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The Spectator - November 11, 2017

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11 november 2017 [ £4.25 [ est. 1828
Thank heaven for tax havens
How I used male MPs
America’s outrage overload
Matthew Lynn
Melissa Kite
Tina Brown
Desert storm
The Saudi Crown Prince and Israel are uniting against Iran, says John R. Bradley
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established 1828
Stop the rot
ealing with a hung parliament was
never going to be easy, but no one
quite foresaw the decay which now
seems to have set in to Theresa May’s government. The best that can be said for the
Prime Minister is that the past week’s events
have weakened her rivals within the Conservative party. No one is talking up Priti
Patel as a potential rival any more and a
challenge from Boris Johnson is now highly
unlikely, following his loose words about a
British woman incarcerated in Iran — which
the Iranian regime may use as a pretext to
increase her sentence. Like John Major, the
Prime Minister benefits from the feuding in
the Cabinet and is kept in place by the fear
that a leadership challenge would see the
party rip itself apart.
Had Mrs May a majority of 100 or more
— as she was widely expected to win in
June’s election — such travails, together
with the resignation of her Defence Secretary, the pornography allegations against
her effective deputy, Damian Green, and
the suspension of a backbench MP, Charlie Elphicke, on charges which have been
referred to the police, would be a hugely
damaging distraction. As it is, they present
an immediate existential crisis.
It is not just a question of whether the
government can survive, but does it even
want to? Five months into its term there is
a horrible weariness to everything it does. It
is too much to hope for a big idea, but there
seem to be few small ideas either. What
should be the government’s triumphant flagship policy, Universal Credit, which began
with broad political support, has been undermined by poor execution. This has played
into the opposition’s narrative about uncaring and out-of-touch Tories. Problems such
as these should have been visible a mile off.
And then, Brexit. There is no point in
Britain leaving the EU unless it is done boldly. It has to be an unapologetic opening up
of the UK economy to the world, in which
we out-compete the EU for trade and investment. At present, it looks as if Brexit is being
enacted in the spirit of a damage-limitation
exercise, where we pay large sums in order
to retain some of the privileges that we had
before. That is, of course, how many Remainers see Brexit. If the government is seen to
approach it in the same way it will end in
horrible failure.
Shortly after losing the election, Jeremy
Corbyn predicted that he would nevertheless become prime minister within a year.
And who would be bold enough, in the current chaotic circumstances, to rule this out?
It is too much to hope for a
big idea, but there seem
to be few small ideas either
But if it is to be averted, the government
needs to rediscover its will to govern — and
quickly. The Budget on 22 November now
becomes critical. A weakened Chancellor
first has to secure the support of many Tory
MPs who would rather he did not have the
job. No government could survive the loss
of its finance bill, and it will not take many
rebels to fell this one, sending the country
back to the polls for a yawning third time in
as many years.
But the successful carriage of the Budget
will not be enough. For the government to
get itself back into a state in which it can
hope to survive for the medium term, there
has to be an offer to voters more appealing
than Philip Hammond’s miserable spring
Budget. Housing, we are told, will be a central theme. Which is odd, because housing is
the responsibility of Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary. Word is that Mr Hammond
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
wishes to make various announcements that
have nothing to do with the Treasury precisely because he has been unable to muster
any ideas of his own. He is also refusing to
share details of his Budget with the Prime
Minister, and astonishes even his own aides
with his habit of talking down to her.
There are plenty of things he can
do. Universal Credit needs its purpose
restored, so it is actually better than the
unreformed welfare system. This means a
reversal, at least in part, of the cuts made
by George Osborne. The original purpose
of wrapping six benefits into one — that
it would eliminate the welfare trap which
dissuaded the unemployed from taking up
jobs and the lightly employed from taking on extra hours — needs restating. The
damaging notion that Universal Credit is just a penny-pinching exercise has to
be dispelled. If this costs money, so be it.
There is one legacy of which this government can already be proud and it should talk
about it far more: delivering the lowest unemployment rate in more than 40 years. More
stable governments would have given their
eye teeth for jobless figures like this. Moreover, employment has risen in spite of dire
warnings that the opposite would happen.
Now the government needs to build its
own rescue strategy on this remarkable
achievement. Free, open trade and investment with the rest of the world, flexible
labour markets and a streamlined benefits
system which incentivises work should all be
part of it. As things stand, the agenda involves
more taxes, more spending and energy price
caps. Is there a point to this supposedly Conservative government, other than to cling to
power and hope it will survive the next day’s
newspapers? If so, we need to hear it in the
Budget. If not, Mr Corbyn might be proved
right after all.
Garden variety, p43
Boot up, p58
Picasso’s ‘pornography’, p41
Leading article
Portrait of the Week
Diary America’s outrage overload
Tina Brown
10 Politics A zombie government
James Forsyth
11 The Spectator’s Notes
Labour and the Duchy of Lancaster
Charles Moore
15 Rod Liddle
If you care about kids, give us the facts
21 Matthew Parris
Sex is easy to understand.
Unlike Brexit
23 Mary Wakefield
Have mercy on the old
24 Ancient and Modern
The feminist courtesans
28 Barometer The first tax haven, gun
deaths and missing out in tax
12 Desert storm
The Saudis and Israelis are uniting
against Iran
John R. Bradley
32 Books of the Year
A selection of the best and most
overrated books of 2017
13 Salman’s Arabia
Whitehall is right behind the
ruthless moderniser
Fraser Nelson
38 Nigel Jones
Stalin, Volume II, by Stephen Kotkin
16 Trump notebook
Tax and the Republican death wish
Christopher Caldwell
17 Sex, truth and politics
I took advantage of men to get ahead
Melissa Kite
18 My plan for Europe
The EU must be reformed
Emmanuel Macron
39 Hugh Thomson
Where the Wild Winds Are, by Nick
Hunt; Windblown, by Tamsin
Treverton Jones
40 Laura Beatty
True Stories, by Francis Spufford;
The Rub of Time, by Martin Amis
Gary Dexter
Writers’ Letters: Charlotte Brontë
41 Claudia Massie
Guernica, by James Attlee
24 Thank havens
In praise of offshore bank accounts
Matthew Lynn
29 Letters How to find love, Scottish
school chaos and glorious Liverpool
27 The tables turned
The comeback of the dining room
Jenny Coad
30 Any other business Jay Powell,
the Paradise Papers and a new hotel
Martin Vander Weyer
28 My identity crisis
Police thought I was the Putney Pusher
Joel Edington
Michael Hofmann
‘Coventry’: a poem
43 Mary Keen
on gardening books
44 Ian Thomson
A Chill in the Air, by Iris Origo
45 Stephen Bayley
Calder, by Jed Perl
John Mole
‘Gold to Gold’: a poem
46 Daniel Hahn
The Imposter, by Javier Cercas
Cover by Morten Morland. Drawings by Michael Heath, Castro, Clare Silbeck, J. Parker, Tony Husband, Lotta, Roger Latham, Paul Wood, RGJ, Bernie, Nick Newman,
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Street, London SW1H 9HP Editor: Fraser Nelson
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
The high art of needlework, p54
Fine dining, p27
Sitting for Cézanne, p52
48 Selina Mills
Does art transcend disability?
61 High life Taki
Low life Jeremy Clarke
50 Radio
Ken Dodd; Wordsworth’s daughter
Kate Chisholm
63 Real life Melissa Kite
Michael Fallon, for all the times I
may have touched your knee while
drunk, I’m sorry
Melissa Kite, p17
64 The turf Robin Oakley
Bridge Janet de Botton
65 Wine club Jonathan Ray
Benjamin Grosvenor;
Mitsuko Uchida
Richard Bratby
58 Notes on… Bad weather boots
Laura Freeman
52 Exhibitions
Cézanne Portraits
Martin Gayford
66 Chess Raymond Keene
Competition Lucy Vickery
53 Television
James Delingpole
67 Crossword Doc
68 Status anxiety Toby Young
Battle for Britain Michael Heath
54 Arts and crafts
May Morris
Melanie McDonagh
69 Sport Roger Alton
Opening a paper without an article
by A.A. Gill is like going to your
store cupboard and finding that
there’s no chilli or salt: everything
is blander without him
Cressida Connolly, p37
Old age undoes our minds.
It loosens the restraints and
lets out the dark and slithering
things inside
Mary Wakefield, p23
Your problems solved
55 Theatre
The Exorcist; Slaves of Solitude
Lloyd Evans
Mary Killen
70 Food Tanya Gold
56 Musicals
Where is the British Hamilton?
Iain Hollingshead
Mind your language
Dot Wordsworth
57 Cinema
The Florida Project
Deborah Ross
Emmanuel Macron is the
President of France. He writes
about his agenda for Europe
on p18.
Hugh Thomson writes about
winds and the 1987 Great Storm
on p39. He once travelled across
England with a pack mule.
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
Laura Beatty reviews books
of essays by Martin Amis and
Francis Spufford on p40. She
won the authors’ club first novel
award for Pollard in 2008.
Selina Mills is a ‘blindish’
writer and journalist, who
writes about disability and art
on p48. Her book, Life Unseen:
The Story of Blindness, is out
in 2018.
Iain Hollingshead, who
writes about British history and
musicals on p56, is a history
teacher and former Daily
Telegraph journalist.
n air of crisis hung over the
government. Priti Patel, the
International Development Secretary, was
told to fly back immediately from Africa
after a series of secret meetings with Israeli
political figures was revealed. Sir Michael
Fallon had already gone as Defence
Secretary, to be replaced by someone
called Gavin Williamson, an MP since
2010 and Chief Whip since last year. Sir
Michael’s departure followed a complaint
that Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the
House, was said to have made to the Prime
Minister about a remark some years ago —
when she had said she had cold hands, he
said: ‘I know where you can put them
to warm them up.’
o many claims of sexual impropriety at
Westminster flew about that it became
hard to focus on any one of the starlings
in the murmuration. Bob Quick, a former
assistant commissioner of the Met, told a
newspaper that police found pornography
on a computer in the parliamentary office
of Damian Green, the First Secretary of
State, during a raid to investigate leaks in
2008; Mr Green this week called the claims
‘false, disreputable political smears from a
discredited police officer’. Carl Sargeant,
who was sacked as Labour cabinet
secretary on communities and children in
the Welsh Assembly and was suspended
from the party after allegations about his
conduct, was understood to have killed
himself. A woman denounced Clive Lewis
MP because, in a public room during the
Labour Party conference, ‘we had a hug
and while we were having a hug he gave
my bum a big squeeze’. Professor Tariq
Ramadan, under investigation in France
over two allegations of rape, took leave of
absence from Oxford University. Theresa
May, the Prime Minister, called for a ‘new
culture of respect’.
he Duchy of Lancaster had invested
£10 million of the Queen’s own money
in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands,
according to the BBC, which together
with the Guardian pushed information
from 13.4 million documents, nicknamed
the Paradise Papers, hacked from the
computer systems of Appleby, a provider of
offshore legal services, and other sources.
The documents had been shared by
Süddeutsche Zeitung with the International
Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour
Party, suggested that the Queen should
apologise. There was no suggestion that the
Queen, who pays income tax voluntarily,
was avoiding tax. Other celebrities
featuring in the leaked hack included Bono,
the singer, who invested in a Lithuanian
shopping mall, and some actors from the
BBC sitcom Mrs Brown’s Boys, who had
transferred their fees into companies in
Mauritius. The energy supplier SSE set
about forming a new UK energy company
with its rival Npower, covering 22 per cent
of customers. Mobile phone data could
be used in place of census questions in
the future, a report from the Office for
National Statistics said.
rown Prince Mohammad bin Salman
of Saudi Arabia arrested 11 princes
(including Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who
owns the Savoy in London), four ministers
and dozens of ex-ministers, reportedly
imprisoning them in the Ritz-Carlton hotel
in Riyadh. Saad Hariri announced from
Riyadh that he was resigning as the Prime
Minister of Lebanon, blaming Iran for
spreading ‘disorder and destruction’; Mr
Hariri had lost the support of Saudi Arabia.
Earlier a ballistic missile fired from Yemen
had been intercepted near Riyadh airport.
A large void was detected in the Great
Pyramid at Giza, above the 150ft Grand
Gallery and of similar size.
n South Korea, President Donald Trump
of the United States urged North Korea
to ‘come to the table’ to discuss giving
up nuclear weapons. Mr Trump also had
Japan, China, Vietnam and the Philippines
on his ten-day itinerary. In Japan, Chisako
Kakehi, aged 70, was sentenced to death
for poisoning a husband and two lovers
with cyanide for their money. Carles
Puigdemont, the Catalan independence
leader, surrendered to police in Brussels
who were waving a European Arrest
Warrant from Spain alleging rebellion;
his return was delayed by legal actions.
Paddles, the popular six-toed cat belonging
to Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of
New Zealand, died in a traffic accident.
evin Kelley, a former US airman who
had escaped from a mental hospital in
2012, shot dead 26 people and wounded 20
in a Baptist church at Sutherland Springs,
Texas. Police in Hillsborough, North
Carolina, who had arrested a woman for
shoplifting, spent $140 of their own money
to buy her food when they found she and
her child had not eaten for three days. CSH
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
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Tina Brown
t’s remarkable how fast the
unthinkable becomes the expected. It
felt almost routine to pick up the New
York Post last Sunday morning and see
the front page mocked up as a wanted
poster for Harvey Weinstein and the
news that the NYPD is preparing to
arrest him for alleged rape. Between
the daily barrage of Trump’s lies and
excesses and the sexual harassment
tsunami, America has outrage overload.
The result is that all the predations,
political or sexual or both, come close
to drowning each other out. Already
Weinstein’s legal advocates are testdriving the theory that the Harvey
‘pile-on’ is really about Trump — that
thwarted feminist fury at the serial
sexual harasser in the Oval Office has
flushed out a surrogate who’s even more
gross. This spiel attempts to give Harvey
cover that’s highly unlikely to work,
especially given that we now know he
deployed former Mossad agents to get
the skinny on which girls were talking.
He’ll be lucky to find work farming
coconuts in Fiji.
blonde secretary floating around with
whom he probably enjoyed recreational
humiliation. After lunch, he waved
goodbye gauntly from the door amid a sea
of frenzied dogs.
ur Manhattan apartment is always
Book Party Central. No invitation had
a faster response than for Cass Sunstein,
the Harvard legal professor married to
Samantha Power, former US ambassador
to the UN, for his new book, Impeachment:
eading about the fall of Defence
Secretary Michael Fallon reminds
me of a visit in 1985 to a much kinkier
former Tory defence minister, Lord
Lambton, at his house near Siena when
Harry and I were on holiday in Florence.
After Lambton resigned in 1973 from
the Heath government in the call girl
scandal, he lived there in exile with his
mistress, Claire Ward, whom he always
referred to languidly as ‘Mrs Ward’. The
house, Cetinale, a historic pile that once
belonged to Pope Alexander VII, was
at the end of a long, lonely avenue of
cypress trees. Inside, it had overtones
of seediness: a fat stone cherub slung
on a messy console, the shades on the
lamps askew and ancient copies of the
Daily Mail yellowing on the table along
with books of horror stories. He told
me he’d just had the pleasure of a visit
from an old friend, Claus Von Bülow,
accused (and acquitted) of murdering
his wife. All through lunch, I could see
Lambton watching me behind his dark
glasses like a horny reptile. The fact that
I was six months pregnant and had my
husband with me seemed only to add to
his perverse interest. There was a pretty
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
A Citizen’s Guide, a subject that seems,
to many of us, burningly relevant. Last
week, Trump declared, when asked
about all the scarily empty vacancies
at the State Department, ‘I’m the only
one that matters.’ He called the Justice
Department ‘a joke’, adding, with his
usual pouty sneer, ‘I’d like to run it
myself.’ He pressed America’s still
occasionally independent judiciary to ‘go
after’ ‘Crooked Hillary’. However, by the
time Professor Sunstein had teased out
the level of iniquity that must be reached
before a president can be indicted by the
House and convicted by two-thirds of the
Senate, present in the flesh, the assembled
hacks and politicos at our house looked
increasingly glum. Though Trump seems
to be doing his best to make King George
III look like Gandhi, in the current state
of partisan feeling even the right set of
high crimes and misdemeanours might
not guarantee impeachment. Sighing for
the more efficient parliamentary vote of
no confidence, we called it a night.
ne of the unsung pleasures of having
a son with Asperger’s syndrome is
his wonderful, nonchalant ability to speak
truth to power. Georgie is now 31 and
lives a swinging life in his own apartment
downtown. So that he doesn’t lose his
iPhone (again), I’ve given him an old flip
phone of my own for nocturnal crawls.
A few weeks back, it rang when he was
speaking to me on the other line. ‘You
better answer that,’ I told him. (Pause.)
‘It’s for you,’ he replied. Me: ‘Give them
my new number. Who is it?’ G: ‘It’s the
White House.’ Me: ‘Well, just give them
the right number.’ G (outraged, very
loud): ‘I don’t want anything to do with
Orange!’ Me: ‘Just give them my number!’
G: ‘How can you speak to Orange? You
hate him too! Orange is toxic hairspray!’
Me: ‘Take their effing number!!’ G:
‘Why are you being a snapping turtle?’
(Pause.) ‘OK, I’ll tell them.’ (Another
pause.) ‘They’ve gone.’ Ten minutes later,
I receive an email from the office of Dina
Powell, Deputy National Security Adviser
for Strategy to President Trump. ‘Just to
say, Ms Powell regrets to say she cannot
get to the cocktails after all.’
The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992 by
Tina Brown is published this week.
Why can’t the PM get a grip?
ow much longer can things go on
like this? That is the question on the
lips of Tory ministers and MPs this
week. A government that was already facing the monumental challenge of Brexit now
finds itself dealing with a scandal that has
claimed one cabinet scalp and led to another Conservative MP being referred to the
police. At the same time, Priti Patel has been
running her own freelance foreign policy.
To make matters worse, the Prime Minister’s closest political ally is caught up in
the Westminster scandal. Damian Green is
under investigation by the Cabinet Office
for his personal conduct. If he has to go —
and several of his allies in the government
are not optimistic about his prospects — it
will be a devastating blow to Theresa May.
She brought him into the cabinet for the
first time and made him First Secretary of
State. If he has to walk, it will raise questions
about her judgment. It will also disrupt the
government; a large part of his job is to
prevent an unmanageable backlog of work
building up in No 10. Ministers fret that, if
he resigns, they’ll end up waiting forever for
decisions from Downing Street on issues
great and small.
Admittedly, no party leader would find
the debate surrounding sexual conduct at
Westminster easy to deal with. The expenses
scandal was, by contrast, black and white.
It was clear who had committed a serious
offence — and there was a way for those
guilty of relatively minor transgressions to
make amends. This time round, far more of
the evidence is disputed.
But Theresa May should be better placed
to deal with this scandal than almost any
other politician you can think of. She is not
part of Westminster’s late-night culture. As
she said when she launched her leadership
bid last year, she doesn’t go drinking in the
bars of the Palace of Westminster. And she
isn’t a gossip either. Her initial popularity
with the public was a result of the fact she
wasn’t part of the SW1 set. But despite these
advantages, so far May has struggled to gain
control of this scandal. She hasn’t managed
to grip it in the way that David Cameron did
expenses in 2009.
She also blundered in how she replaced
Sir Michael Fallon as Defence Secretary.
Her decision to promote Gavin William-
son to the job infuriated colleagues, who
couldn’t fathom why May was moving her
Chief Whip at this most delicate of moments.
As one minister puts it: ‘Those of us who
just want to keep the show on the road can’t
understand what’s going on.’
The backlash to the appointment has
been such that it has once again had Tory
MPs wondering how much longer the Prime
Minister can carry on. As a former minister
warns: ‘It chips away at things.’ One Secretary of State reports that the debate over
whether May should stay or not is ‘shifting’.
It has become almost a cliché to observe
how like the 1990s the current situation is.
Mrs May should be better placed to
deal with this scandal than almost any
other politician you can think of
You have a Tory government split over
Europe and dependent on Northern Irish
MPs to get its legislation through the Commons. And there are sleaze allegations
repeatedly rocking the government. But
there is, perhaps, another similarity to the
1990s that is less remarked upon. When John
Major was prime minister, he didn’t pick a
side on Europe because his survival strategy
was to avoid doing so. Some think May is
doing the same: that her refusal to set out
the UK’s final relationship with the EU is
a deliberate attempt to extend her shelf-life.
Certainly, both sides in the cabinet
debate fear that the other could win if May
went early. Brexiteers worry that her departure would mean that the commitments for
Britain to leave the single market and the
‘It’s come to our attention that you’re having
meetings with Theresa May, Ms Patel.’
customs union could be unpicked. By contrast, those who backed Remain think that
only a Leaver could gain the leadership now
and that they would owe their premiership to
a pledge that Britain would break decisively
with the EU. Indeed, a growing number of
ministers who voted Remain think that if
a leadership election takes place before 30
March 2019, the next leader will have to be
a Leaver. I understand that when one former member of David Cameron’s Downing Street team recently checked to see if
Amber Rudd would throw her hat into the
ring in these circumstances, he was told that
she didn’t think she could be a candidate
before Britain has technically left the EU.
The question is whether May will show
her hand anytime soon. Remarkably, and
ridiculously, the cabinet has still not had a
proper discussion on this issue. Its members have never sat down and hammered
out whether they are ultimately prepared to
sacrifice some market access for the ability
to diverge from EU regulations. (If they are
not, it does beg the question of why Britain is quitting the EU. There is little point
in leaving if we are only going to shadow all
the rules from the outside.)
This failure to make a decision is stopping the government from articulating a
vision for Britain after Brexit. If Britain is
prepared to diverge from the EU, then the
government can start setting out how it
intends to make this country the best place
in the Western world to do gene editing,
develop machine learning and bring driverless cars to market. This would be a proper
21st century industrial strategy.
No. 10 is being buffeted by events. So far,
the ministers and Tory MPs who are in trouble in this Westminster scandal are being
probed for things that happened before Mrs
May became Prime Minister. But the government is finding it so hard to get on the
front foot because it doesn’t have a story to
tell about itself. That needs to change — but
it won’t until the government decides what
kind of country it wants Britain to be.
Join Fraser Nelson and James Forsyth
to discuss ‘What is the future of the Tory
Party?’ on 27 November at the Emmanuel
Centre, Westminster, London. Book tickets
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
Charles Moore
et us assume — which we shouldn’t
— that it is automatically wrong for
the Queen to benefit financially from
funds invested offshore. Let us agree
— though we shouldn’t — to declare
ourselves shocked that the Duchy of
Lancaster put money on her behalf
into funds in Bermuda and the Cayman
Islands, and later, Guernsey. Let us
forget — though it is difficult — that
she is the Queen of all those places, and
therefore that it is almost as strange
to complain about her money being
in them as it would be to complain
about it being invested in Britain. Let
us accept — though no evidence has
been produced — that tax-dodging is
involved. Let us pretend — though it
is a strain — to be appalled that the
Queen has a stake worth £3,208 in a firm,
BrightHouse, which has been criticised
for overcharging customers. Having
done all of the above, let us notice that
these investments were initiated by the
Duchy’s financial advisers in 2004 and
2005. Let us recall that the Chancellor of
the Duchy of Lancaster always sits in the
Cabinet, is responsible for its investment
policies and appoints a council to
oversee them. And then let us note that,
in those years, Britain had a Labour
government and that the Chancellors of
the Duchy were, until May 2005, Alan
Milburn and, after that, John Hutton.
Did one or both of these men approve,
or at least ignore these heinous acts?
Should they, as Jeremy Corbyn puts it,
‘not just apologise’ but also ‘recognise
what it does to our society’?
harlie Elphicke, a Tory MP, had the
whip removed from him last week,
without being told what were the ‘serious
allegations’ made against him. The press
were informed of his suspension before
he was. He is, at the time of writing, still
alive. But Carl Sargeant is dead. Mr
Sargeant was a minister in the Welsh
government. He too was punished —
sacked from the administration last
week — without being told what he was
accused of. Four days later, he was found
dead, reportedly by his own hand. The
craven readiness with which the political
parties jettison their elected candidates
in the face of rumour is disgusting.
Meanwhile, the Independent Inquiry into
Child Sexual Abuse, unable to muster
evidence against the late Lord Janner, but
too cowardly to drop the matter, has just
announced that it now will not investigate
his case till 2019. The inquiry was set up by
Theresa May, in a panic.
wonder if a factor additional to those
widely mentioned lies behind differing
attitudes to the ‘Pestminster’ scandal. It is
well known in every generation that the
young find it disgusting that old people (by
which they mean anyone over 40) should
have sex at all. In his own youth, the late
Auberon Waugh wrote an article on this
theme which enraged the now forgotten
but distinguished novelist William Cooper
(who used to write a column for this paper
called Scenes from Science). Cooper was
a passionate advocate and (uxorious)
practitioner of sex for the old, and used to
curse Waugh at every opportunity. Waugh,
however, was probably more in tune with
the zeitgeist. Recent descriptions by those
who say they have been inappropriately
touched, kissed or propositioned by some of
our elected representatives, often direct part
of their outrage at the alleged predator’s
teeth, baldness, fatness, etc. I understand
why they say this — and might have said it
myself at their age — but it resembles a little
the disgust people used to express in the
past about interracial sex: it is more atavistic
than moral, and can be cruel. In the minds of
the accusers, the inappropriateness is made
automatic by the age gap.
manda Spielman, Chief Inspector of
Schools, is right that little children
should start learning nursery rhymes again.
She emphasises their role as a collective
experience. Many of us remember the
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
fun of shouting ‘Atishoo, atishoo, we
all fall down’ at children’s parties, and
then doing so with as loud a bump as
possible. Actually, the power of nursery
rhymes runs deeper still. They are proof
that meaning is not the first thing about
language. You don’t have to know why
I had a little nut tree, or what a silver
nutmeg is, or why the King of Spain’s
daughter came to visit me for the tree’s
sake, in order to love the song-poem
that contains all these things. The simple,
beautiful words, repetitions, rhythms and
rhymes make you skip over water and
dance over sea. They make you ready
for the meaning, which comes later. My
sister, Charlotte, has two autistic sons.
Both loved nursery rhymes, and Sam, the
less verbal of the two, still loves them,
aged 25. He particularly likes the ones
with the bounciest rhymes and clearest
noises — ‘Pop goes the weasel’, ‘Baa baa
black sheep’. Although he probably can’t
read, he recognises Humpty Dumpty in
any picture book, and can recite it. His
mother believes that the rhymes provide
Sam with his best way of ‘exercising the
language muscle’. All of us need such
exercise. Our age prides itself on open
expression, in contrast to the taboos of
the past. But in some ways we are less
articulate than our ancestors. From the
nursery, they were much better versed in
song, poetry and dance than we are.
friend draws my attention to the
fact that the US edition of my
biography of Margaret Thatcher is now
billed on Amazon as being ‘by Captain
Charles Moore’. This is an error — I hold
no rank — but a pleasing one, because
the real Captain Charles Moore is a
glamorous oceanographer and racing
boat captain who now explores for the
Algalita Marine Research Station. The
old sea dog largely discovered and now
navigates the grim wastes of the Great
Pacific Garbage Patch, where millions
of plastic bottles have accumulated. His
TED talk on the subject, which begins
with the words, ‘Let’s talk trash’, has
had more than a million views online.
I hereby thank any of his fans who are
buying my book, and I hope they are not
disappointed by it.
Desert storm
Saudi Arabia is gearing up for war with Iran
ntil last weekend, the Ritz-Carlton
in Riyadh’s exclusive Diplomatic Quarter was colloquially known
as the Princes’ Hotel. It was a luxurious
retreat from the heat, where royals could
engage in the kind of wheeling and dealing with the global business elite that had
made them millionaires on the back of the
1970s oil boom. No deal could be brokered
without paying a bribe to at least one prince.
Last Saturday that era of boundless opportunity and total impunity came to a dramatic
end. The VIP guests were booted out, the
front doors were shuttered, and heavily
armed security forces took up
positions around the perimeter.
A Saudi who lives nearby
sent me a message about what
he thought was an unfolding
terrorist incident. That’s one
way of describing the extraordinary, chaotic events. We have
seen a mini-wave of terror
orchestrated by the all-powerful 32-year-old heir to the
throne, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has been
given day-to-day control of the
kingdom’s affairs by his ailing
father, King Salman, 81. Bin
Salman’s ascent and methods
now promise to change Saudi
Arabia forever.
Despite his youth and inexperience, he has risen rapidly
through the ranks, amassing
previously unimaginable powers for a single royal. This, and
his refusal to govern through
consensus — as is customary
— has caused deep resentment, jealousy and
anger. His most prominent critics and rivals
were therefore carted off on corruption
charges to the Ritz-Carlton, turning it into
the world’s most luxurious prison. Eleven
senior princes were among them, as well
as dozens of businessmen, and current and
former ministers and provincial governors.
Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal — the wealthiest
Arab tycoon who holds significant stakes in
Citigroup, Twitter and countless other companies — got caught up in the dragnet.
At least he is still alive. Mansour bin
Muqrin, deputy governor of the Asir region
bordering Yemen, hailed from a rival branch
of the ruling family sidelined after King
Abdullah’s death in 2015. He boarded a
helicopter with seven senior advisers, and
amid speculation that he had instructed the
pilot to head for a foreign country. Then his
helicopter was blown from the sky, killing
all on board. No official cause was given,
fueling conspiracy theories. However baseless, the incident must have given further
pause for thought in these febrile times to
anyone then thinking of trying to flout the
blanket travel ban.
The country’s Attorney General says
that this was only the first phase of mass
arrests, and that trials would soon get under
way. The front-page headline of the newspaper Al Jazirah a day after the purge
encapsulated the new reality: ‘No place for
traitors in the age of Salman.’ Welcome to
the new Saudi Arabia.
For the Crown Prince’s supporters —
vast swathes of the country’s young, eager
for progressive social change — his way
may be dictatorial but his motives are honourable. The purge represents the opening salvo in a fight against corruption that
comes with an embrace of moderate Islam,
a determination to relax the strict segregation of the sexes and introduce entertainment venues. Why should ordinary Saudis
have sympathy for the arrested if they have,
as alleged, been engaged in massive criminal schemes involving bribery and money
laundering? When did any of those speak
up on behalf of the oppressed masses?
Bin Salman’s power grab is in itself spectacular. But the wider significance of this
can only be fully understood in conjunction with events in Israel. The Jewish state
is hardly a natural ally for Saudi Arabia, but
they have long shared a common enemy:
Iran. Both fear the latter is exploiting the
opening created by the fall of Isis, and the
triumph of the Assad regime in Syria, to
dominate the region. Iran and its proxies —
whether the Houthi rebels in
Yemen or Hezbollah in Lebanon — are in the ascendant, and
neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia
are going to sit on the sidelines.
So the two have been working together: close diplomatic
cooperation, intelligence sharing and perhaps more. Israeli
media recently reported that
a senior Saudi prince, possibly Bin Salman himself, paid a
secret visit to the Jewish state.
