful nightmare,
Like the black edge of
The white narcissus,
And the shadowy
Hangings on the wall.
A nightmare of Love;
The red plastic heart
On the chopping block,
Is spurting fake blood
In grand anticipation.
The beacon has been lit.
Will it flare and fade
Or carry on forever,
Lighting my way
Until the final fall?
Beautiful nightmare,
The bravest art
Is about to showcase
The last act, of fate
Or fatality, to my heart.
— Jane Solomon
This incident, much reported in the
press, sparks a campaign against ‘neanderthals’ who are thought to live in the ‘bosk’,
a large wood on the edge of town. Eventually, though no evidence supports this hysteria,
the community’s fear and misunderstanding
brings about a purge of beggars and the poor.
‘Our town will never be the same again,’
muses the novel’s narrator, ‘though it is hard
for anyone to say if this is for the better or
the worse.’
But the events of the plot, with their nods
and winks to present-day injustice, are only
distantly glimpsed. As Busi shuffles ruminatively around the town, instead, he’s accompanied by the fearsomely laborious prose of
Crace’s narrator, an endless, self-sabotaging
monologue that reads as though translated
from some moribund Mitteleuropean original. In addition to a baroque vocabulary
heaving with ‘bosks’, ‘mendicants’ and so on,
Crace settles, for his own mysterious reasons,
on a ruminative and self-revising narrative
voice that gropes continually after a second draft even as it presents the first. ‘She’d
spent too many hours on her own, too many
years,’ the narrator writes. ‘He might prefer
to guard his privacy, his anonymity’ ‘It was
stained, he’d always thought — coloured is a
truer word — by memories.’
This continual hemming and hawing gives
the novel a leaden quality, to which its glacial narrative development (Busi goes out,
Busi comes in, Busi wonders if he should
sell his house) only contributes. I was rather
disappointed to find no Worthiness Award
on offer for making it to the end.
Team spirit and terrorism
Chris Mullin
Saturday Bloody Saturday
by Alastair Campbell and Paul Fletcher
Orion, £18.99, pp. 403
Alastair Campbell is a man of many parts.
Journalist, spin doctor extraordinaire, diarist and now novelist. For this, his third
novel, he has teamed up with the former
professional footballer Paul Fletcher to produce a very readable thriller. The division of
labour seems to be that Campbell has done
most of the writing while Fletcher has supplied behind-the-scenes colour. The late
Martin McGuinness is among those credited
with having advised.
It is set in February 1974, around the
general election that brought Harold Wilson back to power and also the year when
the IRA’s mainland bombing campaign
reached its height. Most of the action
revolves around the fate of a struggling
First Division club, which bears more than
a passing resemblance to Burnley, the
love of Campbell’s life and the team for
which Fletcher once played. As the election approaches, an IRA active service unit
is awaiting the go-ahead to assassinate a
leading British politician. Gradually the
fates of the football team and the politician
become entwined.
The tension builds slowly. This is to some
extent a lads’ book. The first 200 or so pages
are almost entirely concerned with the football team and their manager, a decent old
alcoholic called Charlie Gordon, whose job
is on the line. His last chance is to pull off
an unlikely win against Chelsea in the FA
cup. The picture painted of the team (whose
members are all given nicknames such as
Dippy, Clutcher, Taffy, Jinkie, Killer) sounds
authentic, but not entirely flattering. Levels of abuse, intimidation and bullying are
high. A player with two O-levels is said to
be a rarity.
Halfway through, one starts to wonder
whether this is just a story about footballers rather than the thriller it is supposed to
be; but just as one begins to despair, it takes
off. The characterisation of the players, particularly the little lad getting his first outing in the big league, has been so well done
that one actually does care as they drift
towards what seems to be their inevitable
fate. The ending, when it comes, is a complete surprise.
Queen of flamenco
Louise Levene meets the great Gypsy dancer La Chana, who
bewitched Dali and Peter Sellers
frail old woman sits alone on a chair
on a darkened stage. There are flowers in her hair. She closes her eyes
and the small, wrinkled hands begin to clap.
The rhythm seems simple at first but her
feet take up the beat, deconstructing it, multiplying it, embroidering it into fresh miracles of speed and precision. The packed
house holds its breath until the rattling feet
gradually dwindle to the gentlest percussive
purr then stamp to a halt.
A fresh explosion of sound — from the
other side of the footlights this time — as
Sadler’s Wells rises to its feet to welcome
back La Chana (‘the wise one’), queen of
flamenco, after an absence of 30 years.
The smiling woman I meet the next
morning is neither as old (a mere 71) nor
as grand as her stage persona suggests.
She arrives with her modest entourage —
assistant, manager, second husband — and
accepts my posy of camellias with a fragrant
hug. She will wear them in her hair on stage
tonight, she says, taking a seat at the head of
the table and we begin a conversation that is
part interview, part masterclass.
Antonia Santiago Amador never had a
dancing lesson, but one day at a family wedding in Barcelona her maternal uncle, the
guitarist ‘El Chano’, began playing seguidillas and she took to the floor, astonishing him
with her technique.
‘Who taught you that?’
‘The radio.’
Young Antonia would hear a flamenco
rhythm (compas) on the family wireless
then sneak away to practise, hammering out
steps on a tiny makeshift dance floor of old
roof tiles. Her strict Gypsy father initially
refused to let her perform in public — ‘dancers were bad women’ — but her uncle promised to keep a close eye on her and at 14 she
made her professional debut.
By the mid-1960s she was performing
at Barcelona’s Los Tarantos nightspot. Sal-
vador Dali never missed a show (usually
accompanied by his diamond-collared ocelots) and a smitten Peter Sellers hired her
to feature in his 1967 matador comedy The
Bobo. The Bobo flopped but La Chana’s
performance, filmed intensively over eight
eight-hour days, was magnificent. The furious
young bailaora storms around the tiny stage
in an agony of invention, her rapid-fire zapateado punctuated by gurgling cries of pain.
In 1976 the now 30-year-old star
appeared on Spanish TV’s Esta noche... fiesta. There was an international line-up but
it was La Chana who closed the show with
The ovations kept coming but she was
dancing with two broken ribs, thanks
to her violent and controlling husband
a solo that overran so long that the nightly news was delayed until those thundering
feet fell silent.
‘I performed the show of my life,’ she
says simply.
Her career went into overdrive with
tours to Japan, Australia, Buenos Aires and
Santiago where she danced for an audience
of 8,000.
The ovations kept coming but she was
dancing with two broken ribs, thanks to her
increasingly violent and controlling husband
who had swept her off her feet when she was
17 (‘he was very insistent’).
‘In a Gypsy community the man is the
one who is in charge,’ she explains. ‘He was
my master, my owner and I was his servant.
On stage was the only place I felt free.’
In 1978 he suddenly insisted that she
retire from the stage. When I ask about the
‘lost years’ it’s clear that La Chana’s fury
and sadness are still painfully close to the
‘Los anos perdidos!’ she wails. ‘The best
years of my life! I was at the top of my career
but if I danced he would take my daughter
away. He was full of envy and anger and he
nullified me.’
La Chana bursts into tears. I hastily
change the subject. Flamenco. Does she
have any views on contemporary flamenco?
The storm has passed. She smiles widely. ‘I prefer talking about that. This is a very
good question. A very important question.’
Not that she has any plans to answer
it. Instead she talks about her own unique
approach to performance.
‘When I am on stage I am travelling to
another place, another dimension. Every
rhythm is there. There!’ The gnarled hands
point heavenward, diamond rings glittering.
‘Where the cup is full. Then…’ the hands fall
back to her heart ‘This is the moment when I
dance. I close my eyes and I’m in that magic
place where I can do anything I want.
‘I’m not looking at myself in the mirror
to see if I look nice or not. No pretence, no
make-up. Flamenco isn’t pantomime! Flamenco isn’t pretty! Rat-tat-tat-tat!’ Her
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Paying homage to
the seated diva: a
still from the 2016
documentary about
La Chana
fingertips beat out a satirical little taconeo,
lampooning the tidy toes of lesser beings.
‘I would like to come to Sadler’s Wells
and give a speech to tell students what
improvisation really is. Before I leave…’
She is in tears once again. Her assistant
La Chana is in tears once again.
Her assistant is sobbing openly. Her
husband is wiping his eyes
is sobbing openly. Her husband is wiping his
La Chana’s first husband finally left
in 1984 after 18 years of abuse, taking the
money, the jewels and the BMW. ‘I sat on
the sofa and stared at the floor.’ But by the
mid-1980s she had joined Paco Sanchez’s
Cumbre Flamenca (literally ‘the summit
of flamenco’) giving performances of raw
power and artistry that I never expect to see
equalled. ‘Prodigious’ decreed the FT. ‘A
sorceress’ said the New York Times.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
She was back at the top — but in 1990 she
left the stage once again after finding true
love. The phone rang one day: ‘It’s Felix,’
said a voice. ‘From the fishmonger’s.’ Would
she like to go out for dinner?
‘I said si-si-si-si-si!’ laughs La Chana. ‘I
must have said “yes” 20 times. I think God
must have put him in my path.’
She tells this story in Lucija Stojevic’s
2016 documentary La Chana, which gives a
remarkably intimate portrait of the flamenco goddess padding around her home in a
Hello Kitty bathrobe. ‘I am a person of no
importance,’ she insists. ‘I make tortillas, I
wash dishes….’
And yet after decades of living happily
ever after in a Catalan village those clever
feet still had plenty to say. When flamenco director Angel Rojas approached her
about making a little comeback at the Teatro Nacional in Barcelona in 2013, La Chana
said ‘yes’ again.
She was not in peak condition. She was
suffering from crippling arthritis and had
recently undergone abdominal surgery —
she pulls down her skirt to show me the scar.
‘Two days after surgery I must dance. I
kneel,’ she rises from her chair and drops
carefully to her swollen knees. ‘I ask God to
give me strength. My knee hurts but…’ she
shrugs, ‘I can take a pill.’
Her 2013 comeback, flanked by young
stars paying homage to the seated diva, was
a big success and every now and then she
agrees to repeat the experiment — hence
last week’s appearances at Sadler’s Wells’s
annual flamenco festival.
‘Sadler’s Wells is my soul,’ she declares,
remembering those 1988 ovations. ‘My first
love. God has brought me back.’
She squeezes my hand again and sniffs
at her camellias. ‘I am feeling that God is
here with us’ — she smiles up at the ceiling
— ‘One day I will dance for you in heaven,
But please, not yet.
Every picture tells a story: ‘Maximilian Schell as Redl’, 1968, by Leonard Rosoman
Notes on a scandal
Tanya Harrod
Leonard Rosoman: Painting Theatre
Pallant House Gallery, until 29 April
Leonard Rosoman is not a well-known
artist these days. Many of us will, however, be subliminally familiar with his mural
‘Upstairs and Downstairs’ in the Grand
Café at the Royal Academy, painted in
1986 when the artist was in his early seventies. Two worlds are portrayed with a
degree of satire — dressy guests arriving
for the private view of the Summer Exhibition and below, in sober grisaille, Royal
Academy Schools students engaged on life
drawing. ‘Upstairs and Downstairs’s wit
and perspectival acuity notwithstanding,
its status as a mural makes it easy to overlook, an extended splash of colour behind
the Café’s lunch counter.
