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The Spectator - March 24, 2018

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Knife crime: Boris vs Theresa James Forsyth
Fat-shaming could save your life Tanya Gold
24 march 2018 [ £4.50 [ est. 1828
UAE AED34.00. USA US$7.20.
dia John
ry son
Angela Patmore and Isabel Hardman
on the relentless rise of antidepressants
established 1828
Losing control
f Brexit was going to be as easy as some
of its advocates had believed, we would
not have had weeks such as this one. It’s
hard to interpret the recent agreement over
the transition period as anything other than
a capitulation to EU demands. Theresa May
has quietly scrubbed out her ‘red line’ on the
rights of EU citizens and the jurisdiction of
the European Court of Justice. Nationals of
other EU countries will be free to move to
Britain, seek work here and have their rights
protected by the court until 31 December 2020. Moreover, she has agreed to UK
waters being open to EU trawlers until that
date. Indeed, to the chagrin of our own fishing industry, fishing quotas will be set for our
waters in 2020 — without the UK even having a say as to what they should be.
Perhaps most worryingly, the idea that
Northern Ireland could remain permanently in the customs union — which Theresa
May once said ‘no British prime minister
could ever concede’ — remains on the table.
This brings about the prospect of an internal border within the UK in the Irish Sea —
a situation which ministers know will prove
unacceptable to a very large proportion of
Northern Irish residents, not least among
them the DUP, on whose votes the government relies for support. If the government
does fall on a confidence vote before the
projected date of the next election, in 2022,
its demise may well be traceable to this week.
The government has found itself in this
position thanks to a woeful lack of preparation for the Brexit negotiations. In her Lancaster House speech of January last year,
Mrs May appeared to have a viable plan
for Brexit: to withdraw from the single market and the customs union, to negotiate in
their place a free trade agreement, and to
opt back into EU programmes where the
government saw fit. But since Article 50
was triggered it has become increasingly
and painfully clear that the government has
no negotiating strategy to get to this point.
Instead, ministers have allowed themselves
to be buffeted around by an EU negotiating
team that has seemed to have more purpose
and direction than its counterpart.
Michel Barnier has been criticised for
his obstinacy and his lack of imagination in
solving issues such as the Irish border. It is
The EU can get away with this
because the government is in
no position to walk away
true that his constant stonewalling of suggestions put forward by Britain shows the EU
in bad light and is a reminder of the freedoms we might enjoy outside the bloc. His
tone has been needlessly caustic, and he has
seemed to take the Brexit talks as an audition for succeeding Jean-Claude Juncker as
president of the European Commission. But
his stubbornness is working: putting Britain on the back foot, forever struggling to
defend itself. The government’s failure to
come up with proposals has left a vacuum in
which the EU is suggesting them for us.
The EU can get away with this because
the government is in no position to walk away
from the negotiating table, or even to threaten to do so. EU negotiators can see this, and
have been able to behave as if a trade deal
were a one-way concession to Britain, rather
than an agreement of mutual interest. There
are commercial interests across the EU who
have grown impatient at times with Barnier,
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
but the UK government has failed to make
common cause with them.
Also, the member states’ power over the
European Commission is waning. In Britain,
the EU is often thought about as a single
entity — and one that in the end will do
whatever Germany says. But Angela Merkel
is struggling to exert control over her own
government, let alone the continent. Juncker
and Barnier see an EU that does not take
its orders from member states, but draws (or
claims to draw) its own democratic legitimacy from the European Parliament. The EU
member states have an interest in a good
deal with Britain. But the European Commission — the apparatus in Brussels — has
an interest in Britain being seen to be worse
off after leaving the EU. The Commission
would also receive 80 per cent of the tariff
revenue from UK exports to the EU, making
‘no deal’ more appealing to Brussels than to
member states.
It will come as no surprise if the £37 billion leaving bill is jacked up. Nor can we
rule out having to stay in the customs union
— thus being unable to cut our own trade
deals with the outside world. But even this
relationship would be better than remaining in the EU: the main aim of Brexit was to
make government more answerable to the
people, to restore democratic control over
laws, taxes and borders. That’s why, after all
of these setbacks, Brexit remains as popular as ever. If there is one thing to be said
about this week’s transitional deal, it is that
the Prime Minister has won herself a little
breathing room. But she will have to use it
very wisely if she is to stop Britain from falling into a Brexit which will not deliver the
benefits that it could or should.
Death of a rhino, p20
The art of video games, p42
Leading article
Portrait of the Week
Diary My Newsnight triumph
Rachel Johnson
Politics The Tories’ crime record
James Forsyth
The Spectator’s Notes
Who the real head-bangers are
Charles Moore
17 Rod Liddle An act of self-harm
20 Barometer Political photoshopping;
thriving and declining birds
23 Lara Prendergast
The vlogging dream
From the archive
The League of Nations
25 James Delingpole Why I wish
I’d kept my Brummie accent
26 Ancient and modern
Octavian’s fake news
29 Letters NI and the NHS; a rounded
education; protecting children
30 Any other business We were
never going to control our waters
Martin Vander Weyer
10 Overdosed
Britain’s dangerous dependence
on antidepressants
Angela Patmore
32 Frances Wilson
Joseph Gray’s Camouflage,
by Mary Horlock
11 Robert Selby
‘When That Which Is Perfect
Is Come’: a poem
34 James Bradley
The Book of Chocolate Saints,
by Jeet Thayil
12 My drug trials
Treating depression is hit and miss
Isabel Hardman
14 Big Data is watching you
The Cambridge Analytica row
Jamie Bartlett
20 Witness to an extinction
The death of the last male white rhino
Aidan Hartley
22 The Russian wives club
Meet the lost ladies of Knightsbridge
Tom Ball
26 The big fat truth
Fat-shaming can be life-saving
Tanya Gold
Andrew Lycett
Left Bank, by Agnès Poirier
Philip Hancock
‘Loft’: a poem
35 Zenga Longmore
Gimson’s Prime Ministers,
by Andrew Gimson
36 Caroline Moore
The Friendly Ones,
by Philip Hensher
37 Alex Burghart
Glory and Dishonour,
by Brian Izzard
38 Peter Carty
From a Low and Quiet Sea,
by Donal Ryan
Piers Paul Read
Paul, by N.T. Wright
Connie Bensley
‘In the Butterfly House’: a poem
39 Andrew Taylor
Money in the Morgue, by
Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy
Cover by Morten Morland. Drawings by Michael Heath, Castro, K.J. Lamb, Robert Thompson, RGJ, Grizelda, Nick Newman, Adam Singleton, Kipper Williams, Wilbur,
Bernie, Percival Editorial and advertising The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP, Tel: 020 7961 0200, Fax: 020 7681 3773, Email: (editorial); (for publication); (advertising); Advertising enquiries: 020 7961 0222 Subscription
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020 7681 3773, Email:; Distributor Marketforce, 161 Marsh Wall, London, E14 9AP. Tel. 0203 787 9001. Vol 336; no 9891
© The Spectator (1828) Ltd. ISSN 0038-6952 The Spectator is published weekly by The Spectator (1828) Ltd at 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP
Editor: Fraser Nelson
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
The most human of birds, p40
Data wars, p14
Floreat Etona! p25
40 John McEwen
A Shadow Above, by Joe Shute
Alex Clark
The Western Wind, by
Samantha Harvey
55 High life Taki
Low life Jeremy Clarke
56 Samantha Roden
‘Shove Your Tissues’: a poem
41 Suzi Feay
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, by
Michelle McNamara
57 Real life Melissa Kite
Bridge Susanna Gross
42 Interview Ian Cheng, creator of
sentient digital life forms
Sam Leith
52 Notes on… Evensong
Revd Dr Jonathan Arnold
44 Theatre
Summer and Smoke; Great Apes
Lloyd Evans
Cinema Unsane
Deborah Ross
45 Rock The making of Moody Blues
Michael Hann
Governments are never more
vulnerable to committing acts
of stupidity than when they are
hellbent on showing the electorate
and the world that they are
determined to do something
Rod Liddle, p17
58 Chess Raymond Keene
Competition Lucy Vickery
59 Crossword Fieldfare
60 No sacred cows Toby Young
Battle for Britain
Michael Heath
61 Sport Roger Alton
46 Exhibitions Tacita Dean
Martin Gayford
47 Opera Rinaldo; La traviata
Michael Tanner
Hunting people are tremendous
fun and smell of nothing worse
than horses and sloe gin
Charles Moore, p9
Now that I am middle-aged I realise
I am simply greedy and lazy and
I would rather eat too much than
approve of my reflection
Tanya Gold, p26
Your problems solved
Mary Killen
62 Food Tanya Gold
48 Television The Durrells
James Walton
Mind your language
Dot Wordsworth
50 The listener Vince Staples
Rod Liddle
Radio Blind blues musicians
Kate Chisholm
Isabel Hardman, who
writes about her recovery
from depression on p12, is
The Spectator’s assistant editor
and a presenter of Radio 4’s
The Week in Westminster.
Jamie Bartlett is the author
of The Dark Net and Radicals.
On p14, he explains how
Facebook harvests our data
and why.
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
Andrew Taylor, who
reviews Ngaio Marsh and
Stella Duffy’s Money In The
Morgue on p39, is himself a
crime writer. His new book,
The Fire Court, is out next
month from HarperCollins.
James Bradley is a novelist
and critic who has received
multiple awards in his native
Australia. His most recent
novel is Clade. He reviews
Jeet Thayil’s new novel on p34.
Alex Clark is a former
editor of Granta and artistic
director of the Bath Literary
Festival. She reviews
Samantha Harvey on p40.
ritain and the European Union agreed
on a transitional period after Brexit
on 29 March 2019 until the end of 2020 in
which Britain can make trade deals and EU
citizens will be able to claim UK residency.
The Irish border question was unresolved.
British fisherfolk were sold down the river,
despite an undertaking a week earlier by
Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary,
and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth
Davidson. In a joint statement, the two
politicians had promised: ‘Britain will leave
the CFP [Common Fisheries Policy] as of
March 2019.’ In fact, Britain will merely
be ‘consulted’ on fishing quotas during the
transitional period.
statement by the leaders of the United
States, Germany, France and Britain
castigated Russia over the murder attempt
against Sergei Skripal, a Russian defector,
and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on
4 March: ‘The United Kingdom thoroughly
briefed its allies that it was highly likely
that Russia was responsible for the attack,’
it said. ‘We share the UK assessment.’
Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary
said: ‘Frankly, Russia should go away
and should shut up,’; in reply the Russian
defence ministry called him ‘a vulgar old
harpy’ or ‘bazaar khabalka’. Boris Johnson,
the Foreign Secretary, said: ‘We actually
have evidence within the last 10 years that
Russia has not only been investigating the
delivery of nerve agents for the purpose of
assassination, but has also been creating
and stockpiling Novichok.’ The Russians
expelled 23 diplomats in response to
Britain’s expulsion of 23 of theirs, will
close the British consulate in St Petersburg
and will bar the British Council. Police
investigated the death of Nikolai Glushkov,
a friend of Putin critic Boris Berezovsky; he
was found dead from compression of the
neck at New Malden, Surrey, on 12 March.
Owen Jones, a left-wing journalist, claimed
that Newsnight, on a backdrop, had
photoshopped Jeremy Corbyn’s hat ‘to
look more Russian’; the BBC denied it.
sent his ‘congratulations’ and said: ‘Our
common objective should be to re-establish
a cooperative pan-European security
order.’ Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French
president, was held in custody over claims,
strongly denied, that he received campaign
funding from the late Colonel Gaddafi.
ational Health Service staff, apart
from doctors, were offered a 6.5 per
cent rise over three years. Sir Richard Body,
a long-time opponent of the European
Community, died aged 90. Lady Dean
of Thornton-le-Fylde, Brenda Dean, the
leader of Sogat during the Times lockout
in 1986, died aged 74. Garech Browne, the
bohemian Irish landed gent, died aged 78.
Katie Boyle, the television presenter, died
aged 91. The bearded half of Ant and Dec,
Ant McPartlin, arrested after a roadside
breath test following a collision, took
time off for treatment. Prince Harry and
Meghan Markle will have an organic lemon
and elderflower cake at their wedding.
ladimir Putin was elected for another
six years as President of Russia, with
76 per cent of the vote in a turnout of 67
per cent. Alexei Navalny, the most popular
opposition politician, had been barred
from standing, and Boris Nemtsov, another
opponent, had been shot dead near the
Kremlin in 2015. Jean-Claude Juncker, the
president of the European Commission,
ndrew McCabe, its deputy director
until January, was sacked from the FBI
by the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions,
two days before his 50th birthday, when
he’d have qualified for a federal pension;
President Donald Trump tweeted that it
was ‘A great day for Democracy’. Uber
suspended tests of self-driving cars in
North American cities after a woman
was killed as she crossed the street in
Tempe, Arizona. Facebook was criticised
for letting Cambridge Analytica harvest
information from millions of users for use
in Donald Trump’s election campaign; both
companies denied any wrongdoing. In
Washington, Councilman Trayon White Sr
apologised for blaming Jews for the snowy
weather, after speaking on a Facebook
video of the ‘Rothschilds controlling the
climate to create natural disasters’.
urkish-backed Syrian rebels took
Afrin in northern Syria from a Kurdish
militia after 200,000 had fled the city.
More than 12,000 people fled the town
of Hamouria in the rebel-held enclave
of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus, as
government forces advanced. In the face
of a 6,000 per cent inflation rate, the town
of Elorza in western Venezuela issued its
own paper currency. Ireland won a grand
slam in the Six Nations.
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
Rachel Johnson
went to a dinner for Toby Young, who
has had some troubles of late, at this
magazine’s gracious HQ, hosted by the
editor. I was slightly dreading being
beasted by a reptilian gathering of hard
Brexiters, but it was in the diary. So I
tipped up last Friday in a somewhat
plunging jumpsuit and accepted only
water as aperitif, wittering about not
having done my column yet and having
to do Newsnight later. Half an hour
later I was knocking back claret and
competing to tell embarrassing stories
about Toby and it was still only 7.15 p.m.
(the evening started at the ungodly
hour of 6.30 p.m.). Over the beef I
asked who the greybeard on my left
was, across from Douglas Murray and
James Delingpole. ‘He was the treasurer
of Vote Leave,’ Tobes whispered back.
And he seemed so nice! I read aloud
rare extracts from Young’s juvenilia
that had escaped the rabid attention of
the Twitchfork mob, and reminded the
guest of honour that he had repaid me
for taking him and his wife Caroline
on holiday to Marrakech last October
by publishing his thank-you letter
headlined, ‘My holiday hell with angry
Remoaners’. I hope all goes well for
my old mate. I can’t think of anyone
more committed to the noble cause of
improving state education who makes
me laugh so much. Even though guests
were split between libtards and the altright, we were all united by our love of
Toby, whom I’ve known since I was a
teenager. You can’t make old friends.
his Lenin cap into a Russian fur hat and
putting him in Red Square. On it went.
I was bewildered. Why were we talking
about Corbyn’s hat, not the national
security crisis? I had no idea. I hadn’t seen
the previous night’s edition, so when Evan
came to me I thought I’d move away from
Corbyn’s hat, and said I didn’t think the
leader of the opposition should be called
a traitor for failing to say that Putin had
n the green room at the BBC, I stood
worrying in front of the long mirror
that my jumpsuit really was too much,
even for post-watershed telly. Edward
Lucas of the Economist grimaced in
agreement. Then he fished for a safety
pin he said he always kept in his wallet.
Lucas did his turn at the top. Twenty
minutes later Jenni Russell of the Times,
Owen Jones of the Grauniad and I took
our seats against a lurid backdrop of
the Kremlin. The presenter Evan Davis
turned to Owen first, but instead of
answering the question, Jones went into
a mystifying rant he’d prepared earlier
about how the BBC was framing Corbyn
as a commie stooge, by photoshopping
y husband was away but such was
the impact of Friday’s Newsnight
(inside the Beltway, anyway) that he
called me from Barcelona to tell me I
was a nutter. ‘Who else do you think
did it, you fool?’ he raved. That’s not the
point. I’m not saying that the Russians
didn’t do it, but in plot terms, the most
obvious perp — i.e. the actor who had
the means, motive, etc — is the least
interesting. The novelist in me wants
more mysterious dark forces to be in
the toxic mix simply for the sake of
the narrative arc. My husband and I
like to say that Brexit — the only thing
we’ve agreed on for 25 years — saved
our marriage. Ironic if Putin is going to
destroy it after all.
aturday morning. Still hadn’t written
my column for the Mail on Sunday.
But then — boom! At 9 a.m. I was
scrambled. Tom Bower had dropped his
latest payload of revelations, this time
about the eyewatering extravagance of
the ‘pampered prince’ in the Daily Mail
(which had splashed £125,000 on the
serialisation rights). Some of it would
have made a Saudi prince blush. But one
old friend of Charles and Camilla told
me they were ‘quite happy to hunker
down in Devon’ like the rest for hunting
and shooting weekends. The only extra
trouble the hostess ever went to for the
duchess was to ‘put out more ashtrays’.
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
gone in person to Zizzi in Salisbury to
spike the Skripals’ risotto with novichok.
Not without some proof anyway. Or
words to that effect. Many people on
Twitter — with names like @JC4PM
accessorised by red rose emojis —
approved. The clip of me saying this was
retweeted hundreds of times, but that is
not usually a good sign in my experience.
Meanwhile, fake hatgate went viral (two
million social media hits). I staggered out
to rehydrate with sauvignon blanc, and
found the green room empty apart from
Edward Lucas. ‘Why are you still here?’
I asked. ‘I’m waiting to get my safety pin
back,’ he replied, as if surprised at the
question. ‘It’s my Scottish blood.’
Tagliatelle: Diamond, gold and silver rings
Cassandra Goad, 147 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9BZ
Telephone: 020 7730 2202
Rachel Johnson is a columnist for
the Mail on Sunday.
The Tories are risking their reputation
as the party of law and order
heresa May’s Home Office record
is normally off limits at cabinet. But
when ministers discussed the government’s strategy for reducing violent crime
on Tuesday, Boris Johnson took issue with
what the Prime Minister regards as one of
her key legacies: the dramatic reduction in
stop and search. He argued that more stop
and search was needed to deal with a spike in
crime. What went unsaid — but what everyone around the cabinet table was acutely
aware of — was that this was the opposite
of Mrs May’s approach as Home Secretary.
The exchange was pointed. ‘They irritate
each other,’ one cabinet minister observed
to me afterwards. They also have form on
these matters. They clashed on law and order
when May was home secretary and Johnson
was mayor of London and in charge of the
capital’s policing. One secretary of state halfjokingly described the cabinet as a ‘water
cannons retrospective’, a reference to Johnson’s irritation when May barred the Metropolitan police from using the ones he had
bought after the 2011 London riots.
But this wasn’t just a clash of egos. Rather,
it was a profound disagreement on how best
to prevent crime. As one of those present
put it to me: ‘Boris thinks stop and search is
the answer; she thinks she stopped a national scandal.’ Johnson’s argument was that as
London mayor he had found stop and search
to be a hugely effective tool. He argued that
it was one of the main reasons why London
had had a falling knife crime and murders
rate at a time when the capital’s population
was growing.
May, though, is more sceptical. As Home
Secretary, she toughened up the rules around
the police’s use of stop and search, declaring
in 2014 that the system was ‘unfair, especially
for young black men’. She warned that about
a quarter of all stops that had been carried
out the previous year were ‘probably illegal’,
and threatened the police with legislation if
they weren’t more restrained. At last year’s
Tory conference, May claimed success. She
said that following her changes, ‘the number
of black people being stopped and searched
has fallen by over two-thirds’.
She is right that there has been a dramatic drop in the number of all stops in recent
years. It has gone from roughly 1.2 million in
2009 to around 300,000 last year. But it is less
clear that this is something to be celebrated.
First of all, there is a question mark over
whether it’s right that stop and search disproportionately affected black people. Alasdair Palmer, who worked for May at the
Home Office, claims that the department’s
own research showed this not to be the case,
once you adjusted for who was present on
the streets when the police were stopping
and searching. But he says that May’s political team deliberately ignored this point.
Secondly, there is the fact that the dramatic fall in stop and search has coincided with
a rise in crime. Figures out in January show
a 14 per cent increase in police-recorded
crime. Knife crime is up by even more, 21
Both Labour and Tory campaigners
report that crime is being raised by
voters more than it has been in years
per cent, as is gun crime, 20 per cent. In London alone, seven people have been killed in
stabbings or shootings since last Wednesday.
This debate over stop and search is politically significant because crime, which had
almost dropped off the political agenda, is
back. In March 2016, the pollsters IpsosMori found concern about it at a 25-year low.
But with crime appearing to be rising again,
the public are becoming more worried. Both
Labour and Tory campaigners report that it
is now being raised by voters on the doorstep in a way that it hasn’t been in years.
One wouldn’t have imagined Jeremy
Corbyn to be the kind of Labour leader who
would embrace crime as an issue — a bit too
Blairite for him, you’d have thought. But he
is actually keen to push it up the agenda.
Labour were struck by how potent their
attacks on the Tories for cutting police numbers were during the election campaign, and
see an opportunity to argue that ‘austerity’
has made us all less safe. Also, by claiming
that falling police numbers have led to a
rise in crime, they can take aim at the Prime
Minister’s record at the Home Office. It was
telling that May, normally so comfortable
talking about Home Office matters, tried
to change the subject to the economy when
Corbyn asked about crime at Prime Minister’s Questions last month.
Downing Street does privately acknowledge that it needs a defensive strategy on
crime; it was the current Home Secretary,
Amber Rudd, briefing the cabinet on a new
strategy for reducing violent offences, which
led to the exchange on stop and search. In
fact, technology might provide an answer to
the stop and search question that both May
and Johnson can live with. The rollout of
body cameras for the police makes it easier
for them to demonstrate that they are using
their powers in an appropriate manner.
But the Tories do need to do something
on crime. The statistics are complex, making
it hard to say with confidence what is happening. But the big increases in burglary and
car crime, as well as the increase in violent
crime, suggest that things are getting worse,
not better.
It is hard to see how the spike in knife
crime, which is claiming so many young lives
and leading to a sense that the streets aren’t
safe, can be addressed without an increase in
stop and search. The tactic mustn’t be used
in a heavy-handed manner. But the fall in its
use, by three-quarters in under a decade, has
clearly been excessive.
Theresa May told the cabinet on Tuesday that the police have all the powers they
need when it comes to stop and search, and
that the problem had been that it was being
used illegally. But the recent spate of stabbings suggests that the police are now overly
reluctant to use these methods.
The Tories are, traditionally, the party of
law and order. But if they can’t halt the rise
in crime, they risk losing that tag along with
their reputation for competence.
Hourly updates from Parliament and beyond.
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
Charles Moore
or almost as long as I can remember,
Eurosceptic Tory MPs have been
defined by the media as ‘head-bangers’.
As a result, few notice that they
scarcely bang their heads at all these
days. The European Research Group
(ERG), now led by Jacob Rees-Mogg,
is surprisingly united, and makes most
of its arguments blande suaviterque. The
noise of craniums bashing themselves
against Pugin panelling is much louder
on the other side — Anna Soubry in the
Commons, Andrew Adonis in the Lords.
The Eurosceptic head-bangers are being
particularly cautious about this week’s
transition deal. Although they dislike
most of it, they broadly accept the whips’
arguments that if the party can agree
the transitional arrangements, Brexit is
assured, and if not, not. In the short term,
they want to make it impossible for any
Lords attempt to scupper the Withdrawal
Bill to prevail in the Commons.
Of course, RT lets you say what you think:
they would be ludicrously ineffective
propagandists if they didn’t. The point
is that by appearing, you legitimise their
platform. You help create the utter
confusion about what is true and who is
right which is the Russian government’s
aim. To reverse the usual expression,
your honest opinions allow lies to be
surrounded by a bodyguard of truth.
would not be so bold as to say the ERG
tactics are wrong. The fact of Brexit
does matter more than its details, so the
most important thing is to achieve that
fact. But since we journalists don’t have to
worry about whips, here are a few sobering
considerations. First, Michael Gove’s
promise to British fishermen is being
completely disregarded, with particularly
bad effects in his native Scotland. They will
now have two more years of misery, and
will be further persecuted in the process
when unrealistic quotas which they cannot
affect are imposed upon them, along with
the full discard ban. Second, the terms
of the transition are a victory for the
producer interests — the CBI, the NFU, the
European managers of big car companies.
This is distressing when the ultimate
effect of Brexit ought to be a consumer
revolution like the repeal of the Corn Laws.
It means consumers will have felt little
Brexit benefit by the next election. Third,
the more the negotiations edge forward,
the less the government will contemplate
‘no deal’; yet the more one looks at the
likely deal, the better ‘no deal’ looks.
verything is so hard to read. Take the
situation on Ireland. The ‘backstop’
position of a customs union between the
Republic and the North would actually
be a ‘back-down’ position for the British
government if it happened. It would in
effect break up the United Kingdom.
On the other hand, Brexiteers should
be encouraged that the EU has quietly
contradicted itself — and squashed the
government of the Irish Republic — by
pushing forward with trade negotiations
without settling the Irish question first. So,
on balance, the ‘parking’ of the Irish border
is a good thing, though no doubt Churchill’s
‘dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone’
will soon re-emerge.
n Tuesday, the Institute for Fiscal
Studies unveiled ‘research’ which
shows only a 0.2 per cent GDP gain for
Britain if we abolished all trade tariffs.
On the Today programme, Paul Johnson,
the IFS director, was duly permitted to air
these ‘findings’ as if they were objective
truth. Yet we know — because he himself
has said so [see last week’s Notes] — that
Mr Johnson believes there is ‘no economic
case for Brexit’. It is therefore certain that
no IFS report will make one. If you look
at the pie chart of the IFS’s funding, you
will see that nearly half of its money comes
from the Economic and Social Research
Council, plus 10 per cent from government
departments, 10 per cent from the EU
and 18.4 per cent from ‘international
organisations’. Again, this huge publicsector/governmental bias makes its
research conclusions almost inevitable. For
all I know, the IFS does valuable work; but
whether it does so or not, it trades under
false colours. In items relating to Brexit, it
should always be introduced on air as the
‘pro-Remain think tank’.
ome people I respect are content to
go on the Russian TV channel RT, on
the grounds that ‘they let me say what I
think’. I’m afraid this is a form of vanity.
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
he eternal child abuse inquiry (IICSA)
is currently hearing from the Church
of England. Last week, evidence was given
by Colin Perkins, safeguarding officer
for Chichester diocese in 2015 when it
declared that the late Bishop George
Bell had committed child abuse and
quickly paid money to the complainant,
‘Carol’. Mr Perkins said the Church was
uninsured. The ‘backdrop’ to the decision
to settle with ‘Carol’, he went on, was
that the Church was highly nervous that
‘a potentially large number’ of victims
of Bishop Peter Ball (who actually did
commit sex crimes) might also make claims
for which the Church was uninsured once
the report on Bell had been published. He
seemed to be saying that the core group
set up to investigate the truth of Carol’s
allegation was hurrying to settle before the
Ball report appeared. If it was motivated
by saving the Church money rather than
establishing truth, isn’t that rather an
amazing admission?
n the 1990s, it emerges, undercover
police officers infiltrating animal
liberation/environmentalist extremist
groups were advised to confine themselves
to ‘fleeting and disastrous’ affairs with
their victims, known in police parlance as
‘wearies’: ‘One cannot be involved with
a weary for any period of time without
risking serious consequences.’ Now that
the police are compelled to investigate
breaches of the Hunting Act, I wonder
what advice is given to their undercover
officers. Unlike wearies, hunting people
(hereby known as ‘foxies’) are tremendous
fun and smell of nothing worse than
horses and sloe gin. If the police enter into
relationships with foxies, they will find
them so enduring and thrilling that they
will quite forget the purpose for which
they arrived on the scene in the first place.
Our dangerous dependency on antidepressants
e have become a nation of sad
pill-poppers. The British, once
Churchill’s ‘lion-hearted nation’,
are now among the most depressed people in the developed world. The UK ranks
joint seventh out of 25 countries, with double the rates of Poland, Estonia and the
Slovak Republic. According to the Children’s Society, English children are more
miserable than those in 13 other countries
such as Ethiopia and Algeria — despite the
widespread introduction of ‘wellbeing’ lessons. One in six workers in England experiences ‘symptoms’ of mental illness, and
around 300,000 people leave their jobs
every year because of them. The cost to
the economy is put at up to £99 billion.
And the lower we plummet, the
more antidepressants we take. Doctors,
at a loss for other solutions, dish them
out like candy. Last month a study was
splashed over the front pages suggesting that we should take more. A million
extra NHS patients should be dosed
up with them, said the report’s lead
author, Oxford psychiatrist Professor
Andrea Cipriani. He claims this metaanalysis provides ‘the final answer’ to
the controversy over happy pills.
