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The Spectator - October 14, 2017

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14 october 2017 [ £4.25 [ est. 1828
Truth in fiction
You don’t need friends
The real Viktor Orbán
Robert Harris
Julie Burchill
Tibor Fischer
Tech vs Trump
Niall Ferguson on the great power struggle of our time
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established 1828
The new tycoons
he giants of the internet have long
said that they are not publishers but
mere platforms — or couriers — of
the new information age. Companies such as
Google and Facebook insist that they’re the
digital equivalent of the vans, newsagents
and paperboys who distribute what other
people publish. So they ought not to be held
responsible for it. In the early years of the
internet, their argument made sense. Most
news and comment came from newspapers and magazines (like this one). But then
social media arrived and restraint vanished.
Military-grade email encryption has
emerged as standard, giving security to those
who don’t want their email hacked, but also
cover to criminal networks. The tech giants,
worried by the demons they were nurturing, started to behave as publishers. They
began moderating and sometimes banning
content. Facebook started to editorialise its
news feeds, tweaking ‘emotional content’
to see if it would make users happy or sad.
They stopped being mere platforms. Which
is partly why, this week, the chairman of
media regulator Ofcom has said that Facebook and Google ought to be seen as publishers — and, presumably, regulated as such.
It’s sometimes said that Rupert Murdoch
and his ilk are the last publishing tycoons.
But a new and very different breed has
emerged. Tech pioneers such as Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin never sought the
awesome power they now wield. They set
out with dreams about connecting billions
of people for the common good, to connect
and spread ideas, even democracy. But the
web was always going to be no more (or
less) moral (or vicious) than the people who
used it. Jihadis and drugs traffickers have
thrived from the new network. Anyone who
is seriously interested in the latest magazine
from Isis can find it, via Google, in a couple
of minutes. If you wish to find a pirate copy
of a song, however, it’s a lot harder: music
companies are far better at destroying content that threatens them than national security networks are at destroying content that
threatens us. The tools to constrain what is
available online certainly exist. Facebook’s
recent decision to hire 3,000 editors to screen
unsuitable posts is an acknowledgment that
it can and does curate published material
As Niall Ferguson explains on page 12,
the digital revolution might have helped billions of people but has ended up creating a
small number of behemoths. Facebook and
Google now have 60 per cent of the digi-
It’s sometimes said that Murdoch is
the last publishing tycoon. But a new
and very different breed has emerged
tal ad market between them. This brings
enough cash to buy any emerging rival and
keep their duopoly intact. The concentration of such power would not be tolerated in
any other field — but this one barely existed ten years ago, and it only exists because
these two companies did so much to create
it. Breaking them up seems a task beyond
government, so the next step will be regulation. And this is where the danger lies.
Already, the government is seeking to
direct the tech giants in the name of national
security, but it does this behind closed doors.
Today, if the Metropolitan Police call the
right person and ask for a website to be taken
down, their request is normally obeyed. This
is quite a power, and it is open to abuse. The
European Commission, for example, created
powers to compel Google to delete any trace
of articles in its search engines if someone
complains that the articles are embarrass-
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
ing. Newspapers would never agree to have
their archives edited, but on some matters
tech giants will bend more easily. Politicians
have recently started to take an interest in
‘fake news’, untrue stories that they themselves often fall for. If they can position
themselves as arbiters of what is right and
truthful online, this would give them powers the state could never dare to claim over
the printed press. And it might happen with
a nod, a wink and unspoken convention. The
ambiguity over who controls what invites a
degree of corruption.
So it is time for a parliamentary debate
on laying out and limiting the powers that
politicians ought to have over the new digital publishing houses. From that, a discussion
should begin on how to determine what
responsibilities they should have — and
what protection they should be given from
government power grabs, lest regulation of
Facebook ends up as full-blown regulation
of free speech. Requiring all digital publishers to moderate content, as newspapers do,
might end up guaranteeing the dominance
of Twitter, Facebook and Google, who have
the money to do the moderating. Upstart
rivals would not.
Google started life in a garage in 1998;
Facebook on a university campus in 2003;
YouTube above a pizzeria in 2005. The
speed of their growth is as extraordinary as
the power they now hold. All have earned
their success by providing hugely popular
services for free, selling their users’ attention
to advertisers for vast sums. But the power
they now wield means they have rights and
responsibilities that accompany that status.
It is now time for parliament to decide
what powers the government should have
over the new publishers, and redefine press
freedom for the digital age.
A cultured royal, p30
Basquiat, raw, p42
Memories of a storm, p22
Leading article
Portrait of the Week
Diary A car-free avenue of culture
Tristram Hunt
10 Politics The plotting against May
James Forsyth
11 The Spectator’s Notes
A Catalan coup, Clegg’s Brexit
solution and the beauty of embassies
Charles Moore
17 Rod Liddle Blame the grown-ups
for the safe-space tribe
18 Barometer The cost of cheating
21 Matthew Parris May must stay
23 Mary Wakefield Defining terror
24 Ancient and modern The best
way to target Corbyn? Idleness
25 Letters US gun laws, a defence of
capitalism and donating fur coats
26 Any other business Planemakers’
dirty tricks and Portakabin’s challenge
Martin Vander Weyer
12 Tech vs Trump
The great power struggle of our time
Niall Ferguson
28 Peter Parker
Mr Lear, by Jenny Uglow
14 The wisdom of weirdos
Group therapy made me see myself
Alexander Crispin
30 Alex Clark
Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
Michael Loveday
18 Language barrier
Beware the elite’s new PC code
Claire Fox
‘Isle of the Living’: a poem
Steven Poole
Ma’am Darling, by Craig Brown
20 Truth in fiction
Robert Harris on his novel Munich
Sam Leith
31 Anthony Cummins
Dinner at the Centre of the Earth,
by Nathan Englander
22 Story of the hurricane
Remembering the Great Storm of 1987
Patrick Kidd
32 Mark Bostridge
The Mayflower Generation,
by Rebecca Fraser
24 Kill your friendships
Pals are a luxury, not a necessity
Julie Burchill
33 James Walton
The Sparsholt Affair,
by Alan Hollinghurst
49 Spectator Travel
A nine-page special, including
James Delingpole, William Cook and
Ysenda Maxtone Graham
Anna Aslanyan
Ferocity, by Nicola Lagioia
34 Tibor Fischer
Orbán, by Paul Lendvai
Boyd Tonkin
The Dawn Watch, by Maya Jasanoff
36 Jonathan Mirsky
Richard Nixon, by John A. Farrell
37 Jeff Noon
on recent crime fiction
Anthony Thwaite
‘Lines on my 87th birthday’: a poem
Cover by Morten Morland. Drawings by Michael Heath, Castro, Royston Robertson, Chris Mackenzie, Kipper Williams, Grizelda, Geoff Thompson, RGJ, Nick Newman,
John Springs, Adam Singleton Editorial and advertising The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP, Tel: 020 7961 0200, Fax: 020 7681
3773, Email: (editorial); (for publication); (advertising); Advertising enquiries: 020 7961 0222
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Vol 335; no 9868 © The Spectator (1828) Ltd. ISSN 0038-6952 The Spectator is published weekly by The Spectator (1828) Ltd at 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP
Editor: Fraser Nelson
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Lear’s great art, p28
Rugged integrity, p45
38 Laura Freeman
The painter who made kings of cooks
40 Opera
Giulio Cesare; Dardanus
Alexandra Coghlan
Labour of Love; What Shadows
Lloyd Evans
We seem to have become more
sentimental about friendship as
we have become more sceptical
about love
Julie Burchill p24
61 High life Taki
Low life Jeremy Clarke
62 Real life Melissa Kite
64 The turf Robin Oakley
Bridge Janet de Botton
Bromans is so tacky and brain-dead
it makes Geordie Shore look like
Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation
James Delingpole, p45
65 Wine club Jonathan Ray
42 Exhibitions
Basquiat; Dubuffet
Laura Gascoigne
58 Notes on… Trains in Spain
Simon Courtauld
44 Cinema
The Party
Deborah Ross
66 Chess Raymond Keene
Competition Lucy Vickery
45 Television
Bromans; Suburra
James Delingpole
68 Status anxiety Toby Young
Battle for Britain Michael Heath
67 Crossword Pabulum
69 Sport Roger Alton
Your problems solved
London Piano Festival
Damian Thompson
46 Fleur Adcock
‘Victoria Road’: a poem
The drunker Princess Margaret
got, the more she pulled rank,
leading to a nightmarish dinner.
And there was not much else for
her to do but get drunk
Steven Poole, p30
Mary Killen
70 Food Tanya Gold
Mind your language
Dot Wordsworth
Why Today is losing its edge
Kate Chisholm
Claire Fox is director of the
Institute of Ideas and a regular
panellist on the BBC’s Moral
Maze. She writes about the
warping of speech on p18.
Patrick Kidd is a political
sketchwriter and diarist for the
Times. On p22, he remembers
his childhood home being
blown down in the Great Storm
of 1987.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Julie Burchill is a journalist
and author who lives in
Brighton. She writes about
the joy of ending friendships
on p24.
Steven Poole is the author
of Rethink: The Surprising
History of New Ideas. He
reviews Craig Brown’s new
book about Princess Margaret
on p30.
Tibor Fischer is a novelist
and short story writer whose
parents left Hungary in 1956.
He reviews a biography of the
Hungarian Prime Minister
Viktor Orbán on p34.
heresa May, the Prime Minister, when
asked by Iain Dale in an interview on
LBC: ‘If there was a Brexit vote now, would
you vote Brexit?’ repeatedly refused to say.
Earlier, briefing the House of Commons
on Brexit, she said that the country must
prepare for ‘every eventuality’. The
government published two papers on trade
and customs arrangements that envisaged
ways by which Britain could thrive as an
‘independent trading nation’ even if no
trade deal were reached with Brussels. Mrs
May admitted that during a transitional
period, the European Court of Justice
would retain jurisdiction. Asked five times
if the government had received legal advice
on whether the process of departure under
Article 50 could be revoked, Mrs May only
repeated: ‘The government made clear that
we have no intention of revoking that. We
will be delivering on the vote of the British
people.’ On progress in negotiations, Mrs
May said: ‘The ball is in their court.’ The
EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas said:
‘The ball is entirely in the UK court.’ David
Davis, the Brexit Secretary, had lunch with
Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator, in
Brussels. They had sea bass and roast beef,
with English and French wine. No talks
were scheduled for the following day.
AE Systems said it was cutting
1,920 jobs in military, maritime and
intelligence services, partly because of
poor orders for the Typhoon/Eurofighter.
The Scottish government is to set up a
publicly owned company to sell energy
to customers ‘as close to cost price as
possible’, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First
Minister, announced. Some parents said
their children were unable to buy food for
lunch because the website of the payment
company ParentPay went down for several
hours. A van stopped by police in Sawtry,
Cambridgeshire, was found to be carrying
6,822lb of cheese — 2,822lb more than the
vehicle’s weight limit.
‘race audit’ promised by Mrs May
turned out to be a new website
aggregating information already published.
She said that institutions must ‘explain
or change’ racial disparity. The website
showed all sorts of anomalies, such as that
white teenagers were four times more
likely to be smokers than black teenagers
and that white women were more at risk
of domestic abuse than ethnic minority
women. By the end of the year, Britain is
expected to have attracted 39.7 million
tourists, more than ever before.
arles Puigdemont, the president of the
Government of Catalonia, addressed
the Catalan parliament and signed a
declaration of independence, but put it
in his pocket pending talks with Madrid.
A huge rally to oppose independence had
been held in Barcelona. The Catalan bank
Sabadell decided to move its legal domicile
to another part of Spain and CaixaBank
said it was moving its headquarters from
Barcelona to Valencia. Hungary protested
at a law in Ukraine making Ukrainian the
compulsory language for tuition in schools
even in Transcarpathia, where 150,000
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
ethnic Hungarians live. Cuban exiles
complained about an Irish postage stamp
commemorating Che Guevara (whose
father Ernesto Guevara Lynch traced his
ancestry to Galway).
n California, wildfires destroyed
1,500 houses, killed at least 15 people,
with another 150 unaccounted for, and
drove 20,000 to evacuate parts of Napa,
Sonoma and Yuba counties. The Nobel
prize for peace went to the Geneva-based
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear
Weapons. The Nobel prize for economics
went to Richard Thaler, author of the book
Nudge, which prompted David Cameron to
set up a Nudge behavioural insights unit in
2010. Harvey Weinstein, an Oscar-winning
film producer accused of sexually harassing
females, was sacked by his board but denied
raping three women after allegations were
made in the New Yorker. President Donald
Trump of the United States, when asked
about reports that his Secretary of State,
Rex Tillerson, had called him a moron, said:
‘I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And
I can tell you who is going to win.’
ackers from North Korea were said to
have stolen a large cache of military
documents from South Korea, including
joint war plans by the USA and South
Korea. The UN said it was worried about
the wellbeing of more than five million
Iraqis driven from their homes by Isis
since 2014. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo
of Nigeria said steps were under way to
provide an electricity supply to the 50
million people (out of a population of 180
million) who did not have it.
Tristram Hunt
used to long for mid-October when I
could say goodbye to the hot rooms,
cold buffets, and warm white wine of
party conference season. But ever since
I swapped politics for the world of
museums, I have happily rediscovered
those autumnal weeks of blackberries,
spider webs and London returning to life
after summer. At the V&A, we opened
our new opera exhibition, tracing the art
form’s development from Monteverdi’s
Venice to Shostakovich’s Moscow. At the
British Museum, the Scythians have been
reviving the art of ancient Siberia. And
around the capital, Frieze Art Fair has
been drawing the world’s aesthetes to
London. What we don’t yet know is how
Brexit will affect this cultural leadership.
Any bureaucratic hurdles to borrowing
artefacts from the Continent, paying
VAT for purchases in the European
Union, or limiting the curatorial talent
able to work here could badly damage
our future creative capacity.
when the oven doors were opened the
fine bone china had fired perfectly— so
a moon and Zeppelin backstamp was
created in honour of the moment. I think
an acquisition might be in order.
to revive the company, so he is celebrating
its heritage; although not necessarily the
Titanic collection, commissioned for the
first-class lounge. In fact, the highlight of
Crown Derby’s archive is the Zeppelin
range: a complete firing of pottery which
had to be halted halfway through due to
a Zeppelin bombing raid over Derby. The
kilns had to put out for the blackout but
omeone else wrestling with Brexit is
our Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Luckily, amid all that long-form nonfiction essay writing, he can retreat to
Chevening House. As director of the
V&A, I am privileged to be a trustee
of this Sevenoaks jewel, gifted to the
nation by the Stanhope family for the
use of government ministers. It is here
that our leaders and officials gather
to thrash out the myriad complexities
of exiting the European Union. Yet
what V&A curators Julius Bryant and
Angus Patterson have discovered is
that dominating the house’s entrance
hall, up the freestanding staircase, is a
suit of armour that belonged to Alonso
Perez de Guzman, 7th Duke of Medina
Sidonia and, er, the commander of the
Spanish Armada. As Brexit Britain
seeks to rediscover the bounteous,
buccaneering days of Good Queen Bess
liberated from the shackles of Europe, a
dreadful spectre of Continental revenge
is standing at the top of the stairs.
e are blessed with wonderful
neighbours at the V&A. Close
by lives Rory Stewart, the author and
international development minister,
who likes to pop over to inspect the
restoration of our plaster-cast Trajan’s
Column — and then bedazzle the
curators with his knowledge of the
Punic Wars. More significantly, we sit in
the middle of the Ismaili Centre, Holy
Trinity Brompton and the Brompton
Oratory: a trinity of prayer and holiness.
After we woke the Fathers of the
Oratory at an unseemly hour with
some ill-timed shop repairs, the Provost
invited me to visit the community. I had
feared a silent monastic dinner in the
refectory but the evening proved a joy:
there is nothing quite like eating supper
to the sound of a priest reading passages
from the Bible, the life of St Philip, and
then God’s Architect, Rosemary Hill’s
life of Pugin. It was like a really good
Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’ not read
by an actor. Outside, in the gardens
beneath the plane trees, the Oratory’s
dahlias were in bloom. It feels a long
way from the seaside.
n antiquarian curiosity of a
different order can be found in the
museum of the Royal Crown Derby
pottery works. Kevin Oakes, one of the
great figures in British ceramics, has
moved from Stoke-on-Trent to take
charge of this historic brand. As he seeks
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
t is cars, not Zeppelins, we have
to worry about now. Our national
museums in South Kensington suffered
an unfortunate traffic incident when a
car turned into a small crowd queuing
to get into the Natural History Museum,
causing minor injuries. As ever, the
emergency services proved themselves
swift, professional and commanding.
But the truth is that Exhibition Road’s
so-called ‘shared space’ between car and
pedestrian is dangerous, confusing and
unsatisfactory. We should pedestrianise
this lovely boulevard which connects
the V&A, Science Museum and Natural
History Museum and stretches up
towards Hyde Park. It should be an open
civic space: an ‘Albertopolis’ for families,
tourists, students and flâneurs to wander
in safety and in awe.
Pushkin: Gold and ruby cufflinks
Cassandra Goad, 147 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9BZ
Telephone: 020 7730 2202
Tristram Hunt is the director of the
Victoria and Albert Museum.
The plots thicken
orst week ever’ is one of those
phrases that journalists are,
perhaps, too quick to use.
Alastair Campbell once quipped that if you
added up all Tony Blair’s worst weeks, you
got a full year. The real worry for the Tories,
however, is not that last week was Theresa
May’s worst ever, but that it represented the
new normal.
Even inside Downing Street, there are
those who worry that leadership plotting
and the like will continue until Mrs May
leaves the building. They worry that while
they are strong enough to repel the plotters
— as they did so effectively this time — she
isn’t powerful enough to take back control.
So the whole cycle will continue, with the
rebels coming back for another crack every
time the Prime Minister looks vulnerable.
The optimists in her cabinet believe that
if the Brexit talks have moved on to trade
and transition by December, May will find it
easier to assert herself domestically. But the
problem is that her position is now the story.
The government’s race audit, which No. 10
sees as a crucial part of its political project,
was therefore quickly overtaken in the news
by her refusal to say whether she would vote
Leave if another referendum were held
today. This refusal to answer was immediately examined for what it meant for her
leadership: would it make ‘Vote Leave’ Tory
MPs less inclined to support her? It also raises a more profound question: can the Prime
Minister overseeing the most fundamental change in Britain’s affairs in 40 years be
uncertain that it is in the national interest?
Those who wish to oust May don’t regard
last week as the end of the matter. Rather,
they think that time is on their side; that they
will slowly creep up to the 48 names necessary. Their view is that with every compromise she makes on Brexit, her grip on that
wing of the party weakens. They don’t need
Eurosceptic MPs to abandon her wholesale.
They just need two dozen to shift sides.
Mrs May survives faute de mieux. The
Tory party can’t agree on who should succeed her and both factions fear that the
alternative would be worse for them. Many
Remainers still worry about Prime Minister
Boris, who they not only think is temperamentally unsuited to the job but would be
punished by Brussels with the worst possible
Brexit deal. Indeed, some of the increased
threat to May’s position is a result of the
Foreign Secretary’s foes now being more
confident that they could stop him reaching
the final round of the contest. Most Leavebacking Tory MPs still fret that a new leader
could choose to go down a different Brexit
path. Then there are others who are simply
concerned about what a leadership contest
before Brexit could do to the party. Their
fear is that it would lead to the bloodiest
Tory battle yet over Europe.
In normal circumstances, the solution to
this problem would be some form of unity
ticket. A Remainer and a Leaver would
team up to reassure both sides. Indeed,
this is what Theresa May did when she ran
for the job. She appointed a Leaver, Chris
Grayling, as her campaign manager, and
promised to put Brexiteers in charge of the
The anti-May rebels think time is on
their side; that they will slowly creep
up to the 48 names necessary
process. This is why some Tory grandees still
hope Amber Rudd and Michael Gove will
unite, with her running to be Prime Minister
and him handling Brexit. The cabinet divisions over Brexit, however, are now so deep
as to render this almost unimaginable.
This might suggest that despite all those
cabinet ministers saying that things can’t
go on like this for another 18 months, they
might well do so. But there are events that
could change things. The first of these is the
EU Council next week.
The EU knows that time is on its side.
The two-year Article 50 clock strengthens its
hand so it is happy to see it tick down. If ‘sufficient progress’ is not declared at this Council, it is a far bigger problem for Britain than
the EU. Michel Barnier, the EU’s negotiator, might want to reach a deal, because that
will advance his case to be the next Commission president. But it is also in his interests
to show that he got as much out of Britain as
he could have without collapsing the talks.
Even Donald Tusk, the Council president, has got in on this act, raising the prospect that there might not even be sufficient
progress by the end of the year. The EU
knows that many in the UK government
fear that if this is the case, businesses will
activate their contingency plans and significant numbers of jobs will leave Britain. They
know that by raising this prospect, they will
increase the pressure on Mrs May to make
concessions to try and avoid it.
But perhaps the most pressing danger
for the government is next month’s Budget. Even in Mrs May’s pre-election honeymoon period, Philip Hammond’s Budget
unravelled as he was forced to drop plans
to raise national insurance for the selfemployed. One wonders how the Chancellor, who has something of a tin ear when it
comes to politics, will navigate this far more
challenging Budget.
Cabinet ministers are worried that
Hammond will raise taxes. They believe
that he is sufficiently worried about Brexit’s
impact on the public finances not to want to
borrow any more, but that there is no longer
the political will in government to hold the
line on spending.
If Hammond does raise taxes, it will be
very unpopular on the Tory benches: the
tax burden is already heading to a 30-year
high. The bigger concern, though, is that the
government doesn’t appear to have a postBrexit economic policy. It is fundamentally
unclear how Hammond thinks Britain
should compensate for not being in the
single market. There needs to be a vision for
how Britain will make its way in the world
after Brexit. A dynamic plan to make this
country a more attractive place to research
and invest would, ultimately, do more for
tax revenues than whatever increases Hammond can get through this hung parliament.
If Mrs May is to take back control of the
political agenda, it will be through boldness.
She needs to show that her government has
some big ideas and isn’t just minding the
shop until Brexit is done. The alternative to
this is more weeks like the last one.
James Forsyth and Iain Dale on Theresa
May’s blunders.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Charles Moore
he Catalan nationalists surely chose
this October deliberately for their
attempt, now faltering, at UDI. It is the
centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution
in Russia, and the separatist vanguard is
the hard-left party, the CUP. Even more
vivid in their minds will be Barcelona’s
own ‘October Revolution’ of 1934.
The then Catalan Nationalist leader,
Luis Companys, announced that ‘The
monarchical and Fascist powers which
have been for some time attempting to
betray the Republic have attained their
object’ (by the entry of the Catholic party
CEDA into the Spanish government). He
accordingly proclaimed ‘the Catalan State
of the federal Republic of Spain’ and
called for a provisional government of
all Spain in Barcelona. This revolt failed.
The associated miners’ strike in Asturias
had the opposite of the desired effect. It
gave General Franco his bloody chance
to build the reputation which eventually
enabled him to position himself as the
saviour of Spain. The civil war came
closer. So the illegal referendum in
Catalonia last week was a long-meditated
revenge by the left and an attempted
coup d’état. It affected the rights not
only of all Catalans, but of all Spaniards.
Once they realised what was happening,
almost all Spaniards (even on the left),
and a narrower majority of Catalans,
rejected it. That is why King Felipe was
right to broadcast to the nation. The
restored monarchy in Spain is there to
defend the democratic, constitutional
order which prevents civil war recurring.
That is why Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos,
publicly intervened to crush the ludicrous
army coup in the Cortes in 1981. Now
this Catalan coup, shrouded in a cloak
of democracy, has overreached. This
October, we have been living through ten
days that (nearly) fooled the world.
ick Clegg has an ingenious solution
to the Brexit problem. He wants
Parliament to throw out Brexit and then
get the Netherlands Prime Minister,
Mark Rutte, and Sir John Major to
negotiate how the United Kingdom
can be recaptured and bound inside the
‘concentric circles’ which he sees as the
future of the EU. I call this the Royal
Dutch Shell solution to our national
destiny. Certainly, if, as Mr Clegg implies,
we are not fit to rule ourselves, it would be
preferable to be, like Shell, headquartered
in The Hague rather than in Brussels. The
idea appeals to Mr Clegg because, with a
mother who carries the magnificent name of
Hermance Eulalie van den Wall Bake, he is
half-Dutch. Perhaps he sees himself as Nick
of Orange, leading our Glorious Revolution.
institutionalised the building and
relegated them to upstairs flats. For that,
in turn, to succeed, we must appoint a
greater diversity of ambassadors. The
rising generation is strong on geeky
negotiators, weaker on people with
panache and the capacity to make
influential friends. It would be good if
there were a few more appointments
from outside the Foreign Office. In the
past, a key political appointment —
Ormsby-Gore in Washington, Soames
in Paris — has made a great difference.
It would help, too, to put in one or
two rich ambassadors ready to splash
out their own money on promoting
Britain abroad. The story and the
stones (and brick and even concrete)
of our wonderful embassies show the
many ways in which this task can be
have been to the more obvious ones —
Washington, Moscow, Paris — but I had
no idea of their variety and splendour until
I opened James Stourton’s new book British
Embassies (Francis Lincoln). It appears
at just the right time. For years, spending
on our embassies has been cut back
because of our enslavement to the ‘ringfenced’ international development budget.
Embassies have suffered from the Tony
Blair legacy in which lovely buildings and
diplomacy itself were seen as ‘elitist’. It is
true that, when the fashion for multilateral
negotiations carried all before it, some of
our embassies and residences became little
more than bed-and-breakfast operations for
visiting ministers. But with the approach of
Brexit, we urgently need to restore bilateral
diplomacy. In this cause, the swankier the
buildings are, the better. Particularly when,
as Stourton’s book shows repeatedly, the
swank reflects well not only on Britain,
but on the host country. The architectural
range — so well acculturated, yet usually so
distinctively British — is a history in itself
of our unique engagement with the whole
world, whether in Brasilia or Bangkok,
Athens or Addis Ababa, Tehran or the
astonishingly lovely residence in Tunis.
f bilateralism is to work, however,
these buildings must be made to live
again. For this to happen, ambassadors
and their spouses need to regain control
from managers who have too often
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
ne living ex-ambassador who did
diplomacy which really mattered is
Christopher Mallaby. He was ambassador
to West Germany when the Wall came
down, and so moved from Bonn to Berlin.
His memoirs (Living the Cold War,
Amberley) are also out this week. He
has an arresting story from his boyhood,
when his father, in 1945, commanded a
British brigade of 6,000 Indian troops
helping restore part of Indonesia to the
Dutch after the Japanese occupation. His
work was unpopular with Indonesian
nationalists: ‘The BBC announced on
the six o’clock news on 30 October
that my father had been assassinated
in Indonesia. The War Office had not
told my mother. The shock was terrible.’
The nine-year-old Christopher was sent
home from prep school. A few days later,
the postman handed him a letter. When
he looked at the envelope, he realised
it was from his father. ‘My mother was
resting in bed. I took her the letter and
asked whether she could bear to read it.
She managed a smile and read it there
and then. My father had written it three
days before he died.’ His mother was a
widow for 53 years. Christopher did not
see his father’s grave in Jakarta until
2013. His tombstone carries lines from
Wordsworth: ‘More brave for this,/ That
he hath much to love.’ This story, and the
way it is told, show so powerfully what a
life of service meant.
Tech vs Trump
Social media helped Trump take the White House. Silicon Valley won’t let that happen again
n the 1962 Japanese sci-fi classic King
Kong vs Godzilla, the two giant monsters
fight to a stalemate atop Mount Fuji. I
have been wondering for some time when
the two giants of American social media
would square up for what promises to be a
comparably brutal battle. Finally, it began
last month — and where else but on Twitter?
‘Facebook was always anti-Trump,’
tweeted the President of the United States
on 27 September. Mark Zuckerberg shot
back hours later (on Facebook, of course):
‘Trump says Facebook is against him.
Liberals say we helped Trump. Both sides
are upset about ideas and content they don’t
like. That’s what running a platform for all
ideas looks like.’
A platform for all ideas? Well, maybe.
Others see Facebook differently. As Zuckerberg’s response to Trump acknowledged, the
President is not alone in criticising him. The
various inquiries into Russian meddling in
the 2016 presidential election are turning up
much that is awkward, notably that Russia
bought around 3,000 Facebook ads designed
to spread politically divisive posts to Americans before and after the election, as well as
to promote inflammatory political protests
on issues such as Muslim immigration.
It may be too big a stretch to claim that
Russian Facebook ads swung the election in Trump’s favour. But it seems plausible that his campaign’s use of social media,
particularly Facebook, gave it a vital edge
that compensated for its financial disadvantage relative to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
On that, if on nothing else, I suspect Steve
Bannon and Clinton would agree. ‘Facebook is now the largest news platform in the
world,’ Clinton writes in her election postmortem. ‘With that awesome power comes
great responsibility.’
Awesome power, yes. At the end of June,
the number of active Facebook users (people who visit the site at least once a month)
passed the two billion mark. WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram — all owned by Facebook — have three billion users altogether,
though no doubt there is much overlap. Twothirds of American adults are on Facebook
and 45 per cent get their news from it. More
The ownership of today’s IT
infrastructure is concentrated
in remarkably few hands
than half the UK population access Facebook at least once a month. The average user
is on the site for 1/16 of every day.
But great responsibility? In the wake of
the Las Vegas massacre, Facebook briefly
featured a bogus story that the shooter had
‘Trump-hating’ views. A fake page claimed
responsibility for the attack on behalf of the
far-left Antifa movement, saying the goal had
been to kill ‘Trump-supporting fascist dogs’.
Last month, the non-profit investigative
news site ProPublica revealed that Facebook’s online ad tools had helped advertisers
to target self-described ‘Jew haters’ or people
who had used phrases such as ‘how to burn
Jews’. In the words of Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg: ‘The fact that
hateful terms were even offered as options
was totally inappropriate and a fail on our
part.’ Facebook ‘never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way’.
What Facebook intended and how Facebook is used turn out to be very different. The
company’s motto used to be: ‘Make the world
more open and connected.’ It’s no longer
quite so simple. ‘For most of the existence of
the company, this idea of connecting the world
has not been a controversial thing,’ Zuckerberg recently said. ‘Something changed.’
What has changed is that the world has
belatedly woken up to realities about social
networks that were already obvious to
anyone familiar with history and network
science. For most of history, it is true, hierarchies have tended to dominate distributed networks. However, there are historical
precedents for technological change leading
to enhanced connectedness that empowers
social networks and weakens hierarchies.
The first began exactly 500 years ago,
when Martin Luther launched his campaign
for reform of the Roman Catholic church.
Had it not been for the printing press, Luther
would have been just another obscure heretic and might well have ended his life in the
flames of the stake. But Gutenberg’s innovation enabled Luther’s message to ‘go viral’
— as we would now say — and it spread with
remarkable speed throughout Germany and
then across north-western Europe.
Luther was as much of a utopian as the
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
pioneers of Silicon Valley in our own time.
In his mind, the Reformation would create
a powerful new network of pious Christians,
all enabled to read the Bible in the vernacular and to establish more direct relationships
with God than the indirect ones mediated by
a corrupt ecclesiastical hierarchy. The vision
of St Peter of a ‘priesthood of all believers’
would finally be realised.
But the true upshot of the Reformation
was not harmony but polarisation and conflict. Not everyone was inspired by Luther’s
message. Some sought to go further than him.
Others reacted violently against the proposed
reforms. The Counter-Reformation adopted
the Protestants’ novel techniques of propagation and deployed them against the heretics.
Yet it proved impossible to destroy Protestant networks, even with mass executions
and hideously cruel torture. If anything, persecution promoted radicalisation. Meanwhile, the constantly growing network of
printed words proved itself as ready to
spread madness as holiness. The witch craze
of the 17th century was a classic example of a
monster meme, claiming innocent lives from
Scotland to Salem, Massachusetts.
here are three big differences between
now and then. First, today’s social networks are vastly bigger, faster and more
widespread than those of the early modern
era. Secondly, whereas the printing press was
a truly decentralised technology — Johannes
Gutenberg was no Bill Gates — the ownership of today’s IT infrastructure is concentrated in remarkably few hands. Finally, our
networked age began by disrupting markets
and later politics; only one religion, Islam,
has been significantly affected.
But the similarities are nevertheless striking. Now, as then, newly empowered networks
have led to polarisation, not harmony. Now,
as then, the networks have acted as a transmission mechanism for all kinds of manias
and panics as well as truth and beauty. And
now, as then, the networks have eroded territorial sovereignty, weakening the established
structures of political authority.
The US government sought to harness the
power of social networks when the National
Security Agency co-opted the big technology companies into its PRISM programme of
mass domestic and foreign surveillance. But
the new networks did not easily integrate
into old power structures. Globally disseminated leaks, courtesy of Edward Snowden
and Julian Assange, exposed PRISM, while
a new kind of populist politics flourished on
social media.