Leonard Rosoman is worth rediscovering. He was a fine war artist and a brilliant illustrator. But he does not fit neatly
into the fragile story of British modernism. Abstraction passed him by, and even
though he was a figurative painter he was
never part of the School of London, the
term invented in 1976 by R.B. Kitaj to
describe himself, Michael Andrews, Frank
Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud
and Leon Kossoff. Although we can draw
a comparison with Michael Andrews —
both created ambitious narrative multi-figure paintings and both had an elegant way
with acrylic — Rosoman did not offer the
visceral explorations of reality associated
with Auerbach, Bacon and Freud.
But he had a uniquely strange vision that
from the late 1950s onwards conflated pop
art and Victorian problem pictures. At the
heart of the Pallant House exhibition Leonard Rosoman: Painting Theatre that I have
curated are 16 rediscovered pictures based
on John Osborne’s controversial 1965 play
A Patriot for Me.
Rosoman and Osborne had a tender
friendship that blossomed in the early 1960s,
with Rosoman spending happy, bibulous
weekends in Sussex with Osborne, his then
wife Penelope Gilliatt, and, inter alios, the
opera director John Copley and Gilliatt’s
sculptor sister Angela Conner. When Rosoman attended the first night of A Patriot for
Me he was captivated and Osborne gave
him tickets for a fortnight of performances
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
during which he drew and took notes. Two
years later, taking advantage of the fastdrying qualities of acrylic and using a mannerist palette of colours, Rosoman created
40 paintings and gouaches that offer unforgettable images of the play — the Royal
Court’s director George Devine in drag as
the aristocratic and camp Baron von Epp,
Rosoman’s friend Jill Bennett as the treacherous Countess Sophia, and the German
actor Maximilian Schell playing the doomed
Colonel Redl.
A Patriot for Me was staged at the Royal
Court as a private members’ club production directed by Anthony Page. The Lord
Chamberlain Lord Cobbold had demanded extensive cuts, eventually refusing the
play a licence because of its explicit homosexual content. One scene Cobbold wanted
to remove in its entirety was the absolute
heart of the play. Osborne had fantasised
to George Devine and Christopher Isherwood about the curtain rising on an exquisitely turned-out crowd at a fancy-dress
ball: the audience would only gradually
grasp that all these elegant protagonists
were men. Osborne’s drag-ball scene is
Rosoman’s extraordinary paintings
memorialise John Osborne’s clash
with 1960s cultural conservatism
recorded in two of Rosoman’s largest and
most complex canvases. They are among
the finest pictures he ever painted, looking back to Velazquez and Goya but anticipating the unnerving narrative world of
Paula Rego.
None of Rosoman’s A Patriot for Me
paintings have been shown publicly for
some 40 years. Osborne and Jill Bennett,
whom Osborne married in 1968, bought 11
of the series but, as their marriage failed,
the famously hot-tempered Bennett took
to pulling them off the walls and throwing them at Osborne. Rosoman’s favourite framer Robert Sielle was called in to
fix the damage. The playwright kept one
of the finest paintings, a large night-time
study of Maximilian Schell as Redl, but
its pendant, one of several portraits of Jill
Bennett as Countess Sophia, has still to surface. Indeed, about half the paintings Rosoman based on A Patriot for Me are lost and
those that we see at Pallant House were difficult to trace.
Rosoman’s extraordinary paintings capture a moment in theatrical history and
memorialise a clash with 1960s cultural conservatism. The story of Alfred Redl’s downfall was unacceptable to Lord Cobbold, just
three years before the Lord Chamberlain’s
archaic role as theatrical censor was abolished. And the fact that Osborne wrote a love
scene between Redl and a young soldier that
ended in violence, the subject of two remarkable paintings by Rosoman, meant that no
British actor would take the part of Redl.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Such was the climate of fear before the 1967
Sexual Offences Act.
The paintings also demonstrate the
Janus-faced nature of Rosoman’s own talent. The A Patriot for Me pictures are a
magnificent extension of the theatrical conversation piece, the genre first developed
by William Hogarth and Johann Zoffany.
Rosoman made the theatrical conversation piece contemporary — paint captures
greasepaint and thespian artifice, recording
for all time Osborne’s genius, and reminding us of a theatrical controversy and of the
minatory scattergun powers of the Lord
Chamberlain’s office.
O tempora! O mores!
James Delingpole
Most of the history I know and remember
comes from my inspirational prep school
teacher Mr Bradshaw. History was taught so
much better in those days. It was all kings and
queens, battles and dates, with no room for
any of that nonsense like,‘Imagine you are
a suffragette going to protest the oppressive
male hegemony at the races. Describe how it
feels to be crushed by the king’s horse.’
Nor was there any question that you were
participating in some kind of collaborative
learning experience. Your ‘master’ taught;
you listened and learned — and occasionally made distracting jokes and got bits of
chalk chucked at you. That was the deal and
it worked very well. This was the tail end of
the era defined by programmes like Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation: one still confident
enough to imagine that there are such things
as good and bad art, superior and inferior
cultures, right and wrong judgments.
Now, instead, we have Civilisations
(BBC2, Thursdays). Here’s one of the fundamental differences between this and its
unpluralised predecessor. When Clark says
at the beginning that he doesn’t know what
civilisation is (‘I don’t know. I can’t describe
it in abstract terms — yet’), it’s just false
modesty. When Simon Schama says the
same thing, it’s post-modern intellectual
cowardice. He doesn’t want to venture an
opinion, for who would dare when we now
know that all cultures and values have equal
merit, and that to ‘privilege’ one over another is ‘elitist’?
This is a pity, because when he’s not
being a flustered, neurotic old woman blithering on about refugee rights or the horrors of Brexit, Schama has the makings of
a first-rate TV historian. As presenters go,
I’d say he’s my third favourite after Andrew
Graham-Dixon and the brilliant James Fox
(currently fronting the must-see The Art of
Japanese Life on BBC4). I like his passion,
his intensity, his turn of phrase and — key,
this one — his lack of mannerisms so irksome that you can’t take in what he’s saying.
‘It’s 3-D, folks. It’s coming at you!’ he
enthused at one point. From anyone else,
this would have been vulgarly de trop, but
Schama gets away with it. Anyway, he was
right. The object he was discussing — an
agate sealstone unearthed as recently as
2015 from a Minoan tomb — truly was one
of the most gobsmackingly wondrous artefacts ever shown on screen.
Crafted around 1450 BC, it shows warriors locked in combat, the detail — such
as the musculature on the arm of a fallen
man so anatomically accurate it could have
been painted by Leonardo — all the more
extraordinary for the fact that the sealstone
is just one-and-a-half inches long. (Massive
kudos, by the way, Simon, for describing it in
imperial rather than metric. Very unexpected and anti-BBC, that one. Shame about all
the references to ‘BCE’). It appears to depict
the era of the Odyssey yet, as Schama noted,
it was made 700 years before Homer — ‘the
time between Chaucer and us’.
But, of course, Schama being Schama,
he just couldn’t resist sneaking in a bit of
politics. Europe’s first great civilisation —
When he’s not blithering on about
the horrors of Brexit, Schama has the
makings of a first-rate TV historian
the Minoans — were, he claimed, ‘migrants
from western Asia’. Meanwhile, we learned
of Petra that many of its 30,000 citizens
were ‘immigrants from all over the region
— there were Egyptians and Syrians and
Judaeans and Greeks and Romans — all
coming to Petra’. I visited Petra once with
my then-girlfriend, who was subsequently
almost raped by our tour guide when our
donkeys got separated in the Siq. As we
scrambled over its rose-red stones, half as
old as time, I have to admit that I lacked
the insight to appreciate that I was actually witnessing history’s first advertisement
for Angela Merkel’s enlightened immigration policy.
Mind you, it’s going to get a lot worse the
closer it gets to the present. I got a sneak
preview of this when I watched a few minutes of next week’s episode, presented by the
ineffable Mary Beard. She describes ancient
Athens as being a city where ‘people of all
classes and backgrounds’ lived ‘cheek by
jowl in a grand experiment in urban living’.
Does that chummily demotic motorway
pile-up of jarring anachronism and lazy cliché really bring us closer to understanding
ancient Athens than Kenneth Clark’s austere, aristocratic didacticism did? And was
it really necessary thence to compound
the horror by going on to describe Greek
culture as ‘deeply gendered’ and ‘rigidly
hierarchical’? O tempora, o mores! The barbarians are past the gates. It’s all downhill
from here…
Tapestry of war
Kate Chisholm
It feels like a long time since the launch of
Home Front on Radio 4 back in June 2014,
retracing day-by-day events of 100 years ago
as Britain went to war. It is a long time. Yet
still the violence in Europe rages on while
back home the families of the men and boys
in trenches carry on as normal, putting on
plays at the local theatre, selling toys, running art classes, working the trams. A new
season (number 13, with two more to go
before the series ends on 9 November) starts
up again on Monday.
It may be an everyday story, says its editor, Jessica Dromgoole, but it’s most definitely not a soap. Every episode has been
recorded for broadcast in the same studio
in Birmingham where The Archers is made.
‘We’re using the same Aga and Belfast sink
as Jill Archer,’ says Dromgoole. But there
are no cliffhangers, no shocking endings,
such as last week’s swift, sharp execution in
Ambridge of chirpy Nic Grundy.
‘We wanted Home Front to be a tapestry,’ says Dromgoole. A wide variety of
characters (this latest batch of episodes has
86 of them, played by 60 actors) get on with
their lives while representing, or rather
reflecting, aspects of the war that challenge
Only when you binge on several
episodes at once does its sweep and
emotional range reveal itself
our perceptions. Each season of 40 episodes
(broadcast across eight weeks) illustrates a
theme, such as spiritualism, conscription,
espionage, xenophobia. We are now into
morality and sexuality and how the disruptions of war are affecting some of the
characters we have come to know. Ivy, who
runs the theatre in Folkestone, meets the
real-life writer F. Tennyson Jesse (author
of A Pin to See the Peep Show), who was
sent out to the front to report on the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps because the big
chiefs back in London were worried about
battlefield behaviour.
Tennyson Jesse also wrote plays, which
is why Ivy comes to meet her, but the play
becomes less significant than Ivy’s introduction to Marie Stopes and the condom. The
historical consultant on the series, Professor
Maggie Andrews, was commissioned to find
lesser-known facts about the war that could
be used to flesh out the drama, such as the
huge number of fatalities of young women
working in the munitions factories. Mass
graves were dug. At the same time women’s
football takes off because there are no men
to play the game.
Home Front is tailor-made for listening
on catch-up and by podcast because only
when you binge on several episodes at once
does its sweep and emotional range reveal
itself. If heard only occasionally and as separate episodes, the series can come across as
issue-led. But listened to without a break,
hour by hour, the characters come alive,
through the interplay between their stories and the impressive way a whole society gradually emerges across all ages, classes,
occupations and types.
How did Dromgoole and her team of
writers (including Sebastian Baczkiewicz,
Katie Hims, Sarah Daniels and Shaun
McKenna) embark on such a massive project, 600 episodes over four years, set in
Folkestone (because of its closeness to the
front), Tynemouth (with its munitions factories) and Devon (struggling to keep the
harvests coming in), with characters moving between all three locations to provide
some sense of continuity? Did they know
how the characters would develop when
they began? No, says Dromgoole. They had
to introduce a new Graham sister after the
first series in order to develop a storyline
that had begun to emerge. Does she have
favourite characters? There are a couple
who were meant to be killed off but who
survive, confesses Dromgoole.