Can that be right? Is the science
now complete, all questions answered?
Or might Cipriani’s advice, and our
cavalier attitudes to dosing ourselves
with brain chemicals, be seriously misguided? As he says, the answer can be
found in the study — although not in
the way he thinks. Its findings do not
support the hype at all. In fact, the difference between antidepressants and placebos
was so marginal that scientific critics who
have analysed the results (such as Professor Peter Gotzsche of the Nordic Cochrane
Centre) call it clinically negligible.
For a start, the study — hailed by newspaper headlines like ‘The drugs do work’
— looks only at adults ‘with unipolar major
depressive disorder’. Depressed young people are excluded. Many depressed adults
are also excluded, partly because they are
routinely excluded from trials in the first
place. People with a medical condition or
judged to have ‘treatment-resistant depres-
sion’ were debarred. ‘Minor depression’,
which prompts so many to consult GPs, was
deemed not relevant to the review either, so
it would be clinically unsound for doctors to
treat these patients with antidepressants on
the basis of it.
Needless to say, the vast majority of the
trials under analysis (78 per cent) were funded by the drug manufacturers. Of the 522
trials included, only 96 (18 per cent) were
considered at ‘low risk’ of bias. Even the
authors admitted that the certainty of evidence was ‘moderate to very low’. This is not
exactly a ringing endorsement of the clinical
evidence they were examining — where the
cutoff point for analysis was after only eight
weeks of treatment.
What about false positives? The study
says, for example: ‘Depressive symptoms
tend to spontaneously improve over time’
and that this is why placebos appear to work.
What it does not say is that this may also
explain why antidepressants appear to work.
Professor Cipriani disputes some reactions to the study and says its focus was
intentionally narrow to provide a clearcut result. The heart of the problem — one
that won’t appeal to the drugs companies
that have managed to acquire a striking
amount of influence over our understanding of depression — is this: if depression
‘spontaneously improves over time’, why
are doctors so keen to administer quick-fix
chemical solutions? Edition after edition of
the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the
western diagnostic textbook, has expanded
the number of mental illnesses, driven not by
new research but by other considerations. It
is an invitation to over-diagnose. Originally
there were 16 vague disorders. The latest
edition has 374 conditions, doubtless including a ‘depression’ to fit you.
Little wonder that the number of antidepressant items prescribed has more
than doubled in the past decade. The
so-called worried well visit the doc with
a case of everyday blues, and instead of
being told gently that time will heal,
or listened to carefully, they’re dosed
up. GPs have eight to ten minutes per
patient. This may not even be enough
time for the person to get control of
their emotions to speak, let alone
explain their troubling circumstances.
Chances are the GP will fetch out a
questionnaire. The one for depression
is called PHQ-9. The one for anxiety is
called GAD-7. Both were devised by
the pharmaceutical company Pfizer,
which happens to market drugs for
depression and anxiety.
GPs claim not to be overly reliant
on these forms but they are pressed
for time and the patient’s distressing
problems may be complicated. There’s
not enough time to work out if drugs
are the right answer; or, for that matter,
which drugs are best.
For all of the ubiquity of the drugs, there
is still no proof behind the biological theory of depression as a ‘chemical imbalance’
of the brain that can be corrected by drugs.
Combine this with a ‘stress’ ideology medicalising people’s emotions and you end up
with a very serious problem. Distressed
patients who might benefit from wise advice
instead get an unnecessary chemical coshing.
Some of the world’s leading experts
are now demanding a review of the whole
approach to ‘chemical cures’ and biological
explanations for mental illness. The Brit-
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
ish Division of Clinical Psychology, part
of the British Psychological Society, has
called for a paradigm shift away from the
‘disease model’ of mental health. The Council for Evidence-Based Psychiatry is pushing
for radical change. Its eviscerating exposé
The Sedated Society presents detailed evidence of flaws and fraud in the ‘chemical
imbalance’ research; of rigged and corrupted
data, of psychiatry’s huge financial indebtedness to the pharmaceutical giants, and
of unsuspecting patients being dosed with
drugs that they did not need and that have
gravely harmed them.
This, then, is the really dark side of sunshine pills: they may actually induce the
very symptoms they’re taken to alleviate, or
worse. Antidepressants and benzodiazepines
or ‘minor’ tranquillisers may cause both
disturbing side-effects and terrifying withdrawal symptoms. When a patient experiences bad reactions to the drugs, his or her GP,
instead of tailing off the medication, tends
to prescribe additional ‘countering’ drugs.
This happened to my father, who ended up
incurably addicted to two dangerous brain
drugs, rather than just the one that apparently caused him to beat my mother, hold a
breadknife to my throat and smash up everything breakable in our home.
All the drugs work by depressing the
There is still no proof that depression
is a ‘chemical imbalance’ of the
brain that can be corrected by drugs
brain’s central nervous system, and the
brain counters this interference with chemicals of its own before it finally succumbs to
organic damage. Patients may initially think
they are getting better. But while some may
find these pharmaceutical fixes help them
through crises (rightly or wrongly attributing their emotional healing to the pills
rather than themselves), others have seen
their lives disintegrate.
Two years ago, the BMJ published an
analysis of 70 trials involving 18,526 people (the biggest review of its kind) on antidepressants, suicide and violence. Its findings
were alarming. In under-18s the risk of such
adverse events was doubled. The review
states prominently: ‘In the summary trial
reports on Eli Lilly’s website, almost all
deaths were noted, but all suicidal ideation
events [moments when patients form the
idea of killing themselves] were missing.’ A
review of 142 trials of three antipsychotics,
two antidepressants and the ADHD drug
atomoxetine showed that most deaths (62
per cent) and suicides (53 per cent) reported
in summaries did not appear in crucial articles about the trials.
A lot of patients on antidepressants
experience a potentially dangerous sideeffect called akathisia, or violent mental agitation. Symptoms include ‘severe anxiety
When That Which Is Perfect Is Come
He married Doll in Orford. Lea,
her real name, was shed like the mixed tears
and confetti on the waving platform.
They sat back hand-in-hand and wove away
from the ness, crossing the Orwell
to Kent, the terrace house she was born in,
grew up in. There they lived together
seven decades, until death took them
within a tell-tale short time of each other.
Her maiden name, the name
of the most famous Kentish beer hop,
was gone; so too, eventually, were the hops,
the green rows blackening with Verticulum
Wilt, one-by-one, until the kells cooled.
— Robert Selby
and restlessness’, floor-pacing, sleeplessness and violent jerking of extremities. Says
the reforming psychiatrist Professor Peter
Breggin: ‘Akathisia can become the equivalent of biochemical torture and could
possibly tip someone over the edge into selfdestructive or violent behaviour.’
In June 2012, James Holmes walked into
a cinema in Colorado armed with an assault
rifle, handguns and a canister of tear gas
and shot 12 people dead, wounding 70 others. In March 2015, German airline pilot
Andreas Lubitz deliberately flew his plane
into the French Alps, killing all 150 on board.
In May 2016, investment banker Sanjay
Nijhawan killed his wife Sonita in a frenzied axe and knife attack at their Weybridge
home, inflicting 124 wounds.
In June 2016, jobless gardener Thomas
Mair of Birstall, West Yorkshire, a reader
of far-right literature but ‘mild-mannered’
and ‘kind’ according to neighbours, walked
into the Wellbeing Centre in Birstall run by
Rebecca Walker and asked for help. He said
his medication for depression wasn’t working and ‘seemed agitated and treading from
side to side’. He was asked to come back the
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
next day when the centre reopened. Instead
he shot and stabbed to death the MP Jo Cox.
In October last year, Stephen Paddock
opened fire on a Las Vegas music festival
from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay
hotel, killing 59 and injuring 489. In November, Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire with
an assault rifle, killing 26 at a church in
Texas. All of these killers had been taking
prescription medication for depression.
You’d think it might have helped.
I asked the Office for National Statistics about antidepressants involved in suicides registered in England and Wales. It
said: ‘The main issue we have in monitoring
suicides relating to specific drugs is that the
information we require is not always on the
death certificate… I’m sorry that we can’t be
of more help.’ A recent statistic report was
bad enough. It reported 3,346 registered
drug-poisoning deaths (involving both legal
and illegal drugs) in England and Wales in
one year and added: ‘There were 517 deaths
involving antidepressants, the highest number since 1999.’ And all trends are up. Deaths
involving antidepressants between 2012 and
2016 numbered 2,358.
The obvious question is: would these
people have committed suicide anyway, or
did they do so because of the effects of the
drug — or in despair at the failure of the
drug to help them; a sense that there was
no way out? The pharmaceutical manufacturers have always argued the former. Scientific and medical critics argue the latter.
If you are about to swallow antidepressants,
you are the line-judge.
Angela Patmore and Professor Simon
Wessely on antidepressants.
My drug trials
Treating my depression has proved a hit-or-miss affair
ntidepressants saved my life, I am
sure of that. But I am also certain
they made my mental illness much
worse too. It has taken just under two years
from my first very dark thoughts to me feeling sane and — largely — back in control of
my mind. That’s not merely because it takes
time to heal, but because it took at least six
months for the doctors to work out what
pills to give me.
My symptoms of anxiety and depression
started in the spring of 2016, and the first few
drugs I was prescribed didn’t work. In fact,
they really did just make things worse. The
GP listened to me describing my symptoms,
and handed me a course of Citalopram, a
very common antidepressant. Counselling
would be essential too, she said, but the local
NHS was so overstretched that it could take
a year before I’d get any.
I started having private counselling and
waited for the drugs to work. They didn’t. In
fact, I realised that I was becoming more paranoid and agitated. I grew convinced that I
was going to be sacked from work, that my
friends hated me, and that my new partner
was on the brink of leaving me. The constant
feeling of panic was exhausting, and to top
this off, I couldn’t sleep. The doctor doubled
my dose and told me to keep going: sometimes these things took a while to work. By
the early autumn, I was struggling to make it
through a couple of days — let alone a whole
week — of work, and spent most evenings in
a blind panic about my personal life. I still
couldn’t sleep.
The doctor suggested adding another
drug, Mirtazapine, which would calm me
down. This medicine did what it promised,
but it calmed me down so much that not only
did it take me an hour before I could even
crawl to the bathroom in the morning, it also
slowed down my metabolism and I gained a
stone and a half in a month. I had been the
same size and weight since I was 21, but now
I was swelling like a marrow.
And still I wasn’t improving. In fact,
by this point I had become too ill to work,
breaking down totally at the Conservative
party conference and needing emergency
sedation. I went back to the doctor again.
‘I’ve never worried all that much about how
I look,’ I said. ‘But if I keep on taking this
drug I might start. Plus I’m now off work
and I’m frightened that I’m never going to
be able to go back.’
The doctor weaned me off Citalopram
and Mirtazapine, and tried another common
drug, Sertraline. I was referred to a psychiatrist (privately, as the NHS waiting list was
unbearably long), who considered diagnoses
other than the common (and rather vaguely
defined) anxiety and depression. Over the
following months, the symptoms of what
now appeared to be post-traumatic stress
disorder started to improve a little.
But it was only after the doctors tripled
my dose of Sertraline and prescribed yet
another pill to take in the evenings; a sleeping pill with an antidepressant effect called
Trazodone, that I regained my sanity. Those
pills have their side-effects, too, but I was
never forewarned about the weight gain,
There is so little research into
mental illness that much of the
treatment is pure trial and error
night sweats or other unpleasant problems
antidepressants can cause. I just learned
about them when they turned up uninvited.
I’m not even sure the medication would
have worked without my therapy and the
Olympic-style regime I’ve set up to keep
my mind as fit as possible. I ran so much last
year that my foot packed in. Now I cycle
obsessively and go for a daily short walk to
calm my mind. I try to redirect my paranoia
into obsessing about nature, enrolling on a
distance-learning botany course as well as
taking up birdwatching. When I told an MP
about my new obsession with kingfishers, he
told me: ‘Isabel, I never thought I’d say this
to anyone in Westminster. But you really
need to get out less.’
Does it really have to take so long to
recover? My experience is typical: Citalopram and Sertraline are ‘first-line’ drugs that
doctors try out on patients with depressive
symptoms. When those don’t work after a
few months they move on to others. But no
one knows which drugs work best for which
patient. There is so little research that much
treatment is pure trial and error.
But the time, and health, lost during
those months of trial and error comes at a
huge cost to the patient and to wider society. A recent government report on mental health and the workplace estimated that
the economy loses between £74 billion and
£99 billion a year as a result of mental illness,
with employers losing up to £42 billion from
staff ill-health.
Nothing like those sums is spent on
improving the treatment of depression. In
fact, mental health represents only 5.8 per
cent of the total UK health research spend:
£8 per person affected by mental illness.
That figure is 22 times higher for cancer.
No wonder cancer treatment has made
such thrilling advances in recent years. The
prognosis for many cancers is dramatically
better as a result of the vast sums of money
that have rightly been spent researching
treatments for this killer illness. But mental
health needs to catch up. Many of its treatments are from another era and the basic
design of antidepressants, anti-anxiety
medication and antipsychotics has barely
changed since the 1950s. The newest antidepressants are no more effective than the
first modern one, which was called Imipramine. Science has moved on in so many
areas, but not when it comes to mental illness.
The charity MQ is funding work on
how to predict which pills will work best
for which patient. Led by Dr Claire Gillan
at Trinity College Dublin, this will develop
an algorithm to estimate how well someone with certain symptoms will respond to a
particular medicine. It could mean that trial
and error is replaced by something more
akin to cancer treatment, where drugs are
developed to work well for specific groups
of patients. Herceptin, for instance, is only
given to patients who have tested positive
for HER2 cancer. Currently, we don’t know
enough about what lies behind the many
different types of depression to tell which
drugs will help.
I’ve recently started reducing my dose of
Sertraline. I could, if I needed to, live with
the side-effects for life, but I’d rather not.
I do, though, look back over the past two
years and feel a pang of sadness, not so much
for how hard everything has been, but for
how unnecessarily long it took to start the
right treatment, let alone recover.
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Big data is watching you
The Cambridge Analytica row shows politics moving in a disturbing direction
rom the outside it all looked haphazard and frenzied. A campaign that
was skidding from scandal to crisis
on its way to total defeat. That’s not how
it felt inside the ‘Project Alamo’ offices in
San Antonio, Texas where Trump’s digital division — led by Brad Parscale, who’d
worked previously with Trump’s estate
division setting up websites — was running one of the most sophisticated dataled election campaigns ever.
Once Trump’s nomination was
secured, the Republican Party
heavyweights moved in, and so
did seconded staff from Facebook and Google, there to help
their well-paying clients best use
their platforms to reach voters.
Joining them were 13 employees from the UK-based data
analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, who were led by chief
product officer Matt ‘Oz’ Oczkowski, who had enormous
biceps and walked around
the office carrying a golf club.
Brad, and his boss Jared
Kushner, had bet the house on
running a data-led campaign, figuring that was their best chance
against the formidable Clinton
machine. Cambridge were the
data guys brought in to help him
do it. Their main job was to build
what they called ‘universes’ of
voters, grouping people into categories, like American moms
worried about childcare who
hadn’t voted before.
Cambridge had a database
of around 5,000 data points on
200 million Americans and combined it with the Republican Party’s own
voter data to build dozens of these highly focused universes and model how ‘persuadable’ its members were. (For example,
analysts discovered during the race that a
preference for cars made in the US was a
solid indication of a potential Trump voter).
Creative types then designed specialised
ads for these universes, based on the specific things they were thought to care about.
Everything was tested, retested, redesigned.
They sent out thousands of versions of fund14
raising emails or Facebook ads, working out
what performed best. They tried donate
pages with red buttons, green buttons, yellow buttons. They even tested which unflattering picture of Hillary worked best.
It wasn’t just about the online ads, either.
Cambridge Analytica’s universes also
showed where Trump should hold rallies.
A few weeks in, for example, Brad shifted
budgets to the swing states of Michigan and
Wisconsin. Kushner told Trump to start campaigning in Pennsylvania too. Commentators at the time said that was stupid. But it
was all data-led.
Over the last few days, Cambridge Analytica’s use of these techniques has hit a very
big democracy-in-crisis nerve. It feels sinister,
manipulative, deceptive. A former employee, Christopher Wylie, claimed Cambridge
was using millions of Facebook users’ data
without the proper permissions (the company denies this). There followed a Channel
4 documentary which caught Cambridge
Analytica CEO Alexander Nix bragging
about various shady ways in which his company could win elections, including sending
in Ukrainian women as honey traps and a
litany of other potentially illegal activities.
On Tuesday, Cambridge suspended Nix.
Lots of the outrage has revolved around
Cambridge’s possible use of ‘psychographics’. This is a specific technique of profiling people’s personality types
— openness, conscientiousness,
neuroticism and so on — and
using those profiles to inform
messaging. Cambridge denies
using psychographics during the
Trump campaign, but has used
this technique in the past, and
even claimed it could predict the
personality type of every single
adult in the US.
Important and intriguing as
this all is, it’s also a bit of a distraction. It pins the blame on Nix
as a silver-tongued Old Etonian
villain with megalomaniacal tech
gurus. What should be more worrying is that nearly all the digital
methods used by Cambridge are
both perfectly legal and widespread. Facebook is currently
reeling and apologising — it has
already lost several billions in
market value this week following
the Cambridge allegations.
It’s easy to see why the company is worried: its entire business model is based on serving up
exactly this kind of insanely targeted insight and micro-advertising. Bear in mind that Facebook
still boasts how fabulously and
precisely it can target voters: ‘Using Facebook’s targeting tools, the [Conservative]
party was able to reach 80.65 per cent of
Facebook users in the key marginal seats’
reads one ‘Success Story’ on the company’s
‘Business’ page about the Tory 2015 win.
‘The party’s videos were viewed 3.5 million
times, while 86.9 per cent of all ads served
had social context — the all-important
endorsement by a friend.’
Perhaps we’d be less upset by this if Facebook correctly identified itself as primarily
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
an ad firm, rather than a socially spirited
connector of humans. Mark Zuckerberg’s
dream of joining the world also means connecting Cambridge Analytica’s data guys
to Ford-driving American moms worried
about childcare who’d never voted before.
Nearly, if not all, of Cambridge’s data set
was legally acquired: buying up consumer
records, credit-card data, telephone surveys,
and so on. Lots of companies do this. There’s
a whole network of data analytics firms using
sophisticated cookies and tracking software
to follow consumers around the web, or buying commercially available personal data.
Thousands of times a day we are put unwillingly and unknowingly into ‘buckets’ or ‘universes’ by clever data analysts who obsess
over ‘click-through rates’ and ‘conversion’.
Sometimes that’s to sell us a holiday. But
it’s useful for flogging us politicians, too.
The modern election is still mostly about
having the right candidate. But it’s increasingly important to get the right message to
the right people at the right time — tapping
into their deepest emotions and fears to figure out what buttons to push. We used to call
this sort of thing propaganda. Now we call it
‘a behavioural approach to persuasive communication with quantifiable results’ and
give awards to the people who are best at it.
A network of private contractors and
data analysts who offer their wares to political parties are spreading these techniques all
over the world. Dominic Cummings, who as
Vote Leave’s campaign director ran a very
data-led campaign, wrote after the Brexit
vote that ‘if you want to make big improvements in communication, my advice is —
hire physicists, not communications people
from normal companies’.
but effectively, Labour relied on
Q uietly
these sorts of techniques in 2017, applying data modelling to figure out potential
Labour voters, and then A/B testing them
with messages. They used an in-house tool
called ‘Promote’, which combined Facebook
information with Labour voter data, allowing senior activists to send locally based
messages to the right (that is, persuadable)
people. Everyone’s at it to a greater or lesser
degree. In 2008, analysts working for Barack
Obama assigned every voter in the country
a pair of scores that predicted how likely
they were to cast a ballot, and whether they
supported him. In 2012, Google chief Eric
Schmidt even advised the re-election campaign, and no one batted an eyelid. Hillary
Clinton, too, had an extremely sophisticated
system of targeting voters online. I don’t
recall liberals being up in arms about this.
They seemed perfectly comfortable when it
was their candidate on the data rip.
Every election is a mini arms race
between warring tribes, which makes it very
difficult to slow down the technological
advances. Each year the digital tricks get a
little more sinister. They dig a little deeper
had gone to Clinton, as widely projected, she
would be president. In a close race with two
unpopular candidates and a small number
of key marginal districts, Cambridge Analytica’s refined universes and Facebook’s targeting wizardry meant Trump could reach
enough of the right people in the right districts with the right messages at the right
time. So yes, you can argue that Cambridge
Analytica did swing it for Trump.
‘Relax – the Novichok will get
you before the cyber attack.’
into our skulls and we barely notice. Just
imagine what sort of predictive-personality
micro-targeting will be possible with the socalled ‘internet of things’. By 2020 there will
be around 50 billion devices connected to
the net — four times the current figure —
and each one will be hoovering up your data:
cars, fridges, clothes, road signs, books. Your
precious daughter playing with her doll:
data point! Your loved one adding some
sugar to her tea: data point! Within a decade
your fridge will work out what time you
eat, your car will know where you’ve been,
and your home assistant device will work
out your approximate anger levels by your
voice tone. This will be gobbled up by hungry political analysts. By cross-referencing
fridge data against the number of emotional
words in your Facebook posts, Cambridge
Analytica or some other strategic communications team will work out that you get
angrier when you’re hungry and target you
with an emotive message from a law and
order candidate just as you’re feeling peckish. Just received a warm message plus donation page link from Caroline Lucas? That’s
because your smart bin shows you recycled
that morning and a tweet analysis suggests
you’re in a good mood.
But the big question is: does any of this
stuff even work? Or does it just make the
people who pay for it feel as if they can
Data from your fridge and your
Facebook posts will show you get
angrier when you’re hungry
manipulate public opinion? There’s a strong
element of Wizardry of Oz about data and
targeted advertising. Because so few people understand the science, people credit it
with a dark power that isn’t altogether real.
People didn’t vote for Trump simply because
Cambridge Analytica (or Russian bots) told
them to. Far too many otherwise intelligent
people, unable to comprehend Trump’s popularity, are convinced that voters were duped.
The data companies are happy to propagate
this myth because it’s good for business.
Still, in a tight election these sorts of
techniques can and do make a difference.
Consider this: Trump won Pennsylvania by
44,000 votes out of six million cast, Wisconsin by 22,000, and Michigan by 11,000. These
are tiny numbers: less than 1 per cent. If they
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
ut that’s not what’s most worrying. The
shift towards big data elections has profound consequences for the whole of modern politics. If every voter is reduced to a
data point who receives not real messages
from politicians, but machine- generated
adverts finely tuned towards personality
and mood, then elections become little more
than a software war. And the more politics
is a question of smart analysis and nudges
rather than argument, the more power shifts
away from those with good ideas and toward
those with good money or good data skills.
(That could be left- or right-wing of course).
Worse still is the fragmentation. Microtargeting chips away at the idea of a shared
public sphere. Instead of open debate each
person has their own prejudices and pet
projects echoed back at them. Persuasive
adverts have always been used in politics.
Remember the ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ poster? But big data points to a very different
approach: work out who people are, find the
one thing they care about, and zero in on
that. There are benefits to receiving messages that appeal to you, but it is important that
everyone gets the same message — or at least
knows what others are getting — because
that’s how we thrash out the issues of the day.
If everyone receives personalised messages,
there is no public commons — just millions
of private ones. In addition to narrowing the
scope of political debate (research suggests
that candidates are more likely to campaign
on polarising ‘wedge’ issues when the forum
is not public) this diminishes accountability.
How do you hold anyone to account if there
is no clear, single set of promises that everyone can see and understand?
In the long run, the constant A/B testing
and targeting might even encourage a different type of politician. If politics drifts into
a behavioural science of triggers and emotional nudges, it’s reasonable to assume this
would most benefit candidates with the least
consistent principles, the ones who make
the flexible campaign promises. Perhaps
the politicians of the future will be those
with the fewest ideas and greatest talent
for vagueness, because that leaves maximum scope for algorithm-based targeted
messaging. What’s really terrifying about
all this is not how outrageous it is, but how
normal it has already become.
Jamie Bartlett’s new book The People
Versus Tech is out this April.
Issued by Julius Baer International Limited in the UK. Julius Baer International
Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
Our response to the nerve gas attack
has been an act of self harm
here was a growling Russian maniac on the BBC’s Today programme
last week, an MP from the United
Russia party called Vitaly Milonov. Breathing rather heavily, as if he were pleasuring
himself, Mr Milonov likened our country to
Hitler’s Germany for having accused Russia over the attempted murder of Sergei
Skripal and his daughter Yulia. At this point
he was cut off by the presenter — rather a
shame, I thought, at the time. I would have
liked to hear Vitaly expand upon some of
his other beliefs, such as homosexuals being
responsible for the Ebola virus and Jews
being Satanists. He also hates cyclists, so not
all bad, then. If you wanted to conjure up
a post-commie reactionary Russian pantomime villain, Vitaly is what you would end
up with. But he is not a chimera; he is real.
And Putin is real enough too.
It is troubling, then, to find myself on the
side of both of those appalling men when it
comes to the UK government’s response to
the attacks on Mr Skripal and his daughter.
Not just the three of us, mind, but Jeremy
Corbyn too. And RT, formerly Russia Today.
Lovely bedfellows, all of them. The sinister,
the devious and the dullards. History tells us
that Corbyn will always support any country or organisation which hates Britain and
the West. This makes him unfit to lead the
Labour party, in my opinion. But it does not
mean he is always wrong. It is quite possible he might be right on occasion, if only
by accident.
I think he is right now, although probably for the wrong reasons. Our response
to the Salisbury nerve gas attack has been
precipitous, shrill, petulant and an act of
self-harm. Governments are never more
vulnerable to committing acts of stupidity than when they are hellbent on showing
the electorate and the world that they are
determined to do something. Something,
anything, to prove they are tough and taking action. And so we have a fatuous ultimatum delivered to the Russkies, which of
course they had no intention of meeting,
and the subsequent expulsion of 23 diplomats from the Russian embassy, followed by
the expulsion of 23 of our own from Moscow. Are we better off as a consequence?
Do the Russians have a look of chastisement about them? And already our European allies are — rightly — beginning to
row back a little from their original stance
of unequivocal support for the UK and
refusing to attribute the attack directly to
the Kremlin. That’s because they don’t know
it is attributable to the Kremlin, and frankly
nor do we at this stage.
And if that’s the case, which it sur ly is,
why start throwing ineffectual slings and
arrows at the Bear? Why not, you know,
wait a little? Gather a bit more evidence?
We are told Novichok is five to eight
times more lethal than VX – in which
case, how come nobody is dead?
There are still parts of Salisbury cordoned
off. The investigators still do not know how
the toxic substance was delivered. Was it
on the car door handles, or on the present
brought by Yulia? We are told, via Porton
Down, that it was definitely Novichok, an
organophosphorus nerve agent developed
in the 1970s by the Soviet Union. How do
they know this? It’s a mystery, because by
their own admission they have never seen
Novichok before, so it would surely be
impossible to tie it directly to the Russian
state. But then there are plenty of instructions online regarding how to make it, and
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
Iran has reportedly brewed up a batch of its
own, so the early and confident assertions
that it must de facto have emanated from
the Russian state are clearly mistaken.
We are told this demonic substance is
five to eight times more lethal than VX —
in which case, how come nobody is dead?
The merest pinhead of VX would kill a
human within too short a time for treatment
to be effective. Reasonably enough, the
UK refused to hand over a sample of this
stuff to the Russians. But why has it taken
so long to have the specimen independently
verified? If we wish to have international
backing for whatever action we are planning to take against Putin’s mafioso state,
would it not have been sensible to move
more quickly? And it is also worth noting
that while Novichok was indeed developed
by the USSR a long time ago, its manufacture was supposedly centred in Uzbekistan,
not Russia.
I do not necessarily smell a conspiracy
here. It is simply that the urgency with which
our government wished to point the finger
of blame was a case of jumping the gun, to
our own eventual detriment. And perhaps,
allied to that, a certain penchant for cherrypicking the available expert evidence in
order to support an at least questionable
thesis which already existed in the mind of
the government and, I daresay, the military.
We have been there before, of course, with
those ‘dodgy dossiers’ which led us into an
illegal and catastrophic war in Iraq.
To advance these arguments, though, is to
be immediately outed as an apologist for Putin
— a sure sign that the capacity for rational
consideration has deserted us. I carry no torch
for Vlad. He is a brutal, narcissistic authoritarian and I do not like the fact that half of
London is owned by his repulsive oligarchic
thugs. And it seems to me marginally more
likely than not that either Putin or rogue elements of his preening yet incompetent regime
may indeed have been guilty of the attempted
murder of Mr Skripal, much as they were for
the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. I
would just rather we were a little more sure, a
little cannier, and rather less hysterical.
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but only details inform.