The idea of a Saudi-Israeli alliance is still deeply controversial
in both countries, but details
are starting to leak out.
Amid the recent madness,
for example, we saw the resignation of Lebanese Prime
Minister Saad Hariri, a Saudi
puppet. He was summoned to
Riyadh, where he was forced
to read a letter announcing
his immediate departure, the
official reason being that he
feared an assassination attempt by Hezbollah. But why would a prime minister visit
a foreign capital to resign? The odds are
that he had no idea he was resigning until
he landed in Riyadh to meet Saudis furious
at him for holding talks with both Iranian
and Hezbollah officials. His departure has
shocked the region.
But it didn’t shock the Israelis. A leaked
memo shows Israeli diplomats being
instructed to back the Saudi version of
events, and start to join Riyadh in denouncing the Houthi rebels. Such diplomatic
coordination is dangerous, given that an
alliance has the potential to create a massive backlash among ordinary Saudis. For
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
generations, they have been taught that
Jews are the descendants of apes and pigs
and Israel is the eternal enemy.
This brings us back to the night of
the long knives. An outpouring of anti-Israeli sentiment might, only a few months ago,
have provided a rallying cry for those determined to oust the Crown Prince. They would
have likely turned to Al-Waleed bin Talal,
a fierce critic of Trump and the most vocal
Saudi supporter of the Palestinians. But
he is in prison, presumably as a warning to
anyone who shows opposition to the young
new broom.
The military hostilities have already
started. Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a ballistic missile at Riyadh, which was intercepted by the Saudis, who then announced that
both Lebanon and Iran had ‘declared war’
on the kingdom by supplying the rebels with
missiles. Iran denies it, and military analysts
say it would be hard to ship whole missiles
to Yemen. The Saudis, though, are adamant,
and they say that retaliation will follow.
Whose side will the West be on?
Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s adviser and
son-in-law, recently left Riyadh after his
third visit this year, staying up talking with
the Crown Prince until the small hours of
The purge is the opening salvo in a
fight against corruption that comes
with an embrace of moderate Islam
the morning at a ranch in the desert. Robert
W. Jordan, a former American ambassador,
says that the recent purges were conducted
after ‘what people would call a green light
from President Trump’. And all this while
Israel was conducting its biggest-ever aerial
military drill, just a month after its largestever land military drill — both simulating
war with Hezbollah.
So two months after his 32nd birthday,
the Crown Prince has established himself as
a despot, albeit one hailed by the West as
an enlightened visionary. He has tightened a
military alliance with Israel, all but declared
war on Iran and prepared Lebanon as the
first scene of this war — with Hezbollah as
the first target.
John R. Bradley’s books include Saudi
Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis.
‘He was so manipulative, and I can’t tell you
where he put his hands.’
Salman’s Arabia
How Britain fell for the Crown Prince
here are two ways of seeing the
extraordinary rise of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince: the bloodstained debut of a new dictator, or the
long-overdue emergence of a reformer
with the steel to take on the kingdom’s
old guard. The British government is
firmly in the second camp.
Mohammad bin Salman is just 32
years old, and his effective seizure of
power means he defines the kingdom
for a generation. He’s seen in Whitehall
as a history maker, whose ruthless
impatience might not only liberalise
his country but create an alliance with
Israel that could change the region.
Minsters talk about MbS (as he’s
known in Whitehall) with admiration
and awe. He recently laid on a trade fair,
and the British delegation was amazed
to hear a band playing upon arrival at
the airport. They were then taken to
a room where men were sitting next
to unveiled women, with none of the
usual intermission for prayers. ‘It was
like we’d got off at the wrong country,’
says one official. MbS is talking about
various investments: new cities built
from scratch, a 30-mile bridge being
built to the Egyptian resort of Sharm
El Sheikh. Deepening alliances with
several countries, Israel included. There
is even hope, in Britain, that the SaudiIsraeli alliance could pave the way for
an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Dictators quite often make such
noises to extract concessions from a
gullible West. When Colonel Gaddafi
disposed of chemical weapons that no
one knew he had, Tony Blair flew off to
Tripoli with businessmen offering trade,
cash and military training. Gaddafi’s
son Saif was hailed as a young leader
at Davos. Libya carried on imprisoning
and torturing opponents, and found out
that the West doesn’t mind if you talk
about reform.
But the calculation in Britain is that
MbS is different. It’s thought that he’s
motivated by consolidating his personal
power and by economic concerns. The
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
oil money is running out, and Saudi
Arabia needs new sources of income.
MbS has been heavily influenced by
Mohammed bin Zayed, the 56-year-old
Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who has
acted as his mentor. He has shown how
quickly an economy can develop if the
reforms are right.
So far, the Saudi Crown Prince has
been defined by action rather than
words. Women will be able to drive in
June next year, a huge challenge to the
clerical establishment. The religious
police, who made sure men and women
didn’t mix, are no more. The sexes
are beginning to drink coffee, jog
and ride bikes together. Cinemas are
expected to open next year. Just as the
Wahhabis sought to rule the kingdom by
The religious police, who
made sure men and women
didn’t mix, are no more
controlling the culture, so Mohammed
bin Salman is making his reign felt by
culture — turning Saudi Arabia into
Salman’s Arabia.
To the British, it all makes sense.
As one senior official puts it, ‘He’s prowomen, so he’ll have half the population
on his side.’ Perhaps more: he’s a
millennial, and likes to point out that 70
per cent of his fellow Saudis are under
30 years old. ‘So we will not waste 30
years of our lives dealing with extremist
ideas,’ he said last week, ‘we will destroy
them today.’ This is not the language of
accommodation. And it’s almost inviting
an Islamist backlash, in the nation that
produced most of the 9/11 hijackers.
The Crown Prince is frank about the
risks, saying his country’s youth bulge is
a ‘double-edged sword’. Young Saudis,
he said, can create a new Saudi Arabia
if empowered ‘but if they go the other
way, they will bring destruction’. By his
own admission, it’s quite a gamble. But
one which the British government, such
as it is, fully supports.
If you care about kids, give us all the facts
ews programmes are as interesting,
these days, for what they don’t tell
you as for what they do. So, the ten
o’clock news on the BBC on Monday night
reported the horrible murder of 18-monthold Elsie Scully-Hicks by her adoptive
father, without mentioning that the baby had
been adopted by a gay couple. There was a
fleeting reference to the murderer, Matthew Scully-Hicks, having a husband, which
kind of gave the game away. But otherwise
it was something the BBC would rather we
did not know, and certainly did not dwell on.
Whenever they do something like this, I
think it’s important to dwell on it for a bit.
There are lots of things they don’t tell you,
these days. When someone does a spot of
ad hoc alfresco murdering, they won’t tell
you his race unless he’s white. They won’t
tell you his religion unless he’s not Muslim.
If he is Muslim, his belief system will have
been exonerated, or considered irrelevant,
by the BBC. If he is a white fascist, however,
his belief system will be held almost entirely
responsible for the crime. This, I would
argue, is stupid as well as inconsistent.
On the gay thing, the BBC clearly made
a corporate decision that Scully-Hicks’s
sexual orientation was of no relevance, and
therefore it wouldn’t be mentioned. That is
a bit of a leap, to say the least, since gay people have been allowed to adopt children for
only 15 years, the public is still marginally
agin the idea and the research on outcomes
for adoptees of gay parents is both sketchy
and full of the usual wishful thinking: i.e., it’s
usually anecdotal or made up.
Adoptive parents of any sexual
orientation are much, much more likely to
harm their children than are genetic parents.
The figure is even worse for step-parents
— something the evolutionary psychologists call the ‘Cinderella Effect’ (basically,
step-parents, like adoptive parents, have
no genetic investment in their kids, so the
theory goes). Furthermore, adopted kids
are much more likely to kill their adoptive parents than children living with their
genetic parents, and in the USA they are
hugely over-represented among serial killers (constituting approximately 16 per cent).
Let’s pursue this interesting trope a little
further. Children who are the offspring of
parents who are simply cohabiting, rather
than married, are reported to have slower social, cognitive and emotional development than children whose parents are
(heterosexually) married, and are more likely to do poorly at school and more likely to
suffer psychiatric problems. Children raised
by single parents are much, much more likely
to do poorly at school, become sexually
active earlier, need psychiatric counselling,
become involved in crime and either work
in low-paid jobs or be unemployed.
You might assume that relative poverty
is something to do with this — but nope,
the studies are weighted to exclude income
(even though one obvious consequence of
single parenthood is being perpetually skint).
You can see where I am going with this
— to a glorious position which the law
considers contraband and which the BBC
would consider a hate crime. To sum up: chil-
The liberal media do not like to
pass judgment and consider all
lifestyle choices irrelevant
dren with the best outcomes are brought up
by their genetic parents, mum and dad, who
are married — pretty much end of story. Not
a single study I’ve seen (and believe me, I’ve
waded through plenty) seriously challenges
this fact, even if a great many set out to do so.
It is also what I suspect the majority of
British people think is the preferable state
of affairs for bringing up children. And yet
if a politician were to say it, he or she would
be howled down. The liberal media — and,
for that matter, the social services — do
not like to pass judgment and consider all
lifestyle choices irrelevant: whatever gets
you through the night’s all right, to para-
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
phrase the idiotic John Lennon. But lifestyle
choices are anything but irrelevant if we
are concerned about the best way in which
to bring up our children. (They are irrelevant, however, if that doesn’t matter a toss.)
Gay parents? It’s still a bit early to say. My
point of view was always that given the
shortage of adoptive parents, putting a child
with two homosexuals was probably preferable to leaving them in a children’s home.
The sociologist Patricia Morgan might well
query this, though, having suggested that
many of the reports promoting gay adoption have been based on flawed, hurried
research, inexpert samples, bad management and — as I said before — wishful
thinking. The latest report I’ve seen, from
the University of Texas, suggested that children of gay parents:
•Are much more likely to have received
welfare support;
• Have lower educational attainment;
• Report less safety and security in their
family of origin;
• Report more ongoing ‘negative impact’
from their family of origin;
• Are more likely to suffer from depression;
• Have been arrested more often;
• If they are female, have had more sexual
partners — both male and female.
When the Scottish Parliament voted to
allow gay adoption — against the wishes of
the majority of the electorate — it declined
to publish a report which (as a Freedom
of Information request revealed) suggested that kids adopted by gay parents were
more likely to suffer bullying and emotional trauma. They thought it was irrelevant,
My point is not remotely that little Elsie
Scully-Hicks was murdered simply because
her parents were gay. Only that Matthew
Scully-Hicks’s homosexuality is not irrelevant to the issue, statistically or emotionally.
The social workers visited that tiny child 15
times before she was killed, noting the inexplicable bruises and the broken limbs, but
taking no action. To what extent did a visceral commitment to the idea of gay adoption blind them to what was happening? Are
we not, once again, in Rotherham, where a
grossly mistaken PC ideology took precedence over the suffering of victims?
Christopher Caldwell
he first election day since Donald
Trump was elected president a
year ago brought a funereal mood to
Washington that you could feel on the
streets. The swamp, apparently, remains
undrained. Elections for governor in
Virginia and New Jersey and for mayor
in New York City cheered the locals a
bit, producing the expected victories
for Democrats. Virginia was the most
consequential of these. It seemed a
harbinger of the next presidential race.
The moderate, decidedly un-Trumpian
Republican Ed Gillespie was accused of
making ‘ugly racial appeals’ — this for
expressing the opinion that the statues
of Virginia’s Civil War heroes should not
be razed in a frenzy of revisionism. Fiftyseven per cent of Virginians want the
monuments to stay up, too, producing a
rough equilibrium. They are scared to
death to say so, and the political class is
scared to death of their power. There are
signs that politicians’ fear is on the wane.
The Latino Victory Fund, a group that
opposes Gillespie, ran a television advert
that showed a redneck driving a pickup
truck with an Ed Gillespie sticker on it.
He was speeding through a suburban
neighbourhood after non-white children,
as if to run them over.
he President himself missed the
anniversary on his tour of Japan,
Korea and China. In seeking a solution
to the Korea crisis, Trump has lately been
putting a lot of trust in China’s ability
to influence the North. This week, Asia
expert Orville Schell raised something
Americans seldom think about: what
if it works? What if Xi Jinping were to
help bring about the collapse of the
regime in the North, and the effacement
of what Trump on Wednesday morning
called ‘the line... between decency
and depravity’? Surely Xi would want
American missiles out of South Korea —
and perhaps the Americans along with
them. What then?
pecial counsel Robert Mueller’s
investigation into the claim that the
Trump campaign colluded with ‘the
Russians’ to get their man elected last
fall is not producing much evidence of
campaign wrongdoing. Paul Manafort,
the flamboyant foreign agent who ran
Mr Trump’s campaign for a few weeks in
the summer of 2016, has been indicted
for lobbying work he did for the Ukrainian
government in the early years of this
century, for hiding money offshore, and
for failing until last summer to register a
lobbying operation he carried out before
2014. Is that all you’ve got? The misdeeds
long antedate Manafort’s involvement
with Trump, and investigative reporter Ken
Silverstein, who for decades has traced the
links between American plutocracy and
foreign oppression, says that there was a
very good reason Manafort didn’t register
— no one is ever prosecuted under the
Foreign Agents Registration Act.
t the core of the indictments is work
Manafort once did for the aluminium
oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The two worked
closely together, although there have been
no reports that Manafort was ever invited
on board Deripaska’s 238ft yacht the
Queen K off the coast of Corfu to chat with
the man himself, as George Osborne (while
shadow chancellor) and Peter Mandelson
(while European trade commissioner)
were in 2008.
ou can tell that Republicans are a
party with a death wish whenever
they roll out one of their fantasy tax
plans. There was a new one last week,
which actually had some good things in
it. It cuts the high (35 per cent) corporate
tax. It eliminates the ‘marriage penalty’
for income tax. It abolishes the arbitrary
‘alternative minimum tax’. But what
will stick in most people’s heads is this:
the cuts for big moguls are paid for
by eliminating the mortgage-interest
deduction on homes over $500,000. In
other words, it will take $100,000 or
$200,000 right off the top of the value
of every middle-class home. This is
the exact opposite of the way Trump
promised to govern. Trump won’t be
around forever, but apparently the
party’s genius for losing elections will be.
clever this
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erhaps photos of Juli Briskman’s
backside have made it across the
pond to England. The 50-year-old
employee of Akima LLC was out
cycling near the Trump National Golf
Club in Loudon County, Virginia, in
late October when the presidential
motorcade rolled by. As she pedalled
along, she gave the cars the singlefingered American bras d’honneur. It
happened there was a press car in the
entourage. Photographers from Agence
France Presse and elsewhere put their
shots online. They went viral and she
added one to her own social media.
bad move by Juli. Akima is one
of those government-dependent
firms around Washington that are very
circumspect about what exactly they do.
Its website says: ‘Akima LLC’s Business
Groups and their operating companies
represent an uncommonly broad array
of specialized talents, technologies,
domain expertise and proven program
success at some of the most visible and
demanding implementations across all
of government and industry.’ Whatever
they do, it’s not considered good form to
give the President the finger. Juli lost her
job. But maybe that bad move is going
to turn into a good one. Someone has set
up a GoFundMe crowd-sourcing page
for her and it seems to be accumulating
donations at a rapid clip.
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
Sex, truth and politics
I took advantage of men to get ahead
his one goes out to all the male MPs
I’ve taken to lunch. I want to apologise to each and every one of you.
Some of you know who you are and what
went on. Some of you were so tipsy you may
not have been fully aware of how shockingly
you were being exploited.
I estimate there are dozens, if not hundreds, of you whom I’ve taken to lunch, dinner and drinks during my time as a political
In dark bars and expensive restaurants,
or just casually in Commons corridors, I’ve
sidled up to you in a designer outfit and
pretty much said ‘Howdy, right honourable!’
Look, it was a long time ago and I’m
practically an old lady now, in media years.
I’ve no need to keep up the pretence that I
was a blameless naïf in my 20s and 30s when
I was an ambitious young lobby hack. I want
to make my confession. I want to explain
why I did it.
I took advantage of men to get ahead,
and because I enjoyed it. And yes, Michael
Fallon was one of them.
He and I used to book our party conference dinners months in advance. I looked
forward to them as a highlight because I
knew the gossip would be flowing as freely as the wine. I would book the best place
in town, turn up in a smart outfit and grab
hold of Mr Fallon on arrival, covering him
in mwah mwahs.
I don’t remember him overstepping the
mark, but I’m pretty sure, as the conversation ploughed ever more satisfyingly into
the more intriguing business matters of
the Tory Party… yes, I’m fairly sure that at
some point, or more than one point, I ever
so slightly gave him the come-on.
Oh dear, where did it all go wrong?
When did I turn into this predatory monster? Well, I suppose it was a dream come
true to become a lobby correspondent, one
of the first female political hacks when I
started work at Westminster back in the
early Noughties.
It wasn’t long before I began to take
MPs and ministers out to lunch, as all lobby
hacks do. I remember one Budget day, I
entertained a junior minister who leaned
across the table and said: ‘Does power
turn you on? Is that why you came into politics? Is it a sexual thing with you?’ I confess
I said: ‘Yes, that’s right.’ And he leaked a
controversial government policy, which
made the front page.
Then there was the poor MP who shut
himself up in a cupboard with me. I went
to lunch with him because a friend said he
was single and looking for a wife. I admit it, I
thought, if he’s feeling romantic, I’ll get even
better gossip out of him.
When he showed me the cupboard where
the suffragette hid I thought I might have got
myself in a jam, but I managed to squeeze
past him and get out. I’ve since found out
he showed that cupboard to all the female
hacks. I feel cheated.
Look, what I’m saying is, women are not
always passive victims. I certainly wasn’t. I
enjoyed the charged atmosphere of politics.
Michael Fallon, for all the times
I may have touched your knee
while drunk, I’m sorry
I thrived on it as well as the men did; more
than some of them maybe.
I won’t make excuses for real assault or
harassment but I’m not comfortable with
the current narrative which casts all women
as helpless. This is setting our cause back
light years.
Take me and Mr Fallon. Let me spell it
out. As he was an MP and I was a journalist,
he knew things I didn’t and I knew things he
didn’t. Between us, we had more pieces of
the puzzle than we had alone. To people who
trade in information, that is a very exciting
proposition. Quid pro quo Clarice. Only the
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
way I remember it, I was the Hannibal Lecter of the piece.
I remember one year at Tory conference
I spent an entire evening gnawing Mr Fallon’s ear off about some career problems
I was having. He was the perfect gentleman, saying all the right things. I’m sorry I
did that now, because according to the current analysis, telling him my personal story
late at night was manipulative, a form of
Michael Fallon, for all the times I
may have touched your knee while drunk,
I’m sorry.
Did I go further with others? Oh dear, I
think I did. I was young and insecure, chippy,
worried about making my mark. And I was
still thinking that some day my prince would
come. So I kissed a few frogs at Westminster, thinking maybe, just maybe, I’d marry
an MP. It was my workplace, after all, and
your workplace is where you meet people. I,
like the MPs, spent long hours at Westminster, barely having a life anywhere else.
I think a few fell for me. An elderly peer,
now deceased, wrote me a long love letter
in green ink. He was a dear man, and lonely. There were a lot of bored men trapped
in London with nothing to do in the evening. I was glad to cheer them up with a flirty dinner, if they were happy to leak some
information of public interest, which they
usually were.
I like to think I was a good host. The
worst insult I can imagine is they found
me dull. I don’t ever remember feeling exploited. But it strikes me now
that these men might. After all, I cosied up to
them, batted my eyelids, wore the right outfit.
‘Wear the black dress,’ one chap would
say to me before lunch. And sometimes, if
I was feeling generous, I wore it. If he had
put his hands on me, I would have sent him
home to his wife limping. But he didn’t. He
behaved just fine.
One MP asked me to marry him and
I turned him down. There was a peer I
chased relentlessly, having fallen hopelessly in love. He turned me down. But that is
another story.
There can be no excuse for genuine harassment and abuse. But flirting? Flirting
makes the world go round. Well, it made my
world go round anyway.
My plan for Europe
The EU must be reformed through sovereignty and democracy
he European Union has languished
and become enfeebled — and we
are all to blame. There is a noticeable paucity of ideas and methods. The
whole system has capitulated and is at a
standstill. Summits bringing together heads
of state and of government have become
a parody: getting together behind closed
doors, repeating lofty principles, changing a
word or two in a statement so that it sounds
slightly different from the last one. The system is cut off from the world and from real
life. What did the Breton farmers I have met
in the past few months think? They did not
say that they were against Europe, or against
the Common Agricultural Policy that is so
important to us. But they explained that
they were against over-regulation, against
over-zealous bureaucracy and against interventionist policies overseas, so far removed
from their real needs.
The founders of Europe believed that
political union would be a natural consequence of union in the economic domain,
and that a European state could be created
from a single market and a single currency.
Half a century later, reality has dispelled that
illusion. Political Europe has not happened.
Any hope of it has been sorely diminished,
and it is the fault of us all.
It was our own desire to weaken Europe.
Heads of state and of government have
done everything they can in the past few
years to put in place a weak leadership to
run the European Union. They decided to
create a commission with 28 commissioners.
This is not workable, and the organisation
of the European Commission clearly needs
to be changed if we want to go back to its
efficiency and truly collegiate nature under
Jacques Delors.
Gradually, the European Union has
abandoned its vision in exchange for official procedures, confusing the aim — to
unite Europe—with the technical, monetary,
legal and institutional means for union to be
achieved. And so this part of the vision was
thwarted, as were others. Seeing Europe as
the source of all our problems became a
reflex, whereas questioning the role of the
commission or its many directives was tantamount to being a bad European.
The European Union contributes to its
own downfall when it fails to stand up for
itself through an excess of conformism and
a lack of vision. What can we say about the
February 2016 agreement that offered the
United Kingdom an ‘à la carte Europe’,
yielding to its blackmail? For all these
reasons, I believe that we have squandered
the past decade.
Brexit is the name of this crisis and the
symptom of the fatigue that is pervading
Europe. However, let us hope—and, as
reformers, hope is our role and our duty —
that it is also the beginning of an indispensable transformation. Brexit is not a selfish
act. Let us never denounce any citizen for
having voted ‘badly’: it would be nonsensical. It would be easier to ‘dissolve the people’, as Bertolt Brecht said, than to face facts.
I prefer the second alternative.
Brexit is the expression of a need for protection. It expresses a rejection of the very
social model that British political leaders
have defended. Protection from a society
that advocated openness without concerning itself with the industrial, economic, and
social destruction necessarily caused by such
openness when it takes place too quickly.
Brexit expresses the weaknesses of a
political class that found its scapegoat —
Europe — and failed to explain that leaving
Europe would lead to disaster. Protection
from a public debate in which experts’
arrogance and demagogues’ lies were
lumped together indiscriminately.
In this sense, Brexit is not a British cri-
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sis, but a European one. It should cause
alarm bells to ring throughout the member
states and it should be a wake-up call for all
those who remain blinkered to the negative
effects of globalisation. In fact, people fall
into two almost equal camps: supporters of
an open society, and those who advocate a
closed society.
This rift has emerged from all the ballot
boxes: the regional elections in Germany,
the local elections in Italy, the Austrian presidential election, the Polish and Hungarian
excesses, and, of course, here in France with
the rise of the National Front.
So we have to go back to the drawing board with Europe — starting from its
Brexit is not a selfish act. Let us
never denounce any citizen
for having voted ‘badly’
origins. How can the phoenix rise again? We
need to rekindle a desire for Europe — a
shared undertaking for peace, reconciliation and development. We need to build this
new European venture around sovereignty,
a taste for the future, and democracy.
I say that those who truly believe in
sovereignty are pro-Europeans: Europe
is our chance to recover full sovereignty.
Sovereignty means a population freely
exercising its collective choices on its
territory. And having sovereignty means
being able to act effectively.
Fa c e d w i t h t h e c u r r e n t s e r i o u s
challenges, it would simply be an illusion
and a mistake, to propose rebuilding everything at the national level. Who can seriously believe that we alone can control
migration flows from North Africa or the
Middle East? That we can regulate, alone,
the North American giants with their digital
platforms? That we can meet global warming challenges alone? Or that, alone, we
could negotiate balanced trade agreements
with the United States or China?
The question of borders is a fundamental one today. It is clear that in the coming
months we will need to broach the subject
of cooperation with the United Kingdom
on the subject of immigration. The current
UK financial contribution will not suffice:
France cannot bear the burden of refugee
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
camps alone. Even beyond financial contributions, it is imperative that the United
Kingdom accepts joint responsibility, along
with the European Union, for managing the
problem of refugees at the union’s borders.
Europe is the proper level of sovereignty protection for these matters. This fight
for Europe is one of the most crucial for
my presidency. In order to succeed we must
convince our European partners right now.
This is what I shall do, in close collaboration
with Germany and Italy in particular.
The European Union remains entirely
relevant. With its 27 members, it will remain
a political and economic space — that of the
single market and of overarching regulations. It will be the arena in which competition policy, trade policy with regard to the
other great powers, the digital agenda and
energy policy will be conducted, which may
require specific regulation.
If we want to make progress on matters of defence and security, we must move
much faster with respect to the Schengen
Area, and be more ambitious in deploying
border forces and coastguards. Together we
need to establish our joint border policy, and
to have an ambitious cooperation policy on
intelligence and asylum.
The European Union must therefore
continue to progress in its capacity to
regulate and protect. Because it has the
‘I hope this witch hunt doesn’t turn
into an official inquiry.’
critical mass to do so. And this is in no way
incompatible with the convergence needed
within the Eurozone.
However, all of this will only happen if
we place democracy in pole position. We
must not allow our citizens or our ideas
to be monopolised by rabble-rousers or
extremists. We must not make Europe into
a sort of crisis-management centre for a
condominium that keeps trying to extend its
bylaws because the neighbours don’t trust
each other any more. We must not be waylaid by dogma that would prevent us from
meeting the legitimate hopes and aspirations of our compatriots.
We need to take the time for discussion,
and re-establish trust. It is a wide-ranging
discussion. I propose the launch of democratic consultations throughout the European Union. In each member state, for a
period of between six and ten months, this
would involve a debate on the details of the
union’s action, on the policies that it implements, and the priorities that it should have.
The results of these consultations would
enable European governments to prepare
a concise roadmap, with a small number of
shared challenges and specific actions, tracing out priorities for the union’s action and
an implementation schedule for the next five
or ten years. Each state would then validate
this ‘Plan for Europe’ according to its own
democratic traditions. For countries organising a referendum, a coordinated campaign
must be organised to generate democratic
debate at European level.
In this way, Europe could once again
achieve legitimacy, with democratic debate
reinvigorated and citizens involved. This
transformation will not happen overnight. It
will take years. We need to think in the long
term again, and have a vision for the future.
But when things take a long time to do, it is
even more urgent to start doing them.
This is an edited extract from Revolution
by Emmanuel Macron, published on
13 November by Scribe.
What is the future
of the Tory party?
Monday 27 November, 6.30 p.m.
Emmanuel Centre, Westminster, London
Having so disastrously misread the public mood at the last election,
are the Tories – divided on Brexit and much more – now hurtling
towards defeat at the next one? Can they stop Jeremy Corbyn?
What should they stand for and who should lead them?
Join The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson and a special guest panel for
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the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
The sex scandal is what psychologists
call ‘displacement activity’
here are three reasons why Britain’s
political and media world finds itself
in the present ludicrous uproar over
sexual misbehaviour at Westminster, and only
one of them has anything to do with sexual
misbehaviour. But let us start with that.
And, first, a caveat. Can there be an
organisation anywhere in discovered space
which, subjected to the intense media scrutiny that the House of Commons now attracts,
would not generate a comparable stock of
report and rumour? Imagine a workplace
— indeed imagine a workplace like our own
august Spectator offices – peopled by a lively mixture of creatives, eccentrics, wannabes,
rascals, saints, absolute bricks, total pricks
and drones. Now add to this mix the supposition that anything private and sex-related
(on or off duty) involving any of these people virtually since puberty — anything on
a scale ranging from the saucy through the
inappropriate to the shameful and the downright criminal — is considered hot news and
a matter of urgent national importance.
Remind you of anywhere? Your own
street? The BBC? An Inn of Court? British Airways? The Royal Opera? A teaching
college? The Met? All would be in the firing line. Yet people in these institutions are
now working themselves up into a state of
great agitation about the behaviour of those
employed at Westminster. The hypocrisy
may be unconscious but it is striking.
While accepting this caveat (that it’s the
raging media demand rather than the available human supply that has created the
impression of a modern Sodom and Gomorrah on the banks of the Thames), I do nevertheless think that political life attracts an
untypically large number of male chancers.
If you weren’t a chancer, why would you
seek election in the first place? Combine the
buccaneering disposition of a risk-taker with
what Noël Coward called ‘this sly biological
urge’, and hands will undoubtedly brush
knees and much, much worse. Deprive Westminster of its buccaneers and you deprive it
of some of its best as well as its worst.
My own view (should you care) is that
the pendulum has swung too far but that it’s
in the nature of pendulums to swing, and this
one needed to. Some horrible stuff has been
uncovered, and unless you wish it had not
been, you must accept that without the current sense of alarm, many individuals would
never have broken their silence. We hope
in vain if we hope for some precise Aristotelian mean between going too far and not
going far enough.
There will therefore be cruel casualties
of this forest fire before it burns itself out,
and great unfairness, and I can’t say I’m
comfortable about it; but so there were during the eerily similar MPs’ expenses scandal.
Media alarm is a blunt instrument. But some
men needed a big fright, and all over Britain
we’ve been revisiting our own behaviour.
Two cheers for that.
To this 2017 firestorm, Harvey Weinstein
Never underestimate the difficulty
of arousing interest in a matter of
importance if the matter is complicated
was the spark. But why was the brushwood
so astonishingly dry? This brings me to the
second reason why politics and sex have
proved such an intoxicating cocktail this
autumn. People can understand sex.
Never underestimate the difficulty of
arousing interest in a matter of national
importance, if the matter is complicated.
Democracy bestows upon the populace a
right to an opinion on large political questions, but it does not always bestow the gift
of understanding them. In Parkinson’s Law,
C. Northcote Parkinson maintained that
in any board meeting the amount of time
devoted to an item on the agenda will be in
inverse proportion to the difficulty of the
issue. Whether to build a vast nuclear reactor, he suggested, might detain the board for
a few minutes but they’d spend half an hour
on the design and cost of the bicycle sheds.
They knew what a bicycle shed was.
Journalists and voters know what sex is.
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
We all have first-hand knowledge of questions of propriety in the making of sexual
advances. We understand the dilemmas and
ambiguities, the mistakes you can make and
the way people feel. The debate about sexual lunges by politicians is therefore capable
of infinite extension, inspiring lively interest
and a wealth of compelling personal stories.
We relate to it in a way we don’t to the Gatt.
The sheer accessibility of the topic, I
believe, has made it the perfect candidate for
something psychoanalysts call ‘displacement
activity’. Displacement is the re-channelling of anxiety or frustration into comforting behaviour, unrelated to the real source
of the tension. We energetically re-arrange
our desktops, tidy the kitchen, chew gum or
make yet another cup of tea: we throw ourselves into the familiar to distract ourselves
from a problem that’s too big for us.