A lead writer was chosen to shape the
writing for each of the 15 seasons, explains
Baczkiewicz, who was commissioned to ‘let
the war work its way through the characters’
stories as opposed to presenting the war in
the foreground’. The difficulty, or rather
danger, was ‘to make sure we didn’t preempt. The characters don’t know; they have
no foreknowledge of what is to come.’ Once
the first draft was complete, Dromgoole and
her team in Birmingham brought all 40 episodes together, ironing out the kinks and
deepening the portrayal of those characters
who had not been fully realised.
Each new season begins with a readthrough of all 40 episodes in one mammoth
day-long sitting, eight hours of radio storytelling in one blast. It’s the only time the
entire cast — up to 60 actors — are brought
together. Only at this point, says Baczkiewicz, do the writers hear how the storyline is
evolving across the season, and it’s also the
first and only time the actors can hear how
the characters they are playing fit together.
They will never get another chance. Episodes are not recorded in sequence in a
single session because of the difficulties of
fitting in with the work commitments of so
many different cast members. Instead short
one- to two-minute segments from each
episode are recorded separately and then
pieced together, the writers present in the
studio to make last-minute changes as the
storylines are fleshed out by the cast.
It’s not too late to get hooked on Home
Front. All the episodes will be available
online for ten years. It’s an extraordinarily ambitious project — to create a whole
world of such complexity, blending wife-
bashing and running a munitions factory,
missing children and a German spy. Faced
with 600 episodes, where did Dromgoole
and her team begin? ‘It was daunting at first,
but after about a couple of hours we realised
that there would never be enough episodes
for all the stories we wanted to tell.’
Sound judgment
Damian Thompson
I’m unlucky with Beethoven’s Appassionata
Sonata. Twice in the past year I’ve bolted for
the exit as soon the pianist crossed the finishing line.
The first performance was phoned in
to the Royal Festival Hall by a washed-out
Maurizio Pollini. The second was musical
chloroform, so dreary that it would be cruel
to name the perpetrator. Cruel but fair, since
I paid 30 quid for the ticket: Piers Lane.
Fortunately he’d programmed it before
the interval. By the time he’d moved on
to Chopin I was back home listening to an
Appassionata from another planet — simultaneously thoughtful and daring, the finale
taken at such a perilous speed that it’s a miracle it didn’t come off the rails.
The venue was Carnegie Hall, the year
1960. Music buffs will guess that the pianist was the young but already legendary
Sviatoslav Richter. American audiences
couldn’t believe their ears. Richter’s touch
combined feather and steel; however fast he
played, he was chiefly interested in reveal-
Vladimir Ashkenazy: ‘Expression =
zero. Nothing happens’
ing the deep foundations of the music — or,
depending on your point of view, imposing
his own peculiar structure on it. He created moods that critics struggled to capture: a
Google search of reviews yields ‘manic nonchalance’ and ‘restless despair’. That sounds
very Russian, but Richter was never a Soviet pianist in the mould of his great contemporary Emil Gilels, whose double octaves
sound as if they were intended to boost
morale in a tractor factory.
Richter’s only true rival was Vladimir
Horowitz. On the face of it, the two had
nothing in common — apart from concealing their homosexuality, something
that came more naturally to the frowning mystic than to the bow-tied schmaltz
merchant. It’s hard to imagine Horowitz
breaking a finger in a brawl with a sailor
at a railway station, as Richter did in 1952.
But both men had a command of colour
that matched their fingerwork — and was
sometimes undermined by risk-taking.
Their transcendental but unreliable techniques kept audiences on the edge of their
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Simon Carter
VII. Beaumont, 2014
acrylic on canvas
100 x 120 cms 39 3⁄8 x 47 1⁄4 ins
7 March – 6 April 2018
These paintings have their own identity, which is principally about paint, but it must also have something
useful to say about Carter’s subject matter or motif. His long familiarity with the land he paints allows
him to behave with the kind of freedom in which an idea for a painting may flourish and be transfigured.
In the Beaumont Paintings he raises his game to impressive new heights.
Andrew Lambirth
Author and art critic
78 works with prices from £1,400 to £12,500 – 48 works priced under £4,000.
Fully illustrated catalogue with informative text – £15 inc p&p.
2 8 C ork Street , Lond on W1S 3 N G
Tel: + 4 4 ( 0 )2 0 74 37 5 5 4 5
w w w.messums.c om
seats, and not always for the right reason.
For example, that frenzied coda of Richter’s Carnegie Hall Appassionata is marred
by a horribly intrusive wrong note. There
are other Richter recordings of the same
piece in better sound — but they aren’t
nearly as electrifying, so you just have to
put up with it.
Alternatively, you may decide that Richter is just too perverse and opt for someone
safer. Murray Perahia, for example, though
even this most tasteful of artists can go to
pieces on the platform. After a concert in
Moscow in the 1980s, one critic wrote: ‘What
happened? A terrible attack of nerves? This
famous pianist played virtually everything
badly and his Chopin left me cold.’
The critic was Sviatoslav Richter, who
took notes on almost every piece of live and
recorded music he heard from 1970 to 1995,
including radio broadcasts on car journeys.
They weren’t private, because at the end
of his life he handed them over to Bruno
Monsaingeon for a book accompanying his
famous Richter documentary. To my shame,
I’ve only just discovered them. In his introduction, Monsaingeon says he ‘felt obliged
to leave out entries that might be considered ad hominem attacks on living people’.
They’ll make interesting reading one day,
judging by what he left in.
Here’s Richter on Pollini: ‘Chopin cast
in metal’ and ‘lacking in any kind of charm,
dressed up in the latest fashion as though
on purpose.’ On Radu Lupu: ‘Everything
is so carefully calculated and weighed up in
advance that there’s nothing unexpected or
surprising.’ Vladimir Ashkenazy: ‘Expression = zero. Nothing happens.’ (There’s also
a comment about Jessye Norman’s physique
that I’ll pass over because she’s been known
to sue at the slightest mention of it.)
On the whole, however, there’s more mischief than rancour in these notebooks. Richter adores Andrei Gavrilov’s playing despite
its carelessness, and relishes his vanity: ‘Each
time he takes someone in his luxury car he
inflicts his own recording of the Tchaikovsky Concerto on them (excellent though it
is).’ He is thrilled by Zoltan Kocsis — awful
to think he’s no longer with us — and he says
something very prescient about Evgeny Kissin: ‘He never throws himself headlong into
the sea. Perhaps he’ll never do so.’
Only one pianist is routinely trashed:
‘shameful blemishes… a catastrophe… better if this had never seen the light of day’,
and so on. Richter is writing about himself.
And some of his criticisms are valid: trying
to catch the maestro at his best is as frustrating now, when we have only his recordings, as it was when he was alive. Still, there
is no one of comparable stature playing
today. It makes me sick to my stomach to
think that I could have heard him in the
flesh but — stumbling in and out of pubs
in a spirit of manic nonchalance — just
couldn’t be bothered.
The big chill: Allison Janney as LaVona Golden
In from the cold
Jasper Rees
I, Tonya
15, Nationwide
The Ice King
12A, Selected Cinemas
Films about the Winter Olympics don’t grow
on conifers. Twenty-five years ago there was
Cool Runnings about the Jamaican bobsleigh team. It took many years for Eddie
the Eagle to reach the screen. Both were
cockle-warming comedies about implausible Olympians who embody the ideal that
participation is all. Only last week Elise
Christie, the British speed skater who kept
tumbling in Pyeongchang (and Sochi),
hoped that ‘Reese Witherspoon’ would play
her in the movie. In the mean time, the latest
Olympiad has flushed out two more biopics on ice.
I, Tonya tells of Tonya Harding’s cata-
strophic career. Like Monica Lewinsky,
Harding is a public figure whose epitaph,
thanks to a single headline, has already been
carved. She may have been bullied by her
termagant mother LaVona and battered
by her husband Jeff, but she will always
be remembered for an attack on the knee
of her peachy rival Nancy Kerrigan weeks
before the ’94 Games in Lillehammer. I,
Tonya is Harding’s belated absolution and
it holds up a sprightly middle digit to her
future obituarists.
There is finally no knowing how much
Harding knew about the Kerrigan attack,
and so Steven Rogers’s script wisely hands
the story over to a squabbling bunch of
unreliable narrators who each say their
piece direct to camera. They make for quite
a menagerie of grotesques. LaVona (Allison
Janney) has tubes feeding both nostrils and
a pecking parakeet on her shoulder. Jeff the
slap-happy husband (Sebastian Stan) wears
the shifty air of the guilty-as-charged. Harding’s self-described bodyguard Shawn (Paul
Walter Hauser) has the look and IQ of a
dunkin’ doughnut.
There’s never any doubt whose side
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
you’re meant to be on. Margot Robbie plays
Harding as a feisty survivor whose triumph
was to triple-Axel her way out of the trailerpark. Kerrigan, who barely speaks, didn’t
have to wait tables or sew on her own tacky
sequins. Harding sometimes lets off a rifle
at home, but hers is a mainly sweet nature.
LaVona reckons she has to be goaded out
of it to skate better, like a pocket Incredible
Hulk, so in one scene she slips greenbacks to
a man who has been hurling rinkside abuse.
Janney has been cleaning up in awards
season as the cussing mother from the very
pit of hell. ‘You fuck dumb, you don’t marry
dumb,’ she counsels at her daughter’s wedding, as Tonya escapes from one violent
abuser to shack up with another. (The father
has long since done a runner.) It’s a glorious turn, but the rawest red meat of Janney’s
performance is packed into a subtler scene
towards the end, when LaVona beats a path
through the doorstepping press to betray
her daughter one last heartbreaking time.
I, Tonya, directed by Craig Gillespie,
is not quite a gold-medal masterpiece: it’s
slightly too long, skates ribaldly over domestic abuse, and is uncertain how to conclude.
As happens in Hollywood, Robbie is taller
and lovelier than her subject, but she beautifully captures Harding’s wide-eyed yearning
to excel despite forbidding odds. When she
lands the triple Axel (with the seamless help
of CGI), her sheer exultation is infectious.
And she is better on the ice than Emma
Stone is on a tennis court.
From Lillehammer we skate backwards
towards Innsbruck in 1976, when the British ice dancer John Curry won gold. The Ice
King is a deftly crafted portrait of a melancholy pioneer by sports specialist James
Erskine (One Night in Turin, Sachin). His
collation of letters, archive clips and fresh
interviews tallies the agonies Curry endured,
from the moment he was forbidden to take
up ballet as a boy. The father who thwarted
him later committed suicide (a trauma that
merits more exploration than it gets here).
Curry sublimated his desire for selfexpression into a sport which, more than any
man before, he turned into a ravishing art
form. In Innsbruck he overcame a clodhopping Soviet rival only because, on a judges’
panel with a communist majority, a Czechoslovak with a conscience broke rank. With
that winner’s medal hung round his neck,
Curry was free to become a Nureyev on
skates who took his own ice ballets to the
West End, Broadway and beyond. As star
and choreographer of a never-ending tour,
he shouldered a huge creative and commercial burden. His two outlets were lashings of
sex and being unkind to his female skaters if
they gained so much as an ounce. He died of
Aids in 1994, the same year it all went wrong
for Harding.
Curry and Harding hail from different
planets. His story is essentially tragic, hers
comic. And yet they were supremely good
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
at the same thing. One day they’ll make for
the oddest double bill about figure skating
on thin ice.
