3 march 2018 [ £4.50 www.spectator.co.uk [ est. 1828 Me! Me! #MeToo! Hollywood stars are hijacking feminism, say Jenny McCartney and Tanya Gold ITALY'S POLITICS ARE CRAZY – NOT FASCIST NICHOLAS FARRELL WORLD BOOK DAY IS HELL TOBY YOUNG PUTIN'S SYRIA FOLLY Paul Wood BAHRAIN BD3.20. CANADA C$7.50. EURO ZONE €6.95 SOUTH AFRICA ZAR79.90 UAE AED34.00. USA US$7.20. established 1828 Back off, Barnier T 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. 3 Thrill pill, p18 A losing game, p16 Rosoman’s strange vision, p52 THE WEEK 3 Leading article 6 Portrait of the Week 7 Diary London’s stabbing epidemic, Brexit clarity and the genius of Matt Andrew Marr 8 Politics Which way, Mrs May? James Forsyth 9 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. BOOKS & ARTS 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 BOOKS 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 www.spectator.co.uk Editorial and advertising The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP, Tel: 020 7961 0200, Fax: 020 7681 3773, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (editorial); email@example.com (for publication); firstname.lastname@example.org (advertising); Advertising enquiries: 020 7961 0222 Subscription and delivery queries Spectator Subscriptions Dept., 17 Perrymount Rd, Haywards Heath RH16 3DH; Tel: 0330 3330 050; Email: email@example.com; Rates for a basic annual subscription in the UK: £111; Europe: £185; Australia: A$279; New Zealand: A$349; and £195 in all other countries. 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ISSN 0038-6952 The Spectator is published weekly by The Spectator (1828) Ltd at 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP Editor: Fraser Nelson 4 the spectator | 3 march 2018 | www.spectator.co.uk Otmoor’s king, p58 His own worst critic, p54 What these ruins meant to Ibn Khaldun, p47 LIFE ARTS 50 Interview La Chana, queen of flamenco Louise Levene LIFE 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 neuroticism. Rory Sutherland, p69 63 Real life Melissa Kite 65 Wine club Jonathan Ray 53 Television Civilisations James Delingpole AND FINALLY . . . 58 Notes on… Otmoor Christopher Fletcher 54 Radio Home Front Kate Chisholm 66 Chess Raymond Keene Competition Lucy Vickery Music 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 indication. 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 CONTRIBUTORS 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. 5 Home C 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 6 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. C 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. A 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. Abroad T 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. T 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. S 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 CSH sentenced to six months in prison. the spectator | 3 march 2018 | www.spectator.co.uk Andrew Marr O 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. I t can be impossibly hard to concentrate on the intricacies of the Brexit negotiations. But over the past week, we have got a S M 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 | www.spectator.co.uk INTRODUCTORY OFFER: Subscribe for only £1 an issue 9 Weekly delivery of the magazine 9 App access to the new issue from Thursday 9 Full website access Iran is our natural ally The National Trust in trouble M 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. I 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 I MY DATES WITH DIANA TAKI The H less ou on ston of 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. www.spectator.co.uk/A152A 0330 333 0050 quoting A152A UK Direct Debit only. Special overseas rates also available. $2 a week in Australia call 089 362 4134 or go to www.spectator.com.au/T021A 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. 7 POLITICS|JAMES FORSYTH Which way Mrs May? F 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 8 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. SPECTATOR.CO.UK/COFFEEHOUSE Hourly updates from Parliament and beyond. the spectator | 3 march 2018 | www.spectator.co.uk Charles Moore Corbyn wants Britain to ‘stay Jeremy 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. M 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. I 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. I 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. T 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.) A 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 — email@example.com. 9 Is this feminism? Hollywood’s embrace of the #MeToo movement isn’t altogether convincing JENNY MC CARTNEY T 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. 10 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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 careers. 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. 11 Fake sisterhood Feminism is just another accessory for glamorous women TANYA GOLD I 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.’ 12 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. 