Which brings me to my third reason for
this alarum. From what might we be running
if Britain in 2017 is throwing itself furiously
into a political question it can at least understand or even answer? Might there be an infinitely bigger problem we are trying to avoid:
a political dilemma from which we turn in
anxious confusion? The question need only
be put for the answer to suggest itself.
Historians years hence will examine the
politics of this hour, read the newspaper
headlines, commentary and leading articles,
listen again to the breathless broadcast bulletins as yet another hand was revealed to
have brushed against yet another bottom,
and wonder what the hell we thought we
were doing. ‘Britain was hurtling towards
a great unknown,’ they’ll gasp, ‘and Britain
knew it. Some feared it spelled ruin; others, peering anxiously through the fog, saw
a vision of paradise. Their prime minister,
meanwhile, teetered on collapse and their
government was riven. The crisis called for
all their focus, all their energy and attention.
‘But what was everybody talking about?
The past sexual misdeeds of their politicians.’ Sex-pestering MPs are set fair to
become the Great Evasion of the era.
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The #metoo movement
has an icy heart
n rolls the Harvey Weinstein horror show with no finale in sight.
The next episode looks likely to
star Uma Thurman, who’s waiting for the
right moment, she says, to tell her own Harvey story. Hollywood waits for Uma and I
wait for Robert De Niro, who said of Donald Trump: ‘He’s a dog, he’s a pig, a mutt.’ If
groping makes you mad, Rob, why so silent
about friend Harvey?
Weinstein is clearly a slimeball predator.
I hope the great wave of feminist outrage
washes all the Harveys clean away, out of
Tinseltown, out of Washington, out of Westminster. But running alongside the Weinstein drama is another trickier case — one
I think the credibility of the whole #metoo
movement rests on.
Four women have now come forward
to claim that the nonagenarian George
Bush Sr assaulted them. He made a lewd
joke, then patted them on the bum, they
say. They take this very seriously. Over the
past few weeks it has often been pointed
out that Bush Sr is 93 and suffers from
Parkinson’s and possibly dementia. As far
as I can see, this cuts no ice with most of
the feminists on social media. There’s no
excuse for anyone who perpetuates ‘rape
culture’, they say. As Charles Moore wrote
last week: ‘The quality of mercy is strained
by the age of equality.’
The Bush affair rings an unpleasant little bell with me. Last winter I was helping
in a west London day centre, giving out hats
and scarves to rough sleepers. One of the
centre’s clients was an old man I’ve come
across quite often. He’s clearly not all there
and he whiles away his days drawing Biro
pics of naked cartoon ladies in a notepad he
keeps around his neck. He’s harmless and
really the ladies are quite good after all his
years of practice.
That winter day he was looking for a new
audience. He sidled up to my co-worker, a
young millennial girl, and showed her his latest. The millennial reacted as if she’d been
Tasered. She marched to the front desk: ‘I’d
like to report a sexual assault,’ she said. I fol-
lowed her, trying to explain: ‘He’s harmless,
just senile.’ She looked at me sharply: ‘Senility is no excuse for assault,’ she said.
But it is. It’s an excuse in law and should
be an excuse in the minds of every rational
feminist who wants an end to the era of Harveys. People not in their right minds, men
and women with dementia, mental illness,
learning difficulties, Down’s syndrome, even
sometimes plain old age, are the weakest of
us. And if you’ve no mercy for the weakest you do not any more occupy the moral
high ground. Your battle is no longer ethical,
merely political.
What’s behind this iciness at the heart
of this moral movement? There’s the
Old age undoes our minds. It
loosens the restraints and lets out the
dark and slithering things inside
usual screwy relativism — if someone feels
assaulted they have been assaulted. End of
story. I think there’s also an actual medical mistake. The righteous mission of most
21st-century types is to free the West from
discrimination, from racism, misogyny,
homo- and trans-phobia. They imagine that
come the happy day when all the prejudiced
fogeys are dead, there will be no disobliging old bigots or lechers. Their generation
will age free from prejudice, and their care
homes will shine with mutual respect. They
don’t feel for George Bush Sr because they
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
don’t think: there but for the grace of God,
one day, go I.
They’re wrong. Old age undoes our
minds. It loosens the restraints and lets out
the dark and slithering things inside. A decade ago I wrote about the work of a psychologist called Bill von Hippel at the University
of Queensland, who showed that, as we age,
so the little piece of our brain that stops
us voicing our instinctive, often prejudicial, thoughts crumbles away. The old think
they’ve earned the right to be outspoken.
In fact they often just can’t help it. Recently, von Hippel wrote a piece for the BBC
explaining: ‘Psychologists used to believe
that greater prejudice among older adults
was due to the fact that older people grew
up in less egalitarian times. In contrast to
this view, we have gathered evidence that
normal changes to the brain in late adulthood can lead to greater prejudice among
older adults.
‘The frontal lobes are the last part of the
brain to develop as we progress through
childhood and adolescence, and the first part
of the brain to atrophy as we age. Atrophy
of the frontal lobes does not diminish intelligence, but it degrades brain areas responsible for inhibiting irrelevant or inappropriate
thoughts.’ Can you really, millennials, hand
on hearts, say that all your thoughts are fit
for broadcast?
Nearly 40 per cent of all 90-year-olds, like
Bush Sr, will suffer from serious dementia,
and that percentage is rising year on year. If
we make it that far we may well do far worse
than poor old George. Just ask any carehome worker. The longer we last the more
likely we are to strip, flash, grope and grab.
We’ll throw toddler tantrums, not because
of the culture we’ve been brought up in, but
because of the species we belong to.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the
unbending attitude towards poor Bush Sr is
that so many of the feminists (of both sexes)
battling sexism are young. They forget ‘ageism’ in the great roll-call of bigotry because
they don’t yet realise they’ll be old. They will.
And then mercy might make sense.
Thank havens
The feminist courtesans
Who decided that keeping money in ‘paradise’ is a crime?
Some MPs have
been exploiting their power by their
sexual fumblings with the lower ranks.
The result is that when the fumbled
finally pluck up the courage to reveal
all, or are eventually believed, the
situation does no one any favours. It
should all be quite different.
The MPs could up their game. As
Rome’s finest love-poet Ovid made
clear, sex was supposed to be fun,
and mutual fun too. No one gets that
from groping and lunging. His Ars
Amatoria, decorated with amusingly
ironical examples from the gods and
heroes of ancient myth, offered top
tips about how to find and keep a
lover, even a married one. It was all
in the thrill of the chase: staking out
territory, patience, careful personal
grooming, trips to theatres and
games, elegant billets-doux, secret
signs, subtle compliments, a degree
of acting up, thoughtful gifts, careful
risk-taking and, most of all, privacy.
If this is beyond MPs, the fumbled
should put on a show of power of the
sort enjoyed by the ancient courtesan.
While the prostitute (pornê) simply
exchanged money for sex — a
wholly impersonal transaction —
the educated, independent, taxpaying courtesan (hetaira) dealt in
‘gifts’ given by ‘friends’ who wanted
to ‘benefit’ her, as one said to
Socrates. This looked like a personal
relationship — there was no ‘going
rate’ for it — and it put the power in
the woman’s hands. She could have
as many lovers as she liked, playing
one against the other, and offering
or withdrawing her services as she
saw fit. The whole point was her
fickleness. It kept her ‘friends’ hungry
— and, even better, intensely jealous.
Such relationships were the
focus of most ancient love epigrams.
Written by men, they depict a world
of the slavishly love-struck, desperate
for the commitment of their hetaira
to them alone, fighting off her other
lovers or singing tear-laden songs
outside her locked doors.
These women were in charge.
If feminism is about anything, it
is imbuing women with a sense of
self-worth that makes it quite clear
that they will not be disrespected by
anyone. It has clearly not delivered.
— Peter Jones
aybe we should blame John Grisham. In his breakthrough best-seller
The Firm, the young lawyer Mitch,
played by Tom Cruise in the movie, has to
make regular trips to the Cayman Islands
where the corrupt law firm he works for
creates hundreds of shell companies for
the assorted cast of money launderers, tax
dodgers and gangsters who are its core client
base. Ever since then, the murky ‘offshore
centre’ has become a staple of the post-Cold
War thriller: a place where, amid the palm
trees and skyscrapers, sharply dressed financiers salt away billions, safely out of view of
any government.
As the latest offshore scandal broke last
week, with the release of millions of documents from Bermuda known as the ‘Paradise Papers’, it was hard not to see echoes
of Grisham’s 26-year-old book colouring
the coverage. The Queen has investments
offshore, we are told, in tones of shocked
breathlessness. Lewis Hamilton has registered his private jet in the Isle of Man.
Wilbur Ross (Donald Trump’s commerce
secretary) is fingered in the cache, as is the
Tory donor Lord Ashcroft. Inevitably, Apple
is swooshing a few tens of billions around
from one jurisdiction to another. So is
Nike. Even Bono, a figure more saintly
than Her Majesty, turns out to be implicated, alongside — rather less surprisingly
for someone who once belted out ‘Material
Girl’ — Madonna. As the millions of papers
are sifted through, no doubt many more
famous names will be held up for public
shame and ridicule. Inevitably, there are
calls from politicians for clampdowns and
inquiries and prosecutions amid sanctimonious lectures about how every deal routed
through Grand Cayman is costing us all a
school or a couple of hospital wards.
Yet there is a problem with this reaction.
It is a very long way from the truth. In fact,
there are lots of perfectly legitimate reasons
why companies, funds, or even individuals
might want to have an account or a subsidiary in an offshore centre. It doesn’t automatically make them a tax dodger, a gangster or
a money launderer. And we shouldn’t automatically assume that it does.
In reality, in a globalised economy, offshore finance plays an important role,
There are lots of perfectly legitimate
reasons to have an account or a
subsidiary in an offshore centre
enabling money to move across borders
relatively easily. Rather oddly, a lot of the
media seem to have decided that while it is
fine for people and goods to move around
the world, having a bank account or an
investment in a different country makes you
virtually a criminal.
To understand why that is crazy, just
think about some examples. Say you are setting up an investment fund which is going
to collect money from investors in Britain,
Germany, Singapore or anywhere else people happen to have some spare cash. You
will then put that into businesses you think
look good wherever you are lucky enough
to find them. If it is based in one offshore
centre with zero taxes, it can simply raise
cash and pay it out from there; investors
can then pay whatever taxes are due where
they live. That is far less hassle than paying
British or American or German taxes which
many investors will then have to claim back.
Alternatively, imagine you are a finance
director of a major multinational. You have
dozens of subsidiaries. Wouldn’t it be easier
to have a place with zero tax, where money
could flow in and out of all those units? Of
course it would. Or think about a professional who contract-hops from the Middle
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
East to South America to China and back
again. Why not organise your payments in a
single place, and then pay whatever is owed
locally when it is due?
The world already has an extensive network of free ports, tax-free zones where
goods in transit can be processed or temporarily stored without having to pay local
tariffs. There are an estimated 3,500 of them
across 135 countries, facilitating the movement of goods around the world. They have
helped trade grow hugely over the past couple of decades. Offshore centres might once
have been ‘sunny places for shady people’ as
Somerset Maugham memorably put it. But
in the past decade, they have been forced
to clean up their act and are now mainly
financial ‘free ports’ — places where cash
can easily be parked and transferred as it
moves around the world.
For all the moralising, one of the interesting things about the leaks is not how much
wrongdoing they expose, but how little. Take
last year’s Panama Papers scandal, for example. From a similar dump of data to the one
seen this week, you might expect hundreds
of investigations and prosecutions to have
followed. After all, more than 11 million
documents were made public. In fact not
much happened. The Icelandic prime minister resigned. In total, more than 150 investigations were launched worldwide. Malta has
apparently recovered £5.6 million in taxes.
In this country, HMRC was reported to be
looking at 22 cases, although there is no sign
of any extra tax being charged yet. For all the
drama, it was pretty small beer. The reason?
All the data revealed might have been interesting, and made for some lurid headlines,
but very few people turned out to be breaking any laws. In only a handful of cases were
taxes being evaded or money-laundered.
Sure, some companies are using offshore
vehicles to reduce their tax bills. But so
what? The left likes to argue that multinational companies are under-taxed, and if we
could only squeeze more money out of them
public services would be in far better shape.
There is not much evidence for that; in fact,
the latest economic studies show something
far more interesting. Corporation taxes are
mostly passed on to consumers in the form
of higher prices and to workers in lower
wages — and it is the least skilled workers who get hit hardest because they are
the least mobile. Make big companies pay
more — as the Paradise campaigners say
they should — and it is the poor who will
suffer most. That hardly seems like much of
an improvement.
On closer inspection, it turns out that
offshore centres are used by just about
everyone. Most pension funds use them,
including those looking after the savings
of the politicians queuing up to condemn
them. They are part of the infrastructure of
globalisation, as much as the container ships,
airports and fibre optic cables. It is ironic
that many of the same people who proudly
describe themselves as citizens of the world
think that applies to everything except money.
They want to turn back the clock to a
world where you could only invest in British companies if you were British or German if you were German. A world with
few multinationals and little cross-border
investment. We can recreate that with a
hysterical witch hunt if we want to — but
we will all end up a lot poorer as a result.
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The tables turned
We should revive old-fashioned dining rooms
ining rooms have been in the doldrums for decades. Even Mary Berry
has given up on hers. ‘Most of us, I
think, live in the kitchen,’ she said recently.
She’s right. Plenty of us don’t have a dining room to give up on, me included. Plenty
more have knocked down what once divided a dining room from a kitchen to create
an airy, open-plan ‘living space’ where we
do battle with avocados and everything else.
We might be obsessed with what we
are and aren’t eating but we don’t stand
on ceremony. Nigella Lawson admits she
slurps noodles ‘hypnotically’ while
watching TV on the sofa. ‘If it can
be eaten out of a bowl, I’m very
happy to eat while I watch,’ she said.
Dining rooms are all but dead,
then, which is a shame because they
invite conversation, allow for contemplation and can be just as cosy as
a kitchen.
I have happy memories of my
grandparents’ house where dishes
were passed through a hatch in the
wall and a different set of china used
for each sitting. Morning coffee came
in cottage-ware cups that looked like
houses with little windows; a cooked
lunch was served on chunky Portmeirion; a light supper on rather
vivid green lettuce leaf plates. All
of it in the dining room. These days
it’s fashionable to eat every meal out of a
bowl. That arbiter of middle-class taste, John
Lewis, reports we’re losing interest in plates,
while sales of bowls are going up.
At home, my sister and I petitioned
hard to eat in front of the TV rather than
at a table. The dining room was for Sunday
lunch alone and its formality was intimidating, inviting mischief. This was a flashpoint
for dispute. Now, of course, we love it. How
nice it is to close the door on what’s been
going on in the kitchen and leave the pudding puffing away in the oven behind you.
Dirty dishes can keep to themselves and
even the cook can relax (a bit). The dining
room is a retreat. It’s not a thoroughfare or
a table hurriedly cleared of unopened post,
unfinished homework or a half-potted amaryllis. It has a sense of occasion. It’s a world
away from that workhorse, the kitchen.
Isn’t life raucous enough? Wouldn’t it be
better to sit down, concentrate on what we
are eating and, like slender Samantha Cameron, give every bite a properly good chew?
The death of the dining room is a sign that
our eating habits have also become slovenly.
Many of us eat two or three meals a day aldesko. We grab breakfast ‘on the go’. Scoff
a sandwich between emails. In the evening,
we might watch while TV chefs create plate
after exquisitely presented plate, but we’re
balancing toast on our knees on the sofa.
We’re grazers. Passing through the kitchen
for a nibble of this or that. Sometimes skipping dinner in favour of a few ‘gorgeous little bits’ as my flatmate used to call them.
In his new book Taste: The Secret Meaning of Things, Stephen Bayley suggests
that ‘most people learn the fundamentals
of interior design from their experience of
restaurants’. He goes on to note that ‘the
food cart and the pop-up have replaced
restaurants with fine napery, bucket chairs
and deep-pile carpet’. If we no longer aspire
to eat out in plush, formal surroundings, why
would we bother at home? As Elizabeth
David counselled back in the 1950s, the
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
kitchen should be ‘the most comforting and
comfortable room in the house’.
The idea of kitchen suppers, fashionable
in the 1970s and still going strong, is all very
well. But what happens when things start to
go wrong and all your guests are on hand
offering suggestions on how to thicken the
sauce? What if you — horror — drop the
casserole dish on the floor? You can’t very
well scrape it up and hope for the best.
Wouldn’t we all, occasionally, like to emerge
from the kitchen like swans leaving the
steam, sweat and panic in our wakes? Taking a chicken out of the oven while
guests are at my kitchen table is not
a dignified manoeuvre.
While kitchens must be glossy
and functional, dining rooms can be
full of flair. The designer William
Yeoward is a fan of entertaining and
master of the well-laid table. His
most recent book, Blue and White
and Other Stories, celebrates the art
of dining. His tables are adorned
with printed tablecloths, decorative
crystal pineapples and wine glasses
filled with cornflowers. ‘It is totally
irresponsible to have uncomfortable
dining chairs,’ he scolds. But what
brave soul has upholstered chairs
in the kitchen? William would have
to bring a cushion round for supper
at mine.
Interior designer Sophie Robinson
believes that like bar carts and drinks cabinets, beleaguered dining rooms are due a
renaissance. ‘They are a wonderful opportunity to be more playful.’ Small shoots are
emerging… at the latest Grand Designs
Live show there was a beautifully styled
dining room inspired by a garden and decorated with ferns.
Robinson also reports that some cooks
are putting their walls back up, shutting
the door on open-plan living. When the
demands of family life have subsided and
you no longer need — nor want — to watch
what your children are up to while you’re
scrambling eggs, then having a few wellplaced walls can be calming and cossetting.
My identity crisis
Pennies from haven
Last week’s huge leak of the ‘Paradise
Papers’ has put the Channel Islands and
the Isle of Man in the spotlight. But the
original tax haven was actually New
Jersey, not Jersey.
— New Jersey was struggling financially
in the 1880s until governor Leon Abbett
liberalised the state’s incorporation laws.
This persuaded many companies to set up
there rather than in New York, where they
were doing business.
— In return, New Jersey charged a
franchise tax. It has since lost its status
as a tax haven, but it was copied by
neighbouring Delaware, which still hosts
the corporate HQs of many US companies.
Shooting stars
With 3.65 gun deaths per 100,000
population in 2016, how does the United
States compare internationally?
Singapore ....... 0.03
Japan............... 0.04
South Korea... 0.05
China .............. 0.06
UK .................. 0.07
El Salvador.. 40.29
Venezuela .... 34.77
Guatemala .. 26.81
Colombia..... 25.94
Honduras .... 20.56
Source: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
Lost profits
When corporations shift their profits for tax
purposes, which G7 nations lose the most in
terms of GDP percentage?
US .............1.66%
Germany ..0.61%
Italy .............0.38%
Canada .......0.27%
UK ..............0.06%
The countries which have made the
biggest losses worldwide are Guyana
and Chad (both 8.05%). Those making
the most from profit-shifting are Cyprus
(1.3%), the Kyrgyz Republic (1.32%)
and Macedonia (1.32%).
Source: UN World Institute for Development
Economics Research, using IMF data
Linked in
The Chancellor is under pressure to halt
a scheduled 3.9 per cent rise in business
rates, which are linked to the Retail Prices
Index. RPI generally runs higher than the
Consumer Prices Index (CPI). What is
linked to each one?
CPI: Most state benefits (when not frozen);
state pension (one of the guarantees in
the ‘triple lock’); public sector pensions;
tax thresholds.
RPI: Student loans; inflation-linked gilts;
business rates; most remaining private
sector ‘defined benefit’ pension schemes.
Police thought I was the Putney Pusher
’m sitting at home working, minding
my business, and the mobile rings. It’s
DC Lyle from Wandsworth police
station. He says that my name was given
to Crimestoppers anonymously as a potential witness to the ‘Putney Pusher’ incident.
Remember that nutter who barged a woman
into the path of a bus on Putney Bridge
while out for his morning jog? Well, six
months on and they still haven’t found him
— and DC Lyle wants to meet.
I say I couldn’t possibly help as I wasn’t
a witness. DC Lyle says he still needs to
meet. I reaffirm there really was no point,
I could be of no value; I wasn’t there. DC
Lyle insists, and in doing so mentions that
he has my email address, and that he tried to
see me at my office yesterday (I wasn’t in).
What? Somebody gave the police my office
address, email address and phone number.
Who? Feeling invaded and indignant, I tell
DC Lyle he could come at 10 a.m. the next
day. I put the phone down, and only then the
penny dropped. I was a suspect.
I must know. Who was the person who
put my name forward? They obviously know
me, but not well enough to call me first and
let me know they were going to dob me in.
Or perhaps they do know me well and have
it in for me. That’s for another day; I have
to clear my name, and reclaim ownership of
my identity.
I frantically search for the video footage
of the incident online. The images are grainy.
Squint the eyes and even I can see some
resemblance. I look at the Pusher’s jogging
gear. Not premium, I might be OK. He’s got
fat calves. Result. Mine are sculpted (my
best feature). The Pusher’s got pronounced
moobs. Oh dear. I carry some permanent
holiday weight, I admit it. All it would take
is a bored jury and a half-decent prosecution
barrister, and none of this would be beyond
reasonable doubt.
I need an alibi, so I fire up the iCal to see
what my movements were on 5 May. There
is nothing in the diary. This is not going well.
Then I remember a friend, who on seeing
news of the Putney Pusher sent me a humorous WhatsApp message. I still have the transcript:
Him: ‘I see you’ve started jogging again.’
Me: ‘Yep. Was actually on my way to the
bridge to find the woman and finish the job.
Don’t tell anyone though I think there’s
a manhunt.’ This is not looking good.
After a fitful night I wake early. 9.45 a.m.
arrives. The door buzzer goes. It’s DC Lyle
and his sidekick. Of course they’re early,
sneaky bastards. Look relaxed, Joel. Keep
yourself together. DC Lyle and DC Sidekick show me their badges. I show them
how extremely nice and friendly I am. Once
installed on my sofa (I didn’t offer tea) they
hit me with it — I am indeed a suspect.
‘Someone put you forward as the person that did this, and we’re here to investigate whether you did. Where were you on
the morning of 5 May between the hours of
7.30 and 8 a.m.?’
I have nothing. I live alone, work from
home most days, no diary events, no witnesses as to my whereabouts. Sweats. ‘Wait,’
I say. ‘Almost every morning of the working
week I go to Pret A Manger to have a coffee
I needed an alibi so I fired up the
iCal to see what my movements were.
There is nothing in the diary
at or about the time of incident.’ But did I
that day? Even if I did, what if it was a day
when they gave me a coffee ‘on the house’
as they often did, me being a regular ’n’
all. There might not be credit card records.
More sweats.
I get the computer. American Express
login. Search for May 2017 statements.
Double click. Get in: 5 May 2017 — Pret A
Manger, £1.95.
I’m in the clear. DC Lyle peers over my
shoulder at the screen. He’s satisfied I’m
not the Putney Pusher. The Pret evidence is
helpful, but he also says I’m taller than the
real Pusher. Skinnier, too. I tell him that’s
because I’ve been jogging a lot recently.
The fee for this article was donated
to Crimestoppers.
‘Was that a wolf whistle?’
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
Rules for romance
Sir: Lara Prendergast describes a
floundering generation desperate
for reliable love but with no real idea
how to find it (‘Sexual reformation’,
4 November). Our culture has forgotten
the basic principles of forming successful
relationships. My daughters apply
three simple guidelines on choosing
boyfriends wisely. One, does he fight
for you? Men’s commitment is linked
to willingness to sacrifice. He needs to
show that he will put himself out for you.
Two, is he marriageable? I’m not saying
marry straight away. But he needs to
have characteristics such as kindness
and generosity. And three, can he make
decisions? Commit to things and stick
at them? Does he decide, rather than
slide? Result, four young women who are
confident about their relationships and
have made good choices. My guidelines for
my two teenage sons? Be that man.
Harry Benson
Research Director, Marriage Foundation,
biography of Karl Marx written by
Richard Bean and someone else.’ The
‘someone else’ is Clive Coleman, an
esteemed colleague and the BBC’s Legal
Affairs Correspondent.
Martin Bashir
London W1A
Mansur the martyr
Sir: I hold no brief for Reza Aslan but I
must point out some important elisions
in Alexander Waugh’s review of God: A
Human History (Books, 4 November).
Mansur al-Hallaj, the Sufi saint who
declared ‘I am the truth’, is indeed a
controversial figure in Islam. But as his
biographer, Attar of Nishapur, pointed
out, he had many Muslim admirers. Over
the centuries beautiful miniatures were
painted commemorating his martyrdom.
And his spiritual descendants include the
perennialist philosopher Seyyed Hossein
Nasr, recent editor of The Study Quran, as
well as Aslan. The Islamic tradition is wider
than Waugh seems to think.
Sameer Rahim
London N1
Classroom failure
Sir: As a fellow recent casualty of
the Scottish education system I
wholeheartedly agree with Madeleine
Kearns’ article on its current state under
the SNP (‘Class struggle’, 4 November).
I am a staunch critic of Tory education
policies in England, so specifically chose
Scotland for my training as a secondary
English teacher. To my horror I found a
disheartened and disjointed education
system which, though nobly idealistic in
theory, was characterised by vagueness,
uncertainty and disorganisation in practice.
Although it is only part of a continuing
public sector tragedy which is detrimental
to both teaching and learning in Scottish
classrooms, the Curriculum for Excellence
perfectly encapsulates both the political
arrogance and lack of organisation of the
SNP in wilfully changing a system that once
worked well for Scottish children.
Their aim was to leave a legacy in
education. In the light of the recent
catastrophic drop in attainment levels in
reading and writing, that legacy is one of
failure, with a whole generation of Scottish
pupils as the victims.
Mark Oliver
Someone I know
Sir: I note that Mr Lloyd Evans, in
reviewing The Young Marx (4 November)
writes: ‘The inaugural show is a comic
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
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Passport to peril
Sir: There are many examples of bad UK
governance in the past few decades: being
misled over the Iraq war in 2003; Hinkley
Point’s fantastically expensive electricity; 25
years or more of dithering over Heathrow’s
third runway. But can there be any worse
instance than that described by James
Forsyth (‘What to do about returning
jihadis’, 4 November)? We have known
for years that about 500 jihadis would
attempt to return. These are perpetrators
of genocide in the name of a self-declared
state with whom we have in effect been at
war. For all this time the government has
had the authority to withdraw the passports
of those entitled to a second citizenship
(that means most of them). The first duty of
government is to defend the nation, and its
reluctance to do so is profoundly disturbing.
Jonathan Campbell-James
Poorly trained
Sir: Charles Moore seems to think that
the Windsor Link Railway, which would
create a single Windsor station, is a good
idea (The Spectator’s Notes, 4 November).
Would he be so keen if he was aware that
Mr Bathurst intends to build his new
station, hotel and office complex on, and
construct his railway link through, National
Trust land? This was bought by public
subscription to protect the rare (these days)
views of Windsor Castle from the west.
What is more, Bathurst proudly claims
that his plans will be funded by building
mansions on the riverfront, with views
overlooking the gloriously picturesque and
ancient Eton College flood meadows.
Have we descended so far into planning
mayhem that any such proposals will be
given a moment’s consideration merely
to reduce our choice of train services and
destinations from two to one? I hope not.
Roger Cullingham,
Editor, the Royal Windsor Forum
Hall the best
Sir: Further to Peter Hitchens’s paean of
praise for the architecture of Liverpool
(Diary, 4 November), he might also have
included what is arguably Britain’s finest
19th-century building in the form of St
George’s Hall by Elmes and Cockerell.
Joe Hayward
Stanmore, Middlesex
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street,
London SW1H 9HP
Yes, Jay Powell is the compromise candidate for
the Federal Reserve – but not a bad one at that
erhaps we should be relieved that Donald Trump has made a dull appointment
to succeed Janet Yellen as chairman
of the Federal Reserve, America’s central
bank. He might have picked another alt-right
wacko or Kremlin stooge — or his Las Vegas
buddy Phil Ruffin, the casino owner he allegedly thought of sending as envoy to China.
But in fact he has chosen Jerome ‘Jay’ Powell,
an identikit lawyer-turned-banker who has
been called the candidate of ‘continuity’ and
‘compromise’ after a late run to beat frontrunner Kevin Warsh, a former Trump adviser with more aggressive opinions on the need
for monetary tightening.
The most interesting facts about Powell
are that (unlike recent Fed incumbents) he
is not an economist but he is rich: one guess
says he’s worth $112 million, some of it
made when he worked for the private equity group Carlyle, which has been described
(in Dan Briody’s book The Iron Triangle)
as operating at the ‘murky intersection’ of
Washington politics, national security and
private capital. So he’s an insider and a plutocrat — but is he the man for the job?
His test will come when US stocks plunge
from current highs and Wall Street howls for
cheap money again; and when Trump’s tax
cuts overheat the economy but the White
House doesn’t want the feelgood factor
quelled by faster-rising rates. The Washington Post asks: ‘Does [Trump] think, of all the
plausible candidates, Powell would be the
easiest to influence or intimidate?’ But my
man who pours the decaf at Fed board meetings says Powell’s better than that: ‘Pragmatic, mainstream, the best pick Trump could
have made once he decided not to reappoint
Yellen.’ Dullness isn’t necessarily bad in a
central bank governor, so long as it’s accompanied by firmness under fire.
Sin in Paradise
What would a perfect tax system look like?
For companies, profit taxes should be competitively low, to encourage inward investment, with generous reliefs for start-ups,
research and capital projects; the corporate tax code should be designed to generate rising productivity and prosperity rather
than to maximise short-term tax revenues,
and companies should acknowledge a duty
to contribute wherever their profits arise.
For individuals, income tax rates should
rise only to the lowest level that maximises
revenue collection and thresholds should
be high enough to keep low earners out
of the net, while pension savers and firsttime home-buyers should be incentivised.
Citizens and companies alike should be
proud to pay fair taxes without feeling
penalised; and tax consultants should be as
rare as taxidermists.
But of course it’s not like that. And so
we’ve had to endure this week’s indigestible splurge of revelations from the so-called
Paradise Papers — presented by the BBC
in tones of wealth-hating venom that entirely failed to distinguish between cunning
wheezes to help the expensively advised
avoid paying taxes where they live, and the
embarrassment of a small offshore holding discovered deep in the investment portfolio of the Duchy of Lancaster, an otherwise admirable property business that happens to pay the monarch’s salary.
Gratuitous smearing of the Queen faded
as even juicier celebrity names came into the
frame, but the episode has left a nasty taste.