Killer instinct
Lloyd Evans
Theatre Royal Haymarket, until 5 May
A Passage to India
Park200, until 24 March
Frozen starts with a shrink having a panic
attack. She hyperventilates into her handbag and then gets drunk on an aeroplane
where she yells out, ‘We’re all going to die.’
She’s a bit loopy, clearly, which is how lazy
playwrights make psychologists interesting.
The shrink’s task is to examine Ralph, a serial murderer of children, and to deliver a lecture on the cause of his malignity. We hear
bits from the lecture, bits of confession from
Ralph, and weepy bits from the mother of
one of Ralph’s victims.
The subject is punishingly gruesome but
its dramatic power is non-existent because
the writer Bryony Lavery hasn’t learned
how to stimulate the viewer’s imagination.
Good dramatic dialogue works obliquely,
and enigmatically, through concealment
and partial revelation which is sometimes
involuntary and sometimes deliberate. This
gives the audience an active role in the process of gathering and sifting the threads and
half-threads and trying to assess what, if any,
meaning they render. Lavery doesn’t write
like this. Each of her characters is a gobby
chump who recites their thoughts and feelings like the town crier. The result is flat,
empty, deadening.
The big box-office draw here is Suranne
Jones, as Nancy, the grieving mum, but she’s
hardly stretched playing a saintly northern
drudge who shrieks and sniffles a lot, or
stands up very erect, looking defiant and
proud while chain-smoking. She’s composed
of clichés. As is Ralph the psycho (Jason
Watkins), who has a twitch, a limp, a Brummie accent, a beer gut, a bald patch, a creepy
manner, a curved spine, a drink problem, a
tattoo habit, no money, no brains, no job and
no friends.
When the shrink starts to examine him
she hasn’t a clue what she’s after. She measures his skull and sets him tests that are so
arbitrary — ‘list some words beginning with
f’ — that the results could be adduced as
proof of any theory imaginable. Then she
explores three well-known clinical hypotheses. First, the ‘skull-bump’ theory which
states that frontal-lobe damage can turn
anyone into a killer. Second, the ‘child-rape’
theory which suggests that sexual abuse in
infancy can trigger psychosis in adulthood.
Third, the ‘innate evil’ theory which claims
that murderers are just nasty gits. This one
seems to be borne out by Ralph’s statement
that killing children should be legal. Then
again, the other theories are also proved by
Ralph’s story. He was raped as a child and he
twice suffered frontal-lobe damage in adolescence. So he offers evidence for all three
hypotheses. Which makes him a useless testcase for anyone wishing to examine their
competing claims.
Not that the shrink is interested in the
truth. She just wants to demonstrate her
nobility of character by forgiving Ralph.
And she duly gives him a big friendly hug.
Then she gets weirdly possessive about him.
When the grieving mum seeks a meeting
with Ralph, the shrink cites ‘clinical reasons’ to stop them seeing one another. What
she really means is ‘hands off my boyfriend’.
Mum arranges the date anyway. And what
does she say to her child’s killer? Naturally,
she apologises to him for not bringing him
wild flowers, including, bizarrely, ‘pussy willow’. This is the play’s most surreal moment.
The message to mothers from Planet Lavery
If I were a detective looking for serial
killers I’d stake out Frozen
appears to be: if some violent tosser rapes
and murders your daughter, give the poor
man a hug and some flowers.
Who, I wonder, would pay money to
endure this grisly and exploitative ordeal?
And why is the freak show adorned with pictures of bloodied hands and eerie glimpses
of a schoolgirl skulking in the shadows?
These snuff-movie touches could please
only perverts who find child murder a turnon. If I were a detective looking for serial
killers I’d stake out this show.
A Passage To India, adapted and codirected by Simon Dormandy, is fascinating.
But perhaps for the wrong reasons. E.M.
Forster’s story of a rape case in Edwardian
India introduces us to characters who are
unashamedly racist all the time. The Brits
hate the Muslims. The Muslims hate the
Hindus and the Hindus hate them back. And
no one makes any bones about it. This suggests that to voice these anxieties in public
may be the natural condition of humanity,
and that our society — where taboos silence
our tongues — is an aberration.
This is a decent version of a well-known
tale. Liz Crowther gives Mrs Moore a certain
leathery-voiced magnificence and Phoebe
Pryce brings out the passionate delicacy of
the confused Adela. Elsewhere the acting is
a bit shouty but the visuals are ingenious. The
players use bamboo sticks and a blanket to
suggest an elephant bearing a howdah. With
the same props they recreate an express
train going full tilt. If Peter Brook had staged
these effects he’d have been hailed for delivering further proof of his genius.
By Christopher Fletcher
on’t sit down too long my duck,
you might be doing nothing,’
reads the inscription memorialising Barbara Joan Austin (4 July 1929–
21 September 2004). I have no idea who
Barbara was, but I often sit on her lonely
bench in the middle of Otmoor.
Otmoor is an ancient watery landscape
just a few miles north-east of Oxford. I am
always surprised how few people know of it,
although many will have travelled there in
the pages of fiction. Lewis Carroll’s chessboard landscape in Through the LookingGlass is said to have been inspired by it and
it features in the work of John Buchan, R.D.
Blackmore and Susan Hill. A strong and
uncanny genius loci presides, like many places layered with contentious history.
The Romans put a road right through it,
perhaps inspiring the government’s plans to
shaft it with the M40 in the 1980s. ‘Alice’s
field’ was subsequently purchased by campaigners who in turn sold it off in thousands
of plots to frustrate the process of compulsory purchase. Their defiance echoes earlier
19th-century riots, occasioned by enclosing
common grazing land.
Today the moor is owned by the RSPB.
At least, in large part. A red flag flying
above the MoD firing range indicates when
it might be sensible to avoid certain foot-
Moorish: Otmoor’s beautiful, desolate landscape
paths. Et in Arcadia ego. The birds don’t
seem to mind. At this time of year starlings
throw their shapes and golden plover and
lapwings scintillate in the winter sun. I never
see the really rare birds (or more likely do
not recognise them), and I have never heard
the bitterns.
But I have seen the silent beauty of
short-eared owls and the galvanising bolt
of kingfishers. I’ve not spotted any otters
in the network of drainage channels but
once I saw dozens of hares backed into the
margin of a field by floods. There are several birds of prey. Kestrels, as one might
expect, but hobbies and marsh harriers
too. Otmoor is encircled by seven villages
whose church towers can confuse as much
as aid navigation as perspectives shift. One
is Beckley, where Evelyn Waugh drank to
his third-class degree in the Abingdon Arms.
It is now an excellent community pub — that
rallying spirit again.
Another is Oddington, in whose graveyard lie the remains of Margaret Staples
Browne, a Maori princess previously known
as Papakura. A pietà inside the church commemorates Maori servicemen who fell in
the first world war.
Nearby, on the Oxfordshire Way is the
remote and austerely beautiful Beckley
Park, an ancient estate that was once used
for hunting and is now improbably associated with a foundation devoted to psychedelic
research. Aldous Huxley set his first book,
a satirical novel called Crome Yellow, there.
I sometimes drag my daughter from her
screen to Otmoor. If I let her ride her bike
she doesn’t protest too much, and the other
day she wheeled on quietly ahead spotting
kingfishers that have evaded me for months.
My father is a twitcher and when visiting
from the States he tries to teach me the
difference between waders, shovellers and
whatnot. But usually, I am just there on my
own, doing nothing much.
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‘In a quiet carriage the rules are set
by the single most neurotic person on
the train’
— Rory Sutherland, p69
High life
They have busy eyes and the set of their
mouths is that of a hungry carnivore.
Their hands are always working, stroking,
exaggerating. They’re salesmen to the rich
and famous and flog them trinkets, pictures
and dresses — and at times even people. They
gush like no Hollywood agent ever did, and
once upon a time I used to feel very sorry for
them. That was in the days when they tried
to sell antiques to the Saudis, who called the
priceless classic stuff second-hand furniture,
early Eisenhower Hilton Hotel-style being
the gold standard for camel drivers back then.
It still is.
Yep, this alpine village gets them all —
salespeople that is, and at times I still pity
them. A Christie’s man brought a Chinese
individual up to the club. The Chinese man
was dressed in pink and looked awfully silly.
I told the Christie’s man that no money was
worth the humiliation of being an escort to
such a ridiculous sight, and the Christie’s
man said that it was easy for me to pass judgment: ‘You don’t have to work for a living.’
That shut me up for the rest of the day —
or week rather — but now I see clearly why
digging ditches is as honourable a profession as one can aspire to. (And a hell of a lot
healthier, to boot.)
So you’ve got Dior and Pucci, Ralph
Lauren and Gucci, Hermès, Prada and
Cartier — and the two biggies, Sotheby’s
and Christie’s — all aiming at a few fat people with very fat bank accounts. It’s a bit
like Britain and Germany and Russia trying to elbow each other out of the way in
the Balkans prior to the first world war.
There’s very little meat left on the carcass
for the hovering vultures. But now the vultures are the ones that are being picked.
See what I mean when I tell you that it’s
totally upside–down and no one knows
who the good guys are any longer? Except
for me. When I see whom they’re targeting,
I’m on the side of those selling.
One great success story of Gstaad salesthe spectator | 3 march 2018 |
manship is that of the American woman
Tracey Amon. First she landed a Saudi and
was compensated with a lot of camels when
they divorced. Then she took up with a
friend of mine, Maurice Amon, a Swiss who
prints money by producing the ink used on
bank notes. In the divorce this time round,
she really went to town. She got a flat next
to my old chalet for two of her children, but
I moved shortly afterwards. Now I have a
mountain to myself and my only neighbours
are divine cows. The avaricious Tracey got
houses and paintings and chalets and all
sorts of toys over the course of their marriage, but she wants more cash than the pittance of a million per annum that she was
awarded as a divorce settlement.
Gstaad is to money what Compiègne was
to surrenders: it all starts and ends up here.
The commune should have a beautiful rail-
Anna Wintour looked awfully
unstylish next to the Queen
way carriage like the one in which the armistice was signed in 1940, where men could
sign away their fortunes in salubrious surroundings. It would be more civilised than
traipsing all over Monaco and New York
like the Amons are doing.
Never mind, the older I get the more I
learn. For example: most people with real
money are never rude; it is those who want
people to think they have real moolah who
act boorishly. At a dinner party chez moi last
week Mick Flick and Michael Chandris, two
very good friends with real money, had an
interesting conversation about the primacy
of style over matter, or something close to it.
I was too drunk to keep notes.
I’ve always been on the side of style, which
is the opposite of pretence. Style is a matter of
intense conviction, and God knows we could
all use more of that — the British prime minister, for one. Style is the most abused word
in the English language. It is usually attributed to fashionable people by those not in the
know. For example, that ghastly woman Anna
Wintour, who has allowed Teen Vogue to promote child transexuals, looked awfully unstylish next to the Queen. Wintour comes from a
hack family and is a hack herself, but no one
these days has a clue about any of this useless
stuff I’m telling you.
Style is abstract, and one either has it or
one doesn’t. Harpo and Groucho Marx had
style, whereas Karl Marx’s sayings had none
at all. Those who don’t make a conscious
effort to be authentic usually have style; the
Tracey Amons of this world do not. But let’s
give them an A for effort. Gstaad, after all, is a
microcosm of the bigger picture: you have the
rich and the less rich, and those who don’t try
but want what the rich have. They’re known
as Corbynistas and have less style than the
Traceys of this world. But we have none of
the former and too many of the latter.