A defining feature of social networks
(as in the Reformation) is their tendency to
divide rather than unite. Recent research on
American blogs and Twitter reveals a similar
pattern: the emergence of two self-segregated ideological communities, one liberal, the
other conservative. Just as birds of a feather
flock together (network geeks call it ‘homo-
phily’) so Twitter users retweet within their
political clusters. One study found that with
tweets on hot-button political topics (such as
gun control, same-sex marriage and climate
change), the use of emotional words increases their diffusion by a factor of 20 per cent for
each additional word. Ever wondered why
tweets are full of expletives? Now you know.
The presidential election of 2016 was a
tale of many networks. By going viral through
a largely self-organised network, Trump beat
Clinton’s old-school, hierarchically structured campaign, which poured money into
antiquated channels like local television. Isis
contributed to the febrile atmosphere with its
worst attack in North America (in Orlando
in June last year), prompting Trump’s populist (and popular) promise of a ‘Muslim ban’.
But the Trump network had itself been penetrated by the Russian intelligence network.
Trump’s campaign and, to a much smaller
extent, the Russians both used Facebook and
Twitter as tools to discredit his opponent and
discourage potential Democratic voters.
Make no mistake: 2016 will never happen again. Silicon Valley hates Trump for
too many reasons to count. The most important are his stance on immigration (on which
A defining feature of social networks
(as in the Reformation) is their
tendency to divide rather than unite
the Valley depends for its supply of skilled
software engineers) and Big Tech’s need to
‘virtue-signal’ to its most valued user demographic: the young and affluent. They lean
left. So does the otherwise capitalist Valley.
The political consequences were not
immediately obvious, unless you were paying close attention, but after the Charlottesville clashes between white supremacists,
neo-Nazis and their various left-wing opponents, they were there for all to see. Matthew
Prince, CEO of the internet service provider
Cloudflare, described what happened: ‘Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided
someone shouldn’t be allowed on the internet.’ On the basis that ‘the people behind the
Daily Stormer are assholes’, he denied their
fascistic website access to the worldwide web.
As Prince himself rightly observed: ‘No one
should have that power. We need to have a
discussion around this with clear rules and
clear frameworks. My whims and those of
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Jeff [Bezos] and Larry [Page] and Satya
[Nadella] and Mark [Zuckerberg] shouldn’t
be what determines what should be online.’
Yet that discussion has barely begun. And
until it happens, it will indeed be they who
decide who is allowed on the internet.
This goes to the heart of the matter.
According to Zuckerberg, Facebook is ‘a tech
company, not a media company… We build
the tools; we do not produce any content’.
Yet in practice, according to a recent Reuters
investigation, ‘an elite group of at least five
senior executives regularly directs content
policy and makes editorial judgment calls.’
In the words of Espen Egil Hansen, the
editor-in-chief of the Norwegian newspaper
Aftenposten, Zuckerberg is now ‘the world’s
most powerful editor’.
It is not only neo-Nazi sites that find
themselves on the online equivalent of the
newsroom spike. Twitter has recently rejected
paid-for tweets from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) on the grounds of ‘Hate’.
These tweets were hardly excerpts from Mein
Kampf: for example: ‘The fiscal cost created
by illegal immigrants of $746.3bn compares to
a total cost of deportation of $124.1bn.’ In the
words of CIS director Mark Krikorian, ‘The
internet is now a utility more important than
phones or cable TV. If people can be denied
access to it based on the content of their
ideas and speech (rather than specific illegal
acts), why not make phone service contingent
on your political views? Or mail delivery?’
Google recently revealed that it is using
machine learning to document ‘hate crimes
and events’ in America. Among their partners in this effort is the notorious Southern
Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which maintains a list of ‘anti-Muslim extremists’ —
including my wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the
British liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz — but
no list whatsoever of Muslim extremists.
‘YouTube doesn’t allow hate speech or
content that promotes or incites violence,’
declared a recent message to YouTube content creators. But who decides what is ‘hate
speech’? The phrase has become the 21stcentury equivalent of ‘heresy’. It’s what you
call something before you proscribe it.
Silicon Valley insists it is home to neutral
network platforms. This is no longer credible.
Facebook alone has, without quite meaning
to, evolved into the most powerful publisher
in the history of the world. Zuckerberg is William Randolph Hearst to the power of ten.
So what to do? Left-leaning Democrats
have an answer: revive the progressive interpretation of anti-trust policy and break up
the internet monopolies. Superficially, they
have a case. Amazon controls 65 per cent of
all online new book sales. Google’s market
share of online search is 87 per cent in the
US. In mobile social networking, Facebook
and its subsidiaries control 75 per cent of the
American market.
Yet who seriously cares what the hipster
anti-trust types say? Silicon Valley is a huge
donor to the Democrats. Why would they
make life difficult for Big Tech when it so
openly leans left? The real question is when
Republicans (and not just the President) are
going to wake up to the threat they now face.
Two big battles are looming: one on the
question of net neutrality (the principle
that all bits of data should be treated alike,
regardless of their content or value), the
other on the 1996 Communications and
Decency Act, which allows tech firms exemption from liability for content that appears
on their platforms. A group of senators led
by Rob Portman has started the ball rolling
by seeking to impose liability on companies
that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking on
their platforms. The initial response of the
Internet Association, a trade group that is
essentially a mouthpiece for the Valley, was
revealing: ‘The entire internet industry wants
to end human trafficking,’ it said. ‘But there
are ways to do this without amending a law
foundational to legitimate internet services.’
Last month, however, the IA conceded the
need for ‘targeted amendments’.
This battle is only just beginning, but its
outcome could be decisive in both the 2018
midterm elections to Congress and the 2020
presidential race. The regulatory status quo is
not only highly favourable to Silicon Valley.
It could also prove highly unfavourable to
Republican candidates — though (so far as I
could tell on a recent visit to Washington) the
penny has not yet dropped with lawmakers
who are accustomed to talking only about
deregulation, not regulation.
In many ways, what we are about to witness will be a classic struggle between new
networks and established hierarchies. Like
King Kong’s epic slugfest with Godzilla,
however, it’s far from easy to predict which
side will prevail — or how much collateral
damage they will both inflict on American
democracy. In the old Godzilla movies, after
all, the one predictable thing is that Tokyo
always gets destroyed.
Niall Ferguson’s new book, The Square
and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and
the Struggle for Global Power
Power, has just
been published by Allen Lane.
‘Can’t you go out and be angry
like other young people?’
The wisdom of weirdos
Group therapy works
t was World Mental Health Day this
week — and it drove me mad. I don’t
have ‘mental illness’. I have bipolar disorder, and I feel as possessive about my
diagnosis as Gollum did his precious ring.
One term. One label. To lump the manifold
terrors of the mind together under the monolithic ‘mental illness’ is an offence against
the person. Failing to differentiate shifts the
stigma like a bubble under a carpet.
So I was horrified to discover, in my latest stint in a psychiatric hospital, that others
experience exactly the same as me. Others
use the same ‘maladapted coping mechanisms’. They are also their own worst critic;
they replay their mistakes; they are wracked
by ‘meta-worries’: being worried about
being worried.
To complement the pharmacology, a
large part of my treatment in the hospital
is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
I didn’t know much about it on arrival and
was sceptical. But the young woman who
teaches the seminar, Dr Akita, is drop-dead
dreamy, so now I’ve decided it’s scientific.
She explains that it is a method for tackling anxiety by teaching you to stand back
from your emotions and appraise them. The
idea is to catch the thought underlying the
feeling. For example, I become livid with the
driver who’s just cut me up. How quickly can
I ‘read myself’ and figure out I’m really irritated about a put-down I’ve experienced at
work? With the relevant information, another person could deduce that; CBT gives you
the tools to do it yourself. It sounds banal.
But Dr Akita’s ruthless application of common sense is appealing. If you can take an
observational stance and become your own
therapist, you won’t have to rely on someone else to talk you out of your terrors.
She asks us to list our ‘triggers’ on a whiteboard: ‘being alone’, ‘making comparisons’,
‘family’, ‘relationships’, ‘work situations’,
‘finances’, ‘new situations’, ‘expectations
from others’, ‘dreams’, ‘things not going to
plan’, ‘people judging you’, ‘indebtedness’,
‘rejection’, ‘thoughts about the past’.
‘What’s it like to see it wasn’t just you
who came up with all these things, but the
group?’ she asks. ‘Belittling,’ I think. ‘Reassuring,’ they say. Even more of an affront
to my ego is the idea of group therapy. I
came into hospital pumped up by my sisterin-law’s motivational speech that I need
to take the therapy as well as the pills. So
I committed to the sessions, despite assuming I would get nothing out of them.
It’s not promising at first. There are anxious faces in the hot little room; one man
sits with shoulders slumped, head drooping, arms dropped. Some people bounce
on their chairs. One lets out a shout of frustration. The floor is covered with mutilated
stress toys. People stretch like cats, yawn
like hyenas, watch the clock and offer Too
Much Information. They turn anyone else’s
testimony back to their own problems. They
exchange platitudes and clichés.
Yet though my colleagues are not wellmannered, they are well-meaning, and to
my horror my progress comes to depend on
their goodness of heart.
When it’s my turn to share, I assume I
know how it will go. I’ll say I feel guilty that
during bipolar episodes over the past year
I have not been a good parent. I crash during the hours I’m most needed: supper, bathtime, story time; I am irritable; I can’t relieve
my wife of our youngest even for a morning.
I’ll get teary and the group will tell me it’s
not my fault, it’s the illness, and I’ll thank
them and go away still feeling guilty.
But that isn’t how it goes. They pitch in
with questions. They try out theories. They
offer counsel. ‘Is that the only problem,
though?’ ‘Why are you afraid of those
parental duties?’ And this is the amazing
thing: presumptuous though they are, their
questions provoke ideas I wouldn’t have
entertained before. What is the ideal I
am operating with? If your father is your
hero, and the embodiment of the steadiness you’re trying to emulate in your
parenting, then of course that might lead to
a paralysing fear of making mistakes.
It’s hard enough to accept that you do in
fact have something in common with other
mentally ill people. But even worse, now I’m
learning about myself through them. I need
them. This isn’t just similarity confronting
me; it’s the awful truth of solidarity.
The early Christians talked about the
wisdom of pagans. Here is the wisdom of
weirdos. There are things on the periphery
of your vision, says the therapist, which
people in your situation can see: what you’re
like, what you’re not like, what you’re doing,
what you’re not doing. What Shakespeare
says of self-awareness is just as true for
those who are mentally unwell: ‘Speculation
turns not to itself, Till it hath travell’d and is
mirror’d in another person’s eye, Where it
may see itself.’
Alexander Crispin is a pseudonym.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
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Blame the grown-ups for the safe-space tribe
car driver ploughs into a bunch of
people outside the Natural History Museum in London and lefties
are furious mostly because the right-wing
columnist Katie Hopkins thought it was
another jihadi attack. For thinking this she
is a racist bigot and consummately evil —
despite the fact that I suspect most Londoners thought precisely the same as Hopkins
when they heard the news.
We are in the bizarre situation where
horrible incidents not perpetrated by Muslims are gleefully welcomed by the lefties
because they believe it adds grist to their
idiotic mill: other people are capable of
driving cars into pedestrians, you see, so it is
racist to suggest that radical Muslims have a
particular predilection for doing so. This is,
of course, a very stupid argument on more
levels than I have room to explain. By the
same token, though, it is possible to discern
the glee in Hopkins’s tweets: yes, they’re at
it again, those Mohammedans — told you.
Anyway, the Metropolitan Police have
said they are not treating the incident as
terrorism-related ‘at present’ and they have
released on bail the 47-year-old man they
arrested who did the errant driving. That
suggests to me that indeed it isn’t terrorismrelated — the fact that he was released rather than held, and the age of the accused.
But I will be more comfortable in making this assumption when the name of the
chap is released. The fact that it hasn’t been
tilts me back slightly into the Hopkins camp:
we are too frequently shielded from the
truth by our authorities. They lie to us for
what they think are good reasons. When
his name is published and it turns out to be
John Christian Whitechap, I will suspend my
doubts. But I think if it had been John Christian Whitechap, we would have been told by
now. So there is still a possibility, in my mind
at least, that it could be something more
like Mohammed al Kafirkilla. If it is, and
the BBC reports the story, they will almost
certainly describe the man as ‘Norwegian’
because he spent a few months in Bergen.
Forgive the cynicism, please. But this
kind of obfuscation happens too often. The
BBC and the filth want us kept in a pristine safe space where nasty thoughts are not
allowed to occur. And so they do not quite
tell us the truth and instead feed us soma. I
think this approach is counterproductive, as
well as being morally and, of course, journalistically wrong.
There was a pristine safe space at the
Freshers Week at Balliol College, Oxford,
too. The Christian Union was banned from
setting up its stall because the student organisers believe that Christianity is an excuse
for ‘homophobia and neocolonialism’. The
first and most obvious response to this assertion is: how can people with such a low IQ
get into one of the country’s most prestigious colleges? The students also insisted
that Freshers’ Week should be a secular
affair — I am unaware if the Oxford University Islamic Society was allowed to offer
We are too often shielded from the
truth by our authorities. They lie to us
for what they think are good reasons
its wares, but I’m prepared to bet that it was
— and thus welcoming to everybody.
The irony is that Balliol was set up under
the auspices of the Bishop of Durham in
1263. And its patron saint is the Great Martyr Catherine of Alexandria, who converted
hundreds of Egyptians to Christianity in the
3rd century before being beheaded at the
age of 18. You can see Catherine in a painting by Bernardino Luini (c. 1480-1532) —
and she’s really quite fit, for a pious martyr.
She certainly looks a lot more up for it than,
say, Joan of Arc — who always gives me the
impression that she’d be a total pain in the
arse if you took her out to Wetherspoons for
a few drinks, and that you’d probably wish
in the end that you hadn’t bothered. Sitting
there with her mineral water and her wacko
and fervent Gallic delusions. Cathy, though,
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
‘Apparently it’s bad luck if
Theresa May crosses your path.’
looks a very different kettle of fish. But I
suppose that this is not the most important
point to make here.
The important point is surely that Balliol
College, in common with the rest of the
United Kingdom, is founded upon Christianity and Christianity permeates every
facet of our society. It can not be rendered
invisible or expunged or untangled simply
because some marble-mouthed, acne-clad,
Corbyn-worshipping public-school adolescent thinks it has outlived its usefulness and
might offend the poofs. Gay students surely
have every bit as much a right to be offended
by the Christian Union stall as do god-fearing Christian students who, appalled, chance
upon the LGBTQI etc stall.
The student union goon said that the
whole deal was about making students feel
‘welcome’, rather than uncomfortable. Well,
fine. Let the Christian students feel welcome
too, in that case, and give them a stall to
which they might cleave. But do not pretend
to the Christians or the gays that their lives
will be free of offence henceforth. Inclusivity does not imply homogeneity: indeed,
it demands the opposite. It demands that
we get along despite some people having
views which might upset us, if we are easily upset by things like opinions. One would
have thought that this should be especially
the case at an institute of higher education.
But we have been harshly disabused of this
notion in recent years.
It is easy to have a go at the students —
although that shouldn’t stop us at all, when
they deserve it, which they often do. But the
dangerous ‘safe spaces’ tripe is avidly supported by the university adults — the dons,
the chancellors and so on. Right now, a chap
called Felix Ngole is appealing against the
decision to kick him off his social work
course at Sheffield University because he
explained, in an online debate, what Leviticus had to say about homosexuality. He did
not say that he agreed with Leviticus. His
removal wasn’t down to the idiot authoritarian students, it was down to the idiot authoritarian authorities. With guidance like that,
what chance do the students have?
The BBC were right — Katie Hopkins
was wrong: Page 23
Language barrier
Cheat sheets
Official PC-speak is ever more incomprehensible
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher
Education wants universities to catch out
more students who buy essays online. How
much do cheats pay for this service?
— 1,000 words in seven days to 1st standard
£103. Also offers 2:1 standard for £74 and
2:2 standard for £57. This website offers a
refund if you don’t get the promised grade.
—A rival site offers a 1st standard essay in
seven days from just £18.99, with £13.99
for a 2.1 and £11.99 for a 2.2.
— From £16.18 per page on a site which
says ‘compare our prices with those set by
solicitors, barristers, doctors or accountants’.
Falling short
Where would an early exit leave Theresa
May in the prime ministerial ranks?
— Eight have had shorter terms, most
recently Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who
served three days short of a year in 1963/64.
— If May survives until 29 October she will
overtake the Duke of Grafton.
— On 21 April 2018 she will overtake
Sir Anthony Eden.
— To outlast Gordon Brown she must
serve until 28 May 2019.
More in store
Insurance firm Aviva claims store-based
retail will decline as people buy more
online. But are shops really dying? In the
first half of 2017 there was a net loss of 659
chain outlets, but independent stores grew
by a net 762: 14,419 opened and 13,657 shut.
fastest growing sectors
Bakers .................................................. +283
Beauty salons ...................................... +261
Café/tearoom ...................................... +208
Tobacconists ........................................ +155
Mobile phone shops ........................... +105
fastest shrinking sectors
Women’s clothes .................................. -137
Newsagents........................................... -119
Electrical goods.......................................-74
Public houses/inns ..................................-73
Shoe shops ...............................................-45
Source: Local Data Company/British
Independent Retailers’ Association
Nation stakes
How would Catalonia measure up as an
independent European country?
Population 7.48 million: 21st, behind
Austria and Belarus, ahead of Denmark.
Area 32,108 sq km: 34th, behind
Switzerland and Moldova, ahead of
Belgium and Macedonia.
GDP $260 bn: 15th, behind Denmark,
and Austria; ahead of Ireland and Finland.
GDP per capita $34,700: 15th, just
behind France, just ahead of Italy.
Source: Catalonia Statistics Institute, IMF
ince the EU referendum result last
June our nation has been divided: not
only by the vote but also by language.
If 62 per cent of Britons (many of whom
undoubtedly voted for Brexit) now say Britain ‘sometimes feels like a foreign country’,
it’s not anti-foreigner prejudice so much as
a feeling that people in authority are speaking at them in a foreign language. Not Polish
or Punjabi but PC-speak, that opaque code
that connotes whether you are ‘on message’
and one of ‘our kind of people’ or one of
those racist lizard-brained Leaver oiks.
Look at the new language of diversity that is now being prescribed in much
of the public sector. The British Medical
Association recently sent all its employees a 12-page booklet, ‘A Guide to Effective Communication: Inclusive Language
in the Workplace’. This tells staff how to
change their language to suit ‘an increasingly diverse society’, for example replacing
‘manpower’ with ‘staff, workforce, personnel, workers’. Ludicrously, pregnant women
should no longer be called ‘expectant
mothers’ but ‘pregnant people’. The Times
reported in April that UK universities are
forcing students to conform to new codes
restricting the use of gendered language.
The University of Hull warns students that
‘failure to use gender-sensitive language
will impact your mark’; common terms such
as ‘mankind’, ‘forefathers’ and ‘manpower’
should be replaced by ‘humankind’, ‘ancestors’ and ‘human resources’.
Another layer of complexity is the
demand for non-binary, gender-neutral
pronouns and honorifics like ‘they’, ‘xe’,
‘ze’ and ‘Mx’. I was recently sent a code of
conduct warning me of the cost of misgendering: ‘It is very important to note that any
attempts to undermine pronoun introductions will not be tolerated’ [my emphasis]. I
immediately became tongue-tied. Can you
imagine then what it feels like to the uninitiated? The problem for most people is that
they are not ‘educated’ in these linguistic
niceties. I don’t mean educated as in qualifications. I mean trained in the cultural literacy now required to survive modern Britain
without failing the language test and being
castigated as transphobic or xxxphobic or
whatever for using the wrong words.
There is a distasteful snobbery lurking beneath the boast that Remainers had
the best-educated on their side. But you
don’t need A-levels or a degree to be smart,
rational, politically shrewd, brave or forward thinking. History’s freedom fighters,
from the sans-culottes to the founders of
trade unionism — the people whose struggles created our modern, liberal Europe —
were often uneducated, even illiterate.
But the educational advantage that does
matter is knowing the rules that govern new
ways of speaking. These are often inculcated in university. In David Goodhart’s
important book The Road to Somewhere, he
describes the gulf between Anywheres (the
metropolitan graduate tribe) and ‘Somewheres’ (the Brexitland tribe). The referendum results show that outside London and
You don’t need A-levels or a degree
to be smart, rational, politically
shrewd, brave or forward thinking
Scotland the highest-voting Remain areas
were either ‘home to a university or have
a very high entry rate to university’, while
most high-voting Leave areas not only do
not have a university but are geographically
remote from higher-education institutions.
Let no one conclude that those influenced by universities are enlightened free
thinkers. Increasingly, today’s campuses are
ideologically insular places that are hostile
to freedom of speech and intolerant of dissent (my book I Find That Offensive! has
examples). In the opaque world of student
politics Germaine Greer can be no-platformed as the wrong type of feminist, speech
is cordoned off in safe spaces and trigger
warnings are issued for great works of literature in case they cause emotional distress.
We might mock those absurdities of
university life such as insisting that wearing a sombrero at a Mexican-themed party
is racist, or the renaming of yoga as ‘mindful stretching’ because it’s been appropriated from cultures that ‘have experienced
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas
due to colonialism and western supremacy’.
But while all this seems far removed from
everyday life, we should not fool ourselves
that such censorious micro-managing of
speech is confined to the ivory towers. It’s a
mistake to underestimate the key role that
colleges play in shaping the world view of
the metropolitan elites who go on to dominate politics, media and employment.
University life initiates almost half of
tomorrow’s opinion formers into the rhetoric of identity and inclusivity, into the rules
about which the combination of words can
get you into trouble, into the parameters of
what is considered offensive. It is this evergrowing army of graduates, well versed in
the acceptable discourse, who now populate
local government. They are often members
of a new professional class of expert, trained
to detect offensive speech and re-educate
the public mind, and all the while making
their way to commanding positions in public sector organisations.
Look at how the Equalities Act 2010
has been used to wage a full-scale culture
war against a variety of workforces deemed
in any way insensitive to those possessing ‘protected characteristics’, and usually
assumed to be so because they don’t use
the correct lingo. One fashionable target —
and one of the most invasive interventions
by the army of language cops — is to disparage banter, so ‘mate speech’ is demonised as
‘hate speech’. For example, the Local Government Association’s report called ‘An
Inclusive Service: The 21st Century Fire
and Rescue Service’, declares the need to
‘change the culture of the service… historically dominated by white males’ by targeting workplace ‘banter’. The Oxford English
Dictionary defines banter as ‘the playful
and friendly exchange of teasing remarks’.
More colloquially, it is understood to be the
One fashionable target is to
disparage banter, so ‘mate speech’
is demonised as ‘hate speech’
informal, jokey letting off steam, so important for camaraderie. But for the LGA, this
unregulated speech is depicted misanthropically as an expression of ‘thinly disguised’
sexism, dangerous ‘macho culture’, bigoted
small talk that needs to be stamped out.
Such assaults on people’s free speech
among friends are justified in the name of
tackling bigotry. In fact, they reveal the bigotry of the ‘educated’ diversity enforcers,
who remain unaware that their target culprits are not the ignorant, prejudiced Neanderthals they assume them to be, but just
people who do not spout the correct jargon
or share their ‘I Find That Offensive!’ thinskinned mentality. Goodhart cites polling
across both ‘Anywheres’ and ‘Somewheres’
that shows barely any divide on liberal issues
such as gay rights and racial discrimination.
It concludes that the Somewheres are ‘in
the main, modern people for whom women’s equality and minority rights… are part
of the air they breathe’. But who cares what
they really think if they don’t talk the talk?
Too many associated with local politics
seem to be on a mission to police those who
fail to adopt the correct terminology or attitudes. The LGA report includes a chilling
threat: ‘Notwithstanding the need for personal freedom, everyone needs to know…
that they will be excluded if they demonstrate words or actions that do not conform
to the desired culture of the future. There
is no room for maintaining the status quo.’
If the missionaries for this new form of
localism aim to replace the status quo with
their own punitive dystopian echo chambers
totally at odds with the electorate at large,
then their cause is likely to suffer the same
fate as Esperanto, doomed as a language
spoken by a clique who can only talk among
This article appears in an essay collection,
‘Neo-localism — Rediscovering the Nation’
published this week by
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the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Truth in fiction
Robert Harris on fake facts, his new novel – and why
totalitarianism is in the air again
he Sunday Times’s literary editor
Andrew Holgate recently tweeted the
news that Robert Harris’s latest thriller had entered the bestseller list at No. 2:
‘Pipped to the post by Ken Follett.’ Harris
retweeted it: ‘Well done Ken. You bastard.’
Pipped to the post only by Follett. That’s
the level Harris is at now. Even before it hit
the shops, his novel was being chased for
film rights by two studios. Harris is one of
that small and enviable group of journalists
who became novelists — and made it big
instantly. His first book, the alternative history story Fatherland, set in a Germany in
which Hitler won the war, was bought on
the basis of the idea alone and became a
name-establishing bestseller.
With his new novel, Munich — set amid
the 1938 appeasement crisis — Harris
returns to Nazi Germany for the first time
in 25 years. When we sit down together at
The Spectator, I go highbrow from the off
and quote Indiana Jones at him: ‘Nazis: I
hate these guys.’ What made him return to
the scene?
‘I’ve consciously waited 25 years to go
back into that world,’ he says. ‘I didn’t want
to get myself typecast as a novelist of the
second world war. But I’ve long hankered
after writing a novel about the Munich
Agreement: the moral compromises, the
drama of it, more from the British perspective than the German, and that was really
my way into it.’
A pleasure of Munich, for the reader, is
the way that Harris inserts his fictional protagonists — the civil servant, Hugh Legat,
and an old university chum called Paul
Hartmann who now works as a diplomat
on the German side — into the interstices
of the historical record. Legat, for instance,
takes the place on the flight to Munich of a
historical figure, Cecil Syers: ‘He’s bumped
off the flight at the last minute in favour of
my man… “Terribly sorry about this,” and
Syers says, “Well your German is much better than mine, it’s quite all right, old chap!”
I enjoy doing that sort of thing.’
Harris has an ‘it could have happened’
rule for himself. “I have a sort of manic
OCD quality when it comes to facts,’ he
says. ‘I need to feel that the book is true
for me to be able to write it. The New York
Times, for instance, said that the weather
was very hot and sticky in Munich at the
time. It was the climax of the Oktoberfest —
I’ve never really seen that mentioned in any
book about Munich — so the streets were
full of people in lederhosen and dirndls,
hundreds, thousands of them.
‘When Chamberlain went by they were
cheering and waving and there was a oompah band outside his hotel playing “The
Lambeth Walk”. That sort of detail, which
a historian probably wouldn’t have time to
bother with — that’s meat and drink for me.’
Around his fictional plot — which
involves Legat and Hartmann working
together covertly to get Chamberlain to see
the truth about Hitler’s intentions — are
the larger machinations of history. There’s
a sympathetic portrait of Chamberlain
himself — ‘much tougher than people realise, a wiry, obstinate fellow. Not at all the
weakling with the umbrella that we hear
about these days. And he really did change
the course of history’; a silky showing for
Lord Halifax (‘the Holy Fox… doubling
his tracks’); and a figure with a ‘thin-lipped
smile’ called Dunglass — whom history
knows (though Harris soft-pedals the joke)
as Sir Alec Douglas-Home. Harris drops
in that he once interviewed Sir Alec, late
in life, about being in the room with Hitler and what Chamberlain said about the
famous memorandum he was to wave from
the steps of his plane.
Harris is a fiction writer with a strong
attraction to history — and a thriller writer unafraid to pick a plot where everyone knows what’s going to happen in the
end. Doesn’t that present a problem? He
doesn’t think so. ‘The most successful postwar thriller was The Day of the Jackal,’
he points out. ‘Of course we all know De
Gaulle was not assassinated, but it doesn’t
stop it being a riveting book. There’s endless fascination with the Titanic. And I
wrote a novel about Pompeii. We all know
the Titanic sinks and Pompeii is destroyed
— but waiting for it gives you the drama.
This is really like Greek tragedy. You know
what’s going to happen: it’s the progress
towards it which is riveting.’
Before he was a novelist Harris was a
political columnist. The book’s coda has
a character who talks about the power
of ‘unreason’. I ask the obvious question:
does he see any parallels with our so-called
‘post-truth’ era? ‘I finished the novel and
then turned on the television and there was
the spectacle of swastikas being paraded
through a southern American city and the
American President surprisingly equivocal
in his condemnation of these neo-Nazis.
‘Living in Goebbels’s propaganda culture, at one point one of the characters says
what he enabled the Germans to do was not
to have to think. You got spoon-fed the news
that you wanted and it was all very comforting. One gets that now: everyone can get the
news they want. They don’t have to think:
they are just comforted in their prejudices,
and there is a totalitarian vibe in the air.
‘Why did I devote a decade of my life
to writing about Cicero and the collapse of
the Roman Republic? Even at the time I
thought it was a strange occupation. Afterwards though, when you see unscrupulous
multimillionaires whipping up the mob to
attack the elite and the whole democratic
structure crumbling under that pressure,
you suddenly start to think: oh, maybe that
was why I was doing it.’
Munich is published by Hutchinson at £20.
Listen to the full conversation between Sam
Leith and Robert Harris on the Spectator
Books podcast, available free on iTunes.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Why May must stay
s from the Manchester conference
hall I watched Theresa May’s big
moment falling apart, as I buried
my head in my hands while her agonies multiplied, I suppose I thought this could spell
the end for her premiership. But even as I
thought that, then reminded myself that the
same failure of the larynx has afflicted me in
front of a big audience and could strike anyone and is in itself meaningless, I knew such
an outcome would be unjust. There may be
reasons why the Tories should find a new
leader, but the triple-whammy of a frog in
the throat, some joker’s idiotic stunt, and the
failure of two magnetic letters to stick to a
board, can hardly count among them.
And of course within minutes of her sitting down my smartphone started trilling
and my inbox pinging with invitations to
‘comment’ on the unhappy hour. Could she
survive? Should she go? Should (for heaven’s sake) the party chairman resign?
Every journalist and commentator in
the hall will have had the same requests.
In the days that followed, any of us could
have made a tidy sum from scores of small
radio and television engagements where we
could have opined that of course these little
accidents are always happening but ‘sadly’
(we’d say, with a grave expression) this trio
of whoopsies would be ‘seized upon’ by critics and commentators as a ‘metaphor’ for
Mrs May’s woes, and could well prove the
‘last straw’ that might break her hold on
Downing Street … etc, etc. Lazy, cowardly
journalism: making what other people might
say do your wounding for you, while sneakily exculpating yourself by insisting that of
course this isn’t what you say yourself — oh
no — perish the thought; but there are some
nasty people out there.
I’m perfectly capable of sinking to this
kind of thing, and in journalism you do sometimes have to hold your nose. But something
came over me last week and I simply couldn’t
do it. This is the first word I’ve written on the
subject. And a week meditating rather than
commentating on May’s position has seen
my attitudes shift.
She should stay. After election night this
year I thought she should go, and maybe she
should have. But the behaviour of some of
her senior and junior colleagues since, and
the reflexive responses of scores of them
to her conference woes, teaches us something alarming about the parliamentary
Conservative party’s current mentality and
mood. It’s in a ghastly state. No state at all
to choose a proper leader. Everyone seems
to know whom they hate, distrust or despise,
and each seems to have a strong if differing
sense of where they don’t want to go. But as
to whom they love, or where they do want to
go, or even what sort of party they want to
be, I’m picking up not the ghost of anything
you could call consensus.
She, meanwhile, seems ambiguous.
Maybe her mind is blank. But at least she’s
neither destructive, duplicitous nor mad.
She’ll have to do. The party needs inten-
In my wilder moments I’ve even
wondered if the PM has consciously
resolved to be a blank slate
sive therapy and perhaps the unfolding of
events in the year ahead can provide a reality check, while she holds the fort.
Some of the comments we heard about
or read from her fellow MPs shook even
my limited confidence in parts of the party.
At least Grant Shapps had the decency to
go on the record. Others behaved like children, throwing a stone then hiding their
hand. But that even shrewd, dutiful, decent,
quietly sane Sir Patrick McLoughlin should
have to face calls to resign because a mag-
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
net had failed to hold an f in place, while a
wrong ’un had managed to get a conference
pass (scores do, every year, always have and
always will) shocked me — though not, I suspect, Sir Patrick, who has been a chief whip.
I’m not easily shocked, though. I do realise that the Commons is a sometimes spiteful place. I well know there exist politicians
who hold that there’s no better time to kick
someone than when they’re down. And I
do realise that the majority remain quietly
loyal. I’m not particularly complaining that
a fair handful of Tory MPs have a vicious
streak while a majority have a yellow streak.