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Witness to an extinction
Spin doctors
The BBC has denied it photoshopped
a Newsnight backdrop to make Jeremy
Corbyn’s hat look more Russian. The art of
doctoring photos is, appropriately enough,
often credited to the Bolsheviks. One photo
of Lenin in 1920 had Trotsky and Kamenev
edited out after they fell from favour.
— Yet manipulating photos for political
purposes really began 50 years earlier.
One photo, an attempt to flatter Abraham
Lincoln, had his head fixed on the body of
a more shapely politician, John Colhoun.
— A photo of Ulysses S. Grant inspecting
his troops on horseback has been exposed
as being made of three different images.
Course work
Graduate salary data for degree courses is
to be released. Which places are the best and
worst at getting you a job? The percentage
of 2008-09 graduates in further study or
sustained work or both, five years on:
University of Chester
University of Hull
Royal Veterinary College
Edge Hill University
University of Keele
lowest (all london-based)
School of Oriental and African Studies 61.3
Trinity Laban Conservatoire
of Music and Drama
Royal College of Music
Guildhall School of Music and Drama 54.4
Conservatoire for Dance and Drama 52.8
Source: Department for Education
High flyers
The Zoological Society of London warned
that uncleaned bird feeders spread deadly
avian diseases. Which bird populations have
changed most since 1970?
losers % change
winners % change
Turtle dove -98 Greylag goose +3,647
Willow tit
-93 Gadwall
Grey partridge -92 Collared dove
Corn bunting -90 Black-tailed godwit+739
Tree sparrow -90 Avocet
Source: Defra
My visit to the deathbed of the last male northern white rhino
Laikipia, Kenya
efore vets put him down in Kenya
this week, I attended the deathbed of
Sudan, the world’s last male northern
white rhinoceros, to observe up close what
extinction looks like. Like a king he lay on
his side, all 2,800 kilos of him. For millennia, his species had been one of the largest
of land mammals. At the grand old age of
45, his back legs had given out, then he had
developed a nasty lesion. Finally his vast
grey bulk became covered with what looked
like bedsores.
I expected Sudan’s hide to be rough and
petrified. I thought of Kipling’s rhinoceros,
bad-tempered on account of the crumbs
hidden inside his skin by the Parsee on the
Altogether Uninhabited Island in the Red
Sea. To my surprise, Sudan was soft to pat
and stroke. Born in the wild, he had been
captured as a baby. After a life with humans
in zoos, he was as friendly as a pony. With a
swish of his piggy tail, he laid his hairy long
ears flat against the huge spatula skull and
blew out of his square lips with stentorian
sighs. He seemed fed up. Sometimes tears
ran down his dusty face.
Surrounding Sudan in the enclosure
stood his weeping Kenyan retainers, Esokon,
Jojo, Zachary and James. Here on Ol Pejeta Conservancy in the shadow of Mount
Kenya, these men had stayed with him night
and day since he arrived from a Czech zoo
in 2009. That was when last-ditch human
attempts had been ramped up to breed
him with the only two surviving northern
white rhino females, his daughter Najin, and
granddaughter Fatu. Suni, Sudan’s son, was
Old money
University lecturers continued a pensions
dispute — but how much do pensioners
get? Median weekly income in 2015-16 was
£357 for the newly retired, £342 for under75s, £258 for over-75s. Proportion with the
following forms of income in 2015/16:
State pension ......................................... 97%
Investment income ..............................63%
Occupational pension..........................62%
Income-related benefits ......................25%
Personal pensions ................................ 18%
Part-time earnings ............................... 17%
‘As you can see, Gerald here is deeply religious.’
also around for a while — but then he died.
The rhinos had not bred well in zoos and
scientists believed they would do better in
the wild. The 90,000-acre Ol Pejeta, in Laikipia, is among Africa’s best-known private
conservation areas in which to protect them
against poachers. It had to be Kenya because
in the species’ true home — Congo, South
Sudan and Uganda — gunmen had exterminated all northern whites to stock China’s
apothecaries with their aphrodisiacs.
The great auk, the dodo, the quagga, the
passenger pigeon and the Tasmanian tiger —
in childhood we learn about the extinctions
of these creatures as legends of human folly.
Extinctions occur all the time, usually of little creatures such as tree frogs — some going
the way of the Norwegian blue parrot even
Sudan laid his hairy long ears
flat against his huge spatula skull
and blew out of his square lips
before science has a chance to name them.
Yet we face a wave of megafauna extinctions. The West African sub-species of black
rhino was declared gone only in 2011, while
two Asian species of rhino, the Javan and
Sumatran, have dwindled into the dozens.
For Sudan’s northern whites —
cousins of the commoner southern white
— it is too late, barring a Jurassic Park-style
miracle. Scientists have devised a plan to
save the species by selecting healthy rhino
sperm — from both Sudan and his son Suni
— currently being stored in dry ice, and
using it to perform the in vitro fertilisation
of an egg known as ‘intracytoplasmic sperm
injection’. The people on Ol Pejeta told me
that unlike cows or humans, rhinos have
peculiar corkscrew-shaped cervixes and this
makes obtaining eggs that much more difficult — on top of which, the two females,
Fatou and Najin, are infertile and must
be chemically stimulated. Even if they do
obtain eggs, nobody so far has successfully
produced a fertilised item that might grow
into a viable foetus.
At least the boffins were willing to try.
To pursue these complicated procedures
would cost around £7 million. To me this
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
‘We want it to make up its own mind.’
died they harvested his testicles. Even now,
his frozen sperm and the females’ eggs yet
to be extracted might still save the day —
and how uplifting that would be for all of
us. If we do not even try to invest properly
in saving this extraordinary species, we will
never know if it can be done. In that case all
of us will have failed: the famous conservationists so fond of attending black-tie gala
dinners to accept prizes for services to African wildlife; the Africans who allowed the
despoliation of their own environments —
and the international agencies that hold conferences producing thin air.
If the world wishes to protect endangered species like rhinoceroses, of course, it
is not just about rescuing individual animals
such as Sudan and more about ensuring
the conservation of the great landscapes in
which such magnificent creatures can thrive
without threat. To do that, we must invest
more money and ideas in wildlife conservation. There is no reason why Laikipia, with
its rhinos, elephants and lions, cannot be
as popular as Yosemite and the Lake District, generating similar revenues for locals.
Instead this year the UK government, represented in Kenya by a Vogon-like High Commissioner, has shut down millions of pounds
worth of vital support for Laikipia’s wildlifefriendly conservancies and ranches.
At Sudan’s end, I saw the real heroes as
his keepers, who were inconsolable. After I
left the enclosure, I was told he miraculously got up, wandered about and took a long,
cool mud bath. He munched on his favourite
foods, hay and carrots, and at Ol Pejeta people’s spirits were briefly lifted. On the weekend he fell over, and by Monday the vets
from the Wildlife Service said it was time to
rescue him from further suffering.
Heavy rain began to fall. They put a blanket over him. His keepers stood around him.
Soon it was all over. Outside the enclosure,
Fatou and Najin lay in the mud dozing, the
last two of their kind in the world.
Readers who want to support Ol Pejeta
can donate at
Wednesday 18 April 2018 | 7p.m.
Emmanuel Centre, Westminster
sounds cheap when it comes to rescuing the
second- or third-largest land mammal on the
planet. It is a drop in the ocean compared
with what British dog owners spend on their
pooches — £10.6 billion a year — which
includes toys, treats, shampooing, dog massages and ‘pawlates’ (canine pilates).
Big conservation organisations, the people you’d think could support this endeavour,
simply refused to donate the money needed
to save northern whites. They said funds were
limited and instead of saving Sudan’s kind,
their argument was to fall back into retreat
and see if they could rescue the remaining
African black rhino (less than 5,500) together with southern whites (21,000).
For Sudan’s supporters, focused on
events at Ol Pejeta, the situation became
desperate. Last year an advertising firm
unveiled a campaign promoting the ingenious idea that Sudan was joining Tinder
in his bid to breed. It announced, ‘The
Most Eligible Bachelor in the World…
Swipe right to help him find a match’. That
directed browsers to a fundraising website,
which received so much traffic it crashed.
Instead of the hoped for £7 million, the
stunt raised a measly £60,000, which British
dog owners would spend in a few hours buying birthday cakes for their pets.
Ol Pejeta, with assistance from overseas zoos, has not given up. When Sudan
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the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
The Russian wives club
They live in Knightsbridge, dislike McMafia,
and won’t discuss their husbands
he Russian Orthodox Cathedral in
Knightsbridge is nestled in a maze of
mews streets and embassy rows somewhere between Harrods and Hyde Park. It’s
as much an expat social club as it is a place
of worship, and on Sunday mornings it’s
packed to the rafters. In what can sometimes
look like one big game of Grandmother’s
Footsteps, the congregation of headscarved
women and men in leather jackets quietly make a dash to circulate every time the
priests turn their back, while old women
maunder about kissing icons and hushing
Tatyana Ivanova was conspicuously
aloof from all this. I first saw her one Sunday morning in a ray of stained sunlight, her
face angelically upturned. She didn’t mingle like the rest; she stood stock-still facing
the altar, careful to cross herself and mutter
all the Amens at the appropriate moments;
and at the end of the service, when all the
prayers were said and done, she climbed into
the back of a blacked-out Bentley and was
swept away by her chauffeur.
For all her apparent reserve, Tatyana
turned out to be an open and friendly woman.
Both outsiders at the cathedral, we became
friends. After a few weeks, we arranged to
meet for coffee in a café by South Kensington tube station, where I found her wrapped
in furs drinking red wine and accompanied by a man named Kirill, whose exact
purpose there I never did quite discover. ‘Thomas,’ she whispered as I sat down,
all smiles and handshakes, ‘you mustn’t be
so ostentatious.’
Come this spring, Tatyana will have
been in London for 20 years. She lives in
Knightsbridge, vacations in the Maldives,
and has a daughter who studies medicine
in the States. Naturally, she is the wife of a
very wealthy man. She insists that we speak
in English, and likes to pepper her diction
with idioms such as ‘Forgive me, I am away
at the fairies today.’
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Tatyana. She
may look the very image of a Russian wife
in London that people now conjure thanks
to programmes like McMafia and Meet the
Russians, and a handful of high-profile billionaires like Evgeny Lebedev and Roman
Abramovich. But she’s quite different.
Like many of the super-wealthy from
Russia, Tatyana and her husband settled in
the UK when they sent their daughter to an
English public school. Education is the reason why rich Russians choose Britain over
the US as their new nesting place. In London
recently, the exiled billionaire and anti-Putin
pin-up Mikhail Khodorkovsky said that
Britain’s sole surviving claim to any substantial influence over Russia was derived from
the fact that so many of its elite’s progeny
were educated in British schools.
Though the children of the land-grab
fortunes of the 1990s have assimilated
with ease, their parents find it harder
Though the sons and daughters of the
land-grab fortunes of the 1990s assimilate
with ease, their parents find it much more of
a struggle. Tatyana is a case in point. ‘London is such a judging place, don’t you think?’
she said in a low voice. ‘People in London
like to say that it is the Parisians who are
unkind, but really they are talking about
themselves.’ I asked if she has many friends
here. ‘A few,’ she sighed, ‘but really not a lot.’
At some point Kirill sloped off to sit
at another table, and Tatyana was noticeably relieved by this. ‘He is just someone
my husband likes to have around,’ she said
with a conspiratorial smile. She talked at
length about her daughter, of whom she is
immensely proud, but then, sensing perhaps
that she had gone on a bit, changed tack and
asked me questions about myself. For someone so seemingly sociable, I wondered aloud
why it was that I had seen her so detached
from the other Russians at the cathedral.
She replies sadly: ‘We are all Russians and
all grew up in the same situation. I was from
a poor family just like them. But I was lucky
and they won’t forgive me for that.’
The following weekend, Tatyana introduced me to two of her friends, Alyona and
Maria, whom she knows from the hotel
they all stay at in the Maldives. They are
both younger than Tatyana, and brought
with them on our walk around Hyde Park
their two young sons, who in typical Russian
fashion, had been wrapped up so tightly in
their coats and scarves that they could hardly move. Looking after their children (with
the aid of several nannies) is what takes
up most of their time, and Alyona said she
is dreading the day when her son goes off
to boarding school, because she will have
nothing to do.
I asked if they spend much time with
their husbands, and they clammed up. ‘My
husband is away a lot,’ said Maria after
a long pause. The murder investigation into
the death of Russian businessman Nikolai
Glushkov had been announced only days
before and it was clearly preying on their
minds. They declined to answer whether
or not they knew Glushkov, or indeed any
others from the back catalogue of Russians
who have died suspiciously over the years.
‘Under the circumstances, I think it would be
best not to discuss this matter,’ said Maria.
We found a bench and sat in the winter
sunshine, watching the boys throwing rye
bread for the ducks. I pointed out that one
of the characters in McMafia, the feckless
billionaire-in-chief Dmitri Godman, is often
seen feeding the park’s ducks too. ‘I did not
like that show,’ Maria responded flatly. ‘The
wife does nothing except buy clothes and cry.’
I asked what it is that they do, which
must have sounded more accusatory than
I’d meant it to, because Alyona angrily shot
back at me in Russian: ‘This is what they
think — that our lives simply revolve around
money. Understand, we came here because
we wanted a better life for our family and
for our children to have a better upbringing
than we did.’
After that, things were pretty frosty,
and soon Alyona made her excuses and
left. With his friend now gone, Maria’s son
came over from the Serpentine and sat
between us. She spoke to him in Russian but
the boy responded in English. I asked him
if the ducks were hungry today and he told
me that they ‘gobbled up’ all of the bread,
a phrase which Maria didn’t understand. The
boy was suddenly delighted that he knew
a word his mother did not. ‘Yes,’ she said,
‘because you are an English boy and I am
a Russian.’
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
The vlogging fantasy
y friend’s ten-year-old daughter
has a new hobby. Like many of her
school pals, she hopes to become a
video blogger — a ‘vlogger’. She has started
to record clips of herself for others to watch,
share and ‘like’. She showed me a few, then
gave me a list of famous vloggers to watch:
JoJo Siwa, iJustine, Noodlerella, Zoella.
Their names sounded so bizarre. But they
are totally familiar to tweenage girls.
Like an earnest marketing executive,
my friend’s daughter then explained to me
that it was all a matter of numbers. If her
videos are viewed 40,000 times on YouTube, she can have adverts placed on them;
100,000, and companies would start sending
her products to promote. One million and
she’d be a bona fide YouTube star. Her most
recent video, about a doll she had been given
for Christmas, had 11 views. There was still
a way to go.
This seemed a peculiar phenomenon but
my friend’s daughter is not alone. In fact,
her dream is perfectly normal for her generation: one in three children between the
ages of 11 and 16 have uploaded a video to
YouTube. In a survey last year, 75 per cent
of the children asked said they wanted to be
YouTube stars. The research also revealed
that many of the children would rather learn
video-editing than history or maths.
Who can blame them? Vlogging can
now be a well-paid career. Unlike the more
traditional dream jobs — pop star, doctor,
footballer, astronaut — it doesn’t take much
effort. All it requires is a smartphone and
gallons of youthful self-confidence.
There are plenty of people with that.
The 27-year-old British vlogger Zoella
and her boyfriend Alfie Deyes have both
made millions from their respective channels. Ryan, the six-year-old American host
of the YouTube channel RyanToysReview,
made £8.5 million last year from reviewing
toys and sweets. At the pocket-money end
of the scale is Erin Rose, an eight-year-old
British girl who reviews stationery on YouTube, and made £200 last year. JoJo Siwa, a
hyperactive 14-year-old from Nebraska, has
made more of a fortune flogging her colourful ‘JoJo bows’. They are more than ‘just a
hair accessory’, she explains to her millions
of viewers. They are ‘a symbol of power,
confidence, believing-ness.’ They have also
caused havoc in playgrounds, and a number
of British schools have banned them.
Flogging overpriced tat to children is
hardly a new phenomenon but the internet has made the process much easier. Now,
kids sell stuff directly to other kids, from
bedroom to bedroom. The videos have a
curious mixture of entrepreneurial spirit,
youthful narcissism, and materialism. Most
are relentlessly positive and hopeful. The
colours are bright and the music is catchy.
Fans chat in the comments section. It is as
much a social activity as a commercial one.
Popular genres on YouTube are the ‘haul
video’ — where a vlogger reviews recently
Six-year-old Ryan made
£8.5 million last year
reviewing toys and sweets
received items — and the ‘unboxing video’,
in which products are opened and then discussed. The message, same as it ever was, is:
‘I’ve got this, and you haven’t.’ And then
comes, ‘here’s where to buy it’. What the
vloggers seem to have worked out is that,
more than anything, the internet is just a
giant sales opportunity.
Not every girl can be Zoella, so the real
winners, as usual, are the tech companies,
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
Non-League goals
From ‘The sanctity of international
contracts’, 23 March 1918: It is not, we
ask our readers to believe, because we
are indifferent to peace or insensible
to the absolutely appalling horrors of
modern war, that we regard with mistrust
the complicated machinery for a League
of Nations which is being commonly
discussed now… Why not try something
simpler, something more demonstrably
likely to lead to the result which we all
desire? … It would be infinitely more
simple if only one essential point were
agreed upon — namely, that treaties
between nations, so long as they exist,
must be respected.
who are constantly tweaking their systems
to extract the maximum revenue from their
audiences while sucking up consumer data.
The tech companies know parents and children are entering uncharted territory. They
are keen to show they want to help protect
children from the darker recesses of the
internet. ‘YouTube Kids’ is an app which
is meant to filter out inappropriate videos,
but that is easier said than done. Algorithms
haven’t yet developed the moral sense to
know what is good for children. Earlier this
month, the app started including David Icke
conspiracy theory videos about lizards controlling the world among the cutesy dinosaur videos beloved by its young audience.
This week there were new headlines when
a video showing how to make a crude air
rifle appeared.
Last year, Amazon launched its Parent
Dashboard, to help ‘parents connect with
their kids in the world outside the tablet’. It
creates a digital profile of your child based
on the sites they have visited, as well as ‘discussion cards’ for topics you might want to
talk to them about, based on their search
history. Young minds, big data. But while
these protections might help shelter vulnerable children from older, paedophilic predators, there’s little they can do to protect them
from bratty children — and their pushy parents — who are determined to trample their
way to the top of the YouTube chart.
My friend said she was concerned about
her daughter’s vlogging but that it was difficult to intervene, given that most of her yeargroup at school were obsessed with it. One
pupil has staked out her position as the ‘arts
and crafts’ girl; another is doing ‘the tech
stuff’. The girls all hope they might earn millions, travel the world and become famous.
In reality, the most they’ll end up with is
an embarrassing collection of videos they’ll
want to delete later in life. But I suspect
these vloggers offer us a glimpse of the near
future. A cynical, cut-throat world in which
many traditional jobs and skills are replaced
by robots — and real people, young and old,
are instead forced to compete with each
other to sell, sell, sell. If so, these young
vloggers are probably well prepared for
what’s coming. My friend’s daughter was
right: it’s a numbers game.
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I wish I had kept my Brummie
accent. I’d be taken more seriously
o one wants to send their son to
Eton any more,’ I learned from
last week’s Spectator Schools
supplement. It explained how parents
who’d been privately educated themselves
were increasingly reluctant to extend the
privilege to their offspring; some because
they can’t bear for their darling babies to
board, others because the fees are way out
of their reach, or because class prejudice is
so entrenched these days it means their kids
probably won’t get into Oxbridge.
Then again, if you don’t send your kids
to public school, you’ll be denying them
never-to-be-repeated opportunities like
the ones that boys at Radley have had this
week: the chance to see not one, but two of
your favourite Spectator writers — me and
Brendan O’Neill, both invited as part of the
school’s admirable Provocateur in Residence programme — slugging it out in class
after class on vexed political issues from
Donald Trump to safe spaces, #MeToo to
student snowflakes, Antifa to Islamism.
We’ve just emerged, knackered, from a
gruelling session on Brexit. Brendan and I
are both fervent Leavers. But to a boy, the
class was ardently Remain and — I gathered
from a mole — had been briefed by their
teacher to give us as hard a time as possible.
No one was exactly rude but they did glower
at us throughout like we’d just throttled
their favourite guinea pig, and they didn’t
appear swayed by any of our arguments.
I couldn’t resist goading them. ‘You know
what happened in the French Revolution?
I’m not saying it will be tumbril time again,
necessarily. Just that it might be in your
interests to find out more about why the
lower orders voted the way they did, rather than just assuming they were an ignorant
mob gulled by a slogan on the side of a bus.’
One thing I’ve noticed about public
schoolboys, even at ‘Rah Rah’ Radley, is that
they’re generally much less right-wing than
you’d hope. Partly it’s the rebel cool thing.
Partly it’s that even at the smartest schools a
lot of the staff swing left. But mainly I think
it’s that teenage state of wanting to be dif-
ferent but not too different. It requires huge
balls, massive intellectual security and bravura precocity for a teenager to articulate
genuinely right-wing positions, because the
current of the culture is so against them.
That’s where Brendan and I came in.
Even though Brendan calls himself a Marxist and I think of myself as classical liberal/
conservatarian, one of our major problems
was finding stuff to disagree about. He even
approves of fox-hunting (Engels, I suppose). Our only major differences were over
Trump and the monarchy. And our disagreement about the latter is only going to last so
I sent my offspring to public school to
raise a finger to the grisly new world
where mediocrity is the new posh
long as Queenie is still with us. After that,
I’m joining him as a republican.
But to sing for our supper we had to pretend we were chalk and cheese. That was
the premise on which Stephen Rathbone,
the school’s inspirational Academic Director, had invited us. (He’s desperate to get
more lefty speakers like Brendan, but most
won’t do private schools out of inverse snobbery.) So even though our schtick is raw, outspoken honesty, we had to work up some
ersatz tension beforehand. In my case, this
involved publicly reminding Brendan that
au fond, he is a bearded, uncouth, ignorant,
bogtrotting peasant who never even went
to university. But really this was just jealousy speaking. One of the things I’ve always
envied Brendan — and Rod Liddle, who
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
uses much the same trick — is the way he
frequently gets away with saying far more
right-wing things than I’d ever dare merely
by dint of pretending to be of the left.
If I could have my time again, one of
the few things I’d change — apart from the
bit where I make my first ten million in my
mid-thirties and retire to become a master of foxhounds, only this time with one of
those coats that inflates when you fall off so
you don’t nearly die and get banned by your
family — is that I’d ditch the posher accent
I confected for university, and instead exaggerate the Brummie one I had when I went
to the village school in Alvechurch.
‘Awroit,’ I’d say to Andrew Neil as he
greeted me on Daily Politics. Then I’d say
exactly the same things I do now. But people
would listen more because I would have
marked myself as an authentic Midlands
horny-handed son of toil.
Or maybe not. When I think of the reasons why I sent my own offspring to public
school, one was definitely contra mundum.
I wanted to raise a middle finger to this
grisly new world where mediocrity is the
new posh, where upwardly mobile parents
actually boast about what a so-so education
they’re inflicting on their kids because the
main thing is that they’re being exposed to
such an amazingly broad social mix.
If my children are hated because
they went to schools where they learned
manners, how to engage with high-achieving
adults, how to be charming, how to handle
being with kids much richer than them, how
to manage their time and crazy workload
while packing in all the compulsory sport
in between, how to network, how to deal
with being away from home, how to get on
with people you both like and loathe from
whom there’s no escape for weeks on end,
how to deal with privilege (perhaps, I’ve
been telling the Radleians this week, by recognising that you have a duty to give something back and punch above your weight
when it comes to defending western civilisation), then I won’t consider that a failure. It’s
a badge of honour.
The big fat truth
Octavian’s poison legacy
I’d rather be fat-shamed than have cancer
Barely a day passes
without yet another Russian explanation
for the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
What’s new? Such disinformation has
a very ancient history.
After Caesar’s assassination in
44 bc, his old friend Mark Antony and
the 18-year-old Octavian, Caesar’s
adopted son and heir, emerged as the
two contenders for power. In 32 bc, it
had become clear that it war between
them was inevitable. At this critical
juncture, two allies of Antony deserted to
Octavian, and revealed that Antony had
a will, which had been lodged with the
Vestal Virgins. It was illegal to open the
will of a living man, and the Virgins told
Octavian that they would not touch it. So
Octavian simply seized it, looked over
it — alone and unsupervised — marked
some incriminating passages and read it
out to the senate.
It was dynamite: he could have written
it himself, though no ancient source said
it was forged. Its provisions included:
recognising that Caesarion, Cleopatra’s
son, was truly the son of Caesar (thus
cocking a snook at the merely adopted
Octavian); vast legacies to Antony’s
children by Cleopatra; and Antony to be
buried in Alexandria beside Cleopatra.
It was also rumoured that if Antony won,
he would locate his seat of power not
in Rome but in Alexandria; Cleopatra
had Roman soldiers to guard her; she
had ambitions to rule Rome; and her
favourite oath was ‘May I dispense
justice on the Capitol [in Rome]!’ And
much more in similar vein.
Later historians of Rome — Plutarch,
Suetonius and Dio — picked over this
juicy bonanza, selecting according
to their take on the matter. Plutarch,
for example, was keen to emphasise
an Antony enslaved by passion for
Cleopatra. And that was, of course, the
point: Octavian knew that the more
accusations he could pump out, the
greater the chance of people swallowing
some of them.
Which is precisely Russia’s purpose.
An innocent Vladimir Putin would have
expressed outrage and promised help
to find the culprits. But his aim was to
humiliate: we will murder whomever we
want, whenever we want, on your soil,
and you can do nothing about it. And we
will ridicule you too, with hysterically
witty comments about causing the ‘Beast
from the East’.
— Peter Jones
ofie Hagen is a young Danish comic
I admire. I didn’t see her most recent
show, Dead Baby Frog, but I saw her
win the best newcomer award at Edinburgh
in 2015 and I was happy for her. I liked her
sweet face and her fury. The audience treated
her as a benign oddity. Because Sofie is fat.
I say this with no judgment, for I am fat
myself, but I am not as upset about it as she
is. I make no attempt to spin my fat into a
matter for universal sympathy and something to be admired. It is, as the adult self
says, what it is. Even so, I used to write about
being fat so often that other columnists told
me to stop it, for fear I was monetising selfhatred. To which I say — what else are you
supposed to do with it?
I used to think that my relationship with
my fat was complex and confused with sexual and other anxieties (truthfully I wondered
if I should blame men or, more specifically, Nazis) but now I am middle-aged I realise that I am simply greedy and lazy and I
would rather eat too much than approve of
my reflection. I made that choice and I must
live with it. Apparently Gwyneth Paltrow
used to eat nuts naked in front of a mirror
to ensure she didn’t eat too many nuts, but I
think that is, well, nuts.
I would conclude that my fat is a matter
worthy of a brief burst of private shame, but
nothing serious. But is it? Cancer Research
UK has a new campaign. It is a series of
posters that ask: what is the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking? The
answer is obesity but Cancer UK tactfully
block out some of the letters so the answer is
OB_S__Y. I would not have been so tactful.
It is a public health announcement designed
to save lives in a country where the majority are heading for ob_s__y, and children —
children — are the worst affected. It follows
‘I enjoy living hand to mouth.’
other successful campaigns against smoking
(sm__i_g) and flies. Or rather f__es.
Hmm, said I when I saw the warning.
I must at some point try to remember to lose
a vast amount of weight so I will not become
immobile in my fifties and die shortly afterwards of a disgusting disease due to my
laziness and greed. Thanks for reminding
me, donors to Cancer Research UK! Perhaps I should eat naked in front of a mirror
even if I think it is crazy? But won’t it put
me off my food?
That was not Sofie’s response. Rather,
she tweeted this: ‘Right, is anyone currently
working on getting this piece of shit Cancer
Research UK advert removed from everywhere? Is there something I can sign? How
the fucking fuck is this okay?’
Now I am middle-aged I realise
that I am simply greedy and lazy and
I would rather eat too much
Comics have been moving into opinion
journalism for some time, and this is what
they have come up with. Let’s no-platform
science if it wounds us. Whatever happened
to proper jokes?
Two things then happened. The first was
that Sofie got an appalling amount of online
abuse in the way in which women who write
online do, and this is woeful. The second
was that her comrades in the Body Positive
movement (they began seeking a healthy
weight, but now any weight that’s yours
seems fine) joined in and tried to derail Cancer Research UK’s campaign. One woman
wrote a column suggesting that fat people
die young because the medical profession
hates them. And that, for me, is when pity
turns to fury and I say: your denial gets to
kill you. It shouldn’t kill — or defame —
anyone else.
I am fat, as I said, and an alcoholic — this
is called Broken Top Trumps and I can play
it all night — and so I can say with some certainty: no one can shame a woman as effectively as she can shame herself. I think the
campaign hurt Sofie not because it isn’t true,
but because it is. And no one should have
to avoid truth to save themselves from that
shame, because it’s selfish. You can’t be fatshamed by your cancer cells, but you can be
killed by them. It’s obvious what’s worse.