Low life
Jeremy Clarke
Poperinghe, Bailleul, Wytschaete, Gheluvelt, Ploegsteert, Messines, Zonnebeke,
Passchendaele. The other week I grandiosely claimed that I have been reading about
the first world war, on and off, all my life.
What I ought to have added was ‘with little
or no understanding’. Because it wasn’t until
a fortnight ago, when I bought a 1916 Ordnance Survey map of Belgium (Hazebrouck
5A), and consulted it while reading Anthony
Farrar-Hockley’s account of the First Battle
of Ypres, that I began to fix these bloodsoaked villages in my mind.
The Second and Third Battles of Ypres
were disputed over a few square miles. Stated objectives might be a slight promontory
or a smashed village. Advances and retreats
were measured in yards. Narrative accounts
of these battles can therefore be followed
with comparative ease. But First Ypres was
a wide-ranging battle of movement by the old
British army and its cavalry. Frustrated by the
pitiful maps included in General Sir Anthony
Heritage Farrar-Hockley’s soldierly account,
I searched eBay for a better one. Churchill said of the Ypres salient: ‘A more sacred
place for the British race does not exist.’ My
100,000 scale Ordnance Survey map (1916)
of our sacred place cost just 20 quid.
Several years ago I visited the salient on
a battlefield tour, yet still I failed to grasp
the geography. We’d hop off the coach next
to a neat cemetery and piously inspect the
gravestones and read the simple attributions carved in Eric Gill’s font. Then I would
look around at the flat, agricultural landscape and wonder which way they were fac61
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ing when they were killed. Then we would
hop back on the coach and move on to the
next one. Hill 60, Essex Farm, Sanctuary
Wood, Langemark, Tyne Cot — always the
same spick and span rows and the same puzzle. I could have asked the retired Grenadier Guards colonel who led us, I suppose,
if he knew where the front lines were situated. But this frightfully nice man seemed
always on the verge of tears and I didn’t like
to intrude on his grief. The half-dozen other
tour members were as ignorant as I was.
After Ypres our coach took us to Vimy
Ridge. The stark white monument to the
dead Canadians stands on the lip of a great
escarpment, with panoramic views of the
Douai plain spread out below like a map.
This battlefield tour was my second visit to
Vimy Ridge. My first was a solitary pilgrimage made during the 1998 World Cup. And
even after this second, guided visit my wholly mistaken, and in hindsight ludicrous belief
persisted that the Canadians had gained the
ridge by attacking from the plain below.
Next stop, the Somme. I got it all wrong
here as well. In a leafy lane, for example, we
hopped off the coach and inspected the unusually narrow Devonshire Regiment ceme-
If you are thinking of going on a
battlefield tour, get a bloody map
tery. It is narrow because after the Devons
had leapt over the parapet on 1 July and
were promptly mown down by a single German machine gun, it was simpler to chuck the
corpses in the trench and fill it in. A stone
inscription beside the wicket gate to the cemetery says: ‘The Devonshires held this trench;
the Devonshires hold it still.’ Among the buried here is Captain Duncan Lenox Martin.
A week before the battle Captain Martin
spotted a hidden German machine-gun position which he accurately predicted would do
for them all. Lying here too is the poet Lieutenant William Noel ‘Smiler’ Hodgson MC,
who, before going over the top, wrote a prophetic poem called ‘Before Action’. The final
line of the poem is: ‘Help me to die, O Lord.’
Above the Devons’ trench, a steepish
hill runs upwards for 50 yards to a wood.
I scanned the edge of this wood and wondered where the fatal machine gun was
sited. It wasn’t until months later, when
I looked online, that I realised that the German trenches were 400 yards away, and in
exactly the opposite direction to the one
I imagined, across an East Anglia-sized arable field then as now completely bare of
cover. Our poor Guards colonel was so completely unmanned by the Devons’ cemetery
that he stumbled around blinded by his tears.
So if you are thinking of going on a battlefield tour, get a bloody map. Gheluvelt,
Zonnebeke, St Jean, St Eloi, Hooge, Pilkem,
le Pilly, la Bassée, la Vallée — there they all
are in familiar colours on my 1916 Ordnance
Survey map, the tiny Flanders villages and
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
hamlets and farms where the line was held,
a quarter of a million casualties in the Third
Battle of Ypres alone. Our sacred place.
Does it matter to me that our centurylong disorderly retreat from that line of villages and hamlets is everywhere accelerating
into a rout? Or that one has only to walk past
a radio tuned to BBC Radio 4 to know it?
It doesn’t bother me at all. On the contrary,
I’m excited.
Real life
Melissa Kite
‘Good afternoon, my name is Bradley, and
how may I be of help to you today?’
After you’ve spent ten minutes negotiating an automated system that quite clearly aims to frustrate you from ever getting
through to a human being, when you do get
through to one, through dint of your own
bloody-minded refusal to reply to any of the
absurd automated questions — ‘If you are
calling about something irrelevant, please
say “irrelevant!”’ — until the system cannot
cope with your silence, and concedes that it
will have to put you through to a real person, it is patently absurd for that person to
pretend to be your long-lost friend, beyond
ecstatic that you have rung them.
I have a theory that call-centre people,
for reasons entirely understandable, are
boiling over with so much anger and unhappiness that they have decided to express it
through the medium of oppressive longwinded courtesy.
Hence, when you tell Bradley you want
to do a transfer, he doesn’t say yes, he says:
‘So you want to do a transfer. Yes, of course,
I’ll be happy to help you facilitate that transfer today in just a moment after I’ve taken
you through security, if you are happy to do
that with us, here, today?’
You say you are. But he doesn’t ask for
your passcode. He says: ‘That’s excellent
news! And now, if you’re ready to continue, I’ll commence to take you through that
security process with us, here, today, by asking yourself, if you don’t mind, the first digit,
and the fifth digit, of your telephone banking
passcode, please, so that we can get that transfer sorted for yourself, with us, here, today.’
It is clear to you that he is playing a cruel
and savage game. He not only misconstrues
the reflexive pronoun — an old trick — but
he pretends to finish a sentence, then just
at the point where the verbosity might end,
he adds another word, then another, until
you are driven half mad trying to second
guess where the sentence is really ending, or
indeed if it is ever going to end, a form of
torment that is blood-vessel bursting.
You give him the first and fifth digits of
your passcode, but he doesn’t say fine. He
says: ‘I’m pleased to confirm that you have
been successful in completing the passcode
entry component of your security clearance,
here, with us, today, so thank you very much
indeed, for that.’
You want to self-harm. But you realise
the only way you’re going to get what you
want is to humour him so you say ‘thanks’.
In doing so, you are fully aware that you are
thanking him for thanking you.
And he says: ‘No problem! Thank you!’
In other words, he is now thanking you for
thanking him for thanking you.
At this point in the fake politeness process, it occurs to you that everyone in the
world is now so finely poised on the brink
of violence that the only thing between you
and the man from the bank trading fourletter expletives — and choice, depraved,
unspeakable insults — is a thick barrier of
thank yous.
Of course, we go along with it. But the
other day, I was on the phone to the bank
again and the mask slipped.
The recorded message had strayed into
strange new territory and after a few ‘Please
say what you are calling abouts, the recorded
voice said: ‘If you are waiting for a car to be
delivered press one…’
When the human finally answered,
I asked her whether the bank had started
doing courtesy cars.
She said they had not. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘it’s
just that your recorded message asked if
I was waiting for a car delivery.’
‘Yes, that’s right. Card delivery,’ she said.
‘Oh card!’ I exclaimed.
‘Don’t shout at me!’ she yelled.
‘I’m not shouting,’ I explained. ‘I’m
‘You’re being aggressive,’ she said.
I suppose this was inevitable. Our need
to feel institutionally safe and corporately
‘heard’ at all times means we are becoming unable to deal with each other or get
anything done because each interaction
requires so much explaining and apologising for imagined emotional hurts.
‘Look, I’m not being aggressive,’ I said,
being really quite aggressive in order to get
my point across about not being aggressive.
‘I’m having a laugh with you. I was amused
that card sounded like car on your automated system and so I exclaimed amusedly, hoping for a like-minded reaction in you.’
‘Oh,’ she said, crestfallen. A pause, then:
‘I can look into that for you.’
‘I’m sorry?’
‘I can look into the misleading message
and how card sounded like car. I can lodge
a formal complaint about this, for you, with
us, here, today…’
The turf
Robin Oakley
You can tell by the tone of the jokes how
most occupations are regarded and we’ve
all heard the traditional ones about the
old enemy. ‘Why don’t sharks attack bookies?’ ‘Professional courtesy’. ‘Why did God
invent bookmakers?’ ‘To make used-car
salesmen look good.’ ‘Why are bookmakers buried an extra six feet down?’ ‘Because
deep down they are very nice people.’
OK, such stories are applied to lawyers
too. And journalists. But as a Racing Post
headline confirmed last week, bookmakers
are under heavy pressure. William Hill has
been fined £6.2 million for breaching regulations on social responsibility and on money
laundering. For example, it allowed a customer to deposit £541,000 over 14 months
on the unprobed assumption that his income
was £365,000 a year. In fact, he was earning
£30,000 and was funding his habit by stealing from his employer.
The advertising watchdog the Committee of Advertising Practice has announced
a crackdown on Bet Now! TV advertisements. The betting industry is panicking
over the government’s planned reductions
on the maximum amount that punters
can stake on fixed-odds betting terminals
(which could see the sum reduced from
£100 to a mere £2) and there is growing
alarm across all political parties about
problem gambling. The Gambling Commission estimates that there are some 430,000
problem gamblers with another two million at risk. The charity GambleAware sees
only 8,500 of these a year and its chief Kate
Lampard complains that the state spends
considerable amounts tackling the problems caused by drugs and alcohol but virtually nothing on those caused by gambling.
The problem for those of us who love
racing is that the structures set up long ago
made racing’s financing dependent on a
levy taken from the profits derived from
gambling. Our sport depends on keeping the bookmakers happy by providing
enough racing to ensure that punters flock
into their betting shops and maximise their
turnover. This very week, when the Met
Office warned of frost and snow that might
cause cancellation of jump-race meetings,
the British Horseracing Authority rushed
to stage extra Flat race meetings on the ‘all
weather’ artificial tracks at Chelmsford,
Wolverhampton and Lingfield.
The Association of British Bookmak64
ers has claimed that a significant cut in
the FOBT maximum will see the closure
of thousands of betting shops, with many
jobs lost and a decline of around £290 million in the levy and media-rights income to
racing, not to mention a £1 billion-plus loss
to the Treasury in lost taxation by 2020.
Other leading figures in the industry put
racing’s potential loss at nearer £60 million
but most of us are in no position to test
those figures.
I have to admit to a personal dilemma.
Racing is an expensive sport to stage and I
don’t want to see its income seriously diminished. But I do acknowledge the seriousness
of problem gambling, as illustrated vividly at
Kempton Park last Saturday when I overheard a young man screaming down his
phone, ‘No I didn’t take that tenner from
your bag. No I didn’t. I swear on the lives of
our children I didn’t. You must have taken
it to play the Lottery.’ I could not oppose a
significant cut in the FOBT maximum but at
the same time I wonder about the business
model of bookmakers who have apparently
allowed themselves to become so dependent
on the machines.