Meanwhile, we might reflect that morality
seems to have evolved as much in taxation
as it has in flirtation, for which the rules are
so rapidly changing. It used to be accepted
that individuals were morally entitled to pay
as little tax as the law’s complexities and
loopholes permitted — and that companies
had a positive duty to shareholders to do
likewise. Now there’s a growing sense that
such self-interest is sinful because it denies
revenues for public good. We might want to
argue with that, but it’s the way the Corbyndriven public mood is shifting. And the only
answer — Chancellor Hammond please
note, as you embark on your umpteenth
Budget draft —is taxes that are as low, simple and cheat-proof as possible.
Raffish style
As a Far East nostalgia buff I’m delighted
that a Peninsula Hotel is coming to Hyde
Park Corner. Last week’s groundbreaking ceremony for this 190-room sister to
the original Peninsula, opened in Kowloon
in 1928, was presided over by Sir Michael
Kadoorie, third generation of the Hong
Kong family who also created splendid
hotels in Shanghai and Peking between
the wars. So the £500 million project bodes
well — but the opulent new building facing
the Wellington Arch replaces a 1960s office
block that, for me, also stirred memories.
It was once the headquarters of Lord
Hanson, corporate titan of the Thatcher era,
who was a keen Spectator reader. Having
apparently enjoyed a piece of mine about
British cheese-making, in the summer of
1995 he invited me to lunch. The other
guests were the biochemist Sir Richard
Sykes, chairman of the drugmaker Glaxo
Wellcome, and the broadcaster Selina Scott
— who, it would be fair to say, received the
lion’s share of the charm Hanson (then
73) had exercised in his playboy youth on
Audrey Hepburn and Joan Collins.
He and Sykes both hailed from Huddersfield but otherwise seemed to have little in
common. They represented very different
ways of business: what was then Hanson
Trust had risen to stardom by opportunist,
cost-stripping takeovers, while what is now
GlaxoSmithKline was built on huge investment in laboratory research. When Sykes
started talking about advances in HIV/Aids
treatment, our host flashed a smile at Selina:
‘We’re not here to talk about queers.’ Then
briefly to me: ‘Let’s talk about cheese.’
Glaxo’s ‘big pharma’ model endures, as
does the Kadoories’ dynastic stewardship of
the hotels. But the Hanson empire did not
outlive its founder, who died in 2004, and
its core building-materials business now
belongs to a German cement company. Still,
James Hanson brought raffish style to the
business scene in his day: the new Peninsula
should name a cocktail after him.
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
Claudia Massie discovers
that even Picasso couldn’t
make up his mind about the
meaning of ‘Guernica’
Mary Keen reveals that the
future of gardening is far
from rosy
Ian Thomson describes the
interwar years, when many
Britons were besotted with
Richard Bratby explains
why all pianists are faking it
when they attempt to play
Kate Chisholm learns that
Wordsworth’s favourite
daughter might have had
Down’s Syndrome
James Delingpole watches
Jeremy Corbyn stress his
normalness by consuming
crisps with tea
‘The Gardener Vallier’,
1902–6, by Paul Cézanne
Martin Gayford — p52
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
Books of the Year
A selection of the best and most overrated books of 2017,
chosen by some of our regular reviewers
A.N. Wilson
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (John Murray,
£10.99). It is difficult to convey the full
horror of this spellbinding first novel. The
young author, a medievalist, presumably knows the no less violent Njál’s Saga.
Elmet, though set in the modern age, concerns timeless protagonists who have contrived to live outside the normal modern
settings. Dad is an ex-prisoner, who earns
his living as a prize-fighter — at illegally
organised, very bloody bare-knuckle fights.
Somehow he and his children manage to
build a house on land belonging to a sinister figure called Mr Price, without any
bureaucrats from the local planning office
materialising to ask what he is up to. Price
wants his revenge, and when his own son
meets a bloody end, he exacts it. What is so
memorable is the sense of utter desolation
of this family. They are as outside our world
as Lear and Edgar on the Heath.
Frances Wilson
Three remarkable biographies appeared
this year. A.N. Wilson’s Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker (John Murray, £25) was as
bold, audacious and entertaining as I knew
it would be; the reviews less so. Sixty years
ago, C.P. Snow condemned the existence
of ‘two cultures’ who won’t speak to one
another and it seems that nothing much has
changed. Historians and literary critics still
approach the sciences at their peril.
In the annoyingly brilliant merry-goround that is Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses
of Princess Margaret (4th Estate, £16.99),
Craig Brown gives a new spin to royal biography, and this is a double book: a collage of
Princess Margaret and a snapshot of the age
that invented her.
Molly Keane, Sally Phipps’s life of her
mother (Virago, £20), is as fresh and true
and eccentric as any of Keane’s novels, and
shows just how good biography can be in
the hands of a natural writer.
Anna Aslanyan
Malacqua, Nicola Pugliese’s only novel, was
discovered by Italo Calvino, who said in
1977: ‘This is a book with a meaning and a
force and a message.’ Mysteriously, this small
masterpiece went out of print and wasn’t
reissued until 2013. Published now in Shaun
Whiteside’s translation, Malacqua: Four
Days of Rain in the City of Naples, Waiting
for the Occurrence of an Extraordinary Event
(And Other Stories, £10) is this year’s strangest and most seductive book.
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated
from the Polish by Jennifer Croft (Fitzcarraldo Editions, £12.99), is, to use the
author’s term, a ‘constellation novel’: a
coherent whole emerging from seemingly disjointed parts. Centred on travel as a
21st-century modus vivendi, it invites you
to reassess the notions of home and away.
Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish: A Modernist Collection of Essays by Tom
McCarthy (NYRB, £10.99), is remarkable
for its breathtaking range of subjects, from
the role of detritus in Ulysses to Zinedine
Zidane’s ‘epochal head-butt’.
Clare Mulley
As a judge for the Historical Writers
Association 2017 non-fiction prize, my
top three books are all from that brilliant
shortlist. Daniel Beer’s The House of the
Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars (Penguin, £12.99) uses fresh material to reveal
the fascinating but little known story
of the imperial gulags. This is a powerful book, underpinned by great humanity
and insight.
Jerry Brotton’s remarkable This Orient
Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic
World (Penguin, £9.99) uncovers the trading, diplomatic and cultural impact of Elizabeth I’s excommunication and decision to
seek new alliances beyond Europe.
Finally, switching effortlessly between
the big picture and human detail, Alex von
Tunzelmann has produced another excellent history of a pivotal moment in Blood
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
and Sand: Suez, Hungary and the Crisis
that Shook the World (Simon & Schuster,
£9.99). Each of these books is rigorously
researched, beautifully written and presents intelligent, original and compelling
history that resonates powerfully today.
Jenny Colgan
All my favourite books this year were hilarious. Comedy is totally underrated in literature; it’s far harder to be funny — properly
funny, not wry, or ‘theatre funny’ — than
anyone realises, given that laughter is generally a shared experience.
Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
(4th Estate, £12.99) is so comedically
spot on about middle-class mores it feels
unnervingly like she’s in your head. It’s one
of those books that people fervently press
on you.
Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is
Completely Fine (HarperCollins, £12.99) is
an oddball comedy with kindness lavishly
sprinkled on top. And This is Going to Hurt
by Adam Kay (Picador, £16.99) is not just
laugh-out-loud funny, but precise, upsetting,
and utterly sobering for anyone at all connected with the NHS.
Overrated for me was My Absolute
Darling by Gabriel Tallent (4th Estate,
£12.99). It’s showy, flashy and very
readable, but too mulched down to a paste
for my liking.
Jan Morris
I was happily intrigued by Nick Hunt’s
Where the Wild Winds Are (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, £16.99), an example of the
trend that has lately encouraged some
particularly gifted writers to explore the
profounder reaches of travel writing.
Hunt’s contribution to the genre has at its
epicentre not places at all but winds — five
European zephyrs, whose characteristics,
styles, legends, beauties and varied awfulnesses he exploits to compelling and entertaining effect.
Much my most imposing book of the
year was a terrific anthology of Welsh literature down the ages called The Old Red
Tongue edited by Gwyn Griffiths and Meic
Stephens (Francis Bootle Publishers, £30).
It is one of a series of such books dedicated to the lesser-used languages of Europe,
and it covers the entire Welsh literary corpus, from the sixth century to the present,
in the original and in English translation. It
is almost 1,000 pages long, and I defy any
sensitive reader to remain unmoved by its
marvellous seductions of art, pride, pathos
and imaginatiion.
Finally, a sumptuously illustrated new
edition of Wordsworth’s The Prelude
(Oxford, £30) seduced me into reading the
whole thing aloud — well, almost the whole
— when I had the house to myself.
Richard Davenport-Hines
James Stourton’s British Embassies: Their
Diplomatic and Architectural History
(Frances Lincoln, £40) is a perfect present.
It is sumptuously illustrated, with an almost
overpowering richness of colour and design,
to celebrate the architecture, paintings and
decoration of embassies and residences in 26
countries. Stourton begins in Paris, ends in
Kabul, and in addition to European embassies, celebrates diplomatic outposts in Addis
Ababa, Montevideo, Bangkok, Kuwait,
Rangoon and New Delhi. The most covetable building is the Tunis Residence, with
Moscow’s Residence runner-up. The book’s
glorious beauty is matched by Stourton’s
historical commentary, which is playful and
witty, but also erudite, shrewd and profoundly informed about power politics.
Besides this swagger portrait of a
book, Linda Kelly’s Talleyrand in London:
The Master Diplomat’s Last Mission
(I.B. Tauris, £25) seems a delicate miniature.
It radiates its author’s pleasure in invoking
the elegant sinuosity of 19th-century diplomacy and of mid-Victorian London. Her
generosity of spirit and unflinching truthfulness make this book shine.
Mark Amory
I have been looking forward impatiently to the biography of Anthony Powell for
years, so when I heard that Hillary Spurling’s Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music
of Time (Hamish Hamilton, £25) was in
the shops I found myself breaking into a
sort of shambling trot to buy a copy. Only
when the large, but not enormous, volume
was in my hand did I have a moment of
doubt. Could even she make Powell’s dignified progress through a lonely childhood,
Eton and Oxford (liking neither), publishing, some affairs, some journalism, a happy
marriage, two sons and a move to the country where he produced a new volume of his
masterpiece every two years into a gripping
read? Of course she could, and has. Many
friendships are described, though not exactly explained (I still find that with George
Orwell surprising, though of course convincing, as in his books).
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
Personally, I think Everest is
too accessible these days.’
A disturbing theme emerges: several of
Powell’s literary friends — Philip Larkin,
Malcolm Muggeridge, V.S. Naipaul — began
by admiring his work and expressing that
admiration, only to turn on it later. Spurling
points out that they had each written novels
themselves with varying degrees of success.
Wisely, but sadly for old men, she brings the
story to a swift close, not feeling that the last
years need recounting in detail.
A young man working on the Daily
Mail saw an irresistible subject for a novel
and The Beast (Head of Zeus, £10.99) by
Alexander Starritt is the result. The heart
of the book is the desperate, chaotic but
professional struggle of the staff to get the
half-shaped news onto the page before the
approaching deadline, with the terrifying
editor looming over them. Journalists will
love it, and perhaps others too.
Duncan Fallowell
The one book I want someone to give
me this year is Architectural Invention in
Renaissance Rome: Artists, Humanists, and
the Planning of Raphael’s Villa Madama
(CUP, £90). Madama was the second unfortified villa, after the Villa Farnesina, to be
built since ancient times, but was larger and
more rural. The two mark a return to civilised living after a 1,000-year hiatus of barbarism.
Fast forward to the otium of the 1950s.
Dolce Vita Confidential by Shawn Levy
(Weidenfeld, £20) is an account of the
life-enhancing background from which
sprang the masterpieces of Italian cinema
in the 1960s.
Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of
Disquiet: The Complete Edition (Serpent’s
Tail, £20) is high modernism at its most intimate and captivating.
Christopher Howse
‘If you start saying how bloody everything is
you end up in a kind of praise — inevitably,’
wrote David Jones in a 15-year trough of
mental anguish. What he meant and how he
succeeded is laid open by Thomas Dilworth
in David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter,
Poet (Jonathan Cape, £25).
I find it odd that people often call for a
Reformation in Islam, because no one seems
more salafist and bloodthirsty than the men
(mostly men) who brought in Europe’s
Reformation (calling themselves at first
not Protestants but evangelicals, as the true
heirs of the Gospel). In the most readable
of this year’s crop of anniversary books,
Reformation Divided: Catholics, Protestants and the Conversion of England
(Bloomsbury, £26.99), Eamon Duffy, the
doyen of Reformation historians, takes the
narrative as far as that weird figure George
Fox (1604–91). ‘I fasted much, walked
about in solitary places,’ he wrote of tak33
ing to the road aged 19, ‘and sat in hollow
trees.’ For a Quaker, or anyone really, he was
very fierce.
Stephen Bayley
Tim Hayward’s The Modern Kitchen (Quadrille, £20) is an encyclopaedia of kitchen
equipment which you would call fanatical
were it not so very elegant and witty. The
semiotics of a can-opener? It’s a book I wish
I had written myself, which, of course, is altitudinous praise.
Architecture and design is a rather impoverished publishing sector at the
moment, though that probably says as much
about the state of architecture and design
as it does about the book trade. Still, Erica
Wagner’s Chief Engineer: The Man who
Built the Brooklyn Bridge (Bloomsbury,
£25) is a masterpiece. And B. Alexandra
Szerlip’s The Man Who Designed the Future
(Melville House, $28.99) is a meticulously
researched account of Norman Bel Geddes,
an ocean-going huckster of genius, until now
largely forgotten.
The BA pilot Mark Vanhoenacker has
followed up the delightful Skyfaring with a
little how-to number called How to Land a
Plane (Quercus, £9.99). I read it recently in
seat 23E and caused alarm. And a re-issue:
Sybille Bedford’s Would You Let Your Wife
Read This Book? (Daunt, £5.99) is her bonedry and exquisite reminder of the 1960 Lady
Chatterley trial, when the judge asked questions about the weight of testicles.
Most overrated book was David Eagleman’s and Anthony Brandt’s The Runaway
Species: How Human Creativity Remakes
the World (Canongate, £20): a composer
adding undergraduate cultural gloss to a
neuroscientist’s patronising pseudotechnical insights.
Philip Hensher
At a time when it seems you only have
to write a novel in the present tense with
mentions of the internet to be categorised
as experimental, Alan Hollinghurst’s The
Sparsholt Affair (Picador, £20) proved the
real thing. It’s not often that readers see such
a fundamental rethinking of what fiction can
do, and rarer still that the result is such a joy.
Laurent Binet’s The 7th Function of Language (Harvill Secker, £16.99) was the most
glorious entertainment, behind its wonderfully boring title. The jaw dropped at
the fantasies of the secret lives of all those
ridiculous Paris post-structuralists. I have no
idea how Julia Kristeva’s lawyers let Binet
get away with it. I suppose they could hardly
start claiming that they believed in the truth
of the text at this late stage.
Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 (4th Estate,
£14.99) proved unforgettable, a unique
sound and vision.
The best non-fiction was Yuri Slezkine’s
astounding The House of Government:
A Saga of the Russian Revolution (Princeton, £29.95) — a terrifying glimpse of cruelty in Stalin’s Russia, reduced from statistics
to the human stories of individuals, crouching in terror in one much-raided apartment
Ijoma Mangold’s Das Deutsche Krokodil:
Meine Geschichte (Rowohlt, €19.95) is a
beautifully written, rueful account of growing up not Nigerian enough for his wellmeaning German neighbours.
Everyone is getting Julie Welch’s irresistible Too Marvellous for Words (Simon
& Schuster, £14.99) as a Christmas present.
I have a soft spot for books about girls’
schools, and this lovely, ever so slightly gushing book hit it squarely.
Mark Mason
In the mid-1980s a would-be actress wrote
a fan letter to Helen Mirren. The star didn’t
just write back, she sent two brand new £20
notes (one each for the fan and her friend),
saying that she remembered what it was like
being young and poor in London, so the
enclosed was ‘for fun’. The woman, Sweetpea
Slight by name, never did become an actress;
instead she spent 20 years working for the
theatre producer Thelma Holt, and Get Me
the Urgent Biscuits (Weidenfeld, £14.99) is
her account of that time. It’s an utterly beautiful description of what it’s like to move to
London, and come to terms with your changing ambitions as well as yourself.
Among the many delights in David
Hepworth’s Uncommon People (Bantam,
£20) is the revelation that before Black Sabbath made it big, their drummer Bill Ward
smoked the residue from banana skins in
an attempt to get high. ‘In Birmingham,’
writes Hepworth, ‘you made your own
Craig Raine
Craig Brown’s Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret (4th Estate, £16.99)
is a compendium of conflicting, unreliable,
bitchy, fascinating gossip and a frontal attack
on the pretensions of biography to get at
truth. Brown mentions his ‘biographer’s
delirium’ and confesses that the ins-and-outs
of the Peter Townsend affair are as ‘knotted
and impenetrable as the causes of the first
world war’. Biography, he says, is ‘the most
sheepish and constrained of the arts, and
the least like life; and royal biography doubly so.’ The least like life because it depends
on information — and ‘most [information] is
window-dressing; the shop itself is shut, visible only through the front window, its private offices firmly under lock and key’. Out
of this impossibility, fun: ‘The rebuke became
[Princess Margaret’s] calling card, like Frank
Ifield’s yodel or Tommy Cooper’s fez.’
I’ve just caught up with How to Sound
Cultured by Thomas W. Hodgkinson and
Hubert van den Bergh (Icon Books, £12.99).
It is one of those cod bluffer’s guides which
is actually learned, witty, irreverent and full
of fun facts. Literature as gossip.
Michela Wrong
I’ve been spending time in Africa’s Great
Lakes and Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Oneworld, £14.99) got me
through many a quiet evening under the
mosquito net. Beginning in 1750 and culminating in the present, it explores the role of
family bonds, ancestral legacies and the state
of modern Uganda. A bestseller at home, it
deserves hefty British sales when it comes
out here in January.
Helen Epstein’s Another Fine Mess:
America, Uganda and the War on Terror
(Columbia Global Reports, £10.99) is no
fan letter to President Yoweri Museveni.
Not everyone will share the bleakness of
Epstein’s assessment of his domestic and
regional record, but at a time when so many
African leaders are rewriting their constitutions — or not bothering with elections at all
— this kind of challenging, irreverent analysis is really valuable.
In Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a
Global World (William Collins, £25), Maya
Jasanoff argues that Conrad’s experience
as a seaman and his peripatetic upbringing allowed him to become the first great
chronicler of globalisation. She teases out
his preoccupation with technological change,
international terrorism, immigration and
the sinister role of corporate capital in a
resource-rich developing world. Conrad was
more modern than we tend to assume.
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
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Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
The two novels I enjoyed most this year are
both gay romances with a twist — in one
case served with a twist of lemon, and in
the other with a twist of the knife. There
isn’t much I can add to the noisy chorus
of praise that’s already greeted Sebastian
Barry’s Days Without End (Faber, £17.99),
which was inexplicably left off the Man
Booker shortlist this year.
But for narrative ambition and sheer
comic joy, by far the best thing I’ve read
this year is Alan Hollinghurst’s The
Sparsholt Affair (Picador, £20). It’s a novel
with brains and heart and balls — the kind
you find yourself wanting to read at two
speeds at once: very quickly, so that you
can get on to the next page, and very slowly, so that you can linger over each beautifully crafted sentence. He’s a writer who
makes every word sing.
Cressida Connolly
I can’t think of a writer whose style so
exactly replicated their conversation as
A. A. Gill. Reading his weekly dispatches was just like being with him in person,
which is why so many readers took his
death late last year very personally. People
— even people who had never met him —
felt they’d lost their funniest, most outrageous chum. Opening a paper without an
article by him is like going to your store
cupboard and finding that there’s no chilli
or salt: everything is blander without him.
Two collections which came out this
year, Lines in the Sand (Orion, £20) and
The Best of A A. Gill (W&N, £20), showcase him at his finest. Adrian showed
incredible courage, wit and generosity of
heart during his final weeks. Once my husband, always my friend, he is irreplaceable,
on and off the page.
er Woffinden book (co-authored with
James Plaskett), the tragic story of Charles
Ingram, a regular army officer who in 2001
won the £1 million jackpot in the ITV quiz
show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? After
a hue and cry fanned by the tabloid papers
he was convicted of defrauding the TV
company with the help of an accomplice
allegedly signalling the correct answers by
coughing from his seat in the studio audience. It was an appealing story but, as the
authors convincingly show in a gripping
narrative, one that could not possibly be
true. As always, there has been no recompense for a man whose life has been ruined
and who is still owed £1 million. (Bad Show
has now been adapted as a play, Quiz, for
the Chichester festival.)
Mark Cocker
Laura Dassow Walls’s Henry David
Thoreau (University of Chicago Press,
£26.50) gives proper treatment to this
many-sided American. He is still arguably
the finest writer on nature in the English
language, and his essay on refusing tax
to an unjust government inspired countless civil rights movements worldwide. Yet
Thoreau the vaunted outdoorsman was so
careless in setting a camp fire it burned
down Walden woods; while in the forests
of Maine, his Native American guide was
astonished by the author’s inability to follow a simple trail. Here are both the great
man and the flawed human being and we
are all the richer.
Richard O. Prum’s The Evolution of
Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten The-
Claire Lowdon
Two books on gender, one new, one old.
Angela Saini’s Inferior: How Science Got
Women Wrong — and the New Research
That’s Rewriting the Story (4th Estate,
£12.99), a superlative overview of what
we (don’t) know about genuine biological
differences between the sexes, is full of
good science that would make Ben
Goldacre proud.
Followed by a guilty pleasure: some
fantasy/sci-fi that feels freshly relevant
today. Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of
Darkness (1969) is set on a planet where
everyone is sexless, except for a brief
monthly fertile period when they can
assume either gender (not at will), making
it possible to be both father and mother
over the course of a lifetime. Thus, ‘no one
here is quite so thoroughly “tied down”
as women elsewhere are likely to be, and
nobody here is quite so free as a free male
anywhere else.’
Not worth the hype? Nathan Hill’s
The Nix (Picador, £8.99): yet another Big
American Novel that failed to deliver.
Peter Parker
Nadeem Aslam has quietly built up a body
of work quite unlike that of any other novelist, detailing the worst that humans can
do in prose that suggests the redemptive
possibilities of art. Horror and beauty are
held in precarious balance in The Golden Legend (Faber, £16.99), largely set in
present-day Pakistan against a backdrop
of violent religious intolerance, with an
almost equally murderous backstory set in
Kashmir. The plot’s engagement with questions of identity challenges fixed notions
of who people are and where they belong,
and every page is lit up by some unexpected but lovely image.
Treat of the year was Julius Bryant and
Susan Weber’s John Lockwood Kipling
(Yale, £50). This appropriately hefty and
lavishly illustrated book details the busy
life and astonishingly varied work of the
architectural sculptor, teacher, writer,
illustrator, museum and exhibition curator
and dedicated promoter of local arts and
crafts in India who also happened to be
Rudyard’s dad.
Richard Ingrams
Following the publication earlier in the
year of my book about Ludovic Kennedy’s exposure of four classic miscarriages
of justice, I have been asked more than
once if things have changed since his day.
The answer, a very convincing if depressing ‘no’, has come in Bob Woffinden’s
book The Nicholas Cases: Casualties of
Justice (Bojangles Books, £20). With
considerable narrative skill, Woffinden
details ten murder stories from the past
20 years, all of which expose the alarming incompetence of police and lawyers,
the indifference of the media and the
resulting conviction of the innocent. (The
‘Nicholas’ of the title was Bishop of Constantinople in the first century, himself a
victim of injustice.)
The media are also held to account in
Bad Show (Bojangles Books, £20), anoth-
ory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal
World — and Us (Doubleday, $30). The
author has spent a lifetime examining Darwin’s dangerous ideas about sexual selection and explains how, through aesthetic
choices about male partners, it is female
organisms that have sculpted the manifold
beauties of our world. Brave and brilliantly
argued, the book is a must for all naturalists, biologists and male chauvinists.
‘I’d no idea he was so anti-third runway.’
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
More Books of the Year next week
The revolution devours
its children
Nigel Jones
An anti-Stalinist
painting of the 1940s
shows the tyrant’s
face composed of
starving Russians,
against a backdrop
of the Gulag
Stalin Volume II:
Waiting for Hitler, 1928–1941
by Stephen Kotkin
Allen Lane, £35, pp. 909
He stood five feet seven in his boots — the
same height as Napoleon and an inch shorter than Hitler. He had webbed toes, a grey
face pitted by smallpox, a stunted arm, soft
voice, yellowish eyes and an awkward rolling walk. He swore like a trooper, smoked
a pipe, drank the sweet wines of his native
Georgia, and was an avid reader of history,
novels and Marxist-Leninist theory, marking
the pages of the 20,000 books in his library
with expletives scrawled with the same coloured crayons with which he signed mass
death warrants and international treaties:
‘Rubbish!’, ‘Piss off!’, ‘Fool!’, ‘Scumbag!’,
The second volume of Stephen Kotkin’s
wrist-breaking triple-decker biography of
Joseph Stalin, (or Uncle Joe, or Koba the
Dread) covers the 1930s. This was the decade when the Soviet dictator, at the height
of his vast power, murdered his rivals, real
and imagined; launched the great purges of
his own party; decapitated the officer corps
of the mighty Red Army; presided over the
Holodomar — the man-made famine in
which around four million Ukrainian peasants starved — and concluded a friendly
treaty with Nazi Germany.
He also, as Kotkin makes clear in his balanced and level-headed narrative, drove the
transformation of the USSR into an industrial and military superpower, and it is this
‘achievement’ that is advanced by his apologists — such as the late Eric Hobsbawm — as
the excuse for the abominable atrocities that
were the hallmark of his rule.
The problem with that claim is that Stalin’s character had been so warped by his
early life as a Bolshevik terrorist, and by the
revolution, civil war and struggle to succeed
Lenin (chronicled in Kotkin’s first volume)
that by the time he became Russia’s undisputed leader his paranoid personality led the
empire close to disaster.
Stalin was lethally suspicious of
everyone and everything. His old Bolshevik comrades either became docile yesmen (Molotov, Kaganovich, Kalinin and
Voroshilov) or were branded as spies, saboteurs and deviationists and slaughtered
(Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev and Bukharin).
Although Kotkin acquits Stalin of actually organising the assassination of Sergey
Kirov, the popular Leningrad party chief,
he describes how Stalin used the crime to
trigger the great purges. The wave of crazed
killings swept up not only loyal commu38
nists, but scientists, artists, writers and intellectuals, and finally the NKVD officers who
had executed the purges themselves. The
revolution had devoured its children and
vomited them up.
But his own party comrades and the apparatchiks who ran the Soviet state formed
only a small proportion of at least 20 million
people who died unnatural deaths during
The crazed killings even swept up the
NKVD officers who had originally
executed the purges themselves
Stalin’s tyranny. Untold millions of nameless
ordinary folk perished too, victims of famine, persecution, forced farm collectivisation
and mass movement of populations, or were
simply worked to death in the remote Arctic
Gulag network of labour camps.
Faced with these hecatombs, Kotkin
is perhaps too cool and objective in his
assessment of his dreadful subject. Though
certainly no fan of the man of steel, whom
he habitually describes as ‘the despot’,
there is little moral indignation in this massive book on behalf of Stalin’s victims. The
sheer awfulness of the ‘Kremlin climber’
with his ‘fat worm’ fingers and ‘cockroach
moustache’(this description earned its
author, the poet Osip Mandelstam, death
in the Gulag) is seemingly outside Kotkin’s
academic brief.
Perhaps Stalin’s greatest crime — since
it led to a further 20 million Soviet deaths
in the second world war — was his woeful
misreading of his twin tyrant, Hitler, and the
menace of fascism generally. Kotkin scores
highly in analysing Stalin’s role in international affairs. Directly controlling the world
Communist movement, the Comintern, following his mentor Lenin, Stalin decreed the
fatal split between communists and moderate social democrats — damned as ‘social
fascists’ — which gave real fascism its window of opportunity.
Once in power, Hitler was consistently underestimated by Stalin, who disregarded the stream of obvious signs and
spies’ reports that the Nazis were about to
invade. Kotkin leaves us teetering on the
verge of Barbarossa — the German attack
which turned into history’s bloodiest war
— and tested almost to destruction the vast
state Stalin had built.
Th i s i s a m a r v e l l o u s a n d c o m pelling biography. With a detailed
mastery of a myriad of sources, Kotkin manages to combine a vivid pockmarks-and-allportrait of the man with a comprehensive
analysis of his impact on the country he ruled
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
and ravished and the wider world beyond.
And he does so without losing command
of any of the many threads he holds in play.
Roll on Volume III.
Blowing hot and cold
Hugh Thomson
Where the Wild Winds Are:
Europe’s Winds from the
Pennines to Provence
by Nick Hunt
Nicholas Brearley, £16.99, pp. 272
Windblown: Landscape,
Legacy and Loss
The Great Storm of 1987
by Tamsin Treverton Jones
Hodder, £20, pp. 360
I spent part of the summer sailing around
Ithaca and the Ionian Sea. It was a good
reminder of how capricious Homeric
weather can be. In the space of a few days
the wind shifted dramatically to three different points of the compass — and none
of them was the gentle westerly Zephyr
that brought Odysseus and his men back to
almost spitting distance of their homeland.
Almost, because just as they approached,
the crew became suspicious of the goatskin
bag in which Aeolus had helpfully packed
away the other hostile winds and let them
all loose.
Nick Hunt tries to track down a few of
Europe’s more errant and potent winds. He
starts with the homegrown Helm, which
blusters across the Pennines. In its day this
has been known to blow a countryman
off his horse and demolish what had been
the only remaining tower of Haresceugh
He is honest enough to admit that at
first he can’t find the Helm, which does not
make for the most dynamic of openings
— even if the wind turns out later to be a
postponed pleasure. Like those in search
of surfing waves or fish, when looking for
winds you will almost always arrive somewhere to be told you should have been
there yesterday.
Only halfway through the book do
we finally meet one of his quarry, the
enfant terrible of the Adriatic, the Bora.
The name comes from Borea, the ice-bearded God of winter. The wind is a dry, frigid one that forms when cold air builds up
behind the mountains until the pressure is
so high that it is dragged through them, with
enormous violence. It covers everything in
its path with crystalline ice formations.
One of the mouths from which the Bora
emerges is directly above Trieste, and the
city has chains slung along its pavements
for the inhabitants to cling to when it starts
to howl. Hunt heads up to the Karst plateau to confront the monstrous gale: dead
oak trees quiver as their branches rattle
like maracas and — a quite wonderfully
onomatopoeic word — the ‘psithurism’ of
leaves being stripped is intense. Most of
Hunt’s winds measure high up on the Beau-
The Helm, which blusters across
the Pennines, has been known to
blow a countryman off his horse
fort scale and he reminds us engagingly that
the unit of knots for measuring wind speed
comes from trailing a knotted rope behind
a ship and counting how many knots passed
through a sailor’s fingers as the line played
But he also describes the Foehn, which
crosses the Alps and is as warm ‘as a car
exhaust, creating a vacuum effect, so that
one is forced to take amphibian gulps of
air’. Hermann Hesse wrote of ‘the gentle
Foehn fever that overcomes the mountain
dwellers, especially their womenfolk, robbing them of their sleep and bewitching
their sleep’.