I know all that. No, what settled upon me last
week was something more amorphous. It was
the futility of trying to choose a leader when
there isn’t anyone you honestly admire, and
there isn’t anywhere you’re honestly sure
you want to go. ‘Who should be leader if
not May?’ one wiseacre was asked by a colleague. ‘Oh anyone,’ he replied. There lies
the void at the party’s heart.
‘Oh anyone’ won’t do. I’m not asking for
hero worship, just some gentle indication
that colleagues know colleagues whom they
admire and trust; that the Conservative party
is ready to look up to somebody; that something like a collective sense of direction is
stirring in Tory breasts. It’s at least imaginable that as Britain’s Brexit negotiations proceed, some shared appreciation of the limits
of the possible may begin to inhabit the parliamentary party and its Brexit claque in the
media. The Tories need time, and given time
they may profit by the pause. In my wilder moments I’ve even wondered whether
Theresa May has consciously resolved to
be a blank slate until those she leads can
come, of their own accord, to an understanding of what needs to be chalked on to it.
But I can put it no better than a backbench friend’s text to me last week:
‘For real people I’ve spoken to, the
response to the speech was at worst neutral,
and often positive. For want of a Lemsip,
a kingdom should not be lost. It’s utter
nonsense. The parliamentary party need
to get their shit together and, if they must
have a collective breakdown, do it in a corner silently, quietly, and away from where
the Guardian can write breathless articles
perpetuating it.’
Story of the hurricane
Remembering the Great Storm 30 years on
he Great Storm of 1987 doesn’t
have a name like those hurricanes
that devastate the Caribbean and
the United States each winter — it wasn’t
until Abigail in November 2015 that British storms were given a personality — but it
deserves its capital letters.
The worst storm to hit England since
1703 killed 18 people, felled 15 million trees,
famously reducing Sevenoaks to Oneoak,
and cost the insurance industry more than
£2 billion. It also left the City, where trading
was closed at lunchtime the next day, unprepared for the Wall Street crash that led to
Black Monday on 19 October.
The storm, which struck 30 years ago this
Sunday, left such a mark on the nation that
it even featured in the opening ceremony
of the 2012 Olympic Games. Between the
theme music from The Archers and ‘Push
the Button’ by the Sugababes, there was a
snatch of Michael Fish’s infamously understated weather forecast. ‘Earlier on today,
apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said
she heard there was a hurricane on the way,’
Fish said. ‘Well, if you’re watching, don’t
worry, there isn’t.’
He was technically correct. What raged
over Britain that night was not a hurricane
but a violent extratropical cyclone boosted
by a phenomenon known as a ‘sting jet’ with
gusts of force 12 on the Beaufort Scale. To my
11-year-old self, however, huddled behind a
wall in the middle of the night as the gable
end of our house was deposited on to my
mother’s car, it certainly felt like a hurricane.
My family lived on Mersea Island, off
the coast of Essex, in a semi-detached Victorian villa up the hill from the sea. Our
immediate neighbours were single-storey
buildings. The storm struck our house off a
long run-up.
The wind had been bad all night. Gusts
of 70 knots (81mph) blew for three or four
hours, and none of us had been able to
sleep but we were still in our own bedrooms
at 2 a.m. when there was a frantic knocking
on the door. Len Harvey, the caretaker of
our local school, had braved the bad weather to check on his buildings and had seen
our roof start to disintegrate.
As the slates and bricks rained down, he
ordered us out of the house — my parents,
my eight-year-old brother, Tom, and myself
— and shepherded us, crouching, towards a
garden wall, where we saw the upper storey of our house peel away, crushing the car
below. My mother recalls hearing a roaring sound as we left ‘like a train rushing
through the attic’. The 2.10 from Biscay to
The Wash was a non-stopping service, and
had it not been for that caretaker we might
have been carried off down the line with our
loft insulation.
Our half of the semi was the exit route.
Next door, owned by a delightfully eccentric widow called Becky, took the impact.
But Becky was in no hurry to leave. She
had a friend, Phyllis, staying with her and,
having lived through the Blitz, they saw no
threat in mere weather.
‘But we’re in our nighties,’ Becky protested, when told she had to leave immediately. ‘And neither of us is wearing any
make-up.’ Mercifully, they gave in: it later
turned out that part of the chimney breast
had fallen on to Phyllis’s bed.
The air, I recall, had a strange green
glow, a common phenomenon in severe
storms. Dust and sand swirled around us,
filling our lungs as we moved away from
the site. When we reached the caretaker’s
We heard a roar and saw the
upper storey of our house peel away,
crushing the car below
house, I suffered a bad asthma attack and
spent most of the next week in hospital.
The family returned in the morning to a
scene of devastation. There was a huge hole
in the side of our house, the bricks stripped
away around my brother’s bedroom window. The car’s roof was caved in and the
doors splayed wide. My father was amused
to be asked by the insurance company, after
ticking the ‘Act of God’ box, how much it
would cost to repair.
We were homeless for three months, put
up first in a hotel and then in rented property as the house was rebuilt. Our two dogs,
who had been rescued by the fire brigade,
were housed elsewhere. The younger one, a
labrador puppy, became so badly affected
by nerves afterwards that she had to be put
down on the advice of the vet.
Yet our story had a happy ending. It
was during our evacuation that my mother,
after many years of trying for a third child,
became pregnant with my sister, Rosie. Out
of the thunderous, roaring devastation of
the storm came the more pleasing sound of
a baby’s cry.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Calling Paddock a ‘lone wolf’ isn’t racist
t’s been nearly two weeks since Stephen
Paddock committed mass murder in Las
Vegas and the FBI is still casting about
pitifully for clues. Why did he do it? Not
even his girlfriend knows, though it’s said
he claimed to have been simply ‘born bad’.
Plans are afoot to put up billboards urging
anyone who ever met Paddock to come forward. There’s something touching about
billboards in the internet age.
Perhaps because there are no answers
in the offing, in place of them has swelled
a great wave of outrage, not, oddly, about
America’s gun laws, but about race.
The strong feeling among America’s
celebrity class — the pop stars, the hip hop
stars and actors on Twitter — is that it’s racist of the FBI and of the President not to
call Paddock a terrorist. Ava DuVernay,
one of Hollywood’s hippest young directors, tweeted this: ‘The lone wolf. The local
shooter. The gunman. Any and everything,
but terrorist. Wonder why.’ Ava was joined
by Rihanna (79.9 million followers on Twitter) and then newspaper columnists on both
sides of the Atlantic.
A piece in the Washington Post summed
up the thinking: ‘If the shooter had been
Middle Eastern or Muslim, the rhetoric
would pretty much write itself at this point.
I doubt he’d be granted a descriptor with a
positive connotation like “lone wolf”, as if
he were the protagonist in a classic Western.’
If only characters called ‘Lone Wolf’
were the usual protagonists in a classic
Western… never mind. The real trouble
with all this contagious indignation over
Paddock’s ‘white privilege’ is that in a country with a real racism problem, it seems so
terribly misplaced.
The Twitter activists make much of the
fact that Nevada defines ‘terrorism’ relatively loosely. It’s true that according to
state law you could call Paddock a terrorist. But that wouldn’t make it helpful to the
investigation — or right. The word ‘terrorist’ has a normal definition. To any regular
Joe, a terrorist is a person who uses unlawful
violence in the pursuit of political aims. IRA
killers, for instance (all white), were terrorists. John Allen Muhammad, the DC sniper
(black) was a psycho; a lone wolf.
The FBI has its own official definition of
terrorist, which is surely the one both it and
the President should stick to. An act of terrorism, according to the Feds, is an act of
violence with intent to ‘intimidate or coerce
a government, the civilian population, or
any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives’. Paddock’s meticulous, diabolical massacre just doesn’t fit this
bill. It’s worse than terrorism in a way.
Should Trump start suddenly tweeting
that Paddock is a #terrorist? I think it would
be horribly irresponsible. It would imply to
the world that the Feds have uncovered
some motivating ideology which they have
not. All grifters and tarts that investigators
hope to tempt with their billboards, each
with their little piece of Paddock, will sink
Once a great wave of affront
starts rolling, the actual facts
become submerged
back down into the Vegas underworld. Terrorism means a network, and who wants to
be implicated in that?
‘How can you tell the survivors Paddock
was not a terrorist?’ ask the angry voices
online. ‘He terrorised them, that’s enough.’
No it’s not. Moral affront can’t change the
meaning of words. And surely what most
survivors want most is to see this investigation make some progress.
The squabble over the meaning of ‘terrorist’ is handy in one way. It at least makes
it clear how muddled the whole movement
is. The gist of every article on this subject
is that the press, politicians and the police
are too quick to cry ‘terrorist’ in the event
of some attack by a brown-skinned or Muslim man. Don’t judge a gunman by his colour, they say. Well quite. But if you’re urging
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
‘Nothing beats the feel of the printed page.’
the public not to rush to conclusions based
on skin colour, you can’t in the same breath
claim it’s a travesty that the President and
the FBI did not jump to conclusions in the
case of a white shooter, especially when all
the evidence says not ideologue, but psycho.
It would be an alarming irony if campaigners against racism were to advocate different definitions for different races.
Once a great wave of affront starts rolling, the actual facts become submerged.
It’s been claimed by quite respectable
commentators that the reason the first photos to become public were of Paddock’s
girlfriend was that she is a woman of colour.
Paddock’s ‘white privilege’ kept him out of
the papers, they say. What rot. No one who
understands the hunger of any paper to be
the first with pics of a psychotic killer could
imagine there was a conspiracy to keep Paddock out of print. It’s an insult to real victims
of racism to see it in places where it’s not.
It’s also widely assumed, post-Paddock,
that any judicious pause on behalf of the
authorities before saying ‘terrorist’ is a
favour extended only to white people. Lord
knows, that might be true of the numpty Trump. He did, after all, rush to call the
Parsons Green bomber a terrorist. But the
FBI is consistently cautious. Syed Rizwan
Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who attacked
San Bernardino in 2015, were both Muslims
of Pakistani descent. Both pledged support
for Islamic jihad but even so, when a reporter asked David Bowdich, head of LA’s FBI
office whether this was terrorism, he said: ‘It
would be irresponsible and premature of me
to call this terrorism. The FBI defines terrorism very specifically, and that is the big question for us. What is the motivation for this?’
Everyone should hold their tongues
and bide their time, Rihanna and DuVernay included. Everyone should be like the
BBC, which though frequently infuriating,
played a blinder last weekend. A black Toyota driven by a dark-skinned chap ploughed
into pedestrians outside the Natural History Museum, a fact which the BBC reported without mention of terrorism. The usual
monkeys cried ‘PC gone mad!’ and Katie
Hopkins and Nigel Farage leapt up and
down with excited rage. But the Beeb was
right. It was just an accident.
Kill your friendships
An appeal to the masses
Pals are a luxury, not a necessity
As the Tories
struggle to find a policy which might
appeal to their traditional supporters
and not simply ape those of Jeremy
Corbyn, how about a reprise of
Solon’s law against idleness?
In 594 bc Solon was made arkhôn
in Athens to deal with a number
of problems, including debt. Solon
ruled, for example, that if fathers
did not find a trade for their sons,
their sons would not have to support
them in old age; and to boost trade
and jobs, encouraged foreigners to
settle in Athens with their families,
and facilitated Athenian commerce
abroad. He also passed a law (we
are told) against idleness: every
year every family had to account for
how they made their living, and face
penalties if they could not. This law,
we are told by the essayist Plutarch,
was driven by the fact that farming
was traditionally the ‘honourable’
occupation, but the poverty of
Athens’ soil ‘could not sustain the
unoccupied and unemployed’. So
Solon’s proposal ‘brought dignity
to craft-skills’. The result of all this,
Solon presumably hoped, would
be that no man had any excuse for
not finding work. As Pericles later
said in his Funeral Speech (430 bc),
‘there is no disgrace in the admission
of poverty, but rather in the failure
to take active measures to escape it’.
This would certainly go down
well in Tory circles but could serve
Corbyn’s policies too. For as the
Athenians recognised, such a law
was in fact a two-edged sword. It
caught out high-minded intellectuals
who spent their time just thinking
and writing. What did they live off?
It caught out the rich, implying
that their wealth was the result
of ill-gotten gains. It caught out
spendthrifts, wasting their patrimony
for their own pleasure rather than in
service to the state. In other words, if
one was not working, there must be
something fishy going on.
This is all of a piece with the
ancient Greek view that selfsufficiency was the mark of the truly
free man, and wealth justified only
if well-gotten and used to serve
the state. One can think of worse
— Peter Jones
am not a bad friend. I enjoy my mates,
and I am generous, showering them with
fun, money and sympathy. But I do not
crave their company when I am without it,
for whatever length of time, and should we
lose touch, I do not miss them. In fact, I find
there’s a profound pleasure in parting with
a chum, whether by their hand or by yours.
We should all have the courage to admit it
when a friendship has become more work
than play, more duty than beauty.
Maybe my origins led me to feel this
way. I was an only child who, at an early age,
became extremely fond of my own company.
Some of my earliest memories are of lurking
in my bedroom and begging my mother to
get rid of young schoolmates who had come
calling for me to play. I was first married as
a teenager, remarried in my mid-twenties
straight after my divorce and then took up
with the man whom I’ve now been with for
22 years. I always had my husbands to talk
to, so I never grew up sharing confidences
with friends the way other women do.
As I have got older, I have learned how to
do so, and I must say I enjoy it — it’s a oneon-one way of showing off. And, not being
needy, I have found myself making friends
with the ease and swiftness that other people pick up fuzzballs on their jumpers. But
because of my early solitude, friends seem
luxuries rather than necessities. My second
husband believed I had such a fickle attitude to friendship that each Friday he would
update the list of my Top Ten friends in the
manner of a Top of the Pops chart countdown: ‘And straight in at No. 5 — for writing a flattering article — it’s Daisy Waugh.
But down three places — for not being sufficiently fawning at the Groucho last night
— it’s Emma Forrest!’ Some people might
find this attitude deeply shallow, but I like
Peter Ustinov’s take on it: ‘Friends are not
necessarily the people you like best, they are
merely the people who get there first.’
Those extreme hoarders I sometimes see
on TV horrify me because we know that if
you never throw anything out, you often
won’t be able to find what you want. And
perhaps the thing you want may be a new
thing — and too many old things will take
up room the new thing needs. It was Sacha
Guitry (not James Goldsmith) who originally said, ‘When a man marries his mistress,
he creates a vacancy’, and the same goes for
friends. You need to keep the line moving
in order for the dance not to grind to a halt.
We seem to have become more sentimental about friendship as we have become
more sceptical about love. You could forgive old Thoreau, wandering about Walden
Pond in solitary bucolic bliss back in 1845,
for musing that: ‘Friends… they cherish
one another’s hopes. They are kind to one
another’s dreams.’ But you’d think that the
Spice Girls, in 1996, fresh from the cut and
thrust of stage school and the chorus line,
would have known better than to sing, ‘If
you wanna be my lover/ You gotta get with
my friends’ — not a pervy call to voyeuristic
pleasure, but (according to Wikipedia) one
which ‘addresses the value of female friendship over the heterosexual bond’. I adore
my mates, but I’d chuck them under a metaphorical bus for someone I was in love with
— because while there are only a certain
number of people we can desire, potential
friends (like buses) come along all the time.
Some come to mind who I’ve been particularly happy to see the back of. The fantasist who couldn’t keep her clammy hands off
me when drunk and would then go around
accusing me of being the wretched lesbo
lech. The one whose favourite put-down
was ‘narcissist’, but who only ever talked
about herself. The one who behaved like
the Queen of Sheba when she was just a
royal freeloader. The one who aspired to my
career and who now writes about every issue
I wrote on 20 years ago, but has such a lack
of wit and rhythm that her tributes read like
my originals translated into Serbo-Croat
and then, badly, back into English.
John Galsworthy’s heroine Irene, of The
Forsyte Saga, says something I first heard as
a child and which has stuck with me all my
life. When she is caught out by her young
protégée June having an affair with June’s
fiancé, the younger girl has a right hissy fit
and yells something like: ‘But I thought you
were my friend!’ Irene replies along the
lines of: ‘A woman of the world doesn’t have
friends — she has lovers, and acquaintances.’ I wouldn’t go this far, but neither do I
consider the craze for prizing female friendship above all other forms of affection to be
any way for an adult to live their life. When
it stops being fun, get the hell out of Dodge
and don’t look back.
As the party season approaches and
the New Year seductively beckons, let us
remember the words of the old song — and
if they’re boring the pants off you, let old
acquaintances be forgot.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Let’s talk about guns
Hong Kong phooey
Sir: I was surprised that the cover stories
on the recent shootings in Las Vegas (‘Say
nothing’, 7 October) did not address the
issue of gun control. The point surely is
that if weapons are readily available, and
not universally disapproved of, sooner or
later someone will use them. There doesn’t
have to be a specific motive, religious or
otherwise, and often there is no point in
looking for one. There is no question that
for some people, using guns and explosives
gives a thrill which they probably do not
find elsewhere — and the more powerful
and rapid-firing the weapon, the greater
the thrill. This is why guns are locked up in
armouries in military barracks, to prevent
them getting into the hands even of people
who have been carefully selected and
trained to use them. The evidence from
Australia — where a gun atrocity in 1996
led to a rapid tightening of the gun laws
— is convincing: there have been no such
incidents since and there was a drop of 72
per cent in single gun killings. In the UK, a
similar outcome followed the Hungerford,
Dunblane and Cumbria incidents.
William Beckett
Woolley, Wantage
Sir: James Delingpole (‘If only the Tories
understood economics’, 7 October) suggests
that the government should follow the
economic policies of what was British Hong
Kong before the handover to China. As a
regular visitor to Hong Kong in the 1980s
and 1990s, my impression was that the bulk
of the population existed in very cramped
accommodation while working fearsomely
hard so that a minority, mainly expats, could
live lives of great luxury. The shouts of ‘Boy,
another double whisky’, at the Jockey Club
seemed to sum up the situation. Perhaps Mr
Delingpole should remember that Hong
Kongers did not have the vote, but the
British drones do — and if they are pushed
too far they may elect a government more
sympathetic to their interests.
Robert Walls
Camberley, Surrey
Sir Richard Greenbury
Sir: I was interested in Martin Vander
Weyer’s account of ‘Rickograms’ sent
by Sir Richard Greenbury (Any Other
Business, 7 October). As the then principal
Capitalism’s alternatives
Sir: If John McInnes really thinks that
people can only get richer by making the
poor poorer, he falls for the fallacy that
economics is a zero sum game (Letters,
7 October). Market economies, where
quality and productivity is driven up by
competition, have over time proved to
be the most effective way of increasing
living standards for all sections of society.
By incentivising economic progress, more
resources becomes available for all groups.
Anyone who lived through the 1970s will
remember the strikes and the poor quality
of goods and services from the nationalised
sector. Far from wealth-creating, they were
wealth-consuming in their losses and low
productivity. The Labour government of
the day, with its disastrous economic record,
was the only UK government of any party
to actually cut in cash terms spending on
health and education — cuts for the many,
not the few, presumably.
Socialist systems (for example, in
Venezuela) have either consigned their
people to poverty or required extensive
market reforms to prosper — as Britain
did in the 1980s. If Mr McInnes feels
‘royally screwed’ by capitalism, he should
get out more and take a look at how the
alternative systems actually perform.
Graham Wheatley
Bourne, South Lincolnshire
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
– Up to 4 daily departures *†
– Same day return journeys *
– Complimentary on board
drinks & snacks
– Express check-in service
– Fast track security channel *
– Executive airport lounges *
of Ealing Tertiary College, I discovered Sir
Richard had studied in one of our buildings
when it was part of the grammar school.
Invited as guest of honour to an awards
ceremony, he arrived in a chauffeur-driven
limousine. We took tea in my office where,
visibly upset, he explained that the last time
he had been in that room was when he was
15. His mother had brought him to tell the
then head that he would be leaving the
school that day, as his father had just died.
Shocked, the head had asked what she had
planned for him, pointing out he was an
able student. ‘All sorted,’ his mother said
proudly. ‘He starts at the local Marks &
Spencer on Monday.’ Another example of
the advantage of vocational training?
Ian Wallis
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
You tube!
Sir: Unusually, Dot Wordsworth overlooks
another important usage for the word
‘tube’ (Mind your language, 7 October). In
Scotland, especially in the west of Scotland,
it is a commonplace and immensely
satisfying insult, as in ‘What are ye on
about, ya tube?’, the implication being that
the person in question has no qualities
beyond his or her digestive functions.
Keith Aitken
Chinese characters
Sir: While I enjoyed Mike Cormack’s
review of The Chinese Typewriter (Books,
7 October), it is a shame that he describes
the Chinese writing system as ‘ideographic’.
This is a longstanding myth, linked to the
notion (also untrue) that Chinese characters
are essentially pictorial in nature. Really,
‘ideographic’ means a script that, rather
than encoding sounds or words, conveys
ideas directly to the reader — something
no script ever does. Mr Cormack’s mistake
is understandable, with a pedigree among
European writers going back to the 1500s.
But Chinese is fascinating enough without
mystifying it unnecessarily.
Cameron Henderson-Begg
Weybridge, Surrey
Fur to go
* At selected airports † Except Saturdays
Sir: Kate Chisholm wonders how to dispose
of a fur coat (Radio, 7 October). We solved
the problem of our inherited fur by giving
it to our local amateur dramatic society for
their wardrobe collection. They were very
grateful, as many period dramas require the
leading lady to be fur-clad.
Michael Ross
Ulverston, Cumbria
Bombardier says more about aircraft makers’
dirty tricks than the future of UK-US trade
ombardier exposes post-Brexit realities’ was the FT’s headline after the
Trump administration imposed a
300 per cent tariff on sales of the Canadian
manufacturer’s C Series aircraft into the US,
threatening 4,000 Bombardier jobs in Northern Ireland. Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
weighed in: ‘There’s been a lot of talk of a
new trade deal between the UK and the US
and how great that would be for the UK, but
we are now talking about the possibility of
a trade war.’ The truth of this story, however, is that it tells us little about prospects for
the future US-UK trade accord occasionally
mentioned in the US President’s tweets —
other than, perhaps, that he will never agree
anything that doesn’t visibly put ‘America
first’ and doesn’t give a hoot whether what
he says today is consistent with what he
tweeted three months ago.
The UK interest in the Bombardier dispute is, in that sense, largely a matter of collateral damage in continuing tensions on
two fronts. First between the US and Canada in a range of sectors, despite the longstanding ‘free trade deal’ which is often
quoted as a model for the UK to follow; and
secondly between world-leading aircraft
makers, led by Boeing in the US, Bombardier, Airbus and Embraer of Brazil. In this
instance, the US giant objected to the Canadian’s ‘predatory’ pricing of planes sold to
Delta Air Lines, despite having slashed its
own prices to persuade United Airlines to
buy at home rather than north of the border.
These are standard tactics for aircraft manufacturers, along with accusing each other
of being unfairly state-aided — which they
generally all are. And in any such clash of
global industrial gladiators, the stand-alone
UK, as a component supplier with a shrunken manufacturing base, is at risk of being left
looking like a powerless minor player.
A parable of enterprise
A reader in the FTSE boardroom world
told me sternly the other day that I should
resist the temptation to join the Corbynist
mob and most of today’s media in sniping
at corporate capitalism, and instead celebrate its positive achievements. So here’s a
parable designed to do just that.
The Kensington Aldridge Academy is
a state-of-the-art secondary school that
opened in 2014 next to Grenfell Tower in
North Kensington, and now has 960 pupils.
‘Aldridge’ refers to a charitable foundation
created by Sir Rod Aldridge, the multimillionaire former chairman of the outsourcing
giant Capita, to sponsor schools with a special focus on entrepreneurship. Some locals
resented the school being built on green
space that served Grenfell residents, and
some anti-capitalists no doubt resented the
Aldridge-Capita connection — a fortune
made from outsourcing being in their eyes
an ill-gotten gain from public sector shrinkage. But the school itself swiftly won praise
from the Department for Education and
elsewhere as a worthy example of the academy model, and has achieved a first set of
excellent AS-level results. Then on 14 June
came the Grenfell fire: four KAA pupils
(and one former pupil) died, and the school
buildings were declared out of bounds for
months ahead. The solution of that crisis is
the nub of this story.
From somewhere in Whitehall a call was
made to Portakabin, the York-based and
third-generation family-owned firm that is
probably most often associated with building-site huts. Could they build a temporary
school, on a former military site at Scrubs
Lane a mile from the disaster zone, in time
for the autumn term? The answer was that
they could, so long as less pressing clients
didn’t mind their orders being jogged down
the list. In just nine weeks, 210 Portakabin
modules were fitted out elsewhere, then
stacked and connected on-site to create a
complete replica of KAA’s classrooms and
special facilities, including its autism suite,
technology workshops and dance studio.
After the pupils moved in on 18 September, the school’s principal David Benson declared: ‘It looks and feels like their
school… it’s the fastest school ever built.’
And it has presented sixth-formers studying
entrepreneurship with a remarkable case
study of what business can deliver.
Continental troublemakers
It’s a curious twist of history that an entirely
domestic high-street bank such as TSB
should be one of the first British businesses
affected by political upheaval in Catalonia.
Founded by a Scottish clergyman in 1810 to
help poor parishioners save their pennies,
the Trustee Savings Bank was first absorbed
into Lloyds Bank, then carved out of it
again when EU regulators insisted that part
of Lloyds’s branch network must be sold
off as a condition of approval for the 2008
bailout. Co-op Bank was lined up as the
buyer but proved unfit, so TSB was floated
in 2014 amid much hype about becoming
an independent challenger that would welcome customers back to ‘local banking’ —
until a few months later, when along came
a bid from Banco Sabadell of Spain. The
bid was accepted by Lloyds (encouraged
by HM Treasury) with what some thought
was indecent haste as a way of turning its
residual TSB holding into cash and hastening a sell-off of the remaining taxpayer stake
in Lloyds itself, subsequently completed.
Sabadell, little known in the UK, turned
out to be Catalonia’s second financial institution after CaixaBank and Spain’s fifth biggest lender; now both Sabadell and Caixa
have decided to move their headquarters
out of the troubled region for fear of regulatory chaos and a run on deposits if the
independence movement does not subside.
TSB’s Spanish bosses are currently sitting
on packing cases and trying to get their
phones working in Alicante, 300 miles from
their home city of Sabadell, which is a northern satellite of Barcelona. It’s a pity they
can’t consult the Reverend Henry Duncan
of Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, the founder of
TSB. He always kept a beady eye on continental troublemakers, having once raised a
contingent of volunteers against the threat
of French invasion in south-west Scotland.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Steven Poole wonders what
else Princess Margaret
could have done, apart from
drinking and pulling rank
James Walton finds Alan
Hollinghurst’s new novel
dazzling yet similar to all his
Mark Bostridge is puzzled
that Americans celebrate
Thanksgiving, considering
the Pilgrim Fathers’ legacy
Laura Gascoigne isn’t sure
Basquiat would have been
remembered if he’d lived
to 80
Damian Thompson reveals
the personal hygiene
problems of playing piano
James Delingpole is
appalled by the new reality
series Bromans – but it is
what people are really like
‘Butcher Boy’, c.1919–20,
by Chaïm Soutine
Laura Freeman — p38
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
How pleasant to know Mr Lear
Peter Parker on the modest, melancholy and astonishingly gifted painter and author
Mr Lear: A Life in Art and Nonsense
by Jenny Uglow
Faber, £25, pp. 598
Edward Lear liked to tell the story of how
he was once sitting in a railway carriage
with two women who were reading aloud to
children from his Book of Nonsense. When
a male passenger confidently asserted that
‘There is no such person as Edward Lear’,
the writer was obliged to prove his own
existence as ‘the painter & author’ (in that
order) by showing the passengers his name
on his hat, handkerchief and visiting card. In
an extraordinary drawing of this event, Lear
depicted himself and the two women realistically, but the doubting man is a cartoonish
figure straight out of one of his limericks.
Lear’s two worlds of ‘art and nonsense’
wonderfully collide in this anecdote and
its illustration. To be told that one does not
exist nods at Lear’s feeling that his paintings
were admired only by a select audience and
places him in the absurdist position of the
limericks’ protagonists. The sceptical gentleman is a representative of the poems’ ‘they’,
that anonymous chorus of people who frequently question or challenge those whose
eccentric behaviour makes them outsiders.
As Angus Davidson eloquently put it in his
1938 biography of Lear:
‘They’ are the force of public opinion, the
dreary voice of human mediocrity: ‘they’ are
perpetually interfering with the liberty of
the individual; ‘they’ gossip, ‘they’ condemn,
‘they’ are inquisitive and conventional and
almost always uncharitable.
Lear’s life and work offer an invigorating
rebuff to that banal majority.
He was born into a huge family in Holloway in 1812, programmed from birth to
feel an outsider. His father was a sugar
refiner turned financially unstable City
broker, while his mother appears to have
been more or less continuously pregnant.
Of the 14 children who survived infancy,
the sickly and myopic Edward was number 13. He never had any real bond with
his mother, and was brought up instead
by his eldest sister, Ann, who was 21 years
his senior.
He suffered from asthma and developed a form of epilepsy at the age of five,
which meant that apart from a brief, unsuccessful and unrecorded spell at school, he
was educated at home in a predominantly
female household, learning such traditionally ‘feminine’ accomplishments as drawing birds and flowers, writing verse and
composing and performing songs.
These turned out to be far more useful
to his subsequent career than anything he
might have learned at a traditional public
school, and in particular he proved to be an
astonishingly gifted ornithological painter.
Granted permission to draw birds from life
at the newly opened Zoological Gardens in
Regent’s Park, he published the first two
parts of his spectacular Illustrations of the
Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots when he
was only 18.
The President of the Zoological Society, shortly to succeed his father as the 13th
Earl of Derby, was sufficiently impressed
by Lear’s exact but characterful paintings
to invite him to make a record of the birds
and animals he kept in his private menagerie
at Knowsley Park in Lancashire. Occupying
an ambiguous position between guest and
employee, Lear would spend weeks on end
at Knowsley painting Lord Derby’s birds
and beasts.
It was also here, in a household ‘full of
children bursting from the effort of being
polite in grown-up company’, that Lear
wrote his first limericks, their form based
on comic verses in a book he’d found there,
Richard Scrafton Sharpe’s Anecdotes and
Adventures of Fifteen Gentleman (1822).
Derby became a crucial early patron, and in
1837 would send Lear off to Rome to develop his skills as a landscape painter.
As Jenny Uglow beautifully observes,
Lear’s watercolours of animals have ‘a feeling for the fast beat of a heart, the wetness of
a twitching nose’, while his affinity with birds
forms a constant thread in her book, in which
each section has a wittily ornithological title,
from ‘Fledging’ to ‘Swooping’.
Several of the subjects of Lear’s limericks either keep company with, or more or
less become, birds, something emphasised
in the poems’ gloriously scratchy illustrations: the Old Person of Nice adopting the
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
‘The Road to the Pyramids at Giza’, c.1873; and (left) Blue and Yellow Macaw, c.1834
forward-leaning motion of his geese; the Old
Man of El Hums, who is barely distinguishable from the birds alongside whom he is
pecking at crumbs; or the Old Man of Whitehaven whose beaky nose and lifted coat-tails
make him the perfect partner for a raven in
dancing a quadrille.
Lear asserted that ‘bosh requires a good
deal of care’, and Uglow is very good indeed
on the nonsense rhymes, really looking at
the words and illustrations, both of which
have sometimes been underestimated. She
points out that the way the final line more
or less repeats the first one is not a weakness,
because the adjective often casts a different
light on what has gone before, and that the
form, conceived for an audience of children,
‘worked like a jack-in-the-box, springing a
character into life, then snapping the box
shut as it returned to the place of the opening line’.
She also emphasises the high level of violence in the poems, and it would be interesting to know if Lear had seen Heinrich
Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter, which was published in 1845, the year before the first Book
of Nonsense. Lear’s Old Man with a poker
bears a distinct resemblance to Hoffman’s
long, red-legg’d scissor-man, while the Old
Man of the Nile saws his own thumbs off,
thus sharing the fate of Little Suck-a-Thumb.
Away from the nursery, Lear spent a
great deal of his life travelling in pursuit
of new subjects to paint and climates better suited to his precarious health. Looking
back over 40 years at the sketches he had
made, Lear listed some 30 journeys in search
of topographical subjects, and Uglow is not
the first of his biographers to struggle to convey this peripatetic aspect of his life without
reducing it to an annotated itinerary.
Given what a good writer Lear was himself, the temptation to plunder his diaries and
travel journals is irresistible, but the proliferation of places visited and people met sometimes overwhelms the narrative. Uglow does,
however, give a real sense of just how intrepid a traveller Lear was and just how hard he
worked, and she writes extremely well about
both the paintings and the techniques he
used to create them.