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
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Enough is enough. Please take action today and donate £25 to help save the
Critically Endangered eastern black rhino, before it suffers the same fate.
The world is witnessing the extinction
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Reform National Insurance
Sir: One objection to an increase in
National Insurance contributions to rescue
the NHS is that it would once again exempt
from contributing those who most heavily
use the NHS — the retired — and heap yet
more of the burden on the working young
who least use it and can least afford it
(‘The Tory tax bombshell’, 17 March).
As you acknowledge, National
Insurance contributions long ago ceased
to be purely contributions into a pension
and sickness benefit scheme, and became
part of general taxation. This means
that entirely exempting retirees from
contributing when many of them are on
incomes larger than the working young is
quite impossible to justify.
If the Tories are to increase National
Insurance contributions again, it is essential
that it be combined with a phased reform
of its structure, so that the element in it
which funds anything other than the state
pension is levied on all people of all ages
based purely on income.
The only possible objection to this
is that retirees are predominantly Tory
voters. But this is a double-edged sword: a
Labour attack on that front will arguably
do far more damage to the Tory vote
among the working population than it will
among the retired.
David Cockerham
Bearsted, Kent
a comprehensive school which satisfies
their requirements. However, if they’d
prefer a truly rounded education, then
(regrettably, I might add) a public school
is the only option.
James Smith
Bureaucrat maths
Sir: Leslie Buchanan (Letters, 17 March)
compares the 1:25 ratio of bureaucrats to
populace in Sunderland unfavourably with
the 1:20,000 ratio of the EU. However, since
the EU has 28 governments also employing
bureaucrats to provide the services which
Sunderland provides for its inhabitants,
this is as misleading a comparison as I have
ever seen. As to whether the inhabitants of
Sunderland were well-informed when they
voted, perhaps they were aware that 2016
was the first year since 1995 when the Court
of Auditors did not feel obliged to state that
the EU accounts were not free of significant
errors — and before 1995 the Court was not
required to check this possibility, so 2016
may have been the first year ever.
John Duffield
Loughton, Essex
A rounded education
Sir: In her piece in Spectator Schools,
Eleanor Doughty overlooks a key benefit
of private schools which, alas, can no longer
be found in many parts of the state sector:
the opportunity to gain many skills which
cannot be obtained from the ‘academic’
part of the curriculum (‘Why pay for the
privilege?’, 17 March).
It is true that many state schools are
equal to, and in some cases outperform,
their private counterparts by measure of
academic results. Yet to judge education
purely on this basis is to ignore a core
part of schooling which is of paramount
importance — the ‘other half’ of the
curriculum. Public schools provide a
plethora of clubs, societies and teams
which state schools simply cannot
compete with. Pursuing other interests in
a competitive environment is a key facet
of forming one’s character, inculcating
pupils with skills such as resilience,
leadership and adaptability which are
seldom fostered in the classroom.
If parents are solely concerned with
securing the best results for their children,
then I am sure they will be able to find
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
In full colour
Sir: While I know of and understand Charles
Moore’s antipathy towards the BBC, I
cannot let his cynical opinion of the ‘actual’
reason for Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation
pass without remark (The Spectator’s
Notes, 17 March). It had nothing to do with
selling television sets. Colour was a terrific
addition to the medium. Suddenly it was
possible to do some justice to the beauties
of European civilisation. My father, Huw
Wheldon, thought that television as a
medium could bring forth ‘the equivalent
of a really important publication by a
man who could approach a big subject
with authority’. That is because he took
the medium seriously. Civilisation was the
first such series. The Americans followed
suit with Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. We take
these kinds of series for granted now;
some are good and some not so good,
as in any other medium. The invention
had the effect, too, of catapulting BBC
television into the American public
consciousness, and ushered in great dollops
of American money for co-productions,
including for David Attenborough’s own
incomparable contributions.
Wynn Wheldon
London NW6
How to protect children
Sir: As someone who spent most of my
working life in the field of child protection,
may I congratulate you on the leading
article concerning sexual exploitation of
young white girls, which correctly identified
the factors which can inhibit an appropriate
response from police, social work teams
and other agencies (‘A dangerous silence’,
24 March). It may be worth pointing
out that here in the north-east, no such
inhibitions prevented a robust response
to a pattern of abuse similar to those
identified in Rochdale, Rotherham and,
apparently, Telford. ‘Operation Sanctuary’,
as it was called, enabled a multidisciplinary
team to encourage victims to come forward
and to pursue the perpetrators, resulting
recently in a number of convictions in
Newcastle. All it takes is proper leadership.
Ian Gates
Cleadon, Sunderland
Must try harder
Sir: Steve Bannon is ‘a practising Catholic’
who has ‘been married and divorced three
times’ (‘Populism, fascism — who cares?’,
17 March). At 64, Mr Bannon needs to
start practising a lot harder.
Andrew Anderson
We were never going to take
back control of our fishing waters
y decision to vote Remain was driven in part by an exercise in which
I tried to identify anyone close to
me in Yorkshire — family, neighbour, business owner, farmer — who was worse off as
a result of UK membership of the EU. The
only people uncontestably in that category,
I concluded, were the east-coast fishermen
whose livelihoods have been eroded by 45
years of punitive quotas and unfair competition. So I felt for them on Monday, when
their interests were traded away yet again
as part of the Brexit ‘transition’.
Instead of being released from the Common Fisheries Policy in March 2019, as
Environment Secretary Michael Gove proclaimed barely a week ago, our diminished
fleet is stuck with the status quo until the
end of 2020. Worse, the reversal represented
by Monday’s ‘breakthrough’ deal was a
blunt reminder that prospects for a happier
fishing future look as poor as they ever did.
The problem in a cockleshell is that we
simply don’t eat what we catch, or catch
what we eat. A high proportion of fish and
seafood from British boats is exported to the
EU, while much of the cod and haddock we
like to eat is imported from Nordic countries. So we seriously need tariff-free trade,
for which the negotiating price demanded
will be — guess what — continuing quota
and access agreements that look very like
the present regime. If that was always going
to be so, what campaign slogan was emptier
than ‘taking back control of our waters’?
Skiing for a better NHS
To Méribel in the Alps for the Coeur Blanc,
a biennial charity event that bears no resemblance to the Presidents Club dinner — and
for which I edit a souvenir magazine. While I
lunched long at the Bistrot de l’Orée (‘More
restaurant tips please,’ chorused readers I
met during the weekend), fitter skiers completed a challenge that raised more than
£250,000 for a medical cause called ‘MyC’.
The arduousness of their trek — 70km
downhill in falling snow and blank visibil30
ity — offered a metaphor for the obstacles facing a project that could bring new
efficiency to the NHS by revolutionising
heart-attack diagnosis.
In brief, Professor Mike Marber of St
Thomas’ Hospital and King’s College London aims to perfect a hand-held device that
will immediately indicate whether an A&E
patient with chest pain has actually had
a heart attack or can be given a ‘rule-out’ diagnosis and sent home. It would do so by testing for Myosin-Binding Protein C (‘MyC’),
a ‘biomarker’ present in damaged heart
muscle which Marber believes could give
more accurate results on the ‘rule-out’ side
than currently favoured tests for another
protein, troponin. The Coeur Blanc’s money
(including match-funding from King’s College) will help perfect the prototype.
The big win for the NHS, if the device
works, will be the release of millions of
hours of A&E resources as a result of swifter ‘rule-out’ decisions. So why — I asked
— isn’t the NHS funding MyC to the hilt?
The answer is that its budgets can’t possibly
meet all the competing research calls, and
the most viable path beyond ‘proof of concept’ is via venture capital to commercialisation by a giant diagnostics company such as
Siemens of Germany, Roche of Switzerland
or Abbott of the US. Marber, boosted by our
charitable effort, now has a stronger chance
of finding that path.
I wonder how many other brilliant pieces
of laboratory work are out there waiting to
transform the NHS, if only they could see
the piste ahead.
Disruptors, please
If MyC was a company it could be a candidate for The Spectator’s Economic Disruptor of the Year awards, launched last week
with the private bank Julius Baer.
You can find the entry form on The
Spectator’s website, but if you admire an
entrepreneurial business that has benefited
consumers through radical innovation and is
capable of achieving national or international
scale, don’t hesitate to send me the name
Retiring titans
Even the most enduring, adrenaline-pumped
business titans must eventually settle for
a comfy chair in the conservatory. Rupert
Murdoch, 87 a fortnight ago, has shrunk his
media empire by selling most of 21st Century
Fox to Disney, leaving his elder son Lachlan
as unchallenged heir to the remaining
newspaper and Fox News interests. Now Li
Ka-Shing, Hong Kong’s veteran dealmaker,
who will be 90 in July, is handing the reins of
his $100 billion Cheung Kong conglomerate
to his elder son Victor.
K.S. Li was a migrant from mainland
China who started out manufacturing plastic flowers, made a fortune in Hong Kong
real estate in the last phase of British rule,
established powerful connections with
Beijing and went on to build a portfolio of
utility, retail and telecoms businesses around
the world. His UK assets range from Felixstowe port to the Superdrug chain. Last of
a generation of Hong Kong oligarchs now
being eclipsed by high-rolling mainlanders,
he’s still a hero to the Wanchai taxi driver.
Hence this week’s South China Morning
Post: ‘Superman hangs up his cape.’
Neither Murdoch nor Li would ever have
been called ardent Anglophiles, but for both
the UK was a natural place to do business.
For their elder sons, however — educated
respectively at Princeton and Stanford —
the US is the obvious destination for future
investment, so for better or worse we’ll see
less of both dynasties over here.
As for Victor Li, by the way, he’s a
lucky heir in more ways than one. In 1996
he was kidnapped by a gangster called ‘Big
Spender’ Cheung, who presented himself at
Li senior’s doorstep and demanded HK$2
billion (£180 million) in ransom. Li calmly
paid over the HK$1 billion of cash he had
handy and offered to go to the bank for
more. But Cheung released Victor — and
later rang Li to ask for investment advice.
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
Ian Cheng’s ‘Emissary
Sunsets The Self’ (2017)
live simulation, infinite
Sam Leith — p42
Alex Burghart tells the sad
story of how for some
soldiers the VC was easier
to win than to wear
Zenga Longmore wonders
why there are no pubs
called after Lord North
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
John McEwen warns that if
you keep a pet raven, look
out for your car keys
Michael Hann meets the
Moody Blues, who only
became good after they
realised they were ‘crap’
Michael Tanner grieves for
ENO’s new Traviata
James Walton wallows in
The Durrells
Deborah Ross finds
Unsane Unsensitive,
Unhumane and Uncredible
The man who disappeared
Frances Wilson goes in search of Joseph Gray, whose experiments
in camouflage changed the landscape of the second world war
Joseph Gray’s Camouflage:
A Memoir of Art, Love and
by Mary Horlock
Unbound, £20, pp. 340
On a night in Paris in 1914, Gertrude Stein
was walking with Picasso when the first
camouflaged trucks passed by. ‘We had
heard of camouflage,’ Stein recalled, ‘but
we had not seen it, and Picasso, amazed,
looked at it and then cried out, yes it is we
who made it, that is Cubism.’
The art of blending into the background
was indeed discovered by painters, but the
roots of camouflage, Mary Horlock argues,
lay in Impressionism. French camouflage
manuals cited Corot rather than Picasso: ‘It is by variations of light and shadow,
often very delicate, that one recognises
how an object is solid and detached from
its background.’
For Solomon J. Solomon, the Royal
Academician who built observation posts
disguised as trees in the first world war, camouflage was a form of realism. In a letter to
the Times in 1915, he argued that only an
artist skilled at modelling could understand
the workings of camouflage, and similarly
only a writer skilled at looking can understand why a man might also make himself
Horlock is a novelist and former curator
at Tate Britain, and her moving and unusual book weaves together the story of camouflage with the story of the search for her
great grandfather, Joseph Gray, one of the
band of camoufleurs who studied the techniques of Solomon and thus changed the
landscape of the second world war. ‘How
do I get close to a man who was so good
at hiding,’ Horlock asks; ‘a man who had
made camouflage the fabric of his life?’
Born in South Shields in 1890, Gray
wasn’t always invisible. While Solomon
was experimenting with camouflage in his
garden at St Albans by dyeing butter mus32
lin and hanging it on tennis nets, Gray was
in the trenches with the 4th Black Watch
Regiment, where he fought in the battles
of Neuve Chapelle, Festubert and Loos. An
expert observer — he studied painting at
the South Shields school of art — he also
made sketches of enemy positions. When
he was wounded by sniper fire in 1916, he
became war artist for the illustrated weekly, the Graphic, where his trench sketches
were turned into published illustrations.
Gray’s art for the Graphic, says Horlock,
‘had an immediacy and a naivety which
spoke of direct experience’.
In 1918 he was commissioned by the
newly created Imperial War Museum to
paint large oil canvases based on his direct
experience. The first of these, ‘A Ration
Party of the 4th Black Watch at the Battle
of Neuve Chapelle, 1915’, showed the wild
dash for cover of the soldiers who left the
The perfect material for creating an
impression of landscape was steel
scouring wool, painted green
trenches to deliver rations to the company.
In the interests of accuracy, Gray used the
men themselves as models (he used photographs of those who were killed), and
the result is an image of ‘ragged spectres’,
as Horlick puts it, ‘half sunk in mud, half
lost in shadow’. Gray presented the battalion ‘in a kind of limbo’, caught ‘between
light and dark, between life and death’.
‘A Ration Party’ is an unnerving painting,
not least because Gray’s painstaking devotion to realism created an effect of supernatural unreality. Since he was also there,
Gray included himself in the canvas — but
only just. Joseph Gray, as Horlock notes,
is ‘the most obscure figure in the corner,
a face hooded and hidden in the shadows,
almost invisible’. He was already concealing himself.
The same uncanny realism was evident in
Gray’s second commissioned canvas, ‘After
Neuve Chapelle’. In a representation of
post-battle dreariness, he included the face
and figure of every man who fought that
day. Joseph Gray was the thing itself: a nutsand-bolts artist in the age of modernism, and
‘After Neuve Chapelle’ was greeted with
acclaim. It was then swiftly forgotten.
Five months after returning from No
Man’s Land, Gray had married a stenographer called Agnes Dye and they settled
in Dundee, where their daughter Maureen
— Horlock’s grandmother — was born.
Throughout the 1920s he worked on etchings and dry points which sold sufficiently
to keep the family afloat. But in 1931 they
moved to London where, renting the Tite
Street rooms formerly occupied by John
Singer Sargent, Gray failed to establish
himself as a portrait painter and instead
wrote a treatise on Camouflage and Air
Realising that the author had a genius
for visual deception (‘there are no actual lines in nature,’ Gray explained, ‘only
tones’), the War Office appointed him as
a camouflage officer. The manuscript of
Camouflage and Air Defence, which to
Gray’s disappointment was never published, can be found today in a sealed box
in the Imperial War Museum.
It is from another document squirreled away in the Imperial War Museum,
the ‘ABC of Camouflage’, that Horlock
realised the ingenious structure her book
should take. Written by a Major D.A.J.
Pavitt as an instructional tool to make
troops ‘camouflage minded’, the ‘ABC
of Camouflage’ is a jaunty verse which
begins, ‘A stands for Aeroplane: his is the
eye/ That Camouflage tries to defeat; this
is why’. Using as chapter headings each of
Major Pavitt’s 26 lines, Horlick tells Gray’s
story as an ABC.
The next challenge Gray set himself was
to discover a material that was light, portable and porous enough for construction-
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
Ragged spectres, half sunk in mud, half lost in shadow: Joseph Gray’s unnerving ‘A Ration Party’
al camouflage purposes. His notebooks of
this time (also stored in the Imperial War
Museum) are filled with questions such
as ‘How to get away from representation.
How?’ and ‘One conveys the idea of the
true by means of the false’, a line he lifted from Degas. It was the Impressionists
who came to his rescue. Degas and Corot
‘responded to natural light’, says Horlock,
and built up texture by ‘daubing and dashing their paint. It was easy to recognise features in an Impressionist landscape and yet
it looked almost abstract close up’.
The perfect material for creating an
impression of a landscape, Gray realised,
was steel wool, otherwise used for scouring
pots. When the tough fibres were knitted
together, painted green and laid out like
a carpet, they ‘bristled and buckled like
something alive’. Close up, the wiry cover
appeared abstract, but from a distance it
looked just like grass. Steel wool could also
be made to look like hills, hedgerows and
hayricks, and masses and masses of it could
even make a castle invisible. The first use
of steel wool as camouflage was in Cobham
in 1941. ‘The quarry vanished,’ reported
a witness, ‘and in its place appeared undulating grass slopes with bushes and saplings
here and there.’ Even at the closest range
it was impossible to see where wire ended
and nature began.
So Joseph Gray turned from a first
world war artist who represented reality
to a second world war artist who disguised
reality. And at the same time that he was
experimenting with artificial landscapes,
he began to vanish from the surfaces of his
own domestic world.
Mary Meade, whom he met in 1938, was
15 years younger than Gray. ‘I can’t camouflage what I feel,’ he wrote to her in one of
the many love letters reproduced in these
pages, ‘and I won’t try to’. Mary worked
for a magazine called the Needlewoman,
where Gray secured a job for his daughter. Maureen had no idea that her father
and Miss Meade were lovers, although she
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
was aware that her parents’ marriage had
broken down. During the next five years,
Gray disappeared from the life of his wife
and child and immersed himself in the
more bohemian world of Mary and the
Meade family.
Gray had a good war. Better than good:
he had a fantastic war. ‘I say,’ he wrote to
Mary, ‘what a war! Fantastic — what marvellous subjects for drawing.’ ‘The barrage over London made a fantastic sight’,
he said of the Blitz. Typically, he liked the
blackouts best, when ‘I lead a fantastic life’.
It was when the lights came back on that
life became difficult. He married Mary
Meade in 1943, and saw no more of Agnes
or Maureen. When he died in 1963, his
grandchildren assumed he had been dead
for years. The fame he deserved as a war
artist, a writer and a camoufleur eluded
him. ‘Art?’ he later said, ‘What has art ever
done for us as a family?’ Thanks to this
subtle and intelligent book, Gray should
now be more visible.
A host of feuding poets
James Bradley
The Book of Chocolate Saints
by Jeet Thayil
Faber, £17.99, pp. 479
The Indian poet Jeet Thayil’s first novel,
Narcopolis, charted a two-decade-long
descent into the underworlds of Mumbai and addiction. One part de Quincey,
one part Burroughs, it was distinguished
not just by the sustained beauty and brilliance of its prose but by what must surely
rank as a strong contender for the funniest scene in a Theosophy Hall ever written.
It was also highly autobiographical and,
perhaps just as importantly, deliberately subversive, rejecting the questions of
national identity and family that preoccupy
most Indian novels that find favour in
the West.
Something similar might be said about
Thayil’s new novel, The Book of Chocolate Saints. At once a metafictional history
of Mumbai’s literary scene, a furious satire of Western attitudes to Indian writing
and an exploration of the complexity of the
diasporic experience, it is also a rich and
densely realised work of the imagination that
simultaneously draws closely on Thayil’s
own experience.
At the novel’s centre is the poet and
painter Francis Newton Xavier. Born in Goa,
and displaced first to Mumbai and then to
New York, he is modelled in part on Dom
Moraes (to whom the book is dedicated).
Xavier is famous for his appetite for alcohol and women, tastes that have, as the years
have passed, begun to catch up with him.
Around Xavier move numerous other characters, perhaps most significantly his lover
and carer, the photographer Goody Lol, his
manager, Amrik Singh, an American-born
Sikh and former bonds trader, and the rather more enigmatic figure of Dismas Bambai,
a writer and poet, all based, to a greater or
lesser degree, on real-life figures.
Presumably this appropriation of real
people lends the novel a layer of meaning that is largely lost on non-Indian readers, a fact Thayil anticipates and bends back
on itself. ‘Why has no one written about the
Bombay poets of the 1970s and 1980s’, wonders one character early on, a question that
finds at least part of an answer in a subsequent story about Allen Ginsberg’s celebration of Urdu poetry he could not understand
over the poetry of Indian poets writing in
English. As the person relating the story
declares: ‘Inside the scruffy, lazy, bullshit
bohemianism [the Beat poets] were blatant
This interplay between fact and fiction is
given added energy by the novel’s polyphonic structure, which interleaves interviews
with those who knew Xavier with extended
reimaginings of his life and the lives of Dismas, Amrik and Goody. These in turn form
part of a book within the book, a biography
of Xavier by Dismas, a character whose biography strongly resembles Thayil’s own.
With its cast of dissolute, feuding poets
and metafictional gameplay, The Book of
Chocolate Saints inevitably recalls Roberto
Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives. Yet there
is nothing secondary or derivative about
Thayil’s novel. On the contrary, it is dense,
dazzling and ferociously intelligent. As in
Narcopolis, the author’s command of language is frequently virtuosic in both its range
and versatility, able to vault from character to
character and shift seamlessly from carefully observed realism to the high-octane rush
of words and images that dominate its latter
Inside the scruffy, lazy
bohemianism, the Beat poets
were blatant orientalists
half. And while it is not perfect — it sags in
the final third, and its critique of the misogyny of Indian society and the myths of male
genius is blunted by its focus on the male
characters — it is nonetheless a remarkable
achievement, bursting with energy, ideas and
an appetite for risk-taking that is too rare in
contemporary fiction.
Where the membrane’s come away
from the rafters: nicks of light,
and whatever else gets under the tiles.
Astray from their nest in the eaves,
wasps wheel and crawl, a mower
gives up, a shudder of wind brings
children making the sounds of children.
The scratch of claws overhead,
wings whir away. Baked heat.
A done sum of beams and joists.
The block of the water tank
presses steadily on.
Cases with rusted catches, boxfuls
of albums of who and where’s that,
and you now and then poking through,
trying to get your head around it.
— Philip Hancock
Vive la libération!
Andrew Lycett
Left Bank: Art, Passion and the
Rebirth of Paris, 1940–1950
by Agnès Poirier
Bloomsbury, £25,pp. 377
We all have our favourite period of Parisian history, be it the Revolution, the
Belle Époque or the swinging 1960s
(the cool French version, with JeanPaul Belmondo and Françoise Hardy).
Agnès Poirier, the author of this kaleidoscopic cultural history, certainly has hers: the
turbulent 1940s, which saw the French capital endure the hardships of Nazi occupation
before throwing off this yoke and embracing
freedom in every aspect — sexual, political
and intellectual.
Leading the way was that maligned couple, Jean-Paul Sartre, the philosopher, political activist and father of existentialism, and
Simone de Beauvoir, the brilliant pioneer
feminist, who was his life partner, if often
errant lover. Poirier lists an impressive cast
of over 30 figures who contributed to the
Left Bank’s predominance in this entertaining and well-written story.
Most of them are French (including
Sartre’s sparring partner Albert Camus).
But there are also 13 Americans, such as
the novelist Nelson Algren, who became
Beauvoir’s grand amour, and the artist
Ellsworth Kelly; plus a solitary Briton, the
flighty Sonia Brownell, who had promoted
resistant writing in Horizon magazine during the war and bedded Sartre’s lieutenant,
the phenomenologist Maurice MerleauPonty. A symbolic baton-passing occurred
in 1946 when Horizon published a French
issue which denounced the ‘lassitude, brain
fatigue, apathy and humdrummery of English writers’ and artists, and hailed the new
‘intellectual vitality and confidence’ which
‘blazed’ across the Channel.
Poirier does not miss a trick in her lively accounts of the intense discussions and
adulterous liaisons that centred on the Café
de Flore or the nearby nightclub Le Tabou;
but her real achievement is to contextualise
these politically and culturally. When Hemingway, the first of the returning Americans, rolled into Paris in August 1944, the
city had been through four years of humiliating German rule, when, along with feats of
bravery, it had witnessed harrowing cases of
collaboration and compromise. One example of this was when Gaston Gallimard,
the head of France’s leading publishing
house, appointed the fascist Pierre Drieu
la Rochelle to run his influential magazine
the Nouvelle revue francaise, knowing that
this would enable its former editor Jean
Paulham to work in an adjoining office and
develop a cell of resistant writers.
But then, after a necessary purge advo-
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
cated by Camus, came the ideological reckoning. As Sartre won Gallimard’s backing for
a new journal Les temps modernes (named
after the Charlie Chaplin film), a fierce battle developed between communists, who
enjoyed the high moral ground for being
the most effective resisters, and Gaullists,
who had conducted their war from London.
Which was better? Faced by the emerging
Cold War, Sartre and his associates sought a
middle way, emphasising concepts of choice
and gratuitous acts of freedom in their new
creed of existentialism, which the communists branded ‘a sordid and frivolous philosophy for sick people’.
Sartre even started a middle-of-the-road
party, the RDR, whose desired third way in
politics matched the advocacy of the third
sex by polyamorists such as Dominique
Aury, who later (as Pauline Réage) wrote
the sado-masochistic novel Story of O, and
Janet Flanner, the gimlet-eyed American
journalist, who adopted the nom de plume
Genet, after the homosexual writer. But
a strong element of war guilt still bedevilled
the collective consciousness; Sartre could not
maintain his even-handedness and drifted
towards communism, which seemed to command the tide of history.
One of Poirier’s anecdotes concerns
Arthur Koestler’s return to Paris in October
1946. His anti-communist novel Darkness at
Noon had been enjoying phenomenal success in the fevered political atmosphere of
the time. One evening he and his English
girlfriend, Mamaine Paget, went out with
Sartre, Beauvoir and the real Jean Genet.
After Mamaine departed, Koestler took
Beauvoir back to her hotel, La Louisiane,
and made typically violent love.
A week later he and Mamaine met Sartre
and Beauvoir again in an Arab bistro, taking Camus and his long-suffering wife Francine for company. On this occasion Camus,
a serial philanderer, seduced Mamaine. As
the party became increasingly drunk, Sartre
refused to be deterred by the dim recollection that he was giving a keynote speech to
a Unesco conference the following morning.
He managed this after two hours’ sleep and
a liberal infusion of Orthédrine, one of several amphetamine-type substances that this
generation used (with alcohol) to fuel work
and play.
Shortly afterwards, Koestler found himself the butt of angry denunciations of his
anti-communism, which appeared in Les
temps modernes under the title ‘Le Yogi et le
prolétaire’ (after his latest book The Yogi and
the Commissar). To bolster his leftist credentials, Sartre sanctioned these attacks — the
kind of weaselly initiative which earned him
the contempt of Tony Judt, whose 1992 study
Past Imperfect covers this ground more rigorously than Poirier. The magazine’s editor
Merleau-Ponty had a personal grudge
because he had fallen for Bronwell, who
told him that Koestler was a ‘sadist’ who had
Juliette Gréco
and Miles Davis
at the Salle Pleyel,
Paris, c. 1949
forced her to abort their child after a
brief affair.
More integral to the story were the Americans who came looking for stimulus. Poirier
covers this influx well, from black writers
such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin,
who found Paris a refuge from segregation,
through to jazz musicians, including Miles
Davis, who fell for the hedonistic Juliette
Gréco, to more hypocritical authors like Saul
Bellow, who parked his family on the bourgeois Right Bank before stealing across the
river for illicit romance. The ranks of these
Right Bankers were augmented from 1947
by officials and hangers-on from the Marshall Plan, which Poirier presents as a ‘good
thing’, along with nascent pan-Europeanism.
Apart from occasional repetitions, such
as twice referring to Flanner’s reputation
for beautiful lovers, Poirier’s only failing is
that her story is so star-struck. Perhaps this
is inevitable in a book about the Left Bank.
But the average Parisian inhabitant hardly gets a look in, and this is wrong when
Poirier explores early French feminism without much emphasis on women’s position in
wider society.
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
Ghosts of No. 10
Zenga Longmore
Gimson’s Prime Ministers:
Brief Lives from Walpole to May
by Andrew Gimson
Penguin, £10.99, pp. 300
If you associate Lord Salisbury more with
a pub than with politics, here is Andrew
Gimson to the rescue, with succinct portraits of every prime minister to have graced
— or disgraced — No. 10 to date. You will
find no trace of waspish mockery in his
book. In a time when heroes are constantly
being debunked, its kindly, intelligent tone
appears refreshingly old-fashioned.
The flamboyant Robert Walpole
makes for an ideal scene-setter. In 1721
he invented the office of prime minister
and held it for longer than any of his successors — a full 21 years. Plump, affable
and crude, with an astute business sense,
he managed to amass a fortune by ingratiating himself with the first two Hanoverians and getting out of the South Sea
Distant neighbours
Caroline Moore
Why are there no pubs
called after Lord North?