Hunt’s quest is bold but not always suc-
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the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
cessful and the book occasionally languishes in the doldrums as he searches for the
elusive winds. There is rather too much
detail on his accommodation and how he
travelled to where he wanted to start a
journey; at times I would have liked to have
left the book out on a blustery hillside so it
could be stripped of such accretions.
However, he can also be lyrical and
scholarly in the tradition of his hero Patrick Leigh Fermor, as when he tells us how
the Greek word for wind, anemos, is the
root of the Latin anima, ‘soul’, the force
that animates.
The great storm of 1987 caused, according
to Tamsin Treverton Jones’s Wind Blown, ‘a
transformation to the British landscape not
seen since the Blitz’. Fifteen million trees
came down. The last time a storm that big hit
the British Isles was in 1703 when an extratropical cyclone arrived, killing more than
8,000 people on land and sea. Daniel Defoe,
no less, documented how that one flattened
and destroyed everything in its path.
In 1987, Toys Hill in Kent and the neighbouring estate of Chartwell were among the
worst hit. National Trust employees said in
some places they could walk on fallen trees
for three or four miles without touching the
Wind Blown is as much memoir as history, and attractively weaves in memories
of the author’s artist father, Terry Thomas,
whose mural commemorating the storm
stands in Kew Gardens. She has a fine painterly eye herself, as when she describes how
before it hit, ‘a delicately apricot bloom’
settled on window ledges and car windscreens as Saharan sand was blown north
by the Sirocco.
The book is subtitled ‘Landscape,
Legacy and Loss’. Now we have let the
Aeolian winds of climate change out of
their bags, we can expect a great deal
more of these devastating storms in
years to come.
Angel and demon
Laura Beatty
True Stories
by Francis Spufford
Yale, £20, pp. 336
The Rub of Time
by Martin Amis
Cape, £20, pp. 356
Read cover to cover, a book of essays gives
you the person behind it: their voice, the
trend of their thinking, their tastes and the
nature of their engagement with the world.
So, here are two, one from each end of the
human spectrum. Think of Milton’s Archangel Raphael, intellectually wide-ranging,
lucid, informative and fair, and you have
Francis Spufford. Think of his darkly glittering Satan — vivid, passionate, partisan and
fatally persuasive — and you have Martin
Amis. Read these books together and you
have, in essay terms, a Miltonic whole.
These are collections of what might
be called ‘pre-loved’ pieces, not originally designed to cohere, so they have been
washed and brushed for resale. True Stories is grouped under abstract headings:
Cold, Red, Sacred, Technical and Printed.
Each section has its own mini introduction, a kind of headnote. Subjects are as
diverse as Polar exploration, Babbage’s
proto-computer, Soviet economics, God,
Kipling, science fiction and boffins.
The writing, as well as the thinking, is
imaginative and sprightly. Roland Huntford,
Captain Scott’s biographer, is a biographical
rottweiler biting down on Edwardian pieties. Polar ice is frozen time. Consumerism
is the magic porridge pot, the lake of stew.
Counterfactuals raise the ghosts of other
possibilities ‘in order to investigate the
groundwork of the real’.
There is just so much to think about
here, and Spufford loves to think —
dining, as he describes it, on the various
aspects of a thought, ‘guzzling its ramifications, digesting it gourmand style’. The
intellectual energy in this book is, to shift
the metaphor, intoxicating. Its drive, compellingly expressed in the introduction,
is always towards notional truth: reading
facts, as if they were words, for the wider
meaning behind, of which they are only a
partial expression. What, for instance, does
Antarctica mean?
Then when he has read through to the
soul of fact, Spufford examines its opposite:
story. This of course must be experienced,
not read. The whole thing is an exercise in
restless imaginative attention, bypassing
traditional approaches to find, behind the
panoply of the world, a greater, synthetic
and animating whole.
Spufford believes in God. Most of the
time he leaves you to your own conclusions. Only where he insists, in ‘Sacred’ for
instance, on a Christian reading, did I find
him disappointingly reductive. I wanted
to watch him not knowing; an intellectual
Columbus, heading out for some hazy edgeland where disciplines blur and where there
may be God or there may be dragons, and
where, either way, Truth might finally offer
up her soul.
Cut to the netherworld. Enter Milton’s
Satan. Enter Death. The Rub of Time is
written in the teeth of mortality. Here is
Amis, often at his most brilliant, quick,
passionate, very funny and up to his eyes
in the mess of being human. The essays,
covering a 20-year span, are organised
under repeated themes with variation.
‘Twin Peaks’, which features Amis’s literary heroes Bellow and Nabokov, returns
like a refrain between headings that cover
politics, the British royal family, sport, literature and internet Q and A (one of the
book’s rare lapses). Its concern is, what will
remain? Its structure is strictly heirarchi-
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
cal. Who is number one? Clue: not God.
What can be made of a world, Amis
wonders, where there is extreme violence,
pornography, gambling, stupidity, a listless
flatulence of body and mind and an obesity
that is both mental and physical?
Not nothing, is his repeated answer:
defiance and humour and literature. His triumphs here are the familiar fallen angels:
Ballard in his suburb; Nabokov; Larkin
struggling against his inner cold; Updike
— all the ‘transgressive’ writers; and Chloe,
the gonzo porn star, whose fragile, hard
softness is both heartbreaking and unforgettable.
For all their cleverness, these essays are
characterised by their emotional engagement. Amis gathers his personal canon
around him, as you might pull a cloak tight
against the cold and coming dark. He loves
his heroes, all the more it seems for their
mortality. Repeatedly, he measures their
achievements, asserting first Nabokov’s
and then Bellow’s pre-eminence. Behind
his insistence is the anxiety of its opposite: what if literature isn‘t eternal? And,
implicitly, what about me? Please tell me
that something of this will last.
If Spufford writes in the certainty of
belief, Amis has only the flickering of opinion to go by. Don’t dismiss it. Opinion isn’t
fact, and it certainly isn’t Truth, but it has
the warmth and changeability of life about
it. It is a sort of intellectual heartbeat: evidence that we are alive and thinking and in
the world. It is human and there is, underneath all the swagger, a modesty to that.
It’s Life that Amis is interested in. His plea,
addressed to Time, is: give us just a little
more Life, damn you.
A blunt instrument of war
Claudia Massie
Guernica: Painting the
End of the World
by James Attlee
Head of Zeus, £18.99, pp. 248
It takes a bold author to open his book
about ‘Guernica’ with a quotation from the
Spanish artist Antonio Saura lamenting ‘the
number of bad books that have been written and will be written’ about it. Fortunately,
James Attlee’s study of Picasso’s superstar
work of art is not a bad book and he builds
on a solid cultural and historic understanding of the painting to collate 80 years of
evolving reaction to it.
Attlee begins in May 1937, when, at the
height of the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish Republic commissioned Picasso to create a painting for its pavilion at the World’s
Fair in Paris. They hoped the famous artist would help secure sympathy, funds and,
significantly, political intervention in the
Two of us in the chandeliered room, the only ones
not speaking to anyone. Me and a man twice my age,
which unfortunately puts him at a hundred and twelve.
He might be Ernst Jünger’s older brother, a frazzled cherub with a war wound.
He has worked out that if you are to be alone,
then like a suicide bomber in the middle of a cluster of people.
Sweeps of radar. A turning circle of sorts. Ultra-approachable.
I imagine his hearing aid off. Procuring the companionable human jostle.
Shoulders. Feet. Excuse me.
— Michael Hofmann
Republican cause. Picasso initially struggled to find a subject, but was eventually
galvanised by reports of the Nationalistled Luftwaffe’s Blitzkrieg assault on the
undefended Basque town of Gernika.
His response to the attack was completed within a month and soon took its place
within the Republic’s pavilion, designed by
the Catalan architect José Lluís Sert. The
initial reception was mixed. Many on the
left found it too cubist, insufficiently realist for the proletariat to understand. The
Basque artist José María Ucelay saw it as
nothing more than ‘pornography, shitting
on Gernika’, and Attlee draws valid comparisons with some of the more popular and
accessible works in the exhibition.
Nearby stood the Vatican pavilion, hosting work from the rival Catholic Nationalist regime; Paris had effectively become
a cultural front of the Guerra Civil. Attlee
notes the inclusion of the great muralist José
María Sert in the Nationalist camp but not
that he was the uncle of Sert, the Republican architect. It is an interesting connection and some detail on the unique motives
behind the painter’s Francoist position (he
was motivated by the wartime destruction
of his life’s work in Vic Cathedral) would
have been another welcome counterpoint
to the story of ‘Guernica’.
The celebrated canvas left Paris to
embark upon a restless international
tour, first as a travelling salesman for the
Republican cause and then as a gallery
fixture in New York. Attlee digs up rich
examples of the debate and devotion that
invariably attended the painting. Eventually, in 1981, after much political and legal
wrangling, ‘Guernica’ moved to Madrid,
where, not without irony, it began a new life
as an overt symbol of Spanish democracy
and unity.
‘Guernica’ is a painting beset by awkward contradictions, though. It is both laden
with symbolism and frustratingly opaque.
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
The licking flames, anguished women, dead
baby and fallen soldier (or is it a statue?)
speak for themselves; but what of the bull,
the lamp, or the flattened pictorial space?
Why the monochrome paint? Are those
dashed marks on the horse redolent of
newsprint or hair? The paucity of absolute answers invites endless questions, and
Attlee rightly shies from categorical conclusions. Picasso’s own interpretation veered
around. If pressed, he might elicit what
seemed a definitive answer only to contradict it in his next interview. ‘It’s up to the
public to see what they want to see’ may be
his most satisfactory response.
Perhaps because of this symbolic fluidity, ‘Guernica’ has maintained a relentless,
timeless grip on our collective psyche. Politicians readily invoke it in support of their
arguments; artists adopt and adapt it; and
protesters recycle it endlessly: ‘Guernica’
placards, inevitably, led recent protests in
Barcelona. A tapestry version, authorised
by Picasso, hangs outside the Security Council Meeting Room at the United Nations in
New York, supposedly a salutary reminder to the powers within. Attlee records the
decision to obscure this image behind a blue
curtain when Colin Powell stood before it
to discuss the imminent invasion of Iraq in
2003 — ‘Shock and Awe’ being the 21st century’s own Blitzkreig — which was at best
dreadful PR, at worst a conscious act of
‘Guernica’ literature abounds; but this
book is a worthwhile addition. Nevertheless, I finished it feeling glum. In attaching eight decades of horror and hope to
this painting, Attlee underlines our failure to overcome the brutality that inspired
it. Fear remains the currency of conflict;
war endures; and, shockingly, Spain teeters once more on the edge of an uncertain future. Picasso declared that ‘art is
an instrument of war’, but, if true, it has
proved a sadly ineffectual one.
the worst emotional wounds, this book is
the proof. ‘When I am disturbed, even angry,
gardening is a therapy,’ he writes.
Plot 29 is not a misery memoir, but a
redemptive one. You want the ending to be
happy for the writer, because he is obviously such a kind and remarkable man. Thank
goodness he does, in the closing pages, find
what has eluded him for so long.
Alys Fowler’s Hidden Nature (Hodder, £20) has a lot in common with Plot 29.
Fowler is a television presenter and garden
writer, and this is another journey of discovery, an escapist adventure that involves
a pack-up raft on Birmingham’s canals. No
roses here on the dank water, but fish swimming between discarded shopping trolleys
and industrial waste. Like Jenkins, Fowler
Virginia Woolf grew gladioli. How
odd that those stiff favourites of Dame
Edna should have appealed to her
Adachi Museum Garden, Yasugi, Japan
(From The Japanese Garden)
The future isn’t rosy
Mary Keen
Emotional geography is now a recognised
academic subject. Is emotional botany
heading the same way? This is a year for
thoughtful books about plants and the way
they affect lives, what they make people feel
and how we can respect nature. Many of the
year’s works might appeal to non-gardeners.
Readers hoping for rose-tinted pages may
be disappointed.
Allan Jenkins’s Plot 29 (4th Estate,
£14.99) is ostensibly a diary of his allotment over a little more than a year. But,
he writes: ‘Sometimes, when I think of this
book, I am almost bewildered. It has taken
such a turn. It was to be about gardening...
with personal stuff added in.’
The editor of the Observer food magazine, Jenkins grows exotic vegetables
and describes them lusciously. He hits
the Hampstead plot at 6am for a couple
of hours, before leaving for a day in the
office. An obsessive gardener, he sows
heirloom seeds, coriander from Brazil,
Trail of Tears beans from Cherokee, and
mustard from India and Japan. He grows
no roses, but always marigolds, ‘common
like foster kids’. Which he was. Between
visits to the allotment, he digs up his past,
‘the personal stuff’. He tells a brave story,
but admits that it is ‘lacking in laughter, the growing the only light to balance
the shade’.
Radiant light shines on allotment life
and on the occasional breaks which he
takes to a family summer house in Denmark. Jenkins is a marvellous and observant writer. Mice eat the gardening gloves
to prepare for winter, when snow will fall
‘as soft as Tunnock teacakes’. He can summon swirling flocks of birds, or rain, or mist
in a sentence. The Hampstead pages glow
with references to friends and food. ‘Home
is homegrown,’ he writes.
But he is always drawn back to the search
for who he really is. These interludes make
agonising reading, and long after the book
was closed the dark memories lingered. If
there was any doubt that gardens can heal
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
is trying to come to terms with a difficult
moment in her life. Married but unhappy,
she gradually realises she is in love with
another woman. ‘I started noticing mosses
everywhere. In part this was a survival strategy. I was homing in on detail to block out
the larger picture.’
At detail she excels. Fowler is a scientist, who can digress to explain fasciation,
the plumbing systems of plants, or the
geology of the Black Country. But perhaps most interesting is her revelation of
what helps her to survive even better than
mosses do. She admits: ‘I garden because I
am. I belong to the garden rather than the
other way round… because that is how I
make sense of myself and my place in this
Penelope Lively, the distinguished novelist, grew up in a different generation. She
cannot quite bare her soul in the same way
as Jenkins and Fowler, although she too is
writing a kind of memoir. Her Life in the
Garden (Fig Tree, £14.99) looks at which
fictional gardens prompt a consideration
of what gardens and gardening have been
for us over time, but there are plenty of
asides about her own life as a grower. There
is even a long digression on that favourite
English flower, the rose.
The book is enjoyable in an agreeable,
scholarly way. I liked learning that Virginia Woolf grew gladioli. Who would have
thought those stiff favourites of Dame Edna
Everage would appeal to that most impressionist of writers? But Lively finds Woolf’s
writing in The Waves ‘too stylised, too exaggerated’. Some might say the same of gladioli. In a later chapter on style in the garden,
Eleanor Perenyi is quoted, naming gladioli
as non-U flowers. Allan Jenkins’s orange
‘common like foster kids’ marigolds also
feature in the same list.
But the rose of course is a social indica43
Italy’s road to ruin
Ian Thomson
A Chill in the Air: An Italian
War Diary, 1939–1940
by Iris Origo
Pushkin Press, £14.99, pp. 184
These days it is fashionable to claim Mussolini as a fundamentally decent fellow led
astray by an opportunist alliance with Hitler. Whether this revisionism is the song
and dance of a minority, or something more
widespread and daft, is hard to say. Italians
understandably wish to view themselves as
brava gente — good people — so they prefer to blame Hitler for Mussolini’s murderous 1938 racial laws against the Jews. The
truth is, Nazi Germany never demanded an
anti-Semitic campaign as the price of friendship with Italy. On the contrary, Mussolini
resented the imputation that his anti-Jewish
legislation was imposed on him from without.
By the time Iris Origo’s Italian war diary
opens in 1939, the racial laws have declared
Italian Jews a contaminant akin to the
Nazis’s Fremdkörper, an alien within the
The Duce was widely admired in
pre-war Britain, and commended
by George V for his ‘wise leadership’
The grounds of Myoshin-ji, in Kyoto, containing the Zen
Buddhist temple of Taizo-in
(From The Japanese Garden)
tor, shrub roses being the tops. The nearest
the author gets to Alys Fowler’s being possessed by her garden is her admission that
‘as an occupation, gardening seems to me
unparalleled; productive, beneficial, enjoyable. What more could you want?’
The Tennessee professor David George
Haskell wants a lot more. The Songs of Trees
(Viking, £18.99) is a plea for symbiotic relationships with ‘nature’s great connectors’.
He writes about what western science calls
‘a forested ecosystem composed of objects’
rather than a place where spirits, dreams
and ‘waking’ reality merge, as they apparently do for the Amazonian peoples. I was
gripped. So gripped, that I urged anyone
who came near me to start reading these
tales of a dozen trees from different parts
of the globe. There is an olive in Jerusalem,
a callery pear in New York, there are pines
and palms and firs and the ceiba tree in the
Amazon. It has to be admitted that this
book may be in the Marmite category. Some
of those I pressed to read it were as interested as I was; others found it too dense, and
one (a literary type) burst out laughing at
the strings of adjectives on its pages.
Sophie Walker’s The Japanese Garden
(Phaidon, £49.95) tiptoes into some of this
subjective territory. ‘The Japanese garden,’
she writes, ‘is not simply an adornment to
architecture, but a potent force, that has
the power to alter our perception and tie
us by belief to the land we inhabit.’ It is a
beautiful book which includes essays by
several world-famous artists and architects.
Perhaps the most interesting of these is by
Tadao Ando, who is himself Japanese. He
explains that the unique sensibility of Japanese culture towards nature is diametrically
opposed to the western view of the garden,
which seeks to control nature as part of the
artificial world. And that, it seems to me, is
the way the wind is blowing, and is perhaps
what the latest gardening books are trying
in their different ways to grasp. The future,
I think, is hardly rosy, unless, like Penelope Lively, you are wedded to a belief that
gardening is still about the conquest and
subjugation of nature.
state. The anti-Semitic propaganda was of
course endorsed by the Fascist Party and the
muzzled Italian press, but it was not taken
seriously by the larger public, and certainly
not by Origo.
Born Iris Cutting in 1902, the AngloAmerican diarist and biographer was living at
this time with her aristocratic Italian husband,
Antonio Origo, at La Foce, a Tuscan estate in
the Val d’Orcia. The region gave its name to
her bestselling work, War in Val d’Orcia, a
diary account of the year 1943–1944, when
Hitler invaded northern Italy.
A Chill in the Air, a precursor to War in Val
d’Orcia, shows Italy facing imminent catastrophe in 1939 from the ‘Juggernaut of war’.
The diary was not intended for publication;
it was a private venting of anxieties. Antonio Origo remains cautiously loyal to Mussolini throughout, not least because the Fascist
government had subsidised the renovation of
La Foce and its fabulous gardens (celebrated
today throughout Italy).
Iris, too, had been impressed by the
Duce, who was anyway widely admired in
pre-war Britain. Newspapers (notably Lord
Rothmere’s Daily Mail) carried flattering
photographs of the dictator; Mussolini was
on good terms with King George V, moreover, who in 1923 publicly congratulated
him on his ‘wise leadership’. For the younger Iris, the Duce was a ‘very great man’ (she
wrote to a friend in 1930). The ‘virile’ alternative of Fascism in the late 1920s and early
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
1930s appealed to Britons and Americans
alike, disgruntled by an age of leftist poets,
flappers and perceived Judeo-Bolshevik
Later, however, Origo’s views shifted.
In her introduction to A Chill in the Air,
Lucy Hughes-Hallett commends her as a
‘kind of Mother Courage’; Brecht’s cartpulling peasant woman is not known to
have worn Fortuny tea-gowns (as Iris’s
English mother did) or to have had a Swiss
nanny to hand, yet she and Origo did share a
doggedness and wariness of political authority. On 7 April 1939 — Good Friday — Mussolini invaded Albania. With this cynical
smash-and-grab raid the Duce had struck
another blow against the sanctity of international law. Origo is aghast that her Catholic
friends express no distaste at the choice of
Good Friday. (Perhaps it should have been
April Fool’s Day.)
Worse was to come. On 22 May, Mussolini forged ‘the pact of steel’ military alliance
with Hitler. Previous pacts between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy had been fairly meaningless, but this was the signal that a general
European war was about to start, and moreover it committed Italy to rally to Germany’s aid. The Duce, having hitched his carnival chariot to the Führer’s funeral hearse, was
now leading Italy irrevocably to ruin. Origo
would remember this time personally as one
of a political awakening. ‘We are now wholly
pro-German,’ she despairs; a last chance for
peace in Europe had been lost with Mussolini’s cosying up to Hitler.
On 10 June 1940, under pressure from Hitler, Mussolini finally declared war on Britain
and France. The Duce’s speech, transmitted
nationwide by wireless, booms into La Foce
as staff assemble in the grounds to listen. (The
wireless, Hughes-Hallet observes, is at the very
centre of the diary.) ‘People of Italy, to arms,
and show your tenacity!’, the Duce hollers
from his Rome headquarters. The dictator’s
balcony-ranting is by now intolerable to
slogans proclaim hopefully (when actually
Mussolini is usually wrong).
In Rome, where her godfather William
Phillips was US ambassador, Origo finds
anti-German feeling ‘rampant’. The promulgation of the Fascist racial laws — a shameful
chapter in the history of modern Italy — had
left Roman Jews uncertain what to believe.
The terrible events developing in far-distant
Poland took their place in the rumour-ridden
politics of the moment.
Nowhere in A Chill in the Air does one
learn of the circumstances of Origo’s marriage, her husband’s name, even if she has
children. So it comes as a surprise when the
diary ends abruptly on 1 August 1940 with the
birth of the author’s baby daughter. The reader has been quite unaware of the pregnancy.
Origo’s diaries, trenchantly and pithily written, are a glory; anyone with an interest in the
fate of Europe today should read them.
High wire act
Stephen Bayley
Calder: The Conquest of Time
The Early Years, 1898–1940
by Jed Perl
Yale, £35, pp. 687
‘Mid-century modern’ is the useful term
popularised by Cara Greenberg’s 1984 book
of that title. The United States, the civilisation that turned PR and branding into art
forms, wanted homegrown creative heroes.
In design there were Charles Eames and
George Nelson with their homey hopsack
suits and wash’n’wear shirts, their sensible Wasp homilies: a counterattack against
imported — and often baffling — exotics
from the Bauhaus.
It was the same in fine art. Jackson
Pollock (Jack the Dripper) was a roughneck
from cowboy country in Wyoming who
became a darling of the media, not least
because of his readily reportable deplorable behaviour. And then there was Alexander Calder, not a hard-scrabble survivor
at all, but born in Philadelphia to a family
of artists.
True, they were doggedly traditional artists with a record of humdrum paintings
and lumpen sculpture, but Calder’s parents
had, importantly, spent time in Paris. Referring to his life in art, Calder neatly said:
‘I wasn’t brought up, I was framed.’ To midcentury America, Pollock and Calder
seemed importantly different to Kline,
Rothko and Gorky. They were distinctively
The first volume of Jed Perl’s ambitious
study, the very first Calder biography, ends
in 1940, long before mid-century modern
Gold to Gold
I wear your ring now
On my left hand’s little finger,
The two of us together
Side by side who never made it
To our fiftieth anniversary
But celebrate each day
By touching gold to gold.
Cold weather is the fear
Of losing you a second time.
My ring embedded,
Yours less so, reminding me
How beautiful your hands were,
Slim and reassuring
As they lay on mine.
— John Mole
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
became an identifiable style label, but offers
splendid, meticulous research into Calder’s
singular life-in-art. It’s a solid brick in the
monument to Calder’s heroic stature.
Yet perhaps it is too slavishly respectful a treatment. At mid-century, American
artists and critics were in a mythologising
lockstep to create a self-elected elite. The
equivalent in literature to Clement Greenberg’s and Harold Rosenberg’s grip on art
criticism was the literary cadre described in
Norman Podhoretz’s gruesomely embarrassing 1967 confessional Making It.
Calder studied engineering and worked
for Edison before diverting to New York’s
Art Students’ League, then found himself
on ancestral turf in Paris in 1926. Despite
the Hemingway-generated mythology,
there were relatively few American artists in France between the wars; and in
Montparnasse, Calder soon met Duchamp,
Léger, Sartre and Mondrian, as you did. For
the latter, he had a special regard.
A Serbian shopkeeper encouraged him
to make mechanical toys and this was the
origin of Le Cirque Calder, the animatronic assembly (of, for example, dogs jumping through hoops) that was the source
of his art and the basis of his myth. Then
Calder moved towards abstraction. In
1931, Duchamp coined the term ‘mobiles’
to describe an art form where primarycoloured metal shapes connected by wires
are delicately balanced and moved by currents of air to create delightful effects.
Perl’s argument is: here’s the beginning
of a new type of sculpture, dematerialised
and beyond tradition, the plastic counterpart of ee cummings’s poetry. Calder had no
theory, his art was simply to be enjoyed; and
in this devotion to the pleasure principle
there is the connection to consumerism. By
the 1950s, you could find smart Manhattan
furniture stores selling Calderesque sconces
and standard lamps made of squiggly wire.
But what of Le Cirque? It was inspired
by the Humpty Dumpty Toy Circus, a
toy made by Schoenhut, a Philadelphian
manufacturer. It was demonstrated to
Calder’s circle while Mrs Calder cranked
a 78 rpm record on a Victrola. When
dogs had stopped jumping through hoops,
little tin men fell off circus horses in jerky
But is this not unbearably cute? True,
ee cummings and Edmund Wilson were
Calder contemporaries who intellectualised about the circus, and Picasso enjoyed
his weepy saltimbanques, but surely this is
the very definition of lowbrow: an art form
that requires no interpretative effort from
the viewer.
I have lived with some Calders. A friend
once owned one of Mies van der Rohe’s
mid-century Lake Shore Drive apartments
in Chicago where I occasionally stayed. I
found the Calder mobile in the bathroom
amusing at first, but soon an annoying dis45
ic biography is at least partly a lie. But
which parts?
In The Impostor, the novelist Javier Cercas seeks to disentangle Marco’s lies from
those small provable truths supporting
them. Cercas is reluctant at first (troubled
by Primo Levi’s ‘to understand is almost to
justify’); but Marco himself is a surprisingly
willing participant in the investigatory process, granting Cercas multiple lengthy interviews. Does Marco’s unquenchable desire
to be the centre of attention at all times simply trump his fear of being exposed as the
serial liar that he is?
All Marco’s lies fit into a framework
of historical truth, and the precise historical setting of Marco’s most audacious
ones is significant: a country only recently
out of civil war, struggling with the compromises of ‘historical memory’. Had our
man been one of the many who had said
‘yes’, who had capitulated and kept quiet,
or had he been a resister, a hero who’d
stood up to power and said ‘no’? Marco
understood that ‘he who controls the
past, controls the present and the future’,
so he set about furnishing himself with an
optimal past.
Besides being a piece of nifty journalistic detective work, Cercas’s book is an
insightful psychological study, an attempt
to explain what kind of person would be
driven to behave as Marco did. Is it narcissism? Can it really be as simple as that?
The Marco we meet is self-aggrandising,
self-justifying, a ‘mediopath’ obsessed with
the limelight, a creature of insane egotism,
opportunism, untrammelled imagination
and a need to be loved. It’s hard not to
delightful mobiles apart, Calder’s other wonder, will this book’s blast of cold
sculpture and painting are ‘not quite first reality kill him?
rate’. Meanwhile, confirming an affinity
And how bad was his imposture, after
with water, a Calder hangs over the pool all? Aren’t there justifiable ‘good’ lies as
in the restaurant of New York’s Seagram well as bad ones? The question is a pressbuilding, scriptural home of that other ing one for a novelist, of course, and Cercas
mid-century modern phenomenon: the uses his challenging of Marco’s fabrications
power lunch.
to examine his own: the Quixote-like Marco
takes fiction and tries to make it reality,
while the novelist, except in this particular
fictionless novel, does the opposite. (There’s
a third readily acknowledged imposture
at play here, too: the words in the English
Impostor are not Cercas’s own, but those
The Impostor
of a translator creating a highly convincing fake-Cercas voice. In this case it’s perby Javier Cercas, translated from
petrated by Frank Wynne, one of our finest
the Spanish by Frank Wynne
Spanish-to-English impostors.)
MacLehose, £20, pp. 419
Of course, ‘the novelist’s deception is
Enric Marco has had a remarkable life. A consensual and yours was not,’ as Cercas
prominent Catalan union activist, a brave puts it in a conversation with Marco near
resistance fighter in the Spanish Civil War, a the end of the book. Though this one —
charismatic Nazi concentration camp survi- please note — is an imaginary conversation.
vor, and more. In January 2005 he addressed It’s all a little tricky, this true story about
the Spanish parliament to mark the 70th a fiction, this exposing of real-life Marco’s
anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. fictional life, a history whose every starting
He is, everyone agrees, an extraordinary ‘fact’ is under threat (did Marco have two
man. Heroic, almost.
wives or three?). But the resulting study is
The thing is, his extraordinary, hero- both convincing and compelling.
Red panel (1936)
by Alexander
traction. Then there is La Colombe d’Or
hotel in Saint Paul de Vence, the favourite
Provençal celebrity petting zoo, where you
find a Calder by the pool, making tinkling
noises while you sip rosé. This seems frivolously correct.
Jed Perl is an impressively serious
reviewer in the New York Review of Books
(sometimes known as The New York Review
of Eachother’s Books). He’s not someone
you would expect to develop a radical reinterpretation of an American hero. And
the enormous heft and patrician design of
the book (beautifully printed in Germany)
are curiously at odds with Calder’s light and
amusing art.
Calder is one of the most instantly recognisable artists, as if he were a premiumbranded product. Indeed, the connection
between his best known work and product design may be the conceptual glue that
binds mid-century modern into a quintessentially American whole: Calder was as
happy making jewellery and toys as mobiles.
Personally, I think he peaked when decorating a Douglas DC-8 jetliner for Braniff in
1972 and a BMW 3.0 CSL for BMW’s Art
Cars programme in 1975.
As Richard Dorment once noted, the
The art of deception
Daniel Hahn
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
Could cancer
break the NHS?
Tuesday 28 November 2017 | 8.30 a.m. – 10.30 a.m.
Stevenson Lecture Theatre, The British Museum,
London WC1B 3DG
Britons are generally living longer, healthier and happier lives.
But as we grow older, more of us will have to battle long-term
health conditions. One in two of us will get cancer. Is the
NHS, which lags behind other countries on early screening
and diagnosis, up to this monumental challenge? Or is our
so-called ‘national religion’ destined for the scrapheap?
Join Alastair Stewart and a special guest panel
to discuss all this and more.
Speakers include:
Neil Mesher, CEO, Philips UK & Ireland
Prof Karol Sikora, Founder and Chief
Medical Officer, Proton Partners International
020 7961 0044
Bring up the bodies
Does disability make a difference to art – or does art transcend disability? Selina Mills reports
he moment you invite friends to
some new ‘cutting-edge’ disability
theatre or film, most swallow paroxysms of social anxiety. What if it’s dull?