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It has 145 bedrooms, an Italian restaurant, La Banca bar and a roof terrace with excellent views over the famous Bebelplatz. The jewel vault has been transformed into a spa with indoor swimming pool. Outstanding value for money. 3 nights for the price of 2 until 30 April - price from £797, saving £226 3 nights for the price of 2 until 30 April for stays including a Sunday night - price from £882, saving £185 Includes 48hr museum pass, Seine cruise and Métro tickets Includes a 72hr Museum card ROD LIDDLE The word ‘extremist’ has lost all meaning A 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. 15 Putin’s gamble BAROMETER 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 concerts. — 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.’ PAUL WOOD 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: UK FOI request to 190 local authorities in 2015 suggested that at least 36,600 children are being home-schooled. US 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. Canada HSLDA has reported that 50,000 children are home-educated, less than 1 per cent of the school age population. Australia Queensland University of Technology estimates a figure of 15,000, 0.25 per cent of the school age population. France a figure of 5,000 has been reported by organisations which represent home-schoolers. 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). 16 F 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. TICKETS BOOK NOW Spectator subscriber rate: £22.50 Standard rate: £35 www.spectator.co.uk/brexit 020 7961 0044 the spectator | 3 march 2018 | www.spectator.co.uk 17 Blue pill-pushers Why is Viagra being marketed to young men? LARA PRENDERGAST I 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 | www.spectator.co.uk MATTHEW PARRIS When the internet is a force for social cohesion F 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: buxtonweather.co.uk. 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. 19 Italians aren’t fascists They’re just angry about immigration NICHOLAS FARRELL Ravenna 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. A the spectator | 3 march 2018 | www.spectator.co.uk 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! 21 RAJASTHAN NOTEBOOK James Bartholomew W 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. T 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 22 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. I 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. E 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.’ A 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. O 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 | www.spectator.co.uk LIONEL SHRIVER The all give and no take of American taxes L 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. 23 LETTERS 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 24 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 consequences. 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 | www.spectator.co.uk ANY OTHER BUSINESS|MARTIN VANDER WEYER Running a bank’s tough. That’s no reason to start handing capital back A 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. 25 5 1 2 3 4 5 reasons why you should own physical gold... Gold is a safe haven asset Gold is frequently used as a safe haven asset in times of economic turmoil or geopolitical uncertainty. 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Secure storage at Brink’s. 0121 634 8060 www.BullionByPost.co.uk *Source: Experian Hitwise based on market share of UK internet visits March 2016 - March 2017 FEATURES 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 COLUMNISTS 30 Reality check The UK stock market still looks cheap Louise Cooper 36 Property A home in a tax haven Ross Clark Empowering traders around the world Established in 1989, we’ve been providing the tools to help clients achieve their trading goals for nearly 30 years. Our Next Generation platform has been designed with the aim of giving you the very best trading experience, whether you’re an established trader or just starting out. Trade with us today at cmcmarkets.com Spread betting | CFDs | FX E S T. 1 9 8 9 LISTED ON THE LONDON STOCK EXCHANGE 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 D 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 Newton said: ‘I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men’ Beanie Babies (right) were once an investment mania — could cannabis products go the same way? GETTY 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 29 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. 30 REALITY CHECK LOUISE COOPER 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 shares. 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 expensive. 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 corner? 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 referendum. 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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 32 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 incentivised 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 website: www.fca.org.uk. 