Portrait of the prime
minister by Batoni
The Friendly Ones
by Philip Hensher
Fourth Estate, £14.99, pp. 579
Readers should skim past the blurb of The
Friendly Ones. The novel is about prejudice,
of many different kinds; but this description might prejudice one’s reading:
The Friendly Ones is about two families.
In it, people with very different histories can
fit together, and redeem each other… by the
decision to know something about people
who are not like us.
Bubble in the nick of time. Rogue though
he was, his shameless love of luxury, hunting and women — his mistress Molly was
25 years his junior — makes him infinitely
more likeable than our priggish presentday leaders.
Even Lord North appears soft and cuddly. He may have lost the American colonies through bungling mismanagement, but
he was so witty that all is forgiven. When
asked to identify ‘that plain looking lady’,
he replied amiably that she was his wife.
His embarrassed companion tried to recover by saying: ‘No, no. I meant the dreadful
monster sitting next to her.’ ‘That, sir, is
my daughter,’ North replied. ‘We are considered to be three of the ugliest people in
London.’ He died in 1792, fearing his reputation would be wrecked by the loss of
America. Fortunately for his ghost, history
is not taught well in schools these days, so
he has no reputation whatever. As far as
I know, he doesn’t even have a pub named
after him.
Gimson, a political journalist and former parliamentary sketchwriter for the
Daily Telegraph, has a deep understanding
of his subjects and his pithy prose enlivens
even the dullest PMs. Well, perhaps Lord
Goderich induced a fleeting yawn, but he
only takes up three pages before the Duke
of Wellington makes his dramatic entrance.
The Iron Duke may have been a great
military leader, but he was a terrible prime
minister. Yes, he defeated Napoleon; but
his hatred of the French was matched by
his revulsion at the prospect of an exten36
sion of the franchise. He was perpetually
fighting duels in which neither he nor his
opponent hit their target.
And what does Gimson make of the
Iron Lady — who inspired more admiration and loathing than any other prime
‘We are considered three of the ugliest
people in London,’ said Lord North
of himself, his wife and his daughter
minister? Margaret Thatcher privatised
almost everything, sold off council houses,
diminished the trade unions and went to
war over the Falklands. Ever chivalrous,
Gimson sees her unpopularity stemming
not only from being a woman but from her
patriotism, which was somehow too obvious,
her voice, which sounded highly artificial,
her clothes, which to bohemian eyes seemed
to consist of a series of dreary blue suits, and
her whole air of suburban gentility.
For the novelist Ian McEwan, however,
‘it was never enough to dislike her. We liked
disliking her’.
The qualities which unite our prime
ministers, according to Gimson, are courage, luck and a hunger for power. British
governments may not be much good, he
reasons, but at least we can get rid of them.
This spirited blend of politics and anecdote is wonderfully complemented by
Martin Rowson’s Georgian-style caricatures. Tony Blair’s tombstone teeth embedded in Iraq are unforgettable.
That might suggest a saccharine narrative
arc. A Bangladeshi academic and his family move in next door to a retired doctor
in Sheffield, and prejudices are overcome,
with various members of both families
‘making their different ways towards lives
that make sense’ — a trite, Hollywoodstyle epiphany.
There is certainly something of this
movement in the novel. Philip Hensher
does not rule out the importance of human
kindness, human gratitude and their ‘solid,
banal, universal worth’. But what the novel
explores is how difficult it is for friendliness to find expression in a world where
universality is profoundly compromised —
woven of multiple misunderstandings and
multi-layered mutual impatience and ignorance, spun out of the divisions and imbalances of power between not only different
races and cultures, but also different classes, genders and generations.
In this complex and compromised
world, the ‘horror and shame’ of social
gatherings loom large — whether it is
Nazia, the Bangladeshi mother, trying to
negotiate the mores of an English children’s party; or Leo, the Sheffield doctor’s
son, trying to find his feet in an Oxford
which seems to him dominated by braying toffs; or Josh, a sensitive boy forced to
‘play’ with a tormenting tribe of more privileged cousins.
In the middle chapters — easily the
most brilliant and gripping part of the
book — these merely social terrors are
dwarfed by the back-story of the professor
from Bangladesh, Mohammed Sharifullah, and his wife Nazia. They lived through
the brutal military Operation Searchlight, in which Bengali intellectuals, writers, poets and academics were massacred
by the Pakistani authorities in 1971 (the
mass rape of Bengali women, designated
as ‘spoils of war’, is ignored by Hensher).
Collaborators with the Pakistani regime in
these evil days called themselves, like the
Eumenides, ‘the Friendly Ones’.
Sharif and Nazia are lucky. Sharif comes
from a family of gentle, liberal but fierce-
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
ly, joyously argumentative intellectuals.
He had done his doctorate at Sheffield
University; and in 1976 the faculty ‘welcomed him back with a morose, abrupt
greeting that was how Yorkshire engineers
expressed joy’.
The middle-class hardships faced in
Sheffield by Sharif and his family, moving
up the property ladder and learning that
‘some neighbours would be friendly and
some would not’ are vividly and subtly
evoked; but are rightly set in context when
their daughter Aisha, who has garnered a
first from Oxford and an MPhil from Cambridge, visits a house full of illegal immigrants in an unfamilar area of Sheffield.
The book opens in 1990 with Sharif and
Nazia hosting a house-warming garden
party: their next door neighbour, Dr Hilary
Spinster, is up a ladder, ostensibly pruning
his conifers, ‘a marginal and somehow disturbing presence’. Nobody knows whether,
or how, to include him in conversation; but
when one of Sharif’s twin sons chokes on
a fruit stone, Spinster leaps over the fence
and performs an emergency tracheotomy.
The image is disturbing — a white man
with a knife at the throat of a brown boy
— and recurs, a trifle heavy-handedly,
throughout the novel as an image of racism. But the original episode is more interestingly ambiguous. It rapidly becomes
clear that the family life of this ‘white saviour’ is in many ways inferior to that of the
Sharifullahs. His four children are scattered; his wife is in hospital with cancer,
and he is cruelly preparing to divorce her
as she lies dying. Spinster is, says a (white)
friend of his wife, ‘very supercilious and
angry’. ‘Short men,’ she adds dismissively,
‘... very difficult in my view.’
All the Spinster family are tiny; all are
plagued by a sense of their own inadequacies. The eldest son, Leo, drops out of Oxford:
he is socially inept in a way that borders on
moral and emotional dysfunction.
This is a novel spanning many decades,
with a large cast of characters. Not all the
strands are equally convincing. The more
socially privileged classes verge on caricature. Leo’s even more diminutive sister,
Blossom, is stunted as a character. She is
not interested in university, only in social
advancement (Hensher himself is undoubtedly a snob, albeit an intellectual one).
A more sympathetic reading might have
explored the hurt and damage caused by
an awareness of intellectual inadequacy in such a family. Dislike of Blossom
warps Hensher’s usually subtle ear for dialogue: ‘You really are the bally limit’ was
rarely heard in 2016, even among the upper
middle classes.
The novel’s portrayal of the changes wrought by time, however, is superb.
Blossom apart, Hensher’s characters are
properly unfinished, with faces which can
‘change over 15 years in more than physi-
cal incidentals’. Toddlers grow to young
adults; and even the nicest of them become
routinely dismissive of their elders, beating a ‘tactful retreat’ from argument: ‘If
you say so’; ‘I expect you’re right’; ‘that’s
an interesting point…’
It is Hensher’s superbly subtle awareness of the difficulties in the way of true
engagement and true relationships that
makes the late-flowering, gloriously
argumentative friendship in this novel infinitely touching.
A heavy cross to bear
Alex Burghart
Glory and Dishonour: Victoria Cross
Heroes Whose Lives Ended in
Tragedy or Disgrace
by Brian Izzard
Amberley, £20, pp. 287
‘The Victoria Cross,’ gushed a mid19th-century contributor to the Art Journal,
‘is thoroughly English in every particular.
Given alike to the highest and the lowest in
rank, but given always with a cautious and
discriminating hand... the Victoria Cross is an
epic poem’. Like all epic poems, the VC has
its tragedies. For some that tragedy lay on
the field of battle; for others, as Brian Izzard
details in his often depressing new book, it
lay in the life that followed.
The original Royal Warrant by which Victoria instituted her eponymous medal stipulated that it was to be given only for service
‘in the presence of the enemy’ for some ‘signal act of valour, or devotion to country’.
Recipients were to receive a pension of £10
a year (worth £985 in today’s money, rather
less than the tax-free £10,000 now offered)
and were eligible to win it more than once
(only three have won it twice, none more
than twice). Most importantly, it was to be
awarded without reference to rank, length
of service, or wounds — and everyone, from
civilians to buglers, drivers and Brigadier
Generals, have since won this most distinguished gong.
Victoria’s Warrant also ordained that
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‘if any person on whom such distinction
shall be conferred, be convicted of treason,
cowardice, felony or of any infamous crime
… his name shall forthwith be erased from
the registry’. This has been done only eight
times, and not since 1908. In 1920, George V
took the view that even if a VC were hanged
for murder he should be allowed to wear
his medal ‘on the scaffold’, and the position
appears to have stuck.
One wonders whether the King’s views
were cemented by the experience of George
Ravenhill, to whom he had given the VC
in 1901. Private Ravenhill had helped save
guns and officers during the disastrous
action at Colenso in the Boer war and had
later won a Distinguished Conduct Medal
at Frederikstad. By 1906, however, he and
his wife and children were in the Erdington workhouse, and two years later he
was convicted of stealing. He claimed that
the Government owed him a pension of
£50, and that, had he received it, he would
not have needed to resort to theft. He was
sentenced to a month in jail and had his VC
struck down — the last to be so treated. He
re-enlisted to fight and survive the Great
War, ending his days penniless once again,
and in an unmarked grave.
Izzard tells 27 such stories — many of
which explain why (in his excellent phrase)
some have found it ‘easier to win the medal
than to wear it’. Some inclusions, though
entertaining, are a bit of a stretch. Field
Marshal Evelyn Wood, a major military
figure of the 19th century, does not really
belong in a book about people ‘whose lives
ended in tragedy or disgrace’ — though
his involvement in a classic Victorian court
scandal involving Charles Stewart Parnell, Gladstone, and a very wealthy aunt
makes a fine story. Another minor criticism
is the lack of synthesis — the introduction
is two short pages, and it would have been
valuable to have drawn some common
themes together.
These themes are often predictable
enough: poverty, bad luck in the face of the
law, and trauma. An apposite case is that
of Lieutenant Edward St John Daniel, the
middle-class son of a Bristol lawyer who
joined the navy before he was 15. He saw
intense action in Rangoon and the Crimea
and received the VC in 1855 when only 18.
By 1858 he was drinking heavily and two
years later was in front of a court martial.
Excused because of his record, he was arrested the next year for ‘indecent liberties’ (presumably sodomy) and by 31 he was dead.
One hopes he would have received greater
support today.
For some, public attention brought its
own unsolicited troubles. Lieutenant Ian
Fraser, a cross-winner himself, put it thus:
‘A man is trained for the task that might win
him the VC. He is not trained to cope with
what follows.’ One of his comrades, James
Magennis, a diver, won a VC in 1945, in the
same action that saw Fraser sowing limpet
mines on to a Japanese ship. Magennis was
a Northern Irish Catholic who, on returning home, received a publicly funded ‘shilling fund’ of £3,066, which he quickly spent
on demob happiness. He got into debt, sold
his medal and received hundreds of pieces of
hate mail for having so done. Loyalists saw
him as a Catholic, nationalists as a collaborator, so he upped and went into exile in Yorkshire. A decade after his death, a memorial
was finally built in Belfast to the only man
from the province to win a VC in the second
world war.
It’s a fitting way for Izzard to end his
book: an implicit reminder that remembrance should emphasise bravery over error.
A sea of troubles
Peter Carty
From a Low and Quiet Sea
by Donal Ryan
Doubleday, £12.99, pp. 183
Donal Ryan is one of the most notable Irish
writers to emerge this decade. So far he has
produced five volumes of fiction set in postmillennial Ireland. What sets him apart is
a striking facility for narrative voice as well
as a startling diversity of protagonists. His
first novel, The Spinning Heart — about a
town’s slump when the Celtic Tiger died
— had no fewer than 21 narrators, mostly
speaking in effervescent vernacular.
His latest work revisits tragedy and loss
with just four narrative perspectives. With
the first, however, he puts aside Irish provincial life to tackle global tragedy. Farouk
is a Syrian doctor who is working in a local
hospital after his family drowned during a
desperate sea crossing to Europe. Ryan’s
treatment is acutely sensitive and horribly
inventive. He delivers a masterly portrait of
a man who loses touch with himself when
grief submerges him. This is the novel’s high
point, and the confidence with which Ryan
dons the clothing of another culture marks a
departure for his writing.
His other protagonists are homegrown.
Lampy, who works in a care home, nurses
a broken heart and a temper problem. His
grandfather, meanwhile, is an incorrigible
wag who sets pubs roaring with his sallies.
Lampy says of him: ‘When he was in form his
tongue could slice the world in two.’ John is
a businessman riven with remorse for moral
and criminal transgressions. He is less well
realised than his counterparts, regrettably.
Plot is not Ryan’s strength. He ties his
narrative threads together clumsily through
a series of rapidly alternating episodes, an
approach more suited to popular thrillers
than literary fiction. Voice is what he is about.
It’s easy to imagine some of his monologues
delivered on stage. He is cited as a successor
to John McGahern, yet he’s not far from the
likes of Conor McPherson either.
Above all he is an exemplar of a Celtic
literary tradition in which a boundless oral
vitality lends the tribulations of life a richer
texture. It is exciting to see his subject matter
move beyond his country’s borders, with the
prospect of more of this to come.
In the Butterfly House
The crowd presses round her, closely.
She longs to break off one of the huge leaves
and fan herself. Are you all right darling?
Gerald asks, winding his arm round her waist.
They have already pored over crickets
and heaving piles of cocoons.
A Red Admiral unwinds its proboscis
and hunts over her skin. Gerald
moves closer, in his personal aura of moistness.
Through the glass she can see cool rain.
She plots an exit to the railway station.
But how could she face her mother?
A honeymoon is an awkward time to bolt.
— Connie Bensley
The road to Damascus
Piers Paul Read
Paul: A Biography
by N.T. Wright
SPCK, £19.99, pp. 464
Saint Paul is unique among those who have
changed the course of history — responsible not just for one but two critical historical developments 15 centuries apart. First,
he persuaded the early followers of Jesus
of Nazareth that gentiles as well as Jews
could belong to their nascent church. This
enabled its spread throughout the Roman
empire, until Christianity become the state
religion under the Emperor Constantine,
and remained the official creed of all European nations until the French revolution.
Second, there was his teaching on justification by faith alone —a ticking time bomb
detonated by Martin Luther in the 16th century. ‘If we were to do justice to Paul today,’
writes the author of this new biography, ‘we
ought to teach him in departments of politics, ancient history, economics and/or philosophy, just as much as divinity schools and
departments of religion.’
Such justice has not been done, and
it has been largely left to theologians
and Biblical scholars such as N.T. (Tom)
Wright — once Bishop of Durham, now
research professor in New Testament and
Early Christianity at the university of St
Andrews — to enquire into the nature and
motivation of this remarkable man. Writing his life is a tricky task because, while
more is known about Paul than most of
the other Apostles, through his letters and
The Acts of the Apostles, there are gaps and
mysteries that can only be filled by conjecture. For example, nothing is known about
his final years.
He was born as Saul, in Tarsus in Cilicia, about ten years after Jesus. He learned
the skills of tent-making — no doubt the
family business — but was intellectually
precocious and, though a Roman citizen,
a zealous Jew. Indeed zeal, Wright believes,
is the key to his character. He studied under Gamaliel in Jerusalem and, as
a young man, directed his zeal towards the
suppression of the followers of the recently
crucified Jesus. When one of their number,
Stephen, was deemed a blasphemer, Paul
guarded the coats of those who stoned him
to death.
The Temple authorities then sent Paul
to bring followers of Jesus back for trial in
Jerusalem, but on the way he was struck
down by a vision — coming face-to-face
with Jesus, who rebuked him for persecuting him. Wright thinks it would be
vain to attempt to explain away Paul’s
vision in psychological terms. What is
clear is that ‘he saw in that instant... the
utter denial’ of his understanding of the
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St Paul by El Greco
Torah. It was not, Wright emphasises, that
Paul suddenly ceased to be a Jew and
became a Christian. Quite the contrary:
there was, as yet, no Christian religion.
What Paul had come to understand was
that Jesus was in fact the promised Messiah, and therefore the fulfilment of the
Jewish religion.
Paul returned to Tarsus, and there followed ‘a silent decade... labouring, studying and praying, putting together in his
mind a larger picture of the One God and
his truth that would take on the world and
outflank it’. After a journey to Arabia —
perhaps, as Wright suggests, to make a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai where God had
appeared to Moses — Paul emerged from
his seclusion and the narrative of The Acts
of the Apostles begins.
Wright, who has long been immersed in
his studies of Paul, finds him an ‘extraordinary, energetic, bold and yet vulnerable man’
with a ‘brilliant mind yet passionate heart’.
His few letters, ‘taking up only 70 or 80 pages
in the average Bible’, have had an influence
‘far beyond the other great letter writers of
antiquity — the Ciceros, the Senecas — and,
for that matter, the great public intellectuals
and movement founders of his day and ours’.
Paul met with intense enmity, and con-
sequent suffering, on
h i s m i s s i o n a r y j o u rneys, but left communities of believers whom
he sustained and directed through his letters.
Wright says little about
Paul’s views on domestic matters, but dismisses the idea that he was
a misogynist. His inferences and speculations
are interesting and convincing — particularly his deduction from
the difference between
Paul’s two letters to the
Corinthians that he was
imprisoned and had
a nervous breakdown
in Ephesus.
The style is occasionally marred by a jaunty
idiom (‘something Jesus
believers could do without’; ‘they struck a deal’;
‘left its adherents in a bad
place’), intended perhaps
to make the book more
accessible to young or
American readers.
Wright insists that for
Paul ‘salvation’ meant
no more than the divinisation of the community of believers in the
resurrected Jesus; he
dismisses the traditional belief in Heaven and
Hell as ‘medieval questions’, which is puzzling. The Gospels, including that of Luke,
Paul’s friend, travelling companion and
the author of the Acts, contain many grim
warnings to unrepentant sinners of the torment that awaits them in a world to come.
Corpses, clues and Kiwis
Andrew Taylor
Money in the Morgue
by Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy
Collins Crime Club, £14.99, pp. 400
Publishing loves a brand. Few authors of
fiction create characters who reach this
semi-divine status, but when they do, even
death cannot part them from their fortunate publishers. Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Bertie Wooster and James Bond
are among those who have survived their
creators’ deaths, thanks to the assistance of
living authors.
Now Roderick Alleyn, the ineffably
posh Scotland Yard detective created
by Dame Ngaio Marsh, returns for a posthumous outing with the help of Stella
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Duffy, herself a distinguished crime writer. It’s an inspired pairing — Duffy, like
Marsh, is a New Zealander with a professional interest in the theatre. Marsh’s
direct contribution to the book was small
but significant: she had written three short
chapters and made some sketchy notes on
how the story might develop before she
abandoned the project.
The story is set in the remote Canterbury plains of her native New Zealand during the second world war. Alleyn is there
on official business, searching for a spy ring
sending information to the Japanese. He’s
working undercover in an isolated hospital, crowded with civilian and military
patients. On a midsummer evening, the
cantankerous Mr Glossop arrives with the
Government payroll. When his van breaks
down and he’s forced to spend the night, he
lodges the money in Matron’s safe.
During the night, however, a storm
breaks; the money is stolen, and murder
is done. Alleyn is forced to emerge from
his anonymity and sort out the mess.
There’s a desperate urgency to his investigation: for reasons to do with the spy ring,
he has to solve the case overnight. His
job is further complicated by the various
intrigues that the staff and patients are carrying on.
Alleyn has no resources, and his authority is uncertain. To make matters worse,
this is New Zealand, where his gentlemanly bearing is, if anything, rather a drawback. (Ngaio Marsh and her characters
are generally very impressed by his resemblance to a Spanish grandee and by the fact
that he’s the younger son of a baronet. But
Stella Duffy is made of sterner stuff.)
Duffy, like Marsh herself, is very good
at spare but effective characterisation;
she knows the games people play and
how they speak to each other. She has
a dramatist’s grasp of structure. Best of all,
she has the wartime New Zealand setting,
which becomes almost a character in its
own right. She captures not only the time
and place but the unsettling ambiguities of
New Zealand’s perspectives on both the
war and the ‘Mother Country’.
Between them, Marsh and Duffy have
created A Midsummer Night’s Dream with
corpses, clues and Kiwi accents. There
are star-crossed lovers, rude mechanicals, complicated disguises and misunderstandings, and even a play within a play
(when Alleyn stages a reconstruction of
the crime). Alleyn, who has a tendency to
quote Shakespeare at the drop of a hat, is
well aware of this himself.
Money in the Morgue invites us to relish its artificiality and somehow, at the
same time, transcends it. As one character,
a traumatised doctor, remarks: ‘There is
a great deal in New Zealand that is built on
illusion and much of it ingenious indeed.’
Amen to that.
The sinister bird
occurs famously
in Edgar Allan
Poe’s poem
‘The Raven’
Bird of ill omen
John McEwen
A Shadow Above:
The Fall and Rise of the Raven
by Joe Shute
Bloomsbury £16.99 pp. 272
With bird books the more personal the better. Joe Shute was once a crime correspondent and is today a Telegraph senior staff
feature writer. It is his investigative journalism, a series of meetings with people who
deal with ravens first-hand, which provides
novelty. Historical, mythological and other
diversions add ballast.
In the prologue he writes: ‘I was born in
1984, making me the flag-bearer of a strange
generation.’ Raised comfortably and lovingly in London, his future seemed serene.
Then ‘came the financial crash of 2007; and
with it the collapse of all the misplaced entitlement of my youth... Rather than better, it
was going to get far worse’.
At this juncture, he found solace in birds
in the Yorkshire countryside. ‘Learning more
about birds helped me to become less fearful of my own world, even as it became an
increasingly savage place to live in.’ His
hopes are pinned to the raven. Recent
research has lent scientific authority to the
immemorial belief that, alone of its kind,
it has foresight. ‘Now this bird of augury is
back, I wonder what it sees for our own dark
times,’ writes Shute.
The book celebrates the increase in numbers and range of British ravens. The 20th
century found them confined to the western margins. Latest data (2008–11) showed
breeding pairs in every English county, with
700 in North Wales and 6,000 in Scotland.
Centuries ago they and red kites kept the
streets clean of anything edible; now they
are back in cities too, notably in Bristol. In
London they have not bred since 1845, but
re-colonisation seems imminent. This does
not include the Tower of London’s famous
captive colony, legendary guardians of our
freedom; in fact a Victorian inspired tourist
attraction accommodated by Philip Chang,
exotic animal providers.
Ravens have long been associated with
exalted spirituality as well as death and
doom. Vikings regarded them as sacred,
their Presbyterian descendants as ‘the Devil’s own bairns’. The rich pickings they found
on battlefields was one of their more sinister traits. That they were and are killed for
good reason is confirmed when Shute visits
a New Forest pig farm and, most gruesomely, a Caithness sheep farm. To his journalistic
credit he reports the unpalatable facts, such
as the lamb unable to suckle because a raven
had torn out its tongue. Ravens scavenge but
they also kill. They go for eyes and bottoms
first, cornering the victims, even full-grown
sheep, like dogs. ‘Ravens are really different
from other birds... I would say they are evil,’
he was told.
They are legally protected, so to kill them
requires a special licence. A local petition to
have that rule lifted attracted 2,300 signatories; 27,000 global counter-petitioners signed
online; meanwhile the RSPB and Scottish
Natural Heritage drag their feet. It hardly
needs saying that ravens prey on other birds.
Shute’s reporting takes precedence when he
admits a former gamekeeper turned prominent raven breeder found ‘no dichotomy
between shooting and loving birds’. The distinction of the literary and artistic legacy
of our sporting naturalists and countrymen
would confirm this truth.
In the raven’s defence he tells several
stories which reflect the bird’s endearing
characteristics: mischievousness, playfulness,
mimicry. Truman Capote had a pet raven,
Lola, which he suspected of hiding a guest’s
false teeth. He placed his gold signet ring on
a table and spied developments. When the
raven thought the way was clear it grabbed
the ring and hid it in the library behind The
Complete Jane Austen. Capote listed the
cache revealed: among other things, his best
cufflinks, long-lost car keys, the first page of
a short story, and the teeth.
Ravens enjoy sliding down banks, repeating the exercise as determinedly as children,
and can mimic human responses as well as
any parrot. But perhaps their most human
quality is they mourn, and can even die from
the loss of a mate. One hopes they lighten
the darkness ahead for Shute because he has
done them proud, ravenous or not.
The priest’s tale
Alex Clark
The Western Wind
by Samantha Harvey
Cape, £16.99, pp. 294
Samantha Harvey is much rated by critics
and those readers who have discovered her
books, but deserving of a far wider audience
than she has hitherto gained — so much so
that just before Gaby Wood’s appointment
as literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, the critic wrote a lengthy exploration
of Harvey’s prodigious qualities, describing
her as ‘this generation’s Virginia Woolf’. The
reasons for her relative neglect are not complex: her work is deeply serious, her novels
rarely mining the same seam; she has featured on numerous long- and shortlists but
failed to scoop any major awards; and we
don’t see her on the telly or at the head of
newspaper columns.
I’m not sure about the comparison to
Woolf, style-wise, but Wood’s judgment
is bang on otherwise. And perhaps Harvey’s fourth novel will change that. Leaving aside its structural daring and prose at
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once precise and suggestive, it is an exhilarating mystery that pitches familiar tropes —
a bereaved and fearful community, a melancholy investigator and his unsympathetic
superior, a frantic search for deeds and wills
— into the heart of late 15th-century rural
England. The collision of the early modern
and the present-day is startling and energising, and never does it seem stagey.
A man has tumbled into the river
that cuts Oakham off from the surrounding countryside, and is presumed dead; as
the novel opens, his body is spotted, and
promptly disappears once again, leaving only his green shirt as evidence. It is
Shrovetide, and the villagers are preparing for Lent by giving themselves over to
feasting, dancing and other pleasures of
the flesh, but it is not the suspension of revelry that hangs over them, but the loss of
Thomas Newman, a beacon of charity and
morality who has supported efforts to build
a bridge and thereby improve their connections to the outside world. That is no small
thing: Oakham, in the words of its priest
John Reve, is ‘a village of scrags and outcasts’, its crops regularly soaked to uselessness, its inhabitants filled with superstition.
Perhaps its sole boast — and this is both
unverified and of ambiguous benefit — is
that its church contains ‘the only confession
box in England’, which Reve has wheedled
out of the dean on the grounds that secrecy
will prevent the villagers from seeking out
travelling friars to protect their anonymity. In fact, it is a poor thing — a cramped
botch of screen and curtain with no roof —
that disguises nobody. And yet, insists Reve,
‘our souls are handed over best in blindness’,
a theory he has a chance to test when the
dean insists that all are called to confess their
sins in order to flush out the key to Newman’s death.
Harvey’s experimental flourish is to tell
the story in reverse, with Shrove Tuesday
giving way to the three days leading up to
it. The effect is not merely disorientating
for the reader, creating a constantly reconfigured kaleidoscope of details and impressions, but complicates and intensifies our
reaction to every single character: Reve,
careering between grief, spiritual meditation and practical exigencies; the dean, with
his ‘nose for the nasty’ and his fieldmouse’s
heart ‘always pounding in a tiny, courageless
chest’; a dying woman, consumed by guilt
and prone to baseless confession; a villager plump with ‘buttery boyhood’; a man of
diminishing wealth betting his fortunes on
doomed enterprises.
‘History’ is largely absent, but underwrites every line: this is a country only a
few years after the end of the Wars of the
Roses, on the brink of seeing a pretender
to the throne, and culturally at odds with
the colourful, carnival Catholicism of continental Europe, from which the odd pilgrim
— including Newman — returns. At the same
time The Western Wind is also timeless in its
determination to probe the limits of faith;
the extent to which Reve’s commitment to
God is tested by the ‘livid little demons’ that
lurk in the roiling river.
It is a novel to read and then to read
again, with a second go revealing an even
more expert and carefully controlled patterning and intent and allowing Harvey’s
striking topographical and animal metaphors
to percolate further. Literary reputations are
almost entirely unguessable, and sometimes
unfair; but, early in the year though it is, this
must surely be in the running for one of its
best novels.
Getting away with murder
Suzi Feay
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark:
One Woman’s Obsessive Search
for the Golden State Killer
by Michelle McNamara
Faber, £12.99, pp. 321
This true-crime narrative ought, by rights, to
be broken backed, in two tragic ways. One is
that the serial attacker it concerns, a sneaking California rapist who graduated to multiple murder, was never caught. The other is
that its author died aged 46 before the book
could be completed. That it is nevertheless
so gripping and satisfying is thanks to its sensitive editors and compilers, but mainly due
to the remarkable skills of Michelle McNamara herself.