As always in the run-up to the Cheltenham Festival, Kempton provided a cracking
day’s racing. The fact that the French trainer Guillaume Macaire had sent over the
talented hurdler Beau Gosse to contest the
Adonis Hurdle rather than race him in the
mire at Auteuil was yet another reminder to
some of us present of the short-sightedness
of the Jockey Club’s determination to sell
off Kempton for housing. In a winter that
has turned the going on many courses into
something resembling the bottom of Venice’s Grand Canal, the fast-draining Thameside track has provided trainers with a rare
chance to test their horses on something
other than glue.
Champion trainer Nicky Henderson,
who opposes the closure, was unusually out of luck but declared, after three of
his horses — including Cheltenham Gold
Cup favourite Might Bite and Champion Hurdle favourite Buveur d’Air — had
enjoyed a post-racing gallop: ‘I’ve got three
happy horses and three happy jockeys so
that makes one happy trainer.’ Nicky also
has Altior, the favourite for the Champion Chase, in his Lambourn yard, so if the
bookies are under pressure imagine the
weight on him as the Festival approaches.
As Nicky reminded visitors to his yard
last week, back in 1973 he was assistant
trainer to the great Fred Winter who also
went to the Festival with short-priced
favourites for the big three championship
races. Pendil, the best chaser never to win
a Gold Cup, was beaten by The Dikler.
Bula, winner of the two previous Champion Hurdles, was beaten by Comedy of
Errors, and Crisp was turned over by Inkslinger. So we shouldn’t feel too sorry for
the bookmakers.
Janet de Botton
No February blues for me. The past couple of
weeks have been the most exciting and interesting (bridge-wise) I could ever imagine.
Super sponsor Pierre Zimmermann hosted
the second Winter Games in Monaco, which
he has made better than a European Championship. Seventy-eight teams competed over
seven days for the title. Then we rushed back
home to play two days of the Lederer, London’s best and most prestigious tournament. I
never thought I’d say this, but I need a break!
Today’s hand was one of the last boards
in the semi-final of the Zimmermann Cup
and features two Norwegian World Champions, Geir Helgemo for Monaco, arguably
the best player in the world, and Boye Brogeland for Mahaffey (the eventual winners)
of whom one can only say: ditto! This slam
was one of the last boards in both very tight
semi-finals and decided the outcome of both
matches, and very possibly the tournament:
Dealer East
NS vulnerable
wA 8
z J 10 5 4
X A J 10 9
wJ 4 2
8 2
7 6 5
y AK
X6 4
w 10
y 10 8
X 73
w KQ
6 3
9 3
7 2
7 6 54
Contract 6yby South
The bidding was long and complicated but
both Norwegian N/S pairs arrived in 6y with
no interference from the opposition. West led
the XAce and continued with the X5. Helgemo won in dummy and played the zQ,
covered by the King and Ace, ruffed a Spade,
cashed wA and ruffed a Club. Now the timing
was wrong for a trump reduction and declarer went one down. The critical moment was at
trick three. South must play a third Diamond,
starting the trump reduction immediately to
eventually neutralise East’s y10 2. So said
the commentators. The other semi-final saw
Boye declaring the same contract on the w2
lead, which he won with the Ace. He ruffed
a Club and played a Diamond. West took his
Ace and returned the XJ which Declarer won
with the King in dummy and continued with
the Queen. East ruffed with y8, declarer overruffed, cashed the zAce, ruffed a Spade and
played a Diamond picking up East’s y10 2.
Mahaffey was through to the final.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
hateau Musar, that extraordinary
Lebanese winery with vineyards
deep in the Bekaa Valley, boasts an
almost fanatical following. Indeed, two of
Musar’s most devoted admirers were my
esteemed predecessors — Messrs Waugh
and Hoggart — thanks to whom our Wine
Club partner, Mr Wheeler, has been wafting
Musar under the beaks of Spectator readers
very successfully for 20 years.
I’m delighted to report this offer is as
enticing as ever and marks the first time that
the latest vintage of Musar’s grand vin, the
2011, has been offered to anyone, anywhere.
The 2008 Chateau Musar White (1) is a
remarkable wine produced from un-grafted
old vines grown in vineyards planted almost
5,000 years ago. A blend of 65 per cent
Obaideh (an ancient forbear of Chardonnay) and 35 per cent Merwah (ditto of
Sémillon), it’s fermented and aged partly in
oak and partly in stainless steel. The result
is a gloriously golden-hued wine with hints
of peaches, blossom, citrus and spice on the
nose and a deliciously creamy, lemony and
slightly savoury finish in the mouth. If it’s
like anything it’s like a fine white Rhône.
£22 down from £25.
The 2014 Musar Jeune Red (2) is an
equal blend of old vine Cinsault-Syrah
with an added splash of Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s no oak to speak of and it’s
designed for uncomplicated and immediate
drinking. It’s fresh, vibrant, fruity, soft, succulent and smooth with plenty of ripe red
and dark fruit and a whisper of spice. It’s
hard not to gulp down, so easy-going is it.
£11 down from £12.50.
The 2013 Hochar Père et Fils Red (3)
is a slight step up in complexity. Made
from low-yielding, single vineyard fruit
planted at 1,000 metres above sea level, it’s
a familiar blend of Cinsault, Grenache and
Cabernet Sauvignon aged in oak for nine
months. It’s deliciously rich and spicy with
silky soft tannins and an abundance of ripe
dark fruit. It’s very stylish for the price and
certainly hints at the power of the grand vin.
£13.25 down from £16.25.
The Hochar family of Chateau Musar
only release their grands vins when they
deem them ready to drink — which is
anything up to six or seven years behind
the vintage. This is the first time that the
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
2011 Chateau Musar (4) has been offered.
An equal blend of Cinsault, Carignan
and Cabernet Sauvignon, it was bottled
in 2014 after gentle maturation which
included a year’s rest in French oak. It’s fullflavoured and powerful but has that inimitable Musar sweetness. It’s wonderful stuff
It’s the first time the latest vintage
of Musar’s grand vin has been
offered to anyone, anywhere
and will delight lovers of the estate. £22.50
down from £27.50.
The 2002 Chateau Musar (5) was one of
Simon Hoggart’s favoured vintages of Musar
and, on its release in 2009, he applauded
in these pages its ‘immense power’ and its
dark plum and damson fruit, hints of liquorice and its toasty, spicy finish. The wine has
softened and mellowed considerably since
Simon tasted the wine but all the aforesaid
elements are there and I like to think he
would have knocked it back with abandon.
£25 down from £29.50.
The 1998 Chateau Musar (6) is a blend
of the estate’s usual three grape varieties,
albeit with more focus on Cinsault than
usual. It’s nearing the end of its days, but it
still packs a punch for what was one of the
lighter Musar vintages. There’s a complex
mix of flavours — mulberries, blackberries,
coffee, chocolate and spice — and that typical underlying Musar sweetness and earthy,
leathery gaminess. It’s soft and mellow and
although the finish fades a little, it still gives
enormous pleasure. £26.50 down from £32.
The mixed Musar Collection has two
bottles of each of the wines and the Musar
Vintage Experience has four bottles of the
three grands vins. Delivery, as ever, is free.
ORDER FORM Spectator Wine Offer
Mr. Wheeler, Estate Office, Park Lane BC, Langham, Colchester, Essex CO4 5WR; tel: 01206 713560; Email:
Prices in form are per case of 12 unless stated
White 1 2008 Chateau Musar White, 12% (six bottles)
Mixed 7
List price
2014 Musar Jeune Red, 14%vol
2013 Hochar Père et Fils Red, 13.5%
2011 Chateau Musar, 14%
2002 Chateau Musar, 14%
1998 Chateau Musar, 13.5%
Musar case (two bottles each of above)
Vintage case (four bottles of 2011, 2002 and 1998) £356.00
Club price
Mastercard/Visa no.
Start date
Issue no.
Expiry date
Please send wine to
Sec. code
Prices include VAT and delivery on the
British mainland. Payment should be
made either by cheque with the order,
payable to Mr Wheeler, or by debit or
credit card, details of which may be
telephoned. This offer, which is subject
to availability, closes on 14 April 2018.
*Only provide your email address if you would like to receive offers or communications by email from The Spectator (1828) Limited, part of the Press Holdings
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Raymond Keene
A to B
Lucy Vickery
This year’s tournament at Bunratty in Ireland
was the celebratory 25th in the series and I was
invited to deliver the closing peroration. The
competition was particularly stiff on this occasion,
with British champion Gawain Jones sharing first
prize with grandmaster Sergey Tiviakov, ahead of
Nigel Short, Jon Speelman, Luke McShane and a
host of other grandmasters and masters.
To break the tie a sudden death playoff was
required, from which Tiviakov emerged the
winner. For the key moment see this week’s
puzzle. The game I have selected demonstrates
the great talent of the female grandmaster Dina
Belenkaya, of whom no doubt we shall be hearing
much more.
Diagram 1
$GĚGNLCXC/E5JCNG: Bunratty Masters 2018;
Diagram 2
Scotch Game
Black can safely offer a gambit here and
White does well to decline it, preferring to castle.
Bxf6 would give White the better pawn structure
but after 12 ... Qxf6 13 Qxf6 gxf6 the black
bishops provide ample compensation. In practice,
Black has scored very well from this position. $GIf Black wants to draw he can play 12 ...
Bg4 when 13 Bxf6 (there is nothing better) 13 ...
Bxf3 14 Bxd8 Bxe2 15 Bxe2 Rfxd8 is completely
equal. DWhite could also play more directly
with the immediate 13 Nd4. A possible line is then
13 ... Bd7 14 Rae1 and if now 14 ... Rxb2 then 15
Nf5 Bxf5 16 Qxf5 g6 17 Qf3 Ne4 leads to complex
play. $I3G4G3WC4C
(see diagram 1) $F19 ... g5 is far too
weakening. White can continue 20 Bxg5 hxg5 21
Qxg5+ Kh8 22 Qh6+ Kg8 23 Bb5 Rf8 24 Rad1
followed by Rd3 with a winning attack3H
$G4CFI$I4WCBlack would do
better to play 22 ... g4 23 Qd3 Rxa2 when White
no longer has the possibility of Bb5 and the
position is equal. $D4G3H$F
$F3G-JWhite misses 26 c4 which is
very strong. After 26 ... dxc4 27 Bxc4 White wins
material as the rook on e6 cannot move due to the
reply Qg6+. Black could have avoided this
White to play. This position is from TiviakovJones, Bunratty Play-off. White’s next led to a
decisive material gain. What did he play?
Answers to me at The Spectator by Tuesday
6 March or via email to
There is a prize of £20 for the first correct
answer out of a hat. Please include a postal
address and allow six weeks for prize delivery.
.CSěVGGL¥SSOĚTěKON 1 ... Rxg3+
Darley Green, Warwickshire
problem with 25 ... Qd7 26 c4 Re7. 26 ... Ne4
27 f3 Nxg3+ 28 hxg3 Ra7 This loses
material. Black had to play the unintuitive
28 ... Rd6 29 Rde1 Re6! which, surprisingly,
holds the balance as 30 Rxe6 Qxe6 is fine for
Black. Ì3J-H$H(see diagram 2)
Now Black’s problem is that if the rook moves
White can continue 31 Rxd4 and 32 Qh8 mate.