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 | www.spectator.co.uk/money Experts help me up my game Same for my investments ISA deadline 5th April Nutmeg is more than a platform. Our experienced specialists build and manage globally diverse, multi-asset portfolios shaped around your goals to maximise your returns. > Put our experts to the test at nutmeg.com As with all investing, your capital is at risk. ISA rules apply. International Money Transfers Sending money overseas? Receive up to €4,000 more when transferring £100,000 compared with UK high-street banks.* • Free expert guidance • Fast online access 24/7 • Safeguarded customer funds Call our experts on 0333 414 4331 or visit telegraph.co.uk/go/imtp to get started Provided by moneycorp for Financial Services *Based on exchange rate comparison taken Jan 26, 2018 between Lloyds, Natwest, Barclays, RBS, HSBC and Santander and Moneycorp. Moneycorp’s rate is estimated and based on the average margin applied to interbank rates for foreign exchange contracts for £100,000. Moneycorp is a company wholly independent of Telegraph Media Group Limited. Moneycorp is a trading name of TTT Moneycorp Limited. TTT Moneycorp Limited is registered in England and Wales under company number 738837 with its registered office at Floor 5, Zig Zag Building, 70 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6SQ. TTT Moneycorp Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority for the provision of payment services. Would you take a robot’s tip? Andrew Willshire on how AI is being used in fund management W 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 35 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. 36 PROPERTY ROSS CLARK 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 | www.spectator.co.uk/money 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. Call Email Go to 020 3823 8678 firstname.lastname@example.org www.7im.co.uk/spectator 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 I ’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 38 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 cappuccino, 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 | www.spectator.co.uk/money We strive to go deeper. Murray Income Trust ISA and Share Plan Investing for income growth is a skill. Sometimes, an investment that seems great on paper may not be so good when you look beneath the surface. Murray Income Trust searches for high-quality income opportunities by getting to know in depth every company in whose shares we invest. We meet management face-toface. We ask tough questions – and we only invest when we get to the bottom of how a business works. So when we include a company in Murray Income Trust, you can be sure we’ve done the legwork. Please remember, the value of shares and the income from them can go down as well as up and you may get back less than the amount invested. No recommendation is made, positive or otherwise, regarding the ISA and Share Plan. The value of tax benefits depends on individual circumstances and the favourable tax treatment for ISAs may not be maintained. We recommend you seek financial advice prior to making an investment decision. Request a brochure: 0808 500 4000 murray-income.co.uk Aberdeen Standard Investments is a brand of the investment businesses of Aberdeen Asset Management and Standard Life Investments. Issued by Aberdeen Asset Managers Limited, 10 Queen’s Terrace, Aberdeen AB10 1YG, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK. Telephone calls may be recorded. aberdeen-asset.co.uk Please quote MINC S 27 Back to frontiers Investors should once again look to emerging markets for better returns, says Matthew Lynn T 40 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 Developed markets are getting punishingly expensive, so investors are looking elsewhere spectator money | 3 march 2018 | www.spectator.co.uk/money GETTY 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 controls. 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. Have better arguments. Every week. Subscribe to The Spectator from just £1 a week Go to www.spectator.co.uk/!" or call 0330 333 0050 and quote code !" Direct debit offer only BOOKS & ARTS BOOKS Biografiends 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 42 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 | www.spectator.co.uk GETTY IMAGES/BRIDGEMAN IMAGES 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. 43 BOOKS & ARTS 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. 