The subtitle is ‘One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer’.
McNamara coined the catchy nickname
for the shadowy figure that slaughtered
five couples and two women between 1978
and 1986. The investigators knew him as
EAR-ONS, after DNA connected the ‘East
Area Rapist’ of Sacramento with the ‘Original Night Stalker’, so-called because his
attacks began before those of the infamous
Richard Ramirez, active 1984–85.
The EAR-ONS rapes and murders were
not linked to begin with, because the latter
took place further south, in Santa Barbara,
Ventura and Orange County. After the killing of Janelle Cruz, they abruptly stopped;
conventional wisdom maintains that violent
serial killers only give up for two reasons:
incarceration, whether in a mental hospital
or prison, or death. But so much about EARONS resists conventional explanation. He
combined explosive rage and impulsiveness
with lengthy planning and surveillance. He
liked to steal victims’ clock radios.
The sheer scale of offending gives the
impression of someone who was able to
attack almost at will, fleeing on foot or on
stolen bicycles, even on one occasion outpacing a pursuer in a car. Identifying details
are frustratingly vague. He usually wore a
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ski-mask. Witnesses’ and survivors’ assessments of his build, hair colour or age vary
widely; the only things agreed on are his
height, around 5ft 10, and his penis size
— unusually small. Similarly diverse are
interpretations of his behaviour: breaking
off an attack for a bout of heavy breathing could be asthma, ungovernable excitement or theatrical sadism.
McNamara explains that an unsolved
murder of a young woman in Chicago,
close to where she lived as a child, fed
an obsession with crime and killers that
led ultimately to her widely admired blog, It’s hard to characterise her role in all this, exactly: informal investigator, data-miner, an information-cruncher
who eventually became a virtual colleague
to the various investigators on this cold, cold
case. McNamara visited crime scenes, rifled
phone directories and high-school yearbooks, cross-referencing, intuiting and swapping tips with other amateur sleuths.
His DNA never matches any database, so
the geographic trail seems the best one to follow: ‘There are only so many white men born
between let’s say 1943 and 1959 who lived
or worked in Sacramento, Santa Barbara
County, and Orange County between 1976
and 1986.’ Enter the investigator McNamara
calls ‘The Kid’, who owns the 1977 Sacramento Suburban Directory and has ‘the 1983
Orange County telephone directory digitised
on his hard drive’. (The Kid is Paul Haynes,
who helped complete the book.) Enthusiasts
like he and McNamara are willing to spend
thousands of hours meticulously referencing
such data. Dealing with successive investigators, she is fascinated by their impassivity:
I’m a face-maker. I married a comedian [Patton Oswalt]. Many of my friends are in showbusiness. I’m constantly surrounded by big
expressions, which is why I immediately
noticed the lack of them in detectives.
There’s none of the prurient gloating over ghastliness that mars much crime
writing; rather, McNamara spotlights the
appalling detail while leaving much to
the imagination. A coda by Haynes and
the investigative journalist Billy Jensen, who together tied up the loose ends of
McNamara’s manuscript, almost functions
as a review. ‘She didn’t flinch from evoking
key elements of the horror and yet avoided
lurid overindulgence in grisly details, as well
as side-stepping self-righteous justice crusading or victim hagiography.’
The killer’s evasion of justice is of huge
significance in the real world, but the lack of
closure doesn’t harm the book. In her introduction, Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone
Girl, puts it succinctly: ‘I want him captured; I don’t care who he is.’ The reasoning
behind the acts of what Patton Oswalt calls
‘a wounded, destructive insect’ can only be
banal; this chilling, empathetic account is
anything but.
Games without frontiers: Ian Cheng’s ‘Emissaries Guide – Narrative Agents and Wildlife’ (2017)
The simulation game
The artist Ian Cheng creates digital life forms that bite and selfharm. Sam Leith meets him (and them)
igital art is a crowded field. It’s also
now older than I am. Yet despite a
50-year courtship, art galleries have
been reluctant to allow it more than a toehold in their collections. Things are changing. Take MoMA’s visit to Paris last year.
Alongside the Picassos and Pollocks was a
very popular final room, made up of a single, beautiful computer-generated animation, in which a huddle of humans tramp
across a constantly disintegrating landscape. ‘Emissaries’ (2015–17) is the work of
the 33-year-old artist Ian Cheng, who two
weeks ago opened his first show in the UK
at the Serpentine Gallery.
Cheng’s first inspirations were video
games like The Sims, and working in special
effects on Pirates of the Caribbean. ‘They
were trying to simulate a whirlpool that was
like several kilometres wide, and they were
trying to simulate it water particle for water
particle… It was just like mind-boggling —
just that they attempt to do that was very
Noticing that a number of his colleagues
had artistic ambitions of their own — but
had been working on the same short film
since Return of the Jedi — Cheng packed in
his production job to pursue a career as a
fine artist, and made simulation his thing.
He started out being interested in rendering, in the idea of making something material-seeming in a digital space. ‘Brats’ (2012)
saw a motion-capture Elmer Fudd chasing a
motion-capture Bugs Bunny around a digital nowhere; ‘This Papaya Tastes Perfect’
(2011) was the weirdly ethereal simulation
of a New York road-rage incident.
But his interest gradually shifted from
the surfaces to the depths: not to the render-
ing of digital objects but the generative algorithms that could determine their behaviour.
His last major work was ‘Emissaries’, a virtual world in which, having set things running,
the artist would play the deus absconditus and stand back to see what happened.
Answer: everyone started fighting and a lot
of stuff caught fire. Cheng shrugs cheerfully:
‘Heh, yes. A very uncontrollable environment.’ The Serpentine will screen ‘Emissaries’ in the gallery from 24 April.
First up, though, is BOB, the latest development of his digital art. BOB stands for ‘Bag
He created a virtual world in which he
set things running then stood back to
see what happened
of Beliefs’. Having created a digital ecosystem of sorts in ‘Emissaries’, Cheng wanted
to ‘focus on just one agent’: a single isolated
character — in a sense, an internal ecosystem
‘tremendously more complex than “Emissaries” ’. And that’s BOB.
It’s basically (as Cheng acknowledges)
a sort of next-generation Tamagotchi: an
artificial intelligence life form, living in an
imaginary space, that looks like the result of
a messy accident in an orange twig factory.
Two screens — one for each BOB —
greet the viewer at the Serpentine Gallery
(the main gallery space, behind them, is filled
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
with the computers that run BOB) and show
a pair of white spaces, each given the suggestion of depth by a single steepled window
high on the right-hand side of the frame.
Beneath this window, BOB bobs; or, if
you like, BOBs bob, since there are two of
them and each is different. Each BOB starts
out as a little orange ‘stub’ with a wee face on
it, and over time will grow and wiggle about
— sometimes becoming like a large bush;
sometimes like a jointed worm gone wrong.
Greyish dead bits of BOB, disconcertingly,
cling to him or litter the digital floor where
he has pruned himself. BOB gets fed twice
a day (‘the gallery assistants push a button,
basically’), learns from his experiences, such
as they are, at the rate of 300MB a day, and
you can interact with him through an iPhone
X. Wiggle the phone about, and BOB’s limb,
or branch, or whatever it is, wiggles with you.
BOB doesn’t always like that. One recent
visitor says that BOB tried to bite him.
The hope was originally to have BOB
speaking unto BOB. Anyway they ran out
of time, so that’s for the next show. As are
further ambitions — embedding a BOB
in the blockchain so he could make financial transactions; creating BOBs who could
breed and inherit memories (Cheng seems
to be a bit of a Lamarckian); or selling seed
BOBs, like computer games, for users to
grow their own.
The gallery’s bumf makes rather bold
claims about BOB: that when he sees your
face he may think you’re a hallucination;
that he has feelings and thoughts. Can this
be true?
‘The thing we really tried to model within
BOB was how… basically, how BOB feels,
and to think about feeling not as a discrete
label, like an emotion, like sad, happy, angry,
Wiggle the phone, and BOB’s limb, or
branch, or whatever it is, wiggles with
you. BOB doesn’t always like that
annoyed, but rather feeling as an N-dimensional space of measuring many many different criteria at many different moments.’
Like Cheng though I do — he has an
ingenuous enthusiasm, and talks more
like Bill and Ted (‘like totally’; ‘super-surprising’) than most fine artists — I have a
strong hunch that philosophers of mind or
AI experts would see this as complete bunkum. BOB, at least as Cheng explains him,
is an input/output machine: a complex one,
a probabilistic one, one with the ability to
remember things and behave according to an
associative rather than directly causal logic,
sure. But that’s a long way from having feelings or a theory of mind or anything like a
consciousness. If BOB was capable of ‘thinking’ ‘he’ was ‘hallucinating’ (I distribute
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
these inverted commas freely but without
complete confidence), BOB would not only
be acing Turing tests, he’d probably already
be plotting the assassination of John Connor.
Still, I’m not sure that matters all that
much. What we project on to the work,
and the work’s attempt to live up to that,
is where the art happens. As Cheng says,
the name for each BOB ‘is completely random on birth. It’s kind of like when a hospital names orphans. But the names afford
a sort of projection — they’re for us, really.
Like when someone names their Chihuahua
‘Little Thomas’ or ‘Little Sophie’ or something? The Chihuahua doesn’t know and it
might not even match its personality. Thomas might be totally the wrong name for that
particular Chihuahua!’
And when I ask him about how he chooses the starting conditions for these self-generating simulations, he says: ‘Super-stupid
criteria: it’s something I have to fall in love
with. It’s super-dumb. Like how the basic
Bob face looks, and what colour he starts
out… so I could love him. Or love it. I just
really wanted to love this creature. I have to
love what I’m working on because otherwise it gets super-depressing halfway in and
I might not finish.’
For a loving father, then, the behaviour of
one trial BOB was disconcerting. ‘The first
time we were testing a full-grown BOB —
he was a serpent-/tree-like structure — and
he just got into this fit, and just completely
pruned for like 50 minutes, every little bit,
almost like when you meet someone who’s
missing an eyebrow, and they had this fit last
night and picked out every hair. That one just
chomped himself down to a stub and then he
was just a stub for like a day or something.’
He reflects: ‘This was like super-surprising? Kind of sad but also very beautiful in
a way.’
Ian Cheng’s BOB is at the Serpentine
Gallery until 22 April, after which his
Emissaries will be in the same space until
28 May.
What’s the big idea?
Lloyd Evans
Summer and Smoke
Almeida, until 7 April
Great Apes
Arcola Theatre, until 21 April
Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams
dates from the late 1940s. He hadn’t quite
reached the peaks of sentimental delicacy he
found in his golden period but he was getting
there. As a lesser-known curiosity, the script
deserves a production that explains itself
openly and plainly. Rebecca Frecknall has
directed a beautiful and sometimes bizarrelooking show which is beset by ‘great ideas’.
What a great idea to encircle the stage with
upright pianos that the actors can cavort on,
and whose exposed innards can twinkle with
atmospheric lights at poignant moments.
The pianos are an ingenious and handsome
solo effort but they serve the designer’s ends
and not the play’s. Another great idea was to
include a booming soundtrack, often irrelevant, sometimes intrusive. A third great idea
was to relax the dress code and let the principal actors slob around in casual daywear
and unshod feet. This obscures the play’s
central motif, which is the moral confusion
of a deeply conservative and highly stratified society where a woman’s ambitions in
the world are shackled to her sexual selfrestraint.
Williams uses all his charm, guile and
human sympathy to examine a contradictory ethical code that requires a girl to
remain a virgin before marriage but allows
the chaps to bang away like donkeys. But
it’s very hard to guess that the show is set
in small-town America in the 1940s, or that
crucial scenes take place in a doctor’s surgery. A casual viewer would assume that the
action is contemporary and that the setting
is a piano shop opening on to a veranda.
Matthew Needham, as boozy Dr
Buchanan, dresses like a beatnik poet in
tatty jeans and a ripped-open shirt. He
sports the same beach-bum outfit when
examining patients. So it’s unclear why
prim, nervy Alma is desperate to marry a
chap who doesn’t own a suit of clothes, pesters her for sex, calls her ‘frigid’, and has
affairs with hookers. Misjudged visuals
make the supporting roles difficult to follow
as well. Buchanan’s dad is a shouty pastor
and his mum is an untethered noodle-head
but there are no optical clues about their
positions in the play so they seem like dotty
vagrants entering the action at random.
Perhaps there wasn’t enough cash to
fund a proper production. Eight actors have
to play a total of 14 characters. Anjana Vasan
bravely takes on three entirely different
female roles and creates nothing but bafflement each time she appears. A wise producer would have ditched the high-concept
pianos in return for two more actors. But
anyone who knows and likes this play will
find plenty to enjoy here. Relish in particular the twitchy fragile brilliance of Patsy Ferran as Alma. And Matthew Needham gives
a performance that’s hard to stop watching.
Needham’s face is so sharp, cruel and inscrutable that he’d be an asset to any production,
as a hero or a villain. Movies beckon.
Will Self’s novel Great Apes, published
in 1997, has been skilfully and wittily updated by Patrick Marmion. The book’s debt to
A wise producer would have ditched
the high-concept pianos in return for
two more actors
Kafka is obvious from the opening gesture. Yuppie artist Simon Dykes wakes up
to find that his girlfriend has turned into a
chimpanzee. Terrified, Simon rushes from
the house but is captured by paramedics
who sedate him and lock him up in a hospital. The paramedics are chimps as well.
So is everyone else. Simon learns that he’s
the only free human being left on earth.
Chimps rule the world. A few leftover
humans are held in zoos and they’re occasionally allowed out to make TV adverts
for PG Tips. Everyone in history, we learn,
was a chimp, including Shakespeare, who
wrote the famous line ‘an arse by any other
name would smell as sweet.’
To create this upside-down world in
a novel is easy but to make it believable
on stage represents a huge challenge. The
actors, directed by Oscar Pearce, carry it
off with subtlety and intelligence. Will Self’s
characters tend to be high-achievers, doctors, artists, financiers and journalists, and
here they’re required to retain the habits of
untamed primates. They tumble about in a
semi-squatting position; they make ooh-ah
noises on greeting and parting; they groom
one another obsessively; they study each
other’s posteriors with fanatical curiosity;
and they often copulate in public. That’s
how it is in monkey world: random fornication between casual acquaintances is
regarded as vital to social cohesion.
Simon’s mission is to learn to cope with
this crazy universe. Early on, he attempts
to have sex in public with his girlfriend,
who is still a chimpanzee. ‘I’m embarrassed
to admit I enjoyed it,’ he pants with relief.
Because the show raises questions about
identity and about the boundaries between
destiny and personal choice, it feels surprisingly up-to-date. My only quibble with
this excellent production is that no one eats
a banana.
Mad about Claire Foy
Deborah Ross
15, Nationwide
Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, Unsane, is
a psychological thriller about a woman who
is incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital even
though she claims to be perfectly sane. But
is she? It was filmed fast, on an iPhone 7, and
some aspects are worryingly thoughtless —
its treatment of mental-health patients, for
example, is remarkably Unsensitive. And it
does descend into a plainly ridiculous, subpar farce. But it is also, in parts, deliciously
schlocky and it stars the wonderful Claire
Foy, whom one hopes was paid decently.
So shocking that she earned less than Matt
Smith for The Crown, but as a positive person who likes to look on the bright side
might I suggest that we celebrate the fact
men are still doing so well? And throw a
party or something?
Here, Foy plays the unlikely named
Sawyer Valentini, who has relocated from
Boston to Pennsylvania to escape David
Strine (Joshua Leonard), the man who has
been stalking her for two years and has
made her life hell. She has a new job in a
bank where the boss instantly comes on to
her — Soderbergh is clearly down with the
women, sometimes clumsily so — and she’s
in a state. She’s lonely, but suffers panic
attacks, which makes dating impossible. So
she seeks therapy, and undergoes a session
with a seemingly sympathetic counsellor at
the Highland Creek Behavioural Centre.
She confesses that, yes, she’s had suicidal
thoughts, but hasn’t everyone at some time
or another?
She signs some papers, which she thinks
are simply committing her to further therapy sessions, but then discovers she’s admitted herself as an inpatient. She is put on a
locked mixed ward where the woman (Juno
Temple) in the next bed threatens her with
a dangerously sharpened spoon. Meanwhile,
the staff are profoundly Unhumane, and just
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
dish out drugs, Nurse Ratched-style. One
appreciates that, for plot purposes, this has
to be a scary, perilous, unreasonable place
but, still, it seems a pity that its view of mental illness and treatment is very definitely
stuck somewhere in the dark ages, possibly
around 656AD.
This is, essentially, the classic mental hospital set-up, based on the well-worn trope
of a woman (usually) who keeps protesting
that she doesn’t belong here, it’s all a horrible mistake although, of course, the more
she protests the madder she is taken to be.
The best thing here is Foy, and they
should have paid her at least six times
as much as her male co-stars
(See Olivia de Havilland in The Snake Pit
and Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer, and so on.) But it takes a fresher turn
when Sawyer claims that one of the orderlies, who is calling himself ‘George Shaw’, is,
in fact, David Strine. But is he? Has she been
locked up with her stalker?
As I don’t wish to stray into spoiler territory, I’ll speak just in generalities from now
on. There are those deliciously schlocky
twists, which are often ingenious, and
although shot on an iPhone, it’s an iPhone
with a hefty amount of extra kit, so there’s
none of that dimly illuminated, shaky hand-
held nonsense. And Foy is magnificent,
worth twice the money, whatever the original sum was. (But don’t worry, fellas. This
won’t affect our party. At all.) True, Sawyer
is a victim but it’s not as straightforward as
that, as she is awarded agency, and we see
how stalking can not only turn you into a
wreck, but also becomes the crime that you
are meant to prevent. (This is shown via
flashback, and a police security expert — a
cameo from Matt Damon — telling her the
precautions she must take: quit Facebook,
don’t park out back, always carry your keys
in your hand.) It is also, I have to say, quite a
neat metaphor for the whole #MeToo business, as it’s fundamentally about women
who are not believed, and whose stories are
thereby discounted.
That said, and as written by Jonathan
Bernstein and James Greer, the film can
feel like 98 minutes of mansplaining, and it
is thematically messy, as it throws so much
else into the pot, like the American private
healthcare racket. Plus, it has plot holes so
huge you can likely see them from Mars —
‘oh, for God’s sake,’ I said many times —
and the third act is preposterous, so wholly
Uncredible I started laughing. Probably the
best thing here is Foy, and they should have
paid her six — if not 20 — times as much.
The party is still on, though. Your place or
The making of the Moody
Michael Hann
Rarely has one irate punter so affected a
band’s trajectory. Without the anger of the
man who went to see the Moody Blues at
the Fiesta Club in Stockton in 1966, the band
would never have reinvented themselves,
never have transformed into psychedelic
pioneers, and next month they would not
be travelling to America to be inducted into
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the honour bestowed annually upon those the US
music business deems the most significant
artists of all.
The Moody Blues had been a moderately successful group — everyone who
has ever listened to an oldies radio station
knows their version of ‘Go Now’, a No. 1 single in 1964 — but by 1966 they were on the
skids. Their two most creative members had
left, to be replaced by a new bassist and the
19-year-old singer-guitarist Justin Hayward.
That night in Stockton, in a club where a
version of the Playboy bunnies was a major
attraction, the group donned their blue suits
and went through their tired routine of
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the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
The drummer Graeme Edge piped up
from the back of the van: ‘He’s right,
that bloke, we’re crap’
‘Nights in White Satin’. It’s extraordinary
in good and bad ways: it’s florid and overblown, as well as wildly ambitious and often
very beautiful. It’s peak English psychedelia,
and it made them superstars.
Yet while pretty much every other English group who reinvented themselves as
psychedelic vagabonds have found themselves, at some point in recent years, hailed
as pioneers and trailblazers, the Moody
Blues have remained stubbornly critically
unrehabilitated. Even Hayward jokes that
the real reason they’re being inducted into
the Hall of Fame is that ‘they ran out of hip
people to give it to’. It sometimes feels as
though critical perceptions are unchanged
since an interviewer from Zigzag magazine met Hayward in 1976 and — in a sympathetic piece — said of the band: ‘They’re
very respectable, most of them are stinking rich, and they make records which sell
to middle-class trendy young couples living
in the stockbroker belt who know and care
as much as about rock music as Batman.’
That despite the fact that Hayward was
very much part of Swinging London, smoking dope — ‘turning on’, as he still calls it —
dropping acid, and going to the right parties
and the right clubs.
Days of Future Passed wasn’t meant to
happen. The Moody Blues’ label, Decca, had
sent them to the studio to record rocked-up
versions of Dvorak to demonstrate their
new ‘Deramic Sound’ stereo recording system. The band instead hijacked the sessions
to their own ends.
‘It was all done in a week,’ Hayward
says. ‘Our stuff was recorded in two or three
days, and then the orchestra was done on
a Saturday in one three-hour session. They
had one run-through, had a tea break, and
then they did their take.’ The album was
mixed on the Sunday, then on the following morning the executive producer Hugh
Mendl had to present it to the patrician
Decca board. ‘And of course they were saying, “This is not Dvorak! This is not what
we wanted!” And Hugh was saying, “No, but
it’s quite good, and I think it will do the trick
for us.” So they put it out as a budget-priced
album, but then people started to become
interested in it.’
Fifty-one years later, the Moody Blues
still have a career thanks to the decision to
drop the blue suits and embrace the cosmic. But Hayward understands why they
remain oddly peripheral even as pop’s heritage is pored over and picked through.
‘We made some great records and we made
some lousy records,’ he says. ‘Every one of
the reviews, I could see exactly what they
meant. Would I have bought the Moody
Blues? That’s the question I have to ask
myself. That’s the dilemma for me. I do
sometimes think: why do people like this? I
can’t quite figure it out.’
R&B covers and comedy songs, earning the
money for the repayments on their guitars
and the cost of their petrol.
‘We really weren’t very good,’ Hayward
recalls. ‘This chap came in the dressing room
afterwards, and he said, “I just thought I’d
tell you, you’re the worst fucking band I’ve
seen in my life. You’re rubbish. And somebody’s got to tell you.” ’ Hayward burst into
tears, joined by his bandmate Ray Thomas.
An hour or two later, as the group passed
Scotch Corner on their drive south down
the A1, the drummer Graeme Edge piped
up from the back of the van: ‘He’s right, that
bloke. We’re crap.’
‘Literally the next day, we said: let’s get
rid of the blue suits and do our own songs
and see what happens,’ Hayward says.
What the Moody Blues did next was one
of the most dramatic about-turns in pop history: their 1967 album Days of Future Passed
(marked with the release of a live re-recording this month, recorded last year). Days of
Future Passed is an extraordinary record —
a song cycle tracing the course of a day, with
spoken word passages, orchestral interludes,
and the song that came to define the group,
Days of Future Passed Live is available on
DVD, Blu-Ray and CD.
Time and motion
Martin Gayford
Tacita Dean: Portrait
National Portrait Gallery, until 28 May
Tacita Dean: Still Life
National Gallery, until 28 May
Andy Warhol would probably have been
surprised to learn that his 1964 film
‘Empire’ had given rise to an entire genre.
This work comprises eight hours and five
minutes of slow-motion footage of the
Empire State Building during which nothing much happens. Warhol remarked that
it was a way of watching time pass or, you
might say, the Zen of boredom. Much the
same could be said of the films in Tacita
Dean’s two exhibitions, Portrait and Still
Life at the National Portrait Gallery and
National Gallery respectively.
The most ambitious of these, ‘Merce
Cunningham performs STILLNESS’ (2008),
on show at the NPG, is composed of six
separate films, each five minutes long, of
the late dancer and choreographer enacting a balletic version of Cage’s celebrated
(or notorious) composition 4’33’’ (consisting, of course, of a silence lasting for that
interval). Cunningham — who was by then
wheelchair-bound — interprets this by being
almost entirely motionless.
So far, you might think, so minimalist. But
in one way Dean’s work is almost baroque.
The biggest gallery of the exhibition is filled
with six large screens, on to which are projected moving images of this motionless,
aged man, shot from multiple angles. The
Dean has developed a thing about
fruit as well as about old men
whole piece piles paradox on paradox. To
see it, you move around the space, while he
barely shifts. Dean is devoted to the medium
of 16mm colour film, now as outmoded as oil
pigment. So the only sound is the quiet whirr
of projectors.
‘Portraits’, another of her works at the
NPG, consists of 16 minutes of David Hockney in his studio, doing what he spends a
lot of time doing: smoking, contemplating,
musing on his own pictures. Again, nothing
much eventuates. Hockney puffs away and
at one point laughs at his own thoughts. You
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
you see. But you don’t have to. Like most
gallery-goers, you could move on after a
few seconds.
With film, it’s different. You feel an
obligation to watch until the end — which
would mean a couple of hours viewing just
for the films in ‘Portraits’. Also, you expect
there will be action. That’s why very early
Hollywood directors devised a frenetic repertoire of chase sequences, battle scenes,
dance extravaganzas and explosions (still
popular today).
It goes right against the grain to settle down in front of a screen and watch a
movie in which nothing happens. That’s
what makes Warhol’s ‘Empire’, whatever
else it is, a provocatively witty idea. Some
of Dean’s works are more than that: intelligent, poetic and profound. Even so, I
can’t help feeling that sitting in an art gallery watching a film of inactivity is a highly
unnatural act.
Love Handel
Michael Tanner
Barbican Hall
La traviata
Coliseum, in rep until 13 April
‘Majesty’, 2006, by Tacita Dean
are watching him thinking, perhaps reflecting on the cycle of 82 portraits he had just
completed, reproductions of which hang
on the wall behind (one depicting Dean’s
young son).
Of course, traditional portraiture is created by an artist observing someone sitting
doing nothing much. Dean is presenting the
observations from which a Velazquez or a
Freud would make a final selection — the
raw footage, as it were.
Dean has joked that she has developed
‘a thing about old men’. Hockney was 78 in
2016 when ‘Portraits’ was made, Cunningham 89. Other subjects of her filmed portraits include the octogenarian Cy Twombly,
who potters around his own studio, reads a
letter and goes out for lunch (Coca-Cola
plus a turkey sandwich), and the critic, poet
and translator Michael Hamburger.
The latter is marginally more demonstrative than the other subjects. He is seen working at his desk, but also reads a poem and
discourses on a rare variety of apple that he
imported from the west country garden of
his friend Ted Hughes. The camera lingers,
too, on the orchards that surrounded his Suffolk house.
Dean has in fact developed a thing
about fruit as well as about old men. One
of the pieces at the parallel exhibition next
door in the National Gallery, ‘Prisoner Pair’
(2008), is made up of close-ups of what the
French call a poire prisonnière — that is, a
pear preserved in a bottle of alcohol. The
camera lingers on its mottled surfaces and
the gleaming glass around. It’s beautiful,
like a lot of Dean’s films.
Personally, I enjoyed the little National
Gallery exhibition more than the larger portrait show, because for the most part it consists of stills — paintings and photographs.
These add up to a meditation on passing
time, mortality and decay, all perennial
themes of the still-life genre, and for that
matter of portraiture.
However, there is a difference between
paintings and sculpture — which are by
their nature still — and movies. It is possible, if you are in the mood, to look at a painting or a sculpture for a long, long time. The
longer you do so, if it’s really good, the more
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
Handel’s Rinaldo has not been highly
regarded even by his most ardent admirers.
I have never understood why — even less so
after the recent performance at the Barbican, with stunning forces, including the English Concert, under the inspiring direction of
Harry Bicket.
Certainly the plot is absurd, with a lastminute mass conversion of Muslims to
Christianity in order to bring things to a
happy conclusion. But there are only six
main characters in complicated relationships with one another, turning on their love
and hatred like a switch, and going through
the usual hoops; that is what Handel operas
are. The penny has dropped with me, almost
too late, that it is a complete mistake to look
for characterisation in Handel. Strong emotions are expressed, and he is a master of
putting them into music, but who is experiencing and expressing them is a matter of
indifference. Can any admirer of Handel
swear that — with the exception of a tiny
handful of his works, such as Giulio Cesare
— he gives a damn about the outcome of
his operas. Who ends up happy and who
distraught or dead? Think of the anxieties
and relief we feel during the operas of Monteverdi or Mozart or Wagner or Puccini, and
there is no comparison. Once that’s granted,
Handel is expressive on a grand scale, and
in Rinaldo as much as in almost any of his
ter I loathe most in all opera, the elder Germont. Something is odd, though, when the
sententious old creep gets by far the biggest
applause of the evening for his ‘Di Provenza il mar’ — Englished, of course, by Martin
Fitzpatrick, in an unwieldy way, with many
misplaced accents and clumsy constructions.