She is also excellent on Lear’s sometimes
uneasy reliance on patronage, and his equally tricky relationship with Tennyson, lines of
whose poems inspired many paintings. While
remaining a keen admirer (and very funny
parodist) of Tennyson’s work, Lear increasingly found the man unbearable, acutely
Some of his most touching late works
are caricatures of himself and his cat
Foss tottering into senescence together
referring to ‘the Anomaly of high souls &
philosophical writings combined with slovenliness, selfishness & morbid folly’. He was
devoted, however, to Tennyson’s much putupon wife, Emily, who became perhaps his
closest confidante. His deep friendship with
her was without the tensions that arose in
those with young men such as Franklin Lushington and Hubert Congreve.
Lear’s homosexuality, though probably
never acted upon, has been acknowledged
for many years, despite some rather desperate backpedalling by Peter Levi in his highly
personal and idiosyncratic biography of 1995.
Levi seemed bemused by Lear’s relationship
with Lushington and insisted that Lear was
‘of course heterosexual’. Uglow takes Lear’s
sexuality as read and devotes little space to
the matter, simply stating that he was clearly
in love with Lushington and that a ‘host of
emotions, open and unacknowledged, clouded [his] feelings for’ Congreve.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
She also notes that Lear’s vacillating
and rather vague notion that he should
marry — notably the many years he spent
dithering over ‘dear little’ Gussie Bethell, a
woman less than half his age — was devoid
of romantic or sexual considerations.
Lear’s supposed ugliness combined with
his epilepsy (which he kept secret, learning
to retire to the privacy of a room when he
felt a fit coming on) made him feel unworthy, although he was still considering matrimony in his seventies — ‘a good woman
to nurse me to the last’, as he unenticingly
put it. What he most craved was companionship, and much of the melancholia that
characterised his life arose from the sense
that he was the only one among his many
friends who had failed to find domestic
His later years were spent in San Remo,
fondly but erratically tended by his longserving Suliot manservant, Giorgio Kokali.
Uglow rightly allots a good deal of space
to Giorgio, but rather neglects that other
important companion of Lear’s declining
years, his delightfully stumpy-tailed and
long-lived cat, Foss. Lear’s lifelong affinity with animals comes full circle in San
Remo, and some of his most touching late
works are the little caricature-portraits he
drew of himself and this beguiling feline
tottering into senescence together.
In an ideal world, one would also have
liked more on the two gardens Lear created in San Remo, for they, like Foss,
provided him with both solace and material for the vast number of charming and
funny letters he continued to write to
absent friends. ‘How pleasant to know
Mr Lear,’ he mockingly wrote of himself,
and readers of this detailed, affectionate
and beautifully produced biography will
surely agree.
On the waterfront
Alex Clark
Manhattan Beach
by Jennifer Egan
Corsair, £16.99, pp. 436
Much has been made of the American novelist Jennifer Egan’s mutation, in her latest novel, from purveyor of metafiction
and fragmentary, experimental narratives
to creator of a solid piece of traditional
realism. Manhattan Beach tells the story
of a father and daughter in New York in
the years in and around the second world
war: Eddie is a mobster’s bagman, who
disappears without apparent trace early on;
Anna is left distraught, but is also a resilient striver, growing up to become the only
female diver in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard.
Betwixt and between them stands Dexter Styles, a nightclub owner and instrument of the mafia, swishing between cold
malfeasance and a yearning for a life less
But despite its appearance of solidity,
Manhattan Beach shares with Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon
Squad and an earlier novel, The Keep, a
vivid apprehension of the provisionality of
human life and the onus on fiction to dispose
itself accordingly in the attempt to capture it.
Anna is a fan of Ellery Queen, eating up his
tales of detection and suspense almost faster
than the library can supply her. And yet she
is aware of their shortcomings:
For all their varied and exotic settings, mystery
novels seemed to happen in a single realm — a
landscape vaguely familiar to Anna from long
ago. Finishing one always left her disappointed, as if something about it had been wrong, an
expectation unfulfilled.
That sense of nostalgia — a pull towards
the half-remembered past that speaks of
home — is one of the chimerical attributes of
fiction that Egan seeks to probe and develop, and perhaps illuminates why she once
described A Visit to the Goon Squad’s twin
influences as Proust’s A La Recherche du
Temps Perdu and the television mob show
The Sopranos.
Like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch,
Manhattan Beach tracks that particular journey out of a childhood that has been devastated by sudden parental loss; both novels
combine a portrayal of the exigencies of
survival into adulthood with a sense of a life
freeze-framed, stopped in its developmental tracks and unable to shake off its former
childhood attachments and certainties.
Anna also has a severely disabled sister,
Lydia, to whom she whispers her most profound thoughts and desires in the belief — the
reader doesn’t know whether justified or not
— that her sister understands everything she
says, and the knowledge that she will never
be able to repeat them. There is a mythical
quality to a detail like this, as there is in the
transformative scene in which Anna enlists
Dexter Styles’s help to convey Lydia to the
sea shore and briefly liberates her from her
physical constraints.
Back in the realist world of the novel,
though, an absorbing narrative unfolds.
Anna faces down the naval authorities to
enter an elite group beset by danger, training to become one of the divers who repairs
the ships that will sail into war on America’s behalf. The minutiae — baffling to us,
in a technologically advanced society — are
brilliantly realised, as Egan blends descriptions of diving dresses and lifelines with
a more impressionistic depiction of the
claustrophobia and the freedom of the submarine world.
Anna is the novel’s pivotal figure, but
Egan also shifts the viewpoint to Eddie and
Dexter, men in thrall to male hierarchies
who fleetingly make a bond with one anoth-
Isle of the Living
(after Arnold Böcklin, ‘Isle of the Dead’)
How relieved we are
to alight here at last,
the boat shoving into
shingle, hurling us
headlong at dry land.
The river-path snakes us
away from the shore,
and the hills’ round embrace
consoles, as we start
the length of the valley.
No cypress grove, no
bleak morse-code tapping
at the mind’s ear,
no sheer-stop cliff,
God’s secret temples
nowhere in the rock,
only fields that seem to unfurl
quite willingly, ragwort and daisy
insisting themselves out of soil,
and ahead a warm bothy –
one chimney puffing its cigar –
always awaiting us, even though
we never quite arrive.
—Michael Loveday
er. Their entwined stories, often told via
disorientating jumps in time, are what propel the narrative forward, immersing the
reader in ‘the mystery that seemed now to
have been flashing at Anna from behind
every Agatha Christie and Rex Stout and
Raymond Chandler she’d read’. Mystery fiction as a mask for even more mysterious fact:
that seems a pretty accurate way to think of
Egan’s own ingenious, tantalising adventures
in writing.
Princess Uppity
Steven Poole
Ma’am Darling:
99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret
by Craig Brown
4th Estate, £16.99, pp. 423
Princess Margaret was everywhere on the
bohemian scene of the 1960s and 1970s.
She hung out with all the famous rock stars,
actors and other arty types of the day. Marlon Brando was struck dumb; Picasso wanted
to marry her. As Craig Brown puts it artfully: ‘Everyone seems to have met her at least
once or twice, even those who did their best
to avoid her.’ And so, having noticed her
ubiquity in the indices of other books, the
satirist has written a hugely entertaining
Why would anyone do their best to avoid
the princess? Well, she had a Prince Philipish way with the rude put down. (On being
presented with a dish of Coronation Chicken: ‘This looks like sick.’) Secondly, the
drunker she got, the more she pulled rank,
leading to many a nightmarish dinner. And
there was not much else for her to do but get
This is a darkly glamorous tale, after
all, of a ‘punishing schedule of drinking
and smoking’, punctuated by notorious
love affairs. The first, with Group Captain
Peter Townsend, is genuinely sad: first he
is shunted off to Belgium by the establishment so they can’t see each other, and then
she eventually renounces him rather than
be forced to give up her title and go into
exile abroad. The second, with the photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, later to
become Lord Snowdon — immortalised
here as ‘Tony Snapshot’, the bitchy name
bestowed on him early on by the Earl of
Leicester — ends in mutual contempt.
The book is brilliantly written, with a
wonderful sardonic edge but also a thoughtful, at times even moving tone. Brown’s
aleatory structure, hopping back and forth
through time to present tableaux and anecdotes from the life, is a triumph, and renders
the book probably the least boring royal
biography it is possible to imagine reading.
After all, as Brown, a connoisseur of the
awful genre, points out: of all the arts, biog-
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Margaret at the
races in Kingston,
Jamaica in 1955
Highly charged territory
Anthony Cummins
Dinner at the Centre
of the Earth
by Nathan Englander
Weidenfeld, £14.99, pp. 252
raphy is ‘the least like life; and royal biography doubly so’.
Brown is a rightly celebrated satirist and
parodist, but the sequences here that are
pure counterfactual invention (an account
of Margaret’s marriage with Picasso, for
example) are somewhat less funny, perhaps because funny is all they are trying to
be. More hilarious is his gimlet eye on, say,
the stalkerish prose of her former servant’s
memoir (‘my beautiful princess’, etc); or
his drive-by analysis of the Queen Mother’s ‘ruthless contentment’; or his smilingly
patient evisceration of the then-poet laureate Andrew Motion’s doggerel marking the
Princess’s death.
Indeed, Brown’s real contumely is
reserved for the crowd that Margaret attracted: the lickspittle hangers-on, the snooty
theatre directors, the social climbers, and all
the cynics who used her as edgy entertainment. ‘The connoisseurs wanted to see her
getting uppity; it was what she did best,’
Brown notes. Besides such ‘laughing sophisticates’, the Princess herself could even seem
an ‘innocent’.
Margaret was dismissed by some contemporaries as just another empty-headed snob,
but on this evidence she was actually that
rare thing, a cultured royal. She could play
the piano and sing well, it seems, if exhaustingly — she would often go on till the small
hours, exploiting the convention that no one
could retire to bed before Her Royal Highness. Her friend Gore Vidal thought her ‘far
too intelligent for her station in life’, and her
often dismissive remarks about plays she had
been dragged to see to derive from a rigor-
Everyone seems to have met Princess
Margaret at least once, even those
who did their best to avoid her
ous (if circumscribed) taste rather than mere
philistinism. Plus, it’s not as if the culture
couldn’t do with more people who say what
they really think upon leaving the theatre.
The Princess’s admirable commitment to
dramatic realism, moreover, clearly motivated the story recounted here of her appearance on The Archers, playing herself at a
country fair. After one take, the producer
asked: ‘Do you think you could sound as if
you were enjoying yourself a little more?’
Splendidly, Margaret replied: ‘Well, I
wouldn’t be, would I?’ Quite. I think she
might, on the other hand, have enjoyed this
book — though it has no index, which is
rather a sorry sign of the times.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
I first heard of this tragicomic spy romp
around Israel and Palestine when Julian
Barnes sang its praises in the Guardian a
few months ago, having been ‘lucky to see
an advance proof’. Lucky? Well, he and
Nathan Englander do share an agent, who
perhaps noticed that Dinner at the Centre of
the Earth just happens to take its epigraph
from a novel by, er, Julian Barnes.
That’s showbiz, I guess; and in any case,
a spot of sly boosterism rather suits this
mixed-up tale of cloaked allegiances, which
never quite supplies the facts you need to
grasp what’s going on — at least not during
the globe-trotting, time-toggling fug of the
novel’s opening half.
In 2014, someone known as ‘the prisoner’ rots in a bunker in the Israeli desert;
why, we know not. In 2002, a Berlin-based
wheeler-dealer calling himself Farid offers
his contact in — or under — Gaza to a suspiciously chummy Canadian electronics
exporter keen to skirt customs in Cairo.
And back in 2014, a dying man resembling
Ariel Sharon — Márquezianly dubbed ‘the
General’ — slips from his Jerusalem hospital bed into a limbo writhing with flashbacks to a half-century of bloodshed.
Clarity comes with the unmasking of
Z, a double agent gone to ground in Paris,
paranoid about the long arm of Mossad
while fretting opaquely about ‘what he’d
done’. If it seems absurd when he beds an
Italian waitress quicker than you can yell
honeytrap — bad spycraft, or bad stagecraft? — you sense the prospect of building
a novel around a solitary fugitive just didn’t
grab a writer who thrives on dialogue. The
book’s most pungent scenes ring with verbal rat-a-tat over Israeli military strategy,
reviled by one veteran as a ‘fucking terrorist recruitment campaign’, but upheld
by the General, shown supervising the wiring of dynamite into the doorframe of an
Arab home where ‘children’s heights were
Englander’s problem isn’t texture, but
structure: he stakes the book’s emotional
and symbolic impact on two cross-border
lovers introduced too late for us to care
much that they’re separated by a checkpoint. And the hopscotch narrative makes
much of the mystery a sham; not least
because Englander ends up having to spell
things out anyhow, seguing (for instance)
into one of several handy overviews when
someone’s ‘thoughts veer to the severity of
the situation’. Better, perhaps, to have kept
it simple to begin with.
The great betrayal
Mark Bostridge
The Mayflower Generation:
The Winslow Family and
the Fight for the New World
by Rebecca Fraser
Chatto, £25, pp. 358
They were at sea for more than two months
in desperately cramped conditions. The
battered ship, barely seaworthy, pitched
violently in storms where the swell rose to
100 feet. One of the beams cracked and there
was talk of returning to England before it
was temporarily repaired with a house jack.
With spray in their faces so fierce that they
could barely see, the small band of pilgrims
invoked the words of Psalm 107, that God
would make the storm calm and the waves
still. Finally, on 11 November 1620, the Mayflower made landfall at Cape Cod, and some
weeks later the settlers decided on the site
of present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, for
their colony.
By the following spring, only half of the
100 or so who had made the north Atlantic
crossing were still alive, their immune systems weakened by lack of nourishment and
poor weather. Nevertheless, even before
they disembarked from the Mayflower, the
pilgrims had made history by establishing
the bedrock for self-government in the New
As Rebecca Fraser says, the so-called
‘Mayflower Compact’ has been much
romanticised, not least in all those cutesy
depictions of pilgrims in steeple hats putting their signatures to the document in a
luxury cabin. Yet in their attempt to bind
the community together by drawing up an
agreement on the basis of equal laws for
the general good, the Plymouth Colony
was undertaking a truly revolutionary act:
the first experiment in consensual government in western history between individuals, without the sanction of a monarch.
Four months in and the pilgrims met
their first native Indian. In what reads a bit
like a bad TV sketch, Samoset, a minor chief
of the Wampanoag tribe, naked except for a
fringed belt, emerged from the forest one
day and to their amazement greeted the
pilgrims with the words, ‘Hello English’ (of
course he had learned the language from
passing trading ships).
From this initial encounter developed
an extraordinary, mutually beneficial relationship between Europeans and Indians,
lasting for more than a decade. The Europeans needed the Indians to access the fur
trade, and the Indians were keen to adopt
European manufacturing in the production
of iron tools. The Wampanoags cast a net of
safety around the settlers to protect them
from other tribes, while Edward Winslow,
one of the separatist leaders, had magical
Edward Winslow visits Massasoit
powers attributed to him when he nursed
the charismatic chief Massasoit and apparently saved his life.
It is Winslow who provides the focus for
this study of one family’s flight from England on the Mayflower and their new life of
religious freedom forged among the Indians
in America. Sometimes overlooked, Winslow was, as Rebecca Fraser demonstrates,
a figure of enormous significance in the
early history of the colony. Dubbed ‘Her-
The Indians flayed and scalped settlers,
while the English set fire to wigwams
containing women and children
cules’ for his strength and commitment in
dealing with the multiple challenges facing
not only Plymouth but New England as a
whole, Winslow was a man of innate optimism and curiosity who never lost his sense
of wonder at America’s ‘promised land’.
There’s a lovely moment early on that epitomises this, as Winslow watches different
varieties of whale, still regarded as semimythological creatures in Europe, bumping
around the Mayflower’s hull.
However, cleverly framed by Fraser, this
becomes a story of a dramatic and terrible
fall from a state of prelapsarian innocence.
Half a century after the Mayflower’s voyage,
Edward Winslow’s son Josiah commanded
the New England militia against Massasoit’s
son Philip in one of the bloodiest wars in
American history. The Indians flayed skin
off settlers and scalped them. The English
set fire to wigwams containing women and
children. After his death, Philip’s hands
were displayed in Boston and his son was
sold into slavery in the Caribbean. As the
demonisation of the Indian and his ‘satanic degeneracy’ grew, colonists surveyed
their razed towns and blackened fields and
wondered whether this was divine punishment for their retreat from the simpler,
wiser, more godly values of their pilgrim
Fraser handles the epic scenes with as
much ease as she does the more intimate
ones. Her book has been assembled from
hundreds of tiny bits of piecemeal evidence, but one is never aware of the strain
of sweated labour (though a dramatis personae would have been welcome, to identify the massive cast of characters). She has
threaded the important historiographical
innovations seamlessly into her text, paying
more attention than hitherto to the experiences of early colonial women, and drawing
on the lessons of ethno-history in her portrayal of Indian tribes.
The result is a brilliant combination of
synthesis and original research arriving in
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
good time for the celebration of the quincentenary of the Mayflower. It should also
give a heavy burp of indigestion to the
customary turkey-and-cranberry-sauce
celebration of Thanksgiving next month,
with its reminder of the way in which Winslow’s ideals of ‘love, peace and holiness’
gave way to a horrible, genocidal sequel.
Gleaming pictures
of the past
James Walton
The Sparsholt Affair
by Alan Hollinghurst
Picador, £20, pp. 454
If you think you know what to expect from
an Alan Hollinghurst novel, then when
it comes to The Sparsholt Affair, you’ll
almost certainly be right. Once again,
Hollinghurst explores British gay history by plunging us into haute bohemia
over several decades of the 20th century.
(A few years ago he told an interviewer
that the main characters in his next book
‘will all be more or less heterosexual’: a
plan that sounded pretty unlikely at the
time and, seeing as this is his next book,
was evidently abandoned.) Once again, he
combines his broad sweep with plenty of
equally impressive close-up analysis — and
all in prose that manages to be both utterly
sumptuous and utterly precise.
The novel opens in wartime Oxford,
where a group of Christ Church students
have spotted an unknown hunk in the
rooms opposite. He is, it turns out, David
Sparsholt, who’s due to be there for only
a term before joining the RAF. He’s also
engaged — although, as Hollinghurst
readers will rightly suspect, this doesn’t
mean that he’s not available for some
man-on-man action.
In the next section, set in the mid-1960s,
David is married with a 14-year-old son
Johnny, through whose eyes we see the
rest of the novel and who at this stage is
suffering a (mostly) unrequited crush on
a French schoolboy staying with the family. We then move to the early 1970s, where
Johnny’s job as a picture restorer introduces him to his father’s former Oxford admirers, centred around the home of a gay art
critic — and from there, to the exhilarating
new sexual possibilities that London traditionally offers Hollinghurst’s leading men.
But by now we also know that Johnny’s
father was imprisoned after a public scandal. Given that this is another Hollinghurst
novel where the big events occur between
the sections (his previous one, The Stranger’s Child was a first world war novel
in which the first world war took place
off-stage) the details of the eponymous
Sparsholt Affair remain hazy. We do learn,
however, that it included ‘money, power…
gay shenanigans’, and that it took place in
1966 — the year before the decriminalisation of homosexuality, an understandably
pivotal point in Hollinghurst’s work.
A couple of time-shifts later, and Johnny ends the book trying his best to adjust
to a world of dating apps — and allowing
Hollinghurst to remind us that yet another of his lavish gifts is for rueful comedy.
(For all his seriousness, he’s never a solemn
writer.) Less comically, the time-shifts enable him, as in The Stranger’s Child, to show
how the gilded figures of their generation
gradually turn into awkward relics. If, that
is, they’re not forgotten completely.
In his art-restoration work, Johnny’s
job is to make every part of pictures from
the past gleam as brightly as when they
were new. And as perfect scene follows
perfect scene, Hollinghurst duly does the
same here. No object in The Sparsholt
Affair is too unimportant to receive his
full and thrilling attention: in the last
section, Johnny gets out his old ghettoblaster, ‘with its yard-long aerial, and its
cassette deck, which dropped open sleepily, as if surprised to be still in use.’ No
character is too passing for a devastating
one-sentence summary: ‘He preserved into
The gilded figures of their generation
gradually turn into awkward relics –
if they’re not forgotten completely
old age something starkly coquettish, an
unrelinquished belief in his own naughtiness and appeal.’
Hollinghurst is as deft as ever, too, at
applying unexpected adjectives to abstract
nouns (‘luxurious inevitability’; ‘elaborate pointlessness’; ‘sour enthusiasm’)
and at subjecting virtually every thought
and emotion to an exquisite scrutiny that
reveals some ambiguity or paradox at its
Yeah, there’s nothing worse than the terrible twos
... except the troublesome threes, frightful fours,
frustrating fives, shocking sixes, severe sevens,
exasperating eights, nasty nines, traumatic tens,
enraging elevens, tyrannical twelves ...
and teenagers.’
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
heart (‘his impatience… was mixed with
a nervous longing for delay’; ‘Johnny was
gripped... by the pain of not having acted,
and under it, a little salve, the sense of having escaped’).
Which just leaves the question of
whether it matters that these techniques
— together with the structure, themes
and characters — are so familiar from
Hollinghurst’s previous work. And on this
I have to confess a certain ambivalence
myself. Like Hollinghurst’s other books,
The Sparsholt Affair is dazzlingly good: the
best new novel I think I’ve read this year.
At the same time, you can’t help noticing
— and occasionally even being distracted
by — just how like his other books it is.
Putting the boot into Italy
Anna Aslanyan
by Nicola Lagioia, translated
from the Italian by Antony Shugaar
Europa Editions, £13.99, pp. 464
A young woman, naked and covered in
blood, totters numbly down a night road.
A driver spots her in his headlights and
swerves. Was he the last to see Clara alive?
Did she jump to her death from a parking structure, as stated in the report? Are
her rich family trying to hide more than
their property deals? What was the preternatural bond that tied together Clara and
her brother? Why did she let various older
men seduce her? Who is running a Twitter
account in her name, having begun with ‘I
didn’t kill myself’? These questions will keep
haunting you even after you’ve turned the
last page of Ferocity. The novel, awarded the
prestigious Strega Prize in 2015, ticks all the
boxes of a thriller while also being a masterfully written, baroque, many-faceted depiction of modern Italy.
The plot hinges on the figure of Clara, a
strong presence in the life of everyone who
has ever crossed her path, reconstructed
from ‘an elusive compound of other people’s thoughts’. Constantly cutting between
viewpoints, the narrative darts from the past
to the present and back, often within the
same passage, demanding — as any good
book should — your full attention. You
know you can’t afford to miss a single piece
of the puzzle. Thanks to such deep immersion, scenes of life in Italy’s south, with its
unbridgeable gap between the haves and
the have-nots, remain imprinted in your
mind. Eager to find out what it was the driver saw on that night, you hang on to every
word of his story, which unfolds in a world
where ‘even dignity sprang out of an abuse
of power’.
‘Poverty is disgusting’ in this world, ‘but
nothing is more disgusting than the needy
The problem with Hungary
Tibor Fischer
Orbán: Europe’s New Strongman
by Paul Lendvai
Hurst, £20, pp. 264
The name of the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, is on the lips of most
left-wing, liberal politicians and intellectuals in Europe. They have adorable tantrums,
denouncing him as ‘authoritarian’, ‘autocratic’ or, even uglier, ‘dictatorial’, as they congratulate themselves on their righteousness
and courage in speaking out.
A few months ago I visited Budapest.
On the way in from the airport I saw several billboards depicting Orbán and his rich
chum Lörinc Mészáros, the mayor of Felcsút,
Orbán’s home town. Beneath, in large letters,
were two words: ‘They Steal’. It seems to me
a rather poor autocracy where that sort of
thing goes on.
Similarly, Lajos Simicska, a former close
colleague of Orbán’s, gave a interview —
widely and gleefully reported — in which he
referred to Orbán as a geci, the rudest word
in the language.
Not many Hungarian prime ministers get
a proper write-up in English. In that sense,
Orbán has already won. Paul Lendvai’s book
is both a profile of the man and a potted history of Hungarian politics since 1989. Unlike
most journalists who pass hasty judgment on
the country, Lendvai is well-informed. He’s a
Hungarian who ended up in Austria in 1957
and did well there in the media.
One should not perhaps hold him
accountable for the jacket blurb, which
describes Orbán as having ‘undisputed’
and ‘unfettered’ power. That’s simply not
true: there is a political opposition; there
are courts that rule against the government; there are elections; and, as we’ve seen,
there’s plenty of criticism.
But Lendvai is responsible for the book’s
contents, which masquerades as a serious,
scholarly study: facts and figures abound,
and citations and notes are thrown in to
add a professorial touch, together with wise
words from Hegel, Carlyle and Lord Acton.
The author is at pains to show that he’s no
hack, but a cultured thinker.
He certainly knows the country and its
history, but this, in the end, is a relentless
cut-and-paste job, almost entirely reliant on
standard Hungarian sources that aren’t available in English. And it’s slyly vicious too. I
don’t mind vicious when it’s entertaining, but
there is something cowardly about the way
Lendvai slips in the knife. We have to wait
until page 86 before he refers to Orbán’s ‘seizure of absolute power’ in 2010. He certainly
won a landslide victory then, but even with
his Godzilla-sized majority he does not have
absolute power. As I often tire of explaining,
the opposition in Hungary exists — it’s just
not very good at its job.
Of course the desirability of Orbán’s
preeminence is another matter. Lendvai dutifully repeats the opposition’s
smears. First, that Orbán is far right. How
odd, then, that he countenances Roma
MPs, has outlawed Holocaust denial
and has financed the Oscar-winning film
Son of Saul about the Auschwitz gas
Second, that Orbán is Putin’s bitch.
The US and the EU essentially did noth-
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Isabel Hardman and Matthew Parris on Theresa May’s fate
H less
ou on
themselves’. Flitting between fashion shops
and lavish parties, Clara and her suitors
‘glittered in a cruel, gruesome light … as if
they’d popped right out of a sewer main’;
a strong metaphor for a region plagued by
environmental catastrophes, the authorities
turning a blind eye to their cause.
Social injustice goes hand in hand with
the ancient conflict of generations. The
family at the book’s centre is being torn
by tragedies of Greek proportions, and
so is the entire society: the old won’t cede
power, while the young are desperate to
break free of their hold. This way destruction lies. Well before you learn how Clara
met her end, you realise that no report
would be able to paint a full picture of the
forces that killed her.
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or go to
ing about the Russians after they invaded
Ukraine, shot down a civilian airliner and
systematically bombed hospitals in Syria.
So why should it be up to Hungary (whose
Soviet-built nuclear reactor provides half
its electricity) and Orbán to slap Putin
in the face? Orbán does business with
Putin, but he’s in the queue with everyone
Lendvai’s sources are all openly antiOrbán. His bleating about ‘impartiality in the
media’ and ‘Enlightenment values’ is rich,
coming from a man who, in his youth, was a
propagandist for the Stalinist Mátyás Rákosi, and in later years toadied to János Kádár
(actually boasting he was Kádár’s favourite
western journalist).
The problem in Hungary is the vast polarisation between Orbán’s Fidesz government
and the opposition. It’s a sort of civil war of
insults. Adult political debate is rarely heard,
because both sides swallow their own spin. I
don’t doubt that there are those who sincerely equate Orbán with Caligula; and Orbán
now seems to believe that if a bird messes
his garden, the financier George Soros is
behind it.
I know many Fidesz voters, none of
them happy. The hubris of wealthy ministers and haughtiness of a large majority are diminishing Orbán’s credibility.
Nevertheless, he is poised to win the next
election, required within six months. If he
completes his term he will be the longestserving Hungarian prime minister in history. So the EU had better prepare for further
torment. Oh, and watch out for more chants
of ‘Orbán ate democracy’.
Navigating a new world
Boyd Tonkin
The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in
a Global World
by Maya Jasanoff
William Collins, £25, pp. 400
In the 1890s, when British-owned ships
carried 70 per cent of all seaborne trade,
legislators worried about the proportion
of foreigners who served in their crews;
which could top 40 per cent. Their worry is
not surprising, given the verdicts gathered
from British consulates in port cities on the
native seaman: ‘drunk, illiterate, weak, syphilitic, drunk, dishonest, drunk…’ In 1894, a
parliamentary committee interrogated officers about manning and skills in the merchant marine.
One informant was a British-naturalised
master ‘with 16 years’ experience’. The MPs,
who didn’t presume to ask this expert witness specifically about foreign crews, recorded his name as ‘Mr J. Conrad Korzeniowski’.
He had, as Maya Jasanoff puts it, ‘come a
long way since landing in England in 1878’
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
as the penniless, orphaned son of Polish
gentlefolk, his parents driven into penury,
exile and early death by Tsarist persecution.
A few months before he arrived in London, the 20-year-old Konrad Korzeniowski
— alone, broke and ‘wrecked’ in Marseille
— had attempted suicide. He never wrote
about that.
The story of this ‘Polish nobleman cased
in British tar’ (his words) still dazzles in
all its briny glamour. If that stems in large
part from the unsinkable merits of works
such as Lord Jim and Under Western Eyes,
The Secret Sharer and Heart of Darkness,
this perennial allure also feeds on his ability to speak to readers everywhere who
couldn’t tell a knot from a hitch or a jib
from a boom.
A child stranded by his father’s patriotic conspiracies against Russian despotism, the immigrant seafarer who became
Joseph Conrad spotted on the far horizon
so many of the squalls and storms that still
convulse us. From the crisis of old empires
to the ascent of rising powers, from the
global circulation of people, ideas and
goods to the temptations of terrorism, the
fiction he wrote in his third language (after
Polish and French) bridges the age of sail
and the age of the net. Jasanoff describes
Conrad’s pen as ‘like a magic wand, conjuring the spirits of the future’. That wand,
though, should surely be a telescope.
After the mighty dreadnought of Norman Sherry’s two-volume biography, and
relatively nippier lives from John Stape
and Zdzisław Najder, we hardly need
another stately passage between Conrad’s
birth in Berdychiv (now in Ukraine) in
1857 to his death in rural Kent — the refuge he loved ‘not as an inheritance, but as
an acquisition’ — in 1924.
Jasanoff, a professor of history at Harvard and an enviably gifted writer, uses
‘the compass of a historian, the chart of
a biographer, and the navigational sextant of a fiction reader’ as she locates
Conrad’s journeys on the map of the
first great epoch of globalisation before
the first world war. With a focus on four
masterworks (The Secret Agent, Lord Jim,
Heart of Darkness, Nostromo), she
demonstrates how the forces of revolutionary politics, world-spanning commerce, colonial plunder and imperial
rivalry shaped both life and work without
ever defining them.
Lovers of Conrad know that, however worldly and topical his writing (‘no
one has known... the things you know’,
Henry James told his friend), some inward
essence — more metaphysical than geographical —will always slip away into a
sea-mist. Cattily, E.M. Forster sneered that
‘the secret casket of his genius contains
a vapour rather than a jewel’. Shrewdly,
Jasanoff counters that, ‘for Conrad, the
vapour was the jewel’.
So this is no reductive quest to match
each plot twist with events in Poland, England, Borneo, Singapore, Colombia and
Congo, although her historian’s eye can
untie knots that might baffle the pure critic.
The first-rate chapter on Nostromo — set
in Latin America, for once a coast Conrad
never sailed — explains much of that novel’s
opaque, clotted texture. As Conrad wrote it,
the intrigues that partnered the birth of the
Panama Canal revealed that United States’s
imperialism would soon trump Europe’s in
the ferocious pursuit of ‘material interests’,
Conrad speaks to readers everywhere
who couldn’t tell a knot from a hitch
and a jib from a boom
‘whether or not it had the word “empire”
attached to it’. That book’s mid-stream
rolls and pitches reflect its author’s veering
responses to the sudden ‘coming of a new
world order’.
If Captain Korzeniowski’s voyages
stoked his tales, Jasanoff also shows that
imagination plots its own course. Thus Conrad transplanted his nightmare of colonial
anomie from Borneo to the Belgian Congo.
In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz’s savagery predates many of the foulest atrocities in the
slave state run by King Leopold: ‘the most
nakedly abusive colonial regime in the
world.’ Pushed by anti-imperialist friends
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
such as R.G. Cunninghame Graham to join
their campaigns, however, Conrad kept to
his storyteller’s post. His father Apollo’s
self-sacrificial tragedy had immunised him
against ‘the flimsiness of ideals’. He stayed
aloof, apart. Although happy ‘to sympathise with common mortals’ wherever their
home, ‘in the streets under a fog, or in the
forests beneath the dark line of dismal mangroves that fringe the vast solitude of the
sea’, he withdrew from partisan passions.
The only class he saluted was ‘the class of
honest and able men’.
For all her verve and skill, Captain
Jasanoff proves a fairly orthodox skipper. Her own well-told trips in Conrad’s
wake — one on an austere container ship
across the Indian Ocean; the other in a
merry vessel up the Congo — add little to
her studies of his prophetic ‘prescience’.