Am I allowed to yawn? What if I hate it?
How interminably politically correct will it
be? Do I want to think about ‘disability’ on
a fun night out?
While most objections can be overcome
by a convincing performance, it is interesting to ask whether disability makes a difference to art, or does art transcend disability?
If the current crop of plays and films, not to
mention disability production companies, is
anything to go by, the answer is yes to both,
and we should want more of them. Art is
informed by the world it is created into and
represents, and given that one in four of us
will be disabled at some point in our lives,
surely disability must be part of our creative
lives as well.
The British and Russian co-production
In Touch at the National’s Dorfman Theatre last month showed difference with
magical ingenuity. The play follows the
lives of various deafblind characters, and at
first you are certainly aware of ‘difference’
because you behold an entire ensemble
(both disabled and non-disabled) touchsigning on stage. It was akin to watching
tai chi — movement and communication
in perfect synchronicity. But as the play
progresses, disabilities fade, and life stories
become the focus. Who knew about Olga
Skorokhodova, a leading Soviet scientist
and researcher who was deafblind and
whose life story is rendered beautifully by
Jenny Agutter and the surrounding ensemble. Ultimately, this was an ode to communication, and it is a great pity that it was in
town for only two performances.
Jenny Sealey, who co-directed the show
and is the artistic director of Graeae, a disability-led theatre company (and who also,
by the way, co-curated the opening show
for the London 2012 Paralympics), is unapologetic in using her own ‘difference’ —
she is deaf — because, she says, it gives her
a unique perspective. ‘The thing that people
forget is that theatre is about having different experiences, so it’s all about using this as
part of the artistic process. Difference, of any
kind, informs art.’ Jenny says that more and
more mainstream theatre companies, such
as the RSC and the Globe, not to mention
the National, are turning to disabled directors and actors in order to find new ways of
collaborating and thinking.
And there is a lot of new theatre led
by disabled actors out there. Of course, not
all productions will suit everyone’s palate,
and this is because not every play can suit
everyone. Mind the Gap’s Mia: Daughters
of Misfortune (premièred at the Edinburgh
Festival Fringe this year, and about to go on
tour), about the sexual rights of learningdisabled people, is deeply poignant but a
show perhaps best aimed at a more alternative crowd. So, too, is Graeae’s Reasons to
be Cheerful, a raucous musical based on Ian
Dury’s songs at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, which, if you like Ian Dury and
his politics, is a fun night out, particularly
if you want to learn how to sign ‘sex and
drugs and rock and roll’.
Occasionally, the standard of acting is
mixed. ChickenShed’s production of Marlow’s Dr Faustus stars the impressive and
charismatic Ashley Driver as Dr Faustus and
the brooding Paul Harris as Mephistopheles, but the rest of the cast were uneven. At
moments there was the whiff of a sixth-form
production, despite the recorded tones of
Derek Jacobi playing the old man pleading
for Faustus’s soul.
I was impressed by the theatre group of
blind and visually impaired actors called
Extant, whose production of Ionesco’s
The Chairs last year was surreal but totally
Film, too, is bringing some new ways of
telling disabled people’s stories. Whirlpool,
a short, rather oddly named film about the
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
François Cluzet as paraplegic billionaire Philippe and Omar Sy as his carer Driss in Untouchable (2011)
adult life of Helen Keller, is currently doing
the rounds at international film festivals. It
tells the story of Keller’s life not as inspiration porn, but through flashbacks and an
interview with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in
the 1900s. Given that there are more than
25 films about Helen Keller’s childhood, it
is odd that this is one of the first to engage
with her outspoken views about civil liberties, particularly in South Africa, and her
romance with Peter Fagan, which her family
firmly thwarted.
Of course, I am not saying that we
should all be cheering every production
that centres on disability simply because
it’s about disability. There is a lot of saccharine, badly acted and quite frankly boring
drivel out there, particularly in film, and the
trend for non-disabled actors to play disabled characters, or ‘cripping up’, does not
always work. Out at the moment, for example, is Breathe, which stars Andrew Garfield
and Claire Foy and follows the life of Robin
Cavendish, who, after being paralysed by
Polio, invented, with his loving wife and
mates, gadgets that would allow him, and
others, to live far more mobile lives. While
for many this will be a life-affirming story,
it oversimplifies the challenges that Polio
can present (Garfield seems to grin inanely
throughout the film) and you come away
with the sense that he never had a bad, miserable, difficult day.
Blind, starring Alec Baldwin and Demi
Moore, in cinemas last month, goes for the
pity plot with knobs on. The performances
are appalling and the film presents blindness
as the most catastrophic, static state ever,
One in four of us will be disabled at
some point so surely disability must be
part of our creative lives as well
softened only by seriously expensive wine
and a beautiful, flawless woman. If only.
Don’t get me wrong, disability can be
a brilliant plot device. It can be a pivot
by which a hero or heroine must undergo
change (just think of An Affair to Remember, made in 1957, with Cary Grant and
Deborah Kerr). And it can provide humour.
The box-office hit Untouchable (2011) told
us the true story of a paraplegic French billionaire who hires a down-and-out to care
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
for him. For many, it was a reminder that
disability is not about pity, but about living
the best life you can — though again having a nice fast car seems to help. In Kills on
Wheels, out now in selected cinemas, two
Hungarian kids in wheelchairs find solace
in zooming around as gangsters, which, you
know, might be fun.
What will frustrate me for a little bit
longer is that while there are some really
interesting new plays and films out there,
most stories about disability still represent
disabled people as being either trapped
in their bodies, able to be rescued only by
healthy, happy people, or as people we can
pity, exalt or laugh at, rather than laugh
and live with. What is important about the
National Theatre’s In Touch, and other
new productions, is that we are shown the
authentic complexity of people’s lives,
not the melodrama and presumed victimhood surrounding their disability. ‘Nothing
about us, without us!’ was the battle cry of
disability activists in the 1990s, and it seems
that in theatre and film, to some degree at
least, this is becoming a reality. Let’s hope
it continues.
Ulysses on speed
Kate Chisholm
It’s always odd to hear a familiar voice on
a different programme, playing an alternative role. They never sound quite as comfortable behind the mike, as if they are wearing
clothes that don’t quite fit. The voice has a
different timbre, as it did on Sunday when
Garry Richardson, who since 1981 has been
keeping Today listeners updated on all the
latest sports news, revealed his other passion. Since he was ten, when he was first
taken to see the man from Knotty Ash at
Blackpool in 1967, he’s been a fan of that
extraordinarily tenacious star of the entertainment world, Ken Dodd. In Sir Ken
Dodd: What a Beautiful Day! (produced
by Peter McHugh), Richardson gave us
an insight into why audiences are still paying to see a 90-year-old (Dodd’s significant
birthday was on Wednesday) with wild hair,
a high-pitched creaky voice and a relentless optimism, firing off a stream of comic
gags for three or sometimes four hours, taking hold of his audiences and refusing to let
them go home until they’ve laughed themselves weak.
I confess I never could understand
Dodd’s popularity. The endless stream of
jokes, the Diddymen, those corny songs
‘Tears for Souvenirs’ and ‘Happiness’. But I
tuned into Radio 4 Extra after reading an
interview with Dodd by the Guardian critic
Michael Billington, which had me creasing
up with laughter at the breakfast table. I had
no idea Dodd could be so funny. You need to
hear his quick-fire lines, building one upon
another, for the comedy to work. He’s so offthe-wall, yet at the same time down-to-earth,
picking up on the way our minds work if we
let them go free-range. There’s no smut,
nothing scatological, just a hint of Donald
McGill. Dodd has no need to rely on cheap
jokes or satire to make us laugh. His mind
is like a jukebox of funny thoughts, and his
prattle like Ulysses on speed.
Dodd, who first appeared on radio in
December 1954 (he can still remember
the catch line of a joke he made then), is
always so damned cheerful, which I used
to find deeply irritating, but it’s a quality
that now seems very necessary. Also necessary but in a very different way was a
quiet, unannounced programme on Radio
4, narrated by the poet Grevel Lindop. The
Little Chinese Maiden (produced by Matt
Thompson) told the story of Wordsworth’s
daughter Catherine, who died aged three.
She is, says Lindop, ‘a tiny footnote in history’ yet she’s still talked about, loved and
known through the two poems that her
father wrote about her, ‘Characteristics of
a Child Three Years Old’ and ‘Surprised
By Joy’. Lindop now suspects that Cath50
erine was born with Down’s Syndrome
and in his programme he talked to parents
whose children also have the condition,
testing out what Wordsworth writes about
his daughter.
Catherine, we know, had very few words,
yet she made a deep impression on the family, ‘one by herself’, a little character, just like
Esme who we can hear in the background
singing to herself yet never saying a word.
Her good temper, never crying or being
grumpy, endeared her to everyone, especially the family friend Thomas De Quincey, to
whom she became very attached. Her father
thought of her as ‘the little Chinese maiden’
because she was small in stature, had small
hands; her eyes, too, were almond-shaped.
She was, said Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy,
‘the most memorable child of them all’, a
presence within the family who made a lasting difference to each one of them. ‘This
child with no words was giving them some
sense of meaning,’ said Lindop at the end
of a programme that made a deep, touching
Sunday on Radio 3 gave us a masterclass
in radio drama by the formidable team of
Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres. I hope
Matthew Graham, whose new play Jayne
Lake was on Radio 4 the day before, was
listening to Fathers and Sons (adapted by
Brian Friel from Turgenev’s novel) and
taking notes. His drama, a thriller about a
group of students meeting up again for a
reunion weekend, one of whom has gone
blind after an acid attack, had the makings
of a good play, but Graham, a successful TV
writer (Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes), has
not, I suspect, often sat through a radio play
and listened to it with any attention. There
were so many moments when it was just not
clear what was happening that I gave up in
frustration after about 20 minutes.
In contrast, Fathers and Sons had a stellar
cast, with Charles Dance, Martin Jarvis and
James Fleet, but it was the clarity and immediacy of the production that drew me in. At
no point were we as listeners left floundering in the dark, unsure who was speaking or
where we were. I listened in one stretch and
by the end it was as if I had been in Russia for the afternoon, observing the lives
of Arkady, Yevgeny and their families like
a fly on the wall, laughing and grieving. It
was odd to find myself back in my study on
a grey afternoon in Kingston.
Hearts and minds
Richard Bratby
Benjamin Grosvenor
Barber Institute of Fine Arts, and touring
until 19 November
Mitsuko Uchida
Birmingham Town Hall, and touring until
1 December
Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
begins with a sigh: a long, languorous exhalation played on the lower notes of a solo
flute. The flute’s usual brightness and brilliance is gone. It’s a dusky, breathy sound,
made of half-shades and velvet: the musical
embodiment of luxe, calme et volupté. And it’s
completely impossible to imitate on a piano.
Not so much because of the tone-colour —
the best pianists can create wonders — but
because no piano in existence can play an
unbroken melody. Wind and string players,
like singers, produce and control a near-continuous stream of sound. A piano, though, is
essentially a box of hammers. It hits notes, and
then they decay. When a pianist seems to play
a long, singing tune, they’re merely faking at a
very high level. It’s a sonic trompe l’oeil.
Benjamin Grosvenor solved the problem by dismissing it. Confronted with those
opening bars, he made no attempt to imitate
the sound or phrasing of a flute. Instead, they
became a tiny prelude-to-the-Prélude, a preliminary running of the fingers over the keys.
It was a strange transformation, and the first
of many. The rippling harp figures that make
Debussy’s orchestra quiver and pulse from
within became sudden, glittering sprays of
sound, high above the musical landscape.
And Debussy’s climaxes, played as cascades
of rich piano chords, inescapably suggested
a peal of bells — an image that exists neither
in Debussy’s original, nor the poem by Mallarmé that inspired it. Well, if you’re going to
reinvent something, reinvent it thoroughly.
Grosvenor played it with the glowing intensity and spacious, aristocratic assurance that
he brought to this whole recital.
But why bother with a piano transcription of the Prélude at all? It’s not like there’s
any shortage of original Debussy piano
music. One possible answer came in the
next item on the programme, Alban Berg’s
tortuous, determinedly moody Piano Sonata Op.1. Grosvenor found a shadowy sonority for its opening gestures that seemed to
relate directly to the ending of the Debussy.
Anyone who’s followed Grosvenor’s career
so far knows that he’s an artist of unusual
intelligence, and it’s still a relatively rare
pianist who thinks about recital programmes
in these terms, let alone steps beyond the
routine piano repertoire to place a work like
the Berg in such an ear-opening context.
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
Chris Beetles Gallery
18 November 2017 – 6 January 2018
The biggest annual event worldwide for cartoon and
illustration collectors, with 600 pictures over two
centuries available for purchase.
The fully illustrated exhibition catalogue contains new
essays and biographies, and presents a selection of
illustrations from 1880-2017.
The 240-page catalogue is £15
(p&p free to Spectator readers).
Edmund Dulac (1882-1953)
S R Badmin (1906-1989)
E H Shepard (1879-1976)
Mark Boxer (1931-1988)
View exhibition online: • The gallery is open Monday – Saturday 10am – 5.30pm
Edward Ardizzone (1900-1979)
John Glashan (1927-1999)
8 & 10 Ryder Street St James’s London SW1Y 6QB • 020 7839 7551 • •
Earlier, he’d created another unexpected
narrative by interleaving the three movements of Brett Dean’s Etude: Hommage à
Brahms of 2013 between the four short pieces that make up Brahms’s Op.119 — as Dean
intended, but as Brahms certainly didn’t. The
effect was curious and sometimes disturbing.
Dean’s outer movements, entitled ‘Angel’s
Wings’, fix ghostly fragments of Brahms’s
pieces in strange positions and hold them up
to the light, like the scuffled impressions left
on a window pane after a small bird has collided with the glass. The central ‘Hafenkneipenmusik’ is a demonic moto perpetuo, an act of
musical cruelty in the midst of Brahms’s quiet,
hard-won melancholy that left me wondering
— as I did during Dean’s recent opera Hamlet
—whether this skilled composer isn’t himself
trapped within a musical language that can
only express infinite shades of angst.
Still, presumably it was part of Dean’s plan
that Brahms’s fourth and final piece, a Rhapsodie, should break free from his grip with
such triumphant power. Grosvenor’s performance was radiant, sonorous and proud,
I want to be there when Grosvenor
finally gets head and heart into
perfect alignment
though here, too, as throughout the entire
programme (and even in his final, blistering
performance of Ravel’s Scarbo), he felt like
an artist whose intellect was restraining rather than liberating his magnificent technique. I
want to be there when Grosvenor finally gets
head and heart into perfect alignment.
We know it can be done, because a couple of days earlier, at Birmingham Town
Hall, Mitsuko Uchida did it. Like Grosvenor, Uchida cuts a restrained figure at the
keyboard, and her performances, too, are
shaped by intellect as well as fantasy. Apollo, not Dionysus, reigns here. But over three
Schubert sonatas she found limitless opportunities for colour and characterisation
within formal structures that were as lucid
and as ideally proportioned as Schubert’s
ramshackle classicism allowed. And all the
time she was pushing enthusiastically forwards into phrases, playfully answering her
own statements, and giving a droll, throwaway swing to Schubert’s little bass asides.
I’d gone into this concert with preconceptions: Uchida’s long career and her status
as international piano royalty (she uses publicity photos by Richard Avedon) made the
freshness of her playing a genuine surprise.
If you’d attended both concerts blindfold,
you’d have said that Uchida was the headstrong twentysomething and Grosvenor the
veteran. But clarity needn’t exclude mystery, and wisdom can go along with quite
irresistible wit. I was reminded of the pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni’s aphorism on Mozart: ‘He commands both light
and shade: but his light never blinds, and his
darkness still shows definite outlines.’
‘Self-Portrait’, 1880–1, by Paul Cézanne
The apple of his eye
Martin Gayford
Cézanne Portraits
National Portrait Gallery, until
11 February 2018
The critic and painter Adrian Stokes once
remarked on how fortunate Cézanne had
been to be bald, ‘considering the wonderful volume that he always achieved for the
dome of his skull’. It’s a good joke, and all the
better for being perfectly true — as is demonstrated by the superb sequence of selfportraits included in Cézanne Portraits at
the National Portrait Gallery. These are the
finest hairless craniums in the history of art.
That, however, is only one of the attractions of the exhibition. This is the most
impressive array of work, by one of the
greatest of all painters, to be seen in London in more than 20 years. Cézanne once
said, ‘I paint as I see, as I feel — and I have
very strong sensations.’ He makes us share
them too.
You can absolutely sense how powerfully Cézanne perceived the roundness of his
own head. The same is true of innumerable
amazingly volumetric depictions of things
in these pictures: the cylindrical coffee
pot beside the ‘Woman with a Cafetière’
(c.1895), the thick, felt-like folds of the
jacket worn by ‘Man with a Pipe’ (1891–6).
It’s not hard to understand why the artist
hesitated between the words ‘see’ and ‘feel’
when he made that remark. He creates an
impression that one could just reach out
and handle these objects.
This is perhaps why, in Cézanne’s own
mind — and several other people’s — his
portraits were connected with his paintings
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
of still life. The art dealer Ambroise Vollard
famously related that when he started shifting his position during one of the interminable sittings for the wonderful picture in
this show of 1899, the artist protested, ‘Do
I have to tell you again you must sit like an
apple? Does an apple move?’ Others picked
up on this — the writer Charles Morice, for
example, who asserted that ‘Cézanne takes
no more interest in a human face than in
an apple.’
This, I suspect, wasn’t quite true. It was
the case, though, that Cézanne was profoundly concerned with the qualities shared
by human beings and fruit, such as roundness. Hence his celebrated advice to divide
up nature into ‘the cylinder, the sphere and
the cone’. In the catalogue, John Elderield,
the curator, writes that when painting his
wife, Hortense, Cézanne became increasingly obsessed with depicting her head as
an ‘unimpeded oval’ even if that meant flattening her ears (‘a somewhat discomforting
effect if one notices it’.)
Cézanne was not solely intent on reducing his sitters to a series of geometric solids.
Cézanne was profoundly concerned
with the qualities shared by human
beings and fruit
His fundamental aim in his portraits, as in
all his work, was to ‘render what we actually
see’. That is, not what we think we know or
remember from other works of art but what
is really there in front of the easel.
This made Cézanne an unusual sort of
portraitist — in some ways, a modern one.
Like Freud’s or Auerbach’s, his subjects
were all people he knew well — family,
friends, the workers on his family estate, the
Jas de Bouffan. These were not public pictures, but what the painter Euan Uglow used
to call ‘private research’.
Often they were not completed. Cézanne
had the modernist problem with finishing a
picture. You can understand why: ‘resolving’ the slightly blurred passages around the
elbow and shoulder of ‘The Smoker’ (1893–
6) might have hardened and deadened the
total effect. ‘Finishing’ a picture, Picasso
observed, can kill it stone-dead.
Cézanne was not interested in his sitters’
moods, dreams or social position. He was
concerned simply with what was visible. This
applied to his depictions of himself, which
are — despite the handsome rotundity of his
pate — utterly free of vanity.
The slow disappearance of emotion from
his paintings of his wife may be the result
of the numbing effect of posing for hundreds of hours. The earlier pictures show a
shyly affectionate, almost animated young
woman. It is only as the years go by that she
becomes, as Elderfield puts it, ‘an automaton’ — or an apple. But then Cézanne’s true
discovery, as D.H. Lawrence saw it, was the
‘appleyness’ of people.
Rilke used a different metaphor, writing
that Cézanne painted himself a bit like a dog
that had looked in the mirror and thought,
there’s another dog! Actually, Cézanne was
a bit like that with everybody he painted —
looking at them as if a big, dressed-up animal had walked into his studio. It’s partly his
ability to look at familiar people as if seeing
them for the very first time that makes these
pictures so extraordinary.
Oh, Jeremy Corbyn
James Delingpole
This week I want to put the boot in to
Gogglebox (Channel 4, Fridays). Not the
mostly likeable, everyday version, whose
stars include our very own and much-loved
Dear Mary, where ordinary-ish people are
filmed reacting amusingly to the week’s
TV. I mean the recent celebrity special, featuring former Oasis singer Liam Gallagher, a cricketer, a footballer, Ed Sheeran,
Ozzie and Sharon Osbourne, the actress
formerly known as Jessica Stevenson and
Jeremy Corbyn.
The last couple were filmed together
sitting on a yellow sofa at a smart-looking
terrace address in Edinburgh. No explanation was given as to what the leader of the
Labour party was doing with the former
star of Spaced — Jessica Hynes, as she’s now
known. Perhaps the producers were hoping
we’d go: ‘Oh, how nice. Two old, old mates,
probably, hanging out, as you do.’ But to me
it all seemed very rum.
Corbyn didn’t exactly help himself.
Though he’s clearly had a lot of media training in the past year — his dress is snappier, he’s less tetchy and defensive — he still
comes across like an early-model replicant
where the programmer couldn’t quite get
the ‘normal’ function right.
This was noticeable in the establishing segment, where Jessica asked Jeremy if he’d like some tea. Jeremy assented
with such enthusiasm I was reminded of
those scenes in Went the Day Well? where
the Nazi-paratroopers-in-disguise give the
game away by getting key details of British
behaviour slightly wrong, like drawing sinister foreign horizontal lines on their number sevens. Yes, we do like tea in Britain,
Jeremy. No we don’t respond in the manner
of a crack-starved junkie suddenly asked:
‘Fancy a quick pipe?’
Jeremy was not done stressing his
extreme normalness just yet. Jessica asked
whether he wanted anything with his tea.
Yes, said Jeremy. Something ‘bad’. By this,
he didn’t mean a cheeky jazz woodbine,
which would have been quite endearing
while making his general knowledge recall
certainly no worse than it is already (see
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
below). But no, he meant crisps. Crisps
like in Britain people always consume
with their cups of tea because the flavour
of crisps and the flavour of tea go so well
together, don’t they?
I notice I’m focusing on Jeremy Corbyn.
And believe me, I’m not done yet. Anyway,
all the other celebrity contributors were
exceedingly dull and predictable — the
Osbournes luxuriating in their philistinism like hogs in poo, Ed Sheeran being as
exciting as an Ed Sheeran song, Liam Gallagher’s boy trying to play the average Mancunian lad even though, with Dad’s millions,
I expect he attended a proper posh school —
so they need not detain us further.
So Jeremy — oh God, why am I calling
him Jeremy? I’m playing the enemy’s game
here — then gets the chance to impress us
with his quizzing skills. Everyone is watching University Challenge. A question comes
up: ‘Against which city state did Rome fight
the three Punic Wars?’ Corbyn leans forward intently and says: ‘Sparta’. It’s not the
wrongness of his answer that’s troubling so
much as the relaxed, easy confidence with
which he says it. There’s an affectlessness
here, a weird detachment from reality that
makes you wonder whether there’s anyone
at home. Could it be that Corbyn’s brain
has drifted so far into the realm of theory
So Jeremy – oh God, why am I
calling him Jeremy? I’m playing the
enemy’s game here
and Marxist dialectic that the world of facts,
of cause and effect, is now little more than a
lightly amusing distraction for him?
My fear is that these nuances will have
gone right over the heads of Corbyn’s
potential voter base, that they will have
warmed to him more than ever and that this
was entirely Channel 4’s plan. This left-wing
bias became even more excruciating when,
among the other items chosen for the Goggleboxers to watch, was a story from the TV
news about the fact that Michael Gove had
felt compelled to apologise for his apparently appalling and inappropriate joke about
Harvey Weinstein.
Was Channel 4 really asking us to believe
that of all the stories that had been on the
news in that particular week the most interesting and comment-worthy was a desperately contrived one cooked up by the
anti-Brexit luvvies who infest TV land to
show one of their prime political enemies in
a supposedly bad light? Yes — for it has no
shame about its politics — Channel 4 was!
Perhaps it would have been excusable if
someone, anyone, among the Goggleboxers
had piped up and said: ‘So we’re not allowed
to make jokes any more. Is that the new
rule?’ But no one did. And besides, even if
anyone had uttered anything so dangerously
reactionary I’m sure Channel 4 would have
lost it in the edit.
Stitches in time: detail of ‘Embroidery Design’ by May Morris, worked by May Morris and Theodosia Middlemore, c.1900
Arts and crafts
May’s day
Melanie McDonagh
May Morris: Art and Life
William Morris Gallery, until 28 January
You may think you don’t know May Morris,
daughter of William, but you’ll probably have
come across her wallpaper. Her honeysuckle
design was and remains a Morris & Co. bestseller, and it not only features in homes to this
day, it’s been nicked by designer Jonathan
Anderson for a Morris-inspired range for the
very expensive fashion house Loewe. It’s all
a bit dispiriting for a woman whose aesthetic sensibility, like her father’s, was bound up
in her socialism. But it was embroidery that
was May Morris’s art and craft and now a new
exhibition at the Morris Gallery in Walthamstow lets us see it in its own right.
The gist of May Morris: Art and Life is
that her achievements were overshadowed
by those of her celebrated father and were
in any case overlooked because critics don’t
rate needlework, not least because it’s mostly women’s work. But for William Morris
and his firm, which revolutionised the way
Brits furnished their homes, embroidery
was an important element of its output and
exemplified its guiding principles — beau-
Critics don’t rate needlework,
not least because it’s mostly
women’s work
ty plus utility plus decent conditions for the
worker. Her work deserves its own exhibition; as for her life, it merits more attention
than it gets here.
As artist, May Morris was, unsurprisingly,
a one-woman exemplar of the Morris philosophy. She learned art and design from
her father and embroidery from her mother Jane and her aunt Bessie, a deaconess.
So, from that apprenticeship she combined
design work with its execution, and both
with a very good grounding in the craft’s
medieval precedents.
She studied at the precursor to the Royal
College of Art in South Kensington, part-
ly because of its access to the V&A and its
splendid examples of Opus Anglicanum,
the English needlework of the high middle
ages (and the subject of a fabulous exhibition there last year). She taught the principles she practised at the Birmingham School
of Art and was the author of an influential
book, Decorative Needlework.
So, to cut to the chase, are we looking
here at a feminist cause: a woman genius unfairly overlooked on account of her
famous father and the womanly nature of
her medium? A quote addressed to George
Bernard Shaw, and reproduced here, says:
‘I’m a remarkable woman — always was,
though none of you seemed to think so.’
Judging by the 80 works collected here
(including her jewellery), May Morris was a
significant figure of the arts and crafts movement, a designer of real skill, a fine colourist
and an embroiderer of genuine creative artistry. But she wasn’t a genius, if that means
originality of vision as well as supreme technical virtuosity (though I suppose it’s also a
moot point whether her father was).
And if that sounds like faint praise, that’s
because we undervalue needlework. At its
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
highest point in the middle ages, embroidery
was one medium among others, along with
illuminated manuscripts and painted wooden panels, and as skilled as any of them, with
much of it designed for liturgical functions.
One of loveliest pieces in this exhibition, in
fact, is the superfrontal May embroidered for
an altar for aunt Bessie. (She was godless herself but you’d never think it from her work.)
Her work was beautiful. Take two panels
that she designed and probably embroidered
herself: ‘Spring and Summer’ and ‘Autumn
and Winter’ (c.1895–1900). At the centre is
a formal group of stylised roses, with two
parakeets on either side, domestic birds
above, and surmounted by roundels showing the fruits of each season. They’re full of
life, but grounded in the medieval tradition,
and a showcase of her skill: ‘laid and couched
work, French knots, running, long and short
stitches, back stitch, split stitch, satin stitch
and stem stitch’. It’s her father’s aesthetic —
but is there anything wrong with that?
Inevitably, given their closeness, it’s hard
sometimes not to confuse the father’s and
daughter’s work — though the beautiful cot
quilt called ‘The Homestead and the Forest’
Are we looking here at a feminist
cause: a woman genius unfairly
overlooked ?
(c.1900), designed by May and executed by
her mother Jane, was entirely distinctive, with
a tranquil home in the enclosed garden at the
centre, surrounded by wild and exotic beasts:
very telling. May wasn’t just Pre-Raphaelite
in her work; she was an incarnation of the
house style — hardly surprising given that
Jane Morris wasn’t just William Morris’s
model but Rossetti’s too, as well as his lover.
The circle was famously intertwined; as for
the Socialist League, it was a roll call of the
arts and crafts movement.
May’s profile was considered Grecian by
some observers and in her youth that heaviness of feature was attractive; as an older
woman, she looked lugubrious. It was in her
prime that she had her affair with George
Bernard Shaw — there’s a photograph of
them here, with the husband she married
on the rebound, Henry Halliday Sparling,
and a charming Valentine she sent to GBS:
‘Even your very crochets form no bar to our
affection’. Her marriage came unstuck when
Shaw re-entered her life. Later she would
have a relationship with the lawyer John
Quinn, but you don’t get much of that here
(though there are fascinating pictures of her
companion in old age, a stout Cornish land
girl, Mary Lobb).
To accompany the exhibition there is an
excellent collection of essays, May Morris:
Art & Life, edited by Lynn Hulse, and a lavishly illustrated companion book (not a catalogue), May Morris: Arts & Crafts Designer
(Thames & Hudson/V&A, £24.95). But for
all that, her most lasting legacy may be on
the shelves of the exhibition: her edition of
her father’s collected works in 24 volumes.
To hell and back
Lloyd Evans
The Exorcist
Phoenix Theatre, until 10 March 2018
Slaves of Solitude
Hampstead Theatre, until 25 November
The Exorcist opened in 1973 accompanied
by much hoo-ha in the press. Scenes of
panic, nausea and fainting were recorded
at every performance. Movie-goers showed
up to witness mass hysteria rather than to
enjoy a scary movie. This revival, produced
by Bill Kenwright, targets the early 1970s
demographic. At press night, the stalls were
thronged with pensioners eager to relive a
lurid evening from their adolescence. As one
who dislikes shocks of any kind, I sat through
this ordeal with my eyes bent towards the
floor and my fingers wedged so firmly in my
ears that their tips turned crimson.
The show opened with a CRUMP loud
enough to shake the theatre to its foundations. Everybody screamed. Then they all
giggled. This pattern of shrieking followed
by feathery tittering continued throughout.
At times the bangs and flashes were so punishingly invasive that I felt as if my head were
exploding. Crash-landing on a rush-hour
motorway must feel like this, only quieter.
The story follows Satan’s plan to possess
a 12-year-old girl and to use her as bait to
capture a higher prize, the stainless soul of
a Catholic clergyman sent to chase out her
demonic captor. This strategy is based on
rather dated moral assumptions. Gone are
the days when Catholic priests were considered saintlier than the general populace. The
show is furnished with all the crass apparatus
of the horror genre. Creepy lighting, shadowy attics, eerie glimpses down darkened
corridors, frosted windows across which
horrid silhouettes may lurch at any moment.
Everything is arranged to keep one in constant fear of some ghastly eruption of light
and noise. The voice of Satan, uncredited in
the programme, sounds like Ian McKellen
doing a camp pastiche of silky criminality.