About the rest of the leading roles there
is little positive to say. The two main characters are miscast, Claudia Boyle having
far too small a voice for most of Violetta’s
part, though she pulled out the stops once or
twice to adequate effect. Mostly, though, and
especially in such key passages as her ago-
La traviata was so comprehensive a
flop that it is painful to go into detail
nised interjections in Act Two scene ii while
the men play cards, she was barely audible. The South African Lukhanyo Moyake
needs acting lessons. At present he is a fairly large stage absence, and his voice is more
braying than singing.
Singing actors far more adequate than
these would have been sunk by the production, Daniel Kramer’s first as artistic director of ENO. The opening scene suggested a
Las Vegas brothel, with men in their underwear, white boxers or something kinkier.
Violetta, everything in the text and music
makes clear, is higher class than this unenthusiastic orgy, repeated in Act Two. The
next scene takes place on her lawn, with a
double bed swaying above it; in despair she
rips up the turf and buries herself under it,
a foretaste of her digging her own grave in
the last act. And so on. Nothing worthwhile
Grave concerns: Claudia Boyle as Violetta in La traviata at ENO
operas. It has the advantage, too, of not having a merely expository first act, as so many
of his operas do. Absorbing from the start,
it achieves an even higher level in Act Two,
before the mild longueurs of Act Three.
Harry Bicket’s visits with a Handel opera
have become an annual occasion at the Barbican; concert performances, but that is in
their favour. When the opera was first presented, its main claim to attention was the
amazing scenery and the ‘machines’, but
scenery nowadays tends to be amazing in
a quite different way, and it’s a relief to me
to be without it. Few performances, though,
have had such superb line-ups of singers as
Rinaldo. Probably the best-known name
here was Iestyn Davies, the great countertenor of the moment, in the title role, as
he deserves to be. Some of the other singers were less familiar, but the second counter-tenor, the Pole Jakub Jozef Orlinski,
after a slightly tentative Act One, showed
that he will soon be a familiar name. Joélle
Harvey was a stunning Almirena, with her
show-stopping ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’. Go to
YouTube if you have a spare half-hour and
compare all the big names singing that piece:
for me most of them tend to queen it up,
whereas Harvey was moving in the simplicity of her rendering. Perhaps the most dazzling part of the night was the end of Act
Two, when the harpsichordist Tom Foster
took over and gave a stunning virtuoso performance expressive of Armida’s determination to have vengeance. These occasions
should be recorded.
English National Opera’s new production of La traviata requires grief rather than
critique. The evening was so comprehensive
a flop that it is painful to go into detail. I will
just mention that Leo McFall conducted
with sensitivity and a sure, if slightly slow,
sense of pacing, and the orchestra responded
superbly. And Alan Opie, now with the company for 50 years, gave a lesson in dignity
and vocal warmth while playing the charac-
Sunday best
James Walton
For as long as I can remember, Sunday
nights have been the home of the kind of
TV drama cunningly designed to warm the
sternest of heart cockles. Think, for example,
of Robert Hardy cheerfully bellowing his
way through almost every scene of All Creatures Great and Small (‘PASS THE SALT,
JAMES!’). Or of Pop Larkin’s impressive
commitment to chuckling indulgently in The
Darling Buds of May. Or of Heartbeat somehow racking up 372 episodes.
Even so, ITV has now taken this tendency to surprising new lengths, with not one
but two Sunday-night dramas that run consecutively and contain such traditional elements as gorgeous sun-dappled scenery, cute
animals, gruff old-timers with hearts of gold
and any number of lovable eccentrics.
First up, at 8 p.m., is The Durrells, now
back for a third series, but clearly in no
mood to change a winning formula. The
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
opening episode began with a voiced-over
letter from Mrs Durrell (Keeley Hawes)
to her Aunt Hermione obligingly bringing
us up to speed on what’s happened to her
family since we last saw them — not a great
deal, as it turned out. And with that, the programme got down to the serious business of
making sure we liked it.
In this aim, very little is left to chance.
For one thing, the Corfu setting, and everybody in it, remain unremittingly charming.
But perhaps more importantly, the show —
based loosely on Gerald Durrell’s memoirs
of his early life — is as considerate as ever
when it comes to sparing us from having to
do much work.
Particularly helpful here are the Durrells
themselves, with their pathological aversion
to the unsaid. In some families (maybe even
a few of our own) one or two of the members might keep one or two of their feelings hidden from each other. Here, though,
nobody concerned — including the viewers — is ever left in any doubt as to what
anybody is thinking at any given moment.
Equally reassuring, meanwhile, is the certainty that no problem will prove intractable — or, indeed, all that problematic.
In Sunday’s main plot, middle brother Leslie found himself juggling three girlfriends, a situation that, naturally, his siblings
and mother were soon aware of. For the pur-
poses of the drama, this briefly filled Mrs
D. with some alarm, but naturally, too, she
needn’t have worried. A few mildly comic
misunderstandings later, Leslie had made
his choice, and although it differed from his
mother’s, she didn’t mind in the least. After
all, as Aunt Hermione put it, somewhat
anachronistically for someone speaking
in 1937: ‘Good parenting isn’t about meddling in your children’s lives. It’s about loving them.’
And in the unlikely event that this didn’t
leave your heart warm enough, you didn’t
have to wait long for The Good Karma Hos-
Don’t we all enjoy a pleasantly
undemanding and good-natured
wallow every now and then?
pital — a programme so similar in tone that
it felt almost as if ITV had spent the ad break
speedily replacing the Greek music, fauna
and scenery with their Indian equivalents.
The series features Amrita Acharia as
Dr Ruby Walker, who, after getting fed up
with her life in Britain, is now working in
a hospital in southern India run by Amanda Redman in her usual role as a wise and
tough-but-kindly old broad. Needless to say,
as a young woman, Ruby has to deal with
her unfair share of blokes who’ve yet to be
convinced that she’s up to the job, and who
communicate their sexist suspicions largely
through the medium of looking askance.
One rural patriarch, mind you, took the
process further than most by shouting ‘What
are you? A girl of 15 or 16?’ and threatening to hit her with a stick. Fortunately, once
her all-round competence had saved his
son, he was instantly converted to the feminist cause. As was Ruby’s hunky colleague
Gabriel, who’d disagreed with her diagnosis
and was duly shown to be wrong. (‘Sometimes it’s hard being a man in a woman’s
world,’ observed Amanda Redman’s character in a neat summary of pretty much all
current TV drama. ‘Being born with a penis
is a huge disadvantage.’)
Of course — as I’ve possibly demonstrated — it’s easy to be sniffy about this
sort of programme. Yet there has to be
some reason why The Durrells and The
Good Karma Hotel are so popular that
on Sunday BBC1 more or less gave up the
ghost by showing only a film against them.
That reason, I’d suggest, is their neat combination of shamelessness and undeniable
efficiency. ‘OK,’ the makers seem to be saying, ‘so you’ve seen plenty of shows like this
already — but, if you’re honest, isn’t that
because we all enjoy a pleasantly undemanding and good-natured wallow every
now and then?’ And annoyingly enough,
this might well be true.
A loan exhibition to coincide with
the publication of the catalogue raisonné
23 March – 2 May 2018
Monday - Friday 10.00-5.30
Saturday 11.00-2.00
(closed Easter weekend)
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
William Coldstream, Stephanotis and Persimmons, 1979, oil on canvas, 28 x 20 inches
Vince Staples
Grade: B+
Another ex-Long Beach crip
replanted in pleasant Orange
County via the conduit of very large
amounts of record company money
and thus now able to draw on his
time as a gangsta, while telling us all
it was a very naughty thing to have
The difference between Staples
and much of the similarly uprooted
West Coast hip-hop crew is twofold.
First, off-stage the man is thoughtful,
articulate and refuses to hunker
down beneath the comfort blanket
of black victimhood. Further, he
eschews all drugs and alcohol and
loathes the glorification of gang
culture — something he calls
coonery — and is a Christian.
(Although it is hard to imagine Jesus
Christ cheerfully singing along with
this little number.) And second, he
has words. He may not have the
deep warm rumble of Snoop or the
musical imagination of Kendrick
Lamar. But his use of words is often
mesmerising, the rapping focused
and utilising complex rhythms most
of his rivals would not go near. He’s
a clever lad.
This single, ‘Get The Fuck Off My
Dick’, which follows last year’s fairly
triumphant album Big Fish Theory,
is sparse, a four-note piano motif the
only counterpoint to scratchy vocal
loops and Staples’s loquacious rant.
He is no more enamoured of rap than
he was of running with the gangs,
it seems, and intends to give it up
sometime soon. ‘You can keep your
money/ it don’t do nothing for me’.
He is not liked in some quarters
for this disdain, but me — I like him
more for it. What do you reckon,
Republican candidate for the
presidency, 2032?
— Rod Liddle
The new seekers
Kate Chisholm
As Bob Shennan, the BBC’s director of
radio and music admitted this week, there
are almost two million podcast-only listeners in the UK who never tune into BBC
Radio. They’re captivated by specialist
music (Heart, Absolute, etc), specialist talks
(mostly religious such as Premier Christian)
or specialist news and current affairs (the
Economist, Monocle). And they never feel
the need to cross over into Auntie’s sphere
of influence. The BBC’s response, says
Shennan, must be to produce ‘a revitalised
audio product’ to meet the needs, or rather
demands, of these new audiences.
‘Audio product’ seems a long way from
Music While You Work or Down Your Way.
Soon, Shennan envisages, most listeners will
be using voice apps to order up what they
want to listen to from a vast range of programming, sometimes from what are now
called ‘linear’ (i.e. traditional scheduled)
stations by switching on (or tuning in) in the
old-fashioned way, at other times by dipping
into preselected podcasts, or streaming from
the web, or maybe resurrecting something
from the ‘deep archive’.
More intriguing was Shennan’s admission, in the same speech, that the UK
(unlike Norway) is still not ready to switch
off analogue and go digital-only, at first
planned for 2015, then put off until 2017,
and now receding, as DAB sets begin to
look more and more like cassette-players
or video-recorders. There’s no need now
(or at least not for the foreseeable future)
to junk that old Roberts set in the kitchen, its loudspeaker muffled under layers of
grease, flour and icing sugar. It still gives
the best signal (DAB has never worked
properly in my area).
On Sunday night it gave me the rasping,
haunting sound of the Revd Gary Davis,
blues singer from the Deep South, who
was featured in Gary O’Donoghue’s programme for Radio 3, Blind, Black and Blue
(produced by Lee Kumutat and a team of
blind editors and technicians). The BBC’s
Washington correspondent and blind himself, O’Donoghue has always wondered
why so many blind and black musicians
achieved such celebrity in the first decades of the last century, leaving an indelible mark on American music and beyond.
Many of them were blind because of illnesses as children, such as conjunctivitis
or lack of vitamin A, which went untreated
because black people did not have access
to medical care.
They grew up poor and uneducated,
under the rigid segregation imposed by
the Jim Crow laws, which made the lives of
those who were black and blind extra diffi-
cult (how could they know they were in the
wrong part of town?), but taught themselves
to play music that resonated way beyond
their own lives. Blind Willie McTell, for
instance, is celebrated in one of Bob Dylan’s
most famous songs, while Davis played
alongside Dylan at the Gaslight Cafe on
MacDougal street in Manhattan, the blues
influencing the folk revival with songs like
‘I’ve got fiery fingers,/ I’ve got fiery hands,/
And when I get up in heaven/ Gonna join
that fiery band.’
The tell-it-all style of Sophie Willan’s
Guide to Normality on Radio 4 (produced
by Suzy Grant) comes from the same source,
although it is very different in tone. She grew
up in a chaotic family, often in care because
her mother suffers from drugs-induced psychosis. Rather than lamenting her fate, she’s
turned to stand-up comedy as a release, a
way of telling. And precisely because she
has never been able to take anything for
granted, she’s well qualified to make her
Most listeners will be using voice apps
to order up what they want to listen to
from a vast range of programming
audiences sit up and think differently about
themselves. Willan’s raw reality check is a
refreshing blast from someone who’s definitely not had it easy but has not an ounce
of self-pity.
This week’s Lent Talks, also on Radio
4 (produced by Rosie Dawson), gave us
a shocking story, told in such a deadpan,
matter-of-fact way it lingered in the mind.
What was the effect of such an experience?
Did she really bury it for years? Dr Katie
Edwards, who now teaches biblical studies
at Sheffield University, began by explaining
that she has always been confused by ‘the
silence of Jesus’. Why didn’t he speak out?
Why was she always taught that silence, particularly in the face of adversity and abuse,
is a strength, a virtue?
She then told us about an experience
she shared with her schoolfriends when
they were young teenagers. Befriended at
the ice rink by a group of young men in
their early twenties, they went to a party
organised by them. They didn’t tell their
parents. Why would they? To them, the men
were funny, kind, romantic. But as soon as
they arrived at the party, there was, recalls
Edwards, a different atmosphere. She felt a
sense of dread so strong she began to feel
sick and could not swallow the drink they
were all given. That saved her from the
worst experience.
Her friends, who passed out, drugged by
the drink, were raped. She was held down,
her arm broken. No one ever spoke about it
afterwards or told anyone about it. Her broken arm was explained away as an accident
at the ice rink. ‘It never occurred to them to
tell anyone what had happened. They knew
they wouldn’t be believed.’
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
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By the Revd Dr Jonathan Arnold
hen Palestrina wrote his Mass settings and motets, or J.S. Bach his
cantatas and passions, they could
not have imagined the ways in which their
music would be heard today. We can now
access sacred music in our living rooms, at
work and on the commute: an hour-long
compilation of the choir of New College,
Oxford performing the Agnus Dei has fourand-a-half million views on YouTube.
Spotify and smartphones may eliminate the need to visit a church or chapel to
hear these works, but visit we still do. While
overall church attendance has fallen by
two-thirds since the 1960s, attendance at traditional choral worship in the UK is on the
rise, and has been for the past two decades.
Evensong services at Magdalen College
Chapel in Oxford, where I have the privilege
of ministering, are resolutely popular. Numbers at our weekend Evensongs are well into
the three figures, and have been for around
20 years. My colleagues in several other college chapels report similar turnouts.
The trend is not confined to university
towns. It is thanks largely to their weekday
choral services that Britain’s 42 cathedrals
have seen such a remarkable resurgence
in popularity: figures are up by a third in a
decade, and that’s excluding the tourists.
Evensong has barely changed since the
Magdalen College Chapel
publication of the Book of Common Prayer
in 1662. It is perhaps not a coincidence that
attendance at traditional choral services
started to surge as modern life began to
seem most removed from their world of candles, canons and communal reflection: Evensong offers an antidote to the modern age of
instant digital gratification.
For a generation who struggle to sit in
silence without taking out their phones,
quiet reflection is hard to come by. So, too,
is community: under-35s are more lonely than those over 55. Attending a choral
service offers an oasis in the busy working
day — not just because it is an escapist 45
minutes, but because it is a participation in
something significantly other to ourselves. It
points towards the transcendent, and forges
a bond between all in the sacred space by
the shared experience of the liturgical rite.
For me, the music enhances the words
of the service, giving beauty and character
to the heartfelt words of the Psalms, to the
joyful thanksgiving in Mary’s song of praise
and liberation (the Magnificat) and to the
prayers of the Collects. But you need only
glance at the statistics to know that not all of
those who attend Evensong are Christian.
Choral services do not coerce the attendee into any particular doctrinal confession:
even Richard Dawkins admits to having a
‘certain love’ for Evensong. People are free
to choose the extent to which they engage
with the worship, which is in many respects
more passive than in Sunday services: at
Evensong, the focus is on listening, and worshippers do not take communion.
What some will hear through Christian
ears is still beautiful heard through secular
ones. Choral music within the liturgy is one
of our greatest cultural and religious heritages; it is every bit as sincere and meaningful on a wet Tuesday in March as in a
Christmas Nine Lessons and Carols. Pop in.
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the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
‘It is, in my mind, a terrible Narnia,
with signposts to Dior, Dubai and
— Tanya Gold, p62
High life
A couple of columns ago I wrote about an
incident that took place at the Eagle Club
here in Gstaad. I indicated that if cowardice
prevailed, I would go into detail (and I’ve
had two weeks to think about those details).
Well, cowardice did prevail, but although the
Eagle has not lived up to the requirements
of a club, what happens in a club stays in
a club. I need to live up to the standards of
someone who joined 60 years ago and generously contributed to it financially when it
was floundering and about to go under.
As I wrote a fortnight ago, the mix of
gentlemen and low lifes is a toxic one. The
latter are bound to step out of line and
revert to type. Like throwing a punch from
behind having misinterpreted a joke, or
lying about what had taken place beforehand. Fraudsters should not be invited into
clubs as guests, not because they might set
up a crooked deal — which they would if
they could — but because manners go handin-hand with morals, and a fraudster lacks
both. A toxic mix indeed. And when my
wife, who was born a serene highness into
a 900-year-old noble family and has never
in her life had a snobby thought towards
a fellow human being, feels insulted enough
to commiserate with a woman by telling her
she’s sorry the woman had to marry a man
so common (no use going into details about
that particular incident) it’s time to call it
a day. I’m off for good.
The irony is that I no longer like the place.
A club cannot be run by a Mrs Danvers who,
although an employee, chooses who comes
in and who doesn’t. She will, of course, bring
in low lifes. Having said all that, I wish the
place well. My children are members and
my grandchildren use it, but the next time
I cross its portals I will be a transgender
black woman wearing fishnet tights.
Mind you, the days when men walked
on the outside of the pavement and stood
up when a lady entered the room have gone
the way of high-button shoes. I am told that
giving up one’s seat to a woman on public
transport in America can land one in trouble. Feminists do not take kindly to what
they feel is condescension. Edmund Burke
thought that manners were more important
than laws. Poor old Edmund, he wouldn’t
exactly have been sought after by television
producers seeking to push the boundaries
nowadays. In fact, common courtesy might
soon become a statutory offence.
Good manners are not a superficial activity. They serve a moral purpose. They illustrate that one is willing to put others first.
A Schubert song, a Hopper painting, a Chopin nocturne, a Mozart aria; all strike a blow
against the rudeness and the brutality of
modern life. The great Paul Johnson wrote
that a duel, with its code of conduct, was better than the murderous brawls in the streets,
the punch from behind.
The media are at present obsessed with
the Weinsteins of this world. But Hollywood etiquette has always been about
reminding others that you are more important than they are. The level of hostility and
the decline in civility in Hollywood reflect
wider society, where young people remain
glued to screens that depict vulgarity and
violence. The raging cult of celebrity —
the I-am-somebody-important-you-are-anobody syndrome — has spread throughout
the world. Once upon a time, not only were
celebrities gracious and polite in public, they
also aped society swells whom they considered their betters.
Displays of selfish, hostile behaviour may
be common in Hollywood and downtown
New York — and even in London — but
it’s not always the ‘stars’ who are responsible. The diva-like behaviour filters down,
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
‘And your partner — is he locally sourced?’
and personal assistants are as obsequious to
their bosses as they are aggressively disdainful towards others. What is worse, however,
is the modern cultural phenomenon of needing to shock and of letting it all hang out. The
utter drivel I read every day from so-called
celebrities shows that the two words most
missing from today’s lexicon are ‘self’ and
‘respect’. Revealing things that one would
hesitate to tell one’s shrink — I haven’t
got one but some of my best friends do —
is now commonplace, replacing the dignified silence that was once worth a thousand
words. Whatever happened to reticence?
Yes, society is corroded by low lifes, but
it was ever thus. Remember when men took
off their hats when a lady walked into a lift
or when they went into a restaurant or bar?
Try telling a man nowadays to take off his hat
and put up his dukes. Offensive informality
was always more American than British, and
I for one never minded that. The rural south
always had better manners than the north,
and where I went to school manners were
more important than anything — except
honesty. One never lied or cheated. And how
brilliant was the great Hank Williams Jr who
sang: ‘We say grace and we say ma’am/ And
if you ain’t into that, we don’t give a damn.’
I’m off to the Bagel, a week late already.
Low life
Jeremy Clarke
During the past three years I have spent quite
a bit of time in a rented house in Provence.
Volets Bleus is a rectangular breeze-block
bungalow perched on the side of a hill. In
front of it is a tiled south-facing terrace resting on concrete pillars. The terrace looks over
the tops of the trees that grow out of the valley floor, and further out over a commercial
vineyard, and then to a distant line of oakforested hills. Our nearest neighbours are a
Dutch couple who live in a pretty old property a quarter of a mile away and high above
us, currently on the market for €1.2 million.
Kukor and Ezzard refer to our breeze-block
shack as ‘the ugliest
house in the Var’. ª
Previously, Volets Bleus was owned by a
wealthy Scottish couple who used to drive
down from the UK in a chauffeur-driven
Rolls-Royce. The chauffeur thought the property beneath his dignity, so while his employers camped out in the house, he stayed in the
best local hotel. This unusual state of affairs
became a folk memory among the indigenous French. The first question asked by the
first local to make a courtesy visit was: ‘Are
you Scottish?’ Catriona is in fact Scottish. But
she had to disappoint him by going on to say
that sadly she was unrelated to the couple
with the Rolls-Royce and the haughty chauffeur and that she was only renting.
Catriona lives here all year round; I
come and go. I like the house, she doesn’t.
Indeed, she has a ready list of grievances
for summer visitors who tell her how lovely it must be to live here. In winter she is
frozen and in summer she almost boils
to death. The roof leaks. The septic tank
smells. The stink of putrefying boar corpses
in the hunting season is unsupportable. The
house is regularly and dramatically infested with millipedes, ladybirds, biting ants
and a reputedly edible dormouse called a
loir. The scratch scratch scratch of loir in
the roof drives Catriona mad. (Loir are
protected by French law and impossible
to kill, in any case. We’ve tried everything
from cage traps to sticky pads to ultrason-
ic sound. Personally, I am now greatly in
favour of these intelligent creatures.)
Sneeze and the electricity trip switch
at the bottom of the hill is thrown. Matter
from the lavatories occasionally bubbles up
into the kitchen sink. The crack in the floor
that runs the length of the house, and which
seems to suggest that the house might slip
down the hill at any moment, grows alarmingly wider. The wood burner is inefficient
The house is regularly and
dramatically infested with a
reputedly edible dormouse
and smoky. The cupboards are mouldy. And
so on and so forth. If pressed for time, she
merely characterises the house as hot, cold,
damp, leaky, draughty, dusty, mouldy, smelly,
smoky and infested.
But her love of the countryside in which
the house sits amounts to a sort of pagan
idolatry. Forget the house; for Catriona the
countryside is everything. The scent of pine
or thyme wafting across her nostrils on a hot
breeze transports her. In mid-April the first
nightingale arrives in the treetops in front
of the house, clears its throat and flings its
soul out. Over the next week more arrive.
Last year four within earshot sang their little heads off day and night for six weeks. The
nightingales are so numerous in the district,
and they sing so loudly, that people complain about them. They sing even through
torrential rain and crashing thunderstorms.
If a mistral has blown the atmosphere free
of dust, the stars at night are like flung silver
pepper. On such nights I will admit that it is
pleasant to sit or lie outside with the gin bottle for an evening of low-tech entertainment.
But unlike Catriona, I am sniffy about
the Provençal countryside. ‘It’s barren,’
I complain. And so it is. The only vegetation that thrives here, as far as I can see, are
spiky things. Before the Romans bought the
olive and the vine, the place must have been
uninhabitable. There’s no standing or running water. No babbling brooks or placid
ponds. There’s no topsoil even, just boulders and sharp-edged rubble. ‘But look!’
she says, pointing at the hills. ‘It’s so green.’
‘Scrub oaks,’ I spit. ‘Weeds.’ ‘And so quiet!’
she says. I concede ‘quiet’. That’s because
they’ve shot all the songbirds except the
Shove Your Tissues
The man wears chinos and a flannel shirt,
a zip-up fleece and odd socks:
one is more beige.
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Iran is our natural ally
The National Trust in trouble
His face, as creased and faded as his shirt,
reminds me of Guernica, but without the light bulb,
or the nostrils.
If I did tell him about my penchant
for being led astray
by the man who holds a dog lead in one hand,
himself in the other,
he’d hurl himself at the space
where a window used to be,
then I’d have to counsel him.
Boris in Libya
Can you forgive her?
Isabel Hardman and Matthew Parris on Theresa May’s fate
H less
ou on
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He asks why I have my arms folded;
I ask why he doesn’t.
‘What would your present self say to your former self?’
‘She’d say you’re a prick.’
(Other self nods.)
He writes down ‘transference’ and looks
at the clock I’m not supposed to notice
behind my head.
— Samantha Roden
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
nightingales. Perhaps their little bones make
for fiddly eating.
But there is one truly marvellous thing
about Provence on which we agree; about
which everyone agrees. You fling back the
shutters every morning and it dazzles you.
It makes one feel cheerful, sexy and alive.
I even suspect that three years of this sunshine is partly responsible for restoring my
health. Three years ago the good old NHS
‘threw the kitchen sink’ at my cancer. This
uncannily sharp sunshine has, I think, done
the rest. I can’t believe my luck.
Real life
Melissa Kite
‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take
it any more!’ I screamed through the window of the car while driving down Cobham
High Street.
‘Are you aware,’ my saner self said to me,
‘that you are driving down Cobham High
Street screaming a slogan from a film?’
‘Yes,’ I said to my saner self. ‘Yes, I am
aware. And I’ll take it from here, thank you.’
I had been to the kebab shop for a chicken skewer to cheer myself up when it happened. It was 8 p.m., dark, and I pulled up
outside Ali’s feeling utterly deflated by what
I shall simply call ‘all the rotten hypocrisy’. I
parked, as I always do, in the off-road space
outside his takeaway joint and two others, a
fish and chip shop and an Indian.
As usual, there were cars crammed in
all over the place and I pulled up where I
wasn’t blocking anyone in, went inside, said
hi to Ali and ordered my usual.
I had only been waiting for about two
minutes when a bloke came running in
breathless, shouting: ‘Someone’s getting a
I looked outside and a parking warden
was indeed issuing a ticket at 8 p.m. in the
pitch dark to a car pulled up on a plot of land
that was completely off-road. My car. I ran
outside and said I’d move. Too late, he said.
I explained that this space has, for as long as
anyone can remember, been crammed with
cars like this. And what about all the others?
Why just me (in my 4x4)?
A row ensued, the conclusion of which
was the warden’s smug assertion that ‘I just
issue ticket. You argue with council’.
He shoved the thing at me and I took it,
speechless. Then I got into my symbol of the
Imperialist ruling circles and drove away.
I wasn’t going back to buy the kebab
Ali was making me because if I did, that
was putting the sorry episode up in price by
another tenner. So I would go without dinner. It was the only lucid thought my brain
could produce. Yes, I would go without dinner to save money and as a protest. Who
was meant to see or care about this protest?
God, possibly.
I had only got as far as the next junction
when my brain was suddenly gripped by a
terrible explosion of the reasons I was trying to cheer myself up with a kebab in the
first place, by which I mean ‘all the rotten
hypocrisy’: chiefly this raping and pillaging
we seem to be undergoing as standard, and
the fact that a young blonde slip of a girl
from Canada was held for hours at our border, then deported because she stated publicly she didn’t much like the sound of it.
I felt my foot go down on the brake. I felt
my hands turn the wheel. I felt my foot go
down hard on the accelerator. I felt my car
turn and career back towards the kebab shop.
Someone wound my window down, and
I heard a strange, strangled sound coming
from the inside of the car: ‘I’m mad as hell
and I’m not going to take it any more!’
A passer-by looked at me askance. I
screeched to a halt at the kebab shop to find
the warden had gone. I drove a few doors
down the street where I found him laughing
with a colleague. Let the record now reflect
that I went tonto.
If the council have CCTV footage I
am confident it will show a woman in wellies, face and hands covered in grime from
Susanna Gross
Every bit of anger about every
twisted outrage on the planet was
pouring out of me
Contract: 5Xby South
horses, black eyes streaming with tears, hair
standing on end, yelling, screaming and crying as though every bit of anger about every
twisted outrage on the planet was pouring
out of her.
The parking warden in his grey uniform,
unfortunately, had become the representation of everyone who enforces all the rotten hypocrisy in the world. He stood there
speechless, but his friend wasn’t having it.
His friend advanced on this woman with his
fists bared.
He ran at her, so that she lost her balance
and staggered backwards. Then he ran at her
again, screaming at the top of his voice: ‘Get
in your car! Go on! Get in it and go or I’m
giving you another ticket.’
We only got as far as the junction again.
‘I’m still mad as hell…’ ‘Alright, alright.’ I
pulled over and called the police. Two officers arrived, young, handsome and polite.
They went inside the kebab shop then came
back. ‘The camera at the shop hasn’t captured anything,’ said one of them, ‘but I’m
not convinced a crime was committed.’ He
paused, before adding: ‘On a more positive
note, Ali says your kebab’s ready.’