She might have said more about the Conradian conflicts that have lately ravaged
the landscapes of his fiction: the cocaine
wars in and around Colombia, or the grotesque carnage in Central Africa fuelled by
exploitation of the minerals that power our
digital devices.
Another book could usefully occupy
that berth. This one steers us securely and
stylishly through those latitudes where
Conrad witnessed the future scupper the
past; and where (as Lord Jim has it) ‘the
haggard utilitarian lies of our civilisation
wither and die’.
Richard Nixon in September 1968
His dark materials
Jonathan Mirsky
Richard Nixon: The Life
by John A. Farrell
Scribe, £30, pp. 752
In this giant, prodigiously sourced and
insightful biography, John A. Farrell shows
how Richard Milhous Nixon was the nightmare of the age for many Americans, even
as he won years of near-adulation from
many others. One can only think of Donald Trump. Nixon appealed to lower- and
lower-middle-class whites from the heartland, whose hatred of the press and the
east-coast elite, and feelings of having
been short-changed and despised by snobs,
held steady until their hero and champion
unmistakably broke the law and had to
resign his second-term presidency.
Nixon won a smashing re-election
in 1972, even as it was apparent that the
White House was awash with skulduggery.
His closest aides were caught, arrested
and charged with breaking into the Watergate complex, where there were Democrat
offices — though Farrell contends that
Nixon gave no express orders for these and
similar acts.
Other cronies hoped to discover
embarrassing documents in the files of the
psychiatrist treating Daniel Ellsberg, who
had leaked the revealing Pentagon Papers,
and preserved the infamous Oval Office
tapes in which Nixon confided his darkest
thoughts against his enemies. The presi36
dent nearly got away with all of it. Farrell
quotes Nixon as longing to be feared as a
madman. The only two men he truckled to
were Dwight Eisenhower, who used Nixon
for his dirtier tricks, and Mao, to whom
Nixon promised he would betray Taiwan.
Even when he was totally exposed as
a villain, liar and schemer, he was able to
resign from the White House and was pardoned by his vice-president rather than
having to undergo the ordeal of impeachment and ignominious removal from office.
‘I’ll destroy the goddam country. I
mean destroy it. We will bomb the
living bejeezus out of North Vietnam’
And he lived on, wealthy, often admired,
and conceding only gradually, in an evasive, self-justifying way, that some of the
things he had done were unwise, careless,
wrong and even possibly illegal.
Nonetheless, Farrell shows, the China
breakthrough — until Nixon’s trip to
see Mao in 1972, for the US Taiwan was
China — and his promotion of school
desegregation, were significant achievements. Without venturing too deeply into
psychoanalysis, Farrell, a journalist who
specialises in big biographies, argues convincingly that Nixon’s early years as a
middle child with a violent father and an
undemonstrative Quaker mother resulted
in life-long self-doubt, vengefulness and
the pursuit of power. He was always leery
of the true love of his wife and daughters.
He grew up in a small California town,
attended the local college, went on to an
almost first-rate law school, and then began
his political climb towards the power he
craved; but that was never enough because,
of course, he really needed the love and
affection he felt he had been cheated of
as a child. This resulted in endless secret
Although Martin Luther King admired
Nixon for his public attitude towards
‘negroes’, the president confided to a
friend: ‘Most of them are basically just out
of the trees... I know they ain’t going to
make it for 500 years.’ And although two
of his closest allies were Jewish, most obviously Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s private
attitude was: ‘Most Jews are disloyal...They
turn on you.’ Then there was his screaming hatred for the Vietnamese: ‘I’ll destroy
the goddam country. I mean destroy it. We
will bomb the living bejeezus out of North
Vietnam... I’ve got everybody scared. Go
berserk. Worry them.’
It was the Cold War and the Red Scare
that gave him his big push originally, and
the attitude and tools for attacking others. He defeated a sitting congressman by
falsely suggesting he had communist sympathies. Once in the Oval Office, he pursued the ultimate elite prey in the form
of Alger Hiss, an actual communist spy —
as lefties like myself could not admit for
years. Now Ike’s vice-president, he could
get close to, but not intimate with, senator
Joseph McCarthy, whose anticommunist
campaign ruined, or at least blackened,
many lives. The senator’s ultimate disgrace
did Nixon no harm, although, along with
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
his glimmerings of financial jiggery-pokery
and rough politics, it caused Eisenhower,
who disliked mud and blood, almost to
dump Nixon as his vice-president.
What saved Nixon — and how well I
remember this — was his ability to invoke
in speeches his humble origins, his wife’s
simple cloth coat, and above all Checkers,
the family dog he magically transformed
into a public pet. His fans loved it.
They never knew how dark, scheming
and hate-filled Nixon was, keeping in touch
with his family with notes under their
doors; sleeping separately from his wife
(who longed for domestic life but increasingly longed, too, to become first lady);
drinking too much; and spending time off
with two vaguely disreputable ‘friends’
on their yachts in the Caribbean. Nor did
they know about his madman language —
in which he was encouraged by his closest staff, and most of all by Kissinger, the
close associate who has somehow
escaped obloquy.
It is astounding that Nixon got away
with his many vile acts and actual crimes.
But as Farrell points out near the end of
his important and revealing biography,
Nixon presaged a time, that would last
for years, of CIA eavesdropping; and of
the ‘Watch Lists’ with which the CIA,
the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service
and the National Security Agency scrutinised, disrupted and smeared public figures. These included Martin Luther King,
Norman Mailer, John Steinbeck, Sammy
Davis Jr and Hubert Humphrey. The CIA
developed assassination plots. They targeted Castro and Patrice Lumumba, who
were not killed; but in Saigon, President
Ngo Dinh Diem was. All this, as Farrell
acutely observes, ‘puts Watergate in a different context... part of a continuum, no
sole breach of faith’.
Recent crime fiction
Jeff Noon
Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling (4th
Estate, £12.99) has the word masterpiece
emblazoned on the cover, alongside quotes
from several famous authors telling us
how brilliant it is. It can be difficult to see
through this hype and find the true novel,
but let’s try.
Fourteen-year-old Turtle Alveston lives
with her father, Martin, a survivalist type
who’s taught her how to fire a gun and use a
hunting knife from an early age. He abuses
his daughter, trapping her in a circle of love
and pain. When Martin brings home another
young girl, Turtle at last finds the courage to
confront the man who has so dominated and
controlled her life.
This is a bloodstained book, etched
with violence, with unflinching depictions
Lines on my 87th birthday
Trees that I thought were dead are green again
Suddenly, and so late, miraculously,
Not blighted with ash die-back. What I see
Surprises with a rush of happiness
As if it were not necessary to die
But always be open to capriciousness.
— Anthony Thwaite
of abusive sex and desperate love. Yet
from beginning to end the writing is overloaded with beauty. I don’t think I’ve ever
read a book so in love with its own virtuosity as this. It’s a double-edged sword:
the brilliance holds the book back from
that final true depiction of life. A novel
needs flaws, wounds of its own, that correspond to the characters’ flaws: cracks to
let in a little light. But this is an amazing
debut: it will be fascinating to see where
Tallent goes next.
In Prague Nights (Viking, £14.99) Benjamin Black turns his hand to the historical thriller. In 1599 a young doctor called
Christian Stern arrives in Prague, hoping
to make his fortune. Instead, he discovers
the body of a young woman, her throat slit.
The victim is none other than the Emperor’s mistress. Stern is employed to find the
killer’s identity, a task that takes him deep
into the corrupt and shadowy world of the
court, where the black arts of the English
magician John Dee hold as much sway
as diplomacy and torture. When Stern
becomes a lover of the Emperor’s wife,
his own life is endangered.
Benjamin Black is the pseudonym of
the Booker prize-winning author John
Banville. Under both names he writes
with precision and poise. The best historical thrillers move at two different tempos: the slow revelling in detail
and the page-turning thrills of a murder mystery. Prague Nights certainly works on the historical level, while
the crime aspects are taken perhaps at
too steady a pace really to hold our attention. The Kafka-in-waiting aspects work
best: the labyrinthine nature of court
life and the endless intrigues that lead to
dead ends.
In Codename Villanelle (John Murray, £14.99) Luke Jennings pits a heartless
female assassin against a dowdy but dogged
MI5 agent called Eve Polastri. The two
battle it out at a distance, one following a
few steps behind the other, seeking clues
at a series of killing sites. It reads a little
like Terry Hayes’s I Am Pilgrim in miniature. The shortness of the book suits the
coldness of Villanelle, but not the temper-
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
ament of Polastri, who needs more time
and space to become interesting. Jennings
pays closer attention to the process of
hunting and killing than he does to character building.
The final pages are thrilling, but then
the book ends and nothing has been
resolved, or indeed solved. Only now do
we find out that this is the first part of a
serial, originally published as an ebook
single. It’s frustrating. The novel will be a
BBC drama series, and this feels like the
Acts of violence happen without
forethought: the outcome of a
sudden desire that takes us over
prose version of season one. I wish I’d been
given the whole story in one giant book:
I Am Pilgrim proved that people are willing to read 800-plus pages of detailed
cat-and-mouse games between killer and
secret agent. This feels like short measure.
As it happens, the shortest book on offer
holds the most intrigue. Pascal Garnier’s
Low Heights (Gallic Books, £8.99) continues his run of mordant, black-humoured,
murderous farces to superb effect. After
suffering a stroke, Édouard Lavenant, a
cantankerous widower, employs a much
put-upon nurse, Thérèse, who struggles
daily with his ailing body and his devastating ill-humour. The arrival of a young man
claiming to be Lavenant’s son sets in place
a series of events that leads to ever more
horrific acts. Garnier balances cruel jokes
with startling poetic images that catch the
reader unawares.
There is no learning in this novel, no
explaining of the urge to kill, none of the
methods by which we currently account
for human endeavour: instead, the acts
of violence happen in the moment, without proper forethought, the outcome of a
sudden desire that takes us over. It rings
true. And in this novel, the ending is also
unresolved: not because season two has to
be sold as a separate package, but because
the words grow and die and grow again
naturally out of life, that beautifully unfinished story.
Cabbages and kings
Chaïm Soutine turned kitchen-weary men into monarchs and popes, says Laura Freeman
he first pastry cook Chaïm Soutine painted came out like a collapsed soufflé. The sitter for ‘The
Pastry Cook’ (c.1919) was Rémy Zocchetto, a 17-year-old apprentice at the Garetta Hotel in Céret in southern France. He
is deflated, lopsided, slouch-shouldered,
in a chef’s jacket several sizes too big for
him. His hat is askew, his body a scramble
of egg-white paint.
Soutine painted at least six cooks in
their kitchen livery. In their chef’s whites
they look like meringues that have not set
(‘Pastry Cook of Cagnes’, 1922), îles flottantes that do not float (‘Cook of Cagnes’,
c.1924), and, in the case of the ‘Little Pastry Cook’ (c.1921) from the Portland Art
Museum, Oregon, a wiggling line of piped
crème pâtissière.
Rémy, the first of Soutine’s ‘petits pâtissiers’, sat six times for the artist. At the end
of the last session, Soutine offered the boy a
painting instead of the ten sous a sitting he
had promised. ‘I was a fool to refuse,’ said
Rémy years later. ‘I can understand that now,
but his painting seemed to me awfully bad.’
To Rémy, perhaps, but not to the American collector Albert C. Barnes, who, seeing Remy’s portrait in the Paris gallery of
Soutine’s dealer Léopold Zborowski in
1922, exclaimed: ‘But it’s a peach!’ Barnes
sent a car to fetch the 29-year-old Soutine,
who couldn’t afford the price of a coffee in
a café, from a bench in Montparnasse. Soutine was delivered, unwashed, to the gallery.
Barnes had Soutine take a bath, ordered
him clothes from an English tailor, installed
him in a smart studio, and proceeded to buy
a large number — some say 52, some 54,
some as many as a hundred — of his paintings. Thanks to that first ‘peach’ of a pastry
chef, Soutine never sat on a bench for want
of a sous again.
Five of the pastry cooks appear in Soutine’s Portraits: Cooks, Waiters and Bellboys
at the Courtauld Gallery. We know Soutine
for his landscapes at Cagnes, worlds tilted on
their axes; his still lives of wizened chickens
and scraggy pheasants; his hulks of bloodied beef. This fascinating exhibition brings
together for the first time Soutine’s portraits
of the pâtissiers, chefs, butchers, waiters,
grooms, valets, bellhops and chambermaids
of France’s grand hotels and restaurants in
the boom years between the wars. Here is
the below-stairs, service-corridors world of
George Orwell’s Hôtel X in Down and Out
in Paris and London (1933), of snob waiters,
sodden plongeurs and scheming soubrettes.
Orwell tells the story of the chambermaid
who stole a diamond ring from the room
of an American lady. While detectives ransacked the hotel and frisked the staff, the
chambermaid had the ring baked into a roll
by her lover in the kitchen. There it stayed
until the search was over. ‘Oh, yes,’ you
think, looking at Soutine’s ‘La Soubrette’
(c.1933), with her sly smile and her white
collar and apron not as neat as they should
be. ‘She looks just the type.’
Soutine, even when elevated to suits and
studios by Barnes, was in sympathy with the
servants of the great hotels. Like him, many
of them were immigrants (‘There is hardly such a thing as a French waiter in Paris,’
wrote Orwell) in search of a better life —
the Parisian dream. Soutine’s ‘Page Boy at
Maxim’s’ (c.1927) approaches us with hand
outstretched, keen for a tip.
‘Never be sorry for a waiter,’ wrote
Orwell. ‘He is not thinking as he looks at
you, “What an overfed lout”; he is thinking,
“One day, when I have saved enough money,
I shall be able to imitate that man.” ’ Soutine’s ‘Head Waiter’ (c.1927) stands, in bow
tie and waistcoat, with his hands on his hips
in the best tradition of the ‘swagger portraits’ commissioned by kings, knights and
noblemen. He might be Hans Holbein’s
Henry VIII off to dissolve the monasteries, not the maître d’hôtel about to uncork
a Burgundy.
Chaïm Sutin (1893–1943) was born in
poverty in Smilovitchi, a shtetl in Lithuania, part of the Pale of Settlement — the
provinces in czarist Russia to which Jewish
families were confined by imperial decree.
‘Chaïm’ is ‘life’ in Hebrew; the ‘Sutin’ he
Gallicised on arrival in Paris in 1913. Soutine was the tenth of 11 children of a Jewish
tailor. The young Chaïm wanted to paint —
the Talmud had a thing or two to say about
that — and stole utensils from his mother’s
kitchen to buy a coloured pencil. He was
punished with two days in the cellar. He
asked the rabbi to sit for a portrait and was
thrashed for his pains.
Nevertheless, he found a place at a small
art academy in Vilna that accepted Jews, and
later enrolled at the Académie des BeauxArts in Paris. He shared a room with Amedeo Modigliani at La Ruche — ‘The Beehive’
— an artist’s colony in Montparnasse. They
took turns in a single bed or on the floor. The
bugs bit wherever they slept.
At the Louvre, Soutine discovered Jean
Fouquet, El Greco, Goya, Courbet and
Rembrandt. He invests his valets and roomservice lackeys, slumped on chairs between
shifts, with the authority of the throned
popes of Titian and Velázquez.
One of the questions the exhibition poses
is: when did Soutine paint these servants
of the hotels? Not during kitchen service
hours, when, Orwell tells us, the whole staff
‘raged and cursed like demons… there was
scarcely a verb in the hotel except foutre.’
Not on their days off. Staff never knew such
a thing. They worked 15 hours a day, seven
days a week. In slack daytime hours, then?
But Soutine hated to rush. ‘To do a portrait,’
he said, ‘it’s necessary to take one’s time, but
the model tires quickly and assumes a stupid
expression. Then it’s necessary to hurry up,
and that irritates me. I become unnerved, I
grind my teeth, and sometimes it gets to a
point where I scream. I slash the canvas, and
everything goes to hell and I fall down on
the floor.’
Soutine was not a happy man. He hated
to be reminded of childhood privations, but
suffered guilt and remorse for not sending
money home. He railed against the luxury that success with Barnes had brought
him. ‘Can you imagine?’ he complained of
one hotel. ‘Hot water, it made me feel
uneasy; and also, I cannot paint where there
are rugs.’
Nor could he eat in fine restaurants. As
a boy he had gone hungry. As a man, a new
bourgeois with money to spend, he ate plain
fare and nursed stomach pains. He painted
skate, trout and artichokes with the longing
of the artist who looks but cannot eat. In
1943, while hiding from the Gestapo, he died
during an operation on his stomach ulcers.
Among the few mourners brave enough to
attend his funeral was Picasso.
There is great pathos in his portraits of
chefs and pastry cooks. He devoted himself to painting masters of the pâtissier’s art,
turning kitchen-weary men into kings and
popes — and never once a profiterole for
his reward.
Soutine’s Portraits: Cooks, Waiters and
Bellboys is at the Courtauld Gallery from 19
October until 21 January 2018.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
‘Pastry Cook of Cagnes’, 1922, by Chaïm Soutine
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Soap opera
Alexandra Coghlan
Giulio Cesare
Hackney Empire, and touring until
24 November
Hackney Empire, and touring until
7 November
Previously on Giulio Cesare… English Touring Opera’s new season caters cannily to the
box-set generation by chopping Handel’s
Egyptian power-and-politics opera in two,
playing each half on consecutive evenings
as edge-of-your-seat instalments in a sort of
baroque House of Cards. Will Cleopatra outwit her wicked brother? Will she and Cesare
ever get together? Will Sesto ever stop dithering and do the deed? Tune in tomorrow
night to find out.
If that sounds like the kind of pacy, racy
entertainment you’ve always longed for in
the opera house, be warned; this is Giulio
Cesare: the Director’s Cut, doggedly and absolutely complete, down to every last recitative,
aria and interlude. By way of a bonus feature,
ETO cannily caters for the box-set
generation by chopping Handel’s
Giulio Cesare in two
ETO has also thrown in a massive repeat — a
sort of dramatic da capo that reprises the final
45 minutes of Part I: The Death of Pompey as
the start of Part II: Cleopatra’s Needle, with
only minor directorial variation. It’s a misstep that seems either cynical (we’ll get them
to pay twice for one show) or cowardly (no
one will bother coming to both parts, so we’d
better bring them thoroughly up to date),
and one that strains both cast and audience
unnecessarily. A case of Don’t Carry On Cleo.
That being said, this is still one of the best
shows we’ve seen in ages from ETO — England’s Little Opera Company That Could,
which works miracles within the difficult
constraints of a small budget and a large
tour. Cordelia Chisholm’s set (which also
houses Rameau’s Dardanus, this season’s
companion opera) is a handsome, adaptable
affair. Gilded walls, sliding panels and endless doors give the cast plenty to play with,
and serve as an antique picture frame to the
18th-century action that takes place within,
gorgeously costumed in turquoise and gold.
Director James Conway makes no obvious political or dramatic capital from this
setting — we could be in 18th-century
Chatsworth or 21st-century Chiang Mai, for
all it matters — preferring to focus on the
emotional interplay of his characters. Here
he benefits from a cast who give him plenty of light and shade, from Soraya Mafi’s
quick-witted, piquant Cleopatra — revealing unexpected depths in both ‘Se pietà’ and
‘Piangerò’ — and Catherine Carby’s Cornelia, stoic and quietly ferocious, to Kitty
Whately’s traumatised Sesto. If Christopher
Ainslie’s Cesare (efficiently, if a little monochromatically sung) remains a cipher, it only
serves to tip the opera’s sensitive power
dynamic further in favour of this irresistible
Conway’s discreet production will please
anyone who doesn’t like their opera mucked
about with, but while this non-interventionist approach gives the opera’s tragic
moments plenty of space to swell and simmer (an episode involving Tolomeo and the
dead Pompey’s ashes is properly chilling) it’s
largely tone-deaf to the comedy that trills
itself so joyously through Handel’s score.
Better served by Jonathan Peter Kenny and
the Old Street Band, the music romps and
chuckles with naughty rhythmic urgency
and verve, using the bite and snap of Hackney Empire’s dry acoustic as the punchline
to their many musical jokes.
But that’s all the fun you’ll be getting
from ETO this season. Dardanus — the company’s first foray into French baroque — is a
dispiriting and joyless affair that wastes the
talents of its leads and squanders the work’s
beautiful ballet interludes on visual fuss and
filler. As if doing penance for the unapologetic prettiness of Cesare, director Douglas
Rintoul condemns us to penal servitude in
the same muddy, gravelly, non-specific war
zone (fatigues and guns all standard issue)
familiar from so many contemporary productions. It’s neither dramatically organic
nor terribly interesting, and it’s a sign of just
how joy-starved the first-night audience felt
that some party poppers and a pair of fairy
wings raised a cheer.
Rameau’s wizards and goddesses struggle
to find a foothold in this inhospitable landscape, just as his delicate music fails to bloom
in Hackney’s arid acoustic. But Anthony
Gregory’s Dardanus works something close
to magic on the show, luminous and easy
from his first, punishingly high entry to his
happy ending, transforming base dramatic
metal into gold. Together with Galina Averina’s glossy Iphise (pleasingly spirited, even
if condemned to tread this rugged male terrain in her heels), sweet-voiced Eleanor Penfold (Venus) and Grant Doyle as stern father
Teucer, he makes one hell of a pitch for repertoire that has never really caught on in the
UK. But it’s still not quite enough.
Somewhere between the wilfully unlovely action, the failure to marry supernatural
myth and modern warfare, and surtitles that
would have been stiff even at the work’s
1739 première (littered with errors and confusions), Dardanus gets lost in translation
— the latest victim of that weird streak of
puritanical earnestness that pervades British
opera, a decorative musical bibelot crushed
to powder under army boots. I blame Brexit.
Perishable goods
Lloyd Evans
Labour of Love
Noël Coward Theatre, until 2 December
What Shadows
Park Theatre, until 28 October
Labour of Love is the new play by James
Graham, the poet laureate of politics. We’re
in a derelict colliery town in the East Midlands where the new MP is a malleable Blairite greaser, David Lyons. He arrives to find
the office in crisis. The constituency agent,
Jean, has handed in her notice but David is
smitten by her acerbic tongue and her brisk
management style so he asks her to stay.
She agrees, reluctantly, and they settle into a
bickering rivalry underpinned by affection.
But is there more? Possibly, yes, but both
are held back by their natural reticence and
by fate. Secret declarations of love go astray.
One letter is sent to the wrong person and
another, written in code, makes sense only
when read backwards.
These contrivances aren’t entirely satisfying. And the narrative has a tricky dou-
The jokes come thick and fast. And
sometimes thin and fast
ble-helix structure that is ingenious but
ultimately damaging to the overall effect.
The action starts in 2017, spirals backwards to 1990, then does a head-over-heels
and twirls back up to the present day. This
divides our concentration. We have to spend
so much time deciphering the chronology
that we haven’t enough left to focus on the
passion between the not-quite lovers.
And the minor characters are poorly sketched. Jean’s husband is a surly Old
Labour git in a Harold Wilson mac and a
John Prescott scowl. David’s wife, Elizabeth,
is a wellies-and-jodhpurs Sloane who seems
allergic to the working class. More comedy
might have been extracted from her awkwardness among the proles. No one says a
word when she breezes into a Labour meeting wearing a purple power suit and looking like Margaret Thatcher about to launch
a battleship.
The heart of the play is the charming,
ramshackle friendship between David (Martin Freeman) and Jean (Tamsin Greig). Both
are on top form and the script gives them
ample scope to tickle the crowd. The jokes
come thick and fast. And sometimes thin and
fast, it must be admitted. When David entertains a visitor from China, he wonders if it
would be racist to offer him a Chinese takeaway. Or would it be cannibalism? Jean, rather improbably, confuses the Bostons of Massachusetts and Lincolnshire, and David gets
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
similarly muddled over Uri Geller and Yuri
Gagarin. At the play’s crowning moment
— when the gags should be reaching their
zenith — David declares, ‘The answer is you,
Jean.’ And Jean says, ‘Who’s Eugene?’
This show hasn’t the tense, farcical simplicity of Graham’s wildly successful This
House. It’s an amusing, friendly stroll
through the past three decades of centreleft politics. And good as it is, the material
is highly perishable. By next year this will
seem hopelessly out of date. Move fast.
Chris Hannan’s fascinating play What
Shadows wants to cram too much into a
single evening. It’s three dramas in one. It
starts as a lyrical and appreciative biography of Enoch Powell. It then expands into a
social critique of the 1960s and the ‘rivers of
blood’ speech. Then the action fast-forwards
to the 1990s and the play looks at Powell’s
impact on migrants in Birmingham, and on
the wider constituency of Britain. The coda
is a philosophical dialogue on the nature of
identity and prejudice.
Hannan shows us Powell at leisure,
relaxing with his wife and friends, discussing church architecture over claret-fuelled
picnics. To impersonate Powell is a huge
challenge. The accent, for a start, is deeply
tangled. The native Brummie tones are overlaid with a Home Counties fruitiness and
some Australian top notes acquired during
a pre-war stint as a classics don in Sydney.
McDiarmid gives us Enoch Powell
as a camp dilettante mincing through
the groves of Shropshire
Ian McDiarmid does the vocal stuff admirably well. But he can’t capture Powell’s spirit,
his menace, his embitterment. ‘I am volcanic with anger,’ he once said but there’s little
sign of inner rage here, nor of its physical
manifestation. McDiarmid gives us Powell
as a camp dilettante, like a butterfly spotter,
mincing through the groves of Shropshire,
piping his orotundities in a girlish whistle.
Later we move to 1992 and we see him
in frail old age. And here McDiarmid’s fluting delivery suits his subject far better. The
play’s final section has the air of classic theatre. Powell is confronted by Rose, a formidably intelligent Afro-Caribbean woman,
who argues that foreign inundations are not
alien to Britain and its history. They are Britain and its history. She berates him for using
his intellect to debauch the dispossessed,
when he might have enlightened and elevated them. Of discrimination, Powell says,
‘Every molecule in every body is prejudiced
in favour of its own survival.’ This universal
statement, which Rose tacitly accepts, finds
us all guilty of racism. What Powell objected to was the selective interpretation of the
truth he had articulated. If the expression of
tribal loyalties is encouraged among incomers but denied to natives there’ll be trouble.
And there is.
Raw materials
Laura Gascoigne
Basquiat: Boom for Real
Barbican Art Gallery, until 28 January
Jean Dubuffet: Théâtres de mémoire
Pace London, until 21 October
‘Art by its very essence is of the new… There
is only one healthy diet for artistic creation:
permanent revolution.’
Jean Dubuffet wrote those words in
1963, and when Jean-Michel Basquiat
burst on to the New York art scene 20 years
later — barely out of his teens, untrained
and black — he seemed to embody them.
Together with his friend Al Diaz, he had
grabbed attention in the late 1970s with a
campaign of cryptic graffiti signed SAMO©
targeted on the SoHo gallery district. Born
to middle-class Haitian-Puerto Rican
parents in the South Bronx, Basquiat
didn’t waste time tagging trains. He knew
the value of location; his dad was an
Photographs of the graffiti fill a room in
the Barbican’s exhibition Basquiat: Boom
for Real. ‘SAMO © As An Alternative 2
‘Playing Art’ With The ‘Radical? Chic’ Sect
On Daddy’$ Funds’ reads one; ‘SAMO© As
A Result Of Overexposure’ reads another.
Later, after the Village Voice blows the pair’s
cover, comes the announcement ‘SAMO© Is
The death of SAMO © the graffitist
marked the birth of Basquiat the artist.
Soon the lanky kid who had once peddled
postcards for a dollar outside MoMA was
being invited to contribute to high-profile
exhibitions: after showing in New York/
New Wave in 1981 he was greeted by the
critic Peter Schjeldahl as ‘a kind of street
Dubuffet (who says he never heard of
Dubuffet)’. Inevitably, he was taken up by
Warhol, whom he wooed with a doubleportrait, ‘Dos Cabezas’ (1982), in which
Jean-Michel’s dreadlocks tangle with
Andy’s fright wig. His artistic independence survived their subsequent collaboration, his youthful unselfconsciousness did
not: in a photo taken in Zurich in 1982 the
expression behind Basquiat’s dark glasses is a perfect replica of Warhol’s pained
poker face.
The downtown art world was wowed by
the wonder child. How did you learn, interviewers asked him? By looking, he said. And
look he did, at an astonishingly wide range
of artists from Leonardo and Titian to Picasso and Dubuffet. His catalogue of Dubuffet’s 80th birthday retrospective at the
Guggenheim Museum in 1981 shares a display case with his copy of a book on Leon-
ardo. He had the omnivorous appetite of the
autodidact. ‘Originally I wanted to copy the
whole of history down,’ he told one interviewer, ‘but it was too tedious so I just stuck
to the cast of characters.’ Picasso and Titian
are honoured with appearances in paintings,
but the achievements of Rauschenberg,
Lichtenstein, Duchamp and Pollock are
summed up in bullet points on brown wrapping paper — a casual put-down from a kid
with the world at his feet who never imagined he could be put in a box.
He knew he could paint; the question,
as always, was what to paint about. The
obvious answer was his racial heritage.
He developed a sign language of African masks and voodoo skeletons, floated
against bright colour fields with lists of
attributes and associations scrawled like
workings-out in the margin. His paintings celebrated the achievements of black
Americans — sportsmen, actors, but especially musicians — while highlighting their
tokenism. They drew on his music library
as much as his art library: the images of
Louis Armstrong and other jazz musicians in ‘King Zulu’ (1986) were based on
Basquiat’s ingredients lacked
the sauces of memory he hadn’t
time to form
photographs in his paint-smeared copy of
Black Beauty, White Heat: A Pictorial History of Classic Jazz. He painted while listening to music, sampling and scratching
like a DJ, transposing rhythms and themes,
track titles, record numbers and musical
notation into paint. When he didn’t work
to music, he played film videos. ‘I have to
have some source material around me to
work off,’ was his explanation. He was in
constant need of stimulation, artistic and
— increasingly —chemical.
His best work is from his 1982 show with
the Annina Nosei Gallery, before the bluechip dealers got him in their clutches: the
skull-headed boxer with the crown of thorns
in ‘Untitled’ (1982) is a powerful image. I’ve
never seen paintings better suited to the
Barbican Gallery’s brutalist concrete walls,
but the work gets repetitive. Much of it is
sketchy: done in a rush, it can be consumed
quickly. Where did it go wrong? A group
photo marking the artist’s 25th birthday in
December 1985 offers a clue. In a crowd of
party people his is the only black face: making art about being black for a white audience had put him in a box.
If he hadn’t died from an overdose
in 1988, would he still be around in 2040
to enjoy an 80th birthday retrospective
like the endlessly self-renewing Dubuffet? Going round Pace London’s current
show of Dubuffet’s ‘Théâtres de mémoire’,
started when the artist was in his mid-70s, I
wasn’t sure. The experience of standing in
front of one of these monumental works,
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
‘Self Portrait’, 1984, by Jean-Michel Basquiat
like mansions of the mind from which the
fourth wall has been removed, is richer
on so many levels: unlike Basquiat’s fragmented images, which would float away if
not tethered by text, the scribbly cartoon
figures and biomorphic abstract patterns in
Dubuffet’s crowded collages hang together in an impossibly harmonious whole.
The mind ‘recapitulates all fields; it makes
them dance together,’ explained the artist.
‘It also transforms them, cooks them in its
sauces…’ Basquiat’s art has a greener sort
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
of rawness than Dubuffet’s personal brand
of art brut. His images dance but his ingredients are uncooked, ranged on the chopping board beside their scribbled recipes,
lacking the sauces of memory he hadn’t
time to form.
Guess who’s coming to dinner: Timothy Spall (Bill), Cillian Murphy (Tom), Emily Mortimer (Jinny) and Patricia Clarkson (April)
in Sally Potter’s The Party
Gathering storm
Deborah Ross
The Party
12A, Nationwide
Sally Potter’s The Party, which unfolds in
real time during a politician’s soirée to celebrate her promotion, is just 71 minutes
long, but it certainly packs a punch. Actually, make that two. Two punches (at least).
And there’s a gun, cocaine, a smashed window, throwing up, toxic revelations (of
course) and a tray of incinerated vol-auvents. It is less than half the length of, say,
Blade Runner 2049, but three times as dramatic, and maybe 676 times as entertaining,
plus it features a stellar cast who put the
work in and don’t discover stuff by simply
staring at it really, really hard.
Filmed in black and white, which gives it
the retro feel of an old Play for Today (but
crisper), the film is said to be a satire on ‘broken Britain’ and ‘a state-of-the-nation commentary’, but you can see that or not see
that or just half see it or even just glimpse it
momentarily. It’s hard to know, in fact, what
it is saying exactly, but at least it is trying to
say something, and at least it is trying to say
something briskly.