With the extra material and the initiative,
White is winning easily. 3H4H
In Competition No. 3037 you were invited
to take a song by Abba or the Beatles and
rewrite the lyrics as a sonnet. Oh, for more
space. Your entries were especially clever
and funny this week, and the winners were
chosen only after protracted agonising.
Those printed below take £20 each.
O Jude! Fear not, and look not so downcast,
But sing a plaintive air, then let her in.
The minute Melancholy’s mood hath passed,
Then seek her and invite her ’neath thy skin.
Each time that sorrow pains thy sense, refrain!
Nor, Atlas-like, bear not this mournful orb
Upon thy weary shoulders, for in vain
Do fools, appearing cool, its heat absorb.
So let it out and let it in, O Jude;
Wait not for other fellows to perform,
For well thou knowest, music is Love’s food:
Hold hard thy breath — thou goest down a storm!
Sing then, and make it better! To conclude:
Hey nonny, nonny, nonny no — Hey Jude!
David Silverman
A revolution thou would’st have, thou say’st.
To change this world thou know’st we all aspire,
But if by flame and steel thou would’st lay waste,
Look not to hear my voice join in thy choir.
To solve what aileth us thou hast the key,
So thou dost boast, and bid’st me ope my purse.
Thy plan of action we all fain would see,
For I to fund dire hatred stand averse.
Thou would’st the constitution change, but I
Would urge thee rather change thy mode of
All fault in institutions thou dost spy,
But that thy mind unfree is well I wot.
That despot’s portrait thou bear’st doth offend
But thou know’st all will be right in the end.
Chris O’Carroll
My baby’s good to me, thou knowest. She
Doth ever treat me excellently well.
She’s happy as can be, thou knowest. ‘Wee!’
She shouteth. ‘Such delight! Thou’rt truly swell!’
My baby says she’s mine, thou knowest. None
But I may speak of love to her a whit.
She tells me all the time, thou knowest. ‘Hon’,
She often sayeth, ‘I am thine. No shit.’
Her baby buys her things, thou knowest. I
Much love the way a gift doth make her glow.
He buys her diamond rings, thou knowest. Why,
Though, doth she feel that she must tell me so?
’Tis odd, no? But two things I question not:
Thou knowest much, and baby talks a lot.
Max Gutmann
When I consider now increasing signs —
Though depilation’s still some years away —
Of age advancing, will those Valentines
And wines still come? If, by perchance, I stray
’Til cock-crow sounds, two-forty-five the morn,
Would you have barred the portals on your side?
And would you need me still, perhaps forlorn?
And would you still the provender provide?
Then, six years short of three score years and ten,
We might on Sabbath mornings take a ride.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Make smocks, become the best of handymen,
Mend fuse, dig weeds, have grandchildren abide.
Then, come the summer, to the Isle of Wight
With Vera, Chuck and Dave as our delight.
Paul Brown
This is the story of a girl I had,
Or else a tale of how that girl had me.
She took me to her bachelorette pad.
I found it decorated Nordicly.
She offered me a seat and poured some wine.
There were no chairs. I plopped down on the floor
To drink and chat and hope she’d soon be mine.
But this, alas, was not my night to score.
At 2 a.m. she said ‘It’s time for bed,
But not for sex.’ She chose to sleep alone.
Off to the bath I slunk to lay my head.
Next morning when I woke, this bird had flown.
I torched her flat. The flames that I ignited
Were hot like me, but not so unrequited.
Francis Harry
There dwelt a fellow in my childhood home
Whose curious travelling tales I deemed divine,
A fearless mariner who chose to roam
The seven seas below the salty brine.
‘We rode,’ he said, ‘the subterranean tide
Where dappled sunlight lit the deep sea shelf —
A happy crew, all glad to live inside
A hull as yellow as the sun itself.
Accompanied by music, filled with glee,
All dancing to the rhythm, how we laughed
And sang the same old phrase repeatedly
Of life in our banana-coloured craft.
Then, to the captain’s orders, off we sped
With cable cut adrift, full speed ahead!’
Alan Millard
The working day has darkened into night
And I’ve been driven hard as any hound,
So all I now should have by any right
Is somewhere I can sleep both long and sound.
But home again with you it won’t be rest —
That’s not the gift I’ll have when I arrive:
You’ll do for me the things that you do best,
The things you know that make me come alive.
I work so you have anything you need
And in return you give me all you’ve got;
On that exchange where we are both agreed,
I have no cause to moan about my lot.
You know when you’re with me and hold me tight
It feels so fine that everything’s feels right.
W.J. Webster
Famed Waterloo! Napoleon’s great defeat
Calls into mind the cosmic mystery,
The ever-circling tale of history,
And echoes, too, the destiny I meet.
I tried restraint, and yet could not compete
With all your strength, nor could I ever see
How to gainsay you. I cede victory,
But yet am I victorious in defeat.
Yea, Waterloo! From battle I retired,
But claimed, as the imprisoned captive’s due,
A promised love eternal, free of doubt.
Ah, Waterloo! Flight is no more desired,
Since now at long last I am fated to
Confront my own Napoleonic rout.
Brian Murdoch
You are invited to submit a poem against
poets or poetry. Please email entries of up to
16 lines to by midday
on 14 March.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
2348: It’s a trap
by Columba
Fragile page inside codex curls
(13, three words)
Pieces of pasta, clean, in larder
Shrewd, backing your sport
Classical tenor twitching (5)
Captain overlooks river (4)
Urchin assembled heap of
stones (5)
Tapioca, marvellous stuff (4)
Study eastern star (5)
Get rid of fabric with defect
Writers of rapturous pieces
submit birthday essays (13)
Distinguish artisan beer no
longer (7)
Fierce oil painters like Homer’s
work (6)
Typical example from inept
editor (7)
Next pew mostly free (6)
Symbolic of sulk, chop tuft of
hair (7)
Kind offering extolled (5)
Something accompanying
dumplings (7)
Bollard thugs damaged (4)
Pass colourful place (5)
Board game won acclamation
Clues are given according to
alphabetical order of their
answers. Each of thirty-two
clues comprises a definition
part and a hidden consecutive
jumble of the answer including
one extra letter. When arranged
in conventional clue order, the
extras spell a character’s name
and seven-word quotation (in
ODQ). In the remaining seven
clues, cryptic indications omit
reference to parts of answers;
these parts must be highlighted,
to reveal an item situated as the
quotation suggests in relation
to the unclued 8, 21, 28 (two
words), 30 and 37. Ignore an
accent in the highlighted item.
Second team on march (6)
Ordinary flawed human nature
Marvel, inspecting bony frame
Why specify rare medicine?
Student group publicised (5)
Garnet, fine type, treasured (9)
Bed totally warm (8)
Private soldier’s helmet (5)
Crazy about coy star (6)
Pirate active in craft (6)
Immodest speech seems false
Baker gives last slice (6)
Theorist, singular philosopher,
right about copper (10)
Hesitant marsupial (4)
Mound, one expressing purpose
Passing over opportunities?
Vast regret (10)
Brave teacher quit (6)
Construct review afresh (5)
Aptly treated once positioned
A first prize of £30 for the first
correct solution opened on
19 March. 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 2348,
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen
Street, London SW1H 9HP.
Please allow six weeks for
prize delivery.
The puzzle’s NUMERICAL DESIGNATION (3 41) is
preceded by 7A and followed by 7D 12 33 37 to form the
first two lines of a NURSERY RHYME (4): ‘One, two, three,
four, five/ Once I caught a fish alive’. Thematically caught
fish, in entries at 1D, 5, 19, 26, 31, 32 and 34, are lant, rigg,
maid, ide, ahi, ai and carp.
(KRSěPRKYG Michael Pigden, Barnet, Hertfordshire
4TNNGRSTP C. Elengorn, Enfield, Middlesex;
Hugh Dales, Dysart, Fife
No Sacred Cows
It’s World Book Day again.
God help us
Toby Young
or parents of primary school
children, the first Thursday in
March has got to be the worst
day of the year. Even an attendance
Nazi like me, who won’t countenance
any excuse for keeping a child home
from school, would accept that on this
occasion a ‘tummy ache’ is a perfectly
legitimate reason. Why do I say this?
Because the first Thursday of March
is World Book Day.
Now, for those of you without
children, or whose children went to
school before this annual ritual was
invented by Unesco in 1995, I should
explain that the reason it’s such a
colossal bore is because parents are
expected to mark the occasion by
sending their offspring to school
dressed as their favourite fictional
character. That might sound harmless enough, but for status-conscious
middle-class parents such as Caroline
and me it’s a complete nightmare.
The problem begins when your
child insists on going to school in
a superhero costume, rather than
a character from Winnie-the-Pooh
or The Wind in the Willows. As the
father of three boys, I have had this
argument so many times I can recite
it in my sleep. Yes, Charlie, I know
Superman is cool, but it’s World Book
Day, not World Comic Day. No, Fred-
The event is
supposed to
promote the
joys of reading,
but for most
families it’s just
another piece
of homework
die, graphic novels don’t count so I’m
afraid you can’t go as Batman from The
Dark Knight Returns even though it’s
technically a ‘book’. Sorry, Ludo, if you
wear a Black Panther costume you’ll
be accused of ‘cultural appropriation’.
To be fair, Ludo has dressed up as
a girl on World Book Day, which if
not ‘cultural appropriation’ is in the
same ballpark. He went as Goldilocks
and even took three teddy bears with
him as props. I thought he looked so
good I took a picture of him and posted it on Twitter — which, like many
things I’ve tweeted, turned out to
be a terrible mistake. I was immediately deluged with angry comments
from conservatives who thought I
was a virtue-signalling liberal, bragging about the fact I had a transgendered son and was happy to send him
to school dressed as a girl. They didn’t
notice the World Book Day hashtag
at the bottom of the tweet.
At one stage, all four of our children attended the same primary
school in Shepherd’s Bush, which
meant Caroline and I had to stay up
half the night on the first Wednesday in March frantically assembling
costumes for them to wear the next
morning. It didn’t help that the school
awarded prizes to the best-dressed
boy and girl in each class. Our children
didn’t give a fig, but Caroline and I
are ferociously competitive and cared
deeply about winning. If the infant of
one of our friends took home a prize
and none of ours did, we would be
teased mercilessly by them for weeks.
Each child would then be subjected to a lengthy cross-examination
about what went wrong during the
parade. Did you keep your hat on?
Did your tail fall off? Did you remember to do that cute little thing with your
hands when you pretended to roar?
World Book Day is supposed
to promote literacy and the joys of
reading, but for most families it’s
just another piece of homework that
involves cutting and sticking and
making things out of loo rolls and
cereal boxes. Surely the time could
more profitably be spent forcing children to learn great poetry by heart?
Prizes could then be awarded to the
boy and girl in each class who managed to recite the longest poems.
Memorising The Lady of Shalott
would make a welcome change from
trying to convince Freddie that Tintin
‘books’ are, in reality, just oversized
comics with hard covers.
To complicate our lives, the primary the children attended (and
which two still do) is a C of E school
which means World Book Day is followed quickly by the Easter bonnet
parade. Out come the scissors and the
Pritt Stick again and the competitive
juices start to flow. I’m lucky in that
Caroline is brilliant at coming up with
witty, creative costumes that often
win prizes. Her best yet was an Easter
bonnet that was made entirely out of
discarded takeaway boxes from all
the different fried chicken outlets on
the Uxbridge Road.