44 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 GETTY IMAGES Cutting up rough Leyla Sanai Under the Knife: A History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations 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 | www.spectator.co.uk Postgraduate Diploma in Asian Art Object-based study of the arts of China, Japan & Korea, India, Southeast Asia and the Islamic world including access to the reserve collections in the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum Short courses also available Further details from: Dr Heather Elgood Phone: +44 (0) 20 7898 4445 Email: email@example.com SOAS, University of London Thornhaugh Street Russell Square London WC1H OXG www.soas.ac.uk/art SOAS University of London BOOKS & ARTS 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 | www.spectator.co.uk GETTY IMAGES 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 Biography 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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 47 BOOKS & ARTS 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 48 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 GETTY IMAGES Prince, is as gloomy a work as the Muqaddima and both books were born of political disappointment: 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. 49 BOOKS & ARTS Queen of flamenco Louise Levene meets the great Gypsy dancer La Chana, who bewitched Dali and Peter Sellers A 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- 50 SAMUEL NAVARRETE, 2015 NOON FILMS SL ARTS 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 surface. ‘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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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 eyes. 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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, Senor.’ But please, not yet. 51 BOOKS & ARTS WITH KIND PERMISSION OF ARVON © THE ARTIST’S ESTATE Every picture tells a story: ‘Maximilian Schell as Redl’, 1968, by Leonard Rosoman Exhibitions 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 52 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. Television 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… 53 BOOKS & ARTS Radio 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 54 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.’ Music 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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. MESSUM’S 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 BOOKS & ARTS 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. 56 The big chill: Allison Janney as LaVona Golden Cinema 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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 | www.spectator.co.uk at the same thing. One day they’ll make for the oddest double bill about figure skating on thin ice. Theatre Killer instinct Lloyd Evans Frozen 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. 57 NOTES ON … Otmoor By Christopher Fletcher CHRISTOPHER FLETCHER ‘D 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. Travel FRANCE Cote Grange, Puyjourdes Be Inspired Art holidays in the Lot, France ITALY 23 LUXURY PROPERTIES to rent for one week or more in south-west France, Provence and the Côte d'Azur. All sleeping six or more, all with pools, some with tennis courts. Staff; plus cooks and/or babysitters if required. Tel: Anglo French Properties: 020 7225 0359. 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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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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 Give a gift subscription to Apollo Treat someone to a year’s subscription to Apollo from just £57 FREE DIGITAL ACCESS 25% OFF THE COVER PRICE One of the world’s oldest and most respected magazines, Apollo covers everything from antiquities to contemporary work – with the latest art news, interviews with leading international artists and collectors, expert insight into the art market and coverage of exhibitions worldwide. www.apollo-magazine.com/M116A +44 (0)330 333 0180 quoting M116A 1-800-567-5835 (USA) quoting M116A 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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 exclaiming.’ ‘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…’ 63 LIFE 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. Bridge 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 zQ yQJ X KQ wA 8 z J 10 5 4 y3 X A J 10 9 wJ 4 2 9 8 2 7 6 5 N 5 W E S zA9 y AK X6 4 w 10 zK8 y 10 8 X 73 w KQ 6 3 2 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 | www.spectator.co.uk SPECTATOR WINE JONATHAN RAY C 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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 www.spectator.co.uk/wine-club Mr. Wheeler, Estate Ofﬁce, Park Lane BC, Langham, Colchester, Essex CO4 5WR mrwheelerwine.com; tel: 01206 713560; Email: email@example.com Prices in form are per case of 12 unless stated White 1 2008 Chateau Musar White, 12% (six bottles) Red 2 3 4 5 6 Mixed 7 8 List price £150.00 2014 Musar Jeune Red, 14%vol £150.00 2013 Hochar Père et Fils Red, 13.5% £195.00 2011 Chateau Musar, 14% £330.00 2002 Chateau Musar, 14% £354.00 1998 Chateau Musar, 13.5% £384.00 Musar case (two bottles each of above) £277.50 Vintage case (four bottles of 2011, 2002 and 1998) £356.00 Club price No. £132.00 £132.00 £159.00 £270.00 £300.00 £318.00 £245.00 £310.00 Total Mastercard/Visa no. Start date Issue no. Expiry date Signature Please send wine to Name Address 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. Postcode Telephone Email* *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 Group. See Classified pages for Data Protection Act