It begins with a hauntingly eerie guitar
rendition of ‘Jerusalem’ (composed by Potter’s long-term musical collaborator, Fred
Frith) as a dishevelled, flustered woman
opens her front door and waveringly points
a gun at a person as yet unknown. We then
spool back in time to see that this is Janet
(Kristin Scott Thomas), who, just an hour or
so earlier, had been in her kitchen, taking
phone calls congratulating her on her promotion to shadow health secretary as she’s
The Party is less than half the length
of Blade Runner 2049 but 676
times as entertaining
preparing for the party. (That is, the party
tonight, and also the party in a political
sense, one assumes; it’s never specified that
she’s Labour but it is intimated strongly.)
Meanwhile, her husband Bill (Timothy
Spall), an academic, seems ominously unenthused as he sits in the other room listening
to his vinyl in an almost catatonic state. (He
does a lot of staring, admittedly.) As for the
guests, they are Janet’s oldest friend April
(Patricia Clarkson), a former activist and
constantly wise-cracking cynic who admires
Janet’s pinny as ‘post-modern, post-postfeminist’, which made me laugh, I have to
say. Her partner is Gottfried (Bruno Ganz),
a woo-woo, new-agey ‘lifestyle coach’ who
would be beloved by April if only she didn’t
hate him so much. Then there’s a lesbian
couple, Martha and Jinny (Cherry Jones,
Emily Mortimer), and Tom (Cillian Murphy), a sweaty, wired, coke-snorter who
brings ‘Chekhov’s gun’ into the mix. Tom is
a rich banker and represents everything all
the others supposedly detest, but he is married to Janet’s colleague, Marianne, a gifted
spin doctor who does not make an appearance as such but figures largely nonetheless.
One does not, as a rule, associate Potter, who wrote and directed, with the mainstream (Orlando, The Tango Lesson, Rage,
Yes), but this takes the mainstream dinner-from-hell scenario (see also: Festen,
Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Who’s
Afraid of Virginia Woolf?… Doctor Foster!)
and runs with it gleefully. Everyone is awful
and everyone is harbouring a secret, and it
all kicks off before dinner is even served,
which is annoying. What would it have been
after the vol-au-vents? Chicken in the basket? Stroganoff? (I seriously wished to
know.) Swipes are taken at the NHS, feminism (‘sisterhood is a very ageing concept’,
we’re told), western medicine, alternative
therapies, parliamentary democracy and
the comfortable life of the Islington socialist. They all skewer themselves, one way or
another, and are forced to confront their
self-deceptions, reappraise their ideals, significantly shift them.
It sounds a drag, but it’s wittier than
this, with some cracking dialogue. ‘Tickle
an aromatherapist and you’ll find a fascist,’
says April. I can’t say if this is true or not,
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
definitively, but it certainly confirms my
own long-held suspicion.
In normal circumstances, this would
have the Credibility Police all over it —
would April be with a man like Gottfried?
Wouldn’t these secrets have come out earlier? Who makes vol-au-vents any more?
— but it all happens at such a lick that credibility is not an issue. You just don’t have
time to get hung up on it. The acting is fullon, very theatrical, and perhaps even, on
occasion, too theatrical. But a too-theatrical Scott Thomas or Spall or Clarkson or
Ganz or Murphy or Mortimer or Jones still
has to be 892 times more entertaining than,
say, that blank staring business. Like I said, I
can’t tell you what it adds up to exactly, but
it’s fun getting there, wherever that is.
When in Rome...
James Delingpole
I know I keep saying that in Decline of
the West terms we’re all currently living in
Rome, circa 400 AD. But now, on TV, there
is actual proof of this in the form of a truly
appalling reality series called Bromans
(ITV2, Thursdays).
Bromans is like a cross between Love
Island and Carry On Cleo, so shamelessly low, tacky and brain-dead that it makes
Geordie Shore look like Kenneth Clark’s
Civilisation. Basically, a bunch of ridiculously buff lads strip off and participate in crap
gladiatorial contests in which no one dies
(thus entirely defeating the object), while
Bromans is probably the most
accurate reflection on TV of what
young men and women are really like
their hot blonde girlfriends smoulder pointlessly in scanty outfits, and say stupid things
like ‘I’ve gone 2,000 years back. I’ve never
lived that far back.’ Then they have a typical cocktail party, just like used to happen in
Imperial Rome, and — we are led to assume
— shag one another.
What I like best about Bromans is its rugged integrity. There’s none of that relentless
PC hectoring that Rod Liddle was rightly
bemoaning the other day: it’s probably the
most accurate reflection anywhere on TV of
what young men and women are still really like; and because it’s all done ironically,
clumsily and on the cheap it slips under the
Guardianista outrage police’s radar.
Obviously, though, I’m not suggesting
you should waste time watching it. Instead,
what you need is your new favourite Netflix
series, Suburra. It’s a drama, set in contemporary Rome (see how cunningly I themed
this week’s review), which people are calling the Italian answer to Narcos. Just as in
real life, every stratum of society, from the
church and the political class downwards, is
rancid with corruption and simmering violence, yet redeemed, somehow — almost
— by the vestiges of style, glamour and a
classical aura with which everyone is imbued
in the Eternal City.
You’re straight in there (plot spoiler
alert): an influential cardinal, noted for his
probity and self-flagellating piety, is caught
with his trousers down at an orgy so stupendously lush and inviting it could almost
have been shot by Paolo Sorrentino. The
cardinal’s fixer bills it as ‘carefree time’ —
a wonderful euphemism, which I hope will
become part of all our vocabularies. (‘Darling, the boys have asked me on a jaunt to
Amsterdam next weekend for a spot of
carefree time. Would you mind awfully?’)
At once, three young hyaenas descend on
the carrion: Lele, a middle-class undergraduate and policeman’s son, well on the way
to deeply disappointing his old dad; Aureliano, the hot-headed, trigger-happy, snappily
coiffed son of a local crime boss who, a bit
like Theon Greyjoy, has been supplanted in
his father’s affection by his more savvy sister; and Spadino, the Lamborghini-driving,
closeted gay son from a rival crime gang the
Sintis. They loathe each other. They’re natural enemies. But in the festering cesspit that
is Rome, lucre conquers all to unite them in
an unlikely partnership.
Definitely my favourite thing so far are
the Sintis. I noticed that in the Radio Times
piece I cribbed the names and details from,
the author sought to distance himself from
the notion that they might, ahem, be ‘gypsies’. Hello? Their outrageous pikeyness is
the entire point. For the arranged, dynastic
nuptials of reluctant (for obvious reasons)
Spadino and his dark-haired gypsy maid,
they’ve recreated the Trevi fountain in their
garden. Everyone in the extended family
lives cheek by jowl in an open-plan palace
of unspeakably vulgar bling resembling a
reclamation yard flouncified by Laurence
All the other gangs utterly despise them
because of their grisly haircuts, their surly
features and, obviously, because they’re
pikeys. But you, the viewer, are rooting for
them all the way. Camp, smiley Spadino,
especially, because he’s such a card. And his
jolie-laide bride, the minx, who’s clearly not
going to take his utter lack of interest in her
without a fight…
Obviously, till you’ve seen it, this won’t
mean much to you. But once you have, you’ll
agree with me, I know. It really isn’t often
you enter a dramatic world so fully realised,
where you get to know the characters and a
quite convoluted plotline so effortlessly, and
where, vilely compromised though everyone
is, you become so quickly drawn into their
tragic plight and their pop-Shakespearean
moral dilemmas. The settings are great too:
the splendour of the cardinal’s apartment;
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
the rundown beachfront in Ostia, object of
the epic power struggle; the Senegalese tart
with a heart’s fairy-tale love nest.
I could go on, but there’s really no point.
Just stop whatever you’re doing, log on to
Netflix and bingewatch, now.
Make mine a double
Damian Thompson
London Piano Festival
Kings Place
If two concert pianists are performing a
work written for two grand pianos, there are
two ways you can position the instruments.
They can sit side by side, an arrangement
known as ‘twin beds’. Or they can be slotted
together so the performers face each other.
That’s called a ‘69’.
When Martha Argerich and Stephen
Kovacevich play together, they opt for twin
beds. Appropriately, you might think, since
they’re divorced — but really it’s because
Kovacevich insists on sitting so low that
Argerich can’t see his head if she’s opposite him. With everyone else she prefers a
69, as do most pianists: it’s easier to make
eye contact.
And that’s crucial, because it’s no joke
trying to synchronise with a duo partner
when your own part is monstrously difficult. No wonder the two-piano repertoire is
Indeed, it might have disappeared by
now if Martha Argerich hadn’t decided,
With everyone else, Argerich prefers
a 69, as do most pianists
more than 30 years ago, that she was too
nervous to play solo in public. (Ironic, when
you consider that she possesses the world’s
most impregnable technique; if only similar
jitters would silence one or two overrated
celebrity pianists.)
Instead, she enticed musicians of the calibre of Kovacevich, Nelson Freire and Daniel
Barenboim into joining her in arrangements
of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances,
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Ravel’s La
valse — plus the handful of masterpieces
originally written for the medium, such as
Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major
K 448, Brahms’s St Anthony Variations and
Rachmaninov’s Second Suite.
Some of the most rewarding two-piano
works are reductions of orchestral scores
— though perhaps ‘reduction’ is the wrong
word. Losing the orchestration can give
you more of the music. The Rite of Spring is
every bit as barbarous in the hands of Argerich and Barenboim as it is under the baton
of Boulez; it’s just that the dissonances are
spelled out differently. And if you want to
make sense of Strauss’s Sinfonia Domestica,
first try Argerich and Alexandre Rabinovitch in Otto Singer’s transcription, which
strips away the special effects to uncover a
forceful argument. Then hear what Furtwängler does with it.
None of this is to be confused with music
for four hands on one piano. That has its
own repertoire, dominated by Schubert,
and its own magic: it can be enchanting to
hear two voices singing from the same keyboard. However, lots of pianists aren’t crazy
about the physical contortions or yielding
the sustaining pedal to the other player.
Also, they worry about personal hygiene.
‘I’m drenched in sweat,’ one of them told
me after playing Schubert’s F minor Fantasy. ‘And it’s not my sweat.’
But back to two-piano music, because it
lies at the heart of the London Piano Festival, now in its second year at Kings Place.
I’d rather miss a season of Proms than these
concerts. They include solo recitals by pianists who, in a world that valued musicianship above showing off, would be household
names: for example, Danny Driver and Lisa
Smirnova. There are major-league soloists,
too — this year, Nelson Goerner, last year
Kovacevich — and on the Saturday they all
leap into a two-piano marathon curated by
the festival’s artistic directors, Charles Owen
and Katya Apekisheva.
Owen and Apekisheva are a worldclass piano duo to rank with Yaara Tal and
Andreas Groethuysen and the late Duo
Crommelynck (‘late’ because Patrick and
Taeko Crommelynck committed suicide on
the same day in 1994).
Unlike those duos, however, you
Victoria Road
I’m saying to Meg and Alex
‘I came past your street this afternoon.
I wanted to visit you but you’re dead.’
And Meg is saying, in her sensible way,
‘Can’t be helped. Next time check up first’,
Faulty connection
Kate Chisholm
while Alex gives a sort of rueful smile
mouthing ‘Sorry!’ as if through a window
(I can’t hear him), and flinging his hands out
in apology, as when they met me
at Kathmandu airport in a thunderstorm:
‘Sorry about the rain!’
Sorry about the deaths. But let’s not start.
Anyway, now that we’ve established that
we can get on with the conversation.
I’ll show them the pictures I took
of Meg beside the two saplings
on a riverside walk in Stony Stratford
where we planted Alex’s ashes;
we used to visit the swans around there.
Alex will embark on a story
about spotting his hero Graham Greene
in the south of France, and trying
to pluck up courage…
I think I may have heard it before,
but I was never sure of the ending.
couldn’t say that they’re more than the
sum of their parts. Owen and Apekisheva
are ferociously gifted soloists, as we heard
in the first half of Thursday’s opening concert. Owen gave us Brahms’s Two Rhapsodies Op. 79 with a bouncy spontaneity
that revealed how much the music owes to
Schumann; then a sequence of Liszt pieces
ending in an exquisitely voiced Liszt-Wagner Liebestod. Apekisheva played the Second Piano Sonata of Mieczyslaw Weinberg
(1919–96). Weinberg’s echoes of Shostakovich verge on pastiche, but she brought out
something fragile and elusive — a touch of
Poulenc, perhaps?
One thing Owen and Apekisheva really
know how to do is make a piano sing, even
when the score bites and lurches. In Rachmaninov’s Second Suite — a piece that
makes me question the conventional wisdom that Tchaikovsky was a greater composer — their Steinways sang to each other,
melodies lifted and rhythms sharpened by
the finest chamber acoustic in London. The
applause was foot-stomping, a tribute not
just to the performances but also to the special thrill of music for two pianos. Let’s hear
more of it, please.
—Fleur Adcock
There’s no doubting her passion for the programme of which she is now chief of staff.
Talking to Roger Bolton on Radio 4’s Feedback slot, Sarah Sands told us repeatedly
how much she loved Today, how it was ‘a
privilege’ to be in charge of such a ‘flagship’
programme, how its length, three hours, was
such a luxury after years spent in the newspaper business. She was so happy to have so
much time to cover big subjects and invite
so many experts into the studio to talk about
their subject. She relished the challenge of
preserving the programme’s ‘depth and resonance’, its ‘great intelligence’ and ‘thoughtfulness’.
Sands was responding to recent criticisms
that there are now too many ‘soft’ interviews on the programme, not enough hardedged reportage, and that, in particular, the
themed programme about London Fashion
Week had failed to investigate that business
properly, appearing instead to be rather in
awe of fashion’s glamour, its celebrity and
luxury brands. Sands’s glowing enthusiasm
is impressive, and it has to be said that listener figures are on the rise, although this
is probably a temporary response to global
turbulence and domestic insecurities rather than a sustained increase. Inadvertently,
though, she gave away the reason why the
programme is losing its edge.
Nowhere did she talk about engaging
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
the listener. Nowhere did she suggest that
she appreciated the essential difference
between her background in published news
and what it’s like to listen. Nowhere in what
she said did she appear to understand the
special connection that’s made between the
person behind the microphone and the listener at home. At Today, the story is becoming ever more locked inside the studio.
By chance, at peak morning time on
Monday, I tuned in to Vanessa Feltz on
Radio London (my FM Radio 4 signal
having disappeared under a blast of static, and digital being too fickle to bother
with). Feltz was on fire about the Dove
advertisement for body lotion showing a
black woman taking off her top to reveal a
white woman underneath. What struck me
immediately, and kept me tuned, was her
approach to the story, which went straight
to the nub: who authorised the advert?
How could it have got through the chain of
command at Unilever (which owns Dove)?
What did they intend the advert to mean?
She addressed straightaway all these questions with an immediacy that felt a long
way from how the Today team would have
tackled the issue. Feltz, of course, fronts a
phone-in programme, which is very different from the remit of Today. But it might be
worth Sands and her team tuning in from
time to time to learn from Feltz’s innate gift
for hitting on what we want to hear, from
her finely tuned connection with her ‘lovely
For Radio 4’s season of programmes
marking 100 years since the Russian Revolution, Vanora Bennett took as her inspiration the classic tourist souvenir brought
home from Moscow or St Petersburg, those
dolls inside dolls, either the political version
Nowhere did Sands talk about
engaging the listener
starting with Putin and going through Yeltsin, Stalin, Lenin and Marx, or the folk version of five working women, pink-cheeked,
wearing headscarves, the real bearers of
Russian tradition. In Russia in Five Babushka Dolls (produced by Sam Peach and Mark
Rickards), she gave us five women who
have influenced the course of Russian history, beginning on Monday with Catherine
the Great and, via Stalin’s wife, Ayn Rand
and the first Russian woman cosmonaut,
ending up with one of the members of Pussy
Riot, the punk rock group who were prepared to go to prison to defend their right to
protest against the government of Vladimir
Putin. Given Catherine’s story, as revealed
by Bennett, the Empress would probably
have approved of Pussy Riot’s defiance of
all convention.
An extraordinary force of nature, Catherine was said to have died while having sex
with a horse, which says much more about
the way she made men feel uncomfortable
than about her actual character. Married at
16 to the weak and ineffectual Peter, she
was a political pawn, sacrificed to satisfy
the desire of her Prussian royal family to
link their puny country to the vastness of
Russia. After a few miserable, lonely years,
she realised that it was up to her to make
her destiny. Not averse to a bit of violence
(Peter was murdered most probably at her
request), she then set about modernising
the country to which she had been virtually
exiled, grabbing the riches of the Orthodox
Church to build her own palaces and cities,
and buying up most of European art to decorate them.
Bennett’s essays took us further inside
Russian history than the laborious drama,
Ten Days That Shook the World, which was
supposed to give us the sense of being witness to the October Revolution as it happened through the eyes of John Reed, an
American journalist who reported back
from Petrograd (as St Petersburg was then
known). Here the tone was just so wrong.
‘Have you talked to the workers, the peasants? Have you been to the front?’ asks his
wife Louise Bryant, also a journalist. Would
she really have said that in 1917?
Tours that lead you up
the garden path.
As market leaders in cultural tours we enjoy privileged access to historic
$o†uvbm1Ѵ†7;Ĺ-u7;mvş(bѴѴ-vo=-lr-]m-!ol-m)-Ѵhbm]ş-u7;mvbm-7;bu-Ň-u7;mvo=|_;!bˆb;uGardens & Villas of the Italian Lakes
Gardens & Palaces of Berlin & Potsdam
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
‘The houses chosen were an
excellent mix. The private,
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Kirker Holidays provides a range of carefully crafted escorted holidays, with fascinating itineraries designed for those
with an interest in literature, history, art, architecture, gardens and music. Groups typically consist of 12-22 likeminded travellers, in the company of an expert Tour Lecturer.
Prices are per person and include flights, transfers, accommodation with breakfast, meals as described, a full programme of sightseeing,
entrance fees and gratuities and the services of the Kirker Tour Lecturer. Single supplements available on request.
Based at one of Europe’s most comfortable and stylish hotels, the
5* deluxe Brenners Park Hotel & Spa, our new Christmas holiday
combines world-class ballet performances with visits to the legendary
Black Forest and mediaeval Strasbourg.We visit the famous Casino, and
enjoy a backstage tour of the Festspielhaus, which hosts the Mariinsky
ballet over Christmas.We attend performances of Romeo and Juliet
and The Nutcracker, and have dinner at the AIDA restaurant before
each.We will also spend one day exploring the picturesque Alsatian
town of Strasbourg, and another
discovering the glorious scenery
of the Black Forest en route to
Ludwigsburg’s Baroque Palace.
The Eternal City is the perfect place to spend Christmas, and there is a
wonderful festive atmosphere with streets, shops and piazzas decorated
with elegant Christmas trees, and churches adorned with nativity
displays. This time of year is also blissfully free from crowds, so we
will explore the city’s great galleries, religious buildings and ancient
architecture in relative peace. We will stay at the 5* Grand Hotel de
la Minerve, located in the heart of Rome, with a roof terrace which
overlooks the dome of the Pantheon. As well as included visits to
Rome’s great monuments and an included
Christmas lunch in a local
restaurant, there will also be
some free time to explore the
city independently.
Price from £3,277 for five
nights including four dinners,
one lunch in Strasbourg and
first category tickets for
two ballets.
Price from £1,995 for
five nights including
Christmas Day lunch and
four dinners including one
on Christmas Eve.
Our Christmas holiday to Dresden includes two performances at the
Semper Opera – Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and The Nutcracker.
There will also be visits to the Frauenkirche, the Green Vaults and the
Zwinger Gallery, whose collection of Old Masters was assembled by
The Electors of Saxony, Augustus the Strong and his son, Augustus
III. We stay at the 4* Hotel Steigenberger de Saxe in the heart of
Dresden, and will have a special Christmas lunch at the Kempinski
Taschenbergpalais Hotel.
Price from £1,998
for five nights
including three
dinners, one lunch on
Christmas Day and
first category tickets
for two performances
at the Semper Opera.
Speak to an expert or request a brochure:
020 7593 2284 quote code XSP
The days may be short but there is something uniquely atmospheric
about visiting St. Petersburg in winter and our New Year holiday will
combine the city’s extravagant art and architecture with free time
for independent exploration – and a gala dinner on New Year’s Eve.
Based at the 5* deluxe Hotel Astoria, we will visit the world’s largest
art collection at the Hermitage, the unique displays of Russian art
and icons at the Russian Museum, and the Fabergé Museum housed
in the Shuvalov Palace. We shall also explore
the Imperial palaces of the Tsars,
the Alexander Nevsky Monastery,
where a host of Russian cultural
luminaries are buried and several
spectacular churches.
Price from £2,745 for six nights
including return one lunch, four
dinners including Grand Gala
Dinner at the hotel on New Year’s
Eve and Russian visa service.
Writers’ blocks
The Windy City has inspired everyone from Hemingway
to Saul Bellow – and now William Cook
rite drunk, edit sober,’
Ernest Hemingway
reportedly said, and
Oak Park, on the leafy outskirts
of Chicago, is the place where he
became a writer (the drink came
later). Here is the clapboard house
where he was born, and learned to
read and write, and a few blocks
away is the home where his father
blew his brains out in 1928, just as
his son would do 33 years later.
Violence is ever present in Chicago, even in affluent Oak Park, but
despite its reputation (or maybe, in a
way, because of it) this is an intensely
literary city, and a fitting location for
the new American Writers Museum.
‘It used to be a writer’s town and
it’s always been a fighter’s town,’
wrote Nelson Algren in an essay
called ‘Chicago: City on the Make’.
That was back in 1951. Today, Chi-
cago is a writer’s town again. This
‘brawling,/City of the Big Shoulders’
(as Chicagoan poet Carl Sandburg
put it) has inspired so many writers,
from Saul Bellow to Studs Terkel,
David Mamet to Sara Paretsky, and
as you wander its windswept boulevards you realise that the world they
wrote about is all around you. The
man who drove me to Hemingway’s
house was a retired policeman. He
worked on the homicide squad, back
in the bad old days when Chicago
racked up 1,000 murders a year.
Chicago is safer now — for visitors, at least. The city centre has been
spruced up, repopulated by millennials and empty nesters, and gun crime
is confined to the poorer neighbourhoods, where tourists rarely venture.
Yet gangs, drugs and turf wars are
part of daily life, and crime writing
is the genre that sums up this muscu-
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Chicago never
set out to be
a cultural
capital, and
that’s what
makes its
culture so
lar metropolis. Perhaps that’s why it’s
always been such a great newspaper
town. Gangsterism and journalism
have gone together ever since prohibition, when Al Capone shipped
bootleg liquor across Lake Michigan,
and Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur set their tabloid drama, The
Front Page, here.
Chicago used to have dozens of
newspapers, now it has just a handful — but the city’s journalistic spirit
lives on in its energetic fanzines. In
record shops and comic shops, you
can pick up countless homemade
magazines, devoted to every subject
you can think of (and quite a few
you can’t). At a fanzine convention
in an old union hall, I met a cartoonist called Mike Freiheit, who moved
here a few years ago from New York.
There, he had to take day jobs to pay
the rent; here, he can afford to devote
his time to cartooning.
Lower living costs are a big part of
what makes this such a creative city.
Trendy districts such as Wicker Park
are bustling with independent bookshops. Open Books, a second-hand
bookstore located in a disused warehouse in the West Loop, runs literacy
projects for disadvantaged schoolkids.
Chicago never set out to be a cul49
tural capital, and that’s what makes
its culture so dynamic and authentic. It was traditionally a city of meatpackers and toolmakers, not critics
and curators. That’s why its artists
and writers have always thrived. At
the Green Mill, an ornate bar in the
old Swedish enclave of Andersonville, poets from all sorts of backgrounds (young black rappers, old
white hippies) recite their work in a
raucous atmosphere that feels more
like a speakeasy than a literary society. It’s an eclectic mix, and the passion
is exhilarating. It’s open to all comers
— anyone can get up and have a go.
The American Writers Museum
is a more sedate arena, located in
an art deco office block downtown.
I feared I’d find a dreary mausoleum, full of literary bric-a-brac (Mark
Twain’s inkwell — you know the sort
of thing) but thankfully this smart
new space isn’t full of old curios in
glass cases. Rather, it’s a rendezvous
for readers and writers of all ages: a
place to browse and scribble, somewhere to meet up and exchange
ideas. When I was there one of several exhibits which transfixed me was
Jack Kerouac’s first draft of On The
Road, typed out in three weeks flat
on a single 120ft sheet of paper. It’s
an artefact that captures the joyous
energy of American writing, and it
was thrilling to see it on temporary
display in this new museum.
A short walk away, on Printers
Row, is the world’s largest public
library, named after Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor. ‘Let
us welcome controversial books and
controversial authors,’ reads a mural
on the wall (a quote from JFK). In the
winter gardens on the top floor, looking out across the city, I recalled some
lines from Longfellow: ‘The love of
learning, the sequestered nooks/And
all the sweet serenity of books.’
This isn’t only a literary city; it’s
The Nathan G.
Moore House,
one of the homes
Frank Lloyd
Wright built in and
around Oak Park
Previous page:
Anish Kapoor’s
Cloud Gate in
Millennium Park
a city of all the arts. The Art Institute of Chicago boasts one of the
world’s great art collections (Hemingway’s mother used to bring him
here — no wonder he cited as many
artists as writers among his heroes).
Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ and
Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’
are here, alongside European treasures: French Impressionism; German
Expressionism, Spanish surrealism…
I finished up back in Oak Park, outside Hemingway’s childhood home.
Around the corner is the first house
Frank Lloyd Wright built, a bizarre
blend of folksy arts and crafts and daring modernism. His studio is serene
and stately, but the grandest room
is the playroom he designed for his
six children. As I walked back to the
station I passed several of the houses
he built later, each unique. It reminded me of something Hemingway said:
‘For a true writer, each book should
be a new beginning.’ He claimed there
was a book to be written about Oak
Park, but never got around to writing
it. I wonder what he would have said.
The author flew to Chicago with
United Airlines (
as a guest of Choose Chicago
Our visits are led by experts whose passion
and authority on their subjects
are equal to their sense of
hospitality, attention to detail
and above all, their sense of fun.
23 - 28 DECEMBER 2017
10 - 19 APRIL 2018
A Key to The New World:
Havana &
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15 – 26 January 2018
WITH Juliet barclay
6 - 20 MAY 2018
10 - 16 APRIL 2018
To request a
brochure please
call 01869 811167,
email or visit
our website
Isfahan, Masjed-e Jame Mosque
+44 (0) 1869 811167 | |
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Lazy bays
Ysenda Maxtone Graham
on the lure of blue skies,
powder-white beaches
and total relaxation
omesick by nature, I like my
foreign places to be exotic but
also to remind me of home.
Barbados, for types like us, is the ideal
holiday destination. Sea so warm you
can loll in it for hours on end, and
the charm of dusty rum shacks on
hot afternoons — but also cucumber
sandwiches for tea, and Sunday Matins in Anglican parish churches where
they sing Victorian hymns.
The cucumber sandwiches were
a daily treat at our English family-owned hotel Cobblers Cove on
the west coast. Afternoon tea in the
drawing room is on the house, and
that is only one touch among 1,000 or
so that make staying there bliss. Others include: the welcome from the
staff who whisk your luggage away
and lead you to the indoor-outdoor
bar where a uniformed barman with
a dazzling smile mixes you a rum
or fruit punch; gorgeous suites, like
small self-contained flats, with verandahs where you can set and gaze at
the Caribbean Sea from your chaises
longues; a constant supply of pinkand-white-striped swimming towels;
and a different flavour of specially
baked bread from the bread basket
each evening as you sip your wine by
the waves.
The novelist Sam Angus, who does
the interior design and makes a point
of employing local craftsmen and
women to make the wickerwork and
ceramics, has an eye for beauty and a
feeling for simple pleasures, comforts
and good taste that tallies with my
own, so I was happy and not homesick.
I love luxury — who doesn’t? —
but I don’t like being separated from
the normal world. Cobblers Cove
isn’t surrounded by miles and miles
of golf courses or anything like that.
Though it’s a mini-paradise of gardens and sea, it’s on a normal road
in a normal place, with yellow buses
trundling past, picking you up if you
want a reggae ride into Bridgetown.
A five-minute walk in one direction,
and you’re in a cul-de-sac of village
houses with local children cavorting
on the pavements and jumping over
walls; ten minutes in the other direction and you’re in the centre of Speightstown, with said rum shacks and
said Anglican church.
We took all three sons and each of
them, with their different characters,
was fulfilled and delighted.
The eldest made such good friends
with local Barbadians when he went
to a rum shack for four hours one
evening that he almost resolved to
emigrate; the middle one was allowed
to practise the organ in the church —
Barbadians tend to say an enthusiastic ‘Yes’ if you request things; and the
youngest basked in the pleasures of
the moment: the bathing, the relaxing, the boat rides, the not having to
think about school. The island is only
21 miles by 14, so how — I now wonder — did we manage to take an hour
and a half to drive from Foul Bay in
the south (a stunning empty bay with
North-Cornwall-sized waves but
warm sea) to the village towards the
north where we stopped for a midday
ice-cold drink? We did get a bit lost;
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
You don’t
go to the
Caribbean to
get away from
You go here
to celebrate
and you do. I’ve since learned that
Barbados, though small, is densely
populated and has almost 1,000 miles
of paved roads. You don’t go there
to get away from humanity. You go
there to celebrate humanity.
I won’t forget that place where
we had a drink in the middle of the
day: a wooden shack-with-fridge
where the family was sitting around
doing (as my overworked lawyer
husband noticed with envy) nothing.
‘Not even on their phones: just doing
nothing.’ Old man asleep on a bench;
young man talking to another young
man in such strong Bajan accents
that you could hardly understand a
word they were saying; a mother and
her little girl with plaited hair. We
just sat there, doing nothing too, and
drinking our Lipton Ice Tea, but feeling distinctly welcome.
Did I mention the uniforms? Is it
odd to like that? There was a lot of
it about, reminding me of olden-days
Britain. Clergy in cassocks; choir in
mortarboards; freemasons in aprons;
schoolchildren in yellow dresses;
chefs in white jackets; and, best of
all, the Royal Barbados Police Band
in white short-sleeved shirts with
epaulettes and tassels, the gentle
conductor waving baton rather than
truncheon on a Saturday night.
Visiting the Franklyn Stephenson
Cricket Academy was a thrill for husband and eldest son, who care about
the West Indies cricket team and long
for them to be as good as they were
in the glory days of the 1980s. Franklyn Stephenson (widely regarded,
I’ve been told, as the greatest cricketer never to play in a Test match) welcomed us; he feels the same, and is
doing all he can to make it come true,
training talented boys in the nets on
weekday afternoons and arranging
foreign tours for them. ‘Out of little
villages like these,’ said my husband
as we drove past another scattering of houses with verandahs, ‘came
some of the greatest cricketers the
world has ever known — sometimes
three of them from the same village!’
He loved that.
From May to July, hotel prices virtually halve. I’m trying to get to the
bottom of the truth about the weather in those months. The only way
to get to the truth is to be there for
the whole summer (yes, please); but
apparently you might get 20 minutes
of rain every other day, and apart
from that it’s the normal regime of
hot, blue, sunny paradise. Apparently
we British have got it into our heads
that we shouldn’t go to the Caribbean in the summer and that’s wrong.
Barbados needs us — and we need it.
15 days from £4,725pp
Eight days from £2,195pp
Eight days from £3,390pp
Russian revelations
with John Simpson
Waltzing down the Danube
with our experts
Culinary delights of France
with Michel Roux Jr
On this cruise along some of Russia’s
most picturesque waterways, join our
experts to discover the country’s secrets,
history and unique culture.
From Budapest to Nuremberg via the verdant
beauty of the Wachau Valley, explore the
culture of this majestic river with two very
special guests.
Sail the tranquil waterways of the Saône
and the Rhône and explore medieval
Tarascon, historic Avignon, the heart
of the Beaujolais wine region and Lyon.
> John Simpson will join you in Moscow
to share his experiences reporting from
Red Square
> Experience a private ballroom dance
performance in the opulent Palais
Liechtenstein by Strictly Come Dancing’s
Kristina Rihanoff and Ian Waite
> Join acclaimed chef Michel Roux Jr
for an exclusive cooking demonstration
> In St Petersburg, award-winning historian
Orlando Figes will share his extensive
knowledge of Russia with you
> Enjoy a private performance displaying
the spectacular grace and beauty
of Russian ballet at the Palace of
Prince Vladimir
> Explore the historic monuments
of St Petersburg and Moscow
Departing May 27, 2018
> Enjoy a private Q&A session with
the dance stars
> Discover historic highlights including
Budapest’s thermal baths and the worldrenowned Spanish Riding School in Vienna
> Enjoy the cultural delights of Lyon
including a gourmet food market visit
and Q&A with the chef
> Join Telegraph wine critic Susy Atkins
for a private tasting and a visit to
> Choose from a number of cultural
> Enjoy a classical concert at Avignon’s
majestic 14th-century Papal Palace featuring
music by Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi
Departing July 25 and October 25, 2018
Departing May 6, 2018
All tours include:
All-inclusive accommodation on board a luxury five-star ship* All shore excursions as detailed in the itinerary Exclusive talks,
demonstrations and Q&A with experts featured All gratuities, transfers and taxes Services of a dedicated tour manager
0333 122 7701 and quote SCMAG
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The novelist loved Positano’s
sleepy beauty and 60 years
on it’s no less enchanting,
says James Delingpole
‘Nearly always when you find a place
as beautiful as Positano, your impulse
is to conceal it. You think: “If I tell, it
will be crowded with tourists and they
will ruin it, turn it into a honky-tonk
and then the local people will get touristy and there’s your lovely place gone
to hell.” There isn’t the slightest chance
of this in Positano.’