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
Colin Simpson, who has died after a long illness at the age of 69, was a star both at the
bridge table and away from it. I vividly
remember first meeting him when I started
playing rubber bridge at TGRs about 20 years
ago. He was tall, with a commanding presence,
and despite playing for very high stakes, unusually even-tempered.
He was also a rarity among bridge professionals for having a proper job — and what
a job! For more than 30 years, Colin was a
special branch detective in counterterrorism.
In 1982, he was assigned to protect Shlomo
Argov, the Israeli ambassador in London.
One evening in June, as Argov was leaving
the Dorchester, a terrorist opened fire. Argov
fell, and Colin began chasing the gunman.
When he had closed the gap to a few yards,
the man turned round and opened fire; luckily he missed and Colin managed to shoot
him in the head. He was the first policeman
ever to shoot dead a terrorist on English soil.
(Argov survived but was paralysed.)
As you can imagine, Colin never lost his
nerve or cool during bridge. He often represented England, and after retiring went on
to become a Senior World and European
Champion. But he always said it was highstake rubber bridge that taught him, the
hard way, never to give up. This was one of
his favourite hands:
z AQ 10 4
yAK 3 2
w A 10 7 6
zKJ 7
yQ 9 8
X J 10 8
7 65
z 98
w KJ
6 5 2
5 4
9 8
z 3
y J 10
XAK Q 9 4 3 2
w4 3 2
West led the wQ. Colin won with the ace,
cashed the zA, and ruffed a spade. He then
cashed the XA — and got the bad news. How
could this possibly make? But he found a way.
He crossed to the yA and ruffed a third spade,
then crossed to the yK and ruffed a heart. He
now held XKQ9, w43. West held XJ10876.
Colin exited with a club; West had to ruff and
play a trump into Colin’s tenace; Colin won
and exited with another club: West had to do
the same again. Contract made with aplomb
— by a man who will be much missed.
Kramnik’s Immortal
Raymond Keene
Every so often a game is played which is
worthy of joining the immortals in the
pantheon of chessboard masterpieces.
Anderssen v. Kieseritsky, London 1851,
Zukertort v. Blackburne, London 1883,
Botvinnik v. Capablanca, AVRO 1938;
these are the jewels to which every chess
player aspires. As Marcel Duchamp once
observed: ‘not all artists are chess players,
but all chess players are artists’.
The former world champion Vladimir
Kramnik played such a game against
Levon Aronian, one of the pre-tournament
favourites in the Berlin Candidates to
determine the challenger to Magnus
Carlsen’s crown. The championship match
itself is set for London in November.
#RONKCN-RCMNKL: Fidé Candidates Berlin 2018;
Ruy Lopez
$WEThis kind of ‘delayed exchange’ is a popular
counter to the Berlin Defence. FWE
3GJ4I(see diagram 1) This is an
extraordinary idea and shows an admirable
flexibility of thought. White’s play has been a little
passive and Kramnik alertly realises that he can
exploit this with a rapid kingside advance. -J
0JEWhite needs a more robust response to
Black’s aggressive plan. The alternative 9 Nc3 fits
the bill so that if Black continues as in the game
with 9 ... g5 10 Nxe5 g4 11 d4 Bd6 12 g3 Bxe5 13
dxe5 Qxe5 then the white e-pawn is protected and
he has time for 14 h4 with unclear play. I
This shows up White’s 9th move as being too slow.
The black attack now develops with terrifying
speed. 0WGIF11 Nxg4 is destroyed
by 11 ... Bxg4 12 hxg4 Qh4+ 13 Kg1 Ng3 and mate
on h1 is inevitable. $FI$WG
FWG3WG3F3GBlack could play
14 ... Qxd4 15 cxd4 gxh3 but he much prefers to
keep queens on and play for the attack. J
For the moment White has sealed up the kingside
but Black now swiftly mobilises the rest of his
army and quickly opens further lines. E
Ì3EThe loss of time that White suffers over
the next few moves proves to be disastrous.
Black to play. This position is a variation from
today’s game Aronian-Kramnik, Berlin 2018. How
can Black briskly conclude his kingside attack?
Answers to me at The Spectator by Tuesday 27
February or via email to
There is a prize of £20 for the first correct answer
out of a hat. Please include a postal address and
allow six weeks for prize delivery.
.CSěVGGL¥SVKNNGR Hannu Visti, London
Averse to verse
Lucy Vickery
Diagram 1
Diagram 2
16 Qd3 minimises White’s disadvantage.
$GÌ3DE3CHThe key
breakthrough. This creates possibilities of
advancing with ... f4 as well as the prospect of
levering open the h1-a8 diagonal. $I
White cannot play 19 exf5 as Black then has a
winning combination – see today’s puzzle.
(see diagram 2) A brilliant coup. If now 25 exd5
then 25 ... Qe4+ 26 Kg1 gxf2+ forces a quick
mate. HIWHGWF26 Rxd3 Qxe4
27 Re3 f2+ 28 Rxe4+ Bxe4 is a beautiful finish.
28 Kh2 g1Q+ 29 Kxg1 f2+ mates.
In Competition No. 3040 you were invited to
submit a poem against poets or poetry.
Plato started it, but over the ages poetry
has been accused of many sins: elitism, aestheticising horror, inadequacy as an agency of
political change. In what was a wide-ranging
and spirited entry there were references to
Shelley (‘poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’), and to Auden (‘poetry
makes nothing happen’), and to much else
besides. Commendations go to Nicholas
Stone, Mae Scanlan, Brian Allgar and Nigel
Stuart. The winners take £30, except Basil
Ransome-Davies who pockets £35.
There’s Chaucer the gofer, there’s ode-machine
There’s Herbert the God-bothered parson.
There’s Shakespeare the aspirant. They’re only
For wiping a metrophobe’s arse on.
There’s Whitman the mystagogue, out of his tree,
There’s Tennyson, bearded and smelly.
There’s Dowson the dipso, and Cummings the
They give me an ache in my belly.
Pound’s Cantos are voodoo, they chargrill your
While Stevens amounts to a riddle
And Ginsberg the Windbag leaks verse like a
The bastards are all on the fiddle.
They hijack the language and grind it up fine
Into tiles for a fancy mosaic.
Go stick your damn tropes where the sun doesn’t
I am ad infinitum prosaic.
Basil Ransome-Davies
Good God, the verbiage, the guff
That gets itself laid out in print
By those who seem to weave their stuff
From contemplated navel lint.
They cast loose, looping lines to catch
Some fluttering passing thought in flight,
Or, given feelings words can’t match,
Plough on just trotting out the trite.
Worse still are those whose grandstand works
Come shrouded in some borrowed myth,
So if they have a point it lurks
Buried deep in thickening pith.
For anything that matters, prose
Will win as it has always won;
And every self-styled poet knows
That poetry gets nothing done.
W.J. Webster
Every iamb, every trochee, every anapestic joke he
Tries to tell is more annoying than the last one.
With each spondee, with each dactyl, she seems
flaky as a fractal.
Are they stoned or drunk or trying to pull a fast
When their measures wax erotic, they look
weirdly unexotic.
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
All those rhymes and rhythms they keep having
fun with
May be just benignly strange, or may pose some
grave moral danger,
So beware the foolish straw their gold is spun with.
Some are Beat and some Romantic. All their egos
are gigantic.
Keep your distance when they try to draw you close.
Their metaphors are snares that will catch you
And their similes are like a fatal dose.
Some are living, some are dead, some are Sylvia
and Ted,
And you wouldn’t want to drink with them or
date them.
The way they play with words, like a chef with
dead, plucked birds
Makes you wonder why God bothered to create
Chris O’Carroll
They live on British sherry and the goodwill of
the fey,
They cannot drive, so always go by train.
You’ll find them all in standard seats for which
they cannot pay
As, in vague, sepulchral voices, they explain.
‘We read at schools, at colleges, with luck, the BBC,
Reciting from slim books we cannot sell.
It’s vital work; we’re passing the baton of Poetry.’
Is the thing picked up? The poets never tell.
They live on tiny payments from yet smaller
From residencies, festivals and worse.
They’ll look askance if once you ask what any
poem means
And despise you if you dare to call it verse.
They live by liberal morals, partner-swapping like
as not,
In garrets filthy, though their hands are clean.
They think it’s work, composing rhyming, florid
Which they hope will earn a medal from the Queen.
Adrian Fry
Is there anything worse than an evening of verse?
How anyone one stands it — to me it’s a puzzle,
I refuse to consume a paltry pantoum,
I swear that I’ll never indulge in a ghasal.
2351: Triplets
by Fieldfare
Unclued lights form three sets
of three, each set related in a
different way to a theme-word
which is hidden in the grid and
should be highlighted.
1 Keeping on certain subject,
I am an unusual scientist
9 A court’s brief shade (4)
14 Mount paintings an artist
submitted (6)
15 In position, mark hit (5)
20 Small holes in stone
column you replaced (7)
21 Good money made, half
in Oldie (7)
23 Risky amount to carry on
horse (7)
24 Swimming organ, cold,
leads to pains (5)
25 Recently winged (5)
26 Comparable condition,
yet I lag badly (7)
32 Stupid-sounding rightwinger in his element? (7)
36 Fighter KOs cross old
farmer (4)
37 Murky liquidity in such a
fund? (5)
38 A half-hearted mob in
farmland (6)
39 Old poet’s limited range
41 Rank one makes fast (4)
42 Like some wine? Assert
with courage editor’s
drunk (13, hyphened)
All poems romantic or, worse still, pedantic,
intended to render me vexed and distressed,
and sonnets Shakespearian, dull, antiquarian,
even Petrarchan, I’d bin with the rest.
I’ve demolished my brain on an unwreathed
and sestinas conducive to premature death,
I’m avoiding the hell of a vile villanelle
or a sad Sapphic ode, till I breathe my last breath.
Poets? My mission’s to set up petitions
to curb the offenders, with no recompense;
no time for apologies, burn the anthologies,
make penning poems a hanging offence.
Sylvia Fairley
Ian McEwan was challenged on the Today
programme to come up with the beginning of
a novel inspired by the current confrontation
with Russia. Let’s have a short story from you
inspired by these events. Email entries of up
to 150 words to by midday on 4 April.
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
1 Huge ship covered in
blossom (5)
3 Page missing, wrote about
a group of items (6)
4 Alps initially look vertical
5 Philosopher you must
admit almost genuine (7)
7 Expanse, some say, is better
ventilated (6)
8 Value of equity in online
business? (9, two words)
13 Candle for menorah fake?
No end of confusion (7)
17 Good new puppies are
shiny (7)
18 Most economical way one
gets in supply (9)
19 One that bites yokel taking
off end of the jaw (7)
21 Grazer left in superb
pasture (9)
22 Engaging king, too briefly
attentive (7, two words)
27 DNA sequences jail
ordinary European: him?
28 Hoodwinks lawyer before
hearers (6)
29 These sung at ancient
drunken social? (6)
31 You may be lucky to have
one thousand at meeting
33 Cattle pest: ox bitten
upfront (5)
35 Smashed piece, using
spades violently (5)
A first prize of £30 for the first
correct solution opened on 9
April. There are two runners-up
prizes of £20. (UK solvers can
choose to receive the latest
edition of the Chambers
dictionary instead of cash —
ring the word ‘dictionary’.)
Entries to: Crossword 2351,
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen
Street, London SW1H 9HP.
Please allow six weeks for
prize delivery.
51.76+1061+6¥5#64 #2
‘Now is the woodcock near the gin’, said by Fabian in
Twelfth Night, suggests the position of BECASSE in relation
to 8, 21, 28, 30 and 37.
(KRSěPRKYG Jenny Staveley, London SW2
4TNNGRSTP Andrew Bell, Shrewsbury, Shropshire;
A.M. Dymond, London SE24
No Sacred Cows
If Corbyn wins, my
escape route is clear
Toby Young
’m currently in Israel on a press
trip organised by Bicom — the
Britain Israel Communications
and Research Centre. Bicom does
a good job of getting experts on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict to give
talks to journalists and I’ve attended a
few in their London offices. But this is
the first time I’ve been on one of their
legendary excursions to the Holy
Land, which they organise about six
times a year. In essence, you’re given
a whistle-stop tour of the country
while being briefed at every turn by
senior ministers and officials on both
sides of the divide. It’s seventh heaven for foreign policy nerds, but I also
have another reason for being here,
which is to weigh up the pros and
cons of emigrating to Israel.
Believe it or not, my entire family is eligible for citizenship under
the Law of Return because Caroline’s father is Jewish. And the idea of
moving here is genuinely appealing
because I’ve been fanatically proIsrael since falling in love with the
place aged 17. I had just failed all my
O-levels and was mooning about feeling like an outcast when my father
decided to send me to a kibbutz. It
turned out to be the perfect antidote
to my adolescent funk.
I found everything about Israel,
particularly its origins, deeply affecting, and in spite of not being Jewish
My entire
family is
for Israeli
father is Jewish
I felt as if I’d discovered my people
at last. I was inspired by the example of pioneering Zionists like Theodor Herzl to take control of my own
destiny. I would return to England,
retake my O-levels, go to a sixth form
and, God help me, apply to Oxford.
And when it all worked out, I felt as if
Israel and the wonderful example of
its founders had saved me and I swore
an oath that I would always defend
the country from its detractors. In the
37 years since, I have done my best
to keep that promise and been back
several times to renew my vows.
Many aspects of contemporary
Israel make it an attractive place to
live. It is a vibrant liberal democracy,
the only truly democratic country in
the Middle East. It has a first-rate
higher education system, low unemployment and a booming economy.
Sustained growth in GDP has transformed Tel Aviv into a sophisticated
metropolis, with many of the same cultural amenities as London and New
York, and the country is well equipped
to withstand any major downturn in
the global economy, being virtually
self-sufficient in food production.
True, its cuisine is fairly basic,
but if you like hummus, falafels and
salad, which is all Caroline eats, you’ll
get along fine. And it has plenty of
newspapers, weekly news magazines
and talk shows, so I could probably
scratch out a living as a hack.
It’s not all milk and honey, mind
you. We were given a briefing in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday by a
spokesman for the Israeli National
Police who told us about the ‘stabbing intifada’, whereby more than 300
Palestinians have attempted to kill
Israelis since October 2015. He told
us that the day before, not 100 yards
from where we were standing, an offduty security guard was repeatedly
stabbed by a 28-year-old man from
the West Bank and later died of his
wounds. Even though the police have
become better at intercepting these
lone wolves, the approach of Israel’s
70th anniversary on 28 May will see
an escalation in violence, particularly
as Donald Trump has announced he
intends to mark the occasion by relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem.
We met with a pollster on Tuesday
who revealed that 35 per cent of the
4.2 million Palestinians in the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip think ‘armed
resistance’ is the most effective means
of establishing a Palestinian state.
The most hopeful peace initiative
involves creating a separate Palestinian state to sit alongside Israel — the
‘two-state solution’ — but progress
is painfully slow. Israel has fought
between seven and ten wars in its
70-year history, depending on your
definition of ‘war’, and will probably fight several more. No chance of
its superb army ever being defeated,
obviously, but the big argument
against moving here is that my children would all have to do a stint in
the Israeli Defence Force and might
be killed in action.
There’s also the fact that I love
my country and something pretty
cataclysmic would have to happen
to force me to leave, such as Labour
winning the next election. This may
be a dangerous part of the world, but
I would feel a lot safer here than living under a Corbyn dictatorship.
Toby Young is associate editor of
The Spectator.
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
year — will be in Dublin, not Twickenham. And the Irish have several
big players to come back from injury.
Spectator Sport
England’s dream ended
in two perfect kicks
Roger Alton
hich would you least like to
see coming towards you?
An Uber driverless car,
Ant McPartlin in his black Mini after
a long lunch, or a Johnny Sexton up
and under? Sexton is a rugby genius:
two of his kicks won Ireland the VI
Nations Grand Slam at the weekend (as predicted by this column, we
should modestly note). The first was
the miraculous drop goal from as
far away as the Gare du Nord which
beat France in the final seconds in
Paris; and the second was the millimetre-perfect kick to the England
line which led to the first try. England
never recovered.
Sexton’s penalty, incidentally,
came after Owen Farrell had latetackled the Irish fullback; something
worth considering amid all the ballyhoo about the newly matured Farrell. I bow to no one in my admiration
for the Saracens standoff, but he
could start a fight on the moon, as we
may have observed before. Now the
autumn showdown with the All Blacks
— the one we were told would be a
rehearsal for the World Cup final next
port is full of ultra-competitive
types, but you don’t have to be
an arse. (Or do you, José?) After one
of the best tennis games we will see
this year, the sleepy-eyed giant Juan
del Potro managed to beat Roger
Federer, who suffered some sort of
mental collapse in a final set tie-break
at Indian Wells. A brilliant match, and
afterwards Delpo made the traditional scrawl on a TV camera. Not his
signature but a heart with the name
‘Cesar’. This was his giant black Newfoundland dog, who had died a couple
of weeks earlier. Delpo is a substantial unit himself, but his dog was the
size of a small horse. No wonder they
got on so well.
Del Potro has been out so much
with injury, you forget how marvellous he is to watch. A massive serve,
a blistering forehand and, at last, a
real challenge to Roger in the slams,
you think. But hang on, del Potro is
nearly 30, and Federer pushing 37: the
young bucks seem to be dropping further and further behind. But welcome
back Delpo, and good luck with finding a new Cesar.
Farrell newly
He could
start a fight
on the moon
ne man who didn’t take many a
backward step when it came to
competition was the ultra-hard former Aussie Test captain Ian Chappell.
He has now popped up in the unlikely role of peacemaker in a fascinating
article for Cricinfo where he muses
on the deplorable behaviour in the
current South Africa-Australia Test
series. Chappell equates the continual
on-field badgering from the Aussies
to workplace bullying, which is rarely
out of the news and roundly condemned wherever it takes place. But not
so much on the cricket field; which
is where the officials or the players
should start to take control.
Before the series, says Chappell,
the Aussies were reported to be planning to bait Kagiso Rabada, the brilliant and feisty young black South
African currently rated the world’s
no. 1 bowler. Well they did a pretty
good job, because Rabada faced a ban
after getting thoroughly into Steve
Smith’s face during the second Test.
Now he’s won his appeal and will play
in the final two matches of this gripping series. Thank heavens, because
the undernourished arena of Test
cricket doesn’t need to shoot itself in
the foot again by banning the world’s
best players. It’s got enough problems
already. As for Rabada, South Africa’s
first black cricketing superstar should
do wonders for the game there.
nteresting to see the owner of
Greek club PAOK Salonika come
on to the pitch with a holstered pistol
after a late goal was disallowed. Not
even Ken Bates thought of that.
Q. Recently, during a stay in a
luxurious mountain hotel in Italy,
and having hurt my knee skiing,
I was reading The Spectator in
the library. I was alone in peace,
thinking how wonderful the
world is, when a man came in
with his mobile, stretched out on
a nearby sofa, and proceeded to
engage in a long, loud phone call
in German. I left the library after
20 minutes of mounting rage, for
the peace of my bedroom. What
should I have done?
— S.F., a quiet-mannered
Englishwoman abroad
A. There are two ways you might
have countered this breach of
civility. One, by using your own
mobile to record a snatch of the
diatribe, then playing it back
within his earshot. This would
have unnerved and swiftly
silenced the offender. Two: by
approaching the offender wearing
a concerned but kind expression
as you whispered: ‘Be careful.
You can be fined for using your
mobile in this library.’ ‘Fined?
By whom?’ they would retort.
‘By your own conscience…’ could
come your gnomic reply.
Q. My sons are at a leading boysonly public school. The problem
I have is with the staff, who —
from the headmaster downwards
— all leave their suit jackets
flapping when making speeches
or teaching, no doubt to appear
‘open’ and approachable. Instead
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
the effect is worryingly casual.
How do I tell them the correct
dress? Could you do the honours
so I can leave your answer lying
around at strategic points within
the school? My understanding
on the subject was drawn from
a glance at my late father who
fastened the top two buttons,
sometimes just the middle but
never the lowest.
— S.B., Bath
A. Regarding buttons, the
impeccably presented Sladmore
Gallery director Gerry Farrell
decrees that ‘top button only is the
gentleman’s way’. Incidentally no
school will do itself a disservice by
imposing a draconian dress code.
Standards are soaring at the oncechaotic Holland Park school,
which many claim is a direct result
of students knowing exactly what
is expected of them in the way
of appearance. This confidence
follows through into the rest of the
school day and ‘empowers’ their
learning curves.
Q. A dear, unvain friend has
developed an unsightly colourless
mole right at the top of her
nose. We meet for lunch once a
month at Peter Jones. Last time I
couldn’t take my eyes off it. How
can I tactfully tell her she must
get it removed?
— P.B., London SW1
A. Next time you meet tell her
that you’ve just come from an
appointment in Harley Street.
You’ve had an unsightly mole
removed from your shoulder and
the dermatologist wanted to check
the healing was all in order. Pass on
the name and address as you say:
‘It’s exactly like the one you have
on your forehead.’
Too good for kleptocrats
Tanya Gold
n 2007 Mikhael Gorbachev
starred in a Louis Vuitton advert.
He was driven past the Berlin
Wall with Louis Vuitton luggage and
the photograph was printed in Vanity
Fair. It was baffling and reassuring,
but nothing lasts forever.
A few years ago I went on the Kleptocracy Bus Tour. It is run by a man
called Roman Borisovich and it tours
London — and sometimes Oxford —
identifying kleptocratic crimes, feuds,
housing, anxieties and behaviours.
During a recent tour, a neighbour of
Andrey Guryev, the fertiliser magnate
who bought Witanhurst in Highgate,
testified that a voice from a security
box had asked him to stop strimming
his own hedge. Of course, I looked for
kleptocratic restaurants from the tour
bus — for Novikov (Asian and Italian), for Rivea at the Bulgari Hotel
(Italian), for Mari Vanna (Russian),
for Rextail (meat). But Borisovich did
not mention them and I did not blame
him. Any kleptocratic restaurant tour
would have to take in Itsu on Piccadilly (sushi) and the Sheraton Park
Lane’s Palm Court (afternoon tea),
is no longer
a real place
but a smelted
housing the
where Alexander Litvinenko met the
FSB goons. It is a question of taste, and
so I did not race to Zizzi’s in Salisbury
for a quick review last week. I loathed
the gags about Zizzi’s — poisoned, but
still in Zizzi’s? — but snobbery dies
hard in England.
The Kleptocracy Tour bus trundled through Knightsbridge. That is no
longer a real place but a smelted fairyland housing the international rich,
including Russians removing money
from Russia with or without Vladimir
Putin’s permission, which is tidal, and
laundering it through townhouses,
which they ruin with windows and carpets. It is a parallel world with a parallel map and Knightsbridge is its capital
city. Harrods is its Waitrose, even if the
biscuits are terrible. I like this parallel
map and its byways. It is, in my mind,
a terrible Narnia, with signposts to
Dior, Dubai and death. This is a land
where parking tickets are almost never
paid. The Mail lurks, waiting for photographs of banana-yellow Lamborghinis being repossessed — it happens
more often than you might think.
The kleptocratic restaurant tour,
which exists only in this column’s
head, also trundles through Knights-
bridge. Rivea at the Bulgari Hotel is on
Hyde Park and Mari Vanna is almost
opposite it. Mari Vanna is dusty and
cluttered. It is for the kleptocrat who
misses his mother, but not enough to
bring her to Knightsbridge. There is
the Berkeley Hotel too, with its shoeshaped biscuits for women who worry
they don’t think often enough about
shoes. But none are as glossy or as
gilded as the new kleptocratic restaurant which belongs to Richard Caring,
a man who looks like a kleptocrat but
is trapped, for now, in a dying liberal
democracy. It is Harry’s Dolce Vita on
Basil Street.
Some restaurants are well-named,
and Harry’s Dolce Vita is beautiful.
It is long and light with a green and
white awning, topiary, and a golden
front door. Inside, a designer has rummaged for everything he finds lovely
and yet has managed, with fawn leathers and light fittings and stained-glass
windows, to make something coherent
rather than disgusting, which is more
usual. It is very slightly Nestlé Gold
Blend, but that is nothing to hate.
The food is Italian because kleptocrats love Italian food, and steak, fish
and schnitzel are all perfect, if more
beautiful than usual; the puddings
literally have a PR. The service is prosperity theology drunk neat; that the
wifi is broken has reduced the staff to
something like existential grief and I
feel an urge to comfort them. A perfect restaurant then, in a confected
district filled with confected people,
and it is both soothing and chilling,
because nothing lasts forever.
Harry’s Dolce Vita, 7-31 Basil Street,
London SW3 1BB, tel: 020 3940 1020.
‘I’ll take those three.’
A 72-year-old Australian called
Stelarc, the BBC reported, has
an ear growing from one arm. He
hopes to connect a microphone
to it so that people can hear on
the internet the sounds it picks up.
Mr Stelarc is a body-hacker. They
tend to have names like Stelarc.
Hacker itself was first used
as a surname, but not for a
body-hacker or a computerhacker. Adam le Hacker’s
name was recorded in 1224. He
was probably either a hedger
or a maker of hacks; tools for
I had assumed without
thinking about it that life hacks
and computer hackers shared a
verbal origin with journalistic
hacks like myself. It is not so.
Oliver Goldsmith wrote an
epitaph: ‘Here lies poor Ned
Purdon, from misery freed, / Who
long was a bookseller’s hack; / He
led such a damnable life in this
world — / I don’t think he’ll wish
to come back.’ Edward Purdon
really existed. Goldsmith had
known him in Dublin before he
dissipated his inheritance and
fell dead in Smithfield aged 37.
He won a place in the Dictionary
of National Biography on the
strength of Goldsmith’s lines.
Anyway, that kind of hack
is like a hackney horse for hire,
and is named after Hackney in
London. And an argument that
is hacked to death is not chopped
about with a billhook but ridden
to death like a hackney horse.
It is from hack in the sense
of ‘chopping’ that hacking, or
designing your own software,
emerged in the 1970s. In the next
decade hacking acquired the
meaning of ‘gaining unauthorised
access’ to a computer system.
Yet already in 1963, students at
MIT who got free phone calls
by connecting a computer to the
exchange were called hackers.
By the 1980s there was an
ambiguity about hacking: either
being keen at computer skills
or getting at computers or
telephones without authority. By
then hackers had a 50-year history
as unskilled enthusiasts in a sport,
particularly golf. In the 1930s,
Americans said they could hack it,
if they managed to do something.
In the 21st century, cars,
education, life itself were hacked
by enthusiasts with stratagems
like those of computer hackers.
Why should the body be immune
from being hacked about?
— Dot Wordsworth
the spectator | 24 march 2018 |
Winemaker Lunches
Readers are invited to join us in the boardroom at 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1 for the
following Spectator Winemaker Lunches. These delightfully informal events, at which celebrated
producers introduce and discuss their wines over a four-course cold lunch provided by
Forman & Field, are hugely popular so early booking is recommended.
Friday 6 April, 12.30pm for 1pm
Dourthe is one of the great names of Bordeaux and the company boasts an enviable number of châteaux. After an aperitif of Dourthe No.1
Sauvignon Blanc, brand ambassador Nick Dagley will present a number of excellent wines from the Dourthe range, including the 2016 Ch.
La Garde Blanc, 2014 Ch. Pey La Tour Reserve, 2011 Ch. Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac, 2011 Ch. La Garde Rouge, 2011 Ch. Le Boscq
and the 2011 Ch. Belgrave.
Champagne Pol Roger
Friday 20 April, 12.30pm for 1pm
Pol Roger is pretty much the house pour at The Spectator and we are delighted that Freya Miller from the maison will be presenting the
Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV, the 2006 and 1999 Pol Roger Brut Vintage en magnum, plus the exquisite, pudding-friendly Pol Roger Rich.
From the wider Pol portfolio we will also enjoy the 2015 Joseph Drouhin Chambolle Musigny.
La Tunella
Friday 4 May, 12.30pm for 1pm
Family-owned La Tunella is a 70-hectare estate in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia in Italy’s far north-east and its wines are imported exclusively
by Corney & Barrow. La Tunella’s Giovanna Zamparo will present several of the estate’s wines, including the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc
La Tunella, 2016 Rjgialla La Tunella, 2016 Cabernet Franc La Tunella, 2016 Pinot Nero La Tunella and the beguilingly sweet 2016
Noans La Tunella.
Friday 18 May, 12.30pm for 1pm
Springfontein Wine Estate is a strikingly beautiful spot near Stanford, Walker Bay, and we are greatly honoured that Tariro Masayiti,
South Africa’s leading black winemaker, formerly of Nederburg, will present Springfontein’s celebrated wines in person. These will
include examples from the Terroir Selection, the single varietal Devil’s Drums premium wines and the sought-after Whole Lotta Love
and Child in Time blends from the Limestone Rocks range.
To book, visit or call 0207 961 0015
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