Notice. The Spectator (1828) Limited, part of the Press Holdings Group would like to pass your details on to other carefully selected organisations in order that they can offer you information, goods and services that may be of interest to you. If you would prefer that your details are not passed to such organisations, please tick this boxR. 65 LIFE Chess Bunratty Raymond Keene Competition 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 $GĚGNLCXC/E5JCNG: Bunratty Masters 2018; Diagram 2 Scotch Game GG0H0E0E0HFGWF 0WF$D0WEDWE$FFGWF Black can safely offer a gambit here and White does well to decline it, preferring to castle. EWF$IE3H4D0G12 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. $I3G4G3WC4C 3FE3H$WG$WGJ$J (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 27<<.'01 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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+ .CSěVGGL¥SVKNNGR Mark Benson, Darley Green, Warwickshire 66 rDW1rDkD DWDWgp0W WDWDWhW0 DW0pDWDW WDWDW!WG DPDWDWDW PDPDB)P) $WDWDRIW WDWDWiWD 4WDW1pDQ WDWDrDW0 DW0pDB0W WDWgWDWD DPDWDP)W WDPDWDPD DWDRDRDK problem with 25 ... Qd7 26 c4 Re7. 26 ... Ne4 27 f3 Nxg3+ 28 hxg3 Ra7 This loses material. Black had to play the unintuitive 28 ... Rd6 29 Rde1 Re6! which, surprisingly, holds the balance as 30 Rxe6 Qxe6 is fine for Black. Ì3J-H$H(see diagram 2) Now Black’s problem is that if the rook moves White can continue 31 Rxd4 and 32 Qh8 mate. 3HÌ$WG3WGHIH With the extra material and the initiative, White is winning easily. 3H4H 4G4WI4GE$G4WF-G 3I$F4C$E4WE3F ÌH-G3G-WH4H3WH 3J-GIWH$WHI $ĚCELÌRGSKINS WDWDr4kD DpDW1WDp pDWDWDph DW0WDbDW WDWDNgWD DP)W$WDP PGWDW)PD $WDW!BIW 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 thought. 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 | www.spectator.co.uk LIFE 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 01#8'45'618'45' You are invited to submit a poem against poets or poetry. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 14 March. the spectator | 3 march 2018 | www.spectator.co.uk Crossword 2348: It’s a trap by Columba 1 2 3 %ĚTGS Fragile page inside codex curls (13, three words) Pieces of pasta, clean, in larder (6) Shrewd, backing your sport (7) 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 (5) 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 (7) 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 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. 4 14 15 16 17 20 22 18 19 21 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 32 34 30 31 33 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 Second team on march (6) Ordinary flawed human nature (7) Marvel, inspecting bony frame (6) Why specify rare medicine? (6) 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 (9) Baker gives last slice (6) Theorist, singular philosopher, right about copper (10) Hesitant marsupial (4) Mound, one expressing purpose (5) Passing over opportunities? Vast regret (10) Brave teacher quit (6) Construct review afresh (5) Aptly treated once positioned (6) 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. Name #FFRGSS 'MCKĚ 51.76+1061%1706'4%.#+/ 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 67 LIFE No Sacred Cows It’s World Book Day again. God help us Toby Young F 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. MICHAEL HEATH 68 the spectator | 3 march 2018 | www.spectator.co.uk The Wiki Man Why I’m not on board with quiet carriages Rory Sutherland E 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 without incurring sanctimonious disapproval from some self-appointed noise-Nazi 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. DEAR MARY YOUR PROBLEMS SOLVED 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 69 LIFE Drink Sweet drams Bruce Anderson ‘W 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 Bourbon 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. MIND YOUR LANGUAGE 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 70 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 | www.spectator.co.uk 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 disappointment. TICKETS BOOK NOW Subscriber rate: £22.50 Standard rate: £35 www.spectator.co.uk/rod 020 7087 7755 (Does not include venue booking fee) Courage and commitment - that’s the FP CRUX European Special Situations Fund Return on £1,000 invested 1 year 2 years 3 years 4 years 5 years Since launch* - 31.01.18 CRUX European Special Situations Fund £1,189 £1,520 £1,576 £1,759 £1,963 £2,893 Sector average : IA Europe ex UK £1,174 £1,453 £1,453 £1,551 £1,735 £2,102 Index : FTSE World Europe ex UK £1,182 £1,470 £1,440 £1,548 £1,720 £2,053 Cash : Bank of England Base Rate £1,003 £1,007 £1,012 £1,017 £1,022 £1,039 Source: FE © 2018, bid-bid, £1,000 invested, cumulative performance to 31.01.18. *Launch date 01.10.09. †Bid-bid, TR, 01.10.09-31.01.18. Active managers who invest in their own funds Active investment management requires conﬁdence, courage and commitment in every investment decision, something the managers of CRUX’s European Special Situations Fund have plenty of. 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