John Steinbeck, 1953
eah, right. The sad truth is
that like so many classic destinations, Positano, on Italy’s
Amalfi Coast, has long since been
overtouristed almost to the point of
ruination. Even as early in the season
as late April, when the Fawn and I visited, the tiny beach area was almost
unbearable. Boatloads of day trippers
swarmed across the promenade, funnelling into the steep narrow alleys
on a near-impossible quest to find
somewhere to eat. At which point you
might wonder: ‘Why bother?’
Well I’ll tell you why: because
if you follow my two cardinal rules
of modern travel, it’s still possible
to experience Positano exactly as
Steinbeck did in the 1950s or as the
Rolling Stones did when they wrote
‘Midnight Rambler’ there in the late
1960s — in the days when travel was
for the few not the many, you could
smoke cigarettes and drink cocktails
with impunity, and the Med really was
as unspoilt and idyllic as it looks on
old postcards.
Rule no. 1: no box-ticking. The
first thing I did on arriving at our
hotel was to scan its list of things to
do in and around the Amalfi Coast
and then, next to each one, scrawl
‘No’. First to go was the boat trip
to Capri (a tiny island with two million tourist visits a year? No thanks).
Then, I ruled out the other trips too:
the one to Sorrento, the one to Ravello, the one to Pompeii. This wasn’t
laziness — just a grown-up acknowl-
edgement of the way things are in the
age of mass tourism.
It’s like this: if, on your deathbed,
you still haven’t seen the Mona Lisa
or Michelangelo’s David or anywhere
in Venice, this should be a matter for
self-congratulation, not regret. Sure,
it would have been great if you’d
caught them in the mid-1950s when
they weren’t ruined by a gazillion
other people jostling for a view. But
you didn’t — and you were grown up
enough to accept this.
Rule no. 2: ruthlessly edit. You
came to see Positano as it ought to
be, not as it is. Best, therefore, to confine yourself to the one place in town
where arguably that magically glamorous ambiance still exists: the hotel
where Steinbeck stayed, Le Sirenuse.
No, it’s not cheap; when we sat reading by the pool on the terrace and the
so-polite waiter came along, we didn’t
dare order anything except espresso.
But it is amazing: like being a Count
and Contessa in your very own Mediterranean palazzo for a weekend.
Le Sirenuse is a former nobleman’s palace, in the middle of town
with the best position, multiply tiered
as all the buildings in the village have
to be because they’re built more or
less into a cliff, and with quite possibly the most delectable view you
will ever see anywhere in the world
in your entire life.
The time to enjoy it at peak magnificence is in the morning, when you
look out to sea over the majolica-tiled
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
terracotta houses
are set against
rolling hills and an
azure sea
This is quite
possibly the
most delectable
view you’ll ever
see anywhere in
the world
dome of the Chiesa di Santa Maria
Assunta, the sun just beginning to
light up the pastel-coloured houses
clinging to the cliff at the port’s edge,
while sitting in the most exquisite dining room (shimmery white arches, big
windows, bougainvillea-trained on
the walls, lit by 500 candles), gorging
yourself silly on rich pastries, fresh
fruit, hams, cheeses and so. There are
insufficient superlatives in the lexicon
to do this experience justice.
Even at the end of our threeday stay we were still getting lost in
the hotel’s warren of corridors and
lounges, crammed with all manner of
antiques and artwork, ranging from
ancient prints to a neon bar sign commissioned from Martin Creed by the
hotel’s groovy aristocrat owner Antonio. But this was all to the good. It
meant that apart from the occasional
foray out for lunch and dinner — plus
the one trip we did take, an earlyish morning walk up to the heights
to catch a view of Positano before
the boats and coaches arrived — we
stayed in our enclave: relaxing, sipping cocktails, lounging by the pool,
cooking gently in the steam room and
the sauna, reading, drinking in that
still-perfect view.
You know what? Maybe Steinbeck wasn’t so wrong after all.
Classic Collection Holidays
(0800 047 1064;
offers three nights at Le Sirenuse
( from £941 per person.
A song of ice and snow
The otherworldly
Northern Lights
The spectacular scenery of Norway is just
a two-hour flight away, reveals Camilla Swift
t might seem strange for someone
who is half-Norwegian to decide
on Scandinavian studies at university. But having lived in the UK my
whole life, I wanted a better understanding of Scandinavia, its language, and its culture. In four years, I
learned plenty of useful skills, such as
the ability to read fuþark runes and
point out the Norwegian influences
in Disney’s Frozen. All in all, time
well spent.
But I always ummed and ahed
when friends asked if they should pop
over on a weekend break. As much as
I love the country, I felt guilty about
recommending it as a holiday destination. Norway is famously expensive.
Recently though, my attitude has
started to change. For those used to
London prices, the Norwegian capital isn’t that extortionate. Yes, eating
out and alcohol aren’t cheap, but if
you’re prepared for that, then a holiday here is well worth the short trip
over the North Sea.
The two things that tend to attract
visitors are the scenery and the
Northern Lights. For many tourists
the easiest (and the most famous)
way to explore the fjords is with Hurtigruten, a Norwegian cruise company which has been ferrying passengers
up and down the coast since 1893.
The ships are used as passenger and
freight vehicles as well as for cruising,
and there are multiple options, from a
fortnight’s round trip to shorter fjord
trips and Northern Lights cruises.
Strangely enough, in 2011 NRK
(the Norwegian version of the BBC)
managed to break the Guinness
world record for the world’s longest live television documentary with
a 134-hour long broadcast of a Hurtigruten trip from Bergen in the
southwest to Kirkenes in the north.
Norway is now something of a ‘slow
television’ pioneer, with programmes
including an eight-hour broadcast
of a burning fire. The first attempt
by NRK at slow TV, however, was a
live broadcast of the seven-hour train
journey from Bergen to Oslo. As well
as making for good TV, the trip is also
a fantastic way to see the country.
It might sound obvious, but if you
want to see the Northern Lights (or
midnight sun), then it helps to go
as far north as possible. Svalbard,
The beautiful
Islands offer
far more
scenery than
the Norwegian island group within
the Arctic Circle, is really the furthest north that you can go. Formerly a whaling and fishing station, the
islands are now a base for mining,
scientific research, tourism — and
polar bears. If that sounds too cold
and remote, then the spectacularly
beautiful Lofoten Islands will serve
you just as well, and offer far more
dramatic scenery than Svalbard.
But Norway has even more to
offer. My family are from the eastern
part of the country, not far from the
border with Sweden. This is potato
country, where farming and forestry
are the economic mainstays. But apart
from potatoes, there are also mountains — and mountains mean skiing.
The outdoor lifestyle is very
important here. There’s even a word
to describe the ‘Scandinavian philosophy of outdoor life’: friluftsliv. Combine it with the Norwegian climate
and it comes as no surprise that some
of the world’s best cross-country skiers are Norwegian. Bjørn Dæhlie, one
of the best in history, is practically a
god here. In fact, if you look at the
Olympic medals table for cross-country skiing, Norway has a 107 medals.
(The next closest country is Finland,
on 76, followed by Sweden, on 74.)
The more I think about it, the
more I wonder whether failing to
recommend Norway to my friends
was simply a way of trying to keep
the country a secret. If that was the
case, my secret is well and truly out.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
This is the definitive Norwegian
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and with the full range of seasonal
excursions to choose from.
Bergen – Kirkenes – Bergen
Dovre Railway
Bergen Railway
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Svolvær rollfj
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12 Days
Skiing with kids doesn’t
have to be daunting – or
ruinously expensive, says
Katherine Forster
ne day in February each
year, my three children come
home from school in London,
but go to sleep in Germany. We pile
into our old Rover 75 Estate, take the
tunnel to Calais, then drive through
France, Belgium and the Netherlands
before collapsing into bed in Aachen:
five countries in an afternoon. The
next day we cruise down the Autobahn to Munich or Salzburg, potter
around the city and have an early
night. The following morning we are
on the ski slopes, hours before the
plane gang arrive.
For a ten-night ski holiday in February half-term, the most expensive
ski week of the year, our total spend
is less than £3,500. For five people.
That includes travel, accommodation,
eight-day lift passes, ski lessons, equipment hire and food. That’s around half
the cost of a week’s package holiday,
and a fraction of what you’d spend in
the Swiss Alps or the US.
We weren’t always so frugal,
though. My husband Nick and I met
20 years ago, skiing in the idyllic Swiss
resort of Wengen, under the north face
of the Eiger, where downhill alpine
skiing was invented in the 1920s.
So without skiing my family
wouldn’t exist. Nick and I skied extensively throughout North America and
Europe; it was our shared passion.
Three children and a redundancy followed, so we stopped for ten years. Skiing is an expensive holiday, especially
when there are five people to pay for.
It seemed out of our reach, particularly since we wanted to ski when the
snow was best (February generally),
and I couldn’t contemplate taking the
children away during term time.
Yet with some research and planning, we manage to ski within our
budget. The Sterling/Euro exchange
being what it is, everyone will notice
costs rising sharply this season. But
you can still cut them dramatically.
Driving is convenient for us, and
cheap. It takes around 13 hours in all
from London to Austria, but French
skiing is only around nine hours away.
Our total travel costs are around £400
for five (including tunnel, diesel, tolls,
plus breakdown cover).
Having a car also means we get
fantastic deals on accommodation,
since we can stay out of the resort.
Prices tumble sharply within a mile,
and sites such as and make finding these
places simple. This year we rented a
gorgeous three-bedroom apartment
in an Austrian chalet, overlooking a
frozen lake and sheer-sided mountains; a scene straight out of a fairytale. The owners greeted us with
schnapps on arrival and we had a
private sauna in the garden. All this
for £800, and just a short hop from
Kaprun’s Kitzsteinhorn glacier.
We favour Austria since it’s friendly, atmospheric and comparatively
inexpensive. You get more for your
money than in France or Switzerland, which means we can sometimes
enjoy long lunches on the mountain
(although we often pack a picnic to
cut costs and maximise ski time).
Snowmaking is excellent and the lifts
are fast. It’s chocolate-box pretty and
everyone seems to speak English.
The ski schools generally run all
day, for the same price as for just a
morning in France. You don’t have
to pay through the nose for Englishspeaking instructors either: as long
as you pick a resort served by a British tour operator, your children are
bound to have other English-speaking children in their group, and an
instructor who speaks the language
Here the
snowmaking is
excellent and
the ski lifts are
fast. It’s also
well. This year our two eldest sons
were in a teenage group in Zell am
See and had an absolute blast on the
blacks and in fun parks.
Lift passes are a big expense, but
there are savings to be made. In many
Austrian resorts, children under 16
are half-price, and under-sevens are
often free. Our five Salzburg Super
Ski Card lift passes for eight days
covered 2,750km of pistes and cost
£960. Driving also means parking
right by the ski lifts, avoiding the hassle of buses and of trudging along
laden with kit. It also means we can
ski neighbouring resorts: this year we
ventured to Bad Gastein, Saalbach
and Kitzbuhel and were back in time
to pick up the kids from ski school.
Finally, the journey across Europe
is part of the holiday. Breaking up
travelling both ways works well —
even with profligate use of iPads there
is only so long children will endure
being cooped up in a car. Generally,
we find an Ibis Budget to crash in for
a few hours on the first night. The second night might be in Munich, or in
an Airbnb on a farm. En route home
we’ve explored Heidelberg and Bruges, so there’s some European culture
and history thrown in, too.
Of course our holidays can’t compete with those of the money-noobject set. But we squeeze in two
extra days on the slopes, ski several
resorts and sample some of Europe’s
loveliest cities. For an affordable family ski holiday, you won’t go far wrong
with an Austrian adventure.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Desert flocks
Cally Squires finds an eco
paradise in the Emirates
t’s the emirate you’ve never heard
of, and a welcome antidote to the
showmanship and excesses of
Dubai – for now at least. The northernmost emirate, Ras Al Khaimah, is
only 40 minutes by car from Dubai
international airport, and is quickly
emerging as an open tourist destination for the savvy traveller.
Unlike in Dubai, genuine Emirati culture is still highly visible. There
are several mosques worth seeing,
from the ornate Sheik Zayed in the
Corniche region to the traditional
Mohammad Bin Salem mosque, built
from coral and beach rock. Other
highlights are the working date farms
and the historic Dhaya fort, built in
the 19th century on prehistoric ruins.
The refurbished national museum
of Ras Al Khaimah will teach you everything you need to know about the
emirate’s history (although in summer you could be lured to just about
any attraction with the promise of
decent AC).
The 1,235-acre Al Wadi nature
reserve is far from the sparse sandpit
I expected. Amid the shrubs there are
free-roaming camels, sand gazelles,
mountain gazelles, hares, foxes and
the rare Arabian oryx, no longer a vulnerable species thanks to a successful
breeding programme. You can try to
spot one of 43 roaming the reserve
on a Disneyfied Bedouin oasis camp
evening (with camel rides, belly dancing and Henna tattoos). Or for a less
contrived experience admire the view
of the watering hole with a sundowner in hand on the Farmhouse terrace
The Ritz-Carlton
Al Wadi, a luxe
desert retreat
at the Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi. There’s
also plenty for eco-tourists — near
the Corniche region and accessible by
kayak are lush mangrove swamps full
of flamingos and other shore birds.
For luxury travellers, there are
the newly rebranded Ritz-Carlton
hotels (both are former Banyan Tree
resorts re-launching in November).
At Al Wadi there are 101 tented villas with enormous private pools and
Bedouin-luxe interiors, plus duneriding, falconry and guided nature
walks. There’s also a beach hotel
with similarly spectacular facilities.
The only question is whether RaK
can retain its identity. There are a few
red flags that the Dubai model is being
replicated — namely a gaudy winterthemed water park, a man-made island
and ‘the world’s longest’ zip line.
Happily for now, it conjures up
childhood memories of that city
before the skyscrapers; nostalgia for
paying a few dirhams to squeeze onto
an ‘abra’ to cross the creek and eating
a schwarma dripping with garlic sauce
on the streets of the gold souks.
For more information go to: (Tourist board) (Ritz-Carlton hotels) (Waldorf)
AITO 5085
ABTA Y6050
Our trips in 2018
Historic Houses
of the South West
Celebrating Mozart
Cathedrals & Abbeys
of the North
Art in Castile & León
Gothic Splendour in France
Expert-led cultural trips from £820.
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the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Great French Châteaux
Flemish & Dutch Painting
Berlin Divided
The Ring in Dresden
The Genius of Spanish Painting
Art Treasures of Venice
Spectacle in Verona
Power & Patronage in Florence
Archaeology in Pompeii
Sicily: Conquests & Cultures
Achievements of Ancient Greece
Trains in Spain
By Simon Courtauld
he first railway line in Spain, from
Barcelona to Mataro a few miles up
the coast towards the French border, was built in 1848 by British workers and
with British expertise. I was reflecting on
this, and the huge difference today between
the services provided by our two countries’
railways, as the train passed through Mataro
on the way to Girona. The 90-minute journey, for those of us of a certain age with a
tarjeta dorada, cost five euros. The return
journey to Barcelona by express train took
38 minutes and cost less than ten euros.
Train travel in Spain is not only amazingly cheap; it is comfortable, efficient and
almost always punctual. When you buy a
ticket, you are automatically allocated a
seat, and a screen in each carriage gives the
destination, intermediate stops, the time and
outside temperature. A recorded announcement of the next stop is made three minutes before arrival, in Spanish and English.
In pleasing contrast to the experience on
English trains, there are no irritating interruptions from a ‘train manager’ telling you
that the buffet is closed or to check that you
have all your belongings before leaving the
train. Sunday timetables, unlike those in
Britain, are similar to weekdays.
When Spain’s railway lines were first
laid, a broader gauge was adopted than
Right track: The trains are cheap and on time
that used in France — apparently to deter
another French invasion, this time by
train, only a few decades after Napoleon
had crossed the Pyrenees and deposed the
Spanish king. Along the north coast the
trains still run (slowly) on a narrow-gauge
track, stopping at stations every few minutes
on the delightful route between Galicia and
the Basque country.
In the 1920s V.S. Pritchett commented
that ‘the trains are as slow as oxen and as
rare as eagles’. That may still be true if you
travel between Bilbao and San Sebastian (60
miles, two-and-a-half hours), but since the
introduction of the high-speed Ave trains, it
takes the same time to cover the 330 miles
between Madrid and Seville, and there are
17 trains a day on that route.
The state-owned company Renfe has
been responsible for the rail network for the
past 75 years, and Spain may well have the
largest number of stations of any European
nation. At most, the station-master (always
wearing a tie) puts on a scarlet kepi-style
cap as a train arrives. I took several journeys this summer (Madrid to Plasencia,
Zafra to Seville, Vitoria to San Sebastian)
and none cost me more than eight euros.
A couple of years ago I travelled almost
the breadth of Spain by train, from Alicante
on the Mediterranean coast to the Roman
city of Merida in Extremadura. It took most
of the day, with one change roughly halfway
in Ciudad Real, where there was time for a
good lunch. As we passed through the Don
Quixote country of La Mancha and then
crossed valleys fringed by hills on the edge
of the Sierra Morena, it was so much more
enjoyable than driving.
My father used to like poring over Bradshaw’s railway guides of a winter’s evening
and I think I have inherited his passion for
timetables — though nowadays I research
them on the excellent Renfe website.
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18 june 2016 [ £4.00 [ est. 1828
and into the world
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‘The maids are dressed as Edwardian
maids – that is, pornography maids – in
white frilly aprons’
— Tanya Gold, p70
High life
I smell a rat when it comes to Harvey Weinstein. Let’s take it from the start. The telephone rang very early in the morning and a
woman’s voice told me that Harvey Weinstein wanted to speak to me. I was put on
hold. I waited. And waited, and then waited
some more. The reason I didn’t hang up was
that I wanted to tell Harvey that if Queen
Elizabeth had made me wait as long as he
had I would have hung up. ‘But for you, Sir
Harvey, I’ll wait an eternity.’
Well, Harvey is a Commander of the
British Empire but I upgraded him a notch
because, as strange as it may sound, he and
I are buddies. Harvey’s a committed lefty,
Hillary’s pal, and he thinks that the Germans
were all bad 70 years ago (he’s totally and catastrophically wrong on all counts). But I really like him. He comes to my parties and I go
to his. Last Christmas, at my New York bash, I
introduced Harvey to around 20 women, and
he hit on all of them. Good for him.
His former lawyer Lisa Bloom was also
on the telephone and asked me if I could
confirm the details of a meeting between
Harvey and a pretty assistant of his who had
testified against him in a sexual-harassment
lawsuit. Michael Mailer and I had been present because Harvey was interested in Nothing to Declare, the greatest prison book ever,
written by one Taki. (It was published 27
years ago, about an event that took place 35
years ago.) The assistant kept Michael and
me company while we waited for her boss,
and once he had joined us and apologised
for being late I said that his assistant had
been extremely pleasant company because,
unlike him, she was great-looking. ‘And she
is very good at her job,’ added Harvey; the
point of the story being that if anyone had
suggested anything it was me, when I complimented her on her looks.
In America today, this could get you ten
years in the pokey. The S- and R-words are
what the J-word was in Berlin circa 1935.
Juden has been replaced by ‘sexist’ and ‘racist’. It is Nineteen Eighty-Four again. In Har-
vey’s case, there is a lot to hang him with,
and now that it’s out in the open, they are
all creeping out of the woodwork. Even an
ugly waitress has suddenly recalled that she
served the ‘pig’ while he hit on women. It’s
funny how feelings of anxiety and degradation suddenly appear when these kinds of
revelations hit the papers. What I’d like to
know is why it’s taken some 20 years, and
others ten years, to come out with it. One of
them, Rose McGowan, got 100,000 big ones
for fending Harvey off at Sundance back in
1997, but then she spills the beans to the New
York Times, which plasters it on its front page
three days running. A Times columnist, a real
phoney called Rutenberg, describes Harvey’s
shenanigans as stomach-turning; others at the
Times can hardly hide their glee at his demise.
(Rutenberg writes how ghastly it was when
Harvey grabbed hack Andrew Goldman in a
headlock and dragged him out of a party 17
years ago. I applaud him for it. Hacks think
they have a right to annoy and interfere and
then lie, so Harvey did the manly thing.)
What troubles me is that the Times had
a plan to destroy Weinstein, not because of
what he was doing — which was long ago
— but because it had destroyed the careers
of two Christian conservatives, Roger Ailes
and Bill O’Reilly, and now it was time for
virtue-signalling; time to destroy a lefty Jew.
He was not given time to defend himself. He
was sacked from the Weinstein Company,
his person reviled, his reputation reduced to
worse than zero. Politicians are scrambling to
give his donations to women’s charities, his
board of governors has collapsed as three
moneybags have cut and run, and Harvey
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
‘This call may be minotaured
for training purposes.’
is now as popular in LalaLand as one Adolf
The Weinstein Company without Harvey is non-existent. He’s the one that
cheerleads the product and wins academy
awards. A boutique studio will not survive without him. The Times is hinting that
Harvey should be tried and that his future
depends on therapy. The idea that a paper
that lies as regularly and as egregiously as
the New York Times is now the decider of
the fate of a man like Harvey, who came
from absolutely nothing, is horrible. Yes,
he has acted appallingly; yes, he has bullied women; yes, he has stripped and asked
them to watch him in the shower; yes, he
has suggested ad nauseam that they get into
bed with him. But he has not been found
guilty of any crime and denies the allegations. There are professional athletes in
America who beat up and rape women but
the Times turns a blind eye, as do others.
Ashley Judd, who I’d give anything to
go to bed with, should be ashamed of herself. She waited 20 years to join the rabble.
She said no to Weinstein, so why stick the
knife in now?
Low life
Jeremy Clarke
Early on Friday morning I flew from the
north of Iceland to Reykjavik, from Reykjavik to Heathrow, then I hopped aboard
the night sleeper from Euston to Glasgow
Central to attend the wedding of Catriona’s eldest daughter, held the next day at
the Winter Gardens of the People’s Palace
on Glasgow Green.
Three years ago, Catriona separated from
her husband after a 30-year-long union. The
separation was not amicable and is as yet
unsettled. Apart from a glimpse at a graduation, the wedding was the first time they
had been in the same room for three years.
I was invited to the reception but not to the
ceremony. As the new man in Catriona’s
life, I imagined I would be a cynosure when
I walked through the door that evening.
And because they are labouring under the
misapprehension (understandably enough)
that your correspondent was the principle
cause of the marriage’s breakdown, I also
imagined I would be the object of his and
his wider family’s hostility.
I had brought with me from Iceland a
suit and clean shirt, but no shoes. I possess
shoes, obviously, but nothing respectable
enough for a society wedding, and I am in
no position, this month, to afford to buy any.
So I put the word out that if anyone had a
half-decent pair of size tens they could lend
me for the day, I’d be glad. And the groom,
Andrea, from Como, kindly came forward
and said that he had a spare pair and that if
he could find them I was welcome to them.
It was typical of Andrea that, in spite of
all the other things he had to think about, he
made my lack of credible footwear his concern. The only problem was that the shoes
he was offering were in fact Catriona’s former husband’s shoes. The symbolism of my
attending his eldest daughter’s wedding
with his ex-wife on my arm and his old best
rhythm and blues on my feet would doubtless be considered by him, and by other hostile parties present that evening, as taking
my colonialism a step too far. My simply
being there was going to be difficult enough
for him. For me to be there literally in his
shoes might be a provocation too far.
But saving myself fifty quid on shoes was
more important than any symbolism, whether deliberate or unwitting. Andrea located
the shoes and showed them to me. The style
was hideously conservative, designed exclusively, perhaps, for the Pentecostal-pastor
market. Naturally, I imagined walking into
the room and every eye swivelling towards
the cad, and my image as a dashing and
unscrupulous young player lying in tatters
once the critical and in some cases hostile
eyes had reached the ground.
So the evening before the wedding, I went
shoe shopping in Buchanan Street, starting at
House of Fraser, which, as everybody knows,
is East End Glasgow slang for the local weapon of choice. The shoe department had a sale
on: 50 per cent off selected stock. About 200
sale shoes were arranged by size on racks
four tiers high. I searched among these with
rapidly diminishing enthusiasm as a goodly
proportion had a whiff of the orthopaedic
about them. If you happened to be a giant on
his uppers, or an impoverished midget, the
selection was vast. Likewise if you were a top
boxing impresario or the compère of Sunday
Night at the London Palladium.
An elderly saleswoman all in black
offered to help. She was one of those wornout Glaswegian women who had seen it all
and was under no illusions, but whose deadpan expression belied a sense of humour as
black, sophisticated and alert as anyone could
possibly wish for. I needed wedding shoes, I
told her, for tonight. ‘No rush then,’ she said.
‘Anything here you like?’ she added, glanc62
ing towards the sale racks. ‘Not really,’ I said.
‘That’s a shame, hen,’ she said, her poker face
indicating this to mean that I had better taste
in shoes than my general appearance suggested, and that she was surprised by that.
She led me over to the full-priced shoes and
I walked out half an hour later with a pair of
mirror-gloss Paul Smiths that cost more than
my last two cars put together. In the hour I
had to spare before leaving for the reception,
I leafed through a tatty old copy of Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares, bought in a secondhand bookshop in Iceland. The chapter
on the relaxation of muscles while under the
spotlight was helpful.
In the event, I walked in just after the
live band had started up. Everyone was so
drunk and having such a marvellous time
that nobody took a blind bit of notice of me
or my shiny new shoes and I was straight on
the dance floor to trip the light fantastic.
Real life
Melissa Kite
They are building the bonfire already. In the
dip where winter flooding sometimes creates a small lake, the wood and branches are
being piled.
A massive board has been nailed up
announcing that ‘No More Material Is
Required. By Order of The Bonfire Association.’ Therefore: ‘No Dumping.’
But someone has dared to disobey the
order of the Bonfire Association, and has
heaved an old blue sofa into the hollow.
This has sparked an inquiry. While
cycling the spaniels, I overheard a group of
ladies stopped on the pathway overlooking
the immolation site discussing what should
be done.
The organisers are aware. They will be
dealing with it. The culprits ought to be
ashamed of themselves, for when certain
sofas burn they emit toxic fumes.
I ought to be ashamed of myself too, I
realise, because when I cycled past the site
and saw the lumpy old sofa I felt mildly
cheered up and thought, ‘Oh look, someone’s dumped an old sofa.’
Now I think about it, the episode has
made me feel deeply inadequate. I wish
I could attain a degree of normality in my
affairs so I could become outraged by a
dumped sofa. When I look at a dumped sofa,
the only conclusion of any significance I can
find it within myself to draw is that some
other poor sod is under so much pressure
they’ve heaved a sofa out here in the dark
in a desperate bid to get a part of their life
straight, and, let’s face it, because otherwise
it’s £300 for a skip or dumper truck and if you
hire a van to take an old sofa to the tip they
will weigh it in and charge you more than a
desperate person probably earns in a month.
I’m just saying, I am beginning to identify with sofa dumpers. And I worry where
that will end.
But in any case, the wood and cut branches are being piled into the hollow four weeks
in advance and every time I drive past on the
way home — I don’t fully understand why
— the sight of the slatted wooden monster
slowly coming into being only to be burned
to smithereens puts a chill down my spine.
There is, I suppose, something very pagan
about a bonfire, never mind one that begins
to take shape a month in advance.
The board announcing it started out by
saying ‘October 28’ in huge letters, but I
noticed that, a day later, someone nailed a
blank square over the 28. I can’t think why.
Was the date a secret until someone erroneously revealed it on the sign? In which
case, why was it a secret? Who were they
hiding it from? Or is it simply a matter of
keeping options open until the weather forecast becomes clear.
I only want to know because the dogs
hate fireworks so I will go away that weekend. Alright, fine, I admit it. I don’t like Bonfire Night any more than the dogs. I always
think I’ll like it but then, when the crackling
of the fire starts, I get the heebie-jeebies.
If they want a papist agitator to stick
on top of the bonfire they could do
worse than me
It occurs to me that if they were burning the effigy of a traitor from any other
religious grouping — no matter what this
person had done 400 years ago — it would
be taken gleefully out of context and there
would be Twitter hell to pay.
I amuse myself by thinking that if they
want a papist agitator to stick on top of the
bonfire they could do worse than me.
I also wonder, out of aimless curiosity,
what will come off that sofa when it burns,
and for no good reason I Google bonfire
toxins and discover that a 1994 study conducted in Oxford found a four-fold increase
in dioxin and furan concentration in the air
after a Bonfire Night celebration. It occurs
to me that Bonfire Night will become obsolete, not because they are burning the effigy of a Catholic, but because the emissions
breach health and safety regulations.
I ought to have my own bonfire, I’ve got
so much timber and other building materials
piled up outside my house. Stefano has no
idea when he will be able to finish the renovations as he’s fitting me in with other jobs.
The skip parked next to my car looks such
an eyesore I have begun to disassociate with
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
3 issues of
Apollo for £10
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it. Perhaps because I feel so out of control, so
helpless to effect a solution, whenever someone mentions it I find myself saying ‘I know!
It’s a disgrace! When is it going to get sorted?’ I am thinking of writing to the council to
lodge an official objection to my own mess.
In the meantime, I realise there are three
wooden pallets taking up room in the skip
that could be a non-toxic contribution to the
communal festivities. I might heave them
out there in the night.
The turf
Robin Oakley
The mission was simple: take a load of garden refuse to the council dump and be back
in time to drive Mrs Oakley to an urgent
appointment in Oxford. On my return,
there was no Mrs Oakley in sight. Strange,
since she is the sort who will camp out at the
station the evening before to catch a 9 a.m.
train. She had a house key; I didn’t.
Half an hour of fretting later, as I mounted a ladder to peer through the bathroom
window for fear she might have slipped
over and knocked herself out, an enraged
Mrs Oakley appeared beneath me. She had
frozen stiff on the nearby bridge, where she
had walked to cut me off on the only route
home to save us motoring time. How could
I have been so stupid not to have seen her,
she inquired, employing a vocabulary distinctly richer than I had known her to possess. How could she have been so blind not
to have seen me pass, I replied with equal
acidity. Well, probably with added acidity.
It was only after several minutes of such
marital pleasantries that we both realised
what had happened. The back gate of Oakley Towers, through which I had returned, is
not visible from the front door. Mrs O. had
clearly left through that front door to intercept me down the road at the precise second
I drove in at the back. As we constantly see
on the racecourse, timing is everything.
It was perfect timing last Saturday when
that true gent of a jockey Jimmy Fortune
announced his retirement after cleverly riding his old boss John Gosden’s Nathra into
a valuable third place in the Group One Sun
Chariot Stakes, significantly increasing her
value. As the Racing Post put it: the everdependable Fortune, who has been plagued
by back trouble, was a Group One jockey
going out in a Group One. Much better than
departing after a Wolverhampton seller on
a soggy Tuesday.
Certainly you will not see a sweeter bit
of timing than young Charlie Bishop’s ride
on Accidental Agent to bring home his first
Ascot winner in the valuable Totescoop6
Challenge Cup, a Heritage handicap. As
Accidental Agent’s orange cap began scything through the field, and as he held off the
late challenge of the grey Lord Glitters, a
£270,000 import from France, the lady in front
of me in the stands began screaming him on
at the top of her voice, jumping up and down
with a force that could have split the concrete.
It was Accidental Agent’s trainer Eve Johnson Houghton, who is having a phenomenal
season, egging on the handsome three-yearold. If ever sheer force of will and waves of
emotion could have brought home a horse a
winner, Eve’s performance would have done
it, but Charles Bishop had timed his challenge
perfectly anyway. Having invested myself
on Accidental Agent at 20-1, I added to the
shouting, although I passed on the jumping.
For the country’s leading woman Flat
trainer, this one was special. Accidental
Agent is owned and was bred by her mother, who was equally moved by the success,
although I don’t think she heard Eve saying
later that Mum could use the £112,000 prize
to pay for the horses she has just been buying at the sales.
Accidental Agent has done the Johnson
Houghtons well already, winning an £81,000
sales race at Newmarket on the same day
last year, but there is clearly more to come
in Listed and Group races in 2018. The only
nasty moment came when Eve realised,
after ferrying buckets of water to Accidental Agent in the winners’ enclosure, that she
had lost her handbag. Fortunately, it reappeared soon after, having been retrieved by
her mother.