I tweeted a picture of Sasha in
that, too, and without asking permission the Daily Mirror reproduced
it in the following day’s paper. That
cutting occupies pride of place in our
downstairs loo.
Toby Young is associate editor of
The Spectator.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
The Wiki Man
Why I’m not on board
with quiet carriages
Rory Sutherland
very now and then I try to invent
a new scientific unit. I’ll never
come up with anything as good
as the millihelen — a unit of beauty
sufficient to launch one ship — or
the Sheppey, which is a distance of
approximately seven-eighths of a mile
defined as ‘the minimum distance at
which sheep remain picturesque’. But
I do have hopes for the tedion, which
measures the half-life of boredom: it
denotes the time you must spend in a
location to enjoy a 50 per cent chance
of overhearing someone say something interesting or funny.
On a train to Cardiff or Manchester, a tedion is probably around five
to ten minutes. On a Home Counties
commuter train it runs into days — or
in London, the conversational nadir
of the UK, weeks.
In Wales I caught this exchange: ‘So
how do you know they’ve had sex?’
‘Well, I saw her in Abergavenny, and
she was wearing his wellies.’ In London you could spend a year on public transport and never hear anything
above the level of ‘So we decided to
It is impossible
to use one
from some
use Dave’s departure as an opportunity to restructure procurement.’
In London the need to look busy
trumps the need to be interesting. By
contrast, in laid-back cities like Liverpool and Dublin the banter bar is set
very high.
So that’s one reason I never use
the quiet carriages whose abolition
Peter Jones lamented in a recent article in The Spectator. Living in Newcastle, Peter is probably well supplied
with colourful Geordie aperçus. To
those of us trapped in London, a train
journey is the only chance we get to
overhear any decent conversation.
But the other reason I hate these
carriages is that, unless you are a
Trappist monk, it is almost impossible
to use them without incurring sanctimonious disapproval from some selfappointed noise-Nazi.
In Japan (where the ‘vibrate’ function on a mobile phone is known as
‘the manners button’) the rules on
trains are clear-cut and universal:
outside a few designated areas, voice
calls on trains are unacceptable. Having your phone ring audibly on a train
is almost as embarrassing to the Japanese as if it happens in a theatre here.
But texting, typing, listening to music
on headphones are fine, as is respectful conversation.
The same rule applies throughout the train. I’d be happy for something similar to become adopted in
Britain: no ringtones — and if you
want to make a call longer than 60
seconds, go and stand between the
carriages. The problem with quiet
carriages is that, by bundling all the
oversensitive arseholes on the train in
one place, it creates a death spiral of
neuroticism. Without clear rules, you
find yourself policed by some ageing
noise vigilante, who spends the journey scanning for signs that someone
might soon emit a decibel.
In the past such cranks have scolded me for ‘typing too loudly’ on my
laptop, for ‘tapping a pen’ and for listening to harpsichord music on headphones. If you use a phone only to
listen to voicemail, the same git will
jab his finger at the ‘Quiet Zone’ sign.
I then have to fight the childish urge
to annoy him — perhaps by constant
beatboxing, or playing a trumpet.
The quiet carriage, when you think
of it, is akin to the idea of a safe space.
Just as in a quiet carriage the rules are
set by the single most neurotic person on the train, in a ‘safe space’, the
terms of acceptable discourse are set
by the thinnest-skinned 0.01 per cent
of the population.
And like the quiet carriage, this
simply does not work. Just as you
can’t run a restaurant which serves
only food to which nobody is allergic,
a space which annoys no one becomes
intolerable to everyone.
Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman
of Ogilvy Group UK.
Q. For some time I have been
spoiled by paying a small rent
for a central flat belonging to
absentee friends of my parents.
Unfortunately it is a twobedroom flat and the owners
have just moved another lodger
in. She is nice but ill-informed
and, frankly, thick. Even ordinary
non-challenging conversations
about domestic issues are
frustrating because she’s so slow
on the uptake. I realise as I write
this that I sound like an entitled
brat but I work in finance and
am shattered when I get back;
I don’t have the mental energy to
talk to someone who wants me
to explain everything twice. I feel
I should have had a say in who
was moved in. How, when I raise
this with the owners, can I play it
tactfully, as I wouldn’t want them
to be embarrassed when they
realise they have ruined my life
by inflicting someone on me?
— Name and address withheld
A. Yes, you are spoiled and
entitled and sound like a brat.
But by billeting this unwelcome
flatmate onto you, your parents’
friends have, knowingly or
not, acted in your best interest.
There is nothing like domestic
dissatisfaction to incentivise
someone to work harder to
finance their escape. Stay later at
your office, so you can pay the
market rate for a flat where you
can decree your own terms.
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
Q. My husband and I have a
cottage on a beach in Cornwall.
It is little more than a shack but
it’s clean and charming. Friends
often beg to borrow it, even after
we have shown them photos
and explained how basic it is.
We don’t charge, except for the
cleaner, so it really rankles when
they come back home and lecture
us on what’s wrong with it and
what we should do to put it right.
— B.M., London NW1
A. Why not leave a suggestions
book and ask guests to write
their recommendations in it?
They’ll feel foolish reiterating the
complaints of those who have
borrowed the shack on earlier
occasions. If they try to lecture
you when they get back, gag them
by saying you’d rather read the
recommendations when you are
on site and can take them in.
Q. A friend of mine is a
grandmother. Her grandson, who
is heir to a colossal inheritance,
attends both state and private
nurseries, depending on whether
his family are in London or the
country. The problem is that the
state school reprimands him for
saying ‘what?’ and tells him to say
‘pardon?’ but the reverse then
happens in the private school.
The poor boy is now getting a
bit confused. What do you
suggest, Mary?
— A.C., London W11
A. There is no problem here. It
is good for the boy to learn to
be bilingual and, when in Rome,
to do what the Romans do. The
camouflage may well be essential
in the coming years.
Write via the editor or email
Sweet drams
Bruce Anderson
hat seas what shore what
grey rocks what water
lapping the bow’. So
evocative, which seems strange: one
would have assumed that Eliot would
have been seasick crossing the Channel. Yet he understood the gentle little
tides — and also the beauty and the
fear, the other-worldliness, the implacable grandeur, of the great waters’ vast
dominions. In these islands, throughout the centuries, men have earned
their bread from the sea. But it was
rarely an easy harvest. The ‘Mingulay
Boat Song’ captures the perils of the
quest. ‘When the wind is wild with
shouting/And the waves mount ever
higher/ Anxious eyes turn ever seaward/ Wives are waiting, since break
of day/ To see us home, boys, to Mingulay.’ Not all those boys made it home.
I was thinking of this while drinking
Kilchoman whisky, Gaelic Scotland’s
latest gift to civilisation. On the island
of Islay, is Machir Bay, one of the most
beautiful beaches in the United Kingdom. The scenery is superb, the water
enticing and apart from seabirds’ cries,
it is usually deserted: the sort of place
They use
and Oloroso
barrels to
ensure lighter,
fruity notes
where you feel resentful if the binoculars pick out another picnicker. A
beautiful day in May: turquoise water:
irresistible. Divest yourself of clothing,
run in, keep running — bloody hell,
where is the Gulf Stream when you
need it? A brief immersion, then rush
out and glory in the invigoration, especially if you have packed a hip flask.
In future the beach may not be so
empty. Half a mile away, there is a distillery, which produces Kilchoman. It
was established by Anthony Wills of
the Bristol tobacco family. With such a
pedigree, it was natural that his commercial horizons should lie to the
West, especially as his wife’s family
came from Islay. Magnetic pull, mysticism, tradition — were all reinforced
by technique.
The mightiest Islay whiskies have
always had peat at their core. It might
seem excessive to compare this to the
fugal passage in the slow movement of
the ‘Eroica’, the greatest symphonic
music of all, but I remember drinking
an ancient Ardbeg, than which there is
no finer whisky, with the windows open
to the West and ultima thule, to that
accompaniment. It was as if the two art
works were saluting one another, like
the flagships of allied powers, in the
days when those vessels would have
been 40,000-ton battleships.
Peat is not to every taste, especially when accompanied by strong notes
of iodine and seaweed. A few years
ago, bad times struck and Ardbeg
itself was mothballed (there is a horrifying parallel with the Royal Navy’s
current impoverishment). But matters
have improved. The whisky market
has expanded and peat is back in fashion. Ardbeg is once again resplendent;
there is talk of recommissioning longdefunct distilleries and Kilchoman
has been launched to general acclaim:
the first new distillery on Islay for 124
years. The Willses knew what they
wanted to achieve: a harmony of peat
and sweetness. So they use Bourbon
and Oloroso barrels to ensure lighter,
fruity notes, while also malting most of
their own barley at Rockside farm.
I tried their Machir Bay, the most
generally available, and was immensely impressed, especially when I learned
that it was only six years old. Whisky
only ages in barrels, and malts are normally reckoned to require at least ten
years. That has an obvious drawback;
ten years is a long time to wait for cash
flow. But Kilchoman seems to have
found an answer. As they are already
winning golden opinions while producing only 200,000 litres a year, it is
to be hoped that they will hold back
a few barrels to see how it matures.
I ought to introduce a note of caution because I drank it after a good
dinner. Even so, I am confident that
Kilchoman is not a good whisky. It is
a great whisky: a magnificent addition
to the symphony of Scottish malts. It
is pleasant to note that something is
going well in the world.
Trahison des clercs
I had long associated the phrase
trahison des clercs with the writer
Geoffrey Wheatcroft, though I
can’t put my finger on examples
in his oeuvre.
In any case, I wrongly
presumed that trahison des clercs
dated from the Middle Ages,
when clerks in orders were the
learned ones, like Chaucer’s
Clerk of Oxford, responsible for
faithfulness to the knowledge
they had. The old proverb went:
Les bons livres font les bons
clercs — ‘Good books make
good scholars.’
But I now discover that the
phrase goes back no further than
1927, when Julien Benda used it
as the title of a book, translated
into English as The Great
Betrayal a year later by Richard
Aldington, who turned more
than 30 books into English in
the 1920s, years before he got his
teeth into T.E. Lawrence.
In America it was published as
The Betrayal of the Intellectuals,
which was ambiguous for those
not already informed as to
whether the intellectuals were
betraying or being betrayed.
William Empson, in the poem
‘Just a Smack at Auden’ (1938),
making fun of the poet who
lent him the money to return
from China on the eve of the
second world war, gives the
phrase as treason of the clerks:
‘What was said by Marx, boys,
what did he perpend?/ No good
being sparks, boys, waiting for
the end./ Treason of the clerks,
boys, curtains that descend,/
Lights becoming darks, boys,
waiting for the end.’ The rhyme
must have influenced his choice
of translation.
The connotations vary. Benda
argued that ‘those who for 20
centuries taught Man that the
criterion of the morality of an act
is its disinterestedness’ were now
teaching that ‘the morality of an
act is measured by its adaptation
to its end’. They’d sold out.
Roger Scruton, in reviewing
Bryan Magee’s Confessions of
a Philosopher, wrote that the
author ‘regards the excuses
offered for the Soviet Union by
liberal intellectuals as a trahison
des clercs’. Howard Jacobson
once accused Simon Armitage of
the crime of trahison des clercs for
opposing the plan Michael Gove
had hatched of reintroducing into
schools the learning of poetry by
heart. From the latter treachery, if
treachery it was, no one died.
— Dot Wordsworth
the spectator | 3 march 2018 |
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
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