At one point I raised my eyes from the
floor to see the possessed girl in blood-soaked
pyjamas cavorting on a mattress with a silver crucifix. My next upward peep disclosed
the girl squirting her fellow actors with yellow vomit. This regurgitation is, famously, the
show’s artistic highlight, and it made me wonder about the contract between the entertainer and the entertained. If the purpose of
a scary play is to send punters running for the
exits, it follows that the finest horror produc-
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
tion is one that no viewer has watched to its
conclusion. And though the crowd remained
in their seats throughout, I feel obliged to hail
this two-hour torture session as a triumph.
Rarely has the West End seen such a thoroughly draining and nasty experience. Punters
will go home transformed into sweaty, nightmare-haunted insomniacs. Enjoy.
The contrast could hardly be greater with
Slaves of Solitude. This adaption of Patrick
Hamilton’s wartime novel is about quietness,
repressed sexuality and the tattling of malicious tongues behind twitching net curtains.
The scene is a genteel boarding house in
Henley, 1943. With the men away at war, the
town is populated by spinsters, widows and
defunct male pensioners. Miss Roach, nearing 40, is a lonely singleton whose presence
in the communal dining-room attracts needling comments from Mr Thwaites, a closet
Nazi. He disapproves of Miss Roach’s friendship with an American lieutenant who happens to be black. ‘I spy a dusky combatant
from distant shores,’ he says when the dashing officer appears.
Jonathan Kent’s production superbly
evokes the complexities of wartime etiquette.
Although the rules were stifling, they offered
countless opportunities for subversion. When
the buttoned-up Miss Roach invites the lieutenant to use her Christian name it feels like
a sexual overture. And it is. Sharing a tum-
Rarely has the West End seen
such a thoroughly draining and
nasty experience
bler of whisky (very racy!), they contemplate
taking a stroll by the riverside. Both are fully
aware that consummation is being discussed.
But Miss Roach’s romance is threatened by
an exotic German rival, Miss Kugelmann,
a sort of Teutonic Blanche DuBois, who
intends to steal the American lieutenant but
finds herself drawn to the wallet, if not the
personality, of brutal Mr Thwaites.
Hamilton’s handling of character is so
assured that his little suburban hotel feels
like an entire society sketched in miniature.
The casting is immaculate. Clive Francis brilliantly captures the brittle aggression of an
ageing xenophobe whose heart is melted by
an autumn romance. Fenella Woolgar (Miss
Roach) conveys the first-night nerves of a
smouldering virgin determined to explore
her sexuality, if only to stave off her growing
thoughts of suicide. Top honours go to the fabulous Lucy Cohu as the sexy German golddigger whose predatory nature is inverted in
the closing scenes as she turns from huntress
into saviour. The handling of the story at the
climax is breathtakingly swift and moving.
Were there any justice in theatreland this terrific production would transfer immediately
to the West End. But there is no justice, only
money. And without a bankable star from
Downton, Game of Thrones or Dr Who, this
show may not outlast its current run.
Country music
Why has there never been a hit musical about British history? Iain Hollingshead investigates
Making musical history: Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton
mericans may be able to draw
on only 250 years of history, but
they’re not shy of making a song
and dance of it. In early December, Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s $1 billion-grossing, hip-hop and show-tune extravaganza
about one of the country’s founding fathers
will finally open to sold-out crowds in London. It joins the Menier Chocolate Factory’s
sold-out revival of Sondheim’s Assassins,
the Tony Award-winning musical about the
cranks and misfits who have, to paraphrase
its opening number, exercised their right to
follow their dreams by attempting to assassinate US presidents from Roosevelt to Reagan (but not, yet, Trump).
Both shows fit neatly into the American
tradition of making successful musicals out
of American history, especially during periods of national introspection and cultural
turmoil. In 1969, the year of Woodstock
and anti-Vietnam marches, the Broadway
smash hit was 1776. It was conceived by a
high-school history teacher and its co-writer described it as ‘maybe the worst idea
that had ever been proposed for a musical’. Regardless, its depiction of Benjamin
Franklin singing about the Declaration of
Independence won three Tony Awards.
More recently garlanded shows from the
Great American History Book include: The
Civil War (nominated for a Tony, despite
Where is the British Hamilton
when we need one?
being dismissed by the New York Times as
being without plot or character); Miss Saigon (Madama Butterfly, in Vietnam, with
prostitutes, by the writers of Les Misérables); and The Scottsboro Boys, a moving
depiction of racism and injustice in 1930s
Alabama by Kander and Ebb, the writers of
Chicago and Cabaret.
Consider, on the other hand, Britain’s
most successful writing duo. The Likes of
Us, Lloyd Webber and Rice’s little-known
first musical, written in 1965, was based on
Dr Barnardo’s concern for destitute children in Victorian London. After failing
to secure funding, the future knight and
future-former peer wisely decided to plunder Argentina’s history instead. And the
So where is the British Hamilton when
we need one? Might it not help soothe our
current Kulturkampf? And why has there
never been a hit musical about any British
historical event in the past 1,000 years?
Perhaps the main problem is that the
British nation doesn’t have a very good
founding myth. As Robert Tombs points
out in The English and Their History, historians cannot even agree on whether to
subsume English history within a wider
narrative of the British Isles. The Romans
had Romulus and Remus. The Americans
have their revolutionary war, in which
they neatly airbrush the fact that a third of
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
Americans were neutral and a further third
fought for the British. Even the French get
Les Misérables.
The British, meanwhile, have a convoluted narrative which ranges from the Battle
of Hastings to the Battle of Britain, Magna
Carta to the Glorious Revolution, the Acts
of Union to the European Union (Notice
of Withdrawal) Act 2017. And while Brexit
the Musical did a roaring trade on the Edinburgh Fringe this year, sadly it cannot yet
be described as a historical musical. Neither is it easy to imagine its farcical elements (Boris in Union Jack boxer shorts;
Cameron with a blow-up piglet; George
Osborne wielding actual power) transferring well to a bigger stage.
Some of our history lends itself to the
popular dramatic themes of liberty from
tyranny, triumph in adversity, but much of
it is too complicated, too embarrassing or
too controversial for glib storytelling. Anyone for Mau Mau: The Musical! — a toetapping exploration of imperial conquest
and decline?
But it didn’t stop Julian Fellowes borrowing liberally from the history books (or
perhaps just from Wikipedia) in another
medium, did it? Or, indeed, more subtle
writers and auteurs, from Hilary Mantel to
Robert Harris, Peter Morgan to Mel Gibson. As William Faulkner wrote, ‘The past is
never dead. It’s not even past.’ British history is big business, in everything from Sunday night television to tourism, fiction to
film, genealogy to toppling statues of Nelson — everywhere, it seems, apart from the
West End, which continues to prefer safe
jukebox musicals.
And while some British history may not
translate easily to the medium of musicals,
it is hardly comparable to Germany’s, to
which only The Producers and Springtime
for Hitler could do justice. Consider the epic
story of love, power and betrayal that is the
relationship between Henry II and Thomas
à Becket. Or the ‘girl power’ displayed by
both Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.
Or the suffragettes. Surely there must be
something in Michael Gove’s approved syllabus of our island story that would lend
itself to a chorus line and a disapproving
review in the Guardian?
I’m not saying it’s easy. Last month, these
pages carried an entertaining book review of
Must Close Saturday: The Decline and Fall of
the British Musical Flop. Notable among the
stinkers was Winnie, in which the greatest
Briton of all time had to rhyme ‘factotum’
with ‘grab Hitler by the scrotum’. Similarly, of all the indignities suffered by Henry
VIII’s six wives, few can compare with the
King’s rhyming of ‘wooed her’ with ‘poopooed her’.
This month I’ll be hoping that a historical musical I’ve co-authored and produced
will not be joining this ignominious list.
Called The End of History, and running at
the Tristan Bates Theatre in the West End,
it is about a group of disruptive teenagers
attempting to get to grips with the events
of the short 20th century, from the Treaty of
Versailles to the fall of the Berlin Wall, via
Munich, Cuba, Saigon and Prague.
If it doesn’t close on the first Saturday (it
is, incidentally, not sold out yet), I shall certainly be looking nearer to home for a patriotic follow-up. Or perhaps someone else will
grasp the mantle. Imagine the fun, in this
new era of cultural nationalism, of seeing a
British musical about the Napoleonic wars
called 1812, culminating in a flaming White
House, open to sold-out crowds in its Broadway transfer.
The End of History is at the Tristan Bates
Theatre from 14 November to 2 December.
Child’s play
Deborah Ross
The Florida Project
15, Nationwide
The Florida Project is a drama set in one
of those cheap American motels occupied
by poor people who would otherwise be
homeless. It’s sad but not depressing, bleak
but also joyful, and features one of the best
and truest child performances you will ever
likely see. Also, it is captivating without ever
being condescending — I think. It is always
so hard to know, but if you get too hung up
on that, cinema will never be allowed to say
that poverty exists, or deal with stories that
don’t regularly get told, and that’s the end of
my lecture for this week, you will be delighted to hear.
The movie is written and directed by
Sean Baker, whose previous film, Tangerine,
about a transgender sex worker, was shot on
an adapted iPhone 5 and won many awards.
Here, the setting is Orlando and the cheap
motel is the Magic Castle, which is painted
a loud, lurid mauve and is situated close to
Disneyworld. (The American Dream, and
those excluded from it? Just trying out a few
thoughts here.)
Our main characters are six-year-old
Moonee (the terrifyingly gifted Brooklynn
Prince, who never hits a single false note)
and her mother Halley, as played by Bria
Vinaite, who has a touch of Courtney Love
about her and was discovered on Instagram
by Baker as he was doing his research. Both
Prince and Vinaite are so unselfconscious
it’s as if they are doing what they would be
doing anyway, but it just so happens they
are being filmed. The only recognisable
face is Willem Dafoe, who plays Bobby, the
kindly motel manager who keeps a paternalistic eye on all the residents. Initially, it is
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
quite creepy seeing Dafoe not being creepy
but you do get your eye in after a bit.
At this point in the review I’d normally
say this happens, then that happens, then
this happens, and then we’d all go home, but
The Florida Project isn’t like that. With most
films you know what you are getting within the first ten minutes — oh, it’s this film;
OK — but here there are no plot points as
such and we never quite know where we’re
headed, which gives it the thrum of real life.
It is episodic, and told from Moonee’s point
of view — the camera is often positioned
at her height — as she runs wild and unsupervised with her friends. They have spitting contests, blag ice-creams from tourists,
play with fire — Christ, Moonee, be careful! — and stir up mischief left, right and
centre, but never with malice. They don’t
have iPads. They must make their own fun,
so they do. They’re never going to Disneyland — too pricey — so they use their imaginations to create their own theme park.
‘Ghost poo!’ exclaims Moonee, on entering an abandoned condo which, in its way,
serves as a Haunted Mansion. Childhood
wonder, we’re being told, can transform a
Childhood wonder can transform a
bad situation into something joyous
bad situation into something joyous. But it
can’t correct it, alas.
On to Halley. Halley is tattooed and
pierced and more like Moonee’s co-conspirator than a parent. She is reckless,
rebellious, and spends money the minute
she makes it. She survives by hawking perfume and scamming hotel breakfasts, and
turns tricks while Moonee is in the bath,
shampooing the hair of her My Little Pony.
It looks bad on paper, admittedly. But this
is not a finger-wagging film, and we know
that Halley loves Moonee devotedly, and
fiercely, if chaotically. The film doesn’t say
if Moonee would be better off staying with
her mother or not staying with her mother.
It just presents their lives as is.
For the kids, it’s an adventure, but we
understand the dark backdrop: the lack
of opportunities, the fact that being poor
makes you poorer ($38 a night for a shitty
room, but what to do, if you have nowhere
else to go?), the paedophile found hanging
round the playground who has to be seen
off by Bobby, and the authorities circling.
As the film grows darker, the sherbet colours fade, until it concludes with an ending
that has divided audiences, who either get
it or don’t. I would say only this: we are in
Moonee’s headspace, remember. It is her
imagination that is key.
The film never sanctifies or demonises,
and is absorbing throughout. Alternatively,
though, you could just go see Paddington 2,
where the Browns live in a lovely big Notting Hill house. If, that is, you feel safer that
Wet weather boots
By Laura Freeman
oot – foot – foot – foot – sloggin’ over
Africa — / (Boots – boots – boots –
boots – movin’ up and down again!).’
I do like Rudyard Kipling. I know I’m
not supposed to. Trigger warning: empire,
jungle stereotypes, microaggressions against
monkeys, cultural appropriation of other
people’s elephants. But what a stomping
great marching poem ‘Boots’ is.
Learn at least the first verse by heart:
it’s the right rhythm for walking when
the rain comes on and you’re miles from
home. Boots–boots–boots–boots. Imagine
the dust stamped up from the veld. The
other one to sing under your breath in a
downpour is: ‘She’ll be comin’ round the
mountain (when she comes).’ It rouses even
the dampest spirits.
You can brave any weather with the
right boots, and British boots are the best in
the world. They must be waterproof. None
of this rubbish about ‘water-protected’.
That’s what shoe shops say about boots to
get you from the front door to the bus stop.
Fine for mizzle and a puddle, but not up
to Sunday walks in the mire. You want the
tough stuff: ‘Gore-Tex’, ‘all-weather’, ‘rubber membrane’.
I learnt the hard way. For a walking holiday on the Sussex Downs I pitched up in
ten-year-old Russell & Bromleys. Soles,
Irish chic: the Duchess of Cornwall with Dubarrys
heels and laces replaced each time they
wore thin. Never a crack in the leather.
And, damn them, they leaked. Half an hour
into the first morning, halfway up a hill.
The first heart-sinking squelch. Then three
hours’ walking until lunch, socks soggier
every step. Squelch — squelch — squelch
— squelch — sloggin’ over Eastbourne
cliffs. That decided me. No more high-street
lace-ups. I went to Clarks for the first time
since nursery shoe-fittings, and bought a
pair of Gore-Tex walkers. Stand ankledeep in a fjord and not a drop gets through.
They’re not chic, though. For that, there’s
Dubarry. Founded in 1937, it celebrates its
80th birthday this year. There’s something
reassuring about Irish boots: proof against
peat bogs. Not technically British, I know,
but I’ve tested my pair against our native
marshes and they are ark-tight. (You do,
however, go skating on ice.)
The Duchess of Cambridge wears Le
Chameau wellingtons from Normandy,
which is not very patriotic. Hunter wellies
hold the royal warrant, though the sheen
has been rubbed off by 1 Glastonbury pouters and by cabinet ministers responding
with money-no-object urgency to winter
There is no greater misery or privation than cold, wet feet. Reading Thomas
Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles again last
winter I thought: I can bear it. The assault,
the baby, the little grave, abandoned on
her honeymoon, the turnip farm. But when
Mercy Chant takes Tess’s boots hidden
in the hedge to give to the poor… that was
too much for me. Oh, Tessy!
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
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the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
‘Drink the Cookie Crumble Latte,
and experience a faint sensation of
having sex with Paul Hollywood’
— Tanya Gold, p70
High life
A dinner in honour of Arki Busson hosted
by Michael Mailer in his brilliant Brooklyn flat on the banks of the East River and
overlooking the Statue of Liberty a quarter of a mile away. His father, Norman, had
some pretty brainy people living it up in
these premises, and Michael has continued
the custom of feeding pretty women, bitchy
columnists, talented cinematographers and
brainy tycoons like Arki, who is one of the
few I know who combine looks and the
ability to seduce beautiful women with making lotsa moolah for clients.
Needless to say, everyone got very drunk
— three beautiful ladies and five horny men,
including the actor Griffin Dunne, who is
not only talented but also a born gentleman.
(His documentary on his aunt Joan Didion
is extraordinary.) The subject at dinner was,
needless to say, sexual harassment, and everyone at the table had the opportunity to
have their say. Although many of those present were in the movie business, everyone
was adamant that Hollywood is the pits. And
always has been.
My view of Hollywood was the same
but my theory went a bit deeper. When
they were at school, the perpetrators were
mostly indifferent to glory. While the rest
of us tried to be Saturday’s heroes, breaking our bones and cracking our noodles on
the sporting field, certain boys were hitting
the books. Hence they did not get to kiss
the campus queen after Saturday’s heroics. Once they got into the movies, however,
they tried to make up for lost time and get
the rewards we received when we were at
school. A sudden entitlement ensued, and
you’ve read the rest. It went down like the
proverbial lead balloon.
One subject that the media have ignored
is the organised ring for young boy actors
that is believed to exist in La La Land. It
is un-PC to mention it, hence the silence.
Another silence was that of the New York
Times ex-Washington bureau chief Michael
Oreskes, who was reported to the New York
Times, which failed to do much about it. He’s
had to say bye-bye to his national radio job.
Sexual harassment is a wicked mixture of
sex and power, and harassers possess what
shrinks call hostile masculinity. As is often
the case, the shrinks are wrong. Sexual harassers are ugly men who never got the girl
and were not born gentlemen. Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster and William Holden were not exactly
born with a silver spoon in their mouth, but
they were gents to their toes. Harvey and
Dustin and Brett are not. It’s as simple as
that. But there is a witch hunt going on,
and it will continue until the ultra-feminists
leading it overstep the line, and then we’ll go
back to the good old days when a man was
innocent until proven guilty.
Otherwise, Uncle Sam and Blighty
both seem to be in the trigger sights of the
Times, NBC, the Atlantic, CBS, ABC and the
Washington Post. The liberal media are still
stunned and outraged at last year’s presidential result, and are out to annul anything
that stems from it. Britain and Brexit are
seen as being just as outrageous. So a sort of
dreamland has been invented by fake-news
perpetrators, a vast defiant territory that is
in reality composed of the bicoastal states of
New York and California. This is a place perfectly governed by Democrats, where no one
goes hungry and everyone is happy; where it
never rains and even the cockroaches vote
left. Talk about La La Land — both New
York and California are teeming with drugs,
murder, sexual deviancy and child porn. You
name it, the anti-Trump camp owns it.
The Donald might be very hard to
defend at times, but the anti-Donald camp
is impossible to excuse. It believes in democracy as much as Robert Mugabe does, and its
smug bicoastal liberals are furious that those
they see as deplorables have had their way
via the ballot box. This is where merry old
England comes in. If British attributes are
lightly born knowledge, social ease, self-deprecation and understated emotion, American strengths are energy, a never-say-die
belief in equality, and lots of self-confidence.
The smug hypocrites who rule the media in
America see Brexiteers as Trumpists. Brexit
means Britons chose not to be ruled by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Trumpism
means a repudiation of the Bush and neocon
doctrine of democratic crusades around the
world, and the colossal disasters they cause.
Hence papers such as the New York Times
let loose paid agents to spread the word that
Britain is in a terrible mess and only a rever-
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
sal of Brexit can save her. Good salaries and
great expense accounts have been known to
make some hacks toe the line. Reportage
and editorials are one and the same where
the Fake Times is concerned. The readiness
of the Times to lie and peddle untruths gives
me great pleasure at times, pun intended,
especially when hacks use the exact same
words to blame the right.
Britain is not a ‘hollowed-out country’,
which is the description quoted by Steven Erlanger, the paper’s chief diplomatic correspondent, Europe. Nor is it ill at
ease with itself or deeply provincial. And
America is not a nation run by Nazis, religious fanatics and Ku Klux Klaners. If anything, Trump and Brexit have exposed to the
world how the big lie — that of the media
in America and the left in Britain — works.
Low life
Jeremy Clarke
We had a hyperbole competition, the taxi
driver and I, over the climbing full moon,
clearer and brighter than either of us had
seen it for as long as we could remember.
Did I know, he said, that the gravitational
power of the moon on the Earth was just
enough to stabilise the Earth’s wobble?
It might have been put there, and its mass
finely calibrated, just for the task. No, I
said, I didn’t know that, but it just goes to
show. ‘Show what?’ he said. ‘I don’t know,’
I said. But after thinking about it I said that
maybe it goes to show that the physicists and
astronomers are banging their heads against
a brick wall. ‘How’s that?’ he said. He was
a young man and terrier-like in his passion
for logical debate. Well, I said, it seems like
every five minutes the TV news excitedly
reports that scientists are certain that they
are going to discover life on another planet
any day now, but they never do, do they?
The moon soared into view again. You
could see the mountains and seas and whatnot with the naked eye. I peered up at it
through the windscreen hoping it would
up the good work.
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How long was I back for, asked the taxi
man. I don’t know, I said. Maybe a few
weeks. ‘Any plans while you’re here?’ he
said. ‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I’ll probably go to
the pub. I’ve missed the pub.’ ‘Any particular
one?’ he said. ‘The King Bill,’ I said. ‘I love
a Saturday night up the King Bill getting
slaughtered. I need it.’ ‘The King Bill’s shut,’
he said. ‘Closed down. Didn’t you know?’
I was shocked. At a verbal stroke this taxi
man had removed my metaphorical moon,
and the world was wobbling out of control.
‘It can’t be,’ I said. ‘Yep,’ he said. One often
hears the sad statistic that a pub a day is closing in Britain. It feels as though one a day
is closing in this part of Devon alone. Some
aren’t regretted. But the King Bill and its
clientele of losers, paupers, weirdos, seers,
bores, babblers and underage drinkers was
always a nailed-on brilliant Saturday night.
The landlord, a single, mild-mannered Mr
Nice Guy, would turn a blind eye to most
things. He turned a blind eye so readily he
ought to have been registered as disabled.
You could get away with anything except
taking your drink outside when you went
for a fag. That he was hot on, because his
neighbours complained about the noise the
smokers made. Apart from that, the pub was
Liberty Hall.
There was that time, for example, when
a respected political commentator friend
came down to Devon to speak and we
arranged to meet afterwards at the King
Bill. He arrived at 8.30 and by 8.40 he had
pulled a woman young enough to be his
granddaughter. Or rather she pulled him.
I witnessed it. He couldn’t believe his luck
and neither could I. The pub was packed and
the live band was rocking, so I left him to it.
I was having a fag outside on the pavement when he came out to look for me. ‘Can
you get us some weed or something?’ he
said. I turned to the nearest bloke, a bassist
in a hot local band, and asked him if he knew
of anyone with weed. To answer my question
he started skinning one up right there on the
cracked window sill. My London friend was
mightily impressed. ‘Ask him if he’s got anything else,’ he whispered. I said to the bassist,
‘Have you got anything else?’ ‘No,’ he said.
Pointing to another bloke smoking on the
pavement, he said, ‘But he might have.’ So
our metropolitan visitor’s laudable whim to
make a contribution to the general gaiety
was catered for by the bloke standing next
to us, and then by another bloke standing
two yards off — and all good-quality stuff at
knock-down prices.
It was like that, the King Bill on a Saturday night. Your single-minded ambition
to take leave of your senses as quickly as
possible was its own ticket of admission to
a charmed and affable circle. Moreover,
there was a decent pool table and the jukebox had a lot of old soul classics on it and
the bar staff took little persuading to turn up
the volume. And you could do that sad thing
and get out of your mind and dance alone
with your eyes closed and the other customers would completely understand and give
you a friendly pat on the way past.
The moon disappeared behind a hill
then reappeared and the taxi driver and
I contemplated it in silence. There it was,
weird, impossibly bright, and steadying the
Earth with its gentle power. But the best pub
in the area was gone.
Real life
Melissa Kite
When it comes to horses, troubles come in
multitudes. Multitudes of lame legs.
Gracie, the hunter pony, kicked things off
by deciding she didn’t want to be caught. A
pony who is running at full pelt round a seven-acre field at the sight of you with a headcollar hidden in a feed bucket is a tricky thing.
You can walk away and be philosophical about it or you can do the full Monty
Roberts. This involves standing your ground,
refusing to go away, following the pony
relentlessly around the field, breaking its
will to defy you.
Gracie has an iron will. When she decides
that I’m an inconvenience to be avoided at
all costs there is nothing I can do to take
charge of the situation.
‘Me boss pony, you sucker who pays bills’
— that’s her philosophy, and she’s sticking
to it.
She has been living out since the summer
in a beautiful field with Tara the old chestnut
hunter, who gave me many years of patchy
service. Limited periods of somewhat happy
hacking were punctuated by long bouts
of attempted murder before, finally, she
bucked me off on a main road in front of a
car, very much because she was having one
of her legendary off-days.
That was the last time I rode her. I led her
back to the yard, had the farrier take off her
shoes, and turned her away in a field to do as
she pleased. That was nearly ten years ago.
She is now 32, or ninetysomething in
human years. This summer I decided to cut
my livery bills by taking Gracie to live with
her, knowing how little the cheeky skewbald
pony likes being stabled anyway.
She has been blissfully happy gallivanting
round the field with Tara, who is too old to
do any more than flatten her ears and snarl
at her, very much like Smaug, the dragon in
The Hobbit who lived to 180 years. (I think
Tara might beat him.)
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
But Gracie likes the field so much she
cannot be caught, except by two people
moving in a pincer movement to corner her.
So there I was alone in the field the other
morning, trying to catch her with no help,
with a wind blowing.
She galloped around me in huge circles
laughing — laughing, I tell you — then began
charging me like a bull, ears back, teeth out.
At the very last moment, before mowing me
down at full pelt, she would turn on a sixpence and veer off in another direction.
With hindsight, I should have left her
alone. But I decided to do a bloody stupid
natural horsemanship manoeuvre. Like
Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer, I
stayed in the field refusing to concede, which
made her crosser and crosser.
She charged me so close that I thought
she was actually going to trample me. So I
started to chase after her. I ran around panting and pleading. This she found hilarious.
She ran in ever bigger circles as I huffed and
puffed behind. She galloped; I galumphed
about in my wellies, at one point weeping.
Now and then, she would stop at the
water tank to take on refreshment. Slurping a cool draught, she would pause, lick her
lips, yawn, then, when I got to within a hair’s
breadth, tear off across the field, leaving me
chasing and gasping for breath. ‘This is the
wrong way around, do you hear me! I’m
meant to tire you out!’ I shouted.
After an hour, I thought, ‘Sod Monty
Roberts.’ And I went and fetched a lunge
line, waited until she went for a drink, then
Limited periods of happy hacking
were punctuated by long bouts of
attempted murder
tied it across the narrower part of the field
where the trough is, so she was trapped in a
smaller space.
‘No point running now, Gracie!’ I called.
But I was wrong. She tossed her head in the
air and charged. She reached the rope at full
speed, stopped with an inch to spare, reared
up, flipped leftwards and turned sharply on
her left hind leg.
Within half an hour the left rear fetlock was swollen and she was lame. I had to
shut her in the field shelter with a haynet to
And if all things were equal, this would
be a rare example of when multiple horse
ownership makes some sense. For I then
went off to ride Darcy the thoroughbred,
who is stabled in a posh livery yard down
the road. She has been sound and going well
for ages. But, of course, within minutes of
me getting on, it was plainly obvious she was
lame. In her left hind leg.
‘Have you two been talking to each
other? Is this some plot you’ve cooked up?’
As I grovelled around her foot, frantically feeling for heat, Darcy snorted philosophically.
The turf
Robin Oakley
Imagine Ryan Moore getting caught on
the line by a rival’s late spurt at the end of
a Newmarket race and being so upset that
he goes to bed without supper, crying like a
baby. Then imagine him offering to recompense the owner personally for his lost bets.
That is how the popular George Fordham,
champion jockey 14 times between 1855 and
1871, behaved after losing that way in 1962.
Famed for his scrupulous honesty in the
days when racing was riddled with corruption, Fordham has attracted less attention
than his younger rival Fred Archer, known
as ‘the Tin Man’ for his relentless pursuit of
money. But when the two of them met in the
two-horse matches that were common at the
time, it was Fordham ‘the Demon’ who regularly came out on top. Archer may have
won five Derbies to Fordham’s single victory in 22 attempts, but the latter’s record of
seven 1,000 Guineas victories among his 16
Classics still stands.
Rivals say that the hardest thing when
riding against Ryan Moore is trying to gauge
from his demeanour any clue as to how well
or badly his mount is going. Fordham was
also known as ‘the Kidder’, often fooling his
opponents into employing the wrong tactics.
He preferred a gossamer touch on the reins
to his rivals’ frantic whip-wielding and spur
gouging and even today’s jockeys would
benefit from studying his sympathetic views
on how to ride two-year-olds. In The Demon
(AuthorHouse), Michael Tanner reminds
us how in the Victorian era, with horses an
everyday sight, racing was the most widely
supported sport both among the public and
the massive-stakes gamblers of high society.
The top jockeys were richly rewarded — a
‘present’ of £500 for a big race victory was
common — but lives were shorter. Fordham
was not the only jockey of his time to die of
pulmonary tuberculosis. Riders ‘wasting’ to
keep down their weight lowered their resistance to consumption, the silent killer of Victorian Britain.
As ever with Tanner’s well-crafted histories, The Demon is full of characters such as
‘Carrie Red’, the Duchess of Montrose, who
founded a church in her husband’s memory
and then berated the vicar for praying for
fine weather when she needed soft going for
her horse in the St Leger.
One of those characters, the former
prizefighter John Gully, appears again in
The Stakes were High by Keith Baker (Pitch
Publishing). Gully was one of the founding fathers of bookmaking, profiting handsomely from providing betting markets for
the common man. Until then, gambling
had been mostly personal wagers among
a ring of 100 or so dissolute aristocrats.
Gully started by placing commissions for
the society connections he had made as a
fighter, but soon the butcher’s son whose
fighting career began in the Fleet debtors’
prison built a shady intelligence network of
informants. Gully did well enough from his
bookmaking to buy a colliery, quality racehorses and a grand estate, and ascended
into the upper classes as an MP. His bitter
rival was William Crockford, founder of the
gambling club, and after a series of mutual
bad turns the infamous 1844 Derby became
a grudge match between them. Neither won:
both their horses were nobbled, quite possibly by each other, and the ‘winner’ Running Rein, who mysteriously disappeared
Janet de Botton
Both horses were nobbled, quite
possibly by each other, and the winner
mysteriously disappeared
Dealer South
after the race, was disqualified. He had
been a four-year-old ‘ringer’ in the contest
for three-year-olds.
You cannot fault the immense industry of
Peter Corbett’s Bahram & the Aga Khan III
(Rinaldo Publishing) but reading it reminded me of my old headmaster’s report. ‘Oakley’, it said, ‘must learn to give the examiner
the cream from the top: not the whole bottle.’ Triple Crown winner Bahram was the
Aga’s only great horse but we are on page
342 before we get to him. Pages 485 to 623
are indices, statistics and appendix. It is simply all too much, as is the profusion of exclamation marks and the careless misspelling of
Gandhi on at least a dozen occasions (given
the importance of India to the Aga Khan).
What rescues the enterprise is the anecdotage. Challenged about drinking alcohol, the
old man declared, ‘I am so holy that I turn
wine into water.’ The Aga Khan couldn’t
tell his two clearly distinguishable Derby
runners, the winner Blenheim and Rustom
Pasha, apart, and his political forecasting
was no better. Despite professing loyalty to
Britain, he sold his best horses to America
because he expected Hitler to win the war.