They have been having a wonderful year
at Woodway Stables in Blewbury on those
lush gallops where her father — now, at
77, one of the older assistant trainers in the
business — handled such horses as Ribocco,
Ribero, Habitat and Ile de Bourbon. With
Fulke Walwyn and Peter Walwyn as relatives, it is a family with a formidable racing
pedigree. Eve’s grandmother Helen trained
the 2000 Guineas winner Gilles de Retz in
1956, in the days when the Jockey Club used
to insist that women could not train and their
licence had to be held by a man. The success
was therefore recorded in the name of her
assistant Charles Jerdein, who later became
an art dealer in New York, an occupation
memorably described by his former employer as ‘selling old masters to old mistresses’.
Accidental Agent’s success was Eve’s
48th of the season, so she is already comfortably ahead of her previous record of
41. And she has been doing it with all sorts,
including my favourite, the consistent veteran What About Carlo. It really is time that
some of the big owners with hefty cheque
books started sending her some horses with
Classic potential. They would not regret it.
Janet de Botton
Somewhere between 1 and 3 a.m., I turn off
the lights but I can’t turn off my whirring
brain. Cards float before me, doubled contracts torment me and unbid slams haunt me.
My antidote to this is Desert Island Discs. I
always hope for someone who unexpectedly plays bridge or has a bridge story, Omar
Sharif being the only one, until last night
when I downloaded Jack Lemmon. Asked
by Sue Lawley about his parents and childhood, he came up with the astonishing tale
of how and why he was born in a hospital lift.
His mother and father were playing bridge
— and winning — and they ignored all signs
of labour until they could ignore them no
longer! Jack was almost born in the car as it
raced to the hospital, but his parents made it
to the hospital lift, pressed the button and…
calamity! It got stuck between two floors. No
wonder his comic timing was so great.
This hand, from the Friday Night IMPs
game at YC, must have caused many a sleepless night:
Dealer North
All vulnerable
z J 10 9 5
yK8 2
XA 4 2
wK 9 5
y A 10 5
X9 7 5
wQ 8 2
zK7 6
y Q9 7
w A10
All Pass
z A8
y J 4
X J 10 8
w J7 6
4 3
4 2
The lead was the X 7. Most Declarers
tend to address the trump situation first and
it looks obvious to try the Spade finesse, running the zJack from dummy. When it lost to
the Queen, they needed something good to
happen in the Heart suit and, when that was
not forthcoming, most of them went minus.
Some of the better players had another
plan: they took their two Diamonds, played
Ace and King of Clubs, cashed the XAce
and ruffed a Club in hand. With the minors
eliminated, it was time to lead the zKing
from hand. East wins, but whether he opens
up Hearts now or puts his partner in with the
zQueen, the contract will make.
Sweet dreams.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
s readers know, The Spectator is a
famously broad church. All manner
of opinions are held and expressed
here, and it’s impossible to find common
ground, be it on Brexit, Trump and May, or
even on the relative merits of Marmite and
Bovril, say, or how to pronounce ‘controversy’ correctly. No one agrees about anything.
What a shock, then, to find total unanimity among thirsty members of Spectator
staff who joined me and Laura Taylor from
Private Cellar to taste wines for this offer.
Never were spittoons so redundant.
The following six wines were the favourites. Actually, I lie: there was one dissenting voice about just one of the wines. In the
interests of dictatorial democracy, though,
said voice was made to reconsider his position and naturally ended up agreeing with
the majority.
The 2016 S’Elemè Vermentino di Gallura (1) had everyone purring. Indeed, Helen
and Scarlett said ‘Ooh, lush!’ in almost perfect unison. Made from 100 per cent Vermentino grown high in the wind-battered,
granite slopes of northern Sardinia, it’s
vibrantly fresh (thanks to cool nights), generous and ripe (hot days). It’s also gloriously citrusy with just a hint of peach on the
long finish. £10.95 down from £11.95.
The 2016 Château Argadens Blanc (2) is
a blend of 65 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and
35 per cent Sémillon from the Entre Deux
Mers. Given that the estate is owned by the
Sichel family, there’s a touch of Château
Palmer stardust here and it’s beautifully
made. Alex loved its hint of almonds; Scarlett admired its typical Sauvignon grassiness, and I liked its subtle use of oak and its
long finish. £11.25 down from £12.95.
The 2016 Mallory & Benjamin Talmard
Mâcon Uchizy (3) is a Burgundian beauty. ‘We should definitely offer this one!’
declared Declan. Made on a family-run
property that straddles the Mâconnais villages of Uchizy and — rather delightfully
— Chardonnay, it’s 100 per cent, erm, well,
Chardonnay, and full of creamy, lemony
flavours with a satisfying richness in the
mouth. £12.90 down from £13.90.
The 2015 Jean-Pierre Moueix Bordeaux
Rouge (4) is outstanding and that’s not a
word I use lightly. Everyone in the room
applauded its quality and everyone thought
it absurdly underpriced. A blend of 80 per
cent Merlot and 20 per cent Cabernet Franc
from a first-rate vintage, it’s fabulously concentrated with blackcurrants, blackberries,
herbs and spice. The finish goes on forever
and is just so damn juicy. Helen reckoned
it was the wine of the tasting and one to be
savoured by the fire in a winter wind-blown
country pub. £10.95 down from £12.95.
The 2015 Podere 414 ‘Il Badilante’ (5)
There was total unanimity among
thirsty members of The Spectator –
never were spittoons so redundant
comes from the Maremma, that marshy
region of Tuscany bordered by the Mediterranean in the west and forest-covered hills
in the east that’s home to such fabled wines
as Ornellaia, Sassicaia and Solaia. Made
by Simone Castelli from 100 per cent Sangiovese, it’s effectively the second wine of
Castelli’s much-loved and hugely soughtafter Morellino, and is full of sweet, ripe
Tuscan fruit and warming herbal notes.
‘It’s not just yum, it’s yummy,’ was one of
the more technical comments in the room.
£12.50 down from £13.75.
Finally, the 2015 Rocche Costamagna
Barbera d’Alba (6) a deep, dark, intense
red from Piedmont made by Alessandro
Locatelli. Nowhere does Barbera quite like
Piedmont and this is a belter. It has chocolate and coffee on the nose and rich cherry
and spice on the palate. Although high in
acidity, it’s welcomingly soft and smooth,
and Ryan in particular was completely won
over by its complexity and concentration
of flavours. Lovers of fine Italian wine will
understand completely why we all loved it
so much. £12.75 down from £13.75.
The mixed case has two bottles of each
wine and delivery, as ever, is free.
Jonathan Ray’s Drink More Fizz! (£14.99,
Quadrille) is out now.
ORDER FORM Spectator Wine Offer
Private Cellar, 57 High Street, Wicken, Cambridgeshire CB7 5XR
Tel: 01353 721 999; Email:
Prices in form are per case of 12
1 2016 S’Elemè Vermentino di Gallura, 14%
2 2016 Château Argadens Blanc, 12%
3 2016 Mâcon Uchizy, Mallory & Benjamin Talmard, 13%
4 2015 Jean-Pierre Moueix Bordeaux Rouge, 13.5%
5 2015 Badilante Podere 414, Simone Castelli, 14%
6 2015 Barbera d’Alba, Rocche Costamagna, 14%
7 Sample case, two bottles each of the above
List price Club price No.
Mastercard/Visa no.
Start date
Issue no.
Expiry date
Please send wine to
Sec. code
Prices include VAT and delivery on
the British mainland. Payment should
be made either by cheque with the order, payable to Private Cellar or by
debit or credit card, details of which
may be telephoned or faxed. This offer,
which is subject to availability, closes on
25 November 2017.
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the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Raymond Keene
Officially amazing
Lucy Vickery
Twelve-year-old Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa
scored a sensational result in the recent Isle of
Man Masters. At the age of ten years and ten
months, he achieved the extraordinary distinction
of becoming the youngest official international
master in the history of chess. The youngest ever
grandmaster is last year’s world championship
challenger Sergei Karjakin, who was elevated to
the chess peerage when he was 12 years and
seven months old. Praggnanandhaa now has five
months in which to break that record.
In the Isle of Man Praggnanandhaa scored a
respectable 50 per cent (4½/9) and notched his
first win against a grandmaster rated 2700+ —
the former British champion David Howell.
Here is Praggnanandhaa’s amazing victory.
Diagram 1
Praggnanandhaa-Howell: Masters,
Isle of Man 2017; Caro-Kann Defence
Diagram 2
1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 The most celebrated
game with this line was Capablanca’s great
victory with Black against Nimzowitsch at New
York 1927. Interestingly, many commentators are
now comparing Praggnanandhaa’s style with that
of Capablanca. 3 ... Bf5 4 Nf3 NimzowitschCapablanca went 4 Bd3 Bxd3 5 Qxd3 e6 6 Nc3
Qb6 7 Nge2 c5. A wilder alternative is 4 h4 as in
Tal-Pachman, Bled 1961. 4 ... e6 5 Be2 Ne7 6
0-0 c5 7 c4 dxc4 8 Na3 Nbc6 9 Nxc4 Nd5
10 dxc5 Highly unusual. Normal is 10 Bg5 as in
So-Dziuba, Reykjavik 2013. The move chosen by
White unduly eases the process of Black’s
development. 10 ... Bxc5 11 Bg5 Qc7 12 Rc1
0-0 13 Qb3 h6 14 Ne3 Bxe3 15 Bxe3 Nxe3
16 Qxe3 Qb6 This offer to trade queens leaves
Black with smashed pawns but it also means that
his queen’s rook gains immediate access to the
fray. 17 Qxb6 axb6 The position is equal. 18
a3 Be4 19 Nd2 Nd4 20 Rfe1 Bd5 21 Bd3
Rfd8 22 Rc3 g5 23 Ne4 Bxe4 24 Rxe4 Ra5
25 b4 Rad5 26 Bc4 R5d7 27 Bf1 Nf5 28 g3
Rd1 29 Kg2 Ra1 30 Bd3 Kg7 31 h4 (see
diagram 1) 31 ... gxh4? Missing White’s coming
intermezzo. After 31 ... Ne7 the position remains
completely equal. 32 Rg4+ Kh7 33 Bxf5+
exf5 34 Rxh4 Black now suffers from weak
pawns in all sectors of the board. 34 ... Re8 35
Rc7 Kg7 36 Rxb7 Rxe5 37 Rxb6 Rxa3 38
White to play. This position is from the above
game, Praggnanandhaa-Howell, Masters. What is the accurate move White needed to
play here? Answers to me at The Spectator by
Tuesday 17 October or via email to There is a prize of £20 for the first correct answer out of a hat. Please include a postal
address and allow six weeks for prize delivery.
Last week’s solution 1 Rxa3
Last week’s winner Gerry Devenney,
Rbxh6 Re4 39 Rh7+ Kg8 40 Rh8+ Kg7 41
R8h7+ Kf8 42 Rh8+ Ke7 43 Rc8 Rb3 44
Rc4 Re5 45 Rh7 Rb5 46 Rc7+ Ke6 47
Rh6+ f6 48 Rc6+ Ke5 49 Rhxf6 R3xb4 50
Rfe6+ Missing the coup juste. White can force
the win with an accurate move for which see
this week’s puzzle. 50 ... Kd4 51 Rcd6+ Rd5
52 Rxd5+ Kxd5 53 Re2 (see diagram 2) 53
... f4 A terrible howler after which Black is
lost. With 53 ... Rb7 54 f4 Rf7 the endgame is a
technical draw. 54 g4 Now Black’s situation is
hopeless. 54 ... Rb3 55 f3 Rb8 56 Re4 Rf8
57 Kf2 Rf7 58 Ke2 Rf6 59 Kd3 Rf8 60
Ra4 Rb8 61 Rxf4 Rb3+ 62 Ke2 Ke5 63
Rf5+ Kd4 64 Kf2 Black resigns
In Competition No. 3019 you were invited to
submit a limerick describing a feat worthy of
inclusion in Guinness World Records.
This assignment is a nod to my nine-yearold son, who is a big fan of astonishing facts.
Every year, when he gets his mitts on the
latest Guinness World Records, he follows
me around the house bombarding me with
them. To the records I’ve recently expressed
amazement at — most people in a camper
van; most basketball slam dunks in a minute
by a rabbit; tallest ever domestic cat — you
added the feats below, winningly celebrated
in limerick form.
Each one printed earns its author £9.
Honourable mentions go to Clare Sandy,
Jeffrey Aronson, Mike Morrison and Martin Parker.
Though most Guinness records, it’s said,
Will not last in the days up ahead,
There’s one that is stable:
Cain’s brother, poor Abel,
Will always be ‘Man Longest Dead.’
Robert Schechter
A new Guinness record’s appeared,
And how Edward Lear would have cheered:
Four larks and a hen,
Two owls and a wren;
It’s official — most nests in a beard.
Nicholas Hodgson
An ancient streetwalker called Annie
Collected pound coins in her fanny.
She could fit in no more
Once she’d lodged 84.
It was more of a nook than a cranny.
Fiona Pitt-Kethley
A salt-crusted sailor from Seaton,
In record time (yet to be beaten),
Popped up to the poop
With a gallon of soup
And slurped till the last scrap was eaten.
Alan Millard
The Member for Grange-Over-Sands
Walked a world-record stretch on his hands,
Saying ‘You folk up there
With your heads in the air
Need to understand grass-root demands.’
W.J. Webster
I’ve had ten thousand partners in passion,
More than three thousand times Cleggy’s
ration —
I’m fit as ten fleas
Though I’m weak in the knees
And I can’t do it terrier fashion.
I’m up for inclusion. I’m next,
Though my feat may well leave you perplexed.
Last Tuesday my thumb
Was as taut as a drum
As it tapped out its millionth text.
Bill Greenwell
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Could you balance, like Hirst, on an easel,
A drum with ten gallons of diesel?
And on top of the drum
Andrew Marr and a plum,
Four kettles, a shark and a weasel?
Mark Shelton
A remarkable girl in North Wales
Is endowed with the world’s longest nails.
She could scratch a man’s balls
In Niagara Falls,
Though her sense of decorum prevails.
Rob Young
A sexy and daring old stager
Took a walk in the buff for a wager
From Llanelli to Hull
Via Plymouth and Mull
And Maidstone and Crewe and Alsager.
G.M. Davis
A tattooist who lives by the Clyde
Has inked more than his visible hide.
By each nostril and ear,
By his mouth, at the rear,
He has lettered CONTINUED INSIDE.
Chris O’Carroll
There was a young man from Melrose
Whose place in the Records Book shows
That his entry was through
His ability to
Balance six boiled eggs on his nose.
Brian Murdoch
They laughed when, in old-fashioned flannel,
She dived in the cold English Channel.
They confessed they’d been wrong
When she swam to Hong Kong;
Now she sits on the World Records Panel.
Frank Upton
A talented sculptor from Leith
Made statuary out of his teeth.
The top set were nudes,
So to mollify prudes
He carved the disciples beneath.
Basil Ransome-Davies
If Guinness were anxious to see
Who the pottiest Potus might be
It would just take a sec
For the checkers to check
That honours belong to D.T.
Max Ross
There was a young lady from Crewe
Who cartwheeled around Chester Zoo,
When the animals saw her
They all rooted for her,
And then began cartwheeling too.
Katie Mallett
by Pabulum
Unclued lights suggest nine
different words, each made up
of the same five letters. These
letters will appear in the completed grid in an alphabetically
ordered sequence which must
be shaded. Elsewhere, ignore
an accent.
6 Young sailor turned
cricketer (6, hyphened)
12 In the normal way all
sections united in study
(10, three words)
13 Wrongfully seize
moneylender soft King
Edward spared (5)
14 Connected to god, visionary
peeled bananas (7)
15 College in California
returned call concerning
religious instruction (10)
16 Type of bathroom to fit in
exactly (7, two words)
22 Plunder from woman’s
junk? (7)
25 Messages in the box
backed Congress (7)
27 Native Americans mingle
with bloodhounds (7)
31 P for priest (4)
32 Chefs sprinkle this poi with
real nuts (7, two words)
35 Understudy’s part long ago
38 Rising and climbing (7)
40 Partiality of one and only
point (10)
41 Luxembourg banished one
glorifying air refresher (7)
42 Rogue with no time for sin
44 Quakeress missing as
drilling ridges (6)
45 Barometers tyrant
committed to helpers (8)
2 Item eaten with bread and
laudanum child ingested (8)
The kindliest soul on the planet
Is a lady in Ramsgate called Janet,
Who knits little pink boots
For the moorhens and coots
In the nearby marshes of Thanet.
Hugh King
You are invited to compose a safe poem that
Boris Johnson could have on hand in case
he feels a verse quotation coming on when
out in the field. Please email up to 16 lines to by 25 October.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
3 Trim uniform (skirt
required) (5)
4 Revolting old hat
modernized (7)
5 Extremely tidy residence
pig disrupts (7)
7 Force of habit inhibiting
unionist (6)
8 Old weapon left in sink (5)
10 Flying racers keeping up in
Batmobile? (8)
11 Different crisps but
inferior type (9)
17 Some other article (3)
18 Gloomy Rex hugged by
kind person (5)
19 Airs filled with passion
produced by songbirds (9)
21 Chief in boring jumper (5)
26 Swimming goon dips like
an aquatic (8)
28 Human body lacking a
bone (3)
29 Amerind with name of
Stoic tragedian (7)
33 Provide kit for English
team (6)
34 Buries money (it’s taken
from coiners) (6)
37 Hills bearing new buds (5)
39 Very large mega-bird
soaring up avenue (5)
A first prize of £30 for the first
correct solution opened on 30
October. There are two runnersup 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 2331,
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen
Street, London SW1H 9HP.
Please allow six weeks for
prize delivery.
The suggested title is Brideshead Revisited, HEEDS/
RABID (6A/42) being an anagram of BRIDESHEAD.
The six characters, all members of the Flyte family, are
ALEXANDER (Lord Marchmain) (21D), TERESA
(Lady Marchmain) (37), and their children, BRIDEY (17),
SEBASTIAN (8), JULIA (33) and CORDELIA (19).
FLYTE (diagonally from the eighth row) was to be shaded.
First prize Daisy Jestico, London SE23
Runners-up Mrs J. Sohn, Gorleston-on-Sea, Norfolk;
E. Feinberg, Rancho Mirage, California
Status Anxiety
I met Weinstein and, yes,
I’d heard the rumours
Toby Young
ccording to an ex-employee
of Harvey Weinstein’s, the
movie producer once whispered something to himself that
she found so disturbing she wrote it
down. After leaving his film company,
where she claimed to have acted as a
‘honeypot’ to lure young models and
actresses to meetings with her boss in
hotel rooms, she signed a confidentiality agreement. But she has decided
to speak out anyway. The words he
muttered were: ‘There are things I’ve
done that nobody knows.’
This is one of the less shocking
details in a long New Yorker article
published on Tuesday in which 13
women allege that Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them, including three who accuse him of rape. This
followed a New York Times investigative piece last week in which the
65-year-old producer is accused of
having reached legal settlements with
eight women over a period dating
back 30 years. The Weinstein Company initially said that he would be taking a leave of absence and his lawyer,
Lisa Bloom, described the allegations
as ‘patently false’. Then, a few days
later, the company announced he had
been fired and his lawyer decided she
could no longer work for him.
If the accusations are true — and
Weinstein denies he has ever had
non-consensual sex — this scandal
This scandal
will confirm
the deepest
suspicions of
will confirm the deepest suspicions
of American conservatives about
Hollywood liberals. Until now, Weinstein has been one of the film industry’s most prominent supporters
of progressive causes, particularly
women’s rights. He helped to endow
a chair at Rutgers University in the
name of Gloria Steinem, the feminist author, and in January he made
a point of joining a women’s march
at the Sundance Film Festival to protest against the serial groper in the
White House. It goes without saying
that he was hugger-mugger with the
most prominent Democrats in the
land. Last year he held a fundraiser
for Hillary Clinton, and earlier this
year he employed Malia Obama, the
ex-President’s daughter, as an intern.
How big the scandal grows will
depend on how complicit his colleagues were in his alleged wrongdoing. I don’t just mean his employees,
many of whom stand accused of covering for their boss. I mean the filmmakers he has worked with for the
past three decades. Gwyneth Paltrow broke cover earlier this week
to claim she had been sexually harassed by Weinstein when she was 22.
Why, then, did she thank him three
years later when she won an Oscar
for her performance in Shakespeare
in Love? The same goes for Angelina Jolie and all the other actresses
who have gone on the record only
in the past week to describe the
ordeals Harvey put them through.
Why didn’t they speak up sooner?
There are extenuating circumstances, of course. Weinstein is one
of the most powerful producers in
Hollywood and they probably feared
their careers would suffer if they blew
the whistle on him, assuming the allegations are true. Many of them also
say they felt a deep, personal shame
that they’d been abused in this way
and didn’t want the world to know
about it. No, the people whose careers
may now be in danger are the male
filmmakers who worked with him —
people like Ben Affleck, the co-writer and co-star of Good Will Hunting,
which Weinstein produced. He has
said he is ‘saddened and angry’ about
the alleged abuse, but the actress
Rose McGowan, who claims she was
assaulted by Weinstein in 1997, has
accused Affleck of knowing all about
his supposed behaviour. Affleck has
not responded to her claim.
Full disclosure: I met Harvey Weinstein at the Sundance Film Festival in
2007 and then at Cannes in 2008. Both
times it was in connection with the
film version of my book How to Lose
Friends & Alienate People, which he
had expressed an interest in producing. I had heard the same rumours
about him as everyone else, but nothing concrete enough to write about.
The reason these allegations haven’t
surfaced until now is because no one
has been willing to go on the record.
Some people have come to Weinstein’s defence, not by pointing out
he is innocent until proven guilty, but
by claiming that the behaviour he has
been accused of is par for the course
in Hollywood. But the latest revelations in the New Yorker, if true, render
that defence untenable. It feels like
the end for Harvey Weinstein — and
it’s a scandal which will infect dozens
of others, too.
Toby Young is associate editor of
The Spectator.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Spectator Sport
Why the England team
is so unexciting
Roger Alton
uring a riveting session at the
Cheltenham Literary Festival with sporting brainboxes
Mike Brearley and Matthew Syed,
discussion touched on the Ringelmann effect. This is the tendency for
members of a group to perform less
well together than individually. Old
Ringelmann observed it in tug-ofwar in the early 20th century. On their
own the athletes pulled a big weight.
In a team they grunted, grimaced but
didn’t pull so much. They were skiving; sheltering behind teammates.
You can bet Ringelmann would be
rubbing his hands over the state of the
England football team. After a seemingly interminable World Cup qualifying campaign full of the dreariest
football imaginable, England flopped
across the line for Russia. Victory
over Slovenia came in the last minute
with a scuffed kick from Harry Kane.
This was met with paper planes and
bored or departing fans. But it’s the
World Cup, for heaven’s sake. Why
can’t more people get more excited?
Partly it is the sheer length of this
stuff: the fragmentation of Europe
has given a load of micro-statelets a
When players
pull on the
England shirt
they seem
to shrink
qualifying place. England could be
drawn against Tierra del Fuego, Chad
and the Moon and still just qualify
with a chain of dreary 1-0 wins. But
many are good players with their
clubs. Young Marcus Rashford, once
hailed as the future of Manchester
United, is a central part of the England set-up. But can he deliver? At
Cheltenham an anguished fan pointed out that Rashford had delivered
four lamentable corners to the near
post against Slovenia but no one on
the field had given him the bollocking he deserved. Where were the
Shearers or the Bryan Robsons who
wouldn’t stand for this rubbish?
When England players pull on
the shirt they seem to shrink; in other
countries the players seem to grow.
Look at Northern Ireland, a very
moderate side indeed but now in the
play-offs. And the Republic, beating
Wales in front of ecstatic fans in Cardiff with even Roy Keane, sporting
one of his overnight beards, smiling.
But England’s qualification has been
like all the others — a stream of dross
fixtures and dross performances.
Even though England might only
be as good as Stoke City, and Northern Ireland only as good as Derby
County, and no national team in
the world could probably ever win
the Champions League, it is still the
World Cup and for countries which
don’t have mega-billion leagues, it
means so much. To see how much,
watch Costa Rica’s equalising goal
against Honduras in the fifth minute of added time to win a passage
to Russia, or Egypt’s commentator
barely able to speak through tears
as Liverpool’s Mo Salah scored in
the last minute to put them through.
Iceland, with a population the size of
Nottingham, have thrilled all neutrals
with the best World Cup qualifying
story in decades. They finished above
Turkey, Croatia and Ukraine. Could
England have done that?
Sure, our players are good, but
maybe just not that good. The top
Premier League teams do not revolve
around their England players, apart
from Spurs. England lack a play-maker, though the Premier League has
many great ones from overseas: Mata,
Ozil, Coutinho or Hazard. There are
no England names to match those.
We have a team of 11 very good players, but so do a lot of other teams.
The most successful sides have seven
or eight very good players and then
three or four outstanding ones. England have no outstanding ones who
seem confident or good enough to
take the ball forward at speed and
take on defenders. As a result, England pass the ball sideways or backwards but are pretty unconvincing
going forward. Gareth Southgate
seems a decent fellow, much liked by
all, but is he a big or forceful enough
character to motivate an international team? Don’t hold your breath.
Q. A well-known television
mogul,whom I had met only once,
came to dinner at my house. I was
on good culinary form and though
I say it myself, the food and wine
were exceptional. For various
reasons it turned into an almost
bespoke dinner for the mogul,
in that the other guests were all
people he had been desperate to
meet, and so one way or another
he became the guest of honour.
He even struck some sort of
deal with one of them. In any
case we had a great evening and
he thanked me profusely as he
left. The next day I opened the
door to find someone with an
unimpressive bunch of flowers
together with a card from the
mogul. They looked like the sort
of flowers in cellophane that one
might pick up at a petrol station.
Out of politeness, I wrote him an
effusive card, which I realise in
retrospect was the wrong thing
to have done. How should I have
thanked him while at the same
time hinting that his floral tribute
did not quite cut the mustard?
— Name and address withheld
A. You should have thanked him
by text or email and included
a photograph of the bunch.
This image would have spoken
louder than words. There is a real
likelihood that either the florist
has shortchanged him or that
his secretary/PA had performed
inadequately in her ordering.
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
Q. A perk of my job as a critic is
a stream of press tickets to plays
and ballets. I like to invite friends,
but if we meet for dinner they
invariably offer to pay the bill as
a thank-you for the ticket. Even
when I explain that the tickets
haven’t cost me a penny, they
insist. In wanting to treat friends,
I end up the treated one. How
can I avoid tussles over the bill?
— L.F., Bayswater, London
A. How about saying ‘and what’s
more the tickets have come with a
voucher for such and such [some
local eaterie] so if you’re planning
on dinner afterwards perhaps you
could go there and I could join
you for free’. Sort the ‘voucher’
out en route to the theatre by
slipping into the restaurant and
explaining the issue to them. In
this way you will be able to still
treat your friends to the theatre
without the risk of their overdoing
the payback.
Q. One of my oldest friends is
a wonderful but slightly selfobsessed man. He is godfather to
my second-born, but always gives
money to my eldest when he sees
us, and nothing to my second.
How can I gently remind him that
it is the other daughter who is
supposed to be his goddaughter?
She is only young but is starting to
notice and get upset. Last time he
came, he gave a wonderful crisp
£50 note to her older sister.
— Name and address withheld
A. You or your daughter should
email him to say she is doing
a ‘friendship tree’ for a school
project. It includes all her
godparents. Could he help to flesh
out the project by supplying a
short paragraph about himself?
Elle Decoration meets pub food
Tanya Gold
he Mandrake is a new ‘design
hotel’ in London, which means
it is for people who treat Elle
Decoration magazine as their primary
source of op-ed. It lives in a red-brick
terrace in Fitzrovia and it feels very
odd, like a corpse with the beating
heart of a baby, perhaps even a Beckham baby: would it have preferred
to demolish the crusty frontage and
establish itself inside Heathrow
Terminal 5, or a giant fridge? Who
can say? And why is it named after a
poisonous plant?
The entrance is dark, and haunted
by black-suited men. I do not know
what they do, besides lurk charismatically and pretend they work for Karl
Lagerfeld, and he is in danger, perhaps
from cheap skirts, or his own plastic surgeon. Inside, there is a checkin desk by a curved fake leopardskin
sofa, an arrangement of black and
white ostrich feathers, and a painting
that looks like a Hieronymus Bosch
repainted by toddlers and the animals
of London Zoo. Design continues into
the bar: there is a sculpture of a woman
who is part tree, as women often are; a
continues into
the bar: there
is a sculpture
of a woman
who is part
tree, as women
often are
goat, or maybe gazelle, wearing peacock feathers; a skull with something
crawling out of its head – like a writer!
It’s potentially very meaningful if you
are a cocaine addict but not otherwise.
The maids are dressed as Edwardian maids; that is, pornography maids
in white frilly aprons. They match the
ostrich feathers, and this is insulting; it
reminds me of Dubai, where they style
the staff according to ethnic origin and
height. These maids may be art installations. Or they may be real maids, in
which case they should unionise and
seek guidance from Len McCluskey.
There is also a library. I love design
hotel libraries because they stock
books for people who don’t like reading but are pretentious enough to
want books anyway, and here they are:
Yves Saint Laurent (he made dresses);
Margiela: The Hermès Years (he made
coats with ‘fluid drapery’, whatever
the hell that is) and Andy Warhol: Portraits (of other idiots). There is also a
restaurant called Serge et le Phoque.
It is a sequel to a Hong Kong restaurant which has been featured in the
World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, which
is sponsored by Miele. They make vacuum cleaners. Perhaps the pornography maids have Miele models, which
they use to clean the bespoke tapestry.
I can’t say.
This restaurant, which is almost
empty (two blonde women, the editor and me), is clearly an afterthought,
inserted for the sake of form. Fashion
people aren’t interested in food. It is
the opposite of their culture. Serge et
le Phoque does not have the naff horror of a sculpture bar, although there
is a private dining room which is completely red, like Karl Lagerfeld unconscious on the operating table. It is long
and light, with spindly velvet chairs
and pale walls. Rather marvellously,
as if the chef is completely normal and
was employed by mistake, it serves pub
food. I eat an enormous £14 cheese
and ham toastie — or Croque Monsieur. But I prefer the word ‘toastie’,
and the Mandrake Toastie is a steaming cheese brick. I also order a grim
sirloin steak with chips so vast I cannot eat them. The ideal clientele could
probably sit on them; perhaps hold a
conversation with them. The editor
does better with a tomato salad. But
the restaurant cannot recover from
the absence of fashion hags. Perhaps
it will abduct them from the Chiltern
Afterwards I visit the terrace. It is
an outdoor room with seething walls
of plant, and it seems to have nothing
to do with London; rather, it denies
London. I sit, and wonder how long it
will take to die.
Serge et le Phoque, The Mandrake,
20 Newman St, London W1T 1PG,
tel: 020 3146 8880.
Not so much
‘Kiss me mucho,’ sang my
husband with a revolting leer,
‘and we’ll soar. And we’ll dance
the dance of love forevermore.’
I poured myself a whisky in
a vain attempt to catch up, and
returned to my task.
Not so much was the subject
of my researches, and I soon
wondered why it had only
recently begun to annoy me.
It qualifies as a catchphrase, I
think, though some dictionaries
of slang list it too. Much has been
very productive of slang. Ben
Jonson had characters exclaiming
‘Much!’ and meaning ‘not much’,
400 years ago. Contrariwise,
since the second world war, Not
much! has been used to contradict
a statement such as ‘I seldom
drink’. Muchly has served as a
humorous formulation for the
past century or so, and by the
1970s was looked upon as a camp
element in language. Another
slangy formula caught on in the
1990s, following the pattern:
Jealous much? Pathetic much?
As for not so much, the usage
that we are discussing is implicitly
a response, as in: ‘Do you like
Gefilte Fisch?’ ‘Not so much.’
Sometimes it defies standard
English grammar:
‘I like this guy John Kennedy.
Since him, not so much.’
We are not, then, discussing
the phrase in contexts such as Not
So Much a Programme, More a
Way of Life (a television show
produced by Ned Sherrin in 1964,
between TW3 and BBC3).
According to some
slangologists, it has become very
fashionable since 2010, but I
have found examples of people
complaining about it in 2006.
Unsuccessful attempts have been
made to find its roots in American
Jewish culture. Others seek its
origins in Buffy the Vampire
Slayer (screened on television
between 1997 and 2003), though
that seems likely to be at most a
Not so much boils down to the
same meaning as Up to a point
(which, in reply to Lord Copper,
the newspaper proprietor in
Scoop, was as near a negative as
could be ventured).
Having gained popularity
as a formula for humour, not
so much is likely to outlive its
effectiveness for an irritatingly
long time. As with Simples!
or Been there, done that or
Anytime soon, the success of its
voguishness is its undoing.
— Dot Wordsworth
the spectator | 14 october 2017 |
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