Petite Etoile, the last good prospect
the Aga Khan bred, figures along with 49
other great fillies and mares in Queens of
The Turf (Racing Post), a pen-portrait compilation edited by Andrew Pennington. All
the favourites are there: Sceptre and Pretty
Polly, Dawn Run and Quevega. Lester Piggott’s foreword says that Petite Etoile was
the best filly he rode and he recalls Park
Top’s farewell when she was beaten at short
odds in Paris. The crowd booed, and then
went berserk when her owner, the Duke of
Devonshire gave them the old two-fingered
salute. Clearly an early Brexiteer.
The third and final weekend of England’s Premier League took place in Solihull and was a
very jolly affair. All three divisions played at
the same venue, which meant lots of bridge
chat between sessions and lots of speculation
about who was likely to get promoted or relegated. In division one, the eight teams were
competing for the top two positions, earning
those teams an invitation to play for England
in the Camrose (home countries) Trophy. My
team was in contention right up to the final
board, but sadly we clung grimly to third place
so no England cap for moi. That privilege goes
to the Allfrey and Hinden teams.
There was much buzz surrounding
today’s hand. My teammate Espen Erichsen
played it and triumphed:
N/S vulnerable
z 10 6
X K10 9
XQ 7
w 10 9
8 6
3 2
9 8 52
4 2
z KQ 4
y Q J 10 9
XA 3
z 73
y AK
X J5
w K8
8 6
7 6 4
All Pass
The lead was the w10. Espen had to lose
two hearts and must avoid two spade losers.
He started well by rising with the wAce and
playing the Queen, covered by the King and
ruffed low in hand. Next came a top Heart,
won by East. Now, if East switches to a Spade,
it’s the end of the defence: whether West takes
the Ace or ducks, declarer can go to dummy
and pitch a Spade on the good wJack. Instead
East tried a third round of Clubs, tempting declarer to ruff high. If South falls for
this, a third trump trick is promoted in the
East hand. However, Espen could work out
that if West has another trump, the normal
Spade switch would also defeat the contract.
He therefore backed himself to have made a
winning play — and trusted the opponents —
when he coolly discarded a small Spade on
this trick. Excellent play by South and strong
defence by East.
Have you spotted the only lead to defeat
the contract? A low spade!
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
t’s the turn of FromVineyardsDirect
this week and, just to keep things simple, FVD’s Esme Johnstone and I decided simply to offer readers FVD’s six bestselling wines. FVD’s customers love them, I
love them and I trust you’ll love them, too.
I even persuaded the normally unpersuadable Esme to knock off 50p here and £1 there
just for goodwill’s sake.
Anyone looking for a top-quality,
champagne-method fizz of real style at a
ridiculously cheap price should look no
further than the 2013 Cave de Lugny Crémant de Bourgogne Millésime (1). I cannot
praise it enough. Produced by the excellent
Cave de Lugny co-operative in the heart of
the Mâconnais, it’s a creamy, toasty Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend that’s part oakaged, then matured for 18 months before
release. We served it alongside seriously
fine (and seriously pricey) champagnes and
other fizzes at the launch of my book Drink
More Fizz! last week and for many it was
the standout wine. £14.95 down from £15.95.
The 2016 Château Bauduc (2) is also a
corker. Made from 100 per cent Sauvignon
Blanc by Gavin and Angela Quinney at their
200-acre estate in the Entre-Deux-Mers, it’s
FVD’s best-selling white wine by a country
mile, and has been the house wine for both
Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein for more
than 15 years. It’s crisp, clean and refreshing,
but deliciously rounded and creamy, too. I
love it. £10.45 down from £10.95.
The 2015 Clotilde Davenne Bourgogne
Blanc (2) is a Chablis in all but name, grown
on the same chalky soil. Produced by the
celebrated Clotilde Davenne (‘Burgundy’s
daughter’) in the village of Préhy, it’s made
from 100 per cent Chardonnay that sees not
so much as a whisper of oak. The wine is gloriously unbuggered-about and is tinglingly
fresh, crisp and pure. It’s got character too
and the vibrant fruit is really allowed to
shine. £12.45 down from £13.45.
The 2010 Château de l’Abbaye de SaintFerme (4) was a thumping success with
readers when we offered it in the summer. Please let me bang on about it again,
though, because it’s an absolute steal and,
with Christmas just round the corner, you
should be stockpiling it while you can. A
blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon,
it’s wondrously soft and mellow, but with
plenty of luscious ripe bramble and cherry
fruit, a hint of spice and a long classy finish.
Bung it in a decanter and your guests will
imagine it’s twice if not thrice the price. As
Esme points out, the lesser wines of great
vintages are always excellent value. £10.45
down from £10.95.
The 2009 Château Les Moines (5) is
also from a 10/10 vintage. It’s gone up
a bit in price since we offered it a cou-
FromVineyardDirect’s customers
love these six wines, I love them – and
I trust you’ll love them, too
ple of years ago but it remains a copperbottomed bargain. A Cru Bourgeois from
the Médoc, it’s blended from 70 per cent
Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 per cent Merlot and if the price has gone up, so the tannin levels have fallen, leaving us an elegant
and beautifully mature claret. There’s
plenty of rich, ripe fruit of course, but there
are also appetising savoury notes and a
hint of herbal spices. These all combine to
make a cracking bottle of wine. £15.95 down
from £16.95.
Finally, the 2015 Bindi Sergardi
‘La Ghirlanda’ Chianti Classico (6) from
a family who’ve been making wine near
Siena in Tuscany since 1349. When I tasted it
my first thought was why the heck don’t I
drink more Chianti? Made almost entirely
from Sangiovese, it’s right up my street, full
of ripe and sour cherry flavours, blackberries, liquorice and something akin to tobacco.
It’s got great refreshing acidity, too, and
soft tannins and is bang on the money. £13.95
down from £14.95.
The mixed case has two bottles of each
wine and delivery, as ever, is free.
Jonathan Ray’s Drink More Fizz! is
available from FromVineyardsDirect for
£14.99 (including P&P).
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White 1 2013 Crémant de Bourgogne Millésime, 11.5%
Mixed 7
2016 Château Bauduc Sauvignon Blanc, 12%
2015 Clotilde Davenne Bourgogne Blanc, 13%
2010 Ch. de l’Abbaye de Saint-Ferme, 14%
2009 Château Les Moines, 14%
2015 Bindi Sergardi ‘La Ghirlanda’, 14%
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the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
Master class
Raymond Keene
While researching some early games in the
Bf4 version of the Queen’s Pawn openings
favoured by world champion Magnus
Carlsen, I came across an epic publication
which called to mind that fine, seminal and
instructive writer, Polish grandmaster Savielly
His 500 Master Games of Chess, co-written
with J. Dumont, contains readable
annotations to virtually ever game of
importance played from the days of Philidor
in the 18th century, up to the period
immediately pre-dating the second world war.
Apart from an excellent eye for selection of
the best games, thus providing an effective
tour d’horizon of the development of chess
strategy and tactics over one and a half
centuries, the erudition and pithiness of the
comments make every game a pleasure to
As Christmas approaches, this two volume
set, conflated into one mega volume by
publishers Dover, is well worth consideration
for any chess enthusiast. The sole caveat is
that there is not yet an algebraic edition, so
potential readers must be familiar with the
older English descriptive notation.
For the following extract, I have converted
the moves and notes into the prevailing
modern method of conveying the moves.
A worthy undertaking for any prospective
chess editor would, in fact, be transliteration
of this epic to the now universally accepted
algebraic notation.
Rubinstein-Spielmann; San Sebastian 1912;
Dutch Defence
(Diagram 1) 25 ... Bxe4!! A magnificent
move. 26 Rxe4 Not 26 bxc5 Rf1+ mating.
Tartakower gives 26 Bxe4 Rf1+ 27 Rxf1 Rxf1+ 28
Kg2 Rg1+ 29 Kf3 Qh5+ and now says ‘etc...’,
implying that Black has a winning attack. In fact
White has a remarkable defence with 30 Kf4!
(not 30 Ke3 when 30 ... Qxh2 is crushing) 30 ...
e5+ (other moves are possible but nothing gives
Black a concrete advantage) and now 31 Ke3.
White to play. This position is from Rasmussen-Nyback, Crete 2017. How can White win
at once? Answers to me at The Spectator by
Tuesday 14 November or via email to There is a p rize of
£20 for the first correct answer out of a hat.
Please include a postal address and allow six
weeks for prize delivery.
Last week’s solution 1 Rg7+
(1 ... Kh6 2 Nf5 is mate)
Last week’s winner
Richard Craven, Montpelier, Bristol
Mixing it
Lucy Vickery
In Competition No. 3023 you were invited
to submit cringeworthy portmanteau words.
The word portmanteau was first used
in this sense by Lewis Carroll in Through
the Looking Glass when Humpty Dumpty
is explaining ‘Jabberwocky’ to Alice: ‘Well,
“slithy” means “lithe and slimy”… You see
it’s like a portmanteau — there are two
meanings packed up into one word.’
There’s nothing wrong with new words,
of course. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in a
letter of 1820 to John Adams: ‘I am a friend
to neology. It is the only way to give to a
language copiousness and euphony.’ The
best, most enduring portmanteaus are witty,
pithy and fill a gap (‘brunch’, ‘metrosexual’,
‘workaholic’). But the worst are forced, silly
and impenetrable — masstige? Shanter?
Nope, me neither — and, thanks to social
media, they seem to be coming at us at an
ever-increasing rate (‘We have, I think it’s
fair to say,’ wrote Andy Bodle somewhat
optimistically in the Guardian in February
of last year, ‘reached peakmanteau.’)
There was an element of masochism on
my part in this challenge — and, given the
lowish turnout and murmurings of discontent (G.M. Davis appended a single, heartfelt
‘meh’ to his entry), it seems that perhaps you
shared my misgivings. Hats off, then, to the
troupers below whose sterling efforts earn
them £6 for each coinage printed.
Diagram 1
Diagram 2
Now if 31 ... Qxh2, White can get organised
with 32 Bd5+ Kh8 33 Ke4! protecting the
g-pawn. Black would then retain a strong
attack but the position is not clear. 26 ...
Rf1+ Now Black’s attack wins outright. 27
Bxf1 Rxf1+ 28 Kg2 Qf2+ 29 Kh3
Rh1! If White had a bishop on e4 rather than
a rook, this move would be prevented. 30 Rf3
Qxh2+ 31 Kg4 Qh5+ 32 Kf4 Qh6+
33 Kg4 (diagram 2) 33 ... g5!
Threatening mate with 34 ... Qh5 and forcing
White to give back the rook. 34 Rxe6
Qxe6+ 35 Rf5 h6 36 Qd3 Kg7 37
Kf3 Rf1+ Neatly transposing into a winning
king and pawn endgame. 38 Qxf1 Qxf5+
39 Kg2 Qxf1+ 40 Kxf1 axb4 41
axb4 Kf6 42 Kf2 h5 White resigns
Blottolenghi: state of looking for rare
ingredients while drunk.
Demitasshole: pretentious espresso drinker.
Arthuritis: addiction to the poetry of
Brexitement: pathological tremors created
by fear and uncertainty.
Narcoticissism: deluded self-admiration
under the influence of drugs.
Womblebrag: faux-modest smugness of
environmentalists in SW19.
Basil Ransome-Davies
Splatnav: an accident caused by mindlessly
following the instruction of a GPS device.
Bogost: compost formed from uneaten
remains of buy-one-get-one-free offers that
have spent too long in the salad drawer.
A.H. Harker
Lavatar: a stylised male or female figure on
the outer door of a rest-room.
Frank Upton
Testiculation: a remark punctuated by
grabbing one’s crotch.
FedExcrement: the incremental stages by
which a package delivery goes completely
Frank Osen
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
Reduvenation: replacing eiderdown of one
season with one of another; adjusting tog
Homentum: radical interior design and living
focus group, intent on hymning the
Bill Greenwell
Corbyfuge: softly spoken reasonable man
Sanctimoney: human rights lawyers’ fees.
J.R. Johnson
Gratisfaction: the feeling of wellbeing as you
contemplate the second, free, item of your
BOGOF purchase at the local supermarket.
Brian Murdoch
Trollification: the glee that results from
successfully shouting down an unpopular
Patellaphantiasis: a medical symptom
characterized by swollen knees.
Tardishwasher: a dishwasher that holds
much more than it looks like it will from the
Robert Schechter
Blurbivore: one who consumes only the
covers of books.
Adrian Fry
Refab: a refurbished wartime bungalow.
These system-built structures were
conceived as temporary dwellings but have
far outlasted their expected lifespan.
Currently rebranded, and appropriately
priced, as ‘des res bijouettes’.
Mike Morrison
Wellnesstician: someone who does for
health something similar to what a
beautician does for beauty (e. g., a
Carolyn Beckingham
Shamburger: a burger made with some
godforsaken meat substitute.
Tracy Davidson
You are invited to submit a topical double
dactyl. A double dactyl is a poem of two
quatrains, of which the last line of the first
rhymes with the last line of the second. All
the lines except the rhyming ones, which are
truncated, are composed of two dactylic feet.
The first line of the first stanza is a double
dactylic nonsense line (e.g., higgledy-piggledy/jiggery-pokery). The second must be
a double dactylic name. At least one line of
the second stanza (ideally the antepenultimate one) must be one double dactylic line
that is one word long, e.g., ‘va-le-dic-tor-i-an’.
Please email entries to
by midday on 22 November.
2235: Chippy
by Doc
2 Transfer missing date to
one article from 1714
onwards (10)
3 Retrogressive delay
introducing new vitamin A
supplement (7)
4 Gear used initially on
landing at dawn (5)
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
The unclued lights (one of two
words — ignore its accent) are
of a kind.
I’m the proctor, circulating
and turning away from the
heat (12)
Stone, almost black, with
one diamond inside (4)
Moonlight escape around
river turning into a brief
liaison (10)
Leader of Indians
accepting thanks for
miriti palm (3)
Architectural style
representative of its time
chapter omitted (5)
Macbeth’s query about his
status, it would seem, is a
gas (7)
Classify love-boat reflected
in painting (6)
Office work nowadays
managed at first at
home (5)
Party with star prize (9) …
... New star, a
Jamaican? (5)
Alice Cooper, initially,
upset about US
corporation (6)
It’s most advisable having
a long time in the Street (6)
Little Sparrow consuming
large rice dish (5)
Bone, green then black in
time (8)
Openings of saunas
provided at resort (3)
Film director is seen about
ten drinking a little Irnbru (10)
Favourite seated
outside (4)
5 Where working hours are
recorded by newspaper
changing the Earth (9, two
6 Residents of holt or sett
disturbed (6)
7 Up to scratch? (5)
8 Old capital fellow with two
names (4)
11 Director General accepts
popular crazy game (8)
16 Grass obtained from
cobalt’s not odd (3)
19 Vessels round 29,
floating (6)
21 Hearts paid out for lists
of successful releases
(10, two words)
23 Bird below heavenly body
that’s often in leaf (9, two
25 Bones from long skirt
with middle of hem all
turned up (8)
28 Figure out pills during
middle of the week (7)
30 Least honest HQ gets
stumped (6)
32 Lincoln or some
Studebaker turning up (3)
33 Prison officer’s wages (5)
35 Knight admitting gratitude
for Scottish turnpike (5)
37 Upset not recorded. That’s
bad (4)
A first prize of £30 for the
first correct solution
opened on 27 November.
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 2335, The
Spectator, 22 Old Queen
Street, London SW1H 9HP.
Please allow six weeks for
prize delivery.
The unclued lights are preceded by HAPPY to yield phrases
listed in Brewer.
First prize Tony Hankey, London W4
Runners-up C. Elengorn, Enfield, Middlesex;
John Harcourt, Maidstone, Kent;
Status Anxiety
People in glass houses...
Toby Young
tories about members of the
establishment using offshore
tax shelters — ooh er missus!
— come along about once a year,
thanks to the efforts of the liberal
media. Cue a chorus of disapproval
from Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable,
Margaret Hodge and other left-wing
panjandrums who demand that the
government ‘seize’ Britain’s overseas
territories and ‘clamp down’ on tax
loopholes. Then, as night follows day,
it emerges on the Guido Fawkes website that a large number of these sanctimonious prigs are themselves direct
beneficiaries of offshore tax arrangements — and the kerfuffle over the
Paradise Papers is no different, as I
will shortly make clear. It’s like an
annual festival of hypocrisy.
The Guardian has been leading
the charge this week, as it always does,
conveniently ignoring the fact that the
Scott Trust, which owns the paper, was
originally set up by the Scott family
to avoid paying death duties, as well
as the fact that the Guardian Media
Group took advantage of a murky
web of tax shelters in the Caymans to
avoid paying a penny on the £300 million it earned from the sale of Auto
Trader in 2008. It is nothing short
of miraculous that the Guardian’s
reporters, when sifting through the
latest cache of leaked documents, did
not stumble across their own paper’s
name alongside Lewis Hamilton’s
When it
comes to not
what you
preach, the
takes the
and the cast of Mrs Brown’s Boys.
Luckily, they did not, which allowed
the paper’s head of investigations to
thunder away about ‘offensive’ and
‘unfair’ tax avoidance in a tub-thumping editorial last Monday.
When it comes to not practising
what you preach, the Guardian takes
the biscuit but the Mirror comes
a close second. It went to town earlier this week on those it labelled
‘tax dodge parasites’ and ‘exposed’
the ‘tax secrets of the wealthy’ including various members of Trump’s cabinet. Weirdly, this doughty custodian
of public morals overlooked the fact
that Appleby, the offshore tax specialists at the centre of the Paradise
Papers leak, looks after the ‘employee benefit trust’ of… yes, you guessed
it, Trinity Mirror.
Then there’s the Labour party
which, don’t forget, rents its London headquarters from an offshore
property trust. Earlier this week,
Jeremy Corbyn demanded that the
Queen apologise for using overseas
tax havens to avoid paying tax in the
UK. Let us gloss over the fact that the
Queen is not legally obliged to pay
any income tax and therefore cannot,
by definition, be guilty of avoidance.
Instead, just focus on the fact that
John McDonnell’s five-figure annual
pension is managed by a global equity company based offshore. As the
Shadow Chancellor said: ‘There has
been one rule for the rich and another for the rest of us.’ Quite so, John.
You just seem a bit confused about
which category you belong to.
As for Margaret Hodge, Labour’s
most ferocious critic of tax evasion,
she received £1.5 million when a family trust in Lichtenstein was wound up
in 2011. Three-quarters of the shares in
the trust had previously been held in
Panama, which Hodge has described
as ‘one of the most secretive jurisdictions’ with ‘the least protection anywhere in the world against money
laundering’. You could not make it up.
However, ‘star of the week’ must
go to Jolyon Maugham QC, the archRemainer who tried, unsuccessfully, to take the Government to court
in Ireland to derail the Brexit process. ‘Patriotic isn’t about a poppy,’
he tweeted last Monday. ‘Patriotic
is about paying your taxes so your
country can educate its children and
care for its elderly.’ Could this be
the same Jolyon Maugham who, in
his capacity as a tax barrister, represented seven wealthy individuals in
the latest round of their long-running
battle with HM Revenue and Customs last month?
When I tweaked Maugham’s nose
about this on Twitter, he fell back on
the ‘cab rank’ rule, i.e. he is professionally obliged as a barrister to represent the first client in line and cannot
be held responsible for their actions.
Yes, Jolyon, but presumably the reason you were behind the wheel of that
cab is because you’re a barrister who
specialises in income tax? I think of
this as the pious gunfighter’s defence:
‘Admittedly, I trained to defend people I morally disapprove of, but
because they are in a fight by the time
I come along my conscience is clean.’
When I hear people like Jolyon
roaring away from atop their high
horses, I think of that quote attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr: ‘Frantic
orthodoxy is never rooted in faith
but in doubt. It is when we are unsure
that we are doubly sure.’
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
world. His explosion of frustration
on the touchline last weekend when
a woeful pass from Sterling failed to
find Leroy Sane with the Arsenal goal
beckoning was a joy. He even lost his
water bottle. It was one of very few
mistakes City made in 90 minutes of
almost perfect, always absorbing and
often thrilling football.
By the way, if England are serious about winning the World Cup
any time soon they should make
Gareth Southgate ‘manager emeritus’ or something, and give the job to
Spurs’ Mauricio Pochettino, who has
done more to develop English football than pretty much anyone since
Sir Alf Ramsey. Watch Spurs’s first
goal against Real Madrid, a piece of
fluid brilliance featuring Kane, Winks,
Trippier and Dele Alli, all English
and all pin-sharp on the ball.
Spectator Sport
Football needs
more Pep talks
Roger Alton
o West Ham took the least
surprising option and sent for
David Moyes. Same old same
old. I have a feeling that if Theresa
May fell on her, or anyone else’s,
sword, we’d send for David Moyes
and that familiar figure would be
shuffling up Downing Street with his
wrinkly-eyed grin, proclaiming outside No. 10: ‘We’re in a relegation battle here.’ He wouldn’t be wrong either.
Looking at West Ham’s lacklustre
performances, with players sometimes
putting on a bit of a reluctant jog in
vague pursuit of opponents sprinting
past, it’s easy to imagine them in the
dressing room with a fag and some of
owner David Sullivan’s old top-shelf
magazines. Poor old Slaven Bilic: who
needs enemies when he has friends
like Ian Wright, who’s pleased he got
the sack because ‘he needs a rest’.
You might not watch a David
Moyes team if they played in your
back garden, but let us celebrate the
fact that Pep Guardiola has come
among us. Manchester City are playing a kind of football you would pay
handsomely to watch anywhere in the
You might not
watch a David
Moyes team
if they played
in your back
ell, the Ashes are going well so
far. Half-centuries for Stoneman, Vince, Ballance and Malan are
all very well but a history-making
double hat-trick this week for Mitchell Starc in a Shield match should
make Joe Root’s boys give their helmets a thorough check. This should
be a thrilling series, despite the (temporary, I hope) loss of Stokes, but it
could be one of those catastrophic
wipe-outs. I wouldn’t be surprised,
though I would be disappointed, if the
meat of England’s tour comes in the
five one-day 50-over games that fol-
low in January. This may be the best
format there has ever been, however
much we old dinosaurs love our Tests.
Younger audiences like their entertainment concise, neatly packaged
and swiftly delivered. The 50-over
format offers that by the barrel.
have never understood the joys of
Rugby League; lots of enormous
inked blokes smashing into each
other; the only game where the players sort out any crowd trouble. And
isn’t the current RL World Cup something of a farce, despite the BBC’s
best efforts to persuade us otherwise?
England have played Lebanon, yes
Lebanon, in a key match (come off it;
three Scots were too pissed to get on
the plane) and the whole thing started in October and ends in December:
Henry Blofeld could have written a
couple of cricket memoirs in that time.
an’t we give Lewis Hamilton a
break? He should tell the rest of
us moaning about his tax to shove it
where the sun don’t shine. Lewis lives
in Monaco, his employers are German
and his contract with them was drawn
up in Guernsey. He spends about as
much time in Britain as Donald Tusk.
He’s not necessarily the most cuddly
figure on Britain’s sporting roster, but
provided he moves back to Britain
when he’s old and gets a less garish
jet, we can all start to love him and
he can be knighted.
Q. We have a family friend we
don’t see nearly as much as we’d
like. This is because he’s so near
perfect — clever, funny, civilised,
and also single with an interesting
job — that he’s in great demand
as a guest. When we do bag him
before somebody else does we
adore his company and he clearly
enjoys ours.
My gripe is that I’ve realised
he’s been coming to stay with
us for 30 years, either in houses
we’ve rented abroad, in Scotland
or just as a weekend guest at
home, yet has never invited us
to lunch, the cinema or even for
a walk. This is nothing to do with
a return of hospitality; he’s not
in a position to ask us back and
he’s generous with presents.
It’s that he seems happy not
to see me for months at a time
unless I initiate something. I
just feel there is an inequality
of enthusiasm which needs to
be addressed. But I don’t want
to give the impression that I am
bitter or harbouring a grudge.
— Name and address withheld
A. Don’t take it personally. Such
bachelors are often emotionally
illiterate. Demand having made
them socially passive, it ceases to
occur to them that they should
initiate contact. It would be a
kindness were you to help this
near-perfect man become even
better-rounded. Collude with a
mutual friend who will be seeing
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
him soon. During a private moment
she can raise your name, adding:
‘So how did the confrontation go?’
When he replies, ‘What?’ she
can say, ‘Oh, she’s rather hurt
you never try to see her unless
she invites you to stay. Oh,don’t
worry, she must have thought
better of it. But is it true you never
initiate contact? Why is that?’
Q. I spent £250 on one godson’s
wedding presents and £300 on
another. Six months later I have
heard nothing. I mind about no
thank-you letters, but care more
about knowing whether they
received the gifts. Can you advise?
— T.M.P., Bruton, Somerset
A. Text or email them with this
enquiry: ‘Horrified to see, when
looking through my credit card
statements for the past six months,
no mention of the gift I bought
you through the normally reliable
(here name the relevant supplier).
I’m so sorry to have disappointed
you. Can you confirm you never
received (here name the relevant
present) and I will re-order it?’
When they reply that they did
receive the presents and are very
sorry they have been too busy to
thank you, you can email back,
‘Phew! And silly me. The payment
went through my debit account.’
Q. My hackles tend to rise when a
pompous maître d’ asks, ‘Do you
have a reservation?’ in a sneering
way. I want to put him in his
place. What do you recommend?
— G.C., London W1.
A. Why not break the ice by taking
a tip from Paddy Renouf and
saying: ‘I have many reservations
about this restaurant but I’d like
to try anyway.’
Half-baked Hollywood
Tanya Gold
nead is the first of Paul Hollywood’s new strain of bakeries
that sell coffee, and which will
encircle capitalism. This one is outside
Euston station and I think the name
— Knead, meaning squashed under
fists, specifically Paul Hollywood’s
fists — is designed solely to make you
think of his big hands. Lots of people
who watch The Great British Bake Off
like Paul Hollywood’s big hands, and
his PR team know it. He could knead
Europe away; he could make Britain
anything you want it to be. He and
Mary Berry (now transformed into
Prue Leith after the move from BBC1
to Channel 4) bridge the abyss in the
British character. They are dignity and
filth. There is much oblivious sex and
politics in Bake Off, which is why it is
a hit. It is easier to think about these
things subliminally. It is soothing.
Euston is the most sullen of London’s railway terminals and this, of
course, gives it a sullen charm. You
know you can’t go lower; you know
who you are. The days when Euston
was fronted by a propylaeum of the
It is, at least,
an excellent
sausage roll,
one to be
proud of,
heavy and
flaky like this
Doric order — ‘a grand but simple
portico’ or ‘grand and very absurd’,
depending on who you asked — are
over and now we can barely believe
it ever stood. Despite Nikolaus Pevsner’s protests, it was pulled down
in 1961. Knead is on a small square,
opposite Caffè Nero and Ed’s Diner,
and it is swamped by concrete, air
pollution and people travelling to
Birmingham. The view is of buses. It
is utterly defeated, a place for adultery and snacks.
Knead is a long, slender shack, the
shape of a train carriage. There are
pot plants, stools with black cushions,
posh light fittings (the ceiling looks
like the innards of a robot) and a shelf
containing Paul Hollywood’s canon,
which I do not think is for sale, and
which I will worry about later after I
have left Knead. Will they be taken?
Knead is written on the wall in huge
blue capital letters, like a command.
The PR material has a photograph of
Paul Hollywood tossing flour around,
like a dirty wizard. It is, in design, a
splice of a kiosk that sells crisps and
fags and a Shoreditch bakery that sells
strange and insufferable bread to idi-
ots. I think this is what Paul Hollywood’s soul must look like. It is very
strange, and the strangest thing about
it is that it appears to have no bin,
and there is wrapping everywhere.
I do not know if Hollywood is a
purist who was run over by an accountant; in any case, he sells Twirls and Red
Bull alongside his baked goods, the
most exciting of which is the sausage
roll, sold by the inch. This is not subtle: it offers female passers-by an infinite supply of inches of sausage, just
as passing sexual innuendo has been
designated unfashionable, and wrong.
There is also a photograph of
a Cookie Crumble Latte in a cup
called ‘Paul’, topped with a big dome
of cream dribbled with something
sticky, and brown. It’s the same thing
that Marco Pierre White used to do,
but his seduction was by stock cube:
drink the stock cube, or the Cookie Crumble Latte, and experience
a faint sensation of having sex with
Marco (Mark), or Paul, by osmosis;
take your receipt, get on a train, feel
soiled. It is quite a lot of sensation for
a fiver, I give him that, but the consolations of late capitalism are infinite.
It is, at least, an excellent sausage
roll, one to be proud of: heavy and
flaky, like this author, and filled with
hot, salty, gorgeous pig; add a double espresso, and you might throw
up. The chicken and ham pie is also
excellent but do not let Hollywood
prowl near a vegetable, which in this
case is potatoes, in this case mashed.
It is simply not his skill; and the same
is true of gravy.
Knead, Euston station, London
‘When I’m gone don’t let the bastards
write a musical about my life and work.’
‘When is physical contact
“unacceptable”?’ asked Charles
Moore in the Daily Telegraph.
He may well ask. Sir Michael
Fallon said after his resignation
that some things were acceptable
ten or 15 years ago that
weren’t today. But the panel
of Any Questions? last week
were invited to say whether
inappropriate behaviour wasn’t
always unacceptable.
It’s not just Westminster.
Marseille football fans’ subjection
of Patrice Evra to ‘hateful attacks’
was ‘unacceptable behaviour’,
the club said, but his response in
aiming a kick at a fan’s head was
In the lost spirit of ‘Brexit
means Brexit’, theatre
management back in London
declared: ‘Inappropriate
behaviour by anyone working
at the Old Vic is completely
unacceptable.’ They might as
easily have said ‘Unacceptable
behaviour is completely
Unacceptable is such a weasel
word that it seems to belong to
our times especially. I suppose
we’re still in the shadow of
Edward Heath’s remark about
Tiny Rowland’s activities at
Lonrho being ‘the unpleasant
and unacceptable face of
capitalism’. But unacceptable
is found in a Latin-English
dictionary from 1483, translating
non acceptabilis. That was two
years before Henry Tudor
found King Richard totally
There is an ancient prayer in
the Canon of the Mass which
asks God to make our offering
acceptabilem. If anyone can
make things acceptable, it is the
one who accepts them, even if, in
the past century, acceptable has
sometimes been downgraded
to mean ‘tolerable’, just as
Ofsted ratings of satisfactory
mean ‘unsatisfactory’. You still
might think things become
acceptable by being accepted.
Yet airport authorities, according
to the Times, last week criticised
‘unacceptable’ delays at passport
control desks which caused
foreigners who were trying to
enter Britain to be held up for
two-and-a-half hours. Unlike
God, they had no choice but to
accept it. Contrariwise, sinners
in the workplace might have
concluded that some behaviour
was unexceptionable because no
one took exception to it.
— Dot Wordsworth
the spectator | 11 